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.