Sunday, January 31, 2010

BS at Barbacco

I was back twice more to Barbacco Eno Trattoria this past week with two different groups. Although they were not on the menu on my earlier visits, a Brussel sprouts (Cavolini di Bruxelles) dish with garlic, lemon, and some of Barbacco's own pancetta, has since appeared and we had it on both of our most recent visits.

Everyone who tried it – even avowed Brussel sprouts haters – agreed it was fantastic. I am not sure how they make them, but they must first steam or boil them to partially cook them and then fry them to finish them off. A definite must have on any visit!

I have seen that similar dishes are apparently served at a few other Italian restaurants around town (e.g. SPQR and Delarosa) and would welcome any comments from anyone who has had them elsewhere. I also welcome any comments as to whether this may be a traditional Italian preparation for Brussel sprouts. Continue Reading »

Efforts to Firm Up Argentine Pork Market

Given how often pork products are featured on this blog, I thought it appropriate to post the following admonitory report from the southern hemisphere......

From the MercoPress – Friday, 29 January 29 2010:

Pork better than Viagra, give it a go, recommends unabashed Cristina Kirchner

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner surprised guests at a business meeting by admitting eating pork improves sexual activity. Quite distant from her sharp lecturing style Mrs. Kirchner offered a rare non political intimate glimpse of the country’s most powerful couple life.

"I've just been told something I didn't know; that eating pork improves your sex life ... I'd say it's a lot nicer to eat a bit of barbecued piglet than take Viagra" Cristina Kirchner said to leaders of the pig farming industry.

She said she recently ate pork and spent a satisfying weekend with her husband and former president Nestor Kirchner. “The crusty skin of the piglet was excellent; then things went very well that weekend, so it could well be true."

According to Cristina she spent “a fantastic, fantastic weekend”. But “oops, should not have said that, Kirchner is going to kill me when I get back to Olivos [the presidential residence]”.

For the balance of the story, click here. Continue Reading »

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Back to Barbacco – Twice More!!

To paraphrase Stuart Mackenzie's comment about Colonel Sanders in “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” the folks at Barbacco Eno Trattoria must be putting a addictive chemical of some sort in their ‘nduja Calabrian salume because I am definitely craving it – and more often than fortnightly!

After sampling Barbacco’s ‘nduja for the first time on my first visit on their opening day the week before last, I was back again twice last week, once for lunch with Jeff and the second time for a glass of wine (hurray – the got their liquor license!) and some snacks with Antonio. We had it both times and it is excellent – just a tad spicy and with a wonderful smoked flavor. Plus the toasted bread that they serve with it is just right.

At lunch with Jeff we also tried a couple of Barbacco’s soups – a borlotti bean minestra and a broccoli rabe with farro, both of which were very good. During my visit with Antonio we also tried their arancini (fried rice balls stuffed with mozzarella and peas) and their ascolane (a dish of fried green olives stuffed with a pork mixture that originated from Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche) - I believe both dishes are only found on their evening menu.

Both were superb and paired perfectly with the Il Mio Malvasia from Camillo Donati in Emilia-Romagna that Mauro Cirilli, the Wine Director of Perbacco/Barbacco, recommended. Orange-hued wine? -- why not if it tastes that good!

Seeing the selection of food and wine offered at Barbacco makes me think of a kid with a brand new toy. Having refined their presentation of Piemontese and Northern Italian cuisine at Perbacco, the Perbacco/Barbacco management seems to be having a great time at their new restaurant exploring the cuisine of the rest of the Italian peninsula as suggested on the following map by the origins of the three dishes Antonio and I enjoyed.

We also went to Perbacco last night for dinner with some friends and found that with the opening of Barbacco, the Perbacco salumi misti platter has become both more Piemontese-focused and more extensive. One one hand, it appears that some non-Piemontese selections formerly on that platter (for example the Mortadella and Finocchiona) have moved on to Barbacco, while, on the other hand, the number of products with Piemontese roots has expanded. Here is the impressive lineup we enjoyed:

~ Coppa al Barbera
~ Lardo di Cavour
~ Salam d’la Duja
~ Salame Cotto d’Asti
~ Salame Cuneese
~ Salame della Valle Tortonese
~ Salame di Capra
~ Salciccia di Bra
~ Testa in Casseta di Gavi

I have to do more background research on those, but one real standout for me was the Salciccia di Bra, which I had never heard of before, but is veal-based and similar to a steak tartare. It was really exceptional (in fact I found that it has its own promotional organization and Facebook page!), in particular paired with the wonderful Domenico Clerico Trevigne Barbera d’Alba suggested by Mauro. Bravo!

Continue Reading »

A Gift From Pat – Mariposa Kitchen

A couple of years ago – before he moved to Auburn to enter vet school - our son, Patrick, and I took some cooking classes together at Mezzo Mezzo, Giovanni della Renta’s Sicilian restaurant in San Rafael, now sadly closed.

Pat and I had a great time together and we actually learned quite a bit that we have been able to put to good use ever since, although the Italian ingredients section of the Auburn supermarkets is apparently rather limited.

This past Christmas, Pat, knowing how much I had enjoyed the cooking class, gave me a couple of lesson’s at Caroline Fey’s Mariposa Kitchen which he came across after scouting around online. This past Tuesday I went to Caroline’s place in the Marina to take the first of those classes, entitled “Mediterranean Seafood,” at which we learned to prepare:

~ Fennel, Pernod and Chorizo Mussels with Saffron Aioli and Crusty Bread
~ Grilled Prawns with Caper-Garlic Butter
~ Warm Squid Salad with White Beans, Oven Roasted Tomatoes and Arugula
~ Steamed Halibut with Fennel, Blood Oranges, Kalamata Olives and Feta
~ Extra Virgin Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Curd and Pine Nut Brittle

We started out the evening with some wine and a very nice cheese tray, and a few instructions from Caroline.

Then we donned our aprons and headed to the kitchen to get to work. Although Caroline’s place is not overly spacious, it is very comfortable and her kitchen was large enough to allow the eight of us who were there to work without bumping into each other too much.

Amazingly, thanks to Caroline’s great organization and leadership, we got everything done about the same time, and everything turned out GREAT. We then adjourned to the dining room table to enjoy our handiwork.

I am looking forward to my second class in the near future. Thanks again Caroline and, especially, Pat!!

Continue Reading »

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Finally! A Visit to Tony's

Although I am not that much of a pizza fan, I have heard very good things about the pizza at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana at the corner of Union and Stockton facing onto Washington Square in North Beach. The other night after our Italian class, my tutor, Antonio (who had just returned from spending the holidays at home with his family just outside of Salerno), our son, Alex, and our friend, Yutaka, decided to give it a try.

The food was quite good, with the best dish by far being their famous Pizza Margherita, of which they prepare only 73 each evening – first come, first served. I am not sure where that particular number came from but happily we got there in time to score two of them.

The pizza was very well prepared with a thin, crispy crust, although perhaps a bit too much olive oil for me. Of course, when you have someone from Campania with you at a pizzeria, you have to be prepared for unfavorable comparisons with the pizza to be found in Napoli – in particular with that at Da Michele, the pizza gold standard.

Perhaps a visit there one day.

Continue Reading »

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sopressata di Campania

Antonio, my Italian tutor and very good friend, went home to Italy to spend the holidays with his family. Antonio is from a small town in the hills just north of Salerno in the southern Italian region of Campania.

On Friday Antonio showed up for our first class of the new year with a torpedo shaped object wrapped in aluminum foil. It was a sopressata salami made by Antonio's father from a pig their family had slaughtered at the beginning of last year. As Antonio told it, this was the last sopressata the family had from last year's production and he had to wrest if from them to bring it back to share with me. His efforts were most appreciated, especially when I showed him the story from last week's Wall Street Journal -
"Bringing Home the Bacon Gets Tougher in the Age of Terror."

I tried Antonio's gift yesterday. It was fantastic, from the standpoint of both flavor and texture!

Although it may be difficult to replicate the product made by Antonio's dad, here is an interesting blog entry reporting on an effort to make sopressata. Continue Reading »

First Perbacco – Now BARBACCO!

I have been going to Perbacco with our family and friends since it first opened next door to Tadich Grill on California Street in October 2006. Since then it has become our favorite Italian restaurant in San Francisco, and its management and staff have become good friends.

Last week Perbacco’s “little sister” – Barbacco Eno Trattoria - opened right next door to Perbacco on California Street, and my friend, Yutaka, and I were there on Monday for “opening day.”

I have to admit that when I heard that Umberto Gibin and Staffan Terje (Perbacco’s owners) were opening a new Italian restaurant right next to Perbacco, I had doubts as to whether they could pull it off without drawing customers away from Perbacco. However, I am happy to be able to report that I feel they have done a great job of both creating another first rate dining experience, while positioning the two restaurants to complement each other without competing.

As both the “bar” in Barbacco and the “eno” (short for the Italian regional wine shop called an “enoteca”) in the establishment’s name suggest, an important focus of Barbacco Eno Trattoria will be the exploration of Italian wines. In addition, as “trattoria” indicates, Barbacco will be less formal than the classic Italian “ristorante” – of which Perbacco is an obvious good example - with lower prices and a more casual menu and service. Here is a video which provides a very good overview of the restaurant (by the way, I tracked down the lively background music on the video - "The Disco Song" by Au Revoir Simone).

That more relaxed atmosphere was evident when Yutaka and I arrived on Monday of last week. The only disappointment was that due to the vagaries of the San Francisco city administration, the issuance of Barbacco’s liquor license had been delayed so the enoteca experience was on hold (happily I learned that Barbacco's license was issued last Friday!). However, while Barbacco is a certainly a different experience than Perbacco from the standpoint of overall atmosphere, culinary focus (Perbacco emphasizes primarily northern Italian – primarily Piemontese - cuisine while Barbacco focuses on more rustic and somewhat spicier foods from the central and southern regions of Italy) and price, on two critical factors – quality of the food and service – it is in my view the equal of Perbacco (even on opening day!). Of course, this should not be a surprise given the common ownership, the investment that has been made in the training of the staff, and the fact that two of the key positions – General Manager and Executive Chef – are held by Maria Eugenia Armando and Sarah Burchard, two women who are Perbacco veterans. Needless to say, Umberto and Staffan, as well as Mauro Cirilli, the Wine Director of both Perbacco and Barbacco, are also very much in evidence to ensure a first rate dining experience.

The specific items on Barbacco’s menu will change with the seasons and availability of ingredients, but I believe the basic categories found on Monday’s menu will remain fairly constant – i.e.:

~ inizio (at the start)
~ bruschette (grilled bread with toppings)
~ foglie e radici (greens and roots – i.e. salad)
~ nella ciotola (in the bowl – i.e. soup)
~ tra fette (between the slices – i.e. sandwiches)
~ dal grano (from grain – i.e. pasta, polenta, etc.)
~ piedi-ali-pinne (legs-wings-fins – i.e. meat)
~ a lato (on the side)
~ latte stagionato (aged milk – i.e. cheese)
~ zucchero (sugar – i.e. dessert)

Yutaka and I were hungry on Monday and in the mood to try a number of items. With the help of our waiter, Michael, our selections were:

~ inizio: quick braised squid/ tomato/ chili/ garlic/ spicy pan grattato
~ bruschette: broccoli rabe/ chili/ bellwether farm crescenza cheese and duck liver pate/ basalmico/ onion marmellata
~ foglie e radici: butcher’s salad – house made salumi/ lettuce heart/ olives/ pickled peppers
~ dal grano: penne/ tomato sugo/ barbacco pancetta/ onion/ chili pepper
~ a lato: soft polenta/ parmigiano reggiano/ extra virgin olive oil
~ zucchero: vanilla panna cotta/ citrus curd

Absolutely everything was excellent. The squid was tender, the pasta al dente and with a bright flavor, the polenta creamy, and the panna cotta with just the right sweet/tart balance. However, the single most impressive item for me was a dollop of the Calabrian salame called ‘nduja made there at Barbacco that was included in the Butcher’s Salad (it is also offered separately in the inizio section of the menu). The only ‘nduja (pronounced “en-DOO-yah) that I have ever had is that offered by Boccalone in the Ferry Building, which was the subject of a recent New York Times article, but I have to say there is just no comparison between Barbacco’s version and that of Boccalone from either the basis of flavor or texture. You really need to try it.

I am looking forward to getting back to Barbacco to further explore their menu and to learn more about their wine program which should now be up and running.

Continue Reading »

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Another Great Angelino Pasta – Orecchiette con Salsiccia e Broccolini

In my last post regarding Angelino Restaurant in Sausalito I mentioned my addiction to their Linguine alla Pescatore, a condition that results in no small part from their perfect preparation of the pasta. Happily I have now found a second of their pastas which provides a perfect counterpart – the above-pictured orecchiette with mildly spicy Italian sausage and broccolini. The first dish is a medley of seafood in a tomato sauce with long noodles, while the second presents a pork and vegetable combination over the “little ears” disc-shaped pasta from the region of Puglia.

In Puglia the most traditional dish using orecchiette is probably Orecchiette Baresi – a simple preparation using rapine, a relatively bitter green. Pasquale has chosen to substitute the milder broccolini and to add the coarsely ground pork sausage that they prepare there at Angelino. It is a great combination, enhanced further by the fact that they make their orecchiette by hand at Angelino, and, as with the Linguine alla Pescatore, know how to cook them so they arrive at the table al dente.

Towards the end of my lunch at Angelino today I got into a discussion with Pasquale about grappa. I told him that I had tried grappa a couple of times in the past, but did not really care for it (a common reaction I note that my friend Vanessa has written about in her Italy in SF blog). With Pasquale’s urging I ended up trying Angelino’s “house brand” of grappa from Carpenè Malvolti, one of Italy’s largest prosecco producers.

It was certainly not bad, but was not enough to change my mind about grappa. Then Pasquale had me try a second grappa - the Po' di Poli Moscato Grappa produced by Jacopo Poli from Moscato grape pomace.

According to a wine review I subsequently read:

"The bouquet offers smells of tropical fruits and baking spice. Entry is minerally, pleasantly ripe, viscous in texture; the midpalate point is earthy, floral, stony and off dry. Finishes gracefully, minerally and drier than the midpalate.”
I am not sure I got all of that, but I think I now at least begin to see what the fuss is all about regarding better quality grappa. Yet another area to explore!
Continue Reading »

Creamy Polenta and Other Essential Breakfast Food Groups

I am not sure if I enjoy my Saturday golf outings to Petaluma more these days because of the golf (which tends to be a bit chilly at this time of the year) or because it gives me a chance to stop off at the Della Fattoria bakery on the way home.

Often I just grab a pastry and a latte, but this past Saturday I took a bit more time and had a more proper breakfast. My favorite dish there is the one pictured above – a creamy polenta topped with a couple of free-range poached eggs (the flavor of those alone is worth the drive up to Petaluma), prosciutto and sautéed spinach, all topped with a sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs to add a bit of crunchy texture. Absolute breakfast heaven. But why stop there -- you can jack the whole experience up to the next yummy level with one of their cinnamon rolls (which has now replaced the sadly-departed pecan roll as my favorite DF pastry).

I have not tried to make this dish at home, but it certainly seems like it would be relatively easy to do so. I love polenta in any form, although the Della Fattoria version is very rich – from personal experience and from looking at a few online recipes I suspect the use of a good deal of butter, cream and cheese. Perhaps best consumed only after walking 18 holes. Continue Reading »

Friday, January 8, 2010

Elephants at Cavallo Point

Since we live in Sausalito, we have often gone to the nearby Cavallo Point Resort in Ft. Baker to attend their cooking school or just to hang out at their very nice Farley Bar. I had seen on those visits the following four large sepia images of interactions between humans and elephants on the walls of the main building.

Those photos certainly do not do the pictures justice – it is necessary to see them in person. Among other things I am afraid the scale of those works is hard to appreciate from those photos – they range from ten to fifteen feet in width.

The otherworldly quality of those pictures had always made an impression on me. However, I had never really focused on them until a few days ago when I ran across a reference to
Gregory Colbert, the artist who created them. Mr. Colbert has put together a massive traveling exhibition of his work called "Ashes and Snow" which has appeared in several cities around the world, including New York and Santa Monica here in the US. Apart from the photos themselves, which depict intimate interactions between humans and a variety of large and potentially dangerous animals – including elephants, whales and cheetahs - the exhibit is noteworthy since it travels with a sustainable structure – the Nomadic Museum - which houses the exhibit and which is assembled and disassembled at each location.

I urge you to take a look at the very interesting interactive website for the exhibit, including the time lapse video footage that shows the assembly of the structure.

When our children were young one of my favorite books to read to them was The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (perhaps better known for his book The Polar Express).

The book contained a series of full page drawings – often suggesting something amiss - with a single sentence that allowed the reader’s imagination to run wild. The following was one of my favorites:

Van Allsburg once said, "It's not the thing that's important to me so much as the feeling the pictures give after you've drawn it. I have a favorite mood I like in my art. I like things to be mysterious."

Gregory Colbert’s work has a similar quality and appeal for me.

Continue Reading »