Recipes for restaurants

Notes from Umbria, Part 1

August 1, 2017

It is embarrassing, I’ll admit it, that I’ve never been to Panzano.  I’ve known Dario Cecchini and his wife Kim for years now (among other things, Dario cooked at the 40th Anniversary party for Chez Panisse), but somehow I’ve never been to visit the Dante-quoting butcher at his Antica Maccellia Cecchini in his hometown.

Until now.

It was worth the wait, and as the French say, the voyage. Spectacular fun.

Here’s Dario, in his new Russian hat, with Nancy Silverton.

You start with Chianti, lardo and what may be the world’s best salami, standing around, drinking, in the middle of  the butchershop, with dozens of other hungry people.

Then you sit down and the food starts to arrive. First a bowl of raw vegetables, with olive oil and salt, the consistency of powdered sugar.  There will not be a lot more vegetables….

Head cheese, all taste and chew. If you think you don’t like head cheese, this will change your mind.

Half-cooked steak tartare, the meat as primal a taste as you can imagine, like eating life itself.

And then meat is flying to the table – roast beef, rib eye, filet – one cut after another until you’re in an orgy of eating, scarfing up everything in sight and forgetting to take pictures.  “Can I have the bone?” I asked when the main event arrived.

After that I was truly lost.  All meat is more tender at the bone, but this…..

Chewed it clean, then ate the potato, slathered in lardo (what a brilliant notion), and then went back to the bone.

There was pork after this, and more beef, and, and, and. But I was there to eat rare red meat, and I ate more, and more and more. I left a happy woman.

Did I mention that we stopped for gelato on the way home?

Lunch the next day was at La Locanda del Ribollita – a modest but extremely satisfying establishment right outside of Chiuse. This is one of those restaurants that reminds you how good simple food can be here in Italy.

Gorgeously ripe melon, sending its perfume into the air, with soft rosy slices of prosciutto

a plate of mixed salume

On to the lightest, loveliest, butteriest pasta with lemon…

And finally, some local cheese.

Dinner that night was in the ancient walled town of Panicale, high in the hills, at Ristorante Masolino, a traditional kitchen in the heart of town. Wonderful food.

Pappa al pomodoro with ricotta to start

Lasagna bianca

tiny grilled lambchops

With an icy cold bottle of white Orvieto.  Have I mentioned that the temperature all week has been 105?

More tomorrow….

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Fish, Glorious Fish

July 28, 2017

It hurts me when a really good restaurant isn’t packed with people.  I walked into Gloria last night and instantly knew it was going to be a great evening. I’d liked everything I’d read about this new Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, from the fact that the chef, Diego Garcia, had worked at Contra and Le Bernardin, and has focused his menu on sustainable east coast fish.  I liked that the wine list features natural wines.  And I certainly appreciated the airy, open, gracious room. The service could not have been more pleasant, and as the night progressed, I kept wondering why only half the seats were full.

The first taste was promising.  I could have made an entire meal of this  buttery, crunchy corn bread.

And it was uphill from there. That octopus up top was impressive, tender little discs set on a colorful bed of black rice and red cabbage. I was even more taken with this inky iteration of squid, the way the pea tendrils added a green note and d those sneaky little heaps of white turned out to be cauliflower masquerading as rice.

Crab was served with a generous hand, interlaced with crunchy little bits of kohlrabi (is it about to become the new kale?) and a smooth sabayon infused with the flavors of bouillabaisse.

And the tomato salad was superb – a really appealing take on caprese – all texture and taste.

On to the larger plates:  Whole shrimp were served with their heads, on a bed of hominy.  Pure simple pleasure.


A beautifully cooked whole snapper came with lobster sauce (and would serve two)

Should this be entirely too pescatarian for your taste, or you’ve got a bean freak in tow, don’t miss these:

There’s a lovely simplicity to Rivera’s food; it’s pretty but never contrived, and the flavors come shining through.  This is also true of the desserts: none of those over-engineered fantasies, but a straightforward tart

And a tres leches cake whose memory stayed with me long after I’d left the restaurant.

Why wasn’t the room full?  Beats me.  But I, for one, will certainly be back.

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Jeong Kwan Cooks at Le Bernardin

June 23, 2017

The Buddhist monk and celebrated chef, Jeong Kwan was in New York yesterday, cooking a meal to celebrate the winter Olympics in PeyongChang next year.

Eric Ripert has spoken with great reverence about the chef, so I’ve always been curious.  The Chef’s Table episode about her is very beautiful, and I was eager to experience one of her meals.

I was certainly not the only one; a great group of press people turned out to taste the chef’s vegan meal; Martha Stewart was sitting next to me, snapping away. She immediately fired off a few shots on Instagram, announcing the numbers as they came in.

We started with tiny porcelain cups of lotus flower tea: delicate, floral and fragrant, it’s one of those drinks that you taste once and never forget.

Then we were introduced to 15-year old soy sauce the monk brews herself; she urged us to have a spoonful before we began eating, and to use it liberally throughout the meal.  The sauce was dark, complex and mellow with a lingering flavor that echoed in your mouth long after the sauce itself was gone. I used it as dipping sauce for ganjang and bugak, the centerpiece of crisped seaweed (which had the robust and appealing flavor of fried fish tails),  balloon flower leaf, ailanthus (which is also known as “tree of heaven”), potato and shiso.

This was followed by a bowl of pretty little local leaves in a dressing that hinted at orange and spice., and then this grilled deodeok and deoduck with pine nut.

Deoduck is bonnet bellflower; the chewy root, splashed with gochujang, is a standard in Korea.  But that little ball of pinenut and shredded deoduck on the side was remarkable: simultaneously oft and slightly crisp, it was tinged with the taste of  sesame oil  The chef eschews all alliums – no garlic, no onion, no scallion – but she has no fear of either sweet or heat.  There was a touch of chile in almost every dish we ate, and she uses rice syrup and fruit to contrast the saline taste of soy.

A surprise package at each plate. As each little sphere of gangwon was opened up the fragrance of chestnut and shiitake leapt into the air, enveloping the table in the most sensual aroma.  Great fat juicy mushrooms had soaked up a luxurious broth of  soy, sesame, rice syrup and fermented berry juice; they were tangled into gingko nuts and jujubes. Hauntingly delicious.

Now waiters appeared bearing a black tray covered with little black bowls for each diner: Barugongyang.  The empty bowls were for soup and rice, which we passed around the table and served to one another. (I’m embarrassed to admit that our table neglected to wait for instruction and simply helped ourselves, putting the rice and soup into the wrong bowls.)

Starting at the bottom left:

BongPyeong which was translated as “mook with buckwheat.”

Mook, or muk, is a soft substance, with the texture of taro that can be made from almost any starchy substance.  This one was buckwheat topped with two year old kimchi, ailanthus, shiitake and cabbage.

DunNae: a little pancake constructed from  baby squash and wild sesame seeds and topped with a bit of squash. In contrast to the contemplative quietness of other dishes, this chewy, slightly spicy offering exploded on the palate like carnival food. A bit of excitement on the plate.

InJae: grilled burdock

Topped with sprouted daikon, plum and rice syrup, gochujang, chili power, sesame seed and sesame oil. Burdock is a bitter root to swallow; you either like it or don’t. If you don’t, all that seasoning won’t help.

ChoDang: pan-seared tofu with fermented sansho.

Tofu mans up and gets serious character.  Eaten slowly, you suddenly discovered a world of flavor in the dense, chewy white substance.


Our old friend, cabbage kimchi.

SokChu: Lotus root water kimchi

Water kimchi is a Korean standard.  Not hot, this was crunchy slices of lotus root cooked in orange and plum syrup and persimmon vinegar.  The chef asked us to leave a bit of lotus root to clean our bowls at the end of the meal.  It felt like a sacrifice.

BangTae Mountain.

Named for a famous Korean mountain said to hold “the secret of ancient times,”  this sticky rice was mingled with Korean thistle, kidney beans, puffed corn and wild sesame oil.

Odae Mountain

Sip slowly. Think about it.  Tease out the flavor of mushroom, daikon, ginger, lotus leaf, jujube.  Note the hint of chile.  This is the entire meal in a single bowl: flavors that whisper instead of shout, ask that you listen carefully with all your senses.  A reminder of how much there is to see, hear and taste if only we will pay attention.



Should you want to experience this Korean temple cuisine, one New York restaurant provides that opportunity.  I have to admit that I haven’t been in many years, but here’s my very old review of Hangawi.


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California Road Trip: Going for Bear

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.


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California Road Trip, Day Four

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:

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