Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Inspired by my new countertop appliances, the slow cooker and the food mill, (which I really didn’t need since I have a mini-chop. But the food mill’s bigger. And looks sleek. Post-consumer rationalization…) I’ve been pureeing a lot. Last night I whipped up a big batch of garlicky hummus with the chickpeas I’d simmered in the slow cooker. The meal came together around these chickpeas from various points: ground lamb I’d picked up recently and frozen, not knowing what to do with it; a selection of Mediterranean nightshades shivering and withering in the fridge (zucchini, eggplant, peppers, grape tomatoes); a craving for my favorite tahini sauce; and the inspiration of Cafe Maude‘s lamb skewers, which my family loves.

I roasted the veggies with whole garlic cloves and a good glug of olive oil, grilled the lamb kebobs, and served it all with pita and fruity red wine.

For the lamb, I basically made meatballs shaped like lozenges, combining 1 lb. of ground lamb with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and paprika to taste, and adding an egg and about a quarter cup of coarse bread crumbs and coarsely chopped parsley and/or cilantro. And this tahini sauce, from an old issue of Gourmet, is delicious as a condiment on so many things.

Tahini Sauce

2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 c. tahini
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 tsp. ground cumin

Mince garlic and mash to a paste with sea salt. Whisk together with other ingredients until well combined. Serve at room temperature.

Read Full Post »

Meatballs are comfort food, but they can also form the center of a sumptuous meal. Luxury and refinement meet in the meatball when it is handled with care, swaddled in a blanched leaf, braised in aromatic broth, and served in a white dish. Making these fragrant pork meatballs, delicate and gigantic at once, teaches you to handle them like egg yolks. The flavors in Lion’s Head meatballs are tame as well, in spite of their ferocious name. Ginger and warm spice, green onion, a touch of salt.

My first encounter with this traditional Shanghai dish was in the now closed, but fondly remembered Fountain Court, in the Richmond district of San Francisco. Peter and I lived up the hill to the east, just past the fog line, in a one-bedroom with a sliver ocean view. We would make a long evening of it with our poet friend, starting at the Plough and Stars —empty except for us at 6:00. After getting into the groove of our usual hilarity, we’d amble down to Green Apple Books with its countless rooms of used books and music. Soon overwhelmed by the poetry, theory, novels, history, and philosophy I wanted to read, I’d find myself in cookbooks, flipping through recipes and pictures. Finally, we’d find each other and continue down Clement St. to the Fountain Court, where our friend was greeted like a long lost puppy by the owner.

Because it was so good, so particular to that place and time, so perfectly accompanied by sweet roasted eggplants and a platter full of sauteed pea greens, I didn’t consider trying to make this meal for years. A decade, even. But meatballs are simple, aren’t they? They like to be cuddled and coddled like babies, and it’s hard to go wrong.

So, I rounded up a recipe on Epicurious (not very scholarly, I know) and used it as an outline for my own composition, which included a dash of five spice powder—whether authentic or not.

Here are the sweet morsels browning:

Here are two beautiful Japanese eggplants:

Here are the browned meatballs wrapped in blanched Savoy cabbage (the store was out of Napa):

They simmered on the stove for an hour or so, becoming more tender than you can imagine meat to be.

*          *          *

And, to follow up on other culinary adventures in my household… here’s Lizzie enjoying some butternut squash spinach puree I whipped up for her:

And here’s the delicious pot of mayonnaise I whisked up last week, which makes the perfect condiment for just about everything!

Believe it or not, I made it the day before Melissa Clark published this mayonnaise recipe in the NYT Dining section. Must have been some kind of seasonal urge. Now, I’m a total amateur, although I did work for a moment in a restaurant kitchen where they had me prepare the béarnaise, so I know a tidbit about whisking. That said, I was really surprised that she didn’t know about the drops of water… In any case, homemade mayonnaise is worth every second of wrist ache it takes to make it.

Read Full Post »

I love living in a place with so many bountiful farmers’ markets. And maybe it’s my small-town self coming through on Saturday mornings, but I prefer the small-scale markets. We’ve become regulars at the Fulton neighborhood market, and really, it’s not just because Patisserie 46 sets up a booth every week, although that’s definitely a draw. Would you like to see some of their tasty tidbits?

Sweet pastries deriving from various French traditions are up front, and over in the sun-washed quadrant to the right, the savory breads—airy and yet toothsome—await the more patient, or restrained, purchaser. Here’s a closer shot of the mid-morning delights that have been a staple of my pregnancy diet:

I’m partial to the almond croissants, the almond bostocks (round cakey ones on the right) and the bear-claw-looking pastries whose name I forget which are front-and-center. They are flavored with orange peel and anise, and remind me of the flavors of Sicily, although they’re probably Southern-French.

To accompany these Saturday morning treats, one must have coffee. If only someone would wheel in a decent espresso maker. But I guess that might require a generator. So instead I go for the only option at the market, which is a good one: Melitta-brewed Moonshine coffee:

Jack, like his dad, prefers savory snacks. These homemade popsicles are so uniquely and strongly flavored, some of them are practically savory. Lemon-lavender today. See that pucker?

After this thirst-quenching aperitivo, Jack enjoyed a pulled pork taco with spicy slaw from Chef Shack, which is actually a big red truck and not a shack.

And here are some of the yummies we hauled home:

I admit I was skeptical about the corn, which didn’t look as milk-and-sugary as all of the great Vermont and Massachusetts corn I had this summer. But my tastebuds were treated to just as much juicy sweetness as a corn lover could want. It was delicious!

Last night we found another reason to love Minneapolis, thanks to our new friends Andy and Katherine and their boys William and David: Minnehaha Park, where the Creek that flows through our neighborhood ends in a beautiful waterfall.

Just across the bike-and-pedestrian path from the falls is a restaurant that is as close as one can come to a New England-style clam shack in this Midwestern city. We ate dinner at an outdoor table at Sea Salt. The boys played catch, and soccer, and football in the park, and dropped in at the restaurant patio just long enough to eat some fried fish with hot sauce. The grown-ups chowed down on fish tacos, a Cuban paella-type dish, crabcakes, fried calamari, and local craft beer. The dads wanted to try the Wisconsin IPA called “Bitter Woman,” but it was tapped out. She’s popular, that one. Who would’ve thought? And for dessert, Sebastian Joe’s ice cream–locally made, inventively flavored. I love their cinnamon, and their salted caramel, but last night I stuck with vanilla. It was perfect.

Read Full Post »

We’ve lived in Minneapolis for a month now.  We spent the first 9 days in our new place without furniture, which was interesting.  In fact, it was surprising how quickly we adapted to living with minimal stuff.  But don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a sermon about the importance of living with less.  I’m glad to have a couch to sit on, pots and pans to cook with, and 200 pairs of shoes to choose from.  (Well, no, sadly, I’m actually limited to a few pairs of Birkenstocks, since that arthritic toe joint has flared up again.)  What made that first week of camping out on hardwood bearable was the thrill this city buzzes with when it’s summer time, the lakes and parks, and the amazing food spots we’ve discovered.  There are great grocery stores, fun farmers’ markets, and countless hip cafes, coffee shops, bistros, patisseries, and pizzerias. (According to some survey that was cited in the Star Tribune last week, Minneapolis is the hipster capital of the country. I bought a $3 cup of hipster-made coffee at our neighborhood farmers’ market and thought it was so-so.)  Our favorite place to eat out is the pizzeria we went to on our first night here, which is just a block and a half away: Lola. They have an enormous, round, beautiful, shiny, copper wood-fired oven in which they cook thin-crust pizzas topped with only the best ingredients.

They also have the tastiest soft-serve vanilla, which you can get between cookies, unadulterated, or with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt.  The latter tastes like a vegetal twist on caramel, which is novel and delicious.

One night, instead of having pasta bianca, we went uptown to Lucia’s, where Peter had mussels served with this delicate chive-flower-sprinkled crostini:

And after our things finally arrived (but before our kitchen was fully functional)…


to celebrate we went to another fantastic bistro, Cafe Maude, where Jack ordered a kids’ cocktail called “Rubber Ducky,” which is topped with a Peep!

I think it’s love.

And, let’s see, how many times have I been to Patisserie 46? I’ve already lost count.  Our first time there was also something of an occasion. We met up with my college friend, writer Emily Sohn, whom I haven’t seen since graduation!  She lives here with her husband Gabe and adorable son Zach.  After some morning pastries and perfectly executed cappuccini, we walked slowly to the closest park, where the little boys stripped down to their shorts and splashed around in the wading pool.  The first time I tasted Patisserie 46’s delicate pastries was the week before, when I found their stand at the Fulton Farmers’ Market, which is close to home.  While I ate a cherry & almond-topped brioche and drank my hipster coffee, Jack, in the mood for more savory fare, waited in line at Chef Shack for a brat with mustard.


I also bought two heavy bags of produce: a gigantic head of oak leaf lettuce, English peas, baby bok choy, new potatoes, kale, cucumbers… I forget what else.  We’ve been eating very well.

A few days later, when my parents came to visit, (in addition to eating at Lola and Cafe Maude, and then Cafe Ena) we visited the Mill City Museum, which is really the museum of flour.  We learned about the central role of flour in the growth of Minneapolis, and stood for what must be our oddest family portrait.


Notice anything peculiar about me? Yes, that’s right, I’m pregnant.  The little girl is due November 2nd, and is squirming and wriggling away as I write. Jack is so excited.  When I asked him to take a belly picture, he took me quite literally, and cut off my head:

Jack has been busy playing with his new neighbor friend.  They wanted to have a lemonade stand, and the only lemonade I had was the pricey Trader Joe’s organic. Their customers commented, they said, on how delicious the lemonade was.  No crystal lite on this corner!

Another day, we went to Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream on Upton Ave., where they make their own small batches of uniquely flavored gelato-like ice creams.  The first time we went, I got cinnamon.  Next time they had salted caramel. Mmmm… is all I can say.  They have back-garden seating, which feels Berkeley-like, and a big iron turtle to crawl on.


It’s been a busy, happy, well-fed month.  And even though I haven’t touched on it much here, I have been doing some cooking.  But it’s summertime cooking: quick, a little lazy, conducive to warm nights. Last night, I mixed up a pesto for our ravioli using basil from the pot on the front stoop and peas from a local farm. The peas gave it a bright color and sweetness that was a refreshing change from the basil pesto I usually make, which always contains the evidence of an over-zealous garlic pusher. If only I could extend the evening with a few glasses of rosé….  Instead, I’ve been reading Clarissa.

Read Full Post »

Allechante

This is the name of a little cafe in Norwich, Vermont. They make really good food.  They actually know how to bake. This doesn’t sound like a compliment or even a recommendation, but it is.  The perfection of their pastries always inspires deep respect, gratitude, and even awe in me, because there are so few towns that have real bakeries that don’t take short cuts with vegetable oil, that eschew muffins, that use time-tested recipes and forms—such as the Swiss honey-walnut-stuffed engadiner—and that don’t inflate their pastries to size of a toddler’s head.  I always look forward to their almond croissants, which sell out quickly because of their perfect flakiness, not-too-sweetness, delicacy, and pure yumminess.  I was lucky yesterday that there was one left when we got there as late as 9:40.  It was 16 degrees outside. I sat in the sunny corner and enjoyed my moment of marzipan and toasted butter bliss, and watched the Christmas cookies sparkle and turn on their branches.

Read Full Post »

It’s what I miss most about Rome.  How could that be?  Something so mundane, minor, lowly.  What about the art, the architecture, the people, the food?

I’ll explain. Cafes in Italy encapsulate so much of the culture at large.  During these weirdly liminal weeks of re-entry into American culture—when I’ve felt like I’m two places at once, or nowhere—I’ve been going through a process not unlike grief.  Surprising surges of emotion come over me at inconvenient moments, and I wonder if I could still be weak from jet-lag. No, I’m just sad that that wonderful, brief year is all over.  I’ve had trouble expressing this grief because I don’t want to sound like a complete snob or ungrateful spoiled brat while, on the beaches of New England, I weep for the lost vistas or Rome or when, confronted with the plethora of choices at a coffee shop, I tear up thinking about the perfect crema on a Roman caffe.  I’ll admit, I’m sad but life is good. Buonissimo, even.

After that brief apologia, let us return to Roman cafes.  On my last full day in Rome, I didn’t go to view the dome of San Pietro or to gaze up at the oculus of the Pantheon once more.  After leaving Jack at Scuola Arcobaleno for the last time, I stopped in the cafe on Via Fonteiana where we stopped almost every day for a little treat.  I stood at the bar and didn’t even have to say anything, because the friendly guy who makes the coffee drinks remembers what everyone likes.  What an honor for me to be included in his encyclopedic memory of drink orders in this cafe where people come and go constantly all day long! All the other parents from the school stop here before or after dropping off the ragazzini.  In cafes in Rome, people come in and stand at the bar.  There are no lane-ropes marking off where you’re supposed to stand in line. How barbaric! Everyone is relaxed. They seem to have all the time in the world. The parents and the bankers and pharmacists and grocery cashiers and hardware shop owner from across the street stand around, sip a caffe or cappuccino, maybe eat a nutella-filled pastry wrapped in a napkin, chit-chat, drop a few coins, and amble out.  Everything is done with a sense of ease.  There are no paper cups.  No rushing and bumping shoulders at the “condiment station.”

American coffee shops cater to the all-American values of independence and convenience.  But in our rush to make things easier for ourselves (plastic lids to prevent spilling as we speed-walk or drive on to the next important thing/place/event) or more “custom-made” (add-your-own-milk, choose-your-own-ingredients, metastasizing menus) are we sacrificing what is of real value in custom, culture, and civil-i-zation?  Do condiment stations make us more civilized?

After that, I still didn’t go to see the one more piece of great art or architecture that I’d yet failed to see.  I wanted to enjoy my last day of being immersed in the mundane beauty of everyday life in Rome.  I walked down the steps to Trastevere and looked at the laundry hanging from windows, the succulents and bougainvillea spilling from balconies.  Before going to get one last haircut from the mild and nonchalantly good-looking Fabio Serafini, I stopped in to Cafe Paris. (Not the one of Dolce Vita fame on Via Veneto, but a scruffier version in a medieval piazza of Trastevere where the hipsters and homeless people mingle.)  I savored the atmosphere as much as the coffee: the ancient brown wood of the interior, with decades-old ads on the wall, the gruff carelessness and skill of the young man behind the bar.  No excessive friendliness or list of questions about how you’d like that.

What is it then, about Roman cafes that make them nodes of their culture?  It’s the way they encourage people to take a few minutes to savor a flavor and a scrap of conversation.  Uncluttered service. The cultivation of custom in defiance of the drive for efficiency and convenience Americans value so much.  And everything in the atmosphere of a cafe—from the old decor to the elegant cups—speaks to that sprezzatura in which the Romans live their lives, ignoring the grafitti and humidity, talking non-stop in a musical language, eating well, looking good, driving their Smart cars alongside ancient aqueducts and other imperial ruins with nonchalance and style.

Some might see a cultural malaise, oppressive conservatism. These are there. But so is cultivation, an awareness of beauty, culture, and quality that, perhaps because of the proximity of the Colosseum, the Caravaggios, lives on the shoes on people’s feet and in the crema on a caffe.

Read Full Post »

My dissertation, that is, is done.  Sadly, so is our packing.

We’ve been saying goodbyes to good good friends here in Rome, and will leave on Thursday.  It’s an anticipated sadness and loss, so it’s one that ebbs and flows, comes and goes at unexpected moments.  Life goes on, too, as do the food and wine discoveries. Why did it take 9 months for me to learn about this vino vivace I’m sipping right now?  Monsupello, an off-white slightly fizzy wine made with Pinot Nero grapes (skins taken out), from the Pavia region in the north of Italy.  The reason I didn’t know about it sooner is that Jeannie and Valeria, friends and moms of Jack’s friends, discovered it at our local enoteca—wine shop—and bought it all up.  But with the new season, new caseloads have come in, and we’re all drinking it.  I had it first on Jeannie’s balcony in Trastevere while Jack and Nico “went fishing” with coat hangers over the edge.  Then I had it two nights later at Valeria & Andreas’ apartment.  Two Roman veterinarians, they told us about their dreams of opening a restaurant in London or Berlin that serves good basic Roman cuisine.

Late, too, I found out about Necci, a wonderful little cafe that does everything from breakfast pastries to toy-swaps for the kids with aperitivi for the parents.  Jeannie, Sarah, and I went to Pigneto, a Roman neighborhood outside of the city center, last week, on a mission to taste the artisanal cornetti (Italian croissants).  The chef, a British guy named Ben, is one of those admirable chefs who uses only local and seasonal ingredients and who is reviving old ways of making things.  Jeannie and I had chocolate cornetti and agreed that they were the best we’d tasted in years.  Light crunch to the pastry flakes—dark, warm chocolate within.

Necci is a fun place with great deck seating, kid-friendliness, a sense of humor, and delicious food.  Some pictures.

Jeannie & Sarah

banana flush pull

After a long, leisurely hour and two cappuccini at Necci, we walked down a central neighborhood street that has an open air market during the morning.  I bought a melon, a bagful of cherries, and susine plums.

Then we wandered with our fruit-heavy bags back to Sarah’s car, stopping in little shops along the way.  One of them was a funky second-hand store, with everything from a vintage Singer sewing machine—from the 1910s—to Pokemon cards.  Now, if I had known then what I know now, I would have bought a huge handful of those cards.  For the past few days of goodbyes Jack has been cathecting all of his mixed emotions onto his carte di Pokemon.  I buy a pack for him (and they’re exploitatively expensive!) and he gives them all away as regali.  Or his more cunning friends convince him to trade 4 for 1.  I tell him I won’t buy him anymore, and he cries and says he doesn’t want to go to school or see his friends again.  I say, “I know you’re sad that we’re leaving. Let’s talk about what you like about Rome” and he’ll say, “I like the buses and the carte di Pokemon.”  It’s been a sad time for him, because he’s had such a wonderful year.  He learned Italian and finally feels comfortable with his Italian friends and teachers. He loves his school.  He loves life here at the Academy where there are always friends available right next door. So he channels his emotions into the things he can grasp at and consume until we go away (friends are too complicated for these operations): Gormiti (little Italian elemental action figures), Pokemon cards (which, he doesn’t know, are everywhere), and ciambellini (the mini doughnuts they make at the Kosher cafe we stop in almost every morning before school).  We all do it.  I’m drinking more coffee because I know I won’t taste coffee like this in the New World.  I’m putting one more slice of mozzarella on my plate because it might be my last for years. I’m getting a cup of pistachio gelato even if Jack doesn’t want any.  We’re trying to squeeze in one more coffee-date, playdate, late-night conversation with the wonderful friends we’ve made here.  And I’m trying to drink in the views and sounds of Rome so that I won’t forget any of it, so that it won’t become muted and hazy when we get back to “real life.”

Read Full Post »

Thanks to our friend Rena, who lived in Florence for a year, we had some insider recommendations about where to eat.  The most interesting (and delicious) place, by far, was Mario’s, which serves only lunch.

The menu is scribbled on a piece of paper, and is replete with meat.  The seating is first come, first served, and is “con l’altro”—with each other.  Three parties of two might share a big table.  Everyone sits on little wooden stools.  The kitchen runs right alongside the dining area, and the inevitably loud conversations are punctuated by the bang-bang-bangs of the cleaver on the butcher block, chopping up the next set of lunches.

nice ceiling

the most delicious pork and beans I've ever had

Jack liked Marios.

We also went to what many agree is the best gelato maker in Florence: Vivoli.

I know I should have tried the cinnamon-orange, but I couldn’t resist my favorite nutty flavors.

The other high point in dining was Tranvai, a restaurant constructed out of an old tram-station, with excellent food.  They offered offals and brain, but we stuck to slightly more familiar cuts… veal and rabbit.

Read Full Post »

We’re in Florence.  Today’s my birthday.  Yesterday we went to the famous gelateria Vivoli.  I know I should have tried the cinnamon-orange, but I can’t give up an opportunity to savor one of the nutty flavors I love so much.  Yesterday I went for the classic nocciolo—hazelnut.  Jack had a puckering cup of limone mixed with fragola (strawberry, but the word always reminds me of “Fraggle Rock”).  Jack also got a big kick out of the address of the gelateria, in Isola delle Stinche.  Stinky—ha ha ha! (He’s just about five, so that’s the height of humor.)

Last night we took a chance on a restaurant, and it turned out to be an enjoyable meal.  The highlights were the antipasto dish of fagioli con bottarga, and the Florentine steak, which my mom, Peter, and I all ordered.  It was rubbed with rosemary, grilled rare, sliced thin, and served on a bed of arugula. Perfect.

Pictures will come….

Read Full Post »

Walking through Rome the other day, I had two missions: get a pizza lunch at Roscioli, and try on some shoes from the list of brands my doctor gave me. It became an emotional journey, with it’s own motifs and atmosphere of ironic pathos that is captured so well in that Dylan song, (which I love in The Band’s rendition) “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” that came to mind when I walked past this scene.

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble;
ancient footprints are everywhere.
You can almost think that you’re seeing double
on a cold dark night on the Spanish stairs.

This road repair was on the way to Campo di Fiori, where I stopped at the market stall that is the humanized, de-DIY-ified version of what we call “the bulk section.”  The man who runs this stall is a virtuoso of Eur-Anglo languages and regional Italian sauces.  Every time someone stepped up with a bag of herb-pepperoncini mix, he would ask “Inglese, Francais, Espanol, Deutsch?”  I heard him explain in three languages what kind of sauce should be made, and when to add the herbs to the tomato base.

herb blends for sauces

other "bulk" items

From here, I took my prematurely ancient footprints the few blocks to Roscioli, where I saw its sign rising like a beacon on the horizon (and creating a great color juxtaposition with those shutters):

Most days, I eat at the Academy, because it’s right at home and the food is regularly extraordinary.  But sometimes I just get the craving to carry out a sandwiched slice of Roscioli pizza.

My favorite kind is the sauteed, garlicky, salty spinach and mozzarella.  It’s simple, and exquisite, folded in a piece of brown paper.  Often, people stand around these cask & board tables to eat their quick bite.  12:30 was too early for the average Roman, though.

table outside Antico Forno Roscioli

I limped with my lunch toward the Corso, passing on my way the scaffolding-covered Pantheon. (Glad I saw it before those went up.)

And finally, I began my hunt for a better shoe, based on my doctor’s list of brands.  Some of these are quite chi chi, with snooty salespeople to match.  As soon as I was done in the Geox store, for example, having decided that they were all either too stiff for my feet or too flashy for my taste, I became a despicable object of scorn to the saleswoman.  And her store is nothing special next to Hogans, where the staff is even more disdainful, the sequin-studded leather even more attitudinal. I tried on probably 12 pairs.  Someday, I’ll make a decision.

Someday everything’s gonna be different,
when I paint that masterpiece…

When I finish that dissertation? No, I’m not that delusional.  Speaking of that behemoth document, though, here’s my favorite recent piece of Byroniana (which might just be the unintentional irony of the shopkeeper’s name… but I don’t think so).  Right next to the Keats-Shelley museum, in Piazza di Spagna, whose name looms larger than life?  Lord B’s, of course.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.