Tasting Table Editor Jessica Battilana Likes Her Wines Gutsy, and Her Cookies at Night
As evidenced only by her appearance in a previous S.F. Diet by chef Chris Kronner, local food writer Jessica Battilana is a gal about town who's well known in the industry. After working for several years at 7x7, she's now working on a cookbook with Charles Phan, and she recently became the S.F. editor of Tasting Table, where you'll now be able to find her tasteful recommendations of dishes and foodstuffs to try. Below, she submits her food diary for the first week of the new year, in which she pops in to a bunch of new places, like Chotto, Beast and the Hare, and Rotisserie & Wine.
Sunday, January 2
I had been on the East coast for a few weeks for the holidays, so I was still a bit jet-lagged over the weekend. That meant that I was waking up earlier than usual, full of vim and vigor. I went for a run in the rain, and when I got back I was starving. My wife always makes the coffee when she’s home. We have a normal drip machine, nothing fancy. I like my coffee strong, but I don’t get too fussy about it. We get Kalani organic coffee from Bi-Rite, which I love. I have my coffee with Straus milk, no sugar. Then a couple of mandarins I got at the Alemany Market the day before. The market was open on New Year’s Day, which was great, but it seemed it was an all kale and citrus market, so that’s what we bought.
We decided to go to Plow for breakfast. I usually don’t like to go out to breakfast. I hate waiting, and, well, most breakfast food you can make at home without much trouble. But we went. Except Plow was closed until January 6. That is something they might have wanted to put on their website, right? Toss me a bone, guys. But since we were up in Potrero I got a great cappuccino at Farley’s. They sell treats now from Sandbox Bakery, and I was tempted, but we had already made a plan to go to Just For You for a second attempt at breakfast, so I held out. At Just For You I had two poached eggs, wheat toast. It came with homefries, which weren’t very good, but the poached eggs were perfectly cooked. I hate when you get poached eggs that haven’t been properly drained, and they come sitting in a pool of water. Ugh. But these were good.
Breakfast was on the later side, so I didn’t have lunch. I did have a very small bowl of potato chips around four. I love chips. Potatoes are my desert island food, and I like them in all their preparations. For dinner we went to Chotto, that new Japanese place in the Marina. We tried a bunch of stuff: fried calamari, snow crab croquettes, a “salad,” that was actually blanched greens in dashi, with lots of shaved katsuobushi on top, the miso pork ribs, the onigiri, soft tofu in dashi, the pickle s it sounds like a lot, but the plates are small. The croquettes and the greens were my favorites. I had a Radeberger pilsner. They serve the beer is a very chilled glass, which I appreciated. On the way back to the car, my wife wanted to stop and get a donut for dessert from some place on Chestnut, some little bakery. So we did. We like donuts for dessert, not for breakfast, but this was not a good donut. It was a glazed cake variety, and it was actually gross. We each had one bite, then threw it out. When we got home, I had one of Sabores del Sur alfajores cookies. They are delicious, which helped to erase the memory of the bad donut.
Monday, January 3
I had coffee with milk, then cereal with bananas. I actually don’t really like cereal. My wife likes it, so if there’s nothing else I’ll have it too. I think it was Grape Nuts, maybe mixed with some flakes. She likes to make her custom blends. I’m working from home now, so I have to fend for myself at lunch. I had two slices of toast—Tartine’s country loaf—with mashed avocado, salt and pepper. Then I had an orange.
For dinner, we made a sort of soupy pasta dish—lumache with kale, sausage, white beans and chicken stock, with garlic and parmesan cheese. I opened a bottle of French red wine which I bought during the Bi-Rite wine blitz. If you like wine and you don’t shop at the blitz, you are a fool. They do them a couple times a year, over a long weekend. Twenty percent off of all the bottles, if you get a case. I like what [wine buyer] Trac Le carries. I’ve never had a bad bottle. Plus, they’ll deliver the case to your house. I always stock up. I had two glasses. While the pasta was cooking I also had some pickled okra, Taste of Texas brand. It is delicious. I want to try using the spears as a martini garnish. For those afraid of okra, I assure you—it’s not at all slimy when pickled.
We had some chocolate kicking around from Christmas, so I had a few bittersweet non-pareils for dessert. And I can’t be certain, but it seems possible I had another alfajores.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Coffee with milk, then Straus plain yogurt with a spoonful of apricot jam stirred in, some bananas, some All Bran sticks on top. Glamorous, I know. A couple hours later I had a fig bar, Trader Joe’s brand. It was not very good. For lunch I had leftover pasta from Tuesday’s dinner, then two more mandarins and another alfajores.
I was going out to dinner, but my wife was staying in. She wanted a burger, so we walked over to Super Duper. I waited outside with the dog, and when she came out she was holding a vanilla soft-serve cone. Her (sound) reasoning was that she knew she would want it for dessert, but since she was taking her burger to go, she had to have it first...I thought that was very smart. I had a few licks. While I was getting ready for dinner I had another glass of that red wine I’d opened the night before, and a few of her French fries. Then I went and met my friend Caleb Zigas, who is executive director at La Cocina, at La Ciccia.
We had a lot of great food. I like how untrendy that place is. They just do their thing. We had white anchovies to start, along with a glass of sparkling wine, plus a squid dish the kitchen sent out. Then we had the extraordinary octopus stew. The chef told me he gets the tiny octopus frozen from Chile, but they are so tender and the sauce is so rich and full-flavored. It’s a great dish. So we had that, then the spaghetti with bottarga and the housemade rigatoni with pork sugo, both of which were fabulous. We had a Sardinian red wine to drink, but I don’t remember the name. They chose it for us, which was a relief because the wine list is all unusual Italian wines, mostly Sardinian, and I am no expert. For dessert, they sent us this dish—farro, the grain, cooked with spices and citrus, with a scoop of Torrone ice cream on top—torrone is that almond-and-citron nougat you see in Italian shops around Christmas. The whole dessert tasted like something you’d have in Renaissance Europe.
Wednesday, January 5
Things kind of fell apart on Wednesday. This was an unfortunate day to record my diet. I can imagine the comments now, about how I should drink more water and exercise more. Commenters: you’re right. I was meeting an old college professor for coffee. He suggested Que Tal, on 22nd and Guerrero. They serve Mr. Espresso coffee, but unfortunately they serve it in glass mugs, a pet peeve of mine. On the walk over there, I picked up a blueberry-ginger muffin from Mission Beach Café. They have great baked goods, especially their pies and canneles. But those muffins are very good too.
Around 1 p.m., I was a little peckish, so I had a rice cake with peanut butter and raspberry jelly on top. I was going over to check out Scream Sorbet’s new scoop shop in Oakland, so I figured I’d have some ice cream and thus didn’t need a big lunch. I tried a bunch of flavors—pineapple guava, vanilla-almond, coconut-Thai basil—I basically had a tiny bite of all 12 flavors. Then I settled on a petite scoop of the mandarin sorbet. I also picked up 5 sorbet sandwiches to try later. I went directly from there to Rye, where I was meeting a freelancer for a drink. They normally open at 5:30, but they were taking down their holiday decorations and so they didn’t open until 5:45 or 6. While I was waiting outside I realized I was really hungry. I started daydreaming about an imaginary dumpling stand on Geary, or an Afghan kebab shack. Instead, I walked across the street to the convenience store and bought a bag of Kettle Chips, salt and pepper flavor.
I had a Rock and Rye toddy at Rye. Boozy, citrusy. They use glass mugs, too. What gives? It’s a great drink, though, in spite of the glassware. Then I had a Bitburger beer. I gave the bartender one of my sorbet sandwiches, which I was carrying in a little insulated soft cooler. I gave her one with pear-cranberry sorbet. I also gave one to my friend, one with peppercorn sorbet, I think.
By the time I got home I was starving. In the cab I thought about what I could make really quickly for dinner. It was a refrigerator sweep—a salad with romaine, batons of sopressata, fennel, cucumber, feta, olives and minced pepperoncini, with lemon juice and olive oil. And a few slices of toasted Tartine bread. I ate it out of the serving bowl, literally wolfed it down. Then when my wife got home, she and I split two sorbet sandwiches: the gingersnap with coffee-almond sorbet, and the Valrhona chocolate wafer with chocolate-peppermint sorbet. The gingersnap was the clear winner. Muffins, coffee, ice cream, chips, alcohol. Way to go, Battilana!
Thursday, January 6
Coffee again, with milk, then a slice of toast with apricot jam. A bit later I had a bowl of Grape Nuts. And then I had two mandarins.
At lunchtime I surveyed the fridge and found the rest of the cucumber and some Hodo Soy tofu. I love that tofu. I can eat it alone, just with salt and pepper. Except I had bought the tofu on Sunday—or maybe it was Saturday—and it was covered with a film of bio-slime. I thought I could salvage it, so I rinsed it well and chopped it up, along with the cucumber, and showered it all with salt and pepper. I had two pieces before concluding it was rotten.
I am working on a cookbook with Charles Phan, so one day a week I go to the Slanted Door kitchen and work with his chef, Justine Kelly, on recipes for the book. I headed down there, getting to the Ferry Building just before the Tuesday market shut down. I ran into Ryan and Cesalee Farr, and thankfully Ryan had fired an extra cheeseburger. Hallelujah! So I had the burger, which was messy and awesome, and then I went to the Slanted Door. We were working on a chicken curry recipe, and then looking over the manuscript for the first chapter of the book. I had a coffee while we were working, then I tasted the curry. We did it without coconut milk, so it’s really light, but with great flavor from the curry leaves and spices. When we were done working, Justine and I had a glass of Gruner Veltliner.
I met my wife for dinner at The Beast and the Hare. I’d heard good things about the charcuterie, and it was really good. We had rabbit rillettes, a country pâté and the coppa. All housemade, and really quite nice. There was a tomato jam on the plate that I thought was too sweet, but the charcuterie was the highlight of the meal. We also had a frisée salad, with suffered unfortunately from some rancid nut oil. My wife had the barbecue pork belly sandwich, and we shared the lomo crostini with “tentacle tapenade.” I was curious about that. Basically it was toasts with goat cheese, piquillo peppers, the housemade lomo (a cured, smoked pork loin) and then a salad of octopus tentacles and olives on top. It was a nice idea, and pork and octopus are excellent bedfellows, but it may have just had too much going on. I don’t know. Stick with the charcuterie and you’ll be totally happy. I had a glass of Nero d’Avola with dinner. I like that grape—gutsy and a little rough around the edges.
The Slanted Door just opened a little retail shop across from the Out the Door in the Ferry Building. They’re selling ingredients as well as cooking kits so you can make shaking beef and daikon rice cakes at home. The pastry chef, Chucky Dugo, has made some dessert kits, including one for chocolate cake, one for lemon pudding cake and then some frozen cookie dough. They asked me to take them home to test them in my home kitchen, which I gladly did. So we ended the night with Chucky’s peanut butter cookies, about which I have no complaints.
Friday, January 7
I had coffee, with milk, and a piece of toast for breakfast. Somehow I skipped lunch, too, which was a terrible idea, because by the time I got to dinner—and I insisted, by the way, that we eat at six because I was so hungry—I was feeling sort of cranky. I bought a container of rice from one of those depressing scoop and serve Chinese places on 14th Street. Just being in there makes me sad. I always think of that book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, about the history of Chinese food in America.
Anyway, we had the rice and some leftover chicken curry from the recipe testing, with Brussels sprouts dressed very simply with olive oil and lemon juice. For dessert I had what has become my signature this week, a chocolate chip cookie and a peanut butter cookie.
Saturday, January 8
I jogged down to the Ferry Building. I find I do my best running when I have a pleasant destination awaiting me. So I jogged down there to pick up some food. I always run into people I know, which is fun, and today is was Chris Cosentino and his wife Tatiana, and Taylor Boetticher from Fatted Calf. I bought a picnic ham from Fatted Calf, then some Savoy cabbage and potatoes and Satsumas. Marin Sun Farms was doing two-for-one meats, so I got some stuff for the freezer—pork chops, ground pork and ground beef. Then I went inside and got gruyère and cottage cheese and crème fraiche at Cowgirl Creamery, and a loaf of Upstairs bread at Acme. I also got one of their “not crossed” buns, which are these soft, sweet little things with candied citron and currants. I ate that on the way home.
We met a bunch of friends for dim sum at Koi Palace. Holy hell, it was awesome. I called ahead and got a number so we didn’t have to wait too long (otherwise it can be a two hour wait). We ate a lot of stuff. To recount it all is embarrassing: fried taro puffs with pork and dried shrimp, shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings, Chinese broccoli, crab dumplings, an accidental dish of “coffee pork ribs” that came in an oversize coffee mug, tasted like they had been glazed in coffee syrup and were topped with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. We also had sticky rice in lotus leaves, baked and steamed pork buns a lot of stuff. Then egg puffs and sesame balls for dessert. And jasmine tea throughout. I made the poor choice of trying to shop for jeans afterwards.
Dinner was late, and we made grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with cornichons, using the picnic ham and gruyère. They were delicious. It should take 20 minutes to make a grilled cheese. Seriously. You have to cook them low and slow. People always rush it, and then the outside is charred before the inside is melty. Patience is a virtue when it comes to grilled cheese. We had a green salad on the side.
Sunday, January 9
We had a slice of Upstairs bread with a fried egg on it for breakfast. My wife, in addition to making the coffee, always fries the eggs. I can fry an egg, of course, but it’s her thing. We didn’t have any coffee so we had to walk to Café du Soleil for a cup.
We were going to Rotisserie & Wine for dinner so I didn’t eat anything before we went. We had a super early bird table at 5:15, which suited me fine. When you sit down, they bring you these custardy corn sticks with honey butter. They rival Wayfare Tavern’s popovers for best free bread. We tried the scrapple to start, which is a mixture of pork bits and cornmeal that has been fried. My grandfather used to make it. Then we shared a biscuit with La Quercia ham and country gravy, which was studded with bits of sausage and Brussels sprouts, with a smear of tomato jam. We shared a plate of porchetta, which had brilliantly crispy skin, and with that we had a side of broccoli with Vella jack cheese and something they call “Arbuckle’s polenta.” The polenta is great, but the crowning glory of the dish are these peanuts cooked like baked beans. They are so clever and so delicious and I wish they were more then just a garnish. Really great. I had a couple glasses of Sean Major’s Carneros Pinot Noir, and then an Americano, and then we split a slice of chocolate cake. I thought I was going to die after eating all that food, and we didn’t even finish a lot of it. Whoa, rich stuff.
On the drive home from Napa, we stopped at 99 Ranch in Richmond. I wanted to see what types of Asian chickens they sold, and they have a few options: the silkie, which has black bones, skin, and flesh; the yellow feather, which is a lean little scrappy bird; and the Long Kong, which is similarly bony. Totally different from standard American chickens. I bought noodles and shrimp paste and fermented bean curd and stir-fry sauce, as well as chicken bones and coconut bread. Some of it I’ll use for recipe testing for the cookbook, some of it I was just curious about, some of which will undoubtedly make its way into my next week of meals
Earlier SF Diets: How the Tablehopper (a.k.a. Marcia Gagliardi) Works Through Turkey Leftovers, and Everything Else She Ate Last Week
S.F. Drag Star Juanita MORE! Loves Herself Some Four Barrel, and Slanted Door
How Sommelier and Budding Winemaker Rajat Parr Eats and Drinks His Way Through Harvest
Publicist Andrew Freeman Eats Fries With His Steak Tartare, and Popcorn With His Peanut Butter
Bar Star Brian MacGregor Likes a Good Slider, and Occasionally a Cocktail With Lunch
The Cooking Channel’s Aida Mollenkamp Is a Girl Who Can Really Eat
Timothy Hollingsworth Ate Some *Really* Spicy Sh*t in Sydney
Chris Kronner Loves Sebo Almost as Much as Ryan Farr’s Burgers
Where Didn’t Michael Bauer Eat This Week?