Journal entries from March 2014

Learning to Love Natto


The first time I ordered natto in a Japanese restaurant my server eyed me skeptically and said, “Are you sure?”

It only made me want it more. 

Then the fermented soybeans arrived, and I instantly understood. The stuff looked like a swamp and smelled like old socks. Each bean seemed to be held prisoner in a thick, slimy, metallic-tasting membrane. And the taste? The first rush on the tongue was sour and earthy. Then came a lingering bitterness that not even rice could temper.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How could so many of my Japanese friends revere something I found so utterly disgusting?  It was a challenge. I began ordering it all the time. When a chef told me he was convinced that every natto-loving white person was a liar I was all the more determined to learn to love the stuff. 

Legend has it that natto was created by accident. Japanese soldiers stored boiled soybeans in straw and forgot about them for a few days. When the straw was unwrapped, the beans were covered in their classic stringy film—the magic of bacillus natto, a wild bacteria prevalent in wheat and rice straw. Maybe it’s true: until the bacteria was isolated in a laboratory, natto was a strictly seasonal food. 

I kept eating funky fermented soy beans, and one day I discovered that I not only liked natto, I craved its nutty quality, its strangely appealing texture, its umami-rich flavor. Last week, at the little izakaya Yopparai I discovered homemade natto on the menu.  When I ordered it the server eyed me skeptically. "Are you sure?” she said.

I was. 



My Lunch at Mission Cantina

How can you resist a restaurant that sends out a plate like this? There's a lighthearted feeling about this place, as if it's an experiment we're all in together; you're invited to not take it too seriously.  If you think of Mission Cantina as an eating adventure, you'll have a wonderful time.

I loved these togarichi chicharrones, thickly slicked with pimento cheese. The crisp little frisks of fried pork skin - all crackle and crunch - are spread with cheese,  sprinkled with Japanese chile powder and a splash of Sriracha. Explosively neon - and utterly lovable.

A tostada of raw scallops and veal hearts, two silken textures sliding together in the most surprising manner.  Dressed in a pungent little red rice vinegar dressing, alive with olives and fried capers.  More please!


Chicken liver tostada with crunchy salmon skin and pickled chile morita.  This is an exercise in bitterness, the flavors challenging you at every bite.  The liver is truly livery, the salmon skin the essence of fish, the chile a bitterness that lingers.  Francis loved it; I could not take more than a single bite.


Charred carrots and spring onions with crisped seaweed, butter and citron. An exploration of the dark heart of the carrot, the intensely smoky scent rising up to waft across the table.  If carrots are the new kale - and they are - this is one of the most enticing examples I’ve seen. I don't think I ever want to eat another carrot that isn't paired with seaweed; I loved the way the flavors danced around each other. 


Chicken wings with mole spice, vinegar, creme fraiche and celery. Buffalo by way of Oaxaca.  What’s not to like?


Cumin lamb and lard-braised brisket tacos.  A splash of lime. Some pickled onion.  Gone in a few bites. Delicious!

Tacos of shrimp and crisped beef tripe. This tripe was not so much crispy as chewy.  I chewed. And chewed. And chewed. Nice idea, but this one needs some work.

Afterward we crossed the street to an almost unbearably hip coffee shop. Stark. Quiet. At each little table solo drinkers sat plugged into their computers, earbuds in, fingers tapping.  I could hardly believe the place was named Whynot.






A Taste of Spain in New York


It's still the best sandwich in the city, this crisp skinny ficelle slicked with butter, sharpened with mustard oil, stuffed with sea urchin and lightly pressed.  Each bite crackles before devolving into rich softness. The flavors are sweet, hot and round.  I could eat a dozen.

But I don't, because there's so much else to love when you're sitting in the cozy new dining room hidden in the back of El Quinto Pino. This, for instance:


a "bikini" of huitlacoche: pungent black corn fungus, folded into light, crisp little triangles of dough with warm mozzarella and peppers. A luxurious sandwich that tastes like nothing else I've experienced. Think earthy truffles, stretchy cheese, a hint of sharpness in the peppers. Then don't think at all, just enjoy the sensation.

There's this too:


a little platter containing fat chunks of chorizo, cubes of manchego cheese marinated in zaatar, and the piece de resistance, a "spreadable Menorcan sausage" (it's topped with thick honey but people like me can simply munch around it). That sausage is dangerous stuff:  pliant and spicy, it has a tingle that lingers on your tongue. I couldn't stop eating it.

And then there's this:


squid smothered in its own deeply intense ink so that it stains your lips, your tongue, your fingers as you dig your fork in again and again.  It transforms squid, a normally uncomplicated creature, into something dark, mysterious and utterly seductive.

Dessert? I'd end it here. But for those who need a final bite of sweetness, there's this version of cheesecake:


Lovely texture. But what I like best is that passionfruit sauce on the top. 

And there's still so much more to try: if you want to taste fideua, which David Tanis talks about in today's  New York Times, this is the place to do it. The Cuban sandwich. Those potatoes with aioli. And of course, El Quinto Pino's spectacular hamburger, El Doble. 


Tokyo in New York


Talking to Colman Andrews always makes me hungry, so last night, after the "conversation" at Powerhouse Arena, I gathered a small group of friends and we went looking for something to eat.

How were we lucky enough to stumble into Yopparai?  The tiny izakaya on Rivington Street is so hidden it feels like a secret; you walk up a narrow staircase, press a buzzer and wait for a disembodied voice to answer. Standing outside on the icy steps I was sure we had the wrong place, were intruding on someone else's evening. Inside, however, the tiny restaurant is so warmly welcoming, the sake list so long, the food so delicious that I was instantly happy. I can't think of a better place to spend a freezing evening.  Or, for that matter, any other.

Forgive the pictures.  After the first bottle of sake everything became a little fuzzy, and by the end of the evening I put the camera down and simply ate everything that landed on the table.  It was so much like being in Tokyo, where we closed almost every evening in a little izakaya down the street from the hotel, that I was shocked to go outside and find yellow cabs whizzing past.


We began with cold homemade tofu, the texture thicker than anything commercially available, the flavor cleaner.  With good soy sauce and shaved bonito, it was a refreshing counterpoint to the first bracing sip of sake.


Uni clinging to translucent squiggles of raw squid.  I love everything about this dish, but in the end it's the texture I remember; it has a particular kind of slippery chewiness that I find endlessly seductive.


Japanese quenelles?  Japanese gefulte fish?  Yopparai calls these airy little dumplings "fish cakes." By any name these light, fluffy little orbs (they're made of minced rock shrimp and black cod) are a delight.





They call this dish "slimy bomb."  Of course I couldn't resist it.  Home made natto mixed with raw egg yolk and vegetables (in other versions I've had it with uni and yama imo - slime piled on slime).  The point is to wrap the pungently fragrant goop into sheets of crisp nori. (How does the nori stay so crisp? There's a little heater in the bottom of that cedar box.)  The result is something that goes crackling into your mouth and then disolves into sheer softness.  It's a fascinating (and appealing) sensation.

 More texture: a thin, crisp rice cake topped with marinated cod roe and a tangle of shredded seaweed.


Stewed tripe, a bit like Japanese menudo.  And like menudo, reputed to be good at preventing hangover. Which, at this point in the evening, I badly needed.  This is when I stopped taking pictures, but I remember that grilled eel, at the top, and more of those fantastic little rice cakes, this time topped with uni.

And, of course, a great deal more sake. When I go back to Yopparai - which I plan to do very soon - I want to try the kurobata pork belly scrambled with eggs.  If I'm very lucky, they might even have mozuku on the menu.....


Ten Steps to a Better Deviled Egg

It may not seem like spring, but the hens haven't noticed; suddenly farm-fresh eggs are everywhere. All these beautiful eggs just make me want to start deviling them.

Deviled eggs have been delighting people in all corners of the world for at least two thousand years.  One of life’s most affordable luxuries, a good deviled egg leaps joyfully into your mouth to dazzle you with its tender softness and luxurious flavor. Originally known as “stuffed eggs” or “mimosa eggs,” they did not become “deviled” until the eighteenth century, when the culinary use of the term was appropriated for everything containing hot spices or condiments. (Interesting aside: Deviled ham is the oldest existing American food trademark. Patent number 82 was awarded to the William Underwood Company in 1870.)  

But although deviled eggs may be delicious, they aren't always easy. Farm eggs are infinitely tastier than industrial ones, and the hens aren't tortured as they are on factory farms, so you can feel good about eating them. But they're fresh - and fresh eggs are almost impossible to peel. To begin with, you have to start early. And that's just the first step.

1. When eggs are new, the membrane beneath the shell sticks so tightly that peeling them is a serious challenge. As eggs age, the protective coating on the shell becomes porous and begins to absorb air making the whites less acetic. (This is why the whites of freshly laid eggs are cloudy; as they absorb air they lose some of the carbon dioxide in the albumen, the ph rises, and the whites become clearer.) So buy eggs that come from a real farm and put them in the refrigerator for a week or so to age. 

2. While the egg whites are losing their acidity, they're also getting thinner, meaning that the yolk is moving farther from the center. So if you’re intent on perfect deviled eggs, store them on their sides rather than in a traditional carton.

3. Bring the eggs to room temperature before cooking. This will prevent cracking.

4. Put your eggs in a pot that will hold them in a single layer, so they cook evenly. Cover them with cold water and raise it quickly just to a boil.  Cover the pot, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 12 minutes.

5. Chill the eggs, immediately, in a bowl of ice water.  This will prevent the dread green circle around the outside of the yolk, which occurs because the iron in the yolk reacts with the sulfur in the white when the temperature of the egg reaches 158° F.  Although perfectly harmless, it lends your deviled eggs a slightly ghoulish air. 

6. Shell your eggs, then put them in the refrigerator for half an hour.  This will make them cut more cleanly. 

7. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise, then slice a  bit off the bottom of the white of each half so they won’t wobble on the plate.  It make them considerably easier to fill.

8. Whip the yolks in a food processor; it will make them smoother, and give you the ethereal tenderness that you want in a deviled egg. 

9. Use a pastry bag to fill your eggs; it is so much easier than trying to do it with a spoon. 

10. Use homemade mayonnaise in the filling. Most of the flavor is going to come from the mayonnaise. Wouldn’t you rather be in charge instead of relying on an industrial ingredient?  If you like the bite of olives, use olive oil. If you prefer to let the flavor of the eggs come singing forward, use a more neutral oil. 

Deviled Eggs

There are two questions you must ask yourself before you start. The first is whether you prefer your filling to be thick or creamy. The second is what you plan to put on top. Everything else is elementary. 

12 farm fresh eggs, hard boiled as above

1/2 to 3/4 cups homemade mayonnaise

1 teaspoon mustard

a splash of vinegar

salt, pepper

cayenne, caviar, pickles..... 

Once the eggs have been cooked, peeled and chilled, cut each one in half.  Cut a small slice off the bottom of each half so it sits flat on a plate.  

Scoop the egg yolks into a food processor.  Add a half cup of mayonnaise, the mustard and vinegar, and process until it's very smooth. If you like a looser filling, add the rest of the mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and spoon the filling into a pastry bag.

Pipe the yolk mixture into the egg whites. For the world’s best deviled eggs, top with caviar or salmon roe.  You can also sprinkle some cayenne on top, add a jaunty little bit of beet, a small triangle of pickle, a bit of crumbled potato chip, some chives, caperberries or.... the possibilities are almost endless.  


Easy Food Processor Mayonnaise 

(This will make about 2 cups, which is more than you need. But it keeps for at least a week, and there’s something wonderful about knowing you have homemade mayonnaise on hand for sandwiches, tartar sauce and dressings.) 

2 egg yolks

1 egg

1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar

1 teaspoon mustard

pinch of salt

about 2 cups oil, at room temperature (not cold) 

Put everything but the oil into a food processor and process until creamy, about 15 seconds.  With the machine still running, slowly pour the oil into the machine until your mayonnaise is the consistency that you want.   



Butter's Rolls (and a few other things)


Can't stop thinking about these.  The Parker House rolls at Butter on 45th Street are good enough, all by themselves, to bring me back.  (They come with two kinds of butter - both fantastic - but the rolls are so tender, rich and delicious that I'd devoured an entire one before I even thought to look around for butter.)


This was fantastic too: chicken liver pate spread on matzo and topped with fried shallots. Everything tastes better with matzo, but this was an inspired combination.


Can't fault this enormous hunk of steak either.  Meant for two, the Tomahawk's easily enough for four.  Especially with the little pot of buttered grits (so good it was gone before I could snap a photo) and this very delicious kale and pear salad. 


Butter's a beautiful subterranean room with high, high ceilings and a wall of windows up above. Looking upward, it's as if the entire city is holding its breath, waiting for you to emerge into the night and join it. When I was small my father's office was right next door, and gazing through the window above us I couldn't help thinking how much the city has changed.

Back then the neighborhood had  no restaurants like Butter, and I thought how happy Dad would have been eating here.  Especially when we got to dessert and a plate of these warm, raspberry-filled bomboloni appeared.



Kaiseki in New York

In this in-between season, with spring coyly hiding behind a recalcitrant winter reluctant to depart, the Kaiseki menu at Brushstroke is like a promise: the sun will come. It's a beautiful way to welcome change.

Had dinner there last night with the always inspiring Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of  Japanese Farm Food. (If you don't know this book, you should.) Nancy's a forthright American who married into a Japanese farm family and seems to have absorbed the country into her pores.  I admire the way she honors her adopted country's food and rituals with none of the sentimentality of so many ex-pats. Reading her book, you want to cook everything - and you learn so much.

Dinner was a long, dream of a meal that began with this:


and went on to this delicate crab chawan mushi with bits of black truffle and tiny morels.


Then there was the gorgeous platter of sashimi at the top (my favorite was the fluke, bottom left, with a delicate ponzu sauce). And those sticks of yama imo. 

That was followed by this extravagant  little bowl of lobster and vegetables in white miso.

Crab, white miso


Next, the big presentation:


 which appeared on the plate like this:


octopus, smoked in hay and topped with a huge heap of golden osetra.  Underneath, a puddle of black sesame sauce enriched with squid ink.  On top, a wisp of fried burdock root. On the side, the prickly goodness of chrysthemum leaves.

Then there was this gorgeous little bit of squab, hiding its own swell secret: a slab of foie gras was tucked underneath.



Wagyu?  Of course there was wagyu:


The rice course: Dungeness crab with mushrooms, eggs and rice, presented in a crab shell, simmering over smoking bincho charcoal:


Dessert: Simple and very lovely: lime sorbet in a warm pear sauce with a froth of fennel.

A fitting ending, a little bit of sunshine sitting in snow.




Why We Test Recipes

The Orange-Olive Oil Cake Caper

When you’re a houseguest, you try to be helpful.  So even though I was staying with one of the best bakers in the world, the night we had a dinner party I offered to make dessert.

“It would be great,” said Nancy Silverton, “if you’d bake Dario’s Olive Oil Cake. I want to put it in this book I’m working on, and it needs to be retested. They ran my recipe in the L.A. Times last year.” 

Cake #1

I retrieved the recipe from the paper, noting that it was one of the odder cake recipes I’ve encountered.  For one thing, it requires two angel food cake pans.  “Nobody has two of those things,” I told Nancy, “most people don’t even have one. 

“I’ll bring a couple home from the restaurant,” she promised. 

I studied the recipe. Strange in so many ways.  It calls for pastry flour, another thing that home cooks have a hard time finding in the supermarket. “Don’t worry,” said Nancy, “I’ll bring some pastry flour home from the restaurant too.” 

“While you’re at it,” I was having a hard time believing this recipe would actually work, “bring some Vin Santo too.” Who has spare bottles of sweet wine languishing in the cupboard?  “And some of that Italian leavening you call for. I’ve never seen it in the store.” 

I went back to the recipe.  “Three whole oranges?” I asked.  “What kind?” 

“Any kind you want.” Not very helpful. 

“Cara caras?” I pressed.  

“Sounds right.” She considered.  “But it would be helpful if you'd measure how many cups those three oranges give you."

I've never seen a recipe quite like this; it has no salt,  the procedure is unusual (add the oil, then let it rest for 10 minutes before putting it into the pan), and then you turn it right out of the pan while it's still hot. But I was game. 

I slavishly copied the recipe from the one below,  which was printed in the paper.  It was fantastic: crumbly, a bit bitter, but absolutely delicious.  By day two the bitterness had vanished, leaving a cake so seductive it was impossible to keep myself from snatching a bite every time I walked into the kitchen.


Dario's olive oil cake

Serves 20 to 24 (2 cakes)

1 cup (5 ounces) plump raisins (preferably flame raisins)

3/4 cup Vin Santo

3 whole oranges

3 extra-large eggs

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

20 grams Italian leavening (substitute: 10 grams, or about 1 tablespoon, baking soda and 10 grams, or 1 scant tablespoon, baking powder)

3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) pastry flour

2/3 cup toasted pine nuts

Fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish

1. Bring the raisins and the Vin Santo to a simmer in a small saucepan, then immediately remove from the heat. Let stand at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.

2. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare 2 (10-inch) angel food cake pans by generously spraying with cooking spray and dusting with flour.

3. Halve the whole oranges through the stem and slice into one-fourth-inch thick sections. Remove any seeds and coarsely chop.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the eggs, the 1¼ cups sugar and the leavening over medium high speed until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes.

5. With mixer on medium speed, slowly add olive oil in a slow, steady stream down the side of the bowl until emulsified. Turn the mixer back down to low and add the flour and soaked raisins (with any remaining liquid) alternately in 3 batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The batter should be thick.

6. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold chopped oranges into mixture. Set the batter aside for 10 minutes, then distribute evenly between the prepared pans.

7. Sprinkle the pinenuts and the remaining one-half cup sugar over the cakes, then garnish with rosemary.

8. Bake the cakes for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake, rotating the cakes every 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, an additional 30 to 35 minutes.

9. Run a knife around the inside of the pan and carefully invert it over a large plate to release the cake. Carefully turn it over and transfer it to a large serving plate or cake stand.


Cake Number Two

“But here’s the problem,” I said to Nancy.  “You’re calling for too many things that ordinary people don’t have.”

“Like what?” she said. 

“For starters, two angel food cake pans.”

“So do it again using a loaf pan for one of the cakes.”  

We went through the recipe, deciding to try it with all purpose flour instead of professional pastry flour, navel oranges instead of cara caras, and rum in place of Vin Santo.  I also decided to toss in a little salt - and to let the cake rest before turning it out of the pans.

The cake that emerged from the angel food pan was very good, but the loaf cake just wasn’t right: clearly this recipe requires the special kind of heat distribution that comes only from one of those pans with a hole in the middle. But even the cake baked in the angel food pan was slightly different than the first version I'd made; I was convinced this was because navel oranges have so much more pith than cara caras. Even on day two, the cakes retained their bitterness. 


Cake Number Three 

By now I was obsessed. I wanted to cut the recipe in half and use all supermarket ingredients. One problem: the recipe calls for 3 eggs.

“What are you going to do?” asked Nancy. 

“What if I used 2 small eggs?” I said. 

“Interesting,” she replied, walking out the door. "Let me know what happens."

At the supermarket, I discovered that small eggs no longer exist- at least not in conventional supermarkets.  I settled for medium.  There were no golden raisins, so I used “baking raisins” which turned out to be very moist and unpleasantly slimy.  I wanted to try juice oranges, but there were none, so I substituted tangelos. In place of pastry flour I bought Swansdown cake flour.  And instead of  the Italian leavening I used half baking soda and half baking powder. 

This cake was a total disaster.  When it came out of the oven all the pine nuts, rosemary and oranges had sunk guiltily to the bottom of the pan.  It was damp, dense, completely unappealing. It even looked awful.

I think four culprits were responsible for this failure.

  1. the slimy “baking raisins”
  2. The tangelos, which were much juicier than the pithier navels or cara caras.
  3. the cake flour, which was too fine
  4. and the leavening.

We threw that cake right into the garbage. And I went right to the supermarket. I was determined to reduce the recipe to a single cake - and get it right.


Cake Number 4 

This time around I looked at the list of culprits and made substitutions for three of the four.

      1. I threw out the “baking raisins” and replaced them with regular ones. 

      2. I used navel oranges instead of the juicy tangelos.

      3. I substituted all purpose flour for the cake flour.

      4. But I continued to use a combination of baking powder and baking soda.

The cake was fine. The three large eggs could clearly be cut down to two small ones in a halved recipe - so long as you use all purpose flour. Still, it was not  as good as the original recipe.  I was determined to do it one more time. I was intent on producing one perfect cake.


Cake Number 5

This time around I cut the original recipe in half, and baked the cake in a single angel food pan.

I used two small eggs in place of the three large ones.

I used 2 cups of finely chopped navel oranges (it was an orange and a half).

I used all purpose flour.

I used golden raisins cooked in rum instead of Vin Santo.  

I threw in a teaspoon of salt.  

And I let the cake rest for 15 minutes before turning it out of the pan (the result is a less crumbly cake.)

What was different, however, is that this time around I used the hard-to-find Italian leavening (you can easily buy it online).  I don't know what they put in that stuff, but it really made a difference.


The result?  An exciting cake - moist, tangy, not too sweet. A treat at any time of the day.

I’ll be making this again.

But probably not for a while.  




A Few N.Y. Flavors

Icy wind blowing off the river. So cold. In the kitchen testing recipes, thinking that even in this weather, it's great to be home.


Farotto with broccoli, cauliflower and cheese, at Verdure in Eataly. Truly delicious.


Found this puntarelle at Eataly too.  The first sign of Spring in Rome.  A bite of hope.


But the meal I can't forget was at Il Buco Alimentari, which just never lets me down.

We started with razor clam ceviche, went on to the fantastic seppia with beans (above), one of their always satisfying salads, and a shared bowl of spaghetti cacio e pepe.  Then a grilled branzino, the flesh soft, almost velvety, in a shower of caramelized lemon juice.  And finally, this balsamic-drizzled panna cotta, the vinegar edging along the sweetness of the custard to send us out the door with the flavor still singing in our mouths. 



My Barbecue Epiphany

Franklin Barbecue!

About 15 years ago I stopped in Luling, at City Market, and had the best brisket of my life.  I'd never imagined that brisket could taste like that: smoky, fatty, rich and so soft that it simply melted between the slices of white bread.  I've been thinking about it ever since.

The other day in Austin, I had brisket that was even better at Franklin's. I was stunned by the flavor, the texture, the sheer amazing wonderfulness of what I was eating.  (The ribs were great too, the sausage superb, and I was crazy about the espresso-enhanced sauce.  But it was the brisket that simply stopped me cold; I'd been waiting to taste that for 15 years.)


In this case, the picture simply doesn't do justice to the food. What I should have taken pictures of was the line: people get there in the middle of the night, curl up in sleeping bags and wait.  It's that good.


The people who work there are all wonderful too. Warm-hearted.  Happy in their work. This is Benjy. He's a musician, and he's known Aaron Franklin his whole life.

And this is Aaron Franklin, barbecue pitmaster extraordinaire.  My friend John Markus told me not to miss eating his food, and I'm eternally grateful. What he didn't tell me is that Aaron is a musician - from a family of musicians - and that his grandfather was one of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys. That's royalty of another kind. 


A Great Gift


How lucky am I?  Returned home to find these gorgeous dried persimmons waiting for me, courtesy of Nancy Singleton Hachisu.  She's also making persimmon vinegar, which she says is fantastic. Can hardly wait to taste it. 

Now the question is: how soon do I eat these lovely little morsels?


Last Note from LA: Another New Vegetable


Spigariello (or as it's sometimes known, spigarello). 

My last visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market, and to my great sadness the Santa Barbara fish man wasn’t there.  Of course he wasn’t; the weather had turned violent, with storm skies all week long. 

I missed the beautiful sea urchins, black prickly spines waving menacingly from their tubs of sea water. And I longed for just a few more of those ridge back shrimp which never make their way back East. 

But there are always treasures here, unexpected finds, new discoveries. Today it is this spigariello, a member of the broccoli family I’ve never encountered before.  More leaf than bud, it looks like underdeveloped broccoli rabe. I reached out, pinched off a little taste and put it in my mouth. Delicious! The leaves are sweet, with an underlying darkness, a bitter note that hits you right at the end. I wondered how the flavors would be transformed by heat.  

At home I washed the leaves, then pulled the slim branches off the thick stalks and blanched them for a couple of minutes in copious amounts of boiling salted water.  When the leaves changed color I plunked them into an ice water bath to set that shade of green.  Then I wrung them out, sauteed them in olive oil, with a bit of garlic and just a hint of chile. 

Broccoli-loathers, beware: this stuff will change your mind. 

Cooked spig


More Notes from L.A.

Eating fast and furiously as I prepare to leave Lotus land. The food here is just so good now!

A few high spots. 

Shanghai #1 Seafood

Pig candy

Old Alley Pork: Chunks of deeply burnished pork. Sweet and rich, this amazing confection barely seems like meat; it's been transformed into something that seems to have been created by a baker. 

  Cousin Itt

Braised Three Strings: Shredded chicken, ham and squid, that looks so innocent in its little puddle of broth. But this subtle dish is sneakily addictive: my chopsticks kept reaching out for one more bite.



My go-to restaurant and one of the most comfortable places in town: a seat at the bar is always waiting and the food is reliably wonderful.  With its dark lighting and deep seats, Jar has the feel of a glamorous thirties restaurant.  And should you actually want to talk to your companions - this is the place.  

A few weeks ago there was a green garlic soup so subtle and delicious I had to have a second bowl. The potato chips are famous. But what I find myself ordering, again and again, is the lemongrass chicken.  It’s the juiciest most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten, and sometimes, when I’m not in LA,  I find myself dreaming about it. 



The sheer exuberant roar of this extremely hip restaurant in the downtown Arts District makes it difficult to concentrate on the food. If there’s a louder restaurant, I have yet to find it. Lots of offal on the menu, although some of it is underwhelming. (I found myself comparing the heart tartare to the one Chris Cosentino makes - and it’s no contest.) But I loved the tender beef meatballs with their well-braised beet greens.  My favorite dish however, was this:

Spaghetti with sea urchin,  squid ink “bottarga," chiles and breadcrumbs



One of the most talked-about restaurants in town, and no wonder.  The old Campanile has been lovingly refurbished, keeping the bones of the place but making it somehow even lovelier.  The entire front dining room feels like one huge communal table, open to the kitchen, and extremely lively.  In the morning it's a perfect place for excellent croissants and coffee.  

The rear dining room has the same menu as the one in front,  but it’s more grown up back there, a place to talk and sit quietly enjoying Walter Manzke’s beautifully crafted food. The menu is quirky - the chef refuses to recognize boundaries - which is rather brave.  It’s as if he’s saying, “These are dishes I like.”  I liked them too, from the wonderful risotto, the uni on toast with softly scrambled egg, and the beautifully cooked filets of branzino in an elegant Thai sauce.  

But the must-have dish is the tarte flambee, Manzke’s version of the Alsatian classic bacon tart. This one is so rich with caramelized onions and smoky bacon the tart itself seems to have vanished until all that's left  is pure unadulterated flavor. 




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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.