Last summer, when Randy and I went to Portland for my birthday, I obsessed about where to eat. I cross-referenced Chowhound, magazine articles, and advice from friends. I whittled our choices down to five restaurants and chose the winning two based on their menus. I did a good job.
For last weekend’s trip to San Francisco, I didn’t work nearly as hard. I think I was a little overwhelmed by sheer number of choices, seeing as SF is one of the country’s – if not the world’s – great food cities. I think I was also just so thrilled to be having a weekend away that the food (gasp!) wasn’t really my focus. I had some recommendations and would probably have looked into them, but then my monitor died and, well, I was lost without being able to get online. So I called the concierge of our hotel and asked for his help.
Let me just say that soon after I started this blog, I realized that I was not going to be writing restaurant reviews here for a few reasons. One is that I almost always find restaurant meals disappointing. I figured after a few cycles of complaining about how vegetarians get the short end of the stick in restaurants, people would start to snore. I also figured that many of my readers would not live in Seattle and would therefore not really care about the restaurants where I am consistently disappointed. So, I did not take notes on the food I ate in San Francisco and can’t tell you with much precision about what I ate, except for one dish which I decided to recreate.
What I can tell you our dinner meals were wildly different experiences. I can also tell you that I finally have realized that, when it comes to eating out, I would much rather go to the great neighborhood place, rather than the fancy schmancy place. Friday night was at a place called Spruce. The place had a very cool vibe, although they seated us in the back room which, while nice and quiet, was a bit like being in a ship’s stateroom. The food was refined, lovely, and expensive. They brought out main courses out on gorgeous wide extremely shallow bowls, and there was a lot of white plate.
Saturday night, we had tickets to see Beach Blanket Babylon which a friend had recommended. We needed to eat somewhere close by and the concierge sent us to Ideale Restaurant. This was a total neighborhood joint with big personalities and big food. Our portions were easily double the previous night, the prices were half, and everything we ate, we liked.
When we first arrived, we sat at the bar to wait for our table. The bartender brought a dish of pasta out to the woman next to us that looked and smelled divine. It was orecchiette with what looked like a super chunky basil pesto and a flurry of Parmesan cheese. I knew what I was ordering. But it turned out that the chunky pesto was actually broccoli rabe that had been cooked down until almost melted, and the cheese was Pecorino Romano. It was quite delicious but I couldn’t seem to reconcile what my brain was telling me it looked like and what my tastebuds were telling me it tasted like.
So, I decided to make something like it for myself. I looked in three different stores and couldn’t find orecchiette (which is shaped like a little ear) so I just used these giant radiattore I had in the pantry. I chose to add chickpeas because I love them and because I feel like I’ve seen broccoli rabe and chickpeas together in other recipes. I contemplated adding pesto, since that is what I thought I would be tasting, but decided it would overpower the dish. Instead, I just added some fresh basil at the end. The verdict? Quite delicious if I do say so myself. I like my food spicy so I would perhaps up the red pepper next time. If you are not a spice fan, the recipe below will be just fine for you.
Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Chickpeas
Dana Treat Original
I cooked the broccoli rabe down until it was quite soft and almost falling apart, which is what they did at the restaurant. If you would like a little more texture, cook until just tender. In the photo, you will notice some fresh peas which I added because I had some rolling around my produce drawer. I don’t think they added that much so I didn’t include them in the recipe below.
1 tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 large bunch broccoli rabe, ends trimmed and cut into 1 inch long pieces
1 cup vegetable stock
1 lb. short pasta
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional for serving
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Throw in the shallot and garlic and saute until softened, 2-3 minutes, then add the red pepper flakes. Add the broccoli rabe, give it a good stir, then pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook until the broccoli rabe is tender.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente.
Right before the pasta is done, add the chickpeas to the broccoli rabe, followed by the basil and the cheese. Stir well. Using tongs or a spoon, add the pasta directly to the chickpea mixture, tossing well. (Alternatively, you can drain the pasta in a colander and add it from there.) Serve in shallow bowls with additional cheese grated over the top.