Thank you for stopping by my place with your large sack that contained a lovely wheel of parmesan cheese. And for finally making good use of my 10″ chef’s knife to culinarily cut the cheese, so to speak, and leave me with a generous quantity of it.
I’m sad you’re gone, but New York is definitely more your style. I’ll come visit, I promise, and will try those macarons.
In foie we trust,
For those city dwellers who only experience cheese coming from a deli fridge case, here is a working dairy not far from the beaten track where you can see the cows, take a tour of the dairy and bakery, and then buy the goods.
We bought some cheddar and one of the rindy-musty cheeses. The cheddar was the favorite, being tangy and sharp, with crystal crunchy bits in it that reminded us of Dubliner cheddar.
Cheese prices seemed to be a flat rate of $25/pound, an acceptable price for artisanal and extremely local products.
The dairy is easy to find, and once inside you won’t be overwhelmed by indecision because the variety of products available is kept at a minimum. There’s frozen grass-fed beef also available, and jars of nuts stored in honey. Without a tour, you can be in and out in less than 10 minutes, and if you’re not sure of what cheese or bread to buy, samples are provided.
My friend and I were on a slow meandering roadtrip to Frenchtown on a sunny autumn afternoon. A pitstop here provided the basics for a picnic snack and extras to take home. Very enjoyable.
Tonight was a tasting session of the cheese from Italy. I attended with Sue.
Kathryn made a point of selecting cheeses that weren’t the obvious Italian ones, like parmigiano and the like. She focused on the regions around Piedmont.
Starting at 12:00 on the plate, and moving clockwise:
* La Tur – Cow, goat and sheep’s milk, from Piedmont, aged 2-4 weeks.
* Quadrello di Bufala – water buffalo’s milk, from Lombardy, aged 3-4 months.
* Salva Cremasco – cow’s milk, from Lombardy, aged 3-4 months. The name means “save cream” and there are varying theories to what this means. This cheese is made from the milk skimmed of cream, so the cream is saved for other purposes. It could simply be the definition of cheese – a way of preserving dairy. Duh. Who knows. Anyway.
* Piave – cow’s milk, from Veneto, aged 12-14 months.
* Verzin di Capra – goat’s milk, from southwest Piedmont, aged 3-4 months.
The wine of the night was Palmina Dolcetto, which I skipped. Lightweight.
Event note: it had been a long time since I’d attended one of the tastings. When the shop first opened I went to nearly every one. I recall that there was more time to talk amongst ourselves to compare notes about each cheese. Over time, this has gone away and Kathryn does nearly all the talking. I suspect this is because people don’t know what to say and everyone just looks to Kathryn for guidance. I wish we could talk more. I understand I’m probably in the minority here. Still, it’s an enjoyable evening and quite educational on cheese, which we, as podunk uneducated people who think cheddar cheese is bright orange and the rest only belongs on pizza, can use a little more enlightenment.
A recent indulgence I’ve been lucky enough to receive – the midnight snack. This comes from a friend I’ve nicknamed Clams Casino, who’s spoken of making his own blog about the midnight snack. And these are good ones. Not a bag of chips or a slice of cold pizza.
No. The first night I got a salad of butter lettuce with thick strips of parmesan and a poached egg which oozed yolk over the salad to dress it. All because I said I was hungry.
And on this night, a meze style assortment of nibbles, like tomatoes and crisp cucumbers drizzled in balsamic, and a plate of cheese, pita chips and olives I grazed as much as I could, and there were leftovers.
I think I love this kind of midnight snack, and it’s especially enjoyable because someone else is making it.
Open only a week, and they have it dialed in. I walk in and the mood, atmosphere, knowledge of the menu, friendliness of the staff, quality of the food, everything fell into place just right. Plus, much of the ingredients are sourced locally from our farmers market or local businesses.
It helps that southen Spanish and Moroccan are two of my favorite cuisines to begin with. I didn’t ever go to fancy restaurants in my travels there, but I did experience the traditional dishes, the spices, and the Moorish architecture. And I felt this new restaurant embodied the spirit of the region albeit on the higher end.
The people working there already knew their stuff, down to cheese preferences and details of ingredients. Those who were clearly in training were under careful care of the experienced staff. I sat at the bar initially for a cocktail, but enjoyed the beverages and company of the bartenders that I stayed there for the rest of the night. The head bartender was Dudley, a modest but very sharp fellow who took very good care of me. And bonus: he announced that someone else in the restaurant had bought my cocktail. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Was it my perfume?
My dining companion and I didn’t hold back and ordered way more food then we needed, only because we wanted to try so much on the menu.
The cocktail menu is evolving, at the time I was there only four specialty cocktails were available and I tried them all. My favorite was the Palermo, similar to a Manhattan but with a piece of vanilla pod as a twist. Best of all, it’s served with real maraschino cherries. It’ll cost you $15, though, so be prepared. The other cocktails cost less. Again, extra props go to Dudley and Scott at the bar, for the conversation and information. I know I took up a disproportionate amount of their attention, and I’m grateful for their company.
Here are the four drinks.
Toarmina: Avion silver tequila, St. Germain, fresh grapefruit juice.
Foodwise, gah! Are you ready?
* 5 cheese platter, served with a little Pink Lady apple jam. There’s a 3 cheese option as well. 3/$15 or 5/$25. The cheeses were Garrotxa, Romao, Mahon Reserva, Pecorino Stagionato, and Queso de Valdeon. Served with Pink Lady apple jam and toast. The waiter first said and we all agreed: the favorite was the blue queso de valdeon. I also liked the cheese with the rind of rosemary, as the herb had infused into the cheese. I played a game – how much of the rind was I willing to eat into to get more of the musty rosemary flavor. Pretty far, it turns out.
* cured meat platter, including buffalo carpaccio. 3/$15. Loved the serranno ham with pickled onions and garlic aioli.
* Ricottta gnocchi. My dining companion’s favorite. Three dense pillows over creamed spinach and wine reduction, and topped with crisp baked cheese. Keep in mind this is quality over quantity. Three may seems like a small number, but they are a good portion for tapas.
* Saffon risotto. A cross between risotto and paella, with firm Spanish chorizo and mussels and plenty of saffron threads. It doesn’t look like a big portion, but it is very filling. This could have been a whole lunch for me.
* Albondigas. Four California lamb meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. Two were a little salty, two were just right. Very good tapa.
* Moroccan chicken breast as a main dish, with chickpeas, almonds, swiss chard, grapes, natural jus. Different to what I consider Moroccan chicken, but the spice combinations were good, loved the crisp grapes.
* Wild boar ribs, creamy polenta, roasted baby beets, smoked bacon, fig reduction. Yummy! A robust and rich dish, and a lot of food. Meat was super tender, deeply flavored, like braised meat. This was a big dish, worthy of its $25 price tag. I was so full on all the other food, I was only able to eat one rib before declaring my meal done and getting the plate whisked away to be boxed up.
There was a lot of food left over. Honestly, if you have a drink and a couple appetizers or tapas, there isn’t room for a main dish. And that’s enough because you still get a full dose of the lovely atmosphere, which took me back to Andalucia, or Chouen or Marrakesh. I went on a Tuesday, when the farmers market was just feet away from the protected patio, like our own little souk bustling outside.
Spotted dining there: old school Santa Barbarans, other local reputable chefs and restaurant owners, travelers. Some believe the Haj is more about the enlightenment obtained from the journey there, rather than reaching Mecca itself. Therefore, to take in a traveler and be a part of someone’s Haj is an honor, for you will be a part of their experience. I’d like to think that the people behind Cadiz believe in that, too.
I love a restaurant when I can “feel the soul of the chef” in my food. It doesn’t have to be a fancy place, it doesn’t have to be a hole in the wall, it comes down to the passion of the chef and the restaurant. It was good here!
But Cadiz made one mistake. They left the jar of Luxardo cherries next to me unattended. This is more their problem than mine, mind you.
So, the bill? About $200 and we got a helluva lot of stuff, more than is realistic for two people. We probably could have cut $100 off if we’d stuck to what we knew we could eat and drink. So much went home in doggy bags.
What goes best with a highly coveted bottle of 2007 sparkling shiraz FIZZ from Municipal Winemakers? I don’t actually know, but we got nice pizzas to pair it with and were happy with the results.
I’d been holding onto this bottle for a while, looking for the right occasion to open it. Christmas came and went, my birthday came and went. But who needs an event? I hauled the bottle up to SF with me and gave it to my friends. Becca suggested Gialina’s pizza, from the Glen Park neighborhood.
As with most of SF, parking is unpredictable. And we had this bottle to drink. So we ordered ahead for pickup and brought them home.
Zucco pizza: butternut squash, ricotta, ricotta salata, sage & brown butter. This was Becca’s pizza and a fine choice. If you like pumpkin ravioli with brown butter sage sauce, you will like this pizza. All the flavors of that ravioli, but also a delicious crust and piles of ricotta cheese.
I got the nettles pizza: wild nettles with pancetta, mushrooms, red onions & provolone. I think nettles was on my mind since Damon ordered a pasta and nettle dish the evening before. This was robust and toothsome, and the nettles ranged from soft and gooey, to dry and crunchy, depending on where it sat on the pizza sauce.
Finally, Damon got the four cheese pizza, using ricotta, provolone, gorgonzola, pecorino & herbs.
We ate, drank, and were merry, until we got the wine snoozles.
Gialina – Glen Park neighborhood
It’s our first all-day brunch at the Chapala house, apparently a long-standing tradition. It was so great to join in.
We flitted in and out throughout the day, stopping by once in the morning when the light was *angelic.* I’ve learned later that this apartment was once a photo studio. Makes sense!
We came back later at night, when friends were gathered around the garden fireplace for chatter and merriment. All in all, a lovely way to welcome in the new year.
It smelled musty heavenly, and was a cool place to hunker down in the summer heat. The lady assisting us was super helpful with cheese talk and samples, but terrible at public transportation recommendations. Can’t win them all.
Neal’s Yard Dairy (Covent Garden)
It seems like dinner on a Friday is a tradition best pursued at home.
Of this five: two of us were tourists, one of us was leaving the country the next day, all five of us love food, three of us could food talk anyone under the table and one of us was very very hangry after a bad day at work. Avignon had a lot of work ahead of itself to sate and please us. And it succeeded!
Cocktails were good, wine was good. For food, we shared an assortment of goodies. We started with oysters and an order of duck fat fries.
Next was cheeses with little accompaniments like local honey served with the blue. And lovely juicy house-cured smoked salmon with roasted beets and walnuts.
Then duck rillettes, chicken liver mousse, breseola (above photo).
We grazed, with two types of bread throughout the meal – a soft chewy rustic white and thinly sliced crisp and sweet dark bread. And for dessert, pineapple upside-down cake, pecan pie and chocolate mousse.
Nobody could pick a favorite of the savories, everything was good. As soon as one person would spotlight the salmon, our eyes would go back to the duck, then to the chicken, then the cheeses. No, everything was perfect. But for the dessert I particularly liked the pineapple cake, fully caramelized.
Really, though, I can’t criticize anything.
Bar Avignon (Clinton, SE)
Shalene turned us onto this event. A beer, wine and cheese festival held in the Portland convention center. Entry fee, plus purchases are made with pre-bought tokens, plus a purchase of a mug to do tastings with.
We went into it expecting a rip off. But with a little timing, our entry fee was waived, as people arriving before noon got in free. That helped. Only Chris purchased the required tasting mug, and we all swapped saliva for the sake of saving a little money and acquiring more swag junk. It worked out really well, because we each sampled different kinds of things and shared. Chris got the beers, Ted and I got the cheese, chocolates, olive oils…things that didn’t need a mug.
Beers were actually good and well-represented. The wines we skipped. The cheeses were fine and tided us over for munchies.
But the winners of the events were the spirits. Those were tasty, and best of all, free. Also unexpected. That’s all good.
Spring Beer Fest