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Pasta Carbonara

November 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Andrew Carmellini, chef/owner of TriBeCa’s Locanda Verde, making pasta carbonara

[Daniel Krieger for The New York Times]

Tuesday night, the NYT put up an article by Ian Fisher at their home page about pasta carbonara as a Thanksgiving substitute. As a carbonara lover, I clicked on the article immediately, and found it sufficiently exciting that I thought of writing a post about it. The next morning, I saw that it was the front page feature story in the weekly Wednesday food section, and later in the day I noticed that it was #2 in the NYT list of most e-mailed articles. I wasn’t alone in my fascination with carbonara. And my service as linker to the article might be unnecessary. Yet here I am linking to it, in case you missed it.

Of special interest is the discussion of guanciale versus pancetta.

My wife has more confidence in my cooking skills than I do. When we were posted in Italy (I was the New York Times correspondent in Rome), she volunteered me to make carbonara at a party one summer afternoon in Tuscany. The host was a contessa, the mother of one of our sons’ school friends. I am American, and I could tell most of the guests did not hold much hope.

I hadn’t made much carbonara before and told her, “I’m nervous.”

She said, “You should be.”

It all went terribly. It was too hot for most Italians to enjoy heavy carbonara. I didn’t bring enough guanciale, the cured pig cheeks that for many Italians have become indispensable for carbonara. I had to chuck in some pancetta (pork belly as opposed to cheek) that the host had in the fridge. For this crowd, pancetta simply was not done. I botched the eggs to the point that they were scrambled.

No Italian adult would touch it, except the contessa, who did so with well-bred, fork-plucking politeness. But the children gobbled it down because — and this is the curse and the key to carbonara — eggs, bacon, cheese and pasta taste great, almost no matter what. It’s worth the effort, though, to get right, and that’s what I’ve striven for since, to the point of curing my own guanciale at home, which is less difficult than it sounds. No obsession here, I swear.

Fisher raises a series of questions: “Guanciale, pancetta or plain bacon? Only pecorino cheese, made from sheep’s milk? Or is a bit of Parmesan O.K.? Peas or not? Onion? Whole eggs or yolks? Or, heaven forbid, the ingredient that most divides devotees of a dish that, above all, aims for creaminess: actual cream?” It would appear that the answer is, whatever works.

Andrew Carmellini, the chef and owner of Locanda Verde in Manhattan, studied cooking in Italy but has gone his own way, while keeping true to the dish’s nature. In his version, which he calls Spaghetti Friuliano, after the region in Italy where part of his family comes from, he uses speck, which is like prosciutto, as well as onions, cabbage, eggs, smoked pecorino from Sardinia and, yes, cream. He even finishes it with a little grappa.

After seeing Skyfall last night, Gail and I took a route home that would bring us past a favorite neighborhood restaurant, La Côte Café. In mid afternoon, we had eaten a late lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers. As we passed La Côte Café at around 8:15 PM, we weren’t in need of a full dinner. I suggested that we stop for dessert crepes.

Earlier this year, in converting from La Côte Crêperie to La Côte Café, the restaurant substantially revised their menu. Many of the crepe selections were dropped. Lasagna and pasta carbonara — perhaps the best carbonara in Seattle — were added. This presented a bit of a problem, since we really weren’t there for a full meal. With carbonara on my mind for four days, I had to exercise enormous restraint to stick with ordering just a light salad and a dessert crepe, which I did. Now we have to get back soon so I can satisfy my carbonara craving.

I wonder why French restaurants make such good pasta carbonara. Without doubt, I had my favorite version ever at the beachfront restaurant of the Majestic Hotel in La Baule, on the Brittany coast. That was in 1999, when we were visiting my sister and her family on the occasion of a big birthday for her. We ate there the night we arrived. I had the carbonara then, and again when we returned later in our stay.

I’m thinking that next month, when Joel is back, we can experiment a bit with our own version of pasta carbonara. Gail, what do you think?

Categories: Food

Dumplings

October 27, 2012 1 comment

The NYT food section three days ago had an article on some of the options for dumpling lovers in the city, along with a slideshow and the video I’ve embedded above. If you missed the video, I recommend you click on it and watch. It features the work of Joe Ng at RedFarm in the West Village and Dale Talde at Talde in Park Slope. (The slideshow is worth a look too.)

From the article:

In Park Slope, Dale Talde has engineered one of the most hunted-down bar snacks of 2012, a beer-friendly, street-cart collision known as the “pretzel dumpling.”

Inside, there’s some slightly cured pork. Outside, a process of boiling, brushing, pan-searing and baking creates a skin with the crust and chew of a hot pretzel. The dipping sauce echoes what you might get at a deli, or in a bag full of Chinese takeout: strong mustard.

For Mr. Talde, who grew up in Chicago and comes from a Filipino background, the goal was to summon a dish that represented a spirited take on what’s Asian and what’s American. “For us, it was a perfect way of blending the two,” he said.

If any place embodies the city’s neo-dumpling ethos, though, it’s RedFarm, whose West Village location has already spawned a forthcoming Upper West Side spinoff. At RedFarm, there are dumplings fashioned to look like Pac-Man characters and horseshoe crabs. There’s also an egg roll stuffed with pastrami.

“I call them whimsical,” said Ed Schoenfeld, the veteran restaurateur behind RedFarm. Spend an afternoon touring the kitchen, and Mr. Schoenfeld will rhapsodize about the artistry of the chef, Joe Ng. Those batter-crusted crabs might look like a cute gag, but there’s culinary precision (and greenmarket produce) inside them.

Pete Wells reviewed RedFarm back in March, giving it high praise and two stars.

It won’t be easy. They have plaintive black sesame-seed eyes, the dumplings at RedFarm, giving them the appearance of strange, adorable characters in a Miyazaki film. These flat-bellied duck and crab dumplings look like a school of wide-mouthed catfish; the pale-green ones, filled with shrimp and snow-pea leaves, like moon-faced tadpoles. Over here are Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, spectral shrimp dumplings in blue, pink, yellow and white, chasing a Pac-Man made of sweet potato tempura with a blueberry for an eye.

Ignore their plaintive stares, and stare at them instead. Look how rounded they are, how their fillings weigh against their glossy wrappers like the summer juice pressing against the skin of a plum. They look firm, ripe, ready. You can tell that they’re going to be good.

But you don’t know how good they really are, and how good RedFarm can be, until you try one. And then, plaintive stares or no, you begin devouring these bundles of delight one by one.

RedFarm, in the West Village, is a collaboration between one of New York’s greatest Chinese chefs, Joe Ng, and one of its greatest Chinese restaurateurs, Ed Schoenfeld. Only one, Mr. Ng, is Chinese by birth. Mr. Schoenfeld is Chinese by calling, a Brooklyn-born Jew who long ago heard an inner voice urging him to bring better kung pao chicken to the people of Manhattan.

They have several clever ideas at RedFarm. First, the menu has been tailored for a Western palate, with none of the bland and slippery specialties that non-Chinese eaters find so enigmatic. It also seems designed for the age of Yelp, when the entire world can be split into either Nothing Special or OMG. RedFarm’s cooking runs hard toward OMG.

[snip]

For sensations like this, people have stood in line, and stood and stood, since the restaurant opened last August. RedFarm belongs to that post-Momofuku generation of restaurants made possible by the discovery that people will wait in line, open their wallets and put up with a reasonable amount of discomfort if the cooking consistently vaults above usual levels of intensity. No reservations are taken, except for large parties.

The décor, to stretch a definition, is provided mostly by potted plants and by Mr. Schoenfeld’s owlish eyeglasses, color-coordinated with his sweaters. Cartons of beer and liquor are stowed above the tables on raw-lumber platforms. (What design budget there was seems to have gone into buying one of those highly accomplished Japanese toilets.)

In exchange, all the flavors have been turned up as high as they can go. The dishes can be salty, or sweet, or rich. Often they are all three at once. At RedFarm, the food goes to 11.

The review has a slideshow too, also worth study.

We’ll be in New York in just days, but with limited time, so that part about waiting in line may mean we won’t get down to RedFarm. Next time.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Bill Burger, 3

August 15, 2012 2 comments

A quick review, for those who haven’t been following this series of posts.

Two months ago, just before the start of the US Open golf championship at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, I wrote about the Bill Burger, invented by Bill Parish and served exclusively at the club. I quoted from Al Saracevic’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

For decades, famished golfers have stopped at a small, nondescript shack between the 9th and 10th holes at Olympic to devour what quite possibly could be the greatest burger known to mankind. It not only tastes great, but it looks funny, too.

You see, back in 1950, a guy named Bill Parrish opened a small burger stand outside the boundaries of Olympic, but close enough for golfers to run over and buy a burger or dog between holes. To save money, Bill decided to cut his burgers in half and serve them on hot dog rolls. That way he didn’t have to waste money on buying two kinds of buns.

The result is legendary. You can hold it one hand and wolf it down in no time. And did I mention it tastes fabulous? If you’ve ever played the famous Lake Course, you know what I’m talking about.

I then explained that Bill’s daughter now makes the burgers, using a mold to shape the ground beef and concluding that we need one of those molds.

Two weeks ago, I wrote with exciting news:

This morning, my pal Russ was kind enough to send me a link to the Kitchen Art Ham Dogger, available from Amazon for just $6.29. … I ordered one. It arrives tomorrow. Ham dogs this weekend. Hot dog!

No ham dogs that weekend, as it turns out. Alternative eating options arose. And then Gail went away for a few days. But patience is a virtue, and I’m virtuous, so I waited.

Last night I got my reward. Ham dogs! Or, Bill burgers! When I got home, Gail had already molded them into shape. Soon she had them on the grill, and when I took over, all I had to do is roll them. I suppose that was a first, rolling rather than flipping the burgers.

It turns out that putting cheese on a ham dog isn’t so easy. Something to do with dogs being curved, unlike burgers. If you slice the cheese flat, you will discover a problem.

The problem may look minor in the picture below. The cheese melts and curves after all. But it doesn’t adhere as tightly as flat cheese does on a flat burger.

Maybe you can see that better in the next picture. Take a close look at the second ham dog from the top.

Another problem: the fixings don’t see to rest inside the bun as well as in a burger bun. (See photo at top.) But maybe we didn’t buy the right hot dog buns. We need to experiment a little more.

No matter. They tasted good.

Which prompts the fundamental question. Why bother? Sure, they tasted good, but no better than if we shaped them like burgers and ate them on burger buns. Is there a point to this enterprise, other than to use the Kitchen Art Ham Dogger that we now have $6.29 (plus tax) invested in?

Yes, there is a point, as Gail reminded me, and it was Bill Parrish’s point as well, his source of inspiration. If you’re making both hamburgers and hot dogs, turning your hamburgers into Bill Burgers allows you to lay out one type of bun only. It simplifies shopping, minimizes waste, saves money. Kind of like growing melons shaped like cubes. The melons can travel in the same boxes used for other goods, saving space and money.

Now we must search for the perfect Bill Burger bun. And a melon mold.

Categories: Food

Bill Burger, 2

August 2, 2012 1 comment

Just before the start of the US Open golf championship in June, I wrote about the Bill Burger. This year’s Open was held at San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club, which in addition to its rich sporting history is also home to Bill Parish’s great burger invention.

I quoted in that earlier post from Al Saracevic’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

For decades, famished golfers have stopped at a small, nondescript shack between the 9th and 10th holes at Olympic to devour what quite possibly could be the greatest burger known to mankind. It not only tastes great, but it looks funny, too.

You see, back in 1950, a guy named Bill Parrish opened a small burger stand outside the boundaries of Olympic, but close enough for golfers to run over and buy a burger or dog between holes. To save money, Bill decided to cut his burgers in half and serve them on hot dog rolls. That way he didn’t have to waste money on buying two kinds of buns.

The result is legendary. You can hold it one hand and wolf it down in no time. And did I mention it tastes fabulous? If you’ve ever played the famous Lake Course, you know what I’m talking about.

I also quoted a description by Katie Sweeney that accompanied her slide show, in which she brought us up to date by mentioning that “nowadays, Bill’s daughter is in charge of making the burgers. They have a special mold that shapes the ground beef into skinny rectangular patties. Each patty is a quarter pound of beef.”

And I concluded:

We will be watching the golf on Sunday, and having our Father’s Day barbecue. What better way to take in the action than to accompany it with Bill Burgers (or our best approximation of them)? We could use one of those molds.

Alas, minus molds, Gail refused to participate in Bill Burger building. We had to settle for Copper River salmon, accompanied by rice, grilled vegetables, corn on the cob, homemade strawberry lemonade, and Cold Stone Creamery ice cream cake.

I know. Not so bad. In fact, it was terrific. But I have continued to dream of Bill Burgers.

I can stop dreaming soon. This morning, my pal Russ was kind enough to send me a link to the Kitchen Art Ham Dogger, available from Amazon for just $6.29. (Thank you, Russ!) The product description:

Now you can please both the hot dog and hamburger lover. You will never have to buy two kinds of buns when you have Kitchen Art Ham Dogger. The Ham Dogger is easy to use and makes 1/4 lb. hot dog shaped hamburger patties. Make specialty dogs using ground sausage or turkey.

To give proper credit, Russ learned about the ham dogger from Amy Rolph’s piece on the Top 20 weirdest things you can buy on Amazon, posted yesterday at the Seattle PI website.

I ordered one. It arrives tomorrow. Ham dogs this weekend. Hot dog!

Categories: Food, Shopping

Birthday Dinner

June 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Last night I wrote about our anniversary dinner from a few days ago. Equally deserving of attention is last night’s dinner, not at a restaurant but at home. We are fortunate that Joel is back for a few days. Yesterday was his birthday, in honor of which Gail made a feast.

Joel had proposed two options. Gail made both. Pesto pasta with pine nuts and chicken milanese. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos, but the picture above is a faithful representation of the chicken. In appearance. I don’t know how to represent its flavor, which I am enjoying as I type. Even cold the next morning, with a bit of arugula, it’s wonderful. And the pasta dish? It’s my favorite.

Accompanying them was our final bottle of Stryker Sonoma’s E1K, a Cabernet-based blend that we have enjoyed drinking since our October 2008 visit to the winery. Alas, it is no longer available, so that’s the end of that.

For dessert, Joel requested donuts, and that’s what he got. Gail drove over to Mighty-O for a dozen. The beverage accompaniment for them was — what else? — strawberry milkshakes.

One thing I learned: If you eat a giant chicken cutlet with arugula, two helpings of pesto pasta, a few slices of bread with butter, and a donut, along with wine and water, you will struggle to finish an extra-large milkshake. Even a fabulously delicious milkshake with fresh strawberries and top-quality vanilla ice cream.

Another thing: I’m sure glad Joel came home for his birthday.

Categories: Family, Food

Bill Burger

June 13, 2012 Leave a comment

[Katie Sweeney]

I pointed out two nights ago that the US Open golf championship is being held this week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, prompting articles in magazines, newspapers, and websites about the club’s history. For this I am grateful, as I might otherwise not have learned about the Bill Burger, a version of which will now be the centerpiece of our Father’s Day menu.

Al Saracevic explains the Bill Burger story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

A gross injustice has been perpetrated on the attendees of the U.S. Open, and it’s of the culinary kind.

The problem? You can’t get a real Bill Burger this week at the Olympic Club.

For decades, famished golfers have stopped at a small, nondescript shack between the 9th and 10th holes at Olympic to devour what quite possibly could be the greatest burger known to mankind. It not only tastes great, but it looks funny, too.

You see, back in 1950, a guy named Bill Parrish opened a small burger stand outside the boundaries of Olympic, but close enough for golfers to run over and buy a burger or dog between holes. To save money, Bill decided to cut his burgers in half and serve them on hot dog rolls. That way he didn’t have to waste money on buying two kinds of buns.

The result is legendary. You can hold it one hand and wolf it down in no time. And did I mention it tastes fabulous? If you’ve ever played the famous Lake Course, you know what I’m talking about.

If you haven’t golfed the Lake Course, you won’t have the chance to eat the real thing this weekend because Bill’s shack is closed. The USGA is handling all the food concessions, and the little place could never handle the crush.

To make matters worse, the food folks at the Open are serving faux Bill Burgers at some of their big concession locations. Despite their best intentions, it’s a poor substitute.

Megan Diaz was out on the course Wednesday and tried one of the faux-burgers.

“Talk about a letdown,” said Diaz, following up with the universal game-show sound effect, “Waa-waa-waaa.”

Just another excuse to find your way out to Olympic after the Open leaves town.

You will better appreciate the Bill Burger if you go to Katie Sweeney’s slide show of a year ago (hat tip: Geoff Shackelford) to view its eleven captioned photos, including the one at the top. Her version of the story parallels Saracevic’s:

There are many famous burgers out there: the juicy Lucy, the Shake Shack burger, the In-N-Out Burger. But until recently, I had never heard of the Bill Burger. Famous in the golf world — it’s found at San Francisco’s Olympic Club — the Bill is a burger that’s shaped like a hot dog and served in a hot dog bun. Read on to learn more about this all-American delicacy!

The Bill Burger was created in the 1950s by Bill Parish. He opened a trailer outside of the Olympic Club and served golfers hot dogs and hamburgers. Since he didn’t want to pay for two different kinds of buns, he made a burger in the shape of a hot dog, and served it in a hot dog bun. The burgers became so popular among the golfers that the Olympic Club invited Bill inside to set up shop along the course.

Nowadays, Bill’s daughter is in charge of making the burgers. They have a special mold that shapes the ground beef into skinny rectangular patties. Each patty is a quarter pound of beef.

We will be watching the golf on Sunday, and having our Father’s Day barbecue. What better way to take in the action than to accompany it with Bill Burgers (or our best approximation of them)? We could use one of those molds.

Categories: Food

Dream Hero

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment


[From the Parm website]

We didn’t eat much Ialian food at home when I grew up. Or maybe I should call it Italian-American food. No pizza. No pasta. And I didn’t mind, given that I wasn’t too interested in tomatoes. Or cheese. Or spaghetti, which was pretty much synonymous with pasta then. My brother would like to pick up meatball heroes from a place nearby. I didn’t understand that at all. The name alone was a puzzle. Plus, when he’d bring the paper bag into the car with the takeout hero, the smell was awful.

I know. My loss. And what a loss it was! Here we were, in a suburb of New York with a large Italian population, and I eschewed the local food.

The first four of my Cambridge-Boston years were no better. But finally, when I stayed in Cambridge to attend graduate school, I had to cook for myself and my interests broadened. No heroes in Boston. They had grinders. There was a Greek pizza and grinder shop on Mass Ave about halfway between Central Square and MIT that I’d walk past every day. One day I took a chance. Rather than heading on to campus to grab lunch at the student center cafeteria, I stopped in to look around. And ordered a meatball grinder.

Mind you, I didn’t have much room in my diet for onions either. Thanks to this shop, I learned. They made a meatball grinder the likes of which I’ve never had since. The meatballs were cut long and flat, like meatloaf. A small amount of sauce was put on top. And sliced onions. Then the grinder was grilled, the bread getting toasty, the onions crisp. It was so good. The best.

But not a traditional meatball hero. Or sub. Or grinder. I wouldn’t learn to eat them for a few years more. The year we spent in Princeton, when Joel was a baby, I began serious research. Whenever we went to a pizza place, I’d be sure to order a meatball hero too. Some were good; some weren’t. They were nothing like those Greek meatball grinders from Cambridge, but I didn’t use them as my standard. I treated this as a different food category, and I was content.

Here in Seattle, as Joel has gotten older, he has begun his own search for the perfect meatball hero. We don’t have the same vision. I am convinced, for now at least, that the best in Seattle are from Stellar, in Georgetown. Joel’s not impressed. He prefers Piecora’s, which he grew up eating. More to the point, he’s not convinced there are any good meatball subs in Seattle. He may be right.

Which brings me to Pete Wells’ weekly NYT restaurant review last Wednesday, in which he awards two stars to Parm and breaks my heart. Why must we be so far away?

I would like somebody to explain why my mind keeps drifting back to the meatball parmigiana hero at Parm. Like most things at Parm, which opened on Mulberry Street in November, it is prepared by cooks wearing white paper hats and is set before you in a red plastic basket. And, like most things at Parm, it is completely faithful to your memories while being much, much better than you remembered.

At first, the sandwich exhibits nothing out of the ordinary. The tomato sauce, simple and summery, just seems to have been made by a good cook. The mozzarella and torn leaves of basil are fresh, which isn’t unheard of. The seeded roll is completely normal. The meatballs are not normal. For starters, they are not balls, they are patties. Anyone who has ever taken a bite of a meatball hero and watched one of the meatballs launch into orbit will recognize at once the significance of this deviation. Patties stay put.

Most sub-shop meatballs are as hard as a 15-minute egg. The patties at Parm are not. Your teeth fall right through them.

And when they do, you find something else that isn’t normal: the meat is juicy and rosy pink on the inside, the color of a perfectly cooked pork chop. The meatballs, made from veal, beef and sweet Italian sausage, are pink because they were braised at 180 degrees in a CVap low-temperature cooker for 40 minutes. They were braised at 180 degrees because Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, the chefs behind Parm, studied fancy-restaurant techniques under chefs like Andrew Carmellini, Mario Batali and Wylie Dufresne.

But the meatballs are sitting on a hero roll because Mr. Torrisi and Mr. Carbone are Italian-Americans who, once they had a restaurant of their own, decided to cook what is a kind of soul food for them and for millions of other Americans, even those with no Italian ancestors.

In the summary data at the end of the review, Wells describes Parm as “an Italian-American lunch counter with tables, where the short-order cooks in white paper hats happen to have trained in some of Manhattan’s best restaurants.” The service is “as smiling and professional as one could ask of a place where nearly everything is served in a plastic basket.” Parm receives two stars, a ringing endorsement of such a simple place. We will have to find our way down there next time we’re in Manhattan.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Baguette Justice

January 20, 2012 1 comment

I began 2011 with a post titled Food and Law, in which I referred to e-pal Leslie’s post on her dinner with Supreme Court justice Ruth Ginsburg. Leslie had a follow-up post yesterday regarding the “perfect baguette” recipe of Ruth’s late husband Marty.

It turns out that Marty Ginsburg was an excellent cook. Leslie was able to get Marty to reveal his baguette recipe over the phone, and she wrote it down for him to verify, which he did. That recipe, as then recorded by Leslie, was kept private at his request, but it has now appeared in Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, a book of Marty’s recipes assembled by other Supreme Court spouses. The book is published by the Supreme Court Historical Society and available at the Supreme Court gift shop.

Leslie has more about the Ginsburg baguettes in a post from three summers ago, where she describes them as “crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside … like the ones you get in France.” Indeed, she considers them “the best baguettes I have ever had outside of France.”

NPR featured the book in a piece a month ago with famed Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg, from whom we learn that

The idea for the cookbook, Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, came from Martha-Ann Alito, wife of Justice Samuel Alito. It hit her the day after Marty Ginsburg’s memorial service in 2010.

“One of my first conversations with Marty, in the fall of 2006, was about food and nourishment, and how satisfying an expression of love that it was for him,” she recalls. “And that, in part, led to the idea that we should put the cookbook together.”

The other Supreme spouses quickly agreed. They had often teamed up with Marty Ginsburg to provide the food for the monthly spouse lunches. But none of them had any idea what a large undertaking the cookbook would be.

First, a word about Marty Ginsburg’s love affair with cooking. It began, strangely enough, when he was in the army at Fort Sill, Okla., with his new bride, the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Neither of the Ginsburgs knew much about cooking then, but one of their wedding gifts was The Escoffier Cookbook, the bible of French cooking. And so Marty, a chemistry major, began at page one and worked his way through the entire volume. As he observed in a speech in 1996, there was method to his madness then and later.

“I learned very early on in our marriage that Ruth was a fairly terrible cook and, for lack of interest, unlikely to improve. This seemed to me comprehensible; my mother was a fairly terrible cook also. Out of self-preservation, I decided I had better learn to cook because Ruth, to quote her precisely, was expelled from the kitchen by her food-loving children nearly a quarter-century ago.”

Categories: Food, Law

Home Cookin’

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I write often about the meals we have out, not often enough about the ones in. Here’s one.

After a great meal at Cafe Parco Sunday night and a not-so-great meal out last night, it was time tonight for the lamb chops that we bought Saturday. (Recall that we bought them at The Swinery during the West Seattle outing described here.)

We began with a carrot soup Gail made using a Moosewood recipe and a loaf of bread she bought today at Macrina Bakery. Then came the lamb chops, accompanied by fantastic rösti. There was a time when I ate the real thing, courtesy of a Swiss woman I knew. I can tell you, Gail makes the real thing. Next came the salad, a simple and tasty plate of greens. And then a little more rösti. Why let it sit?

Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photograph the meal when Gail served it. I assembled the scene above three hours later, taking the soup and the one extra chop out of the refrigerator. The rösti was gone. Sorry.

Thanks Gail.

Categories: Family, Food

West Seattle Outing

January 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Bakery Nouveau

We don’t get over to West Seattle* much. It’s not all that far; it just feels that way. But from SeaTac airport to the south, it’s pretty accessible, and therefore we have developed a little tradition, when we drop someone off at the airport on a weekend morning, of stopping in West Seattle on the way home. Joel’s return to North Carolina yesterday gave us our first such opportunity since August 2010, when we saw our friend Kenny off to his Glasgow home.

*West Seattle is the part of the city that lies west of the Duwamish River. It’s basically the whole southwest portion, taking in several distinct neighborhoods and commercial centers. Puget Sound borders it on the west, Elliott Bay to the north and east, with dramatic views across Elliott Bay to downtown.

We arrived in West Seattle as their huge Bank of America branch on Alaska opened, allowing us the opportunity to take care of some business. Then it was off to the intersection of Alaska and California, site of Easy Street Records and Easy Street Cafe. (History here.) Breakfast at the cafe is always the centerpiece of our West Seattle visits. They had a 20-minute wait for a table, which we spent in the adjacent record space. CD space actually. If there are records there, I haven’t seen them.

Easy Street occupies what appears to have once been a fire station. The cafe side has two large garage doors, the entire space has high ceilings and a partial upper floor. A coffee bar counter divides the space in two, with stool seating on the CD side. We wandered around as various parties ahead of us were called for their tables. At exactly the 20-minute mark, our turn came. We got to sit right in front, at a two-top by one of the old fire station doors with a view out to the street. And we had the same waitress as we did two Augusts ago, a pretty lively woman.

I ordered the Horton Heat Hash: “Our fresh cooked hash with corned beef, bacon, onions, peppers, hash browns and secret spices. Served with 3 eggs any style and toast. Can you handle the Heat!?” Gail had the Billy Breakfast Burrito: “2 eggs scrambled with black bean salsa and cheddar, wrapped in a Spinach tortilla. Served with hash browns and sour cream and salsa on the side.” Mine was great. I can’t believe I hadn’t ordered it before. We have many fine restaurants within a mile of our home, but no classic breakfast place. We sure could use one. Easy Street is so good I don’t know why we don’t make a point of driving over there.

We were all set to head home when I remembered that we were intending to try the French bakery our architect Todd had told us about last year. In the meantime, two French bakeries have opened in our neck of the woods — the wonderful Inès Pâtisserie and Belle Epicurean — making it less pressing to get over to West Seattle to try it. But we were there. It would be silly not to visit now.

We couldn’t think of the name, so I had to search for West Seattle French bakeries on my iPhone. Bakery Nouveau popped up instantly, and it was just a half-block south of Easy Street, except that we were now a block north at our car. We doubled back and found it to be much larger than we had imagined, with a long counter (pictured above) on the left and table seating running the length of the bakery on the right. A line of people ran from the far end of the counter right to the door. We got on and took turns inspecting the goods. The offerings were far more diversified than I imagined: croissants, sandwiches, little pizzas, chocolates, jellies, pies and tarts, cakes, cookies. (Menu here.)

Had we not just eaten a late breakfast, we could have had quite a charming early lunch. Instead, we ordered a selection to bring home: Two twice-baked almond croissants. (Our classic croissant soaked in simple syrup and filled with delicious almond cream. It is topped with sliced almonds and additional almond cream.) One cherry almond pear tart. (Cherry and pear fruit layered over frangipan over a thin layer of raspberry jam in a pate sucre crust. It is finished with an apricot glaze and toasted almond slivers.) One strawberry macaroon with caramel filling. And two mango pâtes de fruit.

The croissants were warm. When I got home, I ate mine. Gail found hers to be somewhat on the heavy side. She’s probably right, but when she ate, hers was at room temperature. I loved mine. I ate the tart today. Good, perhaps not great. The pâtes were excellent. I never tried the macaroon.

One more stop awaited. Just a couple of weeks ago, our friend Russ had asked Gail where to find local smoked ham. For an answer, Gail turned to one of her former instructors at Seattle Culinary Academy, who directed her to The Swinery in West Seattle. On leaving Bakery Nouveau, we looked it up and found that it was up California a ways. Not in the neighborhood. We would have to drive about a mile north. We drove that and more, not realizing that The Swinery has the smallest storefront imaginable. We were more careful on the way back south.

There’s a big workspace below and behind, but the retail area is small, with two display cases and a freezer with pre-prepared items. We were third in line for the one woman running the shop, giving us plenty of time to review the offerings. Some are marked as coming from Zoe’s Meats, a San Francisco purveyor that has a branch here.

When our time came, Gail ordered a four lamb chops (the woman threw in the fifth and last for free), two spicy Italian sausage links, Zoe’s sopressata, and some goat cheese. Gail had the cheese today, said it’s wonderful, but the meats are still awaiting trial.

That was enough. We headed home, pleased with all the good food and hoping our next West Seattle expedition comes soon.

Categories: Food, Restaurants