Sunday, December 28, 2008

Watercress salad for the recession



A quick salad for hard times: watercress, thinly sliced radish, chick peas, dressed with good olive oil and lemon.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas morning breakfast


Fra' Mani not only makes great dry cured salumi they also make breakfast sausage. We are stumbling back from the Jimmy Dean/Farmer John era to the old world of craft charcuterie. In the case of Fra' Mani it is the work of Paul Bertolli who previously the chef at Oliveto in Berkeley/Oakland, one of Pierino's favorite restaurants in California.

We are so grateful that artists like Paul Bertolli once again have access to quality pork coming from small farmers.

Breakfast was simple; we began in one pan with chopped potatoes in a thick dice. We began cooking those in peanut oil to bring a little color to the party. To that we added chopped onion and chopped green pepper and seasoned it. Once the potato is toothsome it's safe to begin your sausage in a second pan to brown.

Be sure your potatoes are properly seasoned (we used an herb salt from Sicily).

You are now ready for breakfast. Sorry about low quality picture but we ate it before we could snap another.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Feels like home to me...


...feels like I'm already back where I belong---Randy Newman

There are a whole bunch of places where Pierino can hang his hat and hopefully find a useful kitchen or a good meal and call it home. And lose a sock in a hotel room or guest bedroom. But mostly we are off the road now but still applying the lessons learned from decades of travel.

First, support local wherever it is you live. Second, if you are on the road and dining solo bring a book and eat at the bar. A table for one is pretty stupid and also uncomfortable for the restaurant as you are wasting space for what could be a two top.

What we have learned over the years is that the people standing behind the bar are your best friends. A reservoir of local intelligence that you should not leave untapped. The book is a conversation starter with your cell mates at the bar and you gather more local news from them. And we've had many interesting encounters.

To illustrate our point yesterday Pierino went back to Boogaloo in Hermosa and had lunch (red beans and rice) at the bar with his friend Heather. Heather brought her own lunch out from behind the bar (roast beef debris sandwich) and we talked about local stuff. As in how important it is, especially now, to support our local business and markets.

Cafe Boogaloo is located on Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Quinoa Chronicles, Part 2

Yesterday Pierino was having lunch at Salt Creek Grille where one of their new small plate items is quinoa with dungeness crab and avocado. It's tasty and couldn't be more healthy.

Problem: it's not selling. If your average hay seed "foodie" doesn't know what something is they won't buy it.

Solution?: call it something else. We are thinking along the lines of "Bolivian Rice." It works this way, if you were to put "slime fish" on your menu nobody would buy it. How about "Patagonian toothfish?" So respectively renamed "orange roughy" and "Chilean sea bass" the fisheries for both have almost been wiped out.

We don't think line caught quinoa, masquerading as Bolivian Rice can possibly be overfished.

So ask your local chef to put it back on the menu and just tweak the name.

And for those of you who care about our fisheries go to www.seafoodwatch.org

It's sponsered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They are out front in their mission.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

And the cabbage you rode in on!



Something over 20 years ago Pierino was traveling in Italy with friends and armed with his classroom Italian which wasn't bad but...

We had access to a kitchen not far from Siena so with a degree of confidence Pierino walked into a green grocer and asked for a cabbage (we thought). Cabbage in Italian is "cavolo" but horse is "cavallo." Now the pronunciation is important. It is possible to find horse meat in Italy but not in a green grocer. After some head scratching we saw what we needed and discovered that we should have asked for "savoia."

Pierino was reminded of this story when he was making a big thick minestrone. Pierino's version isn't ribollita but it doesn't need any bread thickener. It will be plenty filling on its own.

Friday, December 5, 2008

This Little Piggy Went to Market...


...and had his face sliced off, his organs taken out, his blood collected for boudin noir and his flesh ground up and stuffed into his own intestines. No wonder the other little piggy went "oui, oui, oui" all the way home. Nose to tail eating; let me know if they find a use for the oink.

This brings us to guanciale. Guanciale is a bacon made from this little piggy's cheek as opposed to belly. Please observe its creamy whiteness. Until very recently it was impossible to find outside of Italy. Happily there are now domestic sources.

It is an essential ingredient in bucatini l'amatriciana as well as spaghetti carbonara. But I've also been using it recipes which call for cured but unsmoked bacon. I can see that frisee salad with lardons and poached egg on the horizon.

I ordered this lovely cheek through Zingerman's.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Copia; the bad news


Pierino hates to report that Copia in Napa has closed. It's a beautiful museum dedicated to food and to the memory of Julia Child. You can see Julia's own pans on exhibit.

Unfortunately the foundation couldn't seem to get out of its own way. So now it is in bankruptcy.

From the New York Times:"Copia was supposed to be a food and wine center," said Darrell Corti..."Please define that for me. It can't be a place where you go around giving parties for each other and expect to be successful." Darrell Corti is a very resonant voice in all things food. He owns the legendary Corti Brothers in Sacramento.

But Copia is unique and we hope it can carry on.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Return to Paso Robles Pt.2






The night before leaving for home Pierino returned to another favorite local restaurant, Artisan at 14th and Park. We had two wonderful courses there, first was an abalone "BLTA" with pancetta, arugula and fried green tomatoes. We will let you figure out how the BLTA assembles itself. Unfortunately California's abalone fishery has long been done in, by the usual suspects. It's being farm raised in Cayucos but if you look for it outside of central California it's going to cost you.


Before our first course was served we tasted a really wonderful bread, which you can see pictured. We'll come back to the bread momentarily.


Second course was a duck confit with a winter chicory salad. Also delicious, with a local pinot.


Now the bread. We asked if it was made in house or purchased outside. As it turns out they get their baguettes from Hush-Harbor in Atascadero. Needless to say upon departure we checked in at Hush-Harbor in the morning as it was on the way home and easy to find. It's located in a strip mall but they make wonderful artisan breads. Is it worth driving 240 miles for a great baguette? We vote yes! 5735 El Camino Real, Atascadero, CA. Sorry friends, no website. You will have to check it out in person. At least it's a beautiful drive.






A Very Good Hot Sauce


How often can you say good "hot sauce" after you've left the McIlhenny plantation on Avery Island? Most of the new "gourmet" hot sauces want to grab your attention (and test your intelligence) with names like "Set Your Balls on Fire" or "Flaming Commie Sikorskies from Hell" and they boast more Scoville units than Alaska has people. Okay maybe that's not such a big boast. Sarah Palin can probably
throw a bottle across the Bering Straits to curious Russians. They won't like the Sikorskies from Hell joke though.

Chipotle? In my opinion this is the most misused ingredient since balsamic vinegar. Thanks again, Bobby Flay.


So I'm happy to say I found a really nice one when I was having breakfast at Maggie's in Paso. Pepper Plant, made in Gilroy, CA. It has a very nice balance of heat to flavor. Great with my potatoes. There should be some real flavor in there besides that of spent nuclear rods. Pepper Plant, made with Jalapenos, delivers the flavor and just the right amount of heat.


Later that day I went out to search for it and actually found it on the shelf at Albertson's. It might be hard to find outside of Central California, but you can buy it directly from the producer on line.




Friday, November 21, 2008

Return to Paso Robles Pt.1


Pierino spent the beginning of this week in a town we love very much, Paso Robles. Shopped for olive oil, cheese and real estate.

We arrived Sunday and for dinner made a bee line for Villa Creek. We blogged this place back in September and it remains among our favorites. The weather in Paso is turning cold at night and Pierino didn't pack enough warm stuff because at times he's the absent minded professor. They make a great cassoulet but on this night we went with their delicious chicken pot pie.

Tuesday we had lunch at Buona Tavola, a very good Italian place which began it's life in San Luis Obispo at least fifteen years ago. Now they have an outpost in Paso just off the town square. Our lunch was a delicious fettucine sugo di carne misti. Mixed meats. Wonderful.


What got us wondering was that at 1:30 Pierino was the only customer in the place. They run a typical lunch service from 11:30 to 2:00 but we had the sense that maybe nobody else had been in before us. How can you open for lunch for just one cover?


Stay tuned for Pt. 2.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Recipe: Walking Spanish Down the Hall Chicken Thighs

Back to the Zeitgeist. There are a couple of inside jokes in the name of this recipe. One of which is that “Walking Spanish” is the title of a Tom Waits song.

For this very easy recipe you will need chicken thighs including the skin and the bones. Don’t wimp out with skinless, boneless, taste free stuff aka chicken thighs light. This is a braised dish and you will need those bones. The other key ingredient is good Spanish pimento aka paprika. I prefer the ahumado meaning smoked. It’s easy to order on line from Tienda or The Spanish table.



4 Chicken thighs
1/3 cup Wondra
1 tbs pimenton
3 cloves garlic sliced
1 medium onion minced
2 tbs olive oil or enough to cover the bottom of your dutch oven
1/3 small olives (leave the pits in)
6 small white potatoes thinly sliced*
1 can diced tomatoes
½ cup red wine
½ tsp thyme, fresh if available
Zest of one orange
Salt and pepper

In a dish or pie pan add the Wondra and pimenton and then with a fork mix together
Pat dry the chicken thighs and dredge them. Season with salt and set aside
In your dutch oven add the olive oil and heat over medium
When the oil begins to ripple a bit add the garlic first and then the onions long enough to give them some color.
Add the chicken thighs
Turn up the heat to medium high and brown the thighs two at a time and set aside.
Off heat spoon off most of the remaining oil and fat. And return to the burner.
Add the red wine and reduce by half using a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape up the good stuff off the bottom and then return the thighs to your dutch oven.
Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer covered. Then add the olives and thyme .
After about ten minutes add the potatoes and recover.
Total cooking time is about 30 minutes but check with a knife or better yet an instant read thermometer. Season with salt and pepper and add the orange zest.
Taste and serve.

*A Kyocera adjustable ceramic slicer is great for this

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What's good in California now!


Pierino has been praising California cheeses and olive oils for years. Right now is a good time to seek these products out. New olive oils and seasonal cheeses are just coming on the market. However for some you may have to go to the source.


Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes makes wonderful camembert and epoisses with seasonal versions as well. Their bestsellers are the Mt. Tam and the Red Hawk. In Pierino's opinion the Red Hawk (an epoisses style) is their best. Their seasonal cheeses include Pt. Pierce with an herbed rind and St. Pat with nettles on the rind. All are delicious. Everytime I bring one to a dinner everyone raves about it. Cowgirl Creamery has an outlet in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, but I've been able to find them at Whole Foods. And you can order online directly from the Cowgirls.


Another new favorite is Pozo Tomme from Riconada, a sheep ranch in Santa Margarita. Very limited production. Look for it at Di Raimondo in Paso Robles or contact Riconada directly. They are wonderful people.


Olive oil. In Pierino's opinion these can at least be the equal of imported European oils. Olive growers have been bringing in tree stock from Italy which has thrived on the Central Coast and in the Napa area. Now most of the small production oils are a blend.


Pierino's favorites include Pasolivo from Paso Robles, Vineyard Canyon also from Paso, Balzana from Santa Ynez, McEvoy from Napa.


Pasolivo tends to be consistant from year to year. They've introduced two infused oils; lemon and tangerine. See the picture above. You can buy Pasolivo from Zingerman's but not their infused oils.
Vineyard Canyon, also from Paso, is wildly inconstant and very small production. They only do a couple of styles which unfortunately they keep tweaking. At their best, when you first taste them you will feel the burn! However some years they smooth them out, apparently to appease the wimps among us. But I always look forward to their new oils.
BTW Paso has an Olive Festival in August---when the temperature is maybe 105 degrees F. But it's more fun than the midstate fair.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dinner for Four in Ojai

Pierino has a really good friend from college, now retired who lets him get eight hours of Ojai sleep in the guest bedroom. In exchange Pierino does all the cooking (except for making coffee) and occasionally donates one or two kitchen tools.

On the Saturday night after Halloween we had two good friends over dinner. For cooking away from home (far away from home) it's always best to stick to things that can be cooked competently. Never experiment with a new dish or technique without perfecting it. It doesn't matter how forgiving your friends might be. They are friends and need to be fed well to the best of your ability.

Enough blather, here's the menu from Saturday:

Cheese board: Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery, Spanish Mahon, and Spanish membrillo (quince jelly). Both Cheeses were a hit so we were off to a good start.

Salad: Romaine lettuce, radicchio, thinly sliced radish, thinly slice cumumber, hearts of palm and chickpeas. Basic oil, vinegar, dijon vinaigrette. They taught you vinaigrette in kindergarten, right?

Main course: roast chicken. Any good cook can handle this one, and in fact it's what many chef's love to cook at home. It's almost failure proof. Pierino used a 4 1/2 pound Rocky Junior, filled the cavity with a small amount of kosher salt, some rosemary branches and two lemons---pierced agressively with a small knife and then tied up the legs, reversed the wings and then rubbed it all over with olive and more kosher salt. Figure 20 minutes per pound at 375, keeping in mind that no two ovens are calibrated exactly the same. Pierino carries his trusty Thermapen to get accurate chicken meat temperatures in seconds. Once the chicken rests you are ready to go, go, go. Let the carving begin!

With no false modesty the host and his guests did everything but lick the carcass at the end.

Pierino's two favorite kitchen jobs are roasting chickens and making stocks and broths. Easy and rewarding. Try this at home with no fear.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Tea We Love to Drink Now


Pierino loves green tea in the morning and then around lunch time. It's good for you. We found this wonderful tea in a Japanese market. I can't tell you the brand because I can't read kanji.


The great thing about this tea is that it is made with popped rice. When you brew it you get this nutty, almost popcorn like fragrance and it's delicious.


We have it for breakfast and then for a lunch time pick-me-up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Little Spain at the Sea


Buy local, eat local! Go Slow!

When Mediterraneo opened five years ago it was a welcome addition to the Pier Avenue scene in Hermosa Beach. At first it was a very pleasant place to go, with a wonderful front of house staff. But at the beginning the food wasn't that great. However once Chef Amber Caudle took over the kitchen full time it came soaring back.

Amber grew up in Atlanta and graduated from Auburn. Along the way she developed a real flair for Spanish tapas. Last week I was in for dinner with my friends Jim and Adele.

Dinner begain with a beautiful cheese board which included cubes of membrillo (quince jelly). I can't remember the order of courses but we had morcilla in two courses, scallops wrapped in jamon, potato tortilla, shrimp skewers, a beet and arugula salad, a plate of olives and I can't remember what else. It's a good thing that my friend Jimbo brought along his Rabelaisian appetite.

If you are down at the beach I highly recommend Meditteraneo. Chef Amber is doing a fantastic job!

73 Pier Avenue
Hermosa Beach, CA

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh' Paso




Pierino is back from a brief vacation in Paso Robles. We intend to live there in the not so distant future.




The place I always visit first, immediately on arrival is Villa Creek.

You can see it here with a full moon in the background.


On my first night in I ordered a cassoulet, not quite in season, but delicious.


While was eating my cassoulet at the bar (dining solo I'm always at the bar, where you can learn a lot of stuff) I noticed this pate plate come and be delivered to my neighbor. So the next night I went back and ordered it myself. Bread with rosemary, grilled fuet, salumi, olives, and at the right, a house made rabbit and chicken pate. Outstanding. I was able to chat with sous chef for a bit because he was working the front of the house. I knew the sources for almost all of the ingredients on the plate, so we had lively little talk.

Go to Paso, eat at Villa Creek.

There's a rumour around that Keller (the Keller) is planning to open a restaurant there. Makes some sense as Hwy 46 W takes you through local wine country and then over to the coast.

Apart from wine, if you visit Paso the things you should pick up are olive oil, cheese, and of course the local wines.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bill's Place


Pierino just finished a much needed vacation up the Central Coast of California. I've been traveling up that way for years. At one point we decided to take the turn off to Arroyo Grande and instantly fell in love with with it because it is one of those old California towns whose history goes back to the late 19th century. There is this very cool steel and wood bridge which crosses the arroyo which is not so grande, but very pretty nonetheless.


Back to Bill's. After three years of dropping in maybe once or twice a year I finally learned that it was named "Bill's". What pulled me in the first time was this giant lion like thing in the front window. Inside there are a lot of dead animals who decided to hang their heads on the wall. This, I guess would be a Sarah Palin kind of place.


More soon because there are other good stories...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Eggs

This passage comes from Russ Parson's book HOW TO READ A FRENCH FRY. Russ, who is a really nice guy when you meet him also writes "The California Cook" page for the new LA Times Lite.

"If the way most foods work is fascinating, the egg is nothing short of a miracle. Eggs can be used as a protein glue to bind ingredients together, as in batters for frying. They can also be used as emulsifiers, performing the seemingly impossible feat of holding water and oil in a permanent solution. And they can be used as thickeners, turning water into sauce."

See, I don't make this stuff up.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Oh' Canada


Awhile back Pierino was up in British Columbia and picked up this souvenir patch. But we can't figure out what it is intended to represent. Is this guy frog marching a seal, garroting it, or preparing to administer the Heimlich maneuver??
Oh well, Canada has given us Leonard Cohen, KD Lang, the Hansen brothers and I guess Alexander Graham Bell.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Guilty Pleasures, chapter one



I love this stuff! It's the Korean version of ramen. It's spicy and will provide you with all the salt you need for a week. And these packages only cost me 94 cents. When I can find them.

This is the stuff you wish you had during your starving college student days.

Now as an adult (or at least as a crazy Irish kid pretending to be an adult) I like to add other ingredients such as thinly sliced bok choy or Nappa cabbage along with some rehydrated shitake mushrooms and chopped scallions. I buy my shitake's at a Japanese market.

The latter is the part that they didn't teach you in college. Add some vegetables to your ramen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Celebrity" Food Show

Pierino spent this past weekend at the Horror Hilton in Anaheim attending a "celebrity" food show. The hotel is located adjacent to Disneyland and in the lobby of this cavernous place you can be trampled by a pack of kids who stand only about 3' tall. For me Disneyland is the "unhappiest place on earth." And as an evil prank I'm going to put this thought in your heads: "It's a small world afterall..." Now try and keep that tune out of your mind for 24 hours.

The show floor was mostly disappointing. I could walk it in about 15 minutes. However after a few passes I did meet some very nice people. I chatted with Nancy Ash of the California Olive Oil Council. California olive oils are one of my own causes.

The headliners were the crew from "Ace of Cakes", one of the only two good shows on the Food Network. Duff Goldman is like some rabalaisian character, owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore. His office manager Mary Alice was the one in control of their stage show. What surprised me was that taciturn Geoff apparently has a big following among fans of the show.

They do amazing stuff. Duff spent most of their hour on stage working and making wise cracks. But it wrapped up with him grabbing a hockey stick to slap cup cakes into the audience. He managed to hit his own mom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dante

Unfortunately I've tumbled back into the Inferno from Purgatory. But I'm working my way back up. However these are some of the most beautiful lines ever written:

Nel mezzo cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, che la diritta via era smarrita

One of the most beautiful verses in all of literature, and I have it memorized. But you have to remember that Hell isn't hot. It's freezing cold!
-

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My Latest Obsession


...is wood grilled artichokes. I've been back out on the road a lot lately. Fairly recently I was up in the Santa Ynez Valley staying on the outskirts of Solvang. If you saw the film "Sideways" you will recognize the familiar yellow sign outside The Hitching Post II in Buelton.

Sideways mania has calmed down considerably. So, I did my usual thing and walked in with a book and found a seat at the bar (kind of like Miles and Jack).

Now, when you pull into the parking lot you'll immediately smell the oak wood fire going outside. Very Central Coast. When you order it might take some time, not because the service is bad but because what they cook there takes time. I always try to read, but then I always wind up in interesting conversations with smart people at the bar. Oh well, I'll read in my hotel room.

This time I ordered two small plates. A grilled quail (please forgive me) and an incredible grilled artichoke which really set the bar for me.

There is also a place close to where I live that does an excellent job: Salt Creek Grille in El Segundo. Now comes the wierd part; they only have four locations, two in New Jersey and two in California. When I come in I don't even have to order because the bartender is going to set down my drink and and send back a ticket for an artichoke. Still more wierd, he and I both grew up in the same small town, Babylon, Long Island. He even showed me his driver's license. I'm a scrappy little Irish f*** but Patrick is a big one. He's a guy I would want to have my back. So I'm glad to have him as a friend.

Oh, yes and their artichokes are great although they do them over a gas grill but season them with liquid smoke. This is what scrappy little Irish effing cooks do, make friends and ferret out critical information.

So now I'm cooking them myself. I'm doing okay I think, and with a couple of more practice sessions this summer I will have it down. And hopefully a recipe will go out in the not so distant future.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sous vide, the sequel, GONE WITH THE GEIST

From the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/23/dining/23sousvide.html?_r=1&ref=dining&oref=slogin

So do you still want to poach stuff in bags? Maybe not.

Reporting from a secret location. But I will have more to add.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stay Local Chapter 2


Let's face it you can't afford to buy gas. So once again I am singing the praises of one of my own local places.


The North End in Hermosa was once known as Critters and one of the diviest bars in all of the South Bay. Surfing legend Dewey Weber drank himself to death there. Two great friends of mine formerly owned the Mexican restaurant across the street. But since it changed hands I can hardly bring myself to go back.


The news about the North End is that it actually has a very talented executive chef, Jessica Jordan. The big guy on the left is Salvador. He has a counterpart, Servendo. I've seen these guys cooking in back, then washing glasses at bar triple sink and then bussing tables. There is a lot of multitasking going on! Jessica herself frequently works at the bar.
Now to the food. The regular menu is typical bar food. But the lunch specials are typically pretty good. However Monday is "gourmet night" with a special menu of five courses. Wednesday is "tapas" with a choice of eight small plates. Both nights are wonderful. I think in between there is the traditional LA "taco Tuesday" but I'm not going there...
The special menus change all the time. On recent visits (Monday) I've dined on pan seared duck crepes with hoisen and plum sauce, as well as a bay scallop and crab saute over cold angel hair. Both dishes are obviously Asian inspired but you might also find fire grilled jerk chicken with mango salsa, sweet pepper rice, roasted corn and pineapple saute'. Doesn't that make your mouth water!
This past week I stopped in for tapas and had delicious tempura battered squash blossoms with a yellow pepper-jalapeno sauce.
Chef Jessica's cooking rocks! And I encourage all of my friends to go.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Next Geist

The new zeitgeist sweeping through American kitchens is sous vide. Basically you vac seal a plastic bag and cook the contents. I'm not sure what accounts for its popularity after our molecular gastronomy phase, but my friend David at Bay Books, in Coronado showed me the new Artisan catalog and Keller (yes, that Keller) is bringing out a book on the technique. If I remember correctly, the book title is COOKING UNDER PRESSURE.

Okay, I guess I'll try some things out but this does remind me of cooking Stouffers' stroganoff when I was a college student in the days before microwaves. You dropped a bag of stuff into a pot of boiling water. Today's college students don't even know how to light an oven.

Today I think I might be preparing a "pasta primavera." This is not a traditional dish from anywhere in Italy. It was created at Le Cirque in New York in order to charge rich people exorbitant prices for inexpensive ingredients. But it can be prepared al minute.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Eat local, buy local


Pierino believes that you should support your community businesses. He believes that with all his whole heart. It might cost you a few more dollars than shopping at a chain or eating at a KFC but it matters!!!



In the photo at left you will see Big Bob who is a Hermosa Beach icon. He could be considered the Mount Rushmore of Hermsoa. Big Bob is the nicest person you might ever meet, and he is always sporting a cool hat. He guards the door of Cafe Boogaloo and when he unfolds from that chair he stands up at somewhere between 6"11" and 7'11". Let's just say he is a big guy. Bob is probably the reason that at Boogaloo there are no problems (unlike other bars/restaurants in the neighborhood). Sweet, gentle man but I would never want to mess with him.

But Boogaloo also offers up really great food. Owner Steve Roberts comes from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The menu is great but what often is off the menu is frequently better! You just have to ask. It's known locally that Tuesday is Fried Chicken night. And it's really good. But you need to ask your server.

Cafe Boogaloo is at 1238 Hermosa Ave 310 318 2324

I didn't mention that one of the reasons Big Bob sits outside the door is that on weekends they have a great live music venue. Recently I was lucky to see an impromptu Blasters reunion. On the bill was "The Gene Taylor Band featuring Dave Alvin" but toward the end of night Phil Alvin (giant head and all) stepped out on stage and all of a sudden it was the Blasters! One of maybe the top ten bands ever to come out of LA. Ever...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Surfin' Santa Barbara


My favorite dining spot in Santa Barbara at this moment is Hungry Cat. No sign, but it's located at Chapala and Anapamu, with Hungry Cat discretely lettered on the the window. It's operated by Susan Goin who has the magnificent Luques in LA as well as another Cat in Hollywood. Also AOC in LA.


Down to business: the Santa Barbara Cat is small. The kitchen is available for all to see. Best seats are at the bar. Seafood again, rules!

In the photo above I'm not sure if the chef, Dylan Sultineer (big guy with beard at left) is conferring with his staff on the night's menu or comparing betting slips.

What I dined on was the "salted black cod [aka sable fish]. It wasn't anything like a real salt cod which must be dried and rehydrated. I think I'm doing that this weekend. But rather more like a cured, gravalax. The "local beans" were less successful---and I believe in buying local---kind of tough. But the cod was great. I wish I could have revisted on the following night to order the fried boquerones (anchovies) with dandelion, fennel and grapefruit...

There are so may wonderful things to taste here. Go for it

Monday, May 12, 2008

Paso, SLO, and Sliders


Just returned from one of Pierino's favorite car trips; Hwy 101 up to Paso Robles. Wonderful time of year to make the drive with yellow mustard exploding out of the hillsides along the highway. I brought along a couple of Yann Tiersen cds. His crazy waltzes really fit the mood.


I needed to hide away and get some work done in peace and quiet although at times I was feeling like the Martin Sheen character in Apocalypse Now.

As planned, I did have some really good meals. Paso (and the local pronunciation is Row-bulls) has two or three great restaurants but you quickly descend to "satisfactory." Still, this is a town I'd like to live in some day. I was hungry as hell when I rolled into town. My first stop was Villa Creek. I ordered at the bar and had their sausage, fruit and cheese plate. The sausage was house made and the cheese came from just down the road about 8 miles in Santa Margerita. Everything was terrific but the cheese, a sheep's milk cheese called Pomo Tome was outstanding. It tasted similar to a Basque Idizzabal but with very bright flavor.

The next morning I went to Raimondo in Paso to see if I could buy some of that cheese to take with me. They were a bit irked to learn that Villa Creek had it already when their order wasn't due for another week (at least). I then spoke with the kitchen at VC and they told me that they thought that they had bought up most of the production. I would say that's one more reason to buy local, and early.

Thursday evening in San Luis Obisbo (about 30 miles from Paso) brings to town the weekly farmers market. As I knew I would be cooking the next evening I bought some nice, small artichokes for I think, 4 for a dollar. Your local supermarket has chokes at about $4 each for globes... I guarantee those are going to be woody. Enzyte anyone?


While I was there I also picked up some Meyer lemons and young red onions.




After the market I went to a new restaurant in SLO named "Native." It's located on Chorro near the mission and the creek. Previously this spot was Mission Grill. But Native is so hip that they don't have a sign, just a chalkboard outside with the menu. The whole Feng Shui makeover look really works, taking full benefit of its great location. From the bar you can now look through the whole room down to the creek. I ordered their braised chicken lettuce cups which were excellent. But then...

...but then I went back to the menu and saw the dreaded term "slider" on there. Sliders are to the first decade of 2000 what napoleons were to the '90's. Anything that could be stacked could be and would be called a Napoleon. Hey, it's supposed to be an effing pastry! Sliders are reinvented White Castle burgers which go back to the 1940's and originally were called "Slyders" but sorry, no Rambo connection. Meaning I guess small things on small buns.

I think the chef at Native has many good ideas but next time I'm in SLO I'm going back to Novo.
Before leaving Paso Robles I stopped for lunch at the Crooked Kilt, a pub by the town square. I've wanted one of their T-shirts for awhile and I needed another garment because I hadn't packed smartly enough. When I looked at the menu there was a moment of serendipity. You can actually order a burger and a T for a single price; $25. As I only eat about five burgers per year this seemed like a good deal. And then I was on my way to Ojai.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lesson 15: in Ospedale



On a morning in late March [marzo] Pierino wakes up [si sveglia] in an unfamiliar [sconosciuto] room. Into his room enters a doctor [medico].

Pierino: where am I [dove sono io]?

Medico: Pierino you are in the hospital [ospedale].

Pierino: What happened [che sucesso]???!

Medico: You had a fall and injured your head and ribs. You have stitches [punti] and staples [punti metallici] in your head. Also you had cracked ribs [costole] and a punctured lung [pulmone sconfiemento].

Pierino: Aoh!

Could you please have the nurse [l'infermeria] bring me a coffee?

Medico: Sorry, not possible [mi dispiace non possibile].

Pierino: Why not [perche no]?

Medico: No caffinated beverages.

Pierino: Mortacci tua! E perche?

Medico: Because this is an American hospital [ospedale americano].

Pierino: Boh! Any other news [c'e altra notizia]?

Medico: Si. Roma ha perso a Manchester UTD 0-2.

Grida Pierino: NOOOOOO!!!!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

When the Equinox Knocks...

It might as well be Spring. Put on some Brasilian music, say Jobim's "Waters of March" and samba around the kitchen.

What are we cooking? Easter is early this year and Pierino trying to adhere to his New Year resolutions has vowed to get his hands back into dough. Easter Pie! Torta di Pasqua! Many eggs will be sacrificed along with some high quality pig products.

Who would have thought that flour would become the luxury ingredient of 2008?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pierino goes to the movies

Two films where the city is the star:

During my short visit to San Francisco I did manage to climb on the #38 Geary bus and ride out to see "In Bruges". This is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen in years. It was written and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. It's insanely, wickedly funny and Purgatory does play a part. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hit men who have to hide out after a disasterous whack gone wrong. Do you like Bosch?

Also while I was in San Francisco I stopped at Virgin and picked up the DVD of "Lisbon Story." This is a favorite of mine. It's a film by Wim Wenders which didn't getting much exposure in the US. Not only does it showcase Lisboa---an incredibly beautiful city---but it also features the music of the group, Madredeus. Those of us who love things Portugal know that you have go it because it's not going to come to you. I believe that Spain is a hallucination at the foot of the Pyrennes and that Portugal is an island floating in the Atlantic.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Food Notes from San Francisco




I'd like to say that it's hard to have a bad meal in San Francisco. But in fact it's incredibly easy in a city jammed with tourists. So my advice is to plan ahead and do a little research if you don't already know your way around.




My hotel, the Villa Florence, is in the Union Square area. The cable car stops outside the door on Powell if you are a total hoser. The restuarant downstairs is Kuleto's...I'll come back to that soon.




But not being much of a big breakfast guy I fortunately remembered that Emporio Rulli has a location in Union Square serving the best pastries in the city (small c). A short stroll for me for a delicious sfoglia di ricotta and coffee. Perfect. Oh, and the Villa Florence will deliver your choice of newspapers to your door. I took the New York Times. You would think that a city that basks in its own "sophistication" would actually have a real, grown up newspaper. You would be wrong.




My favorite restaurant in the Bay Area has been, for twenty years, Oliveto in Oakland. Easy to reach by BART because the Rockridge Station is right outside its front door. I met up with some old friends and can report that although many notable chefs have passed through, the food is as good as ever. My dinner was a wild nettle pappardelle with rabbit and mushrooms. The nettles gave the pasta a rich forest green color. I can't remember what my friends ordered because negronis were involved.




Back in the city one of my most favorite food meccas is the Ferry Building. It's beautiful beyond reason with outlets for cheeses, mushrooms, olive oils etc. The F street car will drop you right outside the effing door. It is also home to The Slanted Door, serving an innovative, harmonious blending of Vietnamese and French cooking (try the crepes sometime). On this visit I dashed for an open seat at the bar for lunch---that's an extreme sport in itself. This time I tucked into lemongrass grilled pork with rice and imperial rolls. That's a French 75 in the background (a cocktail not a firearm). I need to learn how to make those.
Another good place for SE Asian food in the Union Square area is E&O Trading Company. I chose that because on Sundays many of the better restaurants over in the financial district are closed. There I had still more duck imperial rolls and some sizzling hot, spicy, wok fried spinach which I loved.
Back to Kuleto's. Kuleto's is good. Twenty years ago it was very good. When I arrived at my hotel it was the obvious place to lunch. From their specials I ordered the duck ravioli---which turned out to be tortelli, but never mind. The house made pasta dough was tough--- it could have used another pass through the rollers. But not bad.
On the evening of my departure I went back downstairs to Kuleto's for dinner and ordered the penne with lamb sausage, chard, spicy tomato sauce and fresh ricotta. This time the penne came out of a box (not a bad thing). This dish has been on their menu for years and I do recommend it.
One more thing about Kuleto's; twenty odd years ago this was the first place---in my dining experience---that presented a plate of olive oil to our table and instructed us that, "this is for your bread." Like it was a sacrament or something. I don't know where this custom originated, but I can assure you that it wasn't Italy. You can still have butter in Milano. There is also that odd little drop of balsamic vinegar in the oil. I mean, this is bread not a salad. So I was glad to see that Saveur devoted the cover of its current issue to BUTTER! YES! As much as I love olive oil, maybe we can now get over our twenty year, national nightmare of the bread basket.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fake Tales of San Francisco

This past weekend I finally took some much needed vacation time. I needed it after helping Robert Irvine with his resume. So I flew Virgin America up to San Francisco. With almost 30 years of air travel behind me I can honestly say that this was the best domestic flight I've ever taken. I encourage you to try them out.
The motive for the trip was a memorial for an old friend which reunited me with many old friends from an important period in my life. But it was also an opportunity to catch up on my sleep deficit and eat really, really well. Okay, I did spend an hour or so downloading ring tones into my new cell. If you hear the Velvets' "Sweet Jane" that's probably my phone and not yours.
I booked a room at the Villa Florence for a ridiculously low rate---possibly because renovations are underway. This is a boutique hotel in the Larkspur collection, steps from Union Square. In the lobby they run old films like "It Started in Naples" and "The Italian Job (the original with Michael Caine)" in Hi Def. Unfortunately they show them without the sound so you don't actually get to hear Sophia Loren sing, "You wan't to be Americano..."
Now you would have to hold a gun to Pierino's cheek to get him to take a cable car anywhere. Sorry, I'm not going to spend $5.00 to ride on the outside of a public conveyance. However Pierino really loves street cars. San Francisco has a fleet of beautiful old cars from Milan, St. Louis, Kansas City, Brooklyn and of course San Francisco. The video trailer is from a short film called "Pierino falls down the BART stairs while trying to catch the Milan car to Purgatory."
I'll tell you about the food in a second post.
video

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Involtini Redux


Okay, I showed you the hotel hangover version of the eggplant involtini in its sad little tray. This is what it looks like on a nice Fishs Eddy plate when you make it at home. Extremely easy and your kitchen will smell great when it's done.


If I haven't sent you the recipe (which I borrowed from Grappolo---come on it wasn't that complicated) let me know.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fishs Eddy


My most favorite store in New York City is Fishs Eddy---even more than the cheese counter at Dean & DeLuca which is pretty close by. It's impossible to describe what Fishs Eddy is an a few words. Let's just say it's full of very cool stuff.



Do you remember the days when airlines served you real hot food in economy with actual metal flat ware? I was able to find these trays and spoons from those days at Fishs. The trays are old United Airlines and the spoons are National Airlines.

National Airlines was the first company to fly commercial jets in the USA (707s) in 1958 and then they were taken over by Pan Am in 1980. But this cool stuff is still out there. I guess Fishs no longer has the forks but the spoons were only 99 cents each.

www.fishseddy.com Go do some fishing for some pretty neat stuff.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Santa Ynez Pt 2


It's impossible to drive around this area without being reminded of the film "Sideways". As you drive into Solvang from 101 you pass by the Hitching Post, Ostrich Land and so on. Even if you are a fan it becomes like that song you keep hearing in your head over and over. But I was still surprised when I noticed that the elevator call buttons at my hotel were arranged so you could actually go sideways.

Santa Ynez Valley Pt 1



Pierino is just back from a two day trip to Santa Barbara and Solvang. The drive up Hwy 101 is his favorite in California.

If you hit it on the right day at the right time of day it can leave you breathless. Late afternoon is usually best. Something about the light. One thing I love about this trip is the sudden and dramatic change of terrain from Southern California to Central California. When you pop out of the Gaviota tunnel going northbound you are instantly in Central California. There's something special about those green hills populated with oaks and cows and the occasional vineyard.

You may already know that Solvang is this ultra kitsch "Scandinavian Village" but hey, that's where the hotels are (unless you want to stay in that windmill shaped Days Inn in Buellton which Miles and Jack occupied in "Sideways.)

Dining can be a problem. I decided to drive up to Santa Ynez to have dinner at Grappolo. The food is good and as a bonus the parking lot had a perfect view of the lunar eclipse. The chef as well his customers kept running outside and back in as the eclipse progressed.

Pierino ordered the involtini of eggplant filled with capellini pasta, smoked mozzarella and basil which was baked in the oven. We're going to try that one at home.

The picture of a food like substance at the top is what that involtini look's like in a hotel room in the morning. It's not a tray of enchiladas although it looks like one. I'm thinking a magazine food stylist could substitute a plate of enchiladas for a photo shoot.

More soon...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sotto cieli di Roma...

Roma 2 Real Madrid 1

Basta!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Oh, GROW up!




"E balla, e balla, balla,


Ca chi fatica...nun s'a joca a palle!"

"Piazza Dante"---Spaccanopoli




Pierino believes in neighbors and community business, especially those shops that reach to a certain excellence. Yesterday Pierino visited Grow in Manhattan Beach where his friend Josh Harrison threatened him with a mango grenade. "Josh, you did leave the pin in that thing didn't you?"

But seriously, we go to Grow for the best produce in town, and especially the best fruits and cheeses. We especially like the citrus fruits. Josh really knows his stuff. Pierino purchased some delicious "cara cara" oranges, which if I got it right are an orange and grapefruit cross. Josh will crush my head if I'm wrong on that.
Oh, and Grow is one of the few places in the 'hood that stocks cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery. Love that "Mt. Tam" and that "Red Hawk."

So, go to Grow: 1830 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

If you can't go to Grow, be sure to go to the local markets where they sell REAL food. Eat with your heart on your sleeve and a mango in your hand.



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Yes, you're lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft
There is nothing for me but to love you
And the way you look tonight"
---Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields (1936)


It's the eve of Valentine's and Pierino is stuck in a crappy hotel room some place you never want to visit. Let's just say that the taps are backward: hot water on the right, cold on the left.

But it doesn't stop him from thinking about Valentine's day and taking inventory for tomorrow:

Cubic zirconia cut and fancily placed in a setting by the finest gypsy diamond cutter in Slovenia

That awesome cake ordered from Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, designed by Duff Goldman

Barry White, "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up"

"Roman Holiday" DVD

But what to offer from the kitchen?

Your guide through Purgatory is not much into Chocolate (especially Devil's Food)...But he does like chopped chicken liver (yes, really)

Caviar from Tsar Nicolai, harvested from Sacramento River sturgeon

A dozen or so oysters with mignionette (no bloody cocktail sauce)

Lobster of course

..and maybe some nice little yellow strawberries from up in Paso Robles

What are you doing for Valentine's Day? What do you crave.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Still seeking?



Looking for your part in Purgatory? It appears that Vons is casting.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Barley, arugula and meyer lemon

"Look out kids,
it's somethin' you did.
God knows when but you're doin' it again."
That's why you are in Purgatory.

Meyer lemons are back with us---that perfect combination of sweet and tart flavors.

Try this salad: cook some pearl barley according to package instructions. Meanwhile wash and spin some arugula in your spinner. Make your favorite vinegarette (basically 1/2 cup olive to 1/4 vinegar, and mustard to emulsify). To this you can add the fresh squeezed juice of a couple of meyer lemons (more on that later).

To the dressing whisk in some fresh thyme.

OR:

I recently found this delicious meyer lemon preserve but I can't remember where. Anyway it's made for www.restaurantlulu.com It's pretty bitchin'. Substitute the preserve for the fresh juice.

Mix your dressing with the barley by hand (wash your hand first). Add some chopped green onions and you will having something really good on your hands (apart from salad dressing)

Turn this mixture over your washed and drained arugula.

And if you eat enough barley you won't need Quaker Oats in the morning. It's win-win all the way.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Welcome to Purgatory

Why this blog? In the words of the poet, "I've got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane."

Look for my thoughts (such as they are) on travel, food, what I'm cooking and why Rachael Ray should be sent to Guantanamo ASAP.

Also you might catch some AS Roma match results here.

Purgatory is kind of an interesting place. It's like having a foot on either side of the state line. Pope Benedict XVI recently abolished limbo so all those pagan babies are going to be flying around some place. I probably have a few in my kitchen.

I read, I travel and I eat. And on that path I meet some really great people in unlikely places. So, look for me. I'll be the guy having dinner at the restaurant bar, reading a book. I once met Steve Henson, the inventor of 'ranch dressing' and his wife in the Viking Room in Solvang. Alas, all you "Sideways" fans the Vike is now closed.

Along the road I've met cooks, poets, fellow travelers and insaniacs. My ambition is to cook an entire three course meal inside a hotel room. I have a plan.

Hopefully you will enjoy purgatory. Not such a bad place. Downstairs I thought I saw Charlie Trotter frozen into an ice lake next to Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White.

The only reason to go upstairs is because I hear Keller cooks up there.

So, stay with me and we'll dine well...