Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nate'n Al, Jon'n Marissa

Nate'n Al is a Beverly Hills institution, on Beverly Drive, and still family owned since its foundation in 1945. It is the best Jewish deli in Southern California. Ragged around the edges and probably last decorated in the early 1970s it is packed and overflowing every lunch time and always has a smattering of celebrities and ancestors of celebrities who order their father's and grandfather's hearties, and their mother's and grandmother's delicacies, from the vast menu. No other deli in town can match or surpass it for delicious, fresh and tasteful excellence, to eat in or take out.

Which is why when my friend Marissa calls and says, "I am in Heavenly Bills and I am going to Nate'n Al, what would you like for lunch?" I get happy and excited! Today she did just that and see the picture for my pastrami sandwich at right with one anxious and unrestrained bite taken before the snapshot, and her Turkey Westwood on my tiny kitchen counter, the result of her care package complete with coleslaw, potato salad and their old and new pickles. Just delicious. Thank you Marissa!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tiny Kitchens

A superb, jaw-dropping exhibition at LACMA which originated at The National Gallery in D.C. called Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples is to die for and prompted my purchase at a local bookstore of Mary Beard's superb book, related only in subject.
My Ancient Greek feeble, and my Latin pathetic, I nevertheless call myself a keen antiquarian and much of my reading originates there. To see these artifacts of the wealthiest inhabitants, and surely, this is not how everyone lived, is wonderful. It is also a reminder of the social diisparities of our own time. In a glossy, clinical museum setting it is sometimes difficult to keep in mind that Roman society was as varied and fragmented as our own, and more likely openly cruelly so. I am personally interested in nuances and customs from our western fore bearers that shine a light on our own era. A sense of history is ultimately important in understanding where we are now.

So, knock me down with a feather, Mary Beard states the fact that even in the biggest villas the kitchens were comparatively tiny. And I mean small at their grandest size . Pompeii and Herculaneum would be the Santa Barbaras and Venturas of their time, and, for sure, many of the largest villas were in the surrounding country (think Ojai and so forth ). Some historians suggest that food was brought in to the tricliniums (small but grand dining rooms) of large houses from the many restaurants in town and also that people may have essentially barbecued in the courtyards of various gardens and waterways for their daily pleasure. This doesn't surprise me at all for the rich in this town at least seem to cater even the smallest events.

However, I feel so much better. If Apicius had to cook in such close quarters I am amazed that he got the results he did but I am sure he never cooked a thing and the documents we have are more to do with his hired cooks' efforts even if he was a real person, perhaps the Homer of antique cuisine? I have a tiny kitchen and I cook some good stuff I think, but, lets face it those Romans of the first century could get a whole lot out of their kitchens too. Hmm that might be a Julie and Julia challenge - though I have read that book and really disliked it. Perhaps Meryl Streep's acting will redeem the story. That is also a story about cooking in a small kitchen that has spawned a bundle of similar efforts using The French Laundry Cookbook or Larousse as yeast.

By the way the roasted organic golden beets marinating in balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt in the picture above are sitting pretty next to my curing salts freshly arrived from parts afar. I clarified a half gallon of rich chicken stock today and froze it in packets. It is a real thrill seeing the egg whites take out the dross and leave the gold in the clarification process. If alchemy were ever anything real in the past, it is cooks that own it in our own time.