Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wellington’s – Our Encounter with Wells Bombardier and St. George

Yesterday afternoon Alex and I met up and caught the ferry to Sausalito from San Francisco. It was a beautiful afternoon and we enjoyed a couple of Lagunitas Pale Ales on the upper deck of the Sonoma during the ride across the Bay.

Since Cass was meeting us at our place a little later, we decided to stop off at Wellington’s Wine Bar on our way home.

As you would expect for a Friday afternoon, Wellington’s was busy, but we were able to get a table inside. Here is a shot taken from our table, and a video taken from outside on Wellington’s deck.

It just does not get any better than hanging out with one's son (at least one of them – Andrew, Rob and Pat, wish you had been there too!) in a pub at the end of the week on a Spring afternoon.

Wellington’s opened a couple of years ago and ever since it has become one of our favorite places to go for a drink, including on special occasions - it was our family’s initial stop for both my and Nancy’s 60th birthday parties.

Wellington’s is very much a relaxed, neighborhood place as suggested by its location outside of Sausalito’s main tourist area. They have a very friendly staff led by the proprietor, Jeremy John, who is originally from London where his parents were publicans.

Wellington’s name also reflects Jeremy’s roots as indicated on their website and by the footwear on the back wall:

“The Wellington boot, also known as the "Wellie," is a type of boot popularized by Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. The boot became immediately fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century, and, to this day, has maintained its popularity by becoming required footwear for any Brit taking a stroll through the countryside. As any good Englishman will tell you, one's Wellies have two principal uses: the first is to wear them when walking one's dog across England's glorious pastures green; and the second is to wear them when heading towards the local watering hole for a drink.”

Wellington’s focuses on wine and that is what we normally have there. In fact through their wide-ranging wines by the glass program, Wellington’s has introduced us to some of our favorite wines, such as, just about the same time last year,
Allimant Laugner’s fabulous Cremant d’Alsace Sparkling Rosé which has been our go-to drink ever since.

However, yesterday since Alex and I had started with beer on the ferry, we asked Jeremy what he would recommend from their beer menu. He said that they just started offering an excellent British ale called
Wells Bombardier, so Alex and I requested a couple of pints:

As described on the bottle:

“Wells Bombardier English Premium Ale is an award winning traditional English Ale, which is noted for its distinctive copper colour. It has a rich and tempting aroma of peppery hops and raisins, while the palate is dominated by more dark fruit, juicy malt and tangy hop.”
Both Alex and I really enjoyed the beer, and the heft and shape of the bottle, and the label (including the red Cross of St. George), were distinctive and attractive. I also discovered through some later research on the company website that they have a very whimsical and appealing ad program.

Jeremy told us that Wellington’s will be celebrating St. George’s Day (St. George being the patron saint of England and no friend of dragons) on April 23.

According to Jeremy, Wells Bombardier will be the featured beverage that day, along with porchetta from CIBO across Bridgeway from Wellington’s.

We’ll be back for that event, but between now and then I will have to see if I can find myself an official Wells Bombardier St. George jester’s hat for the occasion (did I mention Wells Bombardier's whimsical side?).

For any who do not know Wellington’s, it is quite easy to find, and is only about a 10-minute walk north from the ferry dock. See the below map and photo.

It is well worth a visit. Just please don’t take our seats!
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pluck? Pappa? Cod Tongues? Incanto’s 2010 Head to Tail Dinner

There is a certain thrill each Spring when one receives an email from Incanto with the words “Head to Tail Dinner” in the subject line. Incanto started these annual dinners in 2004 and this year marked the 7th in the series. Unfortunately I missed the first two, but have made every one since.

I was also excited this year because I had three friends who were not just willing, but in fact eager to join me at the dinner. As suggested by my post following last year’s dinner when I had but one companion (thanks again Vanessa!), the H2T celebrates the use of lesser-used ingredients mixed with equal doses of inventiveness and playfulness, and the combination is not for everyone.

One of the things I look forward to when I receive Incanto’s announcement is to see how many ingredients there are which I have never heard of, and the description of the 2010 dinner did not disappoint. “Pluck”? “Pappa”? “Cod tripe”? What new treats were in store for us?

When I went online and entered “pluck,” I was directed first to a commercial site for high school anatomy supplies – Home Science Tools: The Gateway to Discovery – which provided the following tasty illumination:

“The sheep pluck includes the heart, lungs, and fully attached trachea. We
recommend that you use specimens within one year of purchase to ensure the best tissue quality. Specimen discoloration over time is normal and does not indicate decay. For an instructional video,
see here.”
The next entry was a recipe for Scottish haggis in which I learned pluck is the key ingredient:

It was clear we were in for another memorable evening!

So at 6:30 on Monday evening I met up at the restaurant with my friends Antonio, Jim and Eriko. Mark Pastore, Incanto’s owner, greeted us and told us that the approach they would be taking with the meal was to serve the heavier dishes at the start of the meal, with the lighter to follow. We were then shown to our table where we were introduced to our server, Nahide, and presented with the evening’s menu and recommended wine pairings.

First Course: Venison pluck fra diavolo, mint & onion ash

After my visit to the Home Science Tools website I was ready for anything with the first course, but as it turned out it was rather tame – and very tasty. The “pluck” in this case was a mix of deer heart, liver and kidneys, nicely grilled and served with a spicy “fra diavolo” (“brother devil”) sauce.

I was not familiar with fra diavolo sauce but found the following description:

“A spicy sauce of Italian-American origin used for pasta or seafood. It often, but not always, is tomato-based, and customarily includes chili, cayenne or other forms of pepper.”
As far as the “onion ash” referred to in the dish’s name, Mark Pastore told me that was nigella seed which are toasted and then pulverized in a food processor. Again back to Google since I had never heard of nigella seeds:

“The seeds of the Nigella sativa flower have a variety of names including Roman coriander, black onion seed and kalonji. The dry roasted seeds flavor curries, vegetables and pulses. They taste somewhat like oregano and have a bitterness to them like mustard-seeds.”
Second Course: Salt cured pork liver, blood mousse, egg & peasant pappa

This was by far my favorite dish of the evening, with great flavor, color and texture. I learned that “pappa” is an Italian soup or porridge, often thickened with bread (they use focaccia at Incanto), with perhaps the most well-known variant being the Tuscan pappa al pomodoro with tomatoes.

As you can see from the above photo, this was some dish, with the pork liver and scallions shaved over the dish, and a poached egg in the middle. Incanto’s chef, Chris Cosentino, also Tweeted the following photo of the blood mousse which was also a key ingredient. Fantastic!

Third Course: Beef lip & oxtail terrina, artichokes, tarragon

Can you figure out what is in the following photo?

When I saw that I assumed it was a closeup of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but in fact it is from inside the a cow’s mouth. Here is another photo in which you can make out the location of those protuberances a bit more clearly.

According to our son, Patrick, who is in his first year of vet school at Auburn and my new go-to source for all questions of animal anatomy, “they look like some sort of papillae, and judging by their location I assume they would aid in the prehension of forage or cud.” Just as I thought!

My quest to learn more about beef lips also let me to this hilarious site (how many other recipes have you read that begin: “Rinse off the beef lips and try to keep yourself from screaming”?) with a fantastic recipe for Braised Cow Lips, accompanied by a not-to-be-missed video.

However, after that buildup, the actual dish was a bit aesthetically disappointing. It was certainly flavorful, but as you can see from the above photo, did little to reflect its origins.

Fourth Course: Sicilian cod tripe & tongue

This dish was also a bit disappointing. It was poached in a fish broth (which was itself very good), but was relatively bland in flavor and texture, and somewhat overpowered by the fennel. It might have been better lightly fried, especially since there were no other crispy dishes on the menu.

The name of the dish is also a bit misleading. First, regarding "cod tongue,” I had just finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s very interesting “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World,” where I learned that cod tongues are not really the fish’s tongue but rather a triangular muscle behind and under the tongue.

As far as the “tripe” goes, when I see the word tripe I think stomach. However, when I asked Mark Pastore for confirmation, all he could tell me was that “tripe” was what Incanto’s fish purveyor had called it.

So I then turned to another source, Rosetta Costantino of Cooking with Rosetta in the East Bay, whose “A Taste of Calabria” cooking class we had recently taken. Happily, Rosetta knew exactly what I was talking about, although she too was uncertain as to what that part of the cod is called in English. She did say that in Calabria, where the dish is eaten during the winter months, it is called “ventricelli” (or “ventricieddi” in Calabrian dialect) meaning "little belly." Rosetta also sent me the following extract from her new cookbook “My Calabria” which will be coming out this Fall, just in time for Christmas:

"Despite many queries, I have not been able to confirm the anatomical name in English for ventricelli, but I believe it is the cod’s swim bladder. In its dried state, ventricelli resembles the flat, bony, dark dried fish you see in Chinatown markets. After five days of soaking, changing the water daily, the ventricelli will be soft enough to remove the tiny bones. Cooking renders it gelatinous, akin to jellyfish or braised beef tendon. It does not have a lot of flavor of its own, but, like tripe, it absorbs other flavors, and its texture is appealing.“
That description (i.e. “akin to jellyfish”) certainly matched what we were served at Incanto, as well as the following photo Tweeted by Chris:

Rosetta also advised that her husband, Lino, who is from Palermo, had never heard of the dish before, so the “Sicilian” designation for the dish may be questionable.

Dessert: Lamb mincemeat pie & lavender-hay ice cream

Unfortunately you cannot see in the above photo the mincemeat lurking under the shortbread. This dish was quite good, although it did have a rather strong lamb flavor which was a bit distracting (even for someone like me who loves lamb), and despite Mark’s comment about the heavy to light trend of the dishes, it seemed a fairly weighty end to the meal and left Antonio and me craving a shot of Averna, which sadly Incanto does not serve. I was not sure where the lavender came into play in the dish, other than perhaps just the straw upon which the bowl was resting.

I did appreciate the chance to try mincemeat with real meat as it was traditionally prepared. Here is a Chronicle article which has a mincemeat pie recipe which looks pretty good. While that recipe does not call for meat, it does include suet, and it certainly shows the medley of fruit and spices that goes into traditional mincemeat.

Finally, I thought it might be of interest at this point, after having participated in five of these dinners, to reflect back to select my favorite dishes. Here are the five I would pick:

~ First course: Fried rabbit ear – 2007
~ Second course: Salt cured pork liver, blood mousse, egg & peasant pappa - 2010
~ Third course: Crispy sweetbreads & warm beef tendon with chilies & mint - 2007
~ Fourth course: Big brain, small brain - 2009
~ Dessert (tie): Candied cockscomb with cherries and rice pudding – 2007 &
Coffee & donut – 2009

The “Big brain, small brain” and Coffee & donut” dishes deserve far more of an explanation than those names can convey – for that see my post from last year’s dinner.

So we will now have to wait another year to see what Chris and the gang at Incanto will have in store for us next. All I know is that I am sure it will be fun!

Thanks again to Mark, Chris, Nahide and the rest of the Incanto team for a fun and educational evening.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Across the Pacific – In 1860!

Note to self: Next time I complain about the 10 hour flight between San Francisco and Tokyo, think about those fellows who set out for San Francisco from Japan on the Kanrin Maru 150 years ago facing a somewhat longer and more perilous trip!

~ Departure Uraga (Japan): 10 February 1860
~ Arrival San Francisco: 17 March 1860 (+37 days)
~ Turbulence en route: Extreme

This past Wednesday – St. Patrick’s Day – marked the 150th anniversary of the arrival in San Francisco of the Japanese navel vessel, the Kanrin Maru, the first Japanese ship to land in the United States. The crossing of the Pacific from Japan had been a rough one. In fact the US naval vessel, the USS Powhatan, that the Kanrin Maru was accompanying, had to detour to Honolulu for repair to damage suffered in a typhoon and did not arrive in San Francisco until almost two weeks later.

This past Monday night at the Kabuki Hotel in Japantown, Professor Naoyuki Agawa from Keio University in Tokyo spoke about the Kanrin Maru’s voyage. Professor Agawa was a very appropriate choice for that presentation since, apart from giving a good talk, one of the crew of the Karin Maru, Fukuzawa Yukichi, was the founder of Keio.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, there was a ceremony held along the Embarcadero in front of Pier 9, at the base of Vallejo Street.

The ceremonies started with a rousing performance by Seiji Tanaka and the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and speeches by Japan’s Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine, Monique Moyer, the Executive Director of the Port of San Francisco (who presented a proclamation from Mayor Newsome proclaiming March 17 as “Kanrin Maru Day,” a brave political move given San Francisco’s Irish electorate), and others. Following those speeches, a plaque embedded in the sidewalk was unveiled which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Kanrin Maru’s arrival.

In 1858, five years after Commodore Matthew Perry had forced his way into Tokyo Bay with his “black ships” and ended Japan’s 200 years of self-imposed isolation, the United States and Japan signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce. This was one of the “unequal treaties” that Japan was forced to sign during that period, and a motivation for the Japanese government to seek ways to demonstrate Japan’s capabilities and reestablish its stature, both domestically and internationally.

Although it was not necessary to send a delegation all the way to Washington in order to ratify the Treaty, the Shogunate decided to do so, and arranged for the official embassy to travel for the first leg of the trip to San Francisco aboard the USS Powhatan. However, they also decided to send along the Kanrin Maru, a small warship that Japan had acquired three years earlier from the Netherlands. The approximately 100 man crew of the Kanrin Maru included a number of individuals who would become famous Japanese historical figures, including, in addition to Fukuzawa Yukichi, Katsu Kaishu, the ship’s captain who was to later play a prominent role in the Meiji Restoration, and Nakahama (“John”) Manjiro, who was one of the few crew members with any oceangoing experience and who served as a translator.

The Kanrin Maru’s crew also included a US naval lieutenant named John Mercer Brooke whose ship had been damaged beyond repair during a mission to chart Japanese ports.

As it turned out, it was fortuitous that Lieutenant Brooke sailed with the Kanrin Maru since, as described further here, he and John Manjiro ended up played important roles in navigating the ship safely to San Francisco.

Pier 9 along the Embarcadero was selected for the location of the commemorative plaque since the Kanrin Maru docked at the Vallejo Street Wharf when it arrived in San Francisco.

However, although Pier 9 is at the foot of Vallejo Street, in 1860 the shore of the bay was closer to Battery Street, two blocks west of the Embarcadero, so the actual landing spot of the Kanrin Maru was somewhere to the west of the plaque. Here is a map and some photos showing the location of Pier 9.

Following the ceremony there was a reception for the attendees at the Pier 9 facilities of the San Francisco Bar Pilots, a very nice room at the end of the pier with a beautiful view of the bay. At the end of the day on the way back to my office, I decided to walk up Vallejo Street and came across Grumpy’s pub, which I had never seen before. Despite its name, it seemed to be a friendly spot and not too crowded, and it being St. Patrick’s Day in addition to Kanrin Maru Day, I followed my instincts.

The new plaque at Pier 9 is not the first monument in San Francisco to honor the Kanrin Maru. In 1960, upon the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Kanrin Maru, the City of Osaka, San Francisco’s sister city, donated a marker carved in black stone which can be found in Lincoln Park, not far from the Palace of the Legion of Honor. The location provides a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and is well worth a visit.

There are many more events to come this year as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary as described on Kanrin Maru 150 website.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cheese from Farm to Table

On Friday evening Alex, Cass and I were back at The Cheese School of San Francisco for yet another class (#26 for me). Since we have taken so many classes there over the last two and a half years, we have become a bit more selective with our selections. However, we did not want to miss Friday’s class since it was being taught by Wil Edwards, one of CSSF’s instructors who has taught some of our favorite classes in the past:

Pecorino Perfection,
Alpine Cheese & Alsatian Wine, and
Cheese & Charcuterie.

Friday’s class was titled “Cheese from Farm to Table” and was described in the class schedule as follows:

“The magic of artisan cheese is that it's a living food, and never more so than when the complete story of a hand-crafted cheese, from farm to table, is revealed and explained. In this class, Wil Edwards presents a slideshow of some of the fascinating cheese makers he has encountered in Europe and America, brings their stories to life, and recounts the fascinating journey that brings the precious fruit of their labor – literally as we taste them – to our table.”
Alex, Cass and I arrived at the School on Friday just after 6:00 and were
greeted by Wil and Sara Vivenzio, the School’s Director, who poured us glasses
of Thomas Fogarty Riesling to enjoy while we waited for the class to begin. The
class got started about 6:30 and we all took our seats. Sara introduced Wil and
away we went.

Wil is a very engaging and entertaining guy who has worked in various positions at cheese producers, such as Harley Farms in Pescadero, and at cheese agers, such as Luigi Guffanti in Arona on the shores of Lago Maggiore in Piemonte, and most recently as Editor-at-Large of CULTURE magazine. He is also an excellent photographer and a number of his photos are on display on the walls of the School.

Although we had ten cheeses to sample on Friday night, the thrust of Wil’s presentation focused more on the individual stories behind those cheeses and, in particular, on the individuals involved with their production. For the first time since I have been attending classes there, the presentation area was set up with a slide projector, and over the course of the eveing Wil went through about 150 slides he had taken.

The following were the cheeses for the evening in the order presented:

~ “Fresh Chèvre” from
Harley Farms in Pescadero, CA (goat);
~ “Crescenza” from
Bellwether Farms in Valley Ford (near Petaluma), CA (cow);
~ “Green Hill” from
Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, GA (cow);
~ “Piedmont” from
Everona Dairy in Rapidan, VA (sheep);
Parmigiano-Reggiano primarily from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy (cow);
~ “Pleasant Ridge Reserve” from
Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, WI (cow);
~ “Devil’s Gulch” from
Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes Station, CA (cow);
~ “Red Hawk”, also from Cowgirl Creamery (cow);
Gorgonzola (the younger “Dolce” vs the aged “Piccante”) primarily from the Lombardia region of Italy (cow); and
~ “Original Blue” from
Pt. Reyes Farmstead in Pt. Reyes Station (cow).

The cheeses were accompanied with three wines from Thomas Fogarty Winery:

~ 2008 Skyline Riesling (Monterey County);
~ 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains); and
~ 2001 Frank’s Vineyard – Vintage Port (Amador County).

Our favorite (top 3 for each of us) cheeses of the evening were:Add Image

~ “Fresh Chèvre”/Harley Farms – Cass #1; Alex #2
~ “Green Hill”/Sweet Grass Dairy – Cass #2, Alex #2, Mike #1
~ Parmigiano-Reggiano – Mike #2
~ “Pleasant Ridge Reserve”/Uplands Cheese – Cass #3, Alex #1, Mike #3

Here are photos of some of the producers of the American cheeses who Wil introduced to us during our class:

We were not able to identify the specific producers of the two Italian cheeses – the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the Gorgonzola – since each is produced by several individual producers within the qualifying territories. Those are two of the limited number of traditional Italian cheeses which are regulated under the "Denominazione di Origine Protetta” (DOP) classification (aka “Protected Designation of Origin" (PDO) status under EU regulations), and each has its own “consortium” which regulates its production and promotes the cheese:

Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium
Gorgonzola Consortium

I would particularly recommend a visit to the Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium site since it has some excellent videos demonstrating the cheese’s production (including the “fire branding” of the rind with the Consortium’s mark).

When Nancy and I visited Italy in 2006 we toured Caseificio Castelnovese, one of the cooperatives producing Parmigiano-Reggiano just outside of Modena. It was an awesome site to enter their aging area and see aisle upon aisle of approximately 80-pound wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano stacked from floor to ceiling - and, of course, that is just one of many such producers.

One thing I learned at our class on Friday is that each wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano is marked with a unique identification number assigned to the producer (the “matricola” -- e.g. 2973 for Castelnovese).

So if your cheese monger has an entire wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, you should be able to determine who produced it and where it came from. Here is a page on the Consortium’s website with identification numbers for at least those producers which have websites.

In addition to highlighting the human stories behind the cheeses, Wil also pointed out European roots for several of the American cheeses we sampled - for example, Bellwether Farms’ “Crescenza.”

That cheese has an Italian heritage as indicated by the following passages from Bellwether’s website and a San Francisco Chronicle “Cheese Corner” article by Janet Fletcher, another of our CSSF favorites:

From the Bellwether Farms Site: The recipe for our Crescenza was learned
on a trip to Northern Italy in the spring of 1996. One of our customers, Carlo Middione, recommended we try this cheese. We were introduced to a small cheese maker a little west of Milan who processed about 100 gallons of milk at a time and made a variety of cheeses from each batch. Her creamery was a two person operation located on her family’s dairy. The dairy was large and sold most of its milk to some large customer but she ran the small creamery and cheese shop herself. We spent the day with her and were able to help her make her cheeses. After returning to the US, I began working on the Crescenza. It took about 6 months before I was able to adjust the recipe to account for the higher butterfat and solids of the Jersey cow’s milk we were using. The secret of this cheese is balancing the acid development with moisture level in the correct he cheese to have it ripen properly.

From the Janet Fletcher Article: Bellwether cheesemaker Liam Callahan went to Italy's northern Lombardy region to learn the techniques of making Crescenza, also known there as Stracchino. He uses the same culture and roughly the same method and, according to his mother Cindy, who started the dairy, the results are comparable. Some Italian chefs have told Cindy that they like her Crescenza better, an astonishing admission given Italy's chauvinism in culinary matters. The Callahans use pasteurized Sonoma County Jersey cow milk, which is higher in protein, fat and beta carotene than the milk from most other dairy breeds. In these qualities it resembles the milk from the tired (stracca) cows that have
traipsed up and down Lombardy's mountains in search of pasture. Contrary to what you might think, the extra effort causes cows to give extra-rich milk.

There was some discussion at class of the origin of the name “Crescenza,” although no one seemed to know the answer. From further research it appears it is a derivation of either (a) the Italian verb “crescere” – to grow, or (b) the Latin “carsenza” – another name for focaccia bread – in either case it is an apparent reference to the fact that the cheese apparently expands in size as it ages.

Wil also highlighted the differences that milk makes in the cheese. For example, although both Cowgirl Creamery cheeses are made from cow’s milk, their new “Devil’s Gulch” cheese is made from the milk of Jersey cows from the John Taverna dairy in Sonoma, while their traditional “Red Hawk” is made from the milk of Holstein cows from Straus Creamery in Marin.

As noted earlier, in addition to his other activities Wil is Editor-at-Large of
CULTURE magazine and, at the end of the evening, he showed us a sample of some
of his photos of cheese rinds (including one of the very colorful red pepper covered “Devil’s Gulch” we enjoyed during the class) that both are featured in the latest issue of CULTURE (Spring 2010 – Vol. 2, Issue 2), and will be on display in the near future at Barn Diva in Healdsburg.

It was a most enjoyable class!

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