Friday Night Heights – Shabbat Dinner

On Friday, September 2, we hosted a small Shabbat dinner party. This was a non-dairy (meat) kosher meal, which can be well done if you care (and most kosher restaurants don’t). As usual with our events everything was homemade. Almost all produce came from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.


For appetizers we served fruits and nuts. There was also some homemade humus and eggplant dip (that one of our guests generously brought), but I forgot to snap a photo.


Wine is one area where we go normal. Kosher wines are uniformly awful. Hideous. Wretched.

Parker gives this silky Rosso 90. “The 2009 Rosso di Montalcino is totally beautiful and elegant in its expressive bouquet, silky fruit and understated, harmonious personality. This is a wonderful, impeccable Rosso from Le Potazzine. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2017.” I’d rate it perhaps 91-92, with a little boost for understated style.


And the sweet option. Parker 91. “Donnhoff‘s 2009 Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett – ultra-delicate at only 9% alcohol and with considerably more overt sweetness than its Krotenpfuhl counterpart – is scented with buddleia, white peach, toasted almond, and a fusil note of crushed stone, and offers subtle creaminess, lusciously juicy refreshment, and minerally interactive persistence. This illustrates slate as a sort of sounding board as well as support structure for fruit such as one also encounters in the best residually sweet Mosel Rieslings. Donnhoff routinely expresses acute awareness of a duty to make something truly special out of the cooler ‘wrong-side-of-the-river’ Oberhauser vineyards that until the latter part of his father’s era constituted almost the entirety of his family’s acreage. That duty has here once again been deliciously discharged.”


What would Shabbat be without Challah. Raison Challah to be exact.

After going to Spain last year I’ve been on a bit of a Gazpacho kick, despite my general aversion to raw tomatoes (which I’ve been overcoming). And then about 5-6 weeks ago we went to Jose Andres’ Tres for brunch where they have a wonderful Gazpacho bar. So afterward I dug up his recipe on the internet and we tried it.

When I get into cooking certain dishes I like to perfect them. I’ve been working on this with my Ultimate Pizzas, my Spanish Eggs, and my Margaritas. This is our second stab at Gazpacho. It tasted great the first time but the texture was too chunky, so in this instance we whipped the living bleep out of it in the ever-reliable Blendtec. This batch is made with heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers from the SMFM and premium Spanish extra-virgin olive oil.


But first the garnish. This is a bowl prepped. The basic approach is to do this, and then to ladle in the soup itself table side, then dress it with a bit of premium Spanish olive oil. This garnish is croutons, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, spring onions, and chives.


The olive oil is on the left. On the right are homemade croutons. These are rustic bread fried (by hand) in olive oil and garlic, and seasoned with a bit of parsley.


Some of the gorgeous tomatoes used as garnish. Other cool looking ones are in the soup itself.


Chopped chives.


I’m kicking myself, but I forgot to photo a finished bowl with the soup. This one is three-quarters eaten 😦 It was darn good though.


For the main course we made a homemade Morrocan Basteeya. This is prior to baking. This is a savory pie of chicken and spices, slightly sweet.


Out of the oven.


You can see into it here.


One of our guests brought this lovely salad.


We also made this baked Israeli-style eggplant, with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers (all from the SMFM too).


Here it is baked.


And my mother’s amazing fruit crumble. This one had SMFM peaches, blackberries, and apples. With a sweet crust and pecan topping. Due to the fact that my mother was on the other side of the country, and the written recipe a tad cryptic, the crust turned out a bit “different” than her more crumbly variant.


Still, it tasted great after baking!


And some farmer’s market fruit to finish.

For more home cooked meals look at the bottom of the food page.

Villetta – More Italian in Brentwood?

Restaurant: Villetta

Location: 246 26th Street. Santa Monica, CA 90402. 310-394-8455

Date: July 30, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Very good, but prices are steep

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One of the great mysteries of the culinary universe is how Brentwood in general, and San Vicente in particular, is able to support so many Italian restaurants. Every time someplace closes and resets it comes back Italian! The only other option in the entire town are 3 Japanese and a couple chains (CPK and Cheesecake — but you all know I don’t eat chains).


This gorgeous 1920s space used to be Chez Mimi, an old school French place that my wife and I used to eat at quite a bit.


It’s still very cute with a little bar inside.


A quaint dining room.


And most importantly a lovely patio. I had been trying for about three weeks to get into this new place but it was always booked on opentable.com, so we just showed up at 6:15 and had no trouble getting a “bar seat” in the patio.


They give you to start faggioli (Tuscan white beans) mashed with garlic and salt, and drizzled in olive oil. For such a simple thing, it’s surprisingly delicious. You can see the old school version here in florence about half way down the post.


The bread, two types.


The wine list was a bit odd. Three quarters New World. Which for an Italian restaurant is strange. They also had no half bottles (boo hiss) so I had to get glasses, which is expensive. The pours were generous though. This is a decent Amarone (but $25 a glass!).


And a Pinot Grigio from the Venato. I’d never drink Ca wine with Italian when there are so many great wines from the boot.


The menu.


“Villetta ‘Caprese’ with heirloom tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, basil pesto and grilled bread.” Villetta claims to be farmer’s market driven, and you can see that here in this lovely caprese. Very high quality ingredients.


Same goes with the “burrata, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes and bruschetta.” These were good enough tomatoes that I was able to put aside my nightshade aversion and eat half of them. Nice prosciutto too, probably from parma.


“ravioli with zucchini and chive blossoms and sweet corn.” Also very nice homemade pasta. Very straight up but delicious butter-sage sauce. Note though that this is the large ($25) portion.


“Santa Barbara spot prawns with salad of borlotti beans, mizuna and orange citronette.” These were pretty darn delicious. Even the beans underneath were incredibly good with garlic and olive oil. Again this is the large ($50!) portion. You can see the Ligurian version of this same dish here.


A little free watermelon sorbet to cleanse the palette.


The dessert menu.

“Chocolate chip cookie sundae with vanilla and chocolate gelato, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.” This was delicious. I don’t think the ice cream was actually gelato though — but it was good. I’d put good money on it coming from Sweet Rose Creamery across the street as it had the same kind of consistency.

Overall, the food at Villetta was first rate. Really good actually, and the service was very friendly too (not super fast, but warm). The prices however are high. They also have what looks to be some really good pizza, as they have a full wood fired pizza oven and a chef from Napoli, but we didn’t try it. So I’d put this in the same category with Capo, Georgio Baldi, and Vincente of excellent but overpriced westside Italian.

Click here to see more Italian than you can shake a stick at.

Or more LA restaurants.

Eating Santa Margherita – Antonios

Restaurant: Antonios

Location: Santa Margherita, Italy

Date: June 27, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian

Rating: Best we had in Liguria

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I did my best at internet research to pick this restaurant in the heart of “downtown” Santa Margherita. It was #2 on TripAdvisor. Now this is a review source that I take with a block of salt, but in reading the reviews I got the feeling I’d like the place — and I was right.


You can see a hint of the quaint little garden inside. Like the rest of Liguria it was a little steamy, even late at night (the weather was 88 degrees and 100% humidity, shades of my youth in Virginia).


The “pre-bread” which look like donut balls but tasted salty — and delicious. After all, they were fried.


The regular bread.

We started with a romantic glass of “special cocktail,” which was probably more or less a Kir Royale.


A special appetizer of raw seafood. Two types of prawn, tuna tartar, and some yellowtail like lighter fish. It was all delicious and exceedingly fresh.


Another nice local white.


This was a marvelous example of a very traditional ligurian pasta. Cheese inside, with “salsa con le noci” which is a pesto of walnuts, milk, butter, flour and pepper. Totally delicious.


An unusual “seafood lasagna.” This was a fairly typical lasagna with a kind of lobster/shrimp ragu. Also wonderful.


Branzino Genovese. Fresh local sea-bass baked with a thin scallop of potatoes.


This was a fairly simple meal, and only for two (so less photos) but the food was pretty impeccable, showing a light seafoody Italian with just a hint of modernity. All very much to my taste. Bravo.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Santa Margherita – La Paranza

Restaurant: La Paranza

Location: Santa Margherita, Italy

Date: June 26, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian

Rating: Straightforward

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This restaurant was around the corner from the hotel, had a typical menu, and appeared very crowded at lunch. So we gave it a try for dinner.


Santa Margherita is really two towns joined at the hip. This is in the center of the western half of the town, which is far smaller than the eastern.


Normal enough inside.


A variety of breads. Some of these have cheese inside.


An amuse in the form of a sheet of fried cheese. Really, who can beat fried cheese?


The endless menu.


This was a very nice (and cheap) light local white. All local wines in Liguria fit the light, cheap, and white descriptors.


Salmone affumicato (smoked salmon). It’s always served with butter in Italy. Go figure.


Tagliata of tuna. I.e. seared tuna with some vegetables.


Antipasto di mare. Mixed seafood appetizer. Smoked salmon on toast. A bit of marinated white anchovies. Some other kind of marinated local fish and a mixed marinated salad of squid, octopus, and shrimps.


Spaghetti pomodoro.


Gnocchi Genovese. This is one of the 2-3 most typical pesto preparations. Pesto in Liguria (where it comes from) is fabulous, but a little different than in the states. It’s milder, but really emphasizes the basil and olive oil. These were nice fluffy gnocchi.


Troffie Genovese. This is THE most typical and traditional form of the dish. Little twists of fresh pasta in pesto with a few green beans and a little bit of sliced potato.


Fritto misto. Various lightly fried shrimps, squids, and mysterious shellfish.


The ubiquitous mixed salad.


Profiteroles. These were stuffed with custard.


Tiramisu.


A few “free” biscuits with the bill.


The bill. Here largely for the restaurant’s address etc.


Each lady got a rose as a parting gift. This kind of stuff is very Italian — if a little touristy.

La Paranza was a good place. Traditional, reasonable, and tasty. But it’s a little staid and straight up, so there are better restaurants in town as you will see in upcoming posts.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Certaldo – Il Castello Certaldo

Restaurant: Il Castello Certaldo

Location: Celtaldo, Italy

Date: June 24, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Nice view, ok food

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Ah, the last meal in Tuscany! (except for breakfast) We took a couple hours to visit the cute little town of Certaldo. The old town is up on a hill and you ascend by funicular. The town was great, but there weren’t a lot of restaurant options. We chose the most likely looking.


At the end of the main drag.


And the dining terrace turned out to have this rather lovely view.


And pretty courtyard.


The menu.


Olive oil and vinegar.


House wine, white.

And red. Both decent, very cheap.


Local meats, including the big one which is a special local salami with saffron in it.


Bresaola with pecorino and arugula.


Marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts.


The now familiar panzanella. Last time you’ll see it though as we’re leaving Tuscany.


A risotto with vegetables, peculiar in being slightly soupy, but supposedly decent.


A truffle risotto soup (haha, just a soupy risotto). Tasted good though.


Local pasta in pomodoro sauce.


Spaghetti alla carbonara. Not bad, although perhaps not as eggy cheesy as it could have been.


Ravioli with cheese, butter, and sage. Those that ate this felt the ravioli might have been packaged.


THe same ravioli, but with a truffle sauce. They were fine.


Roasted potatoes.


Pork fillet in balsamic sauce.


Saltimbocc alla romana. Veal with ham and sage. Pretty tasty actually, but salty.


And a bit of gelato to finish.

This was a decent meal. The patio location — which we had entirely to ourselves — was absolutely world class. The food was good. Not great by any meals, but decently executed. The company, though, was as good as the view, so all was good.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Florence – Caffe Pitti

Restaurant: Caffe Pitti

Location: Florence, Italy

Date: June 21, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Touristy location, very good food

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On our second day in Florence we came out of the Pitti Palace starved and thirsty.


One of our guide books directed us to a spot just across the street from this grand piazza, which is a location always fraught with peril for “over touristy” restaurants. This one surprised. Yeah they had an all English menu, but the food was very good. Plus there was a special truffle menu that had some delicious items (one of which, sadly, I forgot to photo /cry).


The menu.


Prosciutto and melon.


Tuna salad.


Caprese.


Special caprese, with burrata instead of regular mozzarella.


Panzanella, bread, tomatoes, olive oil.

There was also a bresola with parmesan and white fresh truffles that I forgot to photo — but it was incredible.


Penne pesto.


Simple risotto with fresh truffles. This was fabulous too.


Spaghetti pomodoro.

French fries for the kids.

A very tasty little lunch, proving that random (or semi-random) picks can work fairly often in Italy.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Montalcino – Le Potazzine

Restaurant: Ristorante Le Potazzine

Location: Montalcino, Italy

Date: June 20, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Tasty traditional

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We took a most excellent wine tasting tour of Montalcino (the home of the one and only Brunello). This was led by a top flight young guide named Matteo Perinti, who took us to a pair of top flight small wineries (but more on that itself later). In between we stopped at Montalcino the home base for Brunello.


Montalcino is one of Tuscany‘s long list of ugly locales — just kidding. It’s a gorgeous mediaeval village — with a LOT of wine for sale.


We went to the restaurant owned by the Le Potoazzine vineyard, which was one that we visited. Not only was their wine incredible, but they run a nice restaurant.


For lunch we actually had their IGT Tuscan, slightly down the curve than this amazing Rosso Di Montalcino, but I didn’t get a photo. If you can find the above wine in the states do — it was incredibly seductive.


Tuscan Prosciutto.


And a wider selection of local cured meats.


Panzenella, the very traditional “salad” of stale bread crumbs, onions, tomatos, and fresh olive oil.


Bruschetta with tomato, basil, and olive oil. Tuscan’s have no fear of serving bread too many ways.


Minestrone soup.


Gnocchi done the simple way, with cream, butter, and cheese.


Risotto Brunello. Very fitting, and very tasty.


Local wide pasta fresca with vegetables.

This was a nice little lunch place. Certainly nothing radical about the cooking but every dish was delicious.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.