sardinian regional menu night at osteria sfizio

It all began so well / but what an end.

I am resolutely sure Eugene needs more tasting menus, and the Marché/Osteria Sfizio empire does its part in that campaign, offering regional menus once a month.  Marché presents meals from the regions of France, natch, and Sfizio regions of Italy.  I often find that they don’t stick their collective neck out far enough for me, though, and that means I choose which dinners to attend very selectively because they’re pricey for what they are, usually very simple preparations of un-daring foods.

For example, I was hoping for more bottarga (salted mullet roe) at the Sfizio regional dinner for Sardinia last night, but understand why it could not be in our little town.  One of my favorite pasta dishes is Japanese tarako (salted cod roe) spaghetti with little enoki mushrooms, and there’s a traditional Sardinian pasta dish dressed simply and similarly with salted mullet roe and olive oil, so I was hoping Sfizio would at least sneak in some bottarga into their pasta dish.  But alas.

Here is the menu, with my pictures:

Food of Sardinia
8/28/11 – $45

ANTIPASTI
insalata di polpo alla marceddiese (right)
octopus salad marceddi-style
recipe from ristorante da lucio, marceddi di terralba (oristano)
melanzane in scapece (left)
marinated eggplant
recipe from ristorante letizia, nuxis (carbonia iglesias)

PRIMI
fregola con cocciua niedda (above top)
fregola sarda with clams
recipe from ristorante da lucio, marceddi di terralba (oristano)
or
culurzones di patate e menta (above bottom)
pasta filled with potaoes & mint
recipe from trattoria pisturri, magomadas (nouro)

SECONDI
casca alla calasettana (above)
fish and shell fish couscous calasetta-style
recipe from Trattoria da pasqalino, calastta (cagliari)
or
panada di vitello, maiale e verdure
veal, pork and vegetable pie
recipe from trattoria desogos, cugliere (oristano)

DOLCI
millefoglie di carasau
puff pastry filled with pastry cream and blackberries
recipe from ristorante letizia, nuxis (carbonia Iglesias)

WINE
Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino 2009 $8
Argiolas Cannonau Costera 2008 $9
Argiolas Korem Bovale 2006 $12
flight of all three for $15

The antipasti was quite nice, and matched very well with the pretty gold Vermentino.  Indeed, I would have been happy if I had stuck with a half-bottle of this wine instead of the flight of the three wines of the night, since the Vermentino was by far the best match for the seafood-heavy menu.  The Bovale, in particular, a big red, lost its austerity and character in the heavily salted tomato sauce with the couscous, and was left just harsh.

I enjoyed the classic caponata-like melanzane in scapece, an eggplant relish studded with sundried tomatoes, carrots, and celery, and finished with mint.  The slivers of fried eggplant skin were a beautiful and necessary touch.

Sfizio excels at cephalopods, in particular with octopus, and I’d advise anyone who goes to order at least one polpo dish.  The insalata di polpo alla marceddiese was no exception to this rule.  It was a simple cold antipasto of roasted red peppers, slivers of green olives, and fat chunks of octopus arms.

But the issue with these apps, and the menu as a whole, was its repetition.  Both in terms of visuality and taste, the menu didn’t offer much in contrast.  The antipasti, one of the two primi, and the secondo we ordered were all richly sauced in red.  Where were any green — or for that matter — fresh vegetables?  The veg in the antipasti was a great beginning, but then it was all tomatoes.

Knowing I’d be having the seafood couscous as a secondo, I was met with a dilemma: two couscous-like grain dishes in a row?  Retrogrouch wisely went for it, but since we had had Israeli couscous the night before, which is a like a combination of fregola and regular couscous, I opted for the potato and mint-stuffed ravioli, which ended up being the mistake of the night.  Dear Rocky and all the fine people of Sardinia, potatoes do NOT match well with red sauce.  Period. This isn’t really Sfizio’s fault, since they were trying for authenticity on this dish, but ugh.  And immediately preceding another tomato sauced dish?  Bah.  If I had known the ravioli would be sauced with tomato, I would have avoided it, but the menu was tightlipped and I didn’t ask.

The fregola sarda with the clams, however, was a bracing, buttery delight.  Had I had an entree-sized dish of that with some kale/golden raisins/pignoli on the side and a glass of the Vermentino, you could have called me a Sardinian for life.

Ah well.  Regardless of the repetition, I enjoyed the casca alla calasettana, especially the perfectly tender and generously portioned squid rings.

The dessert was inoffensive — triangles of crisp puff pastry laid nonchalantly atop a mound of pastry cream and a few blackberries strewn around the plate for decoration.  No Sardinian honey?  Again, ah well.  Luckily, we were able to eat quickly enough (and go early enough, thanks to an engagement afterward) to avoid the real problem of the evening, the truly horrible wedding/fashion show/dance party in the common square at Oakway that faces the restaurant.  To wit:

As my husband said to our charming (and certainly suffering) waiter, “when the Hall & Oates starts, I end.”  I don’t think Sfizio can do anything about the common space, but it’s really awful — like I won’t go there awful — to ruin such an open, airy, lovely indoor-outdoor restaurant on Wednesday evenings when the cover bands play.  Special events, we discovered last night, are worse, turning a breezy Sardinian evening on a patio into a cruise ship dance party.  Is there any way to force groups booking the square to turn the volume down?  Tell ’em a cantankerous old lady food snob sent you.

fresh crab on klcc’s food for thought: new co-host!



A wise man once said:

They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice
’cause they think that it’s treason.
So you had better do as you are told.
You better listen to the radio.

The voices of reason long fled for the coast, I’d advise you to listen to me, instead!  Starting September 11, I’ll be serving up sounds of local food as one of the new co-hosts on KLCC’s Food for Thought.  Today, we’ll bid a semi-goodbye to Boris Wiedenfeld, who will be semi-retiring as co-host (see his announcement on the Food for Thought Facebook page for more info).

We’ve decided to do rotating hosting duties, several of us sitting in once a month, either with Ryan or Boris.  You’ll hear not only me, but also radio veterans Anni Katz of Humble Beagle, Laura McCandlish of Corvallis food writing and radio fame, occasionally Brian Hebb of Red Agave, and possibly Leslie Hildreth of KLCC, who will be mainly focusing on produced pieces.  I’m the radio neophyte in this group, so you’re welcome to laugh at what will certainly be a series of flubs.  Everyone else is already a pro.  I’m particularly impressed that Anni and Brian are willing to donate their time, both being extremely busy restaurateurs and parents.  With so many of us participating, you’ll be sure to hear a wide range of perspectives on wining and dining in Oregon and beyond.

The radio program is on our local NPR affiliate, 89.7 FM, and is aired on Sundays from noon to 1 p.m.  I’ll be headed over to the station today to shadow Boris and Ryan and learn the trade, so maybe you’ll hear me scuttling around this afternoon, too.

And if you haven’t voted yet, please vote for my blog as Best Blog in Eugene in the annual Eugene Weekly reader poll.  Let’s make it two years running!  If you like KLCC’s Food for Thought, vote for us, too!  We could use the support during this transition, and we love bringing you local food coverage.  The station, unlike my blog, needs to cater to its audience, so letting them know you support this local program means much more than just good feelings — it allows us to continue with the show.

As I mentioned last week, to vote, you’ll need to register for free but they won’t sell your email to advertisers.  Vote in at least 10 categories for your ballot to count.  Thank you so much!

Even if you choose not to vote, I’d love to hear from you in comments here or on Facebook (Culinaria Eugenius is here, FFT on KLCC is here) or by calling in to the show at 1-800-922-3682 or 541-463-KLCC.  Do you like what we’re doing at Culinaria Eugenius or KLCC’s Food for Thought or do you have a question that might be of interest to other readers/listeners?  Interactivity is great and brings more breadth to the forum, so fire away!

hot child in the city: time for rosé

Let’s celebrate this week of hot days by thinking about how creepy this song about child prostitution is drinking pink.  In a drunken frenzy, I somehow ended up with a mixed case of rosés after the recent Think Pink rosé party at Provisions.  If I remember correctly, there were 37 or so bottles for tasting, so I must have thought I was getting off light.

My goal was to buy rosés that were worth sipping on their own: very dry, cherry/strawberry/candy with flowers on the nose, enough acid and body to bring a party to my mouth, and some garish color that would alarm friends used to drinking summer whites.

This is what I ended up with.  A difficult choice, really, and I don’t necessarily recommend these wines over others.  You just need to go for dry.  There was an Argyle sparkling rosé, for example, that was a bit out of my price range but would have been mine in a red hot child in the city second if I had had the means.  And yes, more Bandol goes without saying.  And Chateau Trinquevedel Tavel.  Secco is a good bet for those effervescent youngsters without much cash.  Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup.  Domaine Sorin.  And anything in those ridiculous giant bottles that Ryan insists on brandishing about, taunting us pauvres.

Each of these wines from 2010 are quite different, and almost all are under $20, some significantly so. They were all at Provisions a couple of weeks ago, but I can’t make any promises now.

Front to back:

  • Gurru Txaga Txakoli Rosé, Bizkaiko.  A Basque wine, it sounds like you’re choking to say it, but smells and tastes faintly of strawberry candy and the sea, without sweetness.  Slightly fizzy.  Drink from a porrón.
  • La Galantin Bandol Rosé. Anything from Provence that’s pink is ok by me, but this is a relatively affordable, lovely Bandol with intense apricot and raspberry flavors.
  • Zull Rosé, Lust & Laune, Niederösterreich.  As Ryan said on last week’s Food for Thought on KLCC, the label looks like a Target house brand.  He also said:

Austere and minerally with a taut, nerve energy, yet somehow so dense with ethereal red berry essence that it comes off as concentrated. One of the most fascinating, compelling and delicious pink wines of the vintage.

In other words, quite nice and it has a screw top.  Take camping.  I did.

  • Le Cirque Rosé, Pays des Côtes Catalanes. Weird, weird, weird.  Slightly viscous mouthfeel.  Sour cherry and limestone. “A proven perfect match for roquefort and olives,” says the wine guy, and who are we to argue?
  • Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rosé, Pfalz.  I took a taste and thought “Riesling?”  And sure enough, Dr. Loosen’s hand was in the manufacture of this wine — he owns this in addition to his properties in Mosel.  Slightly less dry than the others I chose, it has enough acid and clay to carry it off like a pro.  Raspberry jam.
  • Spangler Vineyards Southern Oregon Rosé.  Huh?  A man of genius makes no mistakes; this wine is a portal of discovery to the land of bone-dry sweet-tarts with a caper back and acid up the wazoo.  Please, Sir, may I have another?

Which rosés would you recommend?

culinaria eugenius at steens mountain

Every time I start to get a little unappreciative of Oregon, a little run down and tired, it tries harder to cheer me up.  That’s a good partnership.  Exhibit A: this gorgeous late summer in Eugene.  Exhibit B: my recent camping trip to the Steens Mountain area in the southeastern high desert.

Yeah, this place:

Hidden away in the remote high desert, Steens Mountain was cut into the land by glacial activity millions of years ago, and they’ve basically (in my imagination, at least) stayed the same since.  You can actually see the path of the glacier as it ground its way through the rock near Kiger Notch (first photo above).  There’s a world class bird refuge, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, just north of the mountains and Alvord playa, the ancient lake bed you see in the second photo almost miraculously filled with water after a freak thunderstorm. The third photo is Borax Hot Springs, and last photo is a Civilian Conservation Corps-built stone cabin in the middle of Malheur, graced by what I believe were olive trees, surely non-native.

Hot springs galore, including this full service one called Crystal Crane Hot Springs (in which I am floating above), where we stayed overnight, and Alvord hot springs near the playa, where I shared a soak with my friend Gregor Samsa in a primitive wood basin lined with tin (three photos below).

The wild and dangerous Borax Hot Springs, with a series of hot springs bubbling up along a fault, was in a class of its own.  At the turn of the twentieth century, Chinese laborers were employed to mine sodium borate from the mineral rich ground, distilling out borax, the washing powder of old, in giant vats so it could be taken by mules over to Winnemucca, NV.  Luckily, Borax Lake, which is barely visible in the photo of the rusting vat below, has a singular, endemic population of little minnows called Borax Lake chub (Gila boraxobius), so the Nature Conservancy bought the property in the ’90s to protect it.


Walking on a hot August day and checking out the rusting vats and the pools, some of which had full spinal cords of unhappy small animals who got too close, made me shudder to think of the men working out there all day in primitive conditions to mine laundry detergent.  O America.

The Alvord playa/mud flats were mesmerizing.  My husband, after de-trenching our rental SUV from sinking in about 2 feet into a soft spot just off the ill-defined sand road, took a 7-mile jog in the heat of the day.  I poked about, watching birds and strolling along the shrinking water’s edge, taking photographs of mud patterns.

But you’re wondering about the food, aren’t you?

An easy two day trip from Eugene, we managed to dine well in Bend on the way, including this rather jaw dropping beet and pistachio salad over pistachio butter at 900 Wall for lunch.  It was so good, we even pondered staying overnight just so we could eat dinner there.

Well-stocked at a produce stand in Sisters, we had to rough it for 5 nights, eating grilled vegetables with everything, including this breakfast of radicchio, fried egg, and thick-cut bacon.

Poor us!  Last year’s tomato sauce came in handy for dinners of spaghetti and couscous stew over quinoa, and we used lamb, pork, and chicken sausages as flavoring, just to make sure we didn’t expire of lack of deliciousness.  As usual, I had to show off my rather mad marshmallow roasting skills to all present, and Retrogrouch outdid himself by not only improving the s’more with salt caramel chocolate bars, but also innovating marshmallow technology.  If you roast the remains of your marshmallow left on your stick after eating it, THEN add another raw marshmallow, you, friend, will have a nugget of caramelized delight WITHIN your toasty treat.

Best of all, we even got to eat out during the wilderness sojourn.  We lucked out at Fields Station, a store/gas station/café in the small hamlet of Fields, down the road a spell from the Alvord playa. Best hamburgers and shakes around!  Then again, they were the only hamburgers and shakes around.  But I’d classify them as best of show in even a city with lots of burger joints.  Dee-lish.

We had a few casualties, including three flat tires between the two cars we and our friends were driving on the washboard roads (necessitating the 120-mile round trip back to Burns to fix them!) but we managed to dodge a thunderstorm, being stuck in mud, and about ten million mosquitoes (having been bitten by only about 2 million). We didn’t get to see wild horses, but we were waylayed by cattle and horses in the road (the latter with a cowboy, so that was worth it), American white pelicans, black-necked stilts, yellow headed blackbirds, and golden eagles.  We saw marmots, coyotes, and snakes. I saved the lives of two fledgling sparrows in my spare time, too.  No internet or phone for me for a week; 3 G for my iPhone-bearing colleagues.  Not bad for a little state in the PNW.  Not bad at all.

much needed break

We’re taking a little summer vacay here at Culinaria Eugenius, and stepping away from the internet for a week.  Have fun without me!

Even better, take some time while I’m gone to vote on all the things you love about Eugene in the annual Eugene Weekly “Best of Eugene” voter poll.  CE won “Best Blog” in 2010, and it would be my honor to reign supreme again in 2011, so I’d appreciate it if you’d show me love if you love the coverage of local and seasonal food, preservation, and local food news and events, with some travel thrown in for good measure.  And jokes…oh lord, the jokes…

The link to vote is here.  To prevent cheating (which was a problem in past years), you’ll have to enter your name and email address, then they send you the survey link.  They won’t use your name for advertising, and it’s free, so don’t worry about that.  But do vote in 10 categories, or else your vote won’t count.

Thanks, and see you soon.

lane county fair 2011 photo album

I took a bunch of shots of the preservation judging, grange exhibits, rides, and some livestock.  Check it out on the Facebook.  OK, I’ll admit I’m still a little obsessed with the Zipper, the scariest, most dangerous carnival ride ever, then or now.

Absolutely gorgeous week here in Eugene for fair-going, too!

lane county fair 2011 opens today!

EDITED TO ADD: See my 2011 photo album on Facebook!

I really love the county fair, with its creepy carnival rides, heart-attack food, and exhibits of animals and food products.  I’ll be there today with the Master Food Preservers and other Extension groups ready to talk about food safety and preservation to anyone in hearing range.  My shift is 12-2 p.m.  Come say hi!  It’s over at the, duh, Fairgrounds at 13th and Jefferson/Friendly/Jackson.

Some of my MFP colleagues are judges in the food-in-jars competition, and that’s always fun, too.  New canners should definitely stop by to see some of these gorgeous pickles and crystal clear jellies and broths.  I always get good ideas from the preserved products I see.

How will the elimination of 4-H from our county affect the animal show this year and in subsequent years?  I know that Lane County program directors and teachers have been traveling long distances to other counties to continue their work with 4-H kids, and I’d imagine the kids have been displaced, too.  Will they continue to show up at our fair?

By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the preservation techniques you’ll see at the fair, check out our Master Food Preserver Alliance Facebook page for more information about classes.  I think there are still spaces left in the tomato canning and meat canning classes.  (MFP tomato/salsa class on August 26 and the meat canning class on September 23. $15/class. Call 541-344-4885 for information.)  Tuna are all full, but we’re taking a (rather long) list of interested parties for next year.  Also, more classes to come in fall and spring!