Thursday, August 30, 2007

Getting Hooked on HOOK

It took us almost half a year to get to HOOK, Georgetown's newest hot and heaving dining spot overseen by brilliant young chef BARTON SEAVER (ex of Cafe Saint-Ex) ( Hook is definitely worth the visit if you can overcome the whole Georgetown scene, which I personally detest. Parking is a BIG issue and I recommend a 630PM reservation which allow you to pull up right in front at 625pm and obtain the parking permit (there are now parking machines rather than meters here) on M Street for up to 2 hours at 25cents per 15mins or $2.00 for 2 hours. You need only go back outside once during your visit to obtain extra time as fees are required until 10PM!

That said, once inside, my only complaint is the noise levels which rise pretty high once the place is full (that was by 730pm); and I am confident it is full every night! The long narrow restaurant has a bar/high tables at the front with a separate dining room at the rear facing an open kitchen and another room upstairs. The arched ceiling may not help the noise factor, but there is a warm overall feeling to the spot with rough white stucco-like walls dark wood tables (again with those silly gold mats) and very comfy beige leather chairs and banquettes; overall a very modern almost sleek 60's feel due to the light fixtures.

While I am sure many come here for the bar scene or to be seen, we came for the food and left totally satisfied on that account. The menu is simple and highlights fresh FISH starting with sashimi like portions of CRUDO which are $3 each (about 2-3 small bites apiece) or 3 for $8.00. I tried the MACKEREL with Rosemary, Orange Syrup & Chive which was, as expected, an intensely fishy fish. The superb BOQUERONE or ANCHOVIES in Olive Oil and fried Celery Leaf are the simplest and purest, while the WAHOO takes top prize with its HAZELNUT and Lime with coarse Salt creating an almost margarita-like feel to the dressing.

The appetizers are big on fresh salads or combinations thereof with the "signature" (how I hate that term) GRILLED CALAMARI and WARM POTATO SALAD with Basil Walnut PESTO offering up tasty whole pieces of small squids (a bit more pesto would have been welcome) and a heaping portion of the potato salad. A couple of us at the table were underwhelmed by the dish. The GOAT CHEESE STUFFED PEPPERS with Walnuts, Turino Pepper puree and Tomato were called very spice, but really did not pervade more than a couple of seconds on intensity. I think I would have overall preferred just to try all the other crudo options or perhaps one of the interesting (beet) salads.

The wine list overseen by sommelier Francesco is large and varied and gives you many possibilities. We started with a FERRATON GRENACHE BLANC Cotes du Rhone 2005 which exhibited hints of terroir along with acidity from the citrus; a great crudo accompaniment. Next came a wonderful ANSELMI GARGANEGA "San Vincenzo" 2005 from Veneto and our third white was a CORTESE di GAVI 2006 from PIO CESARE (piedmont) which was crisp cold and perfumey. There are so many good whites (and reds too) it is very hard to decide). The bread is also a treat with amazingly fresh TOMATO FOCCACIA and a wonderful Garlic Aioli spread that is neither too thick or creamy, but very tasty and intense. Our second batch of bread was an even better treat with the excellent tomatoes saying goodbye and the Foccacia coming with FRESH ANCHOVIES on top!

As I said, FISH is the word here and the entrees all excelled in the quality and preparation. We listened to our server David and to Chef Barton and ordered four wonderful dishes. The least exciting (tastewise, although the fish was superb) was the MAHI-MAHI with Risotto (which was also excellent). All the other three dishes exhibited much more excitement on the palate from the POLLOCK with CORN-BACON-CHORIZO Stew and Smoky Potato Chips to the amazing BLUEFISH with POTATO-ZUCCHINI Cake and that same yummy BASIL WALNUT Pesto. I think the top hit was my CORN CRUSTED TAUTOG(a sea bass also called wreckfish) with a CABBAGE CARROT-HERB Salad and STEWED SHELL BEANS. Every bite of this dish and indeed, most of the others offered up a new mouthful of pleasure.

We switched to an amazing red wine made by a friend of Francesco's named Elisabetta for FORADORI wines. It was a 2002 TEROLDEGO ROTALIANO that was like drinking a Barbera with a bite. The wine is medium bodied and at an amazing $18 on the menu is a STEAL! It goes great with most fish, especially the involved preparations we had (although perhaps not as well with the lighter Mahi-Mahi).

You can't skip dessert when HEATHER CHITTUM is the pastry chef and there are some new winners here. While the BROWN BUTTER ALMOND CAKE with Black Raspberry Creme Fraiche Sorbet works together, on its own the cake lacks enough moisture. The CHOCOLATE PUDDING PIE with Bitter Chocolate Sauce and Chantilly is great for chocoholics who like PUDDING as that is really what is it. The PEACH CROSTATA with VANILLA Ice Cream and Blackberry Coulis is very sweet, but a good fruit option, while my LINGONBERRY LINZERTORTE will go down in history as one of the top desserts around; indeed I told Heather herself it should be on the National Preservation List! The wonderful torte with its beautiful lattice is accompanied by TALEGGIO CHEESE Ice Cream (with a Port Wine Reduction) that makes the dish the winner it is. The cheese along with the fruit and excellent pastry creates a combination worth of any top prize! What a great way to go home after such a superb seafood celebration!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

more dining delights at DINO

As always, we can never seem to stop raving about DINO's on Connecticut Ave. opposite the Uptown Theater. This week we went with friends and their two 4-years olds as well as Samuel as Dino's always has a good pasta dish for kids (amongst others). The kids wolfed down the tasty bread (I love to dip mine in a mix of the olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper and parmesan that i make at the table) and then completely vacuumed up the SPAGHETTI & MEATBALLS. Their GELATO portions for dessert similarly underwent the disappearing act!

Check out Dino's website ( as there are many offers in August and some that continue into September. We took advantage of free corkage on certain days and brought three Virginia wines: BREAUX Viognier 2002, FABBIOLI CELLARS Fratelli 2005 Red and a superb BREAUX 2001 NEBBIOLO.

This week Dino's offers a $30.06 three course "Restaurant Week" special and you can get plenty to eat. I started with the FIORI di ZUCCA or Zucchini Flowers panko crusted and deep fried and stuffed with smoked mozzarella on a bed of tomato coulis and pesto. It was a wonderful remembrance of our recent trip to Italy. The BEET SALAD Special with ROBIOLA Cheese, Heirloom Tomatoes and Greens is a good size and excellent choice for weight watchers.

Entrees included my tasty ARTIC CHAR over Sauteed greens with a CORN & MUSHROOM Nage that was not too rich, but slightly creamy for taste and depth. Heavier dishes are available for those seeking more depth such as the intense LASAGNETTE al RAGU which is a pork & veal ragu lasagna with a rich cheese fonduta and crispy bacon as well. Similarly GRAMIGNA con AGNELLO (Lamb Pasta) is another hearty, but not as rich, dish with those fab heirloom cherry tomatoes again.

For desserts the TIRAMISU got good marks, while I kept simple with two cheeses: GUFFANTI PECORINO Foglie di Noce-a nutty sheep from Tuscany and UBRIACO PROSECCO VENETO aged in walnut leaves with prosecco infusion (hence the name "ubriaco" meaning "drunk"). Both were perfect, slightly hard and with great depth. Served with candied walnuts, some fresh berries, a compote and some fruit bread--it's a great small cheese dessert which can be enlarged should you wish more choices.

It seems that new chef STEFAN BOILLON is off to a good start.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

be sure to try TOWN HALL in the 'hood

Ever since Will left SAVEUR as their PR person years ago and the place closed subsequently, we were a bit sad. Last night, after almost two years in business, we took SAMUEL to TOWN HALL ( at 2218 Wisconsin Ave, NW (in upper Geo'town) to find a pleasant and wonderful neighborhood replacement.

Named for the "town" in Georgetown as well as the neighborhood feel, and the "hall" in Hall Place (the neighboring surrounding street) one has a warm feel and neighborly charm with a bit of sport's bar thrown in. While the two flat screen TV's over the bar were quiet yesterday, you might prefer the back room for quieter dining on a busy bar night. The decor is almost more clubby with leather chairs and darker woods and banquettes. Perhaps only the B&W photos on the wall need improvement as they as so small, they can really not be seen from the tables. Add to this a Tuesday night 1/2 wine price policy and a Wednesday night 15% discount for those from the "neighborhood" (loosely defined, but I would think at least the same zip code (20007) would be a minimum requirement) and you really do have an attempt to bring in the locals.

Chef Paul MADRID has put together a varied menu of starters, salads, sandwiches and entrees giving everyone a wide choice. Samuel, of course, chose the SPAGHETTI with TOMATO Sauce which he gobbled up after the requisite Parmesan cheese was provided. We all adored the tasty OLIVE PESTO TAPENADE which comes with Baked Pita Chips instead of bread.

Ah. how nice not to have to pay 1 to 3 Euros for awful bread as a cover charge and to enjoy the bread or alternate as well!

We ordered a refreshing bottle of dry and crisp REGALEALI ROSE 2005 from Sicily. Will and I shared appetizers: GUACAMOLE & TUNA TARTARE with tasty WONTON CHIPS and SOY GINGER DRIZZLES which was also refreshing and while not novel, a hearty and tasty portion. The SPICY JERK BARBECUE "Alcides" WINGS with Mayo Ranch Dipping Sauce are named for one of the guys in the kitchen who came up with the bbq/jerk combo which is not too spicy but packs a nice quick spicy bite that does not linger too long. You will need a fresh napkin (luckily Will had Sam's wet wipes!) after you lick off the sauce from your fingers--it's YUMMY! The wings are meaty and there were about 10 pieces making for a large portion as well.

If you are in the mood for a tasty huge juicy burger, this is a great place to do the $10 BLACK ANGUS 8 ounce BURGER with any toppings you like. Will chose the CHEDDAR CHEESE, MUSHROOMS and BACON and got a huge burger piled high with tasty toppings and a huge plate of fries which were good and tasty, but I have had better. A glass of GNARLY HEAD ZIN from Lodi is a good burger pairing, but not a remarkable Red Zinfandel.

My entree was also a large portion and a truly wonderful combination of flavors and tastes: CORIANDER & BLACK PEPPER Crusted AHI TUNA came in a "bath" of PINEAPPLE RUM GASTRIQUE which was a nice foil of a sauce for the mild pepper on the tuna (I actually added a bit of ground pepper to the beautifully rare slices--that was exactly how I ordered them!). On the side was a COCONUT RISOTTO which was tasty and not really sweet; it reminded me of Asian sticky rice with coconut (perhaps sticky rice would be a good option to pair as well?) topped with Sauteed Spinach.

As you can imagine from the portion sizes we were too full for dessert, and we are really trying to watch our weight after the trip anyway! Believe it or not, at home it's salads and grilled meats, fish and veggies only! Sam gobbled up a scoop of Haagen Dazs Strawberry and we headed home very happy and feeling very welcome in a new (well, for us) neighborhood spot!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Viridian veers to victory with new chef Michael Hartzer

We are back in DC and up and running and had a superb first night out since our return from Europe last week. We had heard that Chef Michael Hartzer previously of Ray's the Classics, Citronelle and the Inn at Palmetto Bluff (in SC) had recently taken over at Viridian ( on 14th Street at P (next to Studio Theater) and we needed to catch up with him and the restaurant as well. Still very white and clean with varying displays of gallery artwork, it gives one a very crisp feel to dine there. Although, the video display now running (over and over and over) above the bar of a house demolition is hardly art to me.

That said Viridian has some great specials on wine on Sundays (ignore the website where it says Sundays & Mondays) as well as discounts for folks in the local zip codes as well on certain nights, not to mention a 3 course prix fixe from 530-7pm. Ask in advance for days and times as they seem to fluctuate.

We started with a Sardinian FUNTANALIRAS VERMENTINO di GALLURA 2005 that was tart and refreshing and a nice pairing with some of the slightly spicy starters.
A brilliant amuse in a champagne glass was GAZPACHO of HONEYDEW with Cucumber, Arugola, Creme Fraiche and Tabasco for a bite. We were ready to go on to more exciting palate pleasers: The SCALLOP ROMESCO is a huge hit with SPICY PEPPER PUREE, thrilling SHERRIED HZAELNUTS (that add wonderful crunch) & Burnt Scallions. The huge "PHO" (play on the Vietnamese style) CHICKEN SALAD is a slow poached chicken with WATERCRESS, SPROUTS, RADISH in a LIME CILANTRO Dressing that is a tru "pho" save for the lack of noodles. This salad could easily be a lunch-size entree, but we gobbled it up with no avail.

The TARTARE DUET has a cylinder of TUNA with Ginger, Tobiko & Cucumber and its partner the BEEF has TARRAGON MUSTARD SAUCE and a boiled Quail Egg served with pita-type crackers and flatbreads that are yummy too. The tartare can be requested as ONLY tuna or ONLY beef as well.

Having just returned from Italy it is hard to ignore the deconstructed WARM CAPRESE TART which has superb tomatoes, ricotta, bufala mozzarella over sauteed RAPINI with Chili Flakes for that slight punch. We were all thrilled that Chef Hartzer is not afraid of spice and uses it so well.

We moved on to a MONTIRIUS VACQUEYRAS 2004 with low tannins and minimum chalk making this an excellent medium to full bodied red. Incidentally, there are many excellent wines in the higher 20$ to mid-$40 range, but the $50-$60 options offer some real treats. We had a COOPER-GARROD FINLEY 2002 California SYRAH that would work with any full bodied dish (meat or fish) which is what Viridian offers; there are also two vegetarian entrees which make a nice treat for you non-meat & fish eaters!

I must also mention the side dishes which are a treat in themselves and not to be missed: CARAMELIZED SALSIFY with COGNAC GLAZE is enough to excite me just in name, but if you try it, you may never eat vegetables another way again! The SAUTEED WILD MUSHROOMS with MANCHEGO CHEESE & Smoked Paprika is also excellent, but unquestionably the biggest hit was the CLASSIC GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE made with French Haricots Verts and baked over with a creamy sauce (remember those cans of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup your mom used!), Brandy and topped with BUTTERMILK FRIED SHALLOTS, a true treat and BIG improvement over the Durkee Canned Fried Onion Rings!

The entree portions are large, satisfying and oh so tasty: RARE Rack of VENISON is grilled on the Chop with a GIN & JUNIPER VERMOUTH Jus (ala martini) and served with ALMOND, TARRAGON, Shaved FENNEL & Orange Salad. The STRIPED BASS has CELERY and SMOKED Crunchy BACON with a slightly spicy LUMP CRAB ARABIATA, Celery Root Coulis and Crispy Capers making it a wonderful combinations of flavors and textures. The SNAPPER is beautifully prepared as a skin-on fillet with
a STIR FRY of OYSTER & BEECH MUSHROOMS, "Thai" peanut, SPROUTS, COCONUT MILK and JALAPENO Coriander Puree all reminiscent of Chef Hartzer's take on "pad thai" but again without the noodles.

While I might avoid the sorbets at dessert the ITALIAN CITRUS CAKE with Orange Cream and Fresh Oranges is a novel and exciting treat; not too sweet or cloying, yet refreshing and quite different. The BLACKBERRY CRUMBLE will be shortly renamed as it is more of a trifle than a crumble, rich with whipped MAPLE CREAM, Vanilla Ice Cream and Fresh BLACKBERRIES, it is nonetheless tasty. The PEACH & CHEVRE TART is a Chevre based cheesecake with delicious grilled & glazed peaches and BASIL Anglaise, making it, too, another novel and tasty dessert. Viridian rings up a victory for all of us! and we can't forget the excellent service we received from MARY!

I forgot to mention the focaccia comes with yummy olive butter and a roasted potato and garlic puree.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Venice-vying for your Euros but not so much at VINI da GIGIO

Venice is renowned for being a VERY EXPENSIVE location to eat, shop, live or breathe these days, so it's nice to find some deals around. The first night we hit a famous "family" spot called VINI da GIGO just behind the San Felice Church (seconds from the Ca d'Oro) which is a true local experience, especially when it comes to seafood. The local drink reminiscent of Campari is APIRIL served with a spritz and works fine on a hot summer night to refresh the palate. The ANTIPASTO MISTO SPECIALITA VENEZIANE offers up some spider crab (watch for shells), White Polenta(they don't use yellow here), a Fried FISH BALL made from creamy MONKFISH, yummy SARDINES and ONIONS, a small size scallop however served with its rare and SUPER-TASTY CORAL, and SMALL local SHRIMP on POLENTA with a drizzle of balsamic (Will's favorite). BIGOLI in SALSA is a local pasta specialty that is served everywhere and offers larger than spaghetti pasta served with an intense and tasty sauce made from anchovy & onion, however, it is a pure sauce and there are no whole bits of either ingredients found therein.

A SOAVE CLASSICO CALVARINO 2004 from Pieropan started us offer using the wonderful local Veneto region wine and we moved on to super aromatic COLLIO BIANCO from Friuli region 1999/2001 mixed vintages from La Castellana winery that had the oddest hint of coconut milk (which we all liked!). Our final wine was a light red--the regional SCHIOPPETTINO Riserva 2993 from ANTICO BROILO in Fruili as well. It was a great match for my SEPPIE ALLA VENEZIANA another very local dish of SQUID served in a rich squid ink sauce over White Polenta. Everyone else loved their fish dishes as the were so fresh and simply prepared.

Desserts were quite good as well with a CREMA CATALANA that is akin to Creme Brulee but may be the best we have ever found anywhere?? A simple LIMONCELLO chiffonade drink was nice, but hardly filling while the BERRY TART with CREME ANGLAISE made me happy, and others adored the SEMIFREDDO of CHOCOLATE with Berry Sauce and Hazelnut!!

Super kudos to our warm and welcoming waitress who was a dream and anticipated our every need.

Monday, August 13, 2007

living for life and love of food at LINEA d'OMBREA in Venice

Our final grand dining night in Venice was still a day away from departure, but our last dinner was a family one with Samuel and not worth mentioning. With our dearest friends, Mel & Juan, we headed to LINEA d'OMBRA ( in Dorsoduro with a gorgeous view over the lagoon and yachts at harbor. We had made this final one month vacation farewell dinner through our friend Fabrizio Aielli in Washington who hails from Venice and as we discovered was born just meters away on the island of Giudecca. We are grateful to him, his friend, Marco and maitre d' Alberto who all made our evening an even more special treat. Getting to Linea d"ombrea is much harder than it should be depending on the time ofv year. It is only a stone's throw from Piazza San Marco, but it is right across the Grand Canal, which has no bridges at all except a 15 minute walk back up the canal (making for an over 35 min. walk). We had hoped to take the Traghetto, which is a gondola service that operates across the canal at various points where there are no bridges, like a ferry. We walked to the Traghetto station and a real rude guy told us the traghetti stop at 2pm! I tried to ask why, but he kept cutting me off. He and a gondolier finally said that if we wanted to get across we could pay 100Euros ($140) for the 2 minute crossing on a gondola! We proceeded to the vaporetto (water bus) stop and took it one stop across the canal for 6 Euros($8.40) per person...or a total of $34 for the four f us for a 2 minute ride! Someone needs to rethink the prices when
folks are only going one stop!

We arrived within minutes walking to the restaurant and immediately were warmly greeted by Alberto and all the staff for a very wonderful "last supper."

We wanted a prosecco, but had been disappointed with many we had tasted recently, so Alberto brought out a Spumante from CA' RUGANTE called "FULVIO BEO" from the Veneto region that was so amazingly like a French yeasty champagne with which we were all in love. Sadly, this wine is not available on the market and virtually ALL of the minimal production makes it to this restaurant!

It was impossible to decide on what to eat, so we decided to share a number of appetizers (antipasti), shar pastas(primi piatti) and then proceed with our entree (secondi). The first to arrive were plates of excellent quality raw seafood from the nearby Adriatic. Alberto insisted that Venice created the idea of raw seafood or sashimi style, not Japan; we did not argue. On the plate were branzino (sea bass), bluefin tuna, swordfish (which I had never had raw before and adored), scallop tartare and two types of prawns: the local Ciannocca (called Panocchia elsewhere in Italy) which was bizarre as we could not seem to separate it from its shell, and the much easier to nhandle scampi. With this came a plate called "grilled chrome" as it was prepared on the very hot chrome grill and included Scampi, Baby cuttlefish, scallops and a cream of celery to cut the burn on the grilling. These were all served with an amazing SANCIN MALVASIA 2005 from Friuli that was super-aromatic and almost creamy yet soft and perfect with the raw fish.

Next came the house specialty (it has even been written up in the NY Times): a MILLEFEUILLE of SCAMPI and ONIONS "Saor" Style with Green APPLE & Raisins. This has a somewhat sweet and sour antithesis going for it, but in the sense of what we call Chinese "sweet & sour sauce." We all agreed the dish was one of the most interesting combinations of ingredients and one of the best dishes we EVER had anywhere. Alberto asked if he could pair it with a rare wine called BUCCIATO made from the Garganega grape. We said "sure" and were blown away by the CA' RUGATE 2004 from VENETO that may have been the best pairing of wine and food in existence. There is an apple essence in the wine, but the food not only mimics this it complements it with the sweet onion and raisin elements.

Next came the pasta courses which were also sublime. We chose our favorite named pasta, STREZZAPRETI ("strangled priest") with SCAMPIU, PINE-NUTS & BASIL while Mel & Juan Chose the TAGLIONE with SICILIAN RED SHRIMP, Lemon Skin and Mint. For wine, Alberto suggested we try an amazing magnum of BENANTI Bianco Superiore from PIETRA MASINA 2003 at 400 meters up the slopes up Mt. Etna in Sicily. The grape was mostly Carricante and it really had an amazing mineral nose and taste, a true wine of terroir that reminded us of our wonderful days in Sicily earlier on the cruise and really just brought everything on this vacation full circle. It's really odd, but I am starting to choke up just writing this; the entire experience was so awesome.

Our entrees were less varied since three of us opted for the FILET OF SWORDFISH with e Reduction of COINTREAU and Fresh FIGS and WILD PEACHES. This was a perfect summer fish dream dish come true, and again the wine pairing was perfect. teh BITES OF SAUTEED TUNA with AUBERGINES(actually Melanzane Affungetto-eggplant) and Puree of CELERIAC was also quite excellent.

We could not even think of leaving without trying desserts, and we were happy we did. The TIRAMISU got rvaves and came with gelato to boot, while my CHEESECAKE with Chocolate was no less entrancing. Dessert wine came in the form of MUEGGEN Moscato Passo di "Pantelleria" 2002 from Salvatore Murau in Sicily--again closing our recent new love of the island, and also finding a new dessert wine we must try again.

I have one more report from Perugia..but that must wait until my return home as I am now in Munich Airport with Samuel and we board for DC soon!


Saturday, August 11, 2007

a lucious lakeside lunch at LUCIANO in Passignano on Lago di Trasimento

We had a relatively quiet day today as we checked out of our luxury hotel (The Brufani Palace) in Perugia after a yummy buffet breakfast (all those tasty dried meats and cheeses and pates and pastries!) and decided to take it easy. We headed for LAGO TRASIMENO a huge lake in the center of Italy in Umbria (but very close to Tuscany) and opted to lunch at LUCIANO which is in the tiny town of Passignano on the north shore of the lake. It faces the lake and has a wonderful local ambience (with many Italians dining there to boot!). Sam had (guess what?) the Penne Pasta with Tomato Sauce while Will opted for the fabulous LINGUINE con TARTUFO (the exquisite black truffles of the region) and I could resist the mini fixed price lunch for 16 Euros which has several options. I started with a BRUSCHETTA of Local LAKE FISH which was a tasty perch rich with olive oil and seasonings. The entree was a LINGUINE with Local Fish as well and was a superb blend of tasty seasonings. Gelato was around the corner at the usual 1,50Euro per cup with two flavors for each of us...and we keep trying new ones. Today the hit was White Chocolate, while Same kept to Strawberry, but this time adding our new favroite sorbetto LIMONCELLO.

Palazzo Terranova (Umbria, Italy) takes a prize for mountain diningand LUXURY!

While we returned from our month in Europe earlier this week, I still have on amazing report to give. This very special place can only accommodate overnight guests as the road to the palace at the top of a mountain (well, big hill at 500 meters=over 1500 feet) is long, dirt, and one lane! So you must contact me to book the hotel for you overnight and have the amazing opportunity to visit and dine at PALAZZO TERRANOVA.

Restored to its original 18th century splendor less than a decade ago this magnificent villa sits atop the Apennine foothills on the Tuscan border of Umbria. The closest cities in Tuscany are medieval Cortona & Arezzo to the west and in Umbria to the east are Perugia(only 45 minutes away) and Gubbio. The closest small towns are Morra and Ronti with Citta di Castello 20+ minutes east. If you are in central Italy this luxurious palazzo is a destination not to be missed for its beauty and views atop the mountains, but also for its fine food and excellent service. There are only 10 rooms, yet the hotel offers an infinity pool, gym, spa services and even babysitting amongst many other amenities nearby (horseback riding,golf, tennis). Each beautiful room is named after an opera and quite beautifully appointed down to the wonderful Bulgari soaps!

The dining room, as I said, is open for lunch and dinner for hotel guests only (breakfast is included and is served in the breakfast room or on the terrace--we enjoyed ours as the morning fog rolled in below us and the sun shone above; we felt as if we were in heaven!) and is simple but has an antique feel with candelabra, huge fireplace, large tables and chairs. The night we stayed the hotel was almost full, yet only 5 tables were used accommodating four couples and a family of 6. As we went down to supper just before 8pm, we sat on the magnificent terrace to catch the setting sun's rays sipping Campari & Tonic with the local snacks of Umbrian PECORINA and honey (to dip it in) with fresh local ALMONDS.

We moved inside, and as always, not pacing ourselves ordered antipasti, primi and secondi. As we saw the food coming in monstrous portions around us, we quickly called over the maitre d' Giovanni and begged him to cancel one of our secondi (entrees) which we decided then to split.

We ordered a bottle of ROSSO di MONTEFALCO 2004 from CAPRAI having enjoyed this Umbrian red so much the previous days. This particular version has a 70% Sangiovese (the grape of Chianti) mixed with 15% Sagrantino and a 15% blend or Merlot and Cabernet, making it a big bigger than some other Montefalcos. A gorgeous amuse of FIOR di ZUCCHINI FRITTI (fried Zucchini flower in batter) came in a tomato & black olive sauce and was stuffed with a creamy rich and totally decadent MOZZARELLA & ANCHOVY filling. This amuse did give us an idea of what was to come, and we were happy we had chosen red wines and then proceeded to cancel one BIG & FILLING seemed to be on the menu here. When I say "big & filling," I must also add rich and also qualify that this was all top quality local food much of which was actually grown right in the gardens of the palazzo (which even sported several alpacas roaming nearby!).

We had always enjoyed the amazing "burrata" here in DC flown in from Italy to Dino's Restaurant, but we were not ready for the same day fresh and blow your mind BURRATA CON VERDURE GRIGLIATE e PESTO that arrived for both of us. The mozzarella was the finest ever and of course, HUGE as well. The soft center filling was melt in your mouth delish, and the accompanying grilled zucchini, eggplant and veggies were lightly drizzled with a tasty pesto.

Will opted for the TAGLIATELLE all'UOVO con RAGU d'ANATRA which we know and love at home as Homemade egg tagliatelle with duck ragout, and while it was tasty, it needed just a bit more ragout. My SPAGHETTI alla CARBONARA con SALSICCIA d'UMBRIA was heavenly and truly one of the best Carbonaras ever (the other having been the one we tasted on our last night in Rome!) It was sprinkled generously with local Umbrian sausage and wonderful pieces of local bacon. Rich, creamy, and total overload is the only way one can describe this amazing preparation. We asked for a long rest as began to enjoy our second red, a truly magnificent and velvety NOBILE di MONTEPULCIANO (another great wine town that is close by over the Tuscan border) SIMPOSIO 2001 from Angelini. This is a wine to buy and drink now or later as the balanced tannins make it just one of the best red wines around!

We took a long break before our entree arrived, the daily special of STRACCETTI di MANZO al ROSMARIO con CIPOLLE ROSSE di TROPEA, a saute of beef loin strips scented with rosemary and braised in the famous local red onions of Tropea with red wine and a hint of raspberry. The onions were sublime as was the sauce, only the meat suffered a hint from being a bit overcooked and dry; a solution which we should have anticipated and asked for the meat medium rare! I know that we were so full, that we could not even think of dessert, but Will asked for a simple "bite" of chocolate and received a huge plate of fresh chocolate hunks!

Incidentally, I must add that while we were dining downstairs, Samuel was doing the same thing in our room above. After a swim and a bit of relaxing ion the afternoon, the chef came to the room at 6pm to ask what Samuel liked to eat. About an hour later, Giovanni returned with a cart full of treats including the most gorgeous local garden field greens salad loaded with fresh tomatoes and yellow and red peppers (all from their gardens). His entree was a perfectly and simply prepared fillet of fresh fish (we never did find out what kind) over a bed of fresh sauteed French beans (although, these were clearly Italian and local!). He was one very happy camper with his room service and so were we. We all hope to return to PALAZZO TERRANOVA someday and I hope that I can help you ALL get there as well!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bravo to LA BASTIGLIA in the teeny weeny town of Spello near Assisi

One of mour best meals in Italy was had last night as we drive to Spello (30 mins from Perugia and about 10 mins from Assisi) to discover the single Michelin-starred LA BASTIGLIA. We were lucky our car was not too wide, as one has to traverse the town's medieval gate and walls and make way through narrow stone streets to find a grogeous view over the valley from the outdoor terrace of this wonderful spot. Sadly, it had rained part of the day, and the weather was iffy, so we dined inside in an eclectic old-style room with lots of artwork both modern and ancient. The star last night was, however, the food of chef MARCO GUBBROTTI, who incidentally was the first chef in any restaurant we have dined at in Italy to come around and greet the guests after dinner!

We started with a wine from Spello itself the VILLA FIDELDIA blend of Chardonnay and Grachetto (the local white grape of Umbria) 2004 from Sportoletti Winery which was a French style chardonnay with an amazing flavor that works with so many dishes.

The amuse was a four-in-one with a Fresh fig and slice of prok cheek (cured and cooked like bacon) wedged into ir; a wtaermelon jelly with mussel and licorice that was quite tasty and had only a hint of licorice so as not to displease me; a melon & bottarga (Sicilian raisin and dried fish egg) shooter(!!!) that was totally refreshing and tasty; and a Raw Local Salami wrapped in paper thin cucumber. All of these were clear cues that what was to come would be a truly wonderful experience in local Umbrian cuisine. Chef Gubbrotti prides himself on modern cuisine, but uses only the ingredients native to Umbria and Italy to their best possible advantage. Our tasting menu at an amazing 60-something Euros started with TUNA THREE STYLES: Raw tartare served in a cylcinder on apple and vegetables diced so small we could not decipher what they all were with fresh fennel and fennel flower as well for an added burst of taste; SMOKED with PISTACCHIO crust and served with a grated flash frozen BUFALA MOZZARELLA which came out like a fluffy parmesan but with mozzarella taste(an ingenious treatment to a fabulous cheese); STEAMED in a mini-jam jar with EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL. It was hard ti choose which was my favorite since all three were so good, but I think the Smoked with Pistacchio & Mozzarella won first place for taste and ingenuity as well.

Next came PIGEON with a Roasted Breast and a Rare(cooked rare that is) Salami (of Pigeon) formed into a crucifix(!!!) with a salad of cooked mixed cherries. Again the use of fresh spices abounded with spicy mint, rosemary, fennel flower and more.The dish was another coup (although I wish I had a light red for this course).

We moved on to a wonderfully presented TOMATO SOUP with basil and a cylinder pilaf of thinly shaved OCTOPUS and RICE in the middle. The octopus was so tender and the soup was the best tomato (which I am not a big fan of) that I have ever had. The bowl looked like it had been made from Sister Bertrille's nun's hat in the Flying Nun with a big hollow in the center for the soup.

Our red wine was another dreamy local treat from the local organic winery of Paolo BEA, a 2003 MONTEFALCO ROSSO (the bottle was actually numbered due to small production-we got #1996) which here was a blend of 70% Sangiovese,15% Sagrantino and 15% Montepulciano. With this deep intense red we started the heavier courses with a superb ROASTED GOOSE RAVIOLI with a sauce of Celery, Citara Anchovies (very mild from Napoli) and Pantelleria Capers. The entree of ROAST SUCKLING PIG was both a success and a disappointment with a PORCHETTA TERRINE made from the pig, and served on a SWEET PEPPER GATEAU. The roast pig itself was a nice piece but served without anything and abit simple and dry with Raw Vegetable Pinzimonio-a local treatment of crudite served with extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper.

With dessert we were back in the swing with APPLE on "THREE" consisting of ANNURCA APPLE SORBET, TATIN of GOLDEN APPLE and SABLE of WALNUTS with GREEN APPLE. The Sable (shortbread-like) cookie was super with the apple as were both of the other treatments, and a glass of young calvados was graciously added on the side! As if this were not enough, next came a BANANA SORBETTO with Honey and ALCHERMES(?) which was a rich creamy and caramel-like treat. I was told the difference between sorbetto and gelato is the addition of eggs, but this banana sorbetto tasted more like rich gelato to me! Of course, more tasty treats arrived and we gobbled them all up to keep us going for the 30 minute ride back to Perugia in the rain. A refreshing icy ALMON MILK Shooter was a real cleanser, but we returned to rich and creamy with a PANNA COTTA of ROSEMARY & CHOCOLATE. The spongy AMARETTI Cookies were lighter than air and were the best I have ever had. Small FRUIT Biscuits and DARK CHOCOLATES (which Will insisted looked like male sex organs) rounded out the adorable plates. I must say that despite the small piece of dry pork, the entire meal, service and experience wins an A+ from us both.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

prepare for PERUGIA--the center of Italy and heart of her cuisine

We are here in the center of Italy in Perugia for two nights and last night we headed to a small local eatery with Samuel which was simply excelllent (I think probably anything here is like that), La LOCANDA DEGLI ARTISTI is located just outside the Porte Erculano at Via Campo Battaglia 10 and offers both outside and quaint inside seating. As this was the first night in over three weeks abroad that the temperature had dipped below 70, we opted to head inside. Our servers were helpful and friendly. Samuel insisted that his simple (yes, again) Pizza Margherita was the best he had ever had in his whole life. While, I felt that Rome's pizza was better, he is entitled to his own opinion. We started with a bottle of CASTELLO de MAGIONE MONTERONE 2006 GRECHETTO which is as local as you can get here in Umbria (Perugia is the capital) and it was crisp, refreshing and wonderful with the CROSTINI al TARTUFO, which were slices of bread (a bit too hard for me) with a bruschetta topping made from the amazing local black truffles (along with some parsley and garlic). The plate of mixed meats came with local salami, the local prosciutto nad bresaola all of which were spectacular.

Will and I split the local pasta special, UBRIACELLI (sp?) all NORCINA which were spinach and wheat thicker than spaghetti pasta with a magnificent cream-black truffle-sausage sauce that was to die for. We switched to a superb red from Domenico Pennachi SAGRANTINO di MONTEFALCO "Terre di Capitani" 2003 that was intense but not tannic and had a slight sweetness as well, but not like a sweet wine--more like sweet cherries and chocolate--thing BIG chianti without the tannins.

Our first choice for entrees was the Beef with arucola and balsamic (another local specialty) that they were out of, so we had the simple grilled VEAL CHOP that was superb, but nothing spectacular, though we did adore the local rustic and spicy SALSICCE (Sausage) before we headed home without dessert as we were so full. Sam did enjoy a big bowl of yummy PEACH Gelato.

On our second night, we headed about 30 minutes east, just past Assisi to the town of SPELLO to discover the Michelin-starred LA BASTIGLIA in the hills of this beautiful tiny town.--more on this later.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Palermo-old style Sicilian at Osteria Altri Tempi

Our cruise is now finished, but we visited some amazing and wonderful places, foremost of which I wish to return to is Sicily. Sadly, we only had one lunch there and many of the restaurants seem to be either closed for summer break in August, and if not, on Tuesday!

We finally chose OSTARIA ALTRI TEMPI (roughly translates to Old Style Inn) in downtown Palermo at Via Sammartino 65/67 which was great because for 20 Euros each we got unlimited table wine, bottled water (which is first poured into a carafe, making it seem very suspicious, but we later found out that this is quite common), and the most wonderful array of antipasti. The setting is small with arched ceilings and lots of local older Sicilians hanging around chewing the fat; there is also an outdoor area in front if you don't mind the heat and the street noise.

While the Cartilage Salad was the least pleasing, it was NOT awful, just a bit chewy. The MARINATED FAVA BEANS were a treat as was the Eggplant CAPONATA, and I truly don't like eggplant. It was superb; loaded with onions and seasoning. Fresh SUN DRIED TOMATOES with Local Cheese was so good, we asked them to pack up a tray to take back to the ship which we served all around the dining room at dinner to great acclaim. A seafood salad had clams, mussels, octopus, calamari and more, and I seem to have forgotten the several other items that just seemed to keep coming. A plate of tempura-like cauliflower and slices of fried dough from chick peas came after all this, so we had to ask our server to simply give us the pasta that followed and nothing further as we were filling up fast.

Two pasta dishes arrived with local long hollow spaghetti (bucatini) and a sauce of eggplant on one and cauliflower and pine nuts on the other (that we were instructed to sprinkle breadcrumbs on, not cheese--this is because in the 19th century Sicilians were so poor they could not afford grated cheese for their pasta and used breadcrumbs instead!). These were true old style dishes of the Sicily of the 19th-early 20th century.

As if this were not enough, along with the coffee came a plate of cookies and little strawberry and lemon sorbetto scoops each decorated and served in small paper thimble. Watermelon arrived as well with three chilled bottles of local liqueur: the always loving Limoncello, a Bay Leaf drink that was sweeter and tasty, and a very licorice- tasting Fennel liqueur. We were rolled back to our minivan tour, but will never forget the wonderful warmth we enjoyed at this adorable spot and in Sicily in general.

Barcelona's tops in tapas: CERVESERIA CATALANA / fishing for food in Palma de Mallorca at LA DORADA

As we have been at sea almost 3 weeks now, I am virtually losing track of the dates unless I look at today's on my digital watch. Last week we spent two days in Spain, the first of which was in Barcelona. We specifically told our guide we wanted tapas and he steered us to the excellent CERVERSERIA CATALANA at Carrer Mallorca just off the Rambla de Catalunya, a block from the fashionable shopping street of Passeig de Gracia.

It was an excellent choice, and while we ate many items that we had no idea of what they were, everything was superb. Highlights were the BOQUERONES ANDALUZA, fresh marinated anchovies, the amazing sauteed cod in garlic sauce and the salad of cod (bacalao) almost like a ceviche. I wish I could relate more, but we moving so fast touring all day, that I really could not take proper notes.

The next day we found ourselves at the small seaside town of Port d'Andratx in Mallorca (the Balaeric Isalnds) dining at LA DORADA (Avenida Mateo Bosch 31B) overlooking the port and sea. We thought we were in for a touristic nightmare, but the food was excellent. I started with a brilliant PASTEL DE CAP ROIG or pate of scorpionfish which was tasty with a yummy garlicky aioli and a large fresh salad on the side. I forgot to mention the bread comes with this super aioli and some of the tastiest green olives around(they apparently come from some of the oldest olive trees), and the tomatoes on the salad were almost like the heirlooms we get back home--of the best quality. Other folks liked the Gazpacho and, PRAWNS with GARLIC SAUCE as we downed two tasty dry white local wines: JAUME MESQUIDA Blanc and a slightly fruity MACIA BATLE Blanc de blancs.

The entrees were also excellent from a wonderful moist BACALAO GRATINADA with a huge piece of fresh fish in a creamy sauce not too heavy on the cheese and my PARILLADA de PESCADO y MARISCOS a huge platter which could easily feed two (I shared lots) of grilled frsh fish and shellfish. There were clams, mussles, pranws, crab claws, tasty halved langoustines and huge pieces of SILVIOLA, a superb local whitefish and MEGLUSA, more like a flaky swordfish full of amazing
flavor from the superb local olive oil. While this place is only 20-30 minutes from the capital of Palma de Mallorca, it was easily worth the drive,

Today we are finally back in Italy on our cruise which nears an end in two days.