Oenotri, Napa, CA: Fidei with Smoked Mackerel, Tomato, Cream, Shellfish Brodo, and Hot Pepper
Fidei is essentially capellini pasta, commonly seen in the Ligurian region of Italy, often paired with that other specialty of Liguria: pesto. Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde create some of the most innovative pastas anywhere, and none more so than this incredible dish. Think of the most vivid seafood broth of a bouillabaisse in Marseille, enhanced for some structure by cream and tomato. Flakes of fishy but not overly so smoked mackerel are strewn about the fidei, perfectly complimenting the oceanic voice of the broth. Finished with a joly of hot pepper, this is as perfect a pasta dish as you’ll fine.
Oenotri: Fried Cavalo Nero with Chili, Lemon, and Pecorino
Cavalo Nero is black kale, so this is healthy right? It’s a lot healthier and tastier than potato chips or frites in terms of vegetable sides. In the same vein as the recent boom in fried brussels sprouts (usually with pancetta…), the razor thin cavalo nero gets lightly fried to a crisp, then sprinkled with flakes of sharp pecorino, a squeeze of lemon for a new acidic dimension, and like the with fidei above, a jolt of spice from the chili. Once you pop, the fun won’t stop…they actually reminded me of Pringles in terms of the thin, brittle nature of the central ingredient.
Bottega, Yountville, CA: Polenta Under a Glass with Caramelized Mushrooms, and Balsamic Game Sauce
Polenta? Seriously, we’re ordering polenta? That was the unanimous exclamation of my table when informed by myself and our very helpful waiter than the polenta was a must order. This isn’t your garden variety polenta, folks. Warm and creamy, served in a canning jar with the mushrooms glistening on top, and then after being mixed together, served on a plate, and topped by the robust sauce. Just like everything from Michael Chiarello (spoiling already next week’s review), this dish perfectly represents the Northern California meets soulful Tuscany ideal that the chef strives to achieves and surpasses magnificently. You’ll never have polenta this good I promise.
Note- the polenta really is IN glass, not under.
Bottega: Pan Roasted Potato Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables, English Pea Fonduta, and Valley Ford Montasio
If I have ever had a dish I wanted to call Cézanne to hustle over and take a quick still life of before we ate it, this would be it. The dish just looks like spring. It’s full of bright colors, signalling hope, love, and the arrival of sunshine (and English peas). With tender brussels sprouts, pickled onions, carrots that almost melt, a swirl of the most pea-tasting English pea fonduta, the dish really thrives because of Chiarello’s home made potato gnocchi. They are somewhat hefty raft boat shaped gnocchi made of potato instead of flour, for a more earthy flavor. Then caramelized to a perfect golden crisp, this really is quite the masterpiece. Get Cezanne to paint and Mr. Beard to taste this!
Cheeseboard Collective: Pizza with Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Onions, Cheddar Cheese, Mozzarella, Italian Parsley, and Garlic Olive Oil
It’s the crust, just doughy enough toward the center, but very crisp at the perimeter that makes this one of the Bay Area’s premier pastas. Ingredients are stellar, especially the combination of sharp cheddar with the earthy funk of cooked cauliflower. I only wished for a little more Italian Parsley. It’s a greasy affair thanks to the garlic olive oil. The ratios are just perfect: not too wet towards the center, just the right amount of toppings, just the right amount of naked crust at the edge. They do one pizza a day here and boy, do they do that one pizza right. More places should take note about that lesson.
Cheeseboard Collective: Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookie
Almost more like a moist, dense chocolate cake, this is truly an epic and undeniably chocolatey cookie. Soft but not mushy, everything clicks here. Perfect after a Cheeseboard Pizza. Then go to the Temescal for…
Scream Sorbet: White Guava Sorbet (or any sorbet…)
I could have picked any sorbet here really, such charming sorbets from an equally charming postage stamp sized store front in Oakland’s Temescal Neighborhood. Something about the pristine white guava made by day so much brighter. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to guava tasting so syrupy that you feel horrible drinking this “fruit juice.” The sorbet here was so pure it felt like yoga meditation by the scoop.
And the Honorary Not So Pleasant Bite of the Week: Manhattan at Cafe Renzo, Palo Alto, CA
Manhattans depend on the bourbon. It’s the fabled trio of angostura bitters, vermouth, and then bourbon. At the almost elegant belle époque Cafe Renzo (formerly Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Neibaum Coppola) that is very Italian in food and waiters, but very French brasserie in look, this isn’t the place to sip a Manhattan. But, hey $5 cocktails and $4 wine at happy hour? Great deal right? Think of it as punishment if you have to sip those wines or succeed in finishing this Manhattan. I didn’t even bother to ask what low grade bourbon was thrown in. All I know is Happy Hour may have been cheap, but this drink makes nobody very happy for an hour.