May 26, 2017
It’s a rainy day, and I’ve been looking through this very old issue of Gourmet. Came upon these two delicious-looking recipes that strike me as both delicious and surprising. Not what most Americans were eating back in the fifties!
I couldn’t help throwing in a couple of ads from old traders – and a prescription for a Penthouse Party.
May 24, 2017
Here’s another great old Seattle cookbook in the tradition of women-run aid societies. Choice Recipes by Seattle Women was written in 1924 as a fund-raiser to support the Fruit and Flower Mission.
It has a lovely dedication:
To those whose burden the Fruit and Flower Mission has assumed, to those it has been privileged to serve, to those receiving its ministrations that have brought health to their bodies, peace to their minds, and comfort to their souls.
The recipes themselves skew towards the fruits. (Less so the flowers, which were delivered to sick patients and the mentally ill.)
There’s an entire worldview in these brief recipes:
Some nice old ads for stalls in Pike Place, today still one of this country’s great markets:
May 23, 2017
Let me begin by saying that I went to Saison kicking and screaming. Nothing I’d read about the restaurant sounded appealing. It was now officially California’s most expensive restaurant. It had three Michelin stars. It sounded beyond pretentious.
Everyone in our little group was equally suspicious. But none of us had been, and we were curious.
So we were utterly unprepared to walk into an old brick warehouse and find the most casual, quirky and comfortable three-star experience of my lifetime. Sitting in that high-ceilinged room, right in front of the walk-in refrigerators watching a gaggle of chefs cook in the open kitchen gives you the sense that you’re eating dinner in a friend’s loft. The room is so open, so airy, that although other diners are all around you, they never become obtrusive.
The food? Josh Skenes’s food is simple, subtle, delicate and very much about this place at this moment. There was not a single dish I didn’t love.
The meal began with caviar: cured in kelp, drenched in clarified butter and eaten with wooden spoons. Pure heaven.
Turbot. Eating the turbot at Elkano in Spain (read about it here), I had a fish epiphany. Saison was different – but every bit as good. First we had sashimi – the fish slightly crisp and very clean, with Japanese lime, salt and an astonishing elixir made from the bones. Like clear soy sauce; I wanted to pick the little dish up and drink it down.
So were the ribs, grilled and so sweet I ate every little morsel, leaving the bones stacked like tiny toothpicks on the plate.
The heart of the fish, raw.
The fish innards, turned into ambrosia.
Santa Barbara spot prawns with their delicious roe.
Sea urchin on fat, crisp chunks of sourdough grilled and drenched in a rich umami combination of butter, bread and soy until it had a texture both crisp and wet at the same time. It’s hard to upstage uni, but the croutons almost did.
Last year’s tomatoes, confit.
Tiny red abalone.
A box crab- funny little fellow, with the sweetest flesh.
Turnip and – you guessed it – butter.
Peas and sorrel, as limpid as a springtime brook, each tender pea cut in half.
The biggest, sweetest, juiciest quail I’ve ever encountered. Barbecued.
Antelope: remarkably clean meat.
Here comes Mr. Bear. At the beginning of the meal the chef came out to discuss how we felt eating bear. I’d never had it before, and I was expecting something strong and gamy. This was not that: had you told me I was eating bison, I would have believed you. These were big meaty, delicious ribs.
Desserts were blessedly simple. Some pickled blueberries…
Ice cream and caramel.
And a Cara Cara orange, frozen into ambrosial creaminess.
This was a parting gift, snuggled into a beautiful box of extremely soft wood:
Salt distilled from the bay and lightly smoked. Herbs gathered on the farm for tea. And a clear soy-like sauce brewed from seaweed, smoked fish and dried mushrooms and cold-brewed over for six months. I’m going to treasure this – and think about that fantastic meal every time I open the box.
A note about the wine list: it’s everything you expect in a three-star establishment. Huge, well-sourced, often rare and always expensive. If you want to spend thousands, that’s no problem. But when I asked the sommelier to rustle up some bargains, he was up to the task.
May 22, 2017
The drive down Mount Tamalpais, through the tall, dark redwoods, the roads almost deserted, is almost unbearably beautiful. Then we’re driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, and someone is saying that almost all the people who jump off, jump facing the city, not the sea. Little wonder: San Francisco sparkles in the distance like some promise of a better future.
We have many wonderful treats in store. For one, that wild nettle sformato up above, at Cotogna, where the food is never less than wonderful.
Even a simple green salad, which arrives on a bright red plate, looks better here.
A single, gorgeous raviolo bursts open to spill egg across the plate. Irresistible.
And have you ever seen a more appealing sundae? The ice cream arrived on its own cart – a great soft mountain of cream so appealing that all the pastry people got out their phones and started snapping away.
We ended with this lovely confection, all berries, ice and lemon verbena.
Dinner was at Izakaya Rintaro, which may be the purest expression of the Japanese esthetic I’ve encountered in this country. The journey begins with the spare, elegant beauty of the woodwork and continues in the modesty of the food. This is old fashioned Japan, where the wasabi is fresh but gentle, the soy sauce has no burn, the flavors are restrained. Everything here is thoughtful and precise, from the sashimi – local big eye tuna and kombu-cured halibut
to fresh anchovies marinated in spicy vinegar and topped with carrots.
The various kinds of yakitori are all perfectly cooked
a lovely dish of Dungeness crab comes with pickled cucumbers and crab miso
and then these is this most surprising salad. The bite of baby chrysanthemum leaves is tamed with the tang of kumquat, and then enriched with rosy slices of duck.
It says something about the restaurant that even gyoza are not clunky dumplings, but something delicate, light and lacy.
If you like the food of Japan, you owe it to yourself to visit Rintaro. Whether you choose noodles, natto, a fig-wrapped trout or a few plates of yakitori, you will not be disappointed.
Tomorrow: a truly memorable meal. Here’s a tiny taste:
May 21, 2017
My favorite dishes on this road odyssey weren’t actually in a restaurant. They were in the quirkiest, most super-Northern California abode I’ve ever encountered, the home of Evan Shively and Madeleine Fitzpatrick.
I didn’t take many pictures; it was a private home and it seemed impolite. Now I’m sorry, because you can’t see us walking through the wooden gate, wandering through the wildly wonderful garden munching on crisp fresh asparagus and exotic flowers. You can’t see the genuine throne in the bathroom, Madeleine’s mad hat collection, or what may be the world’s largest catfish, swimming happily in a spring-fed pool out in the garden. But you can take a look here:
Evan, who now crafts furniture and creates wood works for artists and architects, once made his living as a chef (he worked at Postrio, Manka’s and Oliveto). He stood casually in the kitchen, slicing a slab of tuna, marinating shrimp and squid and complaining that we weren’t eating enough. The food was fresh, clean, completely irresistible. Then Madeleine made salad – 100 different greens, herbs, flowers and tiny vegetables- dressed in nothing but olive oil and vinegar. We ate it with our fingers. Salad doesn’t get better than this.
But first things first. The day began in Healdsburg, at a long table in the lovely garden at Shed, surrounded by the prettiest flowers….
Shed is a restaurant and a shop selling fabulous bread, cheese, fruit, charcuterie and prepared foods, along with all manner of cooking gear. It’s become one of Healdsburg’s major destinations. Having finished lunch we browsed the store, bought bread and cheese, then drove through the hills and across the valley to Coal and Feed on Tomales Bay, right next to Hog Island Oysters. The fabulously funky house hugs the water. It has room for 8, a giant extremely well-equipped kitchen, a couple of bathrooms – and some of the best views on the planet. I took this picture lying in bed: I can’t think of a more sympathetic place to stay; I wanted to move right in. Did I mention that Evan and Madeleine own it?
Dinner that night was in exactly the same mood. We went to Sir and Star in Point Reyes, one of the most relaxed, most unpretentious and most lovable restaurants you will ever find. (The chefs continue their tradition from the long-lamented Manka’s.) I regret to say I was so relaxed I neglected to take pictures, but the meal began with carrot soup, buttery buns, duck liver faux gras – and ended with hot fudge sundaes. In between was the single best grass fed steak I’ve ever eaten.
Here’s the thing about grass fed beef: unlike conventional beef, which consumes a standard diet of corn, this is all about terroir. And right now, after a rainy winter, the grass in Sonoma is lush and green, which makes the meat gorgeously marbled. Sir and Star uses local beef that’s aged; it is an extraordinary treat. So is everything about this restaurant: this is the taste of here, the taste of now. Simple but perfect, it is why you come to Northern California.
Tomorrow: I wake up with gulls cawing outside, the sun rising, watching an egret fish on Tomales Bay. Oysters for breakfast – and the world’s best panettone. Then a meandering drive through giant redwoods to San Francisco – and a stunning taste of Japan.