Sunday, February 27, 2011

Food of the Crescent City

A few weeks ago, Alex, Cass and I decided that it would be fun every now and then to get together at our place on a Saturday afternoon, plan a dinner menu around some theme, go shopping for the ingredients, then come home and make the dinner together. Our first try at beginning of February, which involved a Mexican theme and a run to the fantastic Mi Pueblo market in San Rafael, was quite successful.

Yesterday we decided to give it another try, and since we are all planning to be in New Orleans in a couple of weeks, decided on a NOLA theme.

Alex and Cass came over on the ferry at noon bringing with them a couple of their favorite New Orleans cookbooks.

After a bit of browsing, we decided on the following menu (with the exception of the spinach dish, all from the “Cooking Up a Storm” cookbook):

~ Baked walnuts with fresh rosemary, cayenne pepper, sugar and salt;
~ Eggplant fritters;
~ Chicken and sausage gumbo; and
~ Spinach Madeleine

Following a quick run down the hill to Mollie’s for provisions, we cranked up the iPod with a Cajun/ NOLA blues and jazz mix (heavily influenced by the soundtrack from the
HBO Tremé series) and got going on the cooking. There were a few tense moments when it seemed that the roux might not be coming together, but all worked out in the end.

Then, while the gumbo did its simmering thing for a couple of hours, we headed down to Wellington’s to enjoy a glass of Cremant and the beautiful afternoon light on the Bay. It was not very crowded at Wellie’s, although we did run into a particularly cute bulldog sitting out on the deck – most appropriate for the establishment.

The meal turned out very well, in particular the walnuts and the gumbo (we made an okra-free version, although we did add some filé) which would both be well worth doing again. The spinach dish was tasty, but with two full cups of marscapone it may not be something we could survive more than once.

We are looking forward to our trip to the Big Easy. Of course, we will have our native guides along (Alex and Cass both being Tulane grads), but I have been preparing with some study of the very interesting “trails" (including for gumbo and boudin) on the Southern Foodways Alliance website (click on "Tourism" and enjoy).

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Always in Good Hands at Angelino’s

A few days ago I went to lunch with a visiting friend at Angelino’s along the waterfront in Sausalito. Pasquale Ancona, Angelino’s owner was there, and told us to leave ourselves in his hands. A wonderful lunch ensued – fresh squid braised with beans in a spicy tomato sauce, followed by spaghetti simply prepared with some sautéed diced vegetables and topped with grated cured tuna heart. Sadly I did not have my camera with me.

Yesterday I was back at Angelino’s for lunch, and again went with Pasquale’s recommendations from the day’s specials – a classic comfort food meal:

~ Polenta with a braised pork shoulder topping;
~ Lasagna with mozzarella, scamorza affumicata, sausage and meatballs; and, for dessert
~ Budino with a spash of caramel.

Everything was excellent. The lasagna was particularly good with the smoked flavor of the scamorza added just the right touch. Pasquale referred to it as "treccione" - meaning "braided" in Italian - since it braided in the production process. Note to file: when Pasquale is there don't even bother with the menu.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Italian Word for the Day: Cotogna

It’s funny how different threads somehow weave their way together. The other day I was driving up Pacific, and at the intersection with Montgomery noted the word “Cotogna” on the side of the building. What could that be? As a matter of fact, what language was it?

A few days later, Cass sent me a link to Michael Bauer’s blog “Inside Scoop” and the article “My Pasta Hall of Fame,” which lead off with a seductive photo of a fabulous looking pasta dish and the following comment:

“My Jan. 16 review of Cotogna and the incredible pastas that come out of the kitchen reminded me of a similar feeling I had when I first reviewed Perbacco in 2006. At Cotogna I was seduced by rigatoni with suckling pig ragout with pecorino di fossa cheese, an earthy sheep’s milk cheese; at Perbacco, it was the agnolotti dal plin, tiny pasta packets stuffed with veal in a rich meat sauce with savory cabbage that clings to the pasta like cheese.”

Could it be? Another restaurant in the same league as Perbacco (my favorite Italian restaurant)??!!

Then, just a few days ago, in connection with an Italian class I am taking which is focusing on the region of Abruzzo, I contacted our friend and cheese expert, Janet Fletcher, to see if Janet knew anywhere in the Bay Area where one could find cheeses from Abruzzo. Janet suggested I contact Bob Marcelli of Marcelli Formaggi in New Jersey, which imports a range of Abruzzese cheeses. She particularly recommended MF’s Ricotta Scorza Nera. I ended up calling Bob who suggested I try a new place called Cotogna, where he said their GM, Katrina Parlato, was extremely knowledgeable about Italian cheeses, and typically offered one or two of MF’s cheeses on their menu, including the Ricotta Scorza Nera! Finally, this morning, as the lunch hour approached, I got around to taking a look at Cotogna’s website, checked out their menu, and the following jumped out at me:

That was enough for me – it was a sign. I leapt from my chair and made a beeline for Pacific and Montgomery.

Happily, when I arrived, it was still early and I was able to get a seat even without a reservation.

As I learned today (and as suggested by the heading to this post), “cotogna” means “quince” in Italian (I see I will have to study my Italian fruit vocabulary a bit more carefully), and Cotogna is a sister restaurant to Michael Tusk’s Quince which is just a few steps further down Pacific. While Quince has been around for a while and is a very elegant place to dine, Cotogna, which just opened last year, is more of a rustic, casual, comfort food sort of place. While I have been to Quince and enjoyed it, Cotogna is far more to my liking.

To cut to the chase, I had a wonderful meal and overall experience today. Since I was by myself, I sat at the counter in front of their open ovens, including a wood burning pizza oven from
Mam Forni in Modena – a great spot to perch, especially since a stack of cook books from Corriere della Sera on regional Italian cooking was on the shelf next to me.

Cotogna has a beautiful space with natural light from their windows on both Pacific and Montgomery.

Simone waited on me and helped me with the menu. It was a very difficult choice, but I ended up having:

~ Kale sformato (a sort of soufflé) with Grano Padano cheese;

~ Potato gnocchi with a duck ragù; and

~ Crème fraîche panna cotta with pinenut cookies.

Everything was very good, although the gnocchi were just a bit heavy for my taste (and I know heavy gnocchi having tried to make them at home!). The duck ragù was particularly flavorful and the panna cotta was as good as, if not even a bit better than, that at Perbacco.

The only disappointment of the day was that they had run out of their supply of Ricotta Scorza Nera the day before, so I had to defer my first opportunity to try Bob Marcelli’s Abruzzese cheese (I did have a chance to speak with Katerina Parlato who said that they hope to get more in soon). However, I did manage to support Abruzzo industry by having a glass of
Umani Ronchi’s 2009 “Vellodoro” [golden fleece] Terre di Chieti Pecorino (even though I learned that Umani Ronchi is headquartered in Le Marche).

Cotogna has a most interesting and very nicely presented wine list, which should not be surprising given that I learned that David Lynch is the wine director for both Quince and Cotogna. I had not realized until today that David – whose “Vino Italiano” book which he co-wrote while he was at Babbo in New York, and is one the foremost reference books in English about Italian wine – was even here in San Francisco.

I foresee many return visits to Cotogna in the future (including possibly for brunch which I noted they serve on Saturdays). Now the only problem will be figuring out how to get in.

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