Some nights, you don’t want to dress up for a restaurant or, worse yet, keep wearing that same stiff corporate outfit for 14 hours straight. But you don’t want to cook, either. You just want to get into your sweats and veg out — no more striving, no more driving. But, after a nightmare workday, when you’re too tired to eat out or cook, alternatives, such as frozen dinners, tend to be especially limited and dispiriting. (Women do get weary/ Of eating that same old Lean Cuisine…) Sometimes we want the Really Good Food Fairy to show up at the door, bringing bounty — preferably bounty we can afford. Two years ago, searching for that elusive mid-ground between restaurant meals and frozen supermarket slop, I checked out a couple of local home-meal delivery services run by caterers. The food, delivered frozen (with soggy veggies when reheated), proved more healthy than tasty — and pricey, too, up to $25 for a dinner for one, with sizeable minimum orders required. The search continued.
So, I was excited to discover that a distinguished chef, David Abella (former chef de cuisine at Roy’s La Jolla), has opened a home-delivery meal service called ATE Comfort Cuisine. He cooks one dish per evening from a menu that changes nightly (some heartland American food, and some gentle Asian fusion) and sells them for a mere $10 per portion, including tip and delivery. “I thought this would be something really useful for working women, single mothers, college students…” he told me. (Add to that target group busy seniors and recession-battered Baby Boomers who’ve realized they can’t afford retirement after all.)
It’s a one-man operation. David cooks the meals during the day and delivers them himself during dinner hours — he doesn’t have a fleet of delivery trucks (yet). Hence, the limited delivery area (see boilerplate).
I sweet-talked him into a one-time delivery to my benighted neighborhood. David’s dish of the day was “Tuscan white bean chicken cassoulet.” I was initially put off by the title “cassoulet” (the French version is made with goose or duck, not lowly chicken), but at first bite I said, “OMG, wow!” and by the third bite, almost in tears, I said, “Oh, this is so good!” Comfort food? Yes, literally! I felt as if I was eating a meal cooked, well, not by my mom but by somebody else’s sainted Italian grandmamma.
It’s not hyperbole to say this was the best chicken dish I can remember eating in years, and one of the most savory entrées of any sort I’ve tasted in months. It was a true one-dish meal, with those healthy and delicious Italian white beans, shreds of greens, slightly spicy, zingy tomato sauce, onions, a few carrot chunks, a few slices of sausage (Spanish chorizo, probably), and a scattering of whole garlic cloves, grown sweet with the braising. The chicken itself — five substantial, tender, skin-on pieces — included a dainty drumstick, a thigh, two meaty wings, and a hunk of breast. To my appetite (I’m obviously well past the ravenous teen years), that’s an ample dinner for two. I hadn’t asked David why he left Roy’s, but I suspect the answer lies in his beautiful young son, whom he brought with him on this delivery. (Chefs like to see their offspring sometime before the kids grow up and leave home, and I know several who’ve departed large, high-pressure eateries like Roy’s for this reason.)
Other items that rotate through the menu include barbecued baby-back ribs with macaroni salad (or, in a Texas-style BBQ, with potato salad); Bolognese meat sauce with garlic bread; Mom’s Style meat loaf with shiitake mushroom gravy (shiitakes? hey, not my mom’s); panko-crusted chicken katsu; grilled marinated skirt steak with potatoes and veggies; chicken adobo with glass noodles; Chinese salt-and-pepper chicken with stir-fried Asian veggies and steamed rice; mac ’n’ cheese with baby greens; Asian baby-back ribs with Vietnamese noodle salad; and roast pork with curried lentil-vegetable stew. (You’ll find the dated menu on the website, or call to see what’s on for the evening.) You’ve got the option of subscribing to a series of dinners, but you don’t have to — no pressure. Except from me, of course: I want ATE to survive and flourish so that David can develop a delivery fleet that goes even to my neighborhood. As the Bible says: Not by pizza alone…
If you can’t get delivery, maybe you’d like to try cooking some dishes from your favorite local restaurants. Some of the most popular are on our version of Bali Hai, Coronado island, where the streets are cleaner, the sun shines brighter, and you’re so happy to be there that the food tastes better, too.
If so, you’re a potential reader for Top Tables Coronado, Celebrating the Island’s Favorite Restaurants and Recipes (Chefs Press, 111 pages, $14.95; available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, from the publisher, and from restaurants covered). This is the latest book issued by Chefs Press, a new publishing company specializing in cookbooks by San Diego restaurant chefs. Their first was Cicciotti’s Kitchen, a hardcover by the chef of Cicciotti’s Trattoria in Carmel Valley. This autumn, Jeff Rossman of Terra will have a hardbound book out. In between those two is this just-issued volume of Coronado restaurant recipes, a softcover with some 40 dishes ranging from upscale concoctions from the Hotel Del’s several restaurants (including a useful recipe for braised beef cheeks from 1500 Ocean) to simple, easy choices from Chance’s Bistro and Spiro’s Gyros. Other contributors include Bistro d’Asia, Brigantine Seafood, Costa Azul, Island Pasta, Miguel’s Cocina, Peohe’s, Primavera, Vigilucci’s, and Yummy Sushi. (Alas, there are no recipes from Mistral or Candelas.)
I wouldn’t recommend this book for a total cooking beginner, due to editing problems which I’ll detail later. But there’s a lot of admirable work in here that would make this welcome to a moderately skilled cook. I love the fact that Spiro’s Gyros (with probably the best chapter of all) gives a homemade recipe for gyros meat — it’s bound to be better than the mass-made commercial product — along with other lucid, inviting recipes that actually might inspire you to cook. Not only is there a perfect recipe for tzatziki sauce, but the recipe for avgolemono soup is way above average, all fluffy from beaten egg whites. (I am a bit worried about the souvlaki recipe, though, which seems to call for brushing the cooked meat with its raw-meat marinade — a health no-no nowadays. Nine more words would solve this problem: “Pour over meat to coat well; reserve extra marinade.”)