June 21, 2006


I know that at least one of my faithful readers is waiting with bated breath for the report on our dinner at Oliveto in Oakland, so even though I've been doing these posts in chronological order, I'm bumping this one to the front. It was a spectacular dinner of Californian freshness, prepared Mediterranean style.

We had a party of 7, of varying degrees of foodieness but uniform willingness to share dishes willy-nilly. Yay! We started with the salumi platter for two, which was delicious, especially the mortadella with pistachios, but several of the salumi were quite similar in style, and the server rattled them off so fast that none of us knew what exactly we were eating. We didn't care overmuch, since they all tasted great, and it was nice to be around the table with old friends.

I must restate yet again how much I adore the custom I picked up from C of ordering one starter to share, then a true starter course. Heh heh heh. Anything that maximizes intake of appetizers is a very good thing indeed, since they are invariably the best showcase of a chef's art.

We got charcoal grilled skewers of lamb tongue and sweetbreads, which skeeved out a few of our party, but everyone tried them and liked them, so yay. I already knew I loved lamb tongue, and hedge has a thing for sweetbreads, so we were clear which parts we were snagging from the outset. :-)

We got a salad of raw Niman Ranch beef with soft-boiled egg, anchovy and parmesan, and I am happy to report that they used the awesome white anchovies one often gets in spain, not the harsh crappy ones one often gets in america (*cough*ahwahnee*cough*). This was a lovely fresh sweet dish, satisfying that protein urge while remaining very light and sprightly.

We got fritelle of salt cod, potato and chard that was crispy and delicious over a pile of frisee. We got Boston Mackerel in saor that was a fabulous southern-italian/sephardic dish of sweetness and tartness in perfect complement to the fish. The poor mackerel is so often treated badly in our cuisine, and it is a joy to get a good fresh one in a suitable preparation.

We got a simple salad of avocado and arugula in old balsamic that was frankly one of the best things on the table -- there is no arguing that California produce is some of the best in the world. This salad was $4 more than the salt cod fritters and $2 more than the beef salad, which I guess says something about the quality of ingredients, or at least the cost of sublime produce.

But my most favorite starter was a salad of thin-sliced asparagus, radicchio, celery, and walnuts, with lemon, anchovy & parmesan. Wow. All those flavors play so well together, and I would never have thought to combine them. It would be so easy to do this at home, with good spring produce, and impress the heck out of dinner guests. Yummy.

None of the mains sounded particularly compelling to us, so we decided to skip them entirely and focus on the pastas, which pretty much ALL sounded compelling to us. We settled on bucatini all'amatriciana (one of my favorite dishes ever, and it's hard for me to resist ordering it when i see it), potato gnocchi with ragu of lamb hearts, spaghettini with fried bread "crumbs" (really cubes), basil and hot pepper, and trompetti with castelmagno cheese and spring onions.

The trompetti was light and subtle, but could have used more oomph, perhaps in the form of more spring onions -- there weren't many and they were at the peak of season. The other three, though, were awesome. The all'amatriciana sauce was a lighter style than usual, but deliciously porky, and went well with the thick chewy pasta. The ragu on the gnocchi was rich and intensely meaty, again skeeving out a few people at first but winning converts quickly. The spaghettini was so spectacular that tallasiandude ordered a second plateful, which sadly arrived without its crispy bread cubes but still yummy. At first I thought the big soft red things were cherry tomatoes that had been roasted and/or vinegared to make them extra tasty, but it turned out they were the hot peppers. The whole dish was bright and tangy from peppers and basil, softened and blended by the gentling effects of the olive oil in the sauce and bread cubes. Fantastic.

We shared a few desserts: sorbets of strawberry and lemon (i think - i've eaten several sorbet combos lately, and my mind is going), a tasty chocolate tart that was basically fudge in a crust with caramel ice cream, a bittersweet chocolate cake that won raves, and a peach upside down cake that is worth a trip to Oliveto in and of itself. Hedge ordered it, and at the time I was thinking, why on earth would she order THAT? it's going to be lame and boring, as fruity cakes always are in restaurants, blah blah blah. Shows what I know. This thing was incredible. The peaches were fresh and just barely touched with caramel, and the cake itself was light, moist, and very nicely flavored, with crunchy edge bits. I have no idea what kind of cake recipe they are using, but I want it.

I believe there was some moscato d'asti ordered in there along with desserts, and there was prosecco early on, and another white that hedge ordered and of course I have already forgotten, and some Navarro pinot noir grape juice that someone ordered having seen it as a cocktail component. This is no ordinary grape juice, but a perfumey sweet nectar more that capable of standing on its own to compete with any dessert wine. I had never heard of such a thing, but I will keep my eye peeled for it henceforward (all the californian foodies in the crew knew exactly what it was).

C tells me that staff has changed at Oliveto in the last couple of years, and they have lost the C Pasta Crown to Quince, where the departed staff have gone. Which to me only means that now i have to go eat pasta at Quince, because the pasta at Oliveto remains very very good.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:29 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2006

the fragrance of desire

My coworker ordered Hecky's for lunch, and I went in for a whole BBQ chicken. It arrived just as I got pulled into a client meeting, and the scent of that delectable sauce was nearly intolerable. I have no idea what they do to those chickens, but it is so far beyond delicious as to be sublime. YUM.

Posted by foodnerd at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2006

i love the 80s

Sorry, I've been trying to get the Oliveto post written and the photos up, but the FTP server has been wonky lately. And I had to go dance my ass off this weekend in Cleveland, so I've been busy. But tallasiandude sent this to me this morning:


which should be good for a few laughs. Enjoy.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2006

goat milk -> best scrambled eggs ever

Wow. I just made some scrambled eggs for breakfast (with leftover sauteed spinach with garlic, onion & pepper in it, yum) and used a splash of that goats' milk I bought the other day. Holy moly! These are the best eggs I've ever had -- they're creamy and sweet, with a more interesting flavor than usual. I am a devout ketchup user when it comes to eggs, with the occasional diversion into hot sauce, and I tried both on these eggs, and they were better plain. I think I may keep this goats' milk around on a pretty regular basis.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2006

also at farmers' markets...

We found goose and duck eggs at Berkeley, which sadly I could not buy, along with some astounding golden balsamic vinegar that tastes like honey and melon (from Big Paw Grub, called "Jaymes' Blond," and it's not on their online menu), which greedily I did buy, and a packet of hippy-dippy sundried tomatoes that I intend to make into a relish like the one at the seller's stand: soak the dried tomatoes in some good vinegar, then add a bit of olive oil, and perhaps a bit of salt & pepper. Also, along the side of the road from Yosemite, amid the cherry and almond trees, we got some fabulous strawberries quivering on the peak of ripeness, about to tumble down the far side into decay. We ate them in piles for breakfast our first morning in Oakland.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:46 AM | Comments (1)

June 08, 2006

random lunch thought

Back from a client visit today, ravenous and without having actually brought any lunch. Fell back on desk-drawer provisions and a bit of bread left over from yesterday. Turns out that tuna with some Wish-Bone italian dressing and a dab of dijon mustard is really delicious. I'll never give up my Miracle Whip, but this was really very tasty and is going into regular usage for sure.

Posted by foodnerd at 03:03 PM | Comments (0)

meat presents from Fatted Calf

After the abortive attempt to visit The Fatted Calf at the Berkeley Farmers' Market on my trip to SF in March, thwarted by food poisoning which caused me to get to the market too late to find TFC anywhere about the place (i now know they sell out to the bare walls sometime around 1pm), I was hellbent on getting there this time around.

Ay caramba, Biggles, I see why you like this place!

I tried to let reason carry the day, but I couldn't help myself and I snagged around $40 worth of fucking amazing meat goodness. And on reflection, considering how delicious it all has been, that's pretty damn cheap, really.

I got rabbit crepinettes with roasted shallot & thyme, because I had no idea what a crepinette was, but they sure sounded interesting, and who doesn't like rabbit with shallot & thyme? Turns out to be a sausage patty wrapped in a gorgeous netting of caul fat. Oh. My. God. I put these onto the grill, and they were so good. The taste is distinctly sausagey, but more delicate and sweet because of the specific ingredients. I could get very addicted to those for weekend breakfasts, yes indeed. (I must give credit to Sam for photo composition inspiration for the photo that came up when I googled "crepinette" -- hers came out much better, but I liked the idea of including the pretty label along with the pretty meat.)

The rabbit pate is also delicate in the extreme, so delicate it was pretty well obliterated by the whole wheat sourdough bread I ate it with. I've started slicing off slivers late at night and eating them alone by the light of the fridge, which is working out much better, as it allows the quiet whisper of the sweet meat and herbs to hit the tongue clearly. I am not sure what companion I would give it in a more civilized presentation, but it would have to be something very understated indeed.

In polar opposite to this delicate creation is the robust pork rillettes, happily sitting under the veil of white fat in their stoneware crock, waiting to be scooped out onto that whole wheat sourdough that very well suits their spiciness and smooth yet meaty texture. Also good on Wasa rye crisps for breakfast with milky tea.

I got two confit duck legs, which I am hoping to use tonight in a dinner for my friends H & J. And I also got two calabrese sausages, thrown in as a lagniappe at the last minute when I picked up my goodies (as they were closing up shop) -- my friend MissLudmilla happened to mention that they were her favorite order at Top Dog, and our man at Fatted Calf scoffed and tossed her the last pack of calabreses, telling her if she'd try them, she'd never go back to Top Dog again. Heh heh heh. That's confidence in your product! Unfortunately, I took them with me back to Chicago by accident. I cooked them up in the skillet, and sliced them over pasta and sauteed greens and a bit of lemon zest. Fabulous. Lots of fennel, a bit of spicy pepper, and a rich almost gamey meatiness. Wow.

The thing that strikes me most is that all these products were so different stylistically, but all wonderfully well composed and well made. It is clear also, from seeing the market stand, and from reading Biggles's posts, that these people very much enjoy their work. And from the frenzy of purchasing that did not cease, I would say the people of the Bay Area rather enjoy that work as well. I sure as hell did. Yum.

Posted by foodnerd at 06:55 AM | Comments (2)

June 07, 2006

RIP Edmar

I just found out that the Edmar supermarket closed permanently June 5. It is to be razed and replaced by a Dominick's. That just SUCKS. *anguished wail*

I seem not to have posted about the Edmar before, which is bizarre since when I discovered it a few months ago I raved to my friend J who also lives in the neighborhood, and vowed never again to set foot in the nasty Jewel in the neighborhood. The Edmar was a local, old school supermarket like J & I both remember from our childhoods in the 70s -- and to sweeten the deal, it had both wicked cheap prices and a wide range of interesting ethnic products of the polish and hispanic persuasions, including locally made bread, nopales & tomatillos, unusual meat cuts, Mexican spices, various pickled pork products, polish jarred vegetables & jams, Kasia's pierogies, etc. I once walked out of there with a large jar of red roasted peppers and a pound of grapes, and spent less than $2. It was a great supermarket, and right around the corner. I am SO VERY SAD.

Posted by foodnerd at 06:40 AM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2006

yosemite - ahwahnee dinner

Hedge wanted to have a fancy dinner in the Ahwahnee Hotel dining room, and I was totally down with that, so we dug out our civilization-togs and headed over. The food is okay, but under no circumstances is it worth the price tags put on it simply by virtue of being served in a gorgeous late-1920s grand lodge dining room.

We had a caesar salad and a seared scallop on tomato for starters. Both tasted good, but the scallop wasn't very seared, floppy was more like it, and hedge sent hers back for more cooking since it was essentially raw (I didn't mind, I kinda like it that way). The mains were super-luxe in their descriptions but conceptually very much within the expectations of a wealthy but timid middle-american eater, and unfortunately weren't particularly well executed. Tallasiandude had a huge rich pork chop with an interesting and tasty savory tart and savoy cabbage alongside, but my Kobe beef with forest mushrooms was a weird presentation of pre-sliced meat (i don't want to say gristly but it wasn't what you'd call tender) piled onto garlic mashed potatoes, and the mushrooms (all morels) seemed like they might have been dried, which was sort of a drag considering it's springtime mushroom season. And considering the $35 price.

I sound very negative, and I guess I am, but i do think that at half the price, I would have been much less inclined to be so nitpickingly critical. Or perhaps if they would shoot just a bit lower, and actually hit the mark they intend... but it's a hotel dining room (probably run by an out of state catering company like the Curry Village dining options are), and I guess I'm now a hotel-kitchen snob: all my highfalutin restaurant dining of late is starting to show.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2006

yosemite picnicking - blissful excess

I believe that today I reached a new pinnacle of nerdiness. Tallasiandude and I played an online version of Settlers of Catan (the board game that MonkeyBoy & MissLudmilla got us hooked on during our trip), against a bot, while talking on speakerphone. I was never a gamer in high school or college, but at this point I am seriously regretting all that wasted time in my adolescence.

However, my overweening nerdiness is about food. And I believe that on a couple of occasions that obsession, put into proximity with hedge's obsession, I might have been in danger of harshing tallasiandude's vacation mellow. I tried to keep it reasonably in check, but what is a hike without local artisanal finocciona and handmade lomo and old amsterdam cheese and marinated artichokes and Acme bread? Duh. :-)

We stopped for camping -- sorry, I mean "camping" -- provisions at Market Hall in Oakland. Bloody hell, what a store. We needed lunch first and got some premade sammiches and a pile of really good walnut-driedfruit-bluecheese salad. And then we addressed the salumi case (lomo meticulously sliced & arranged, finocciona, Niman Ranch landjaeger, country pate - eaten with hedge's homemade pickled ramps). And the cheese case (old amsterdam, goat gouda, sharp english cheddar, and a stinky melty goat round wrapped in leaves). And the prepared food case (marinated whole artichokes, green beans almondine). And the spreads (lima bean skordalia), and the breads (multigrain & plain rounds, plus a chive/onion flatbread fried golden), and the fruits (oranges & grapefruits), and the trail mixes (organic of course), and the imported cookies (specifically Gingernuts, yum yum yum). It kept us in fabulous breakfasts and lunches for four days, no refrigeration needed. Hot damn.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:40 PM | Comments (3)

June 04, 2006

couldn't have said it better

I was just thinking earlier today that there aren't very many food bloggers (at least, compared to the Bay Area, say) in Chicago, considering how good an eating city it is. And then I read this on Chicago Foodie, in a post entitled GQ: Chicago is the Best Restaurant City in America:

"The irony is that I've been saying Chicago is the best restaurant city all along for another reason. I can't think of another city that has such diversity and authenticity of ethnic restaurants. Almost more importantly, I can't think of any other city where there is nothing better to do than eat.

BAHAHAHAHAHA! That is AWESOME. And really, true -- I came here with two main activities in mind: to eat and to look at pretty buildings. (And because, as the post also notes, people here are less wrapped up in bullshit, and as a consequence are nicer and more down to earth.)

Posted by foodnerd at 06:40 PM | Comments (2)

three meals before departing

I've been away on vacation since the middle of May, so my apologies for the lack of posts... but i have been eating my way across northern California with insane gusto, so there's an avalanche of posts to come. MonkeyBoy has advised that I get a mini tripod to help out with those low-light restaurant photos, and I think I will take that advice, because an alarming number of the restaurant photos look like complete and total crap.

In any case, we had three lovely meals before we left, all at hometown favorites.

The night I hit Boston we stopped at Taiwan Cafe and got my favorite fu-chou fish ball soup, a tilapia in spicy sauce that tallasiandude had stumbled upon during a prior visit, and a plate of sauteed green beans that had me bouncing in my chair with the sheer pleasure of them. They were perfect, just the right doneness, and with a very clear, forward saltiness that came at least in part from the tiny dried shrimp. If you get nothing else at Taiwan Cafe, get these beans. Yum!

Another night we went to the Blue Room (watch out, link has &@^#%@ music!) to have dinner with one of tallasiandude's classmates, and to sit at a table attended by another of his classmates. We had a lovely meal -- the Blue Room is nothing if not reliable -- with standouts being some grilled octopus, some liver-rific raviolis, and the bizarre but wonderful raisin-caper mash on top of my halibut.

And the night before we left, we joined up with littlelee and spleen for some korean kimchi treat in the fancified new Wu Chon House. I suspect some change in chef, due to minute variations in dishes, though the food is still as fantastic as ever. We had kimchi bokum of course, and a plate of bulgogi and another of kalbi. One of the pan chan was a braised beef that was just terrific, and the fresh kimchi was one of the most delicious i have ever eaten. It was nice to be home.

Posted by foodnerd at 02:26 AM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2006

goat's milk

As you wait for me to get my ass in gear and post stuff from our trip, let me just note that Whole Foods had some goat's milk in quarts, and i picked some up on a whim yesterday. It's great! It's just like drinking regular milk, but with just the faintest whiff of goatiness. I love it. The subtaste of it reminds me of something from way back in my youth, but i can't think what -- maybe the nonfat dried milk we used to get? No, it is a *good* taste.... hmm. I will ponder.

Posted by foodnerd at 02:00 AM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2006

harold, thank god

I just watched the finale of Top Chef -- thank you, iTunes -- and I am greatly relieved to find that Harold did indeed win the competition.

Though on some level I can relate to That Bitch Tiffani and her yearning to have money to travel, to taste food in its local contexts, to pay off her debts, and to finally feel free, the fact of the matter is that she got in her own way. She can be brilliant, if she would just stop trying to bend everyone and everything to her own will.

In any case, Harold is going to run the kind of kitchen I want to eat in: reliably delicious, just innovative enough, beautiful and down-to-bizness. Who wants to join me on a trip to his new place in NYC this winter? ELF? Directah? Boston peeps? Seriously -- the more who come with, the more we can taste. Woo!

Posted by foodnerd at 08:36 PM | Comments (0)