The Big Eat – Part II

Steps away from amazing food.

We woke up Saturday morning to Vintage Inn’s “Champagne Brunch” spread. After all we’d eaten Friday, we surprised ourselves by diving headlong into the omelet station. The jog we planned for later in the day became imperative if we were going to enjoy the rest of the day’s culinary indulgences. Because after all, we do live, breathe and write about food.

After a four-plus mile run through Yountville and a local vineyard, we still weren’t hungry for a typical lunch. We knew we’d be famished if we didn’t get a little something into our bellies before our Bouchon reservations at 7:45, so we tucked into Philippe Jeanty’s charming Bistro Jeanty for a cocktail and a bar bite to take the edge off.

Bistro Jeanty

Seated at the bar, we sipped our drinks and noshed on a hearty serving of Terrine de Lapin (rabbit pate) accompanied by céleri rémoulade (celery root and apple salad), cornichons and a tasty housemade yellow pepper mustard dressing. The thick slice of terrine was well balanced with the lean, meaty rabbit and pork fat. The pepper mustard was an elegant accompaniment to the rich charcuterie.

Rabbit terrine on the left, ratatouille on the right.

Terrine would have done the job of curbing hunger, but we’re on holiday and the ratatouille on the menu was irresistible. Served in a small casserole and bubbling hot, the ratatouille was beautiful with its thin neat scalloped layers of tomato and zucchini (very similar in presentation to the ratatouille dish in the Pixar film of the same name) concealing a savory, saucy vegetable mélange. We sopped up the juices with slices of crusty baguette, finished our drinks and headed back to our room to rest up for the evening’s main event.

Bouchon Bistro

Bouchon at night with the full moon on the right. Hey, that rhymes.

Day two in Yountville and we’re seated once again at a Thomas Keller restaurant. This is our second meal at Bouchon (the first was a brunch back in 2007) and this time it is to celebrate the nineteenth anniversary of the night we met. Still working off the rabbit, Jason recommended we take it easy and share a salad, an entrée, and a side of French fries dusted with truffles so we could save some room for dessert.

There are times when the lighting in restaurants needs a little help.

We ignored the evening specials and ordered a Salade de Cresson et d’Endives au Roquefort, Pommes et Noix (cress and endive salad with bleu cheese, apple and walnut). We love crisp, bitter leaves of endive and these were nicely dressed with a walnut vinaigrette that added a warm, nutty richness to the salad. Peppery watercress and small cubes of fuji apple gave the dish a bright tang and the bites of bleu cheese added a bit of richness. The rather tall pile of a salad was hearty and filling and once our plates were empty, we knew we’d made the right decision about sharing an entrée.

Using the iPhone flashlight app and Photoshop, this photo came out a little better.

Always suckers for short ribs, we ordered the Boeuf Bourguignon. Still haunted by the memory of the short rib hash we enjoyed back in ’07, Steve couldn’t resist the braised beef dish that so many consider quintessential French bistro fare. Of course, any foodie will tell you that Boeuf Bourguignon is Julia’s signature dish. Served with a generous slice of thick porkbelly (bacon), cipollini onions, root vegetables, butter noodles and red wine sauce, the dish was an ideal antidote to the chill of the evening. The braised beef was tender but not mushy and the red wine jus gave each piece a beautiful lacquer finish. Tender egg noodles sopped up the sauce and the bacon scented the dish with sweet smoke. We loved this dish, but the root vegetables need some work. We found the cubed veggies to be a little off, tasting of cardboard. But because they weren’t well integrated, we were able to push them aside without losing anything else in the dish.

The stand out star of the evening was the basket of truffle dusted French fries. Mind you, almost anything with truffles will shoot your taste buds into orbit, but these fries were crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, just as they should be. The photo we took was too blurred to publish, but just imagine a cone filled with these beauties.

The best photo of the night, but sadly the most disappointing dish.

After finishing our half-carafe of the house red wine ($25 for 500 ml = bargain), we sipped coffee and attempted a slice of Tarte au Citron (lemon tart). The tart slice was beyond generous; double the size one would expect from a fine restaurant of Bouchon’s caliber. Alas, while the tangy lemon sabayon was refreshing, we didn’t love the pine nut tart pastry. We love pine nuts and we eat them regularly, but they are delicate and tend to oxidize quickly. We don’t know if the crust failed because of the nuts, but our server admitted that this desert was a love-it-or-hate-it gamble as some customers found the shell to exhibit odd, off-putting flavors, while others believe it to be wonderful. He graciously removed it from the table, and our tab, and replaced it with a lovely bag of the bakery’s signature Chocolate Bouchons (dense brownies), which we took to go.

Even with the minor meal infractions at Bouchon, we left very pleased with the experience, service and the food, which is exactly why we dine out.

Next up: The French Laundry


Bright beautiful vegetables! ...and Steve can't spell.

In less than a week we will be enjoying the sun, food, wine, culture, and everything else Spain has to offer. It will be our first visit to Spain and our second trip to Europe and we can’t wait. It has been an extremely foggy summer in San Francisco’s Sunset District and we are in dire need of some rays. Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and San Sebastian spread over 15 days. In preparation, Jason has been taking a beginning immersion Spanish class at Casa Hispana. Though his Spanish language skills are in their developmental stage, he’ll be doing a much better job with communicating than he did on last year’s trip to Paris. His French speaking skills were so pathetic that even the baristas at Starbucks couldn’t understand his simple request for coffee. Cafe con leche is our typical morning brew so we’ll at least get started on the right foot when we land in Madrid.

Susan and Jason at the Ferry Building's Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Thanks for all the help, Susan.

For the last ten years or so, Jason has been making a ratatouille (French) or pisto (Spanish), which is basically a summer veggie stew, that seems to get better and better with each batch. Neither one of us is a big fan of zucchini, summer squash, or eggplant, but when they are roasted and then stewed with onions, tomatoes, roasted peppers, garlic, thyme and lots and lots of olive oil it becomes the best thing in the world to eat. This year, with thoughts of Spain ever on our mind, an idea was hatched to combine the best that pisto has to offer with the spiciness of Mexican salsa.

As far as we know, there is not a salsa or other dish that combines all the vegetables mentioned above with the spicy peppers of Mexico. We imagine it must be because of a feud centuries ago that forbade adding squash or zucchini to salsa. We’re probably completely wrong, but since we’re gringos who are essentially biologically mutts we figure we can add just about anything to our salsa without upsetting any familial laws.

We describe it as Old World meets New World salsa or, in this particular case, a salsa-touille. We hope you try our recipe and let us know what you think.

Salsa-touille Recipe

1 small to medium globe or Italian eggplant, cut into 1/2” thick “steaks”
1 lb summer squash or zucchini, cut into 1/4” planks
1/2 lb red onions, cut into quarters or eighths depending on the size of the onion(s)
2 1/2 lbs firm tomatoes, roasted, skin on (dry farmed preferred)
1 head of garlic, roasted, skin on
1 jalapeños, with or without seeds, or more if you like it spicy
1 red bell peppers
1 small pepper from a can of Chipotle peppers in adobo
sea salt to taste
3 tbsp lime juice

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Place eggplant, squash, onions, tomatoes, and garlic on the two baking sheets. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotate and roast for another 10-20 minutes or until slightly -medium toasted. At the 20 minute mark the garlic may be toasted enough to come out of the oven. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

If you have a gas-burning stove you can roast the jalapeños and bell peppers on the stovetop over the open flames of the burners. If you cook with an electric stove, roast the peppers under the broiler, turning regularly until completely charred. Once the peppers are charred, wrap them in one or two paper towels and cover the wrapped peppers with a bowl for 5-10 minutes. Take off the bowl and gently wipe off the charred skins . Do not rinse under water. It’s OK, if there is a little charred skin left on the peppers. Cut off the tops of the peppers and discard the seeds and ribs for a more mild salsa. Include the seeds and ribs for one with more heat.

Once all the vegetables are cool, rough chop or tear apart with your hands and add them to a food processor with the chipotle pepper. Pulse 3 – 4 times then add salt and lime (or vinegar). Process for approximately 10-20 seconds or until an even , slightly chunky consistency is achieved.