Friday, August 25, 2006

We're the Best!

When you know you are the best that’s enough – right? Not exactly. It is good to be the best but it is even better when others say you are the best. Vivande has been praised and acknowledged to be the best in many respects and in many places. Diner’s Club Signature Magazine said that we were among the nine best delicatessens in the WORLD, and the Government of Italy recently awarded Vivande the coveted accolade of “…true Italian Restaurant outside of Italy”, and we were one of only eighteen such awards issued in the entire United States. And the only one in the Bay Area.

On a more local level, well, not so local if you think about the internet, we have been included in a survey of the Best Italian Restaurants in the U.S. in CitySearch. How about that? We love the attention, and we feel rewarded for the hard work and the hewing to tradition in the face of “creative chefs” who often blend Sicilian shrimp (whatever that is) with mango, reduced balsamic, lemon grass, and garnished with a blueberry froth (I always think of dying snails when I see that foam stuff). Our food reviews tend to be very good to excellent, but jaded, pantywaist food “critics” (aren’t you glad you are not married to one?) bring up things like the atmosphere at Vivande as “dated” meaning it is not generic steel and expensive wood veneers and hand blown (up) chandeliers and so on, and so noisy you will be, guaranteed, deaf before you reach thirty-five. We like to say we are traditional; and yes, we do look it.

I guess any painting before Pollack would be considered “dated”. If I find some pre-Pollacks I wonder if I should throw them out – maybe make a fire out of them and cook some ribs soaked in honey and ketchup. And that Louis XVI bombe chest – thank goodness I did not buy that – I’d have to trade it in for a little bleached wood and glass number from Ikea – now THAT’S modern and up to date. Anyway, I love the fact that we cook like we used to cook a hundred years ago, and it still makes quite a number of folks very happy and grateful they can still get it. And the cooking is sound, and the flavors familiar and delicious and comforting.

I guess a little veal demi-glace ice cream or vanilla basted roast leg of lamb needs to go into your mouth now and then just remind you that you are, indeed, in the twenty-first century. It is not for me. But a lot of folks are really “into” the “new” taste ( I call it bizarre), and we have proponets of it like Anthony Bourdain, a very likeable looking guy who is probably now so rich he will never again need to cook with the success of the burping, gagging, drinking, and farting show from all corners of the world. I missed the connection to cooking, unless it was the cow eyeball he was chomping on one night; it was roasted I think.

Speaking of paintings: Now we can have a Carpaccio of anything. I see lots of things like zucchini Carpaccio, smoked salmon Carpaccio, tomato Carpaccio. Myself, if anything is thin-sliced I say that “this is thin-sliced…”. The real Carpaccio as we should all know was first produced according to my rather reliable history source in Harry’s Bar in Venice. It consists of beef shell steak (not tenderloin), sliced paper-thin (not previously frozen) filmed onto a cold plate and then slathered with a sauce of mayonnaise, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce and a little lemon juice. The whole idea here was to honor the name of Vittore Carpaccio the Venetian Renaissance painter who made the most dramatic and intense red backgrounds for so much of his painting. The raw beef dish approximated the base color, and the creamy sauce counterpart added as a kind of crosshatch pattern made an edible art piece. This makes some sense, taste wise, and also looks great. This is an example of modern Italian cooking and is less jarring because it is in the spirit of the way Italians eat and how their food looks. This is evolution in cooking, not revolution.

Well, this has been a long trip trying to tell you to take a look at Vivande by clicking on the link that follows. I hope you will enjoy reading about us and that it stimulates you to come and join us for a traditional meal in a traditional room, with traditional (good) service and some of the best Italian (only) wines you will ever see on such a Lilliputian list. Buon Appetito.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Big Dinner - Big Night Coming up

I prepared an enormous dinner matched with superb wines from our friend Lorenzo Scarpone who owns Villa Italia, a wine merchant from whom we buy lots of good vino. I prepared six courses comprising 13 separate "dishes" if you include antipasto misto, a mixed appetizer and the "contorni" conturs to the second dish (what Americans call the main course). Italian don't use such terminology; the theory being that no dish is more important than another one, it simply shows up in the meal at a different place. These dishes represented various regions in the North of Italy. If you also count the three kinds of bread I made the number of "dishes" goes up.

The highlights of the wine, for me were the 2004 "Weisshouse" Pinot Bianco - utterly delicious. The 2000 Barbera d'Alba Superior Gallino, 2000 Gattinara Anzivino were like drinking nectar, and the 2003 Castellum Vetus Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Centorame made you almost faint it was so good. With this we nibbled on Boschetto cheese studded with large chunks of black truffle. What a heavenly contribution that made to the palette.

We went from Pollo Albese, Alba style chicken with truffles to Lamb Ragu from Abruzzi to oven-roasted Guinea-hen to braised amaretti filled onions to a nice rummy Savarin cake with sottoboschi (forest-floor), a selection of summer berries.

I do believe I am the only person in America (at least the only one I know of) that makes Pane Ferrarese or Coppia, the almost cracker-like rolled up bread also popular in Bologna and shaped like a four-armed starfish. When you see the effort it takes you know why no one makes it - but I like doing stuff like this. We also had hand made crackers, long and wicked looking called "streghe" - witches.

In September I am preparing a meal with appropriate wines from Sicily and Sardegna. It will be, as ususual, a block-buster. I'll tell you more as time goes on.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Tomatoes, Pomodori, Tomate

Did you ever have sugar-plums dancing in your head – and your mouth watering, waiting for one to drop in? That happened to me just a few days ago and in my head were dancing not sugar-plums - but heirloom tomatoes. They are bigger, plumper, and much more colorful than sugar-plums, good as they are. And just think what you can do with them. Simply drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, cracked pepper, a pinch of sea salt, and there is a dish to set before a king. A nice mess of chopped basil on top makes it even more kingly.

I was so taken with heirloom tomato season that I went to our local Fillmore Farmers’ Market on a recent Saturday morning. Everybody who goes is in such a good mood, and friendly. There must have been eight different types of heirlooms, and I bought some of all of them. Tomato-greedy is a good thing. Afterwards, I wrote a piece for our neighborhood newspaper New Fillmore. I took some pictures at the market and was actually complimented by my editors on their quality. In case I forget to tell you; they liked my writing, too. If you can get a copy of the New Fillmore get it to read my story, but there is lots of other good stuff to read as well.

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I had also bought Japanese eggplant, and baby zucchini for dinner along with the kingly tomatoes. My, what a treat that was. I grilled the veggies and sprinkled them with garlic and a bit of chopped anchovy. Along with bruschetta and a bottle of big and dark red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine the meal was as good as it gets. Meat? Maybe next time after heirloom tomato season.

For dessert we had more bruschetta topped with dead ripe Mission figs and Bing cherries. Of course a bit more of the Montepulciano was handy so we had that, too.

Go to your local fresh market and make a meal like this one and just see how good you can feel – and drink a toast to yourself, but be sure to include me, too.