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“Ensanguining the skies      How heavily it dies      Into the west away

Past touch and sight and sound       Not further to be found

How hopeless underground        Lies the remorseful day.”

A Bloody Mary for Inspector Morse – Heirloom tomato water, Vodka, Globe basil, super spicy Pimientone de Padró and lime juice. Garnished with Indigo Rose.

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Created for Ness, to pair  trout roe on smoked crème fraîche.

I associate Smokiness with … being macho and bold. It is intended to tie the seafood amuse to the rest of the meat courses.

Watermelon Mezcal Shot with Basil

  • A few basil leaves. I grow globe basil which is naturally tiny, so it’s good for both flavoring and garnishing.
  • 1 1/2 oz Hornitos Reposado
  • 1 oz quality Mezcal. I use San Juan Del Rio, for its 96 proof of intensity. Besides, 10% of their proceeds benefit the education of the children in Oaxaca.
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz watermelon juice
  • ~ 1/2 oz simple syrup. Taste it. It really depends on how sour your lime juice and how sweet your watermelon are.

 

Muddle, add ice, shake, and strain. Garnish with additional basil leaves.

Make 1

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Sigaretta de Bergamo and Friariello di Napoli.

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Amazing yield and early. Way more vigorous than Jimmy Nardello. Thinner skin and smaller than Jimmy, but make up the total volume by speedy growth. Delicious raw with its fresh, snappy texture, sweet and ever-so-slight spicy flavor. Also tried frying, the traditional way of eating Jimmy.

IMG_3728 Totally growing it again next year, unless I get sick of it this summer.

 

Manresa ww levain

So I got a tip-off about the Manresa Bread Project.

My feeling for the restaurant is mixed: Mind-blowing the first … 3 years, then pretentious and grossly overpriced after they became famous and started the partnership with Love Apple. But I haven’t been back since they picked up their 2 Michelins so I fully admit that my opinion is based on outdated data, therefore irrelevant.

When asked “How does it compare to Tartine?”, my wheat-loving young friend was surprisingly hesitant: “erh ….. preeetty close”.

That’s enough to peak my interest.

Manresa bread menuThey currently sell at Campbell Farmers Market on Sundays. Me and Emily got there shortly after 8:30am and we found no baker nor mob. 15 minutes later however, we came around to the same spot and a dozen people magically appeared and were patiently watching the Manresa team setting up.

Within 10 minutes, the line was at least 30 people deep and this was all before any loaf was sold.

On the menu, there are the usual crowd pleasers of herby, nutty, olivey stuff. I want no distraction so I go for Levain ($12), Whole Wheat Sourdough ($12) and Brioche ($8).

For what you get, they are pricier than Tartine. But then, I never expect anything cheap from Manresa.

I am not sure why they want to mix the terminology of “levain” and “sourdough”. One would think that David Kinch should prefer sticking with the French term. Levain IS the yeasty starter (or “sourdough”) saved from the previous batch. Characteristics of breads made this way are much better crust and flavors because of the long proofing time levain requires.

You don’t get the tasteless, cottony effect of the fast-acting commercial yeast.

Both the chocolate brioche and the regular brioche are excellent – dense, moist and buttery. Long live the classics.

Manresa brioche

The Levain is the one most comparable to Tartine’s Country Loaf. It has a golden scaly crust. Thinner than Tartine’s, less charred (therefore less bitterness) but also less flavorful. It has a relatively tight crumb. Probably as flavorful as Tartine’s but not as … pretty. I swoon over Tartine’s moist, long laciness every time. Manresa’s levain is also a little more sour than I prefer, but that could be the batch variation. Overproofness has been known to happen even at Tartine’s. I later ate it with some cheese and salami, and its sourness was not intrusive by all means.

Manresa Levain

Levain

The true pleasure was probably the whole wheat sourdough. It has a charming, Poilâne Miche-like appearance. Flavorful and chewy crust. I am glad that they are not going all Miche and try their hands on 100% whole wheat. IMHO, most 100% whole wheat breads taste awful. People should just accept it that only at Poilâne’s it is allowed.

Manresa’s whole wheat sourdough has just enough whole wheat to give it a pleasant and balanced earthiness.

Manresa ww levain interior

Whole Wheat Levain

Overall, very good bread.

Without a side-by-side comparison like I did in Bread: A Love Letter for Tartine and Acme however, my very biased opinion is … No, it’s not Tartine.

Lonzino from Angel's Salumi, with pickled mexican sour gherkin

Lonzino from Angel’s Salumi, with pickled mexican sour gherkin

Since last August, I have had my share of Angel’s Salumi’s lonzino.

For me, it is that first bite of hot pizza after coming down from Mt. Whitney, the first sip of ice cold Martini after a 14-hour day. Lonzino is about the essence of a pork. The closest flavor comparison is probably prosciutto. Not Parma, but San Daniele because of its hint of sweetness. Definitely not La Quercia which in my opinion, is always over-salted.

Prosciutto is the leg, and Pascal’s lonzino is loin, Berkshire loin, as in ‘Bond, James Bond”. Loin is naturally lean therefore you don’t get that oily aftertaste of prosciutto. Along side other fatty salumi, lonzino, in my opinion, makes a much better addition to a balanced charcuterie platter.

The color is a brilliant rose and I will be amazed if Pascal didn’t put any pink salt in it, but then, I am never the one who’s hung up on that. Every bite the wave of umami surges. So immensely savory that one wants to swoosh it in the mouth like a good Bordeaux. That savory lightning also reminds one of Jamon Iberico.

Towards the end the heat from black pepper strikes, which feels like a ‘renewal’. The only sensible thing to so is to take a another sip of wine and go back for more.

The past 2 nights we had it with Marcel Lapierre‘s 2010 Beaujolais, also with Lopez Heredia‘s 2001 Vina Tondonia reserva. They went brilliantly.

Not only in the palate, also in the level of devotion to the ingredients and the pride to their craft, the makers all share.

A week ago, when it’s time to pack up and drive 3 and a half hour with a 5-year-old in the back who just had a 101F fever the day before, and me, a non-skier who also had a very long week, the whole idea of going to Tahoe seems … absurd. But it’s family vacation, it’s planned, and the thought of eating at Truckee’s Stella again does perk me up.

I always admire a kitchen that’s willing to do things from scratch, especially charcuteries. That takes understanding and appreciation of eating whole animals. At Stella, one finds terrine, pate and trotters. They also bake their own breads. These are far from those cottony, fast-risen, tasteless whitie (“but hot!”) you are likely to find elsewhere. Stella’s are robust, crusty country loaves.

The wine list is short but thoughtful. No obvious fruit bomb to numb the palate. William picks both Gruet and Schramsberg while we take time to deliberate on what to eat.

I have trouble picking what to start because everything looks interesting. Finally, I settle on what the waiter describes as “like a banh mi‘.

The pickled daikon, the texture interest of carrots and mustard seeds, the fragrance of micro cilantro accent perfectly that rich, tender, porky slab of the house-made head cheese. Yes, tender. The head cheese is slightly warm so the glorious jelly renders little resistance.

Sure, the sweet, sour and spicy combo is reminiscent of banh mi, but I will take the deep wheatiness of a single disc of artisanal bread any day, over factory-born, bleached ‘baguette’ that although is half-soggy inside, the sheer quantity of it still gives my jaw an arduous workout. Let’s not even think about how the pig lead its life before it ends up in a corner deli/convenience store that some also go in for cigarettes and packs of gums.

That is why, 200 miles away, I am staring at my ‘deer at the headlight’ shot of that dish and cannot help but lamenting at my inability to justly capture those glistening mounds, and their backdrop of XO sauce.

Everything we have is excellent. The salmon rillete is every bit as satisfying as its porky name-sake, but with an expected finesse that’s perfect with either the Gruet or the Schramsberg. The ‘salmon butter’ cap is brilliant.

The lamb is fork-tender and the aroma of the cumin seductive. Every piece of seafood in my cioppino is perfectly cooked. No rubbery clams, nor tasteless fish jerky.

I wave off repeated dessert offers from William because I am so chocolate-out from making 700+ truffles just a couple of days before. But he uncharacteristically insists: “It’s a celebration.” He picks the flourless chocolate cake which I thought “Great … only been done 1 million times since the 90’s.”

Cannot be happier to be wrong. The texture of the ‘cake’ I approve and the accompaniments win me over: luxurious basil-tarragon caramel, and blueberries spiced with grains of paradise.

I have no shame when it comes to food, and that usually makes William cringe. This time I decided to spare him the trouble of futile pleading, I simply got up and walked over to the kitchen and asked to see grains of paradise. Behind me, William was getting ready to crawl under the table.

“Sure.” unlike my husband, no sweat for Chef Jacob Burton. “Get the lady some grains of paradise.” I read about them but have never tasted them or held a small pile in my hand. He further explained to me that it’s actually seeds with taste and texture not unlike peppercorns, widely used in west Africa cooking.

Dinner AND hands-on education. I want to shout “Stella!”

If I must, find one thing I do not enjoy at Stella, it’s the lighting, or lack of it. Food like that deserves to be properly photographed without the garish effect of a flash.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Since I don’t have any worthy shot of Stella to relive a fine dining experience, wordy I have become.

There are maybe just 10 tables at Stella and so widely spaced it’s the antithesis of Paris. But for lamenting foodie-parents of under-aged children, this is a bonus: My 5-year-old is just fine with his iPad volume slightly turned on. Other tables more prepared mothers have headsets for the young ones.

On this particular night, even though there are 3 tables with kids, the mood in the high-beamed, romantically lit dining room is calm, sophisticated, and worthy of a marriage proposal if that’s what one has in mind.

In haste, I don’t think I managed to tell the kitchen how much I enjoy dining at Stella every time we come to Truckee. So here it is. Another love letter to food artisans anywhere who taking pride in their craft, no matter how remote of a town, or how small of a dining room.

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Long wooden table. A glass of red from Galicia. Beads, wires, jump rings, scattered across. Jewelry maker focuses intensely on her project at hand. Visible calluses on the fingers that’s working a bend chain nose plier.

Pandora blasting Adele’s He Won’t Go from a first-generation iPad.

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Left-over granite tiles from kitchen remodeling back in 2005. Maple branches from back yard.

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Bitter makes the world better. It’s the cello of an orchestra. Without it, it feels hollow, soul-less.

Let the winter drinking begin.