Monday, November 13, 2017

Another great gourmet gathering at GABRIEL KREUTHER in NYC (11-11-17)

Back in the spring I had an amazing dinner when I first dined at the Michelin-starred Gabriel Kreuther in NYC and knew I would be back soon. This past Saturday night I was able to take a handful of clients for an amazing dinner that lasted over 5 hours and truly will remain in the top dining memories of my life.
I arrived before the other 5 guests and ordered one of the "historical" cocktails from the ingeniously created "Bryant Park Cocktail Menu" designed to recreate drinks that might have passed through the famous park across the street. The Public Promenade is made with Grey Goose Vodka, Cranberry, Allspice Dram, Lemon & Sumac and has an egg white froth dusted with autumn spices such as nutmeg and sumac on top. It's an earthy drink that, while served cold, gets even more warmer as you quaff. Everyone seemed to want one as they arrived! As we pondered the menu we enjoyed a bottle of Saint-Chamant Brut 2005 Blanc de Blancs Champagne from Epernay that was superbly yeasty and tasty.  It took a while for us to settle on the Chef's Menu for all of us and then pass off our allergies and dislikes to our excellent server, Ronald, who noted every need and was there for everything we needed. We dine in many excellent restaurants around the work, many with Michelin stars as well, and the service here is some of the best I have ever experienced, especially in New York when the folks can be a bit abrupt; here it is relaxing, attentive and always top notch.
The Savory Scallion Kougelhopf arrived with its rich Chive Fromage Blanc and I warned everyone to pace themselves and not gobble up all the amazing bread, but this is an exception.
Two plates of Tarte Flambee started us off; one classic with bacon & onion and the other with hen of the woods mushrooms and formage blanc. These too were filling and irresistible, but luckily there was just one small square for each of us from each tarte.
Next was Siberian Osetra Caviar with Quail Egg, Buttermilk Panna Cotta and a Vadouvan Savory Cracker all in an adorable miniature eggshell dish. This was a superb dish and reminded me so much of our late friend Jean-Louis Palladin and his treatments of quail eggs, caviars and mousses for his amuses! Paired with the champagne it was brilliant.
The next plates (photos on FB) arrived with three each amuses and a shot glass on the side:
The glass contained a Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Mousseline and Five Spice Crumble on top which you drank as a shot. It had a nice spicy kick, but that was immediately cantilevered by the Pomegranate Negroni Gelee with Orange Confit. Sesame Marinated Spaghetti Squash came on a Chestnut Cracker with Pickles Asian Pear, and while we all tried desperately to guess what these were, few of us succeeded. The last amuse on the plate was a divine Porcini Mac & Cheese with Tomato Powder.

A number of the courses came out with two different plates for the six of, forcing some cross table tasting!
the first pair was Hamachi, Black Truffle & Foie Gras Mille-Feuille with Celery, Grapes & Truffle Vinaigrette which I had back in April and adored. Opposite was the Langoustine Tartare with Flying Fish Rose, Salty Fingers, Cauliflower-Macadamia Puree that had a sweet tuile but chili for spice! The lobster melted in my mouth and paired perfectly with our first white wine "Ohne" Riesling from Ulrich Stein 2014 in the German Mosel Valley that was amazing especially with the minerality in the post-swirl in the mouth. Our sommeilleuse, Kelly, had every wine ordered and poured in time for the food and each of them indeed paired to perfection!
Our third bottle was a magnum (we were drinking fast and this was the last bottlel in the restaurant's cellar!) of Coffinet-Duvernay 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet "Blanchots Dessous" that was also brilliantly paired with the next several courses.

Sturgeon & Sauerkraut Tart with American Caviar Mousseline and Applewood Smoke is presented by the kitchen under a glass dome revealed tableside and wafted up through our nostrils. Chef de Cuisine Joe Anthony was praised by all for everything we had eaten so far, and I commended him on the superb job even though Chef Gabriel was off in Spain for a conference; I would never have known he was gone!
French baguettes arrived (they were really batards) with Valley Milkhouse Farm's Cultured butter, which was funny as the guests were all in the opera business or singers and as such were quite cultured! many laughs ensued especially when I insisted the bread was a batard and not a baguette. (They were later listed on the menu as wholegrain ficelles!)

Anson Mills' Spelt Risotto is a vegetarian's delight with Confit Yolk, Chanterelles, Pumpkin Seed Crumble and Parmesan. This is a heavy grain so not a typical Italian risotto and so novel it really should be called something else; yet so delicious, we did not leave one grain in our bowls.
Grilled Maine Lobster with Toasted Cashews, Baby Carrots, & Jamon Nage was almost like a bisque with a Leek Saffron Puree as well had this shellfish in its sheer perfection and again brilliantly paired with the Chassagne-Montrachet, a Burgundy Chardonnay of true class. One of us did not like shellfish and got the Roasted Black Bass with Olive Oil Breadcrumbs, Garlic Confit & Shellfish Broth instead.
Rosemary Buckwheat Rolls arrived with Whipped Lardo/Chili/Garlic Spread...who could resist that?? I always want to package this spread and take it home....Alas, not as carry-on!
Meat was coming and Kelly suggested a wondrously aged 2010 Cornas from Domaine du Coulet "Billes Noires" that we all raved over with the Berkshire Pork Tenderloin with Berawecka Brown Butter, Sage & Castle Valley Mill's Polenta. I was told berawecka is akin to fruitcake, but not the kind you buy in a package as this butter was divine with the tender pork loin. 

Our second red wine was one I had here earlier in the year and adored and is truly a superb red, Mas La Mola 2009 from Priorat was a huge red ideal with our last meat course: 7X Wagyu Beef Tenderloin from Colorado with Roast Salsify, Potato Dumpling & Juniper Jus. The meat was like butter and the dumpling (also made with veal breast) was truly spectacular and loaded with flavor. As if this were not enough, the palte was dotted with pieces of beef tongue as well as beech mushrooms! We were all nearing our limits, but there was more.

Pumpkin Cremuex was a Cider Sorbet with Red Currant Marmalade and Ginger SnapTuile was called a palate cleanser of sort, but was really a pre-dessert that we could not stop raving about. So perfect (as was every dish) for a bitter cold 20 degree winter night. 
Desserts were Decadent - Chocolate Caramel with Mixed MediaCrumble, Chocolate Mousse and Caramel Ice Creamfor three of us and the other received the amazing Harvest - Fig Crumble with Sauteed Fig, Pear Sorbet, Caramel Cremeux and Crystallized and Caramelized Pastry, Pear Gelee. They were both superb, but I have to say I preferred the fruit as I am a fruit dessert guy, but we all shared equally.
Not enough--there were Cheesecake Macaroons and Milk Chocolates with Saffron & Honey served in a Cacao Pod to finish and Chocolate packages to take home.

To quote the song: "Oh What a Night!" Kudos go to the entire amazing staff and team in the kitchen and front of house from everyone who greets, meets and even helps you find the loo, to all the chefs in the amazing kitchen where some of the best food in NY is always found!


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fuji Sushi in NYC satisfies once again for a deal (11-10-17)

I wanted a nice bite with a friend before the opera so I headed right to Fusi Sushi (www.fujisushi.com/www.fujisushi56.com) a block from my hotel on 56th Street.
The green tea was hot and warmed by cold hands (it was in the 20's outside) and the superb Tomio Hanaichirin "A Flower" Junmai Daijingo Sake was also quite warming.
My friend has the veggie soup while I enjoyed the always super Seaweed Salad and we went on to share two sushi rolls which were both excellent:
TOKYO ROSE-spicy tuna and cucumber topped with tuna, avocado and salmon to make an almost gorgeous colorful paint palette (see FB foto) and
SPICY CRUNCH which was spicy tuna with a crunchy tobiko top.
The prices for midtown cant be beat and the food quality is top notch. Fuji Sushi is forever in my return list.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

It's always amazing at Arlington's AMBAR (10-28-17)

As most of you know we have a few favorite spots we visit more than once, and since our first trip to Ambar just over 4 months ago, we decided to return for many reasons.
We expected the kinds to come and they love the flatbreads (although they both cancelled), it's only $35 per person for as many smallplates as can possibly consume, and I think the 6 of us must have downed over 30 for sure (so the math tells me that we paid under $6-7 per plate, if not less and the unique Balkan wines are pretty good as well.
We ordered two Macedonian wines to start from Stobi: a superb Rose($30-s range) with hints of lemon and tartness and a full bodied red Vranac Ventas(about $60--too high!) which still was not as good as out third wine, the 2011 Bulguriana Cabernet/Syrah blend from the Thracian Valley which was jammy and full bodied and rang in at way under $40 a bottle. We had to order some of the fabulous dishes we had last time that we adored (many are pictured on FB, along with some fun photos of our group featuring the two tenors and a travel agent with spouses!):
Almond Chicken is always a hit here as are the Kebabs with their pile of spicy paprika for dipping. The spreads are divine as are the breads, but we didn't get those huge fluffy pita-like breads this time. the spreads on the chef's three choices are a beet tzatziki, urebnes cheese and lamb pate (very reminiscent of rillettes).
Meat pies  are fab as are the Stuffed Sour Cabbage with melting Pork Belly comes with creamy mashed potatoes with chives, but don't skip the super veggie salads such as Quinoa/Broccoli and Slaw.
Steak Tartare here is done well, although I skip the raw onions, and the Smoked Salmon spread was also a super new dish for us. White Veal Soup is creamy and lemony, think the Greek Ovgolemono with meat base instead of chicken. Flatbreads seemed to come nonstop with just white ones, sudzuk sausage akin to pepperoni, and even one with grilled shrimp which I loved.
Mushroom Pilav treats the rice like a star, but it came with the unsatisfying Beef Goulash (although the spaetzle are nice on that).
If you want fish, the trout is superb with an almost crispy skin atop scalloped potatoes, but the calamari is not a winner, but then not rally bad, just soso. The Grilled Shrimp come over what is called a corn puree and I would simply say its Balkan grits with a hint of that salty feta-like cheese (urebnes, zlatibor or other?).
Veggies here also star with Brussels Sprouts and Grilled Asparagus always winning top honors.
There's something for everyone and nobody goes home hungry for sure, and we were there for over three hours, even though they warned us we could not keep the table over two!
We did skip dessert as they charge extra and we decided last time there were no winners and having more small plates is SO much better!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

MUZE makes me muse over the amazing food at DC's Mandarin Oriental Hotel (10-23-17)--oh, and delicious drinks and oysters at Hank's

Last night I was invited to dine at MUZE at the Washington Mandarin Oriental Hotel by the MO sales team from DC/NYC and National and I realized I had dined at now closed CityZen there ages ago, but never at the hotel's other spot, MUZE. Mandarin obviously fuses Asian flavors, but also has wonderful local cuisine.
A tuna tartare amuse was okay, but alas the tortilla chip on top was gummy. The Artichoke & Crab dip with crispy grilled bread was addictive for sure, but it was my Roasted Duck Breast with Curried Lentils, Baby Carrots, Smoked Tomato Jam and Curry Leaves that was a perfect fall chilly eve hit. even though it wasn't that chilly. There was a huge amount of confit in the lentils as well as three large perfectly cooked pieces of breast (check the FB photo). A glass of Lemelson Pinot Noir 2014 "Thea's Vineyard" reminded me of the first time I attended a wine dinner at the hotel by same vintner when the place first opened 13 years ago! Even our charming server, who has been there since the opening, remembered that superb wine dinner. Needless to say, the wine was sheer perfection with the duck. Another dish at the table was the sushi platter which went over well, but the most intriguing other dish was the Green Curry Chicken using the Asian influences at their best.
We shared three desserts:
Mandarin Orange in 5 Segments which was a bombe-like chocolate shell filled with orange cream, some foams and more orange segments.
Chocolate Delight was 70% Valrhona with brownie-pecan bar, dulce chocolate cremeux and crispy feuilletine; think dark chocolate bar with milk creamy mousse and crispy pastry layers.
Tops was the Mt. Fuji with Green Tea Meringue, Yuzu & Passionfruit Marmelade, Lime & Yuzu Gelee and aerated white chocolate....what a dreamy dessert, light yet full of flavors.

Afterwards, we headed over to the new Wharf, where huge lines waited to get into the new theater there and many of the restaurants were actually opening for their first night!
We stopped by our friend Jamie Leed's newest HANKS on the WHARF (https://hanksoysterbar.com/the-wharf/) where I nibbled on a 1/2 dozen top quality oysters and we all shared some Hushpuppies as well as novelty cocktails:
The dud was the flavorless "I have Stronger Feelings for Sauvignon Blanc than Anyone I Ever Dated" a blend of SB with vodka that just seemed so bland.
Two Bananas was slightly sweet banana mixed with Glenmorangie.
the winner was clearly my "You Had Me at Beef Jerky" which was Copper & Kings Apple Brandy with Ancho Reyes Reserve(a poblano chile liqueur), Hellfire Bitters, Melon and several shards of spicy tasty beef jerky; what fun and what a kick!
Speaking of fun, what a fun evening it was as it was 70+ degrees and balmy as we moseyed around the quite busy Wharf and soaked in the sites and scenes!



Monday, October 23, 2017

DC's TICO is tops for tapas and a terrific time (10-22-17)

Last night eight of us headed to TICO (www.ticodc.com) at 14th & T Sts, NW for the first time in its close to three years of being a major attraction in the neighborhood. We chose it largely for its variety, but also because of the large vegetarian optons for Samuel, and this was indeed a vegetarian's dream meal, especially if you like a lot of spice in your food. It was hard to decide as there were so many options, but our congenial server Dom suggested we try the multi-course tasting menu, which while everyone has to take it, he could tweak to allow vegetarian, non-shellfish and more dietary requirements, such as no red peppers!
There were three options:
Kind of Hungry for $35 per person
Forgot to Eat Lunch for $55 each
Full On Tico Experience for $75.
Dom warned that there was lots of food, so we stuck with the $35 option, and he said we could always order more afterwards, which was never in or minds as we got about halfway through the virtually 10 courses.
They all came tapas style with a small plate for every two people (except for the special diets) and we ended up taking home about 8 or more different things in multiples!
An aromatic Finca Sophenia 2013 Viognier Reserve from Mendoza started us off and while we loved the wine, we wanted something else to move on to and ultimately chose a Martino 2011 Pedro Ximenez also from Mendoza which was a super dry wine but with lots of minerality to complement the spices. Our third and final wine was so good, we ordered a second bottle of the Genium Cellars 2007 Garncaha Blend from Priorat in Spain full of jammy flavors and a hint of sour dark cherries. There are many wines from latin countries at very reasonable prices as well and a lot of American and non-Latin options, but we figures, let's stay with the theme, and it worked.

First came a Shredded Cabbage Slaw with Salsa Verde, Asparagus and Toasted Almonds that had a mild kick from the salas that we all adored and could not resist (photos as always on FB).
It was odd to find eight people who all love Brussels Sprouts, but we all oohed and ahhed when they arrived in a divine aj-limo honey with pickled curried onions and toasted peanuts. This is a recipe I must learn to duplicate somehow.
Chicken Empanadas arrived with huacaina, plaintain chips and an aji-gallina sauce to dip that I loved.
Another vegetarian dish that I need to get a recipe for was the Crispy Roasted Cauliflower with Chipotle Mayo(none for the red pepper allergy), Cotija Cheese & Crunchy Favas
On the side was a plate chock full of Shishito Peppers roasted with Crispy Shallots, Lime Zest & Sea Salt. The lime made them very different from just the basic roasting we do at home; next time.
Lamb meatballs arrived with Ricotta Salata in a hoyo tomato sauce with cumin & pine nuts, while our resident vegetarian enjoyed Mozzarella Sticks (one of his fave dishes on earth)
A novel and different dish which was more American than Latin was the Roasted Turnips in Huckleberry Sauce with Roasted Peanuts and Sliced Jalapenos. I liked it because it reminded me of Venison with Huckleberry sauce which would have been the perfect meat to pair it with!
Mac & Cheese is served with Serrano Ham, Manchego and a tasty crunchy bread crumb topping and the vegetarian gets the same without the meat; another super hit here.
We had requested the Nopal Con Queso which is a nopal cactus (which we loved in Mexico) flown in from south of the border, seared and served with Oaxaca cheese in a tortilla. I think the tortilla takes away from the flavor of the cactus and is too much; it was indeed the only dish we all really didn't adore.
Edamame Tacos are also served on the delicious soft tortillas and are seasoned with harissa yogurt with falafel as well. The combination of the falafel with the edamame again was too much inside the tortilla, but the flavors were superb. Even Sam, who does not like yogurt on most things, loved this combination.
This was thankfully our last savory dish as we were all way more than stuffed, but not enough to resist three fabulous desserts that ensued:
Tres Leches with Mango Sorbet, almond crust, strawberry and blueberry
Churros Con Dulce were super churros and a deadly Dulce de Leche Espuma Dipping Sauce with Dark Chocolate Pearls
Chocolate Devil Cake was a spectacular semi-frozen cake with Caramel Crunch & Gelato.

We all loved virtually every bite and it was a wonderful experience for all of us knowing we will return again (if only for the Duck Tacos!).
 

Monday, October 09, 2017

another beautiful birthday bash with a delicious dinner at DINO'S in DC (10-8-17)

Last night for Will's birthday we used yet another wonderful auction item and eight of us headed to Dino's for an awesomely super spread that lasted almost 4 hours!(FB fotos already posted!)
We started by sipping a sparkling Lambrusco from Fiorini in Sorbara, Italy called Corte degli Attimi.  It's always fun to taste and savor new wines at Dino's as owner Dean Gold revels in telling us the story behind each grape, varietal and label making it a ture wine experience and not just a meal. He also has an amazing staff at the Grotto Bar downstairs where there are happy hours from 5 to 7pm every Tueday to Saturday and all night Sunday & Monday with amazing cocktails. We next enjoyed a Negroni tasting of the 8 different Negroni cocktails he offers on his "Not So Secret Negroni Menu:"
Negroni (Classic) with Beefeater Gin, Campari & Cinzano
DC Groni #2 with 1-8 untitled barrel-aged gin, Don Ciccio Cinque Apertivo, Capitoline Vermouth
Luxury-Tanqueray, Luxardo Bitter, Carpano Antica Formula
Scofflaw's Negroni-Hayman's London Gin, Campari, Dolin, Orange Bitters
Dean's Gold-Beefeater Gin, Aperol, Carpano Antica Formula
Boulevardier-Old Granddad Bourbon, Campari, Sweet Vermouth 9this one packed a huge punch_
Virginia-XO "Virginia Moon" White Whiskey, Cappelletti Bitters, Cinzano--one of the more popular varieties amongst our crowd
Mexigroni-Mezcal, Campari, Cinzano & Rhubard Syrup which had to be the most popular amongst our group that tasted and passed repeatedly until we found one drink we really preferred as
Dean's DEVILLED EGGS arrived to start us off followed by SQUASH BLOSOMS filled with ricotta, Egg, Garlic, in Summer Tomato Essence with Parmigiano Reggiano.
Tintero Arneis 2015 from Piemonte was poured as we learned the story of how the Arneis varietal was almost wiped from the face of the earth.
All the dishes were served Family Style and they seemed to never stop arriving, each full of flavor and taste.
Classic Caprese was an awesome selection of local Heirloom Tomatoes with fresh Italian Mozzarella, basil, Occhipinti Sicilian EVOO and Hawaiian Alaena Red Salt. This was caprese gone crazy.
Chard & Fresh Mozzarella Bruschetta came with the garlic and lemon scented filling on the plate and then topped with huge grilled slices of olive bread.
Grilled Pork Belly arrived with Asian Pear from Pig Crafters of Virginia. The spice cured, braised and crisped meat was superb and rich (not fatty at all) and the caramel spice grilled Asian pear a perfect foil.
Bardolino Chiaretto 2016 from Farina was a super rose with a hint of effervescence and just right to fight the richness of the pork.
Grilled Local Veggie Antipasto was a huge selection including Candy & Sweet Red Onion, Delicata Squash, Zucchini, Bok Choy that we loved and tasted but left to take home as we knew so much more was yet to come..such as Fregola with Grilled Shrimp & Ricotta Salata..OMG with heirloom tomato, chards, kales, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, zucchini and string beans.

Our first red was Jante Tereano 2011, a mineral-intense treat from Venezia Giulia (Fruili) that arrived with the Pasta courses:
Heirloom Tomato, Grilled Corn & Veggie Risotti with Basil & Walnut Pesto, Shallot, Herbs, Butter, preserved Lemon, Veggie Stock and 24month aged Parm. Leftovers for Samuel tonight!
Sausage alla Calabrese was Rigatoni with House Sausage that packed a mighty spicy punch in Spicy Pepper, red chili flakes, arugula and confit tomato
Duck Lasagna has to be one of the best pastas at Dino's with Spicy Bolognese, Fonduta, 24month Parm and Silk Road Spices for an amazing flavor bust that just makes you so so happy.

I have to give huge kudos to Omar & Gustavo whose service never failed or wavered despite the many large groups all around us and many tables enjoying long dinners as it was a holiday weekend. Next poured was Monferrato Ruche di Castagnole 2015 from Ferraris which was an herbaceous Barbera-ish wine, so lighter than most Italian reds, but gutsy.
It was ideal with our 3 main courses:
Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana (also leftovers for Sam) with smoked mozzarella that we all raved about.
Lamb Rib-slow roasted Shenandoah breast with grilled onion, tomato and chile salsa and potatoes with house ramp butter --this was the only item all evening that didn't impress me as much as the meat was on the fatty side as breasts tend to be and I think we all enjoyed every other bite so much, we moved on to the truly spectacular
Tagliata--Sliced Roseda Dry Aged Sirloin with Salsa verde that was cooked to perfection and melted in our mouths; no steak knife needed!

Cheeses arrived in abbondanza:
Robiolini
Gorgonzola Dolce
Note del Giusto Pecorino Tartufato(truffled raw sheep)
Abbondanza Caprino alle Fragole--goat cheese aged with strawberry
Mostardo was super, not to mention the Grappa, Strawberrycello and Butler's Newphew LBV 2007 Port which I adored.
of course Will had to have a slice of Tiramisu with a candle before we could all roll ourselves home.

Many thanks to the staff and also to Chef/Owner Dean Gold for his generosity!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY HUBBY!



Sunday, October 08, 2017

Bethesda's TRUE FOOD is truly delicious (10-7-17)

Last night 7 of us popped up to Bethesda's new "healthy" if huge and noisy spot, TRUE FOOD, part of a national chain that offers up some healthier choices and has a lot of vegetarian (and vegan and gluten free) options for Samuel (www.truefoodkitchen.com).
We started with a couple of bottles of "Belleruche" Rose of grenache from M. Chapoutier, this is a super wine that wortks well with many of the spicy foods here, and is also perhaps a last vestige of summer wine as we know the temps will be dropping soon. Our second wine was a superb Sicilian Nero d'Avola from Purato. There are over 20 wines here served in 6 ounce or 9 ounce pours(many of which are organic and/or sustainable) as well not to mention the healthy drinks which Sam tried and raved about the Kale Aid (ginger, apple, kale, celery, cucumber & lemon) and Lemonade. We arrived just before 6pm and the place was fairly quiet, but by our departure after 9pm, it was heaving and heard to hear speech across the table without really yelling. I would suggest earlier dining or weeknights as Saturday it is a zoo; this also seemed to effect the service quality. While our server Nini was a gem making superb suggestions and always trying to help, they just seemed to be short staffed whenever you needed someone or something, and the size of the place makes the effect multiply.
Speaking of the servers they wear T-shirts emblazoned with "HONEST," "TRUE," SHINE ON" and such, which is cute, and I have to give them credit for allowing us to skip the whole spiel on organics that the Post review plodded on about. Speaking of the Post review, the Guacamole is truly delicious and while it still has Pink Grapefruit (with Cilantro, Roasted Poblano & Sunflower Seeds and is served with Pita Chips) the grapefruit has been drastically reduced as per Mr. Sietsema's request. The Charred Cauliflower is either a veggie side or starter and is one of the big winners for sure with Harissa Tahini, Medjool Dates, slight hints of mint and dill and Pistachios.
The prices are quite low and the starter portions are quite large such as the divine Edamame Dumplings (again many photos avail on my FB page) which come in a rich Dashi broth with White Truffle Oil & Asian Herbs.
I had the fun Shitake Lettuce Cups (really wraps) with Tofu, Jicama, Sambal ( I adore this Indonesian spice), Thai Basil & Cashew. The crunchy tasty earthy mixture can be spooned into the large Romaine leaves on the side, so it's truly great for sharing as well. 
I could come back to True Food over and over just for the bowls and while there are only a handful each can be adorned (for a fee) with tofu, chicken, shrimp, grilled salmon or grass-fed steak. I chose the latter which was perfectly seasoned meat that was like filet as grass-fed always is so much better when it comes to taste! Mine was on the Red Chili Noodle Bowl with Gailan, Zucchini, Shitakes, Snow Peas and tasty Cashews for crunch. The bowls are perfectly sized and again very reasonably priced. Another bowl is the Spicy Penang Curry with Potato, Long Beans, Bok Choy, Carrots, Thai Basil, Coconut, Shrimp Broth which Will chose to have with Grilled Salmon. Each was so different and so completely tasty and full o fresh and fabulous veggies.
The Grilled Salmon was a hit, but I think the top entrée was the Moroccan Chicken with Mission Figs, Heirloom Carrots, Chickpeas, Olives, Spinach, Chermoula and Greek Yogurt. 
Dessert is novel here and worth the splurge. Will got a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Caramel, Vanilla Ice Cream and Cocoa Nibs with a candle as a birthday treat and Samul immediately insisted on having his own.
A simple yet filling Chia Seed Pudding with Banana & Toasted Coconut ws rich and creamy, but I loved my oh so simple yet bursting with flavor Sea Buckthorn Sorbet; it was even more special as it's not something we often see in the states!
Manager Greg Kopit clearly loves wines and pours them with glee, and the entire staff indeed exudes friendliness and cheer and is as upbeat as the food is tasty. It's a wonderful diversion, if you don't mind the noise or manage a quieter evening (maybe we will head there during the next snowfall, because we have to go back to taste more!). 


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

an awesome advance taste of DC's great new GRAVITAS opening next month (10-1-17)

At last year's March of Dimes Signature Chef's event we purchased Chef Matt Baker who was in the plans to open a new restaurant this year. Little did I know when we asked to cook for our anniversary that it would be about 5 weeks before his grand opening in IVY CITY (http://www.gravitasdc.com), which has been written up in numerous publications as one of the hottest most expected opening of this season! based on our dinner last night, we can't wait!
We started with Deviled Eggs with Pickled Onions for flavor and the most decadent Truffle Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Aged Havarti and Apricot Marmalade!! These were served with Jackson-Triggs 2007 Entourage Sparling Merlot from Niagara, Canada, followed by a spectacular 2000 Dom Perignon Champagne, drinking magnificently at this late age!
At the table we started with Soy-Miran marinated Tuna Sashimi with Nori, Dehydrated Garlic and Shallots for crisp and Black Vinegar Aioli. Jalapeno slices added a superb kick if you wanted to indulge, which I did. It was paired with a Mazzocco Alexander valley 2016 Sauvignon Blanc which was very smooth considered it was all steel fermented.
Next came a decadently rich Purple & White Cauliflower and Truffle Veloute with Black Truffle Foie Gras Terrine, Fig Marmalade, Pickled Red Onion, Marcona Almond Savory Granola (for yet another yummy crunch and texture) and Micro Greens. We decided to try two side-by-side Chehalem (Willamette Valley, Oregon) 2013 Rieslings. The first was Wind Ridge which had an ever so slight sweetness next to the veloute and the Corral Creek was much more up front in the mineral department; each had their preferences.
The main course was a Roasted Amish Chicken Breast cooked sous-vide and served with Butternut Squash Puree, Cippolini Onions, a Braised Chicken Thigh Confit with Sage Roulade and Chicken Jus. paired with a magnificent Dukes Family 2012 Nipple Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon this was indeed a spectacular course; whoever thought you could raise chicken to such a level? The chicken was first cooked sous-vide at 55degrees Centigrade for an hour and the skin seared to perfection for crunch!
Dessert was a Warm banana Cake with whipped Nutella, Vanilla Ice Cream, Shortbread Crumble and Chia Tea Foam made with all kinds of spices and rum. What's not to like and the Fonseca Vintage 1997 (we could not find a good port from our anniversary year of 2004) was in superb form at 20 years old!
Chef Matt has surely proven he can cook up a storm and I am sure Washington will be blown away when GRAVITAS opens in November!

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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

DEL CAMPO does it deliciously yet again with an awesome asado (9-3-17) 2 messages

For several years now the wonderful and generous Chef Victor Albisu has been the Honorary Chef Chair of March of Dimes Signature Chefs and we have enjoyed of the hottest live auction items-his Asado dinner cooked to order for 12.
Sunday night we hauled over to Del Campo, where Chef Faiz Ally was running the show splendidly, as he and Chef Victor had just spent the week working in Houston on relief aid!
We arrived to Moet & Chandon Brut poured while we tried not to fill up on the exquisite passed hor's d'oevres:
Pork Belly Anticucho with Candied Fresno Slaw which was crispy in every bite and yielded almost no fat
Jerked Brisket Arepa with Sweet & Spicy Rocoto
Green Chile Crab -Causa Morado
and the amazing Lobster & Shrimp Empanadas with Burnt Green Pea Curry

We sat down as our servers, headed by the superb Kit, poured La Moussiere Sancere 2016 from Alfone Mellot and they served those yummy puffy pupusa like bread puffs with a 24 month aged lardo spread. OMG..DECADENT!
The Asado meal is served family style (which was nie as we took only what we wanted, and it gave us some leftovers to take home!) starting with the first course of:
Grilled Local Oysters with Parmesan-Chili Butter which were simply irresistible and I had to finish whatever was left as you really can't reheat these!
Local Oysters with a Fluke & Corn Ceviche on top--well, these were just as good and also really had to be finished, of course!
Ceviche Mixto of Halibut, Octopus, Lobster, Calamari with Pique-Limo Dressing was a ceviche that would send any seafood lover right to foodie heaven.
Smoked Tuna Ceviche had the Avocado Leche de Tigre and Spicy Plantains for dipping.

The second course was two gorgeous salads:
Burnt Beet Salad with Shallot Creme Fraiche and Crispy Carrots
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Whipped Burrata and Anchovy Toast
This was served with a superb Brick House(Oregon) 2015 Gamay Noir. I adore their wines and have never had this excellent varietal from them.

We rested some time as we knew the next course would be a large one. We were not disappointed and you can see photos on my FB page of the St. Bernard sized
Dry Aged Tomahawk Ribeye with Chimichurri del Campo
&
Snake River Farms Wagyu Bavette with Anticucho Dry Rub which one of our guest quickly describes as "Bavette's Feast!"
Grilled Maine Lobsters were served split with some Frisee and Chili Butter
and who cannot resist the Crispy Yuca Fries, Grilled Long Beans & Jalapeno Mashed Potatoes Sides that are the signature of Del Campo.
An amazing 2010 Syrah from Polkura in Marchigue, Colchuga Valley, Chile accompanied the huge meats and was a brilliant pairing as were all the wines.

Dessert arrived after a nice rest and again it was hard to choose, so I tired a bite of each:
Sweet Corn Clafoutis with Ginger Corn Ice Cream
Rhubarb & GUava Crostat with Sea Salt Ice Cream
and the ever-decadent and delicious
Tres Leches Twinkies with Passion Fruit Sorbet

Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest 2014 was our sweet and satisfying dessert wine.

Monday, August 21, 2017

REQUIN's Restaurant Week(extended thru this weekend) is really amazing if you find yourself near Fairfax,VA (8-20-17)

Last night we took the drive to the Mosaic District in nearby Virginia and have to say that at 23 minutes from NW DC it was not bad at all and there is tons of free parking as well. We settled in to our first meal at Requin to discover there were two restaurant week options (3 courses for $35 and four for $45 EXTENDED thru next Sunday) as well as the a la carte menu. Decisions, decisions. I ordered a glass of awesome White Sangria  made with Tequila and souped up with fruit garnish or kiwi and honeydew and Will loved his Gin Blossom with Beefeater, Cocchi rosa, lemon, persimmon bitters & cava brut, while Sam tried the Pineapple Lemongrass Soda(he moved on to Coke). We also loved the Bulgarian Rose called Mavrud from Karabunar Winery 2015.
Sam wanted us to share an order of Garlic bread, but chose the Burrata & Tomato Salad to start with pickled onions that he said were superb as well as almond herb pesto and aged balsamic glaze. His main course was a dish similar to one that Chef Jennifer Carrol had made at our home earlier this year: Roasted Wild Mushrooms with Melted Leeks, Pickled Ramps, Snap Peas in a Mushroom-Madeira Jus which he adored along with an order of Garlic & Herb Fries.
Will and I opted for the 4 course choice and I started with the delicious Deviled Lamb Rillettes with macerated Cherries, Pickled Mustard and a nice kick from chili as well. I love rillettes and always get them when they are offered and these were some of the best I can recall recently. Will had the Eggplant & Tomato Ratatouille with Fennel, Garlic, Shallot and Herbs which came warm with small sliced toasted bread (as mine did); apologies that there are no FB photos of these, but there are of the rest!
Next for Will came a heavier dish: Cod Croquettes with harissa aioli with red cabbage kraut and watercress which I was glad I did not order as while they were superb, the portion was very large, rich and of course, fried! He went on to a much lighter main course of Spanish Octopus with Summer Vegetable Couscous Salad, tahini & Feta that was indeed perfect for a warm summer night. I had the orgasmic Baked Oysters with Roasted Garlic & Herb Champagne Cream and went on to the Summer Corn & Sausage Risotto with Pecorino, Charred Tomatoes, parsley Oil & greens which was akin to a creamed corn risotto with great bursting flavors from the sausage, tomatoes, even the greens and don't forget the fresh corn.
Our server Hillary had directed me to this over a heavier dish and I was grateful as it was light and superb. She did a great job with suggestions and help all evening.
Will chose the Strawberry & Blueberry Clafouti with Lemon Curd, toasted Almond Streusel and Chantilly Cream which was also excellent, but I went the cheese route which was beautifully presented with Cherry Mostarda, Fuji Apples, Grapes & Fresh Honeycomb. There were many cheeses to choose from but I let Hillary choose and she did well with a superb Spring Brook Reading raclette and a creamy Camembert fro Soft Bloom.
Chef Jen sent out some yummy cookies which we nibbled on and took the rest home that were all super as well: Chocolate Chip, Rocky Road, Oatmeal Raisin & Snickerdoodle.
It was a yummy meal and a super deal which is extended for another week as so many places have decided to do.
The décor is simple with a huge open kitchen at the side of the restaurant and many tables all well spaced so that folks can enjoy their meals and not be crowded. Kudos to the super nice bathrooms with great music (Kennedy Center Honoree Lionel Richie) but also so clean and with superb scents. While Fairfax is a harder ride on weekdays, I can see us returning on weekends for sure! Chef Jen will also open in SW DC in October at the new Waterfront complex!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

DC's DOI-MOI starts our Restaurant Week with a rave (8-16-17)

It has taken us too long to get to DOI MOI (which means new changes) but it was worth the wait, and now that DC's b-annual Restaurant Week is on, you can eat a ton for $35!
I had met Chef Sasha Felikson at an event some time ago and was looking forward to seeing him in the kitchen, but alas his schedule did not coincide with ours, but I must say each dish was delivered in a timely manner, presented properly and tasted superb. Nobody could have told the boss was away! Only the service is a bit overly laid back and could use some fine tuning. It took a while for us to figure out who our server was at the start.
The split level inside and outside terrace as well as bar seating offer many options and by the time we left at 830pm, the place was virtually full. The décor is relaxing with white brick walls, white wash, a white bar with light wooden top all giving a very celan feel. The several pieces of artwork were whimsical and adorable; I wish there was more!
Now that Samuel is a vegetarian, he was in heaven and ordered his 3 plates for $35:
Sauteed Okra with garlic, Shallots, Chili and Sesame Seed that was one of the best dishes and indeed a Veggie Side that gives it Main Course Status.
Tarot Root & Potato Dumplings with Mushrooms, Broth, Thai chili, Soy & Lime that he loved, bu t it was the
Steamed Buns with Rice Cakes, Soy Mayo and Pickles that he adored so much he ordered a second helping!
Will chose the same Steamed Buns, but stuffed with Chili Braised Pork along with the Soy Mayo and Pickles which was yummy
went on to the Crispy Soft Shell Crab with Hot 'n' Juicy XO Sauce and Soybean Braised Cabbage. I loved this course(I also had it, and Will liked it) but a it more than 1/2 a small softshell might be in order.
His 3rd choice was the Brussels Sprouts with Nuoc Cham Aioli and Puffed Rice which was a real amazing veggie dish at all, so we thought...then I realized Nuoc Cham is fish sauce which got our son a bit upset...although he did love them until I told him...OOPS!
I started with the Chilled Mango Thai Chili Soup with Pickled Shrimp and Tomato Salad which was a super spicy and delicious soup. Interestingly enough I had ordered a drink called Salt 'n' pepa which was Jalapeno infused Rhum Neisson Blanc with Cotton & Reed White Rum, Lime Juice and Salt-cured Key Lime Soda that was superb but also super spicy and did work well to alleviate the soups' spice---luckily there was water :-))
I went on to the crab and then had the Grilled Quail with Vietnamese BBQ Sauce that was out of this world, and also a bit spicy, but great. It came with a Watermelon & Pineapple Kimchi that was not spicy at all, but also delicious and refreshing and garnished with gorgeous little purple flowers. The Syrah/Carignan Rose Moulin de Gassac 2016 from France was okay, but I adored the Red Xinomavro 2011 Foundi from Naoussa in Greece as it really stood up to the big spices.
Desserts were also quite delicious with Will trying a Soft Serve Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Fish Sauce & Coconut, Sam heading right for the Thai Spice Molten Lava Cake and me winning with the Summer Fruit Brulee with Sticky Rice & Coconut that was a chewy, crunchy topped gooey fruit jam with big chunks of red fruits and a tasty rice with coconut on the other side. It was scalding hot and they guy who delivered it didn't say so, and I managed to slightly burn my finger when I tried to pass it to the others for a taste!
Samuel tried a Dry Watermelon Soda which was novel and he wasn't crazy about and Will had beers starting with a leo Lager from Thailand that he said was wimpy and then switched to another (I forgot which) on our server's suggestion which he adored.
All in all, DoiMoi has such a huge selection of small plates to share that it's fun for everyone and with amazing bursts of flavors and spices! We'll be back, especially with the huge veggie menu!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

ROSE & KETTLE (Cherry Valley, NY near Cooperstown) rises again for our annual friends/client dinner@Glimmerglass(8-13-17)

It has become a tradition for us to invite our sponsored young artists, friends and clients to a dinner each year at Glimmerglass, so on Sunday night almost 20 of us joined again at the Rose & Kettle in Cherry Valley for a super evening of food, wine and camaraderie. This will be a short review as I could not possibly taste every dish, but I did check the wonderful wines:
Wachau 2014 Gruner Veltliner was our successful white while we started with a Farnese Montepulicano d'Abruzzo and then moved on to an amazing Earthquake Petit Syrah from Lodi 2013. 
Our server Mattie was amazing considering the size of our group and convinced me to start with the appetizer special of Braised Oxtail with Bok Choy, Red Onion & Asian Pear which was a tasty combination with the pear cutting the meat's richness and the broth enhancing the whole bowl. I ordered the traditional MeatLoaf of Locally raised beef, pork & lamb with garlic mashed potatoes, pan gravy and green beans which is always a hit. Only some of the yellow wax beans were way too al dente. It's a huge portion and I wish I could have taken the rest home but we had to drive 7 hours back to DC the next morning!
Others loved the salmon, steaks and pastas and some even managed to have dessert. Our dinner lasted almost 4 hours and everyone had a super amazing time. Thanks for being there!

Friday, August 11, 2017

back in Coooperstown, NY: anothe chance for Mel's@22 makes us merry (8-10-17)

We have tried Mel's@22 several times and come away feeling the service is pretty mediocre or just plain awful, yet the food is usually quite good. Last year, it was overall just plain bad. Friends of ours who live here said please try it again for dinner on a quieter night, so we did. Last night we had no opera, so we dined at 7pm and while they had seemingly lost our reservation, we began to fear. I checked the book and saw it was under the wrong name! Once seated, alas next to the noisy banging kitchen door, we perused the menus, which had multiple veggie options for Sam, and ordered a bottle of Heron Hill Unaoked Chardonnay from the nearby Finger Lakes region which was delish.
Sam started with the Fried Mozzarella half moons with Pomodoro Sauce, which he liked, but was clearly not as good as my superb Tequila Scallops (3 large sea scallops perfected pan seared) with tequila lime-butter sauce or Will's Spinach & Artichoke Rangoons with Sweet Chili dipping sauce. Rangoons are usually just a pile of way too much fried dough with little filling, but these were quite good and full of filling. The Potato skins with cheddar, bacon, sour cream and chives seemed to be missing the chives, although the kitchen thought they could fool us with piles of scallions!
Main courses  were all very good save for Sam's Grilled Stuffed Avocados filled with quinoa, black beans, roasted corn and "queso fresco cheese;" can someone tell them queso IS cheese? The stuffing was nice, but I tasted the avocado and it seemed odd, almost off flavor, as if they had tried to grill an unripe avocado! The burgers here are always a hit and Sam's friend had the California Dreamin' with melted brie, smoked bacon, blue cheese, caramelized onion and arugula, while Will went for the Southern Inspired Burger with American cheese, pulled pork, cole slaw, pickled onions and fried egg; almost an overdose! His red wine by the glass was a Terra d'Oro California red Zin. I had the special of Sausage & Kale Ravioli with LittleNeck Clams and Sauteed Shrimp all in a rich Sundried Tomato Pesto Cream sauce. It was superb, way too rich and there were indeed 6 ravioli as described, but they were huge, not to mention the over a 1/2 dozen clams and 1/2 dozen shrimp...a deal for sure. I thought some of the large garlic slices were small clams and while I love garlic, did not need that! 
I still have qualms about the service, which was better, but still described best as odd. Our server was surely sweet, but kept calling us "love..." and boy was I glad we didn't ask for a break between courses, because it took about 25 minutes for each course to arrive. Additionally, they have a thing about bringing you clean silverware for each course; one of my pet peeves. We did finally get it after asking.
This weekend at the Glimmerglass Festival, our dinners are all the superb patron picnics, so there won't be lots of reviews, save for our big client/young artists dinner party on Sunday.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

last night in Sicily, letdown turns into fun at 'NNI FRANCO U' VASTDDARU (7-21-17)

We had intended to go to a modern Sicilian restaurant which was truly gorgeous when we arrived, but was fully booked and it seemed my reservation was for 2 nights earlier. They said they couldn't accommodate us (the place was empty) so we moved on to a local street food spot a couple of blocks away that folks we knew said was fun.
I think the 'nni is Sicilian for nonni (grandpas) and assume that when started Franco and Vastddaru ran the place. Now it's a bit old style and tacky with tiny plastic cups for the water and small plastic plates for eating. The napkins were small squares of waxy paper.
Samuel loved the panelle (chick-pea fritters) we had at the Duchess' several days earlier so we ordered a plate of those and they were fabulous. A bit greasy, but with tons of character and flavor to boot.
Will ordered a Forst local beer (3,50Euros for 2/3 litre!) and he liked it. I was blown away by the red house wine which costs 2 euros a glass or 3,50 per 1/2litre!!!! (that's a tad over $8 a liter!). I did get a wine glass for the wine as Will got a big glass for the beer. Samuel had several of his favorite Polar Spuma sodas he has come to adore.
We had to order our last Caponata, and sadly it was nowhere near as good as the one we had made at Planeta's cooking class; at least I have that recipe. Does ANYONE know where we can get FRESH CAPERS in DC???
Will and I had seen the street stands through Palermo selling Milza, which is spleen, cooked on site and sliced fresh into a into a panini. We ordered one to split with some shredded cheese on top, fearing it might be too way out, but loved it. The texture is somewhere between mushrooms and schwarma, yet it has tons of flavor and was a nice treat.
Samuel ordered a panini caprese with fries and the sandwich was loaded with oozy cheese and was so big he couldn't finish it.
Will and I finally split the Polpette di Vitello which was  basically a slightly overfried schnitzel veal ball. They were slightly dry, but that was quickly modified with some fresh squeezed lemon.
It was a fun evening and we got to bed early, which was important as we had to rise at 6am to leave Sicily this morning. I am on my way home and the others to the UK to visit family.
Our only regret about this place (and others) is that so many folks smoke outside you could choke trying to eat. What is worse is that many adults smoke and blow tons of the smoke into their childrens' faces every single day. I guess second-hand smoke is not considered a problem there; I knew I couldn't stand it if I lived there. We also noticed that cigarettes are still sold in machines all over the place, so that any minor can get them without a problem, which explains why so many young people smoke. I am so sorry for these people, especially the woman next to me last night who ate her panini as she smoked a stinky cig! YUK! Rant over.
Oh the whole meal with 1.33 litres of beer, 3 sodas, bottled water and .6 litre of wine was 36 Euros or $42!
Headed home after an amazing culinary journey.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ke Palle(WHAT BALLS!) for luscious lunch and La Cabusa for delicious dinner in Palermo, Sicily (7-20-17)

We had a great tour in Palermo which was all day but interspersed with some foodie treats, tops of which was Ke Palle, which literally is Sicilian for "What Balls!" and is unquestionably the best place for arancini on the entire island. Arancini are basically fired rice balls, but here they are taken to new heights and some are monstrous in various shapes. Ke Palle has dozens of flavors savory and sweet(like Nutella) and we were all thrilled as they have so many options even for vegetarians and vegans. Samuel had the Quattro Formaggi loaded with tasty gooey cheeses, while Will had a ham and cheese and I went for the Gamberoni con Pistacchi which was a ball stuffed with gorgeous shrimp as well as a rich pistachio pesto cream and then also topped with some of the luscious cream for extra decadence(see FB). OMG! This is a not to be missed experience.
For dinner, we headed back downtown to the quaint and quiet Piazza Marina to La Cambusa, which had been recommended by numerous folks. The setting is very nice on a huge square and by 830pm it was simply a space for the famous passagiato, locals strolling in the late afternoon/early evening. We ordered a bottle of Alessandro de Camporeale 2016 Grillo Vigna de Mandranova which was super refreshing with our starters.
Will had the Triloga Sicula (Sicilian trilogy) of Caponata di Spada (swordfish), Polpette di Sarde (fried Sardine balls) and Caicocavallo in Carozza, the local cheese battered and fried. It was a huge portion, rich and enjoyable as well. My Cozze e Vongole was a huge bowl of saute clams and mussels with superb seasoning, white wine and lemon (no garlic, Sicilians are not big on garlic). The clams were tiny and reminded me of Manila clams, tasty and petite.
Sam had a huge gorgeous Kalamanna Salad of lettuce, tomato, radish, mozzarella, arugula and parm which he loved with a side of fires.
He followed that with a Ravioli di magro con crema di melnzane, pomodoro e ricotta salata, which were veggie raviolis in Eggplant cream sauce with ricotta.
Our pasta was another shared portion, this time Cavatelli con Pesto di fave, mandorle, cozze e tuma fresca which was a completely new dish which had a yummy fava bean-almond pesto with mussels and fresh tuma cheese which was a salty pecorino type shredded on top. The mussels were nice, but it was the crunchy almonds that made the dish so special. It seems the best almonds come from Avola, also famous for the Nero d'Avola grape.
We moved on to a bottle of Dei Principe Spadafora from Don Pietro in nearby Monreale 2014 which was a superb blend of Nero d'Avola, Syrah & Cabernet Sauvignon that was full bodied but went superbly with our two fish dishes. The locals drink red with fish often and we decided it was time to blend in.
Will had the Branzino (sea bass) con patate e scromorza affuimicata su crema di piselli which was another wonderful piece of fresh fish with potatoes, smoked cheese and pea puree. My Filleti di orate farciti con pomodoro, caciocavallo ed olive was a wonderful dorado or sea bream which was stuffed with tomato, the superb local caciocavallo cheese and olives for salt. YUM.
The dishes were large, but not overpowering and we had such an enjoyable meal that we felt perhaps one last dessert was in order as tonight we must eat, rush home and get to bed early to fly onwards.
Will tried the crème brulee which was more like flan and I loved the simple refreshing and ice cold Pistachio Semifreddo.
Our only issue here was that we did ask for venti minuti (20 minutes) between the pasta and main course, and it appeared in less than 5! So much for repeatedly telling them we like to eat lentamente.....

Palermo's Grand Hotel Villa Igiea does decent dining at Donna Fraca Florio (7-19-17)

Since we were tired from the drive, cooking class, and fabulous lunch at the palazzo, we ate dinner in our hotel simply because it was easier than starting to trek out as the hotel is about 10 minutes from the city center on the coastline. The restaurant called Donna Franca Florio is the "mid-range" spot in the hotel with bars being simpler (and offering little for a vegetarian) and the fine dining being way too much. The setting is outdoors and quite elegant with silky linens. But we had to move as soon as we sat down due to heavy smokers nearby; a big issue with mostly outdoor dining being the norm in Sicily!
Despite its ranking as the top place in town, the menu needs some spelling tweaks, as "chunk" of amberjack is not very appetizing!
I started with the Red Snapper Tartare on chickpea fritter (the same type we made for lunch that day) with a divine wild fennel and lemon dressing. It really just goes to show that sushi/sashimi isn't just from the Orient, the Sicilians have nailed raw fish here at every spot. Will had the Roasted Ocotpus with Ragusano Cheese Fondue and Tomato Powder, which was a nice novel take on the standard dish with the gooey cheese addition.
Sam started with a Cream of Asparagus soup that he adored which was not on the menu. The staff went out of their way to make him dishes other than the same ones he had been repeating.
His main course was a gorgeous plate of grilled veggies that were clearly the freshest available.
Our wine was a Quater Bianco made from four varietals:Grillo/Cataratto/Carricante/Zibibbo 2014 which was superb but the price was more than TWICE as much as it was anywhere else we had seen the wine on a menu, and really stunned me at over 50 Euros! Wine here generally runs 12-30 Euros a bottle for a good brand! They also tended to slug pour the wine in huge amounts, so that it was gone quite fast. At one point, they even poured some into Sam's Sprite (in a wine glass admittedly), and then sent two additional glasses of white at no charge for us later on..so not that bad.
The pasta course that Will & I split was a revelations: Mezze Maniche with Fried Zucchini, Bacon, Basil Pesto & Toasted Almonds prepared and flambéed tableside(check the FB fotos). The thick circular rings of pasta resemble giant calamari rings and are perfect for holding the rich sauce made with cream, EVOO, butter and cognac (definitely not Sicilian) and gave me an impression of a thick Sicilian Pesto "Carbonara." It was an impressive production, but was even more impressive in the mouth.OMG!
We also split a main course of delicate Turbo Fillet with Lemon Sauce, Crunchy Spinach and Celeriac Chips...but the spinach was not crunchy, it was sautéed. Nonetheless, the dish was delicious and the fine main course to split after the rich pasta.
Since we split the dishes, we all felt entitled to dessert, especially after seeing the magnificent tarts being rolled around on the dessert trolley:
Wild Strawberry Tart, Chocolate Mousse Cake with Crocante on bottom and my Pistachio Mousse Cake; all were superb. It was a super meal indeed, despite the prices, but not one for locals for sure as they would have had a heart attack with "il conto!"

Cooking with the Duchess...an experience in Palermo in a palazzo that will please! (7-19-17)

We drove north from the south coast to the north coast in only 90 minutes and ended our drive at Palazzo Lanza Tomasi, which having been partially destroyed in WWII, has been lovingly restored by the Duke & Duchess of Palma (also Princes of Lampedusa) and just visiting this home is a memorable experience for its history, art, furniture and more; it is a living museum.
The Duchess (she prefers Nicoletta) gives cooking classes periodically in her kitchen and we spent the morning learning how to make many dishes. Eight of us then sat down in a magnificent dining room fit for a king and set beautifully and flawlessly, where we had a leisurely lunch with Nicoletta and her charming husband, Gioacchino, who it turns out, was the general manager of many opera houses in Italy including the Teatro Massimo nearby and the Teatro San Carlo in Naples; needless to say, we had many friends in common!
The meal began with Samuel's new favorite Palermo treat, Panelle, which are merely fritters made from chickpea flour. Ruvidelli with Pesto Trapanese was next, and while we made the pesto differently from our class the day before, it was still superb. We learned that each kitchen has its own variation on this everyday recipe here in the west of Sicily. Pesca Spada (Swordfish) alla Ghiotta was s super stewlike recipe with small pieces of fish in the thick tomato-vegentable sauce. This was accompanied by superb Involtini alla Melanzane, which are thin sliced eggplants layers first grilled then stuffed with an almond/caper/mint filling. I am not a fan of mint, but these were simply amazing. Dessert was a Gelo di Mellone al Gelsomino which was a Jasmine infused Watermelon Pudding that was somewhere between pudding and jello.
Wines were served as well: Regaleali Bianco 2015 and Regaleali Nero d'Avola 2014 with a beautiful Vecchio Florio Marsala Secco Superiore 2011 for dessert.
Conversation was amazing and then a tour of the palazzo was made where Nicoletta entertained us with stories about the ancestors whose paintings adorn the walls (I am tagged by my hubby Will on FB for many of the photos in the kitchen and the palazzo). It was a most memorable experience.
FYI-my clients can set up this amazing experience by booking their trips to Sicily through me. Indeed, the Palazzo has multiple apartments which can be rented by the day or week through Frosch Travel as well.

Menfi, Sicily's DA VITTORIO does virtue but ....(7/18/17)

Da Vittorio bad been raged about by everyone we met, and it is a decent place to dine, but very different from the night before at La Foresteria just a mile away.
The vegetarian choices were minimal again so Sam ordered what was called a Sicilian salad which was basically what he called a "bland"salad with tomato, onion and olives with no dressing as well as an order of French fries; kind of sad, but he did not seem to want the grilled vegetables. They are known for grilling fish here as it sits right on the sea and is a quaint setting indeed, especially at sunset, as it was.
Will and I started within order of Alice marinate, which are our favorite white anchovies simply marinated in oil;divine. Next came Cozze Mediterranea which were some of the most delicious mussels in a slightly spicy sauce that was a tomato base and really had guts.
We ordered a superb bottle of Grillo-Viognier blend from the nearby Can do Arancio called Dalila that was so refreshing and unbelievable at €16.
The main course was simply called mixed grill of fish. Neither of us expected the monstrous plate that arrived and you won't believe it even if you look at the Facebook picture. Unfortunately Will has a phobia over any fish with bones or heads on that has not been fileted. Here were 4 monstrous sardines, 4 of the spectacular local  red prawns, more shrimp and two whole fish, a dorado a d I think snapper. I tried my best to filet, but he would have none..it's a shame we couldn't manage .pay of it and he gave up. The prawns were amazing and what I managed to filet was superb, alas the sardines were bone infested.
Our friend Angelo from the nearby luxury  Verdura resort sent us a bottle of Oxydia Zebibbo  Marsala sweet wine from Floria that whe fell in love with along with some little pastries for dessert which sent us home on our way a bit disappointed but none the less full.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

La Foresteria Planeta, a wine estate in Sicily that will tingle your taste buds (7-17-18 & 7-18-19) with cooking classes!

Yesterday we arrived here at the serene hilltop overlooking the Mediterannean in Menfi, the southwest corner of Sicily. Planeta, is one of the biggest wine producers in Italy, and they have 5 separate operations in Sicily, but here in Menfi, they have a small comfortable "inn" with an amazing restaurant and chef Angelo truly impresses from his cooking, to cooking classes, to his stories about why Sicilian food looks like parts of the body!
Dinner is served on the open patio facing the glass enclosed kitchen where you choose to watch the chef and team, the ocean or just the grapes and olives growing.
Our amuse was a local apple caponata with duck breast, but for Sam ricotta cheese. We started with a Planeta Tereninto Grillo 2016 which is a new varietal for them from the nearby vineyards in Sambuca, where we shall visit for a tasting today. Our red was the Cerasuola di Vittorio from the east of Nero d'Avola/Frappatto DOCG "Dorilli" and since they have so many vintages library options, we chose the 2006 for a couple of euros more' well worth it for the aging.
Sam started with Uovo de Cavaliere which was a poached egg on mashed potato/EVOO puree and Will opted for the "Parmigiana" which here was a novel and exciting eggplant dish with Parmesan-Salted Ice Cream and Kamarino (local) cherry tomato sauce & basil,
I had the Crunchy Silver or ScabbardFish (Spatola) here served in a crispy bread crust and made even more fun with caviar-looking Balsamic-gel. The fish was divine and we all decided the chef was having fun with his preparation while pleasing us as well.
Capola was a new dish as it is risotto-like, but made with vegetables and red basil, but here served with raw oysters....a totally new take on a Sicilian tradition we did not know.
Will had the Mediterranean Red Snapper & Vegetable Soup, while I opted for the superb Baked Sicilian Grey Rabbit with Sea Snail Ragout, Herbs and Raisins. The delicate meat was wrapped in peppery bacon and I only wish I could finish the three huge roulades as they were superb. The vegetable with it was like chard or rapini and was called senape selvatica...which google says is rape or mustard. No matter, it was superb.
Dessert was split by all three of us and Will chose Terra di Etna smoked flower Ice Cream with ricotta, raspberry and black sesame, but we all swore the fruit was cherries?? A llight Brance Menta Granita with Meringue sent us off for the night.
But we needed bed and the next day woke to a super cooking class with Chef Angelo.
Today's cooking class was awesome and we learned not only how to make many traditional Sicilain dishes, we had a premier entertainer in Chef Angelo.
Caponata in the US is often a dull boring tapenade-like paste, We fried the local eggplant and mixed it with huge fresh olives, celery, onion (the size of your head) as well as toasted almonds and a red wine vinegar/sugar mix to temper. Out came the best caponata EVER (check FB). Pasta making is not easy and Busiati are curved and difficult, but we persevered and also matched it with the local Pesto Trapanese (tomato/basil/almond.
The main course was a simple thin veal chop breaded with crumbs and herbs and grilled served with a melon salad that was so superb, I though I could eat Sicilian fennel forever. We actually made the Canolo rolls and fried them, but ours were sad, so we got ones made superbly by the kitchen filled with ricotta that is delivered warm and fresh daily to the kitchen here. Again, I am in love with a dish which has often heretofore bored me. Making it was fun, eating it was better; but the experience is a memory we shall all cherish.

Cantinia Siciliana, impossible to find, but worth the trip if in Trapani, Sicily (7-17-17)

Cantina Siciliana in Trapani on the extreme west coast was recommended by a friend of mine, and while trying to negotiate the way too narrow medieval streets, we almost gave up as our guidance lady was having a fit (and so was my husband!).
Ultimately, I spotted it and we found a parking space a couple of blocks away in this maze-like fishing port.
Unassuming, tiny and almost feeling out of place, we were greeted by owner Pino Maggiore at the door and settled in to a short, but delicious and satisfying lunch.
Samuel wanted to try "their" Bruschetta as here it is made with Pane Nero des Castelvetrano, which is really NOT black bread, just brown, but superb. The bruschetta is hot here and Will and I tried a novel local version made with Tuna Bottargo that was salty and delicious. Will went on to have the Psat al Uovo di Tonna e Madorle di Noto which is a local pasta made with same tuna bottargo as well as almonds. I started with with Tris di Pesce Macerato which was a sashimi plate of swordfish, tuna and red prawns, I honestly could eat the amazing raw fish here every day forever! Samuel chose a dish we have come to adore and eat often, Busiato al Pesto Trapanese, but here the pesto is a basil and tomato base with almonds and has no cheese. This version had fried eggplant making it heavier, but the perfect dish for a vegetarian.
My main course was Cuscusu di Pesce condito con Aglio Rosso di Nubia. You must understand that western and southwestern Sicily are more African and hence coucous and other "Arab" influences have maintained their strength. This dish was cousous with chunks of tasty fish served with a bowl of red garlic broth from nearby Nubia that was truly spectacular. I ladled the borth over the couscous and fish as I ate it so that the dish did not get soggy as I went along; a journey I shall always remember and cherish.

There was no room for dessert and we had afternoon plans to hike to a belvedere...so off we went on our Sicilian adventures.

Rocco Forte Verdura Resort on Sicliy's remote and exciting south coast brings amore to AMARE (7-16-17

We were so lucky to be invited to a truly spectacular lunch at AMARE at the amazing Rocco Forte Verdura resort located about 40 minutes from Agrigento,  near the south coast town of Sciacca. I have to first say, that I thought this location to be odd, but now am convinced it is the perfect place to take a break while touring as well as be a center for your touring to places like Agrigento, Sciacca, the nearby mountain towns and so much more as well as the beach, huge pools, multiple dining options, kids club, blow-your-mind spa with fabulous thalasso-therapy pools, not to mention 45 holes of golf! The food was more than special as well at the casual seaside AMARE which sits on the rocky coastline that turns into a huge sand beach at the resort.
We have come to love the local Sicilian pasta called Busiate which is slightly thick and twirled (like DNA single strand) and here served with the superb local gamberetti (red prawns) and pistachio. I am going to start making my pasta this way when I get home, not to mention using pistachio for pesto, as well as almonds.
Caprese Salad here is a dream of local Mozzarella di Bufala, gorgeous tomatoes and balsamic and my Sashimi of raw fish & crustacean starter was a dream dish of local treat on a huge slab of Himalayan pink rock salt which included, swordfish, tuna, shrimp and sea bass dressed adoringly with local herbs. Be sure to check out the FB photos.
The wine was a revelations with a Guccione Cattarato from Monreale outside of Palermo that impressed us all to no end. I am not a fan of "orange" wine, but this funky, loaded with flavor and mineral wine was on the verge of that and also in color. It's a must taste experience if you make it here as I truly doubt it can be had abroad.
Maccheroncini con aglio e pomodoro ciliegino with basil was Sam's favorite pasta, although, I have to say, they have all been special.
Our host, Angelo, whom we adore, had the Tartare di tonno with ricotta e fagiolini(green beans) as well as a superb Spaghetti alla Vongole with the most delicate of clams.
Sam had the Elogio al Guisto which was a vegetable sashimi with avocado, green tomato, strawberry and mango with wasabi vinaigrette.
Gelati and sorbetti are all housemade and the tangerine, lemon and strawberry were loaded with fruit flavors, but I was "in cielo" (in heaven) with  Cremoso di Pistacchio con Gelato ai fichi as I adore the local pistachios and who can turn down anything with fig!?
It was creamy and rich, but not to sweet or overfilling and the fig gelato was just the right foil to the rich dish.
When in Sicily you never turn down a dessert wine and the best is always Planeta 2016 Passito di Noto, made where we were just several days prior and have come to love....it is OH so sweet and unctuous and I will have bottles in my bags to take home1
I can not imagine returning to Sicily without a stop here!

Agrigento, Sicily's LA SCALA has huge portions, delicious food and sadly musical noise from outside that would rival La Scala in decibal count (7-15-17)

When we arrived at La Scala in downtown Agrigento we had a little trouble finding the restaurant as the sign pointed up above a store so we went into the store and they told us we had to go around the corner and up stairs. w
We e had to pass a woman smoking a cigarette in our face at the bar below but we managed to get upstairs and find a beautiful room with what we called peach colored walls in a classy setting and tile floors. We were corrected by Samuel, these were yellow walls.
There was nobody in the restaurant at all so we sat down with the menu and decided we would order several things to share to start. 
The bruschetta with cherry tomato basil and burrata which sure sounded nice and then we realized that they were going to bring us a ton of extra appetizers after we had ordered a ton of our own. 
Arancina filled with tuna along with potato chips and delicious olives were served with a choice of breads and breadsticks and extra Virgin Olive oil called santa lucia named after the chef Vincenzo Santalucia, who makes the olive oil himself.
After this Samuel had a souffle Ragusano with DOP cheese and cherry tomato sauce which I think was one of his favorite dishes on this entire trip.
We'll ordered the octopus  which came in a salad form and I settled for the Giardino di Mare Casa Grant Which oddly included a couple more of the tuna arancini as well as the same octopus salad that Will had and also a very sad piece of smoked salmon with a roulade of spatola or silver fish. It was huge but unsatisfying appetizer.
After our traditional Campari and tonics, Will and I chose a bottle of Baglio del Cristo di Campobello Grillo Laluci, which we loved.
We also decided to split a portion of the spaghetti con le sarde a mare with almonds which is gorgeous spaghetti with sardine sauce and almonds. Samuel chose the Norma Croccante which is more or less a pasta made into a crunchy bird's nest served with eggplant tomato basil and parmesan.
For the main course will and I chose to have the sea bass cooked in salt and then fileted and brought to the table it was a small portion and we were thrilled that it was as we were completely full by the time we left.
Simple and gorgeous with lemon it was the ideal fish to end the meal. We were quite thrilled that the chef It come out at one time to greet us and make sure that everything was OK.
As we had been sitting there for a couple of hours the music inside was calming and delightful but we could hear the band from the bar below warming up and sounding a bit out of tune. 
A couple arrived in decided to take a table for 2 out on the balcony which required that the doors next to us remain open and unfortunately we now heard the loud blaring obnoxious band for the last 40 minutes of our meal while we were trying to enjoy our food. It really made me unwell and unfortunately marred a large part of our meal.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Agrigento, Sicily's La Terrazza degli Dei does the gods well (7-14-17)

For our 1st night in Agrigento we decided to dine at the hotel's terrace which overlooks the ruins and is right next to our villa suite so we didn't have to go very far.
La Terrazza degli Dei (terrace of the gods) Is indeed a beautiful setting and we were pretty hungry as we have not had lunch so we decided to have a tasting menu called Essence. 
We ordered our traditional Campari and tonics and received a beautiful amuses of octopus, potato and orange with caperberry and pesto while Sam had one of aubergine, caper and onion. There was a spa menu which offered some very nice vegetarian options and Samuel started with a huge portion of steamed barley wheat topped with tofu and crispy vegetables And then went on to a spaghetti made of rice and maize in potato sauce with French beans and bays or pesto. He declared both successes.
We ordered a bottle of Baglio de Cristo de Campobello 2016 Insolia/Grill blend called Adenzia that was big in minerals with a hint of citrus and indeed extremely dry.
The pianist was playing some opera tunes, classical tunes and pop tunes alternately with an accordion playing for a private party on the level below. It seemed like a competition to us but ultimately the group downstairs quieted down-and we were able to enjoy the pianist.
Our 1st course was a very rich potato cream with carob which is used a lot in local cooking as well as clam scampi with its head sauce and time which they called Veloutate, but was way rich and delicious.
Next came lemonated meringue with cooked and raw shrimp and a leaf of mint which was an int'resting dish but did not really impress us very much.
Small vegetable pie with tomatoes, herbs and marinated prawns was very different as Tortelli with vegetables and pickles shrimp arrived. The shrimp were novel and actually very interesting as was the pastor but I really would have loved to have the vegetable pie instead. It was also funny that each dish was delivered with silver domes and this guy looking like Secret Service who had a microphone and earplug  going to the delivered everything to us.
We moved on to an amazing red wine Il Frappati 2015 Terre Siciliani IGT by Arianna Occhipinti who I had actually heard of before-and is from the Ragusa area. It was rich in tannins but yielded lots of fruit as well.
Triglia or Red Mullet Was presented on a rock with some foam and was a delicious version of the local fish which was followed by a cube of lacquered piglet in its garden which turned out to be mushrooms and sage.
The portions were thankfully small so we really did enjoy the various tasting options .
Dessert was a white chocolate mousse with red fruits meringue almond and beautifully dried fruit such as lime star Anise mint and sage decorating the beautiful dish. Be sure to Check-out the Facebook pictures for this I think you'll enjoy them and have a wonderful rest of our trip as there is much more to come.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ragusa, Sicily's Locanda di Don Serafino supersedes all others in Siclily (7-13-17)

We arrived in the amazing hilltop town of Ragusa after a long day of touring, but knowing this was going to be a special experience. We were booked into the luxury suite which was in a cave over the restaurant with it's own garden terrace and Jacuzzi. Add that to a two Michelin star restaurant downstairs with Chef Vincenzo Candiano at the helm and an amazing staff with Stefano as manager and Carmello as sommelier, you have one of the finest dining experiences possible in Sicily, probably tutta l'Italia!
We had the option of dining inside or out and while the view is superb, inside the cave was air conditioned and the huge tables with comfy plexiglass chairs were so separated, there was amazing privacy no matter where you were. Ultimately, we realized that we were the only guests all night and this made us fell so special and honored indeed.
After much decision we opted for a 6 course tasting menu (120Euros=$135) and Samuel choose some of the veggie items that he liked and was super happy as well.
First came an amuse of Codfish(no fish for Sam)  brandade, tomato gazpacho and peach. Cod can be salty, but this was not at all, and we loved the Planeta Etna Brut Carricante Sparkling wine that Carmello proferred with such joy as we said we would let him choose at the wines from his amazing cellar, which we visited before the meal. The breads of cocoa, rustic, whole wheat, sundried tomato and divine thyme breadsticks (eat your heart out Jacques Pepin, as your Oceania breadsticks were often soggy!) were amazing as was the EVOO Tonda Iblea (the local region) which was peppery in the mouth, but not at the back of the throat as some EVOO's can.
Our first course was "Maki" of couscous topped with salmon roe in nori with a "see through"Ravioli made from thin cucumber filled with grouper tartare and a delicious oyster with fennel seaweed in sorbet like foam. All three were refreshing treats and so wonderfully conceived as well as beautifully presented (see FB fotos!). Samuel was treated to a dish of tomato, almond cream and plankton!!

Samuel  next had an Egg IN Tomato with Cacio Cavllo Cheese & Foam Basil which he declared a revelation as the poached egg was intact inside the tomato!!
Our next course was Red King Prawns, Mazzara & Onion  Cream with Spinach, Candied Lemon and Licorice (which was so mild I could not taste it, as you all know I don't like licorice). The head on prawns were superb and the wine was an amazing Cattarato "Beleda: 2012 from Rallo in Marsala, where we shall head later this week.
Our third course was Spaghetti (really more like squared off pasta) with squid ink, ricotta, sea urchin and cuttlefish that was simply divine and the best urchin pasta dish we had so far. Neromascalese Rosematte from Faro DOC (Messina) was an interesting choice, but we love good red wine, and the Sicilians like red with fish it seems as well.
Samuel had a shell pasta, kohlrabi, "tenerumi" and confit cherry tomato which we could not taste as it was gone so quickly, but got raves.
He was also enjoying the new local soft drink that Stefano procured in various flavors like Spuma (akin to sasparilla?).

Up fourth for Sam was a Summer Vegetable Millefoglie(millefeuille) with peppers, crusted salty zucchini, sweet onions and nuts which was  nice break from bruschetta, pizza and pasta!
We had Merluzo or Group Amatriciana with onion, tomato, pureed potato and Pecorino Romano. I have to say that if in Sicily, eat fish, eat fish, eat fish.....
Wiger "Artemido" 2012 Cab Franc from Etna is served chilled as are many red wines in Sicily and we loved this mineral intense franc unlike any other we have ever had anywhere. A brilliant fish pairing for sure!

The first dessert was Peach Bellini, but before this we had little sponges in water to clean our hands. The dessrt had a yummy crunch and was paired with Mimi Spumante from Ragusa, a local treat.
The final dessert was called Irminio's Valley after the local site and we had a milk river running through it with honey cream, almond crumble and carob ice cream. Paired with a yummy Marsala 1994 Florio Targa Riserva Superiore semi-seco that was a rare treat for sure.
More arrived in the form of raspberry/strawberry macaroons, chocolate and almond biscuits, pistachio/black pepper biscuits and a feeling of just right for the entire meal as we walked up the steps to our "cave" after many photos with the amazing team that truly excels and loves food and wine. Ragusa is a beautiful, quaint and pleasant place with SO much to see, but avoided by many tourists....don't give away the secret, but be sure to eat at Locanda Don Serafino (and stay there as well --you can book with me!).

Siracusa, Sicily's Trattoria La Foglia far above the rest and lots of vegetarian options, too (7-12-17)

Siracusa offers some wonderful dining options, but we were saddened that the top spot in town was closed for most of July, but thrilled to find a vegetarian option just a block from our hotel. We arrived at the adorable Trattoria La Foglia which was adorned with every kind of décor you could imagine from lace cloths to children's dresses. Roberta cheerfully explained the menu, which was not totally vegetarian, but there were so many choices for Sam, he was in heaven.
Cunzato..Sicilian bruschetta with cheese, sun dried tomatoes, basil and spicy chili pepper marmalade was a memorable local dish and the "marmalade" or tapenade had an amazing kick. Roberta just poured wine from a bottle (a local Grillo) as we felt like we were guests in someone's home. Arancini were superb, but had small pieces of meat inside..OOPS, but has a yummy caper tapenade. Bruschetta came with the freshest of local tomatoes and an olive tapenade. All the bread dishes were amazing and the bread crusty and yummy.
Sam's starter was a monstrous Vegetable platter with quiche omelette,olive, leek, fennel, carrot, potato, haricots verts, favas, spinach and more.....check out the FB fotos!
There were many vegan soup options and I chose the Macco, which was a rich mashed fava bean soup and came super hot despite the 90+ degree temps; I was quite full.
Samuel had the Lentil & Wild Fennel Soup which was truly amazing as well, while Will chose the spectacular local Atturata, tagliatelle with anchovies and roasted breadcrumbs. I hope we see this on the menu again soon. His main course was Cozze nelle pampine, another local treat of mussels wrapped in lemon leaves with secret sauce and couscous which rendered the little mollusks like butter! The dorado in lemon, caper and white wine sauce with olives came with barley and had amazing spices such as rosemary bay leaves and more.
Sam was so full from his soup he decided to have just a small plate of pasta with pesto which he could not finish as there was so much of everything. We apologized to Roberta that we could not have dessert, but left SO happy we had found a very special place in Siracusa with soul.

On Mt. Etna, Locando Nerello at Monaci delle Terre Neri is a must (7-11-17)

In between driving up to the Mt. Etna cablecar and climbing our way through the lava flows, lava tubes and more of Valle del Bove, we stopped for an amazing lunch and mini-wine tasting at Locando Nerello, the adorable restaurant in a small hotel, Monaci delle Terre Neri in the town of Zafferana Etnea on the eastern slope of Mt.Etna. The hotel doubles as a totally organic agricultural destination as they not only have a winery, orchards and make olive oil, but they harvest wheat for their own breads and pastries. The décor is funky in a beautiful noble house that is centuries old and it really can't be described, but that said, it's adorable and so was our excellent server. We first tasted the mineral intense and superb Cataratto 2016 from the Guido Coffa Winery which is the name of the winery on site. The Etna Bianco 16 and Etna Bianco M 2015 are made with Carricante (60% minimum required for the name Etna Bianco) which we did not like as much, but the excellent Nero Mascalese Red was a winner.
An amuse of Cavolo Trunzo (local cabbage) with caramezlized onion, plum sauce, dried caper and a splash of squid ink for decoration (not on Sam's plate) was a truly exciting preview of what was to come.
I started with an excellent Beef tongue with caramelized onion, ginger, cherry tomato& purple turnip purees and fior di latte (local mozzarella). Will chose the Cinsara Veal Tartare with Etna Mele Cola Apple Salad while Samuel had an amazing Monaci Poached Egg Fondue Tenerume with Caprino cheese from Cammarata & Timilia (high protein, low gluten, made on site)flour bread chips, which was served with spinach and bread crumbs and he begged for me to attempt to duplicate this for breakfast at home; I'll try.
For his main course he chose the Gnocchi with local almond, olive oil and honey which was oddly sweet, so he asked to switch it for the Courgette Spaghetti with Zucchini Flowers and Sea Asparagus which went over much better.
Will had the superb and rich Sea Urchin Pasta, while I chose the Egg Tagliolini with Seaweed, Red Prawns and Citrus topped with Pistachio Bronte, the pistachios that grow only on Etna and are prized here in Sicily. They give an amazing crunch to any dish which I have come to adore (even today I had an iced coffee with the local almond milk and topped with pistachio crumbs--WOW!).
For dessert we chose the Tonka Bean Crème Brulee with Celery Granita & Chocolate Crumble which was tasty but alas, no crunchy brulee topping here. The Black bee Semifreddo with "carrot cake" and Mulberry Ice Cream was refreshing for sure, but definitely on the outre side.
More chocolates, cookies and treats sent us on our 4-5 hour Etna hikes and excursion well nourished.

Taormina's Vicolo Stretto, a good view, a good meal, but some gaffes (7-10-17)

Our 2nd night in Taormina brought us to one of the narrowest streets off the main drag although calling it a street would be kind as the stairwell was barely wide enough for each of us to walk up single file. Halfway up the stairwell just to the side was a rooftop restaurant which truly gave us a fabulous view over the entire city as well as the bay and My. Etna. As we sat down complimentary glasses of Etna Bianco from Insolia were poured for us and shortly thereafter we received an amuse of tomato bread soup, which was nice and refreshing but didn't win any awards.
The plates were beautiful but huge in the table was pretty small so the silverware hid under each of the plates edges. 
Once again there were few veggie options so Sam resorted to the  Caponata and Eggplant Parmigiana.
Will started with the local specialty of Sarde a beccafico con ciliegino all'origano or stuffed sardines with sultanas, pine nuts and oregano. The dish was superb but the accompanying cherry tomato salad had no flavor and sat on a small nest of shredded wheat that was so bland, but adorable.
Pulpo came with herbs, vegetable dressing and carrot puree and was served over sauteed spinach. Our Barone do Montero 2016Viognier from Trapani was crisp and fruit intense. Unfortunately the waiter decided to pour the next table's wine into our glasses and really wrecked it. Ultimately he did offer us to complimentary glasses of a Sicilian Pinot Grigio.For the pasta the course Will and I shared a divine Carnaroli Risotto with seafood including shrimp mussels clams prawns octopus calamari and lobster with crispy leeks on top.
We moved on to a Nerello Mascalelse from Etna called Antichi Vinai(old vines) from the Pietra Lava winery thatvwas excellent with oir heavy swordfish main courses.
Will had the traditional Sicilian Pesca Spada or soup of swordfish capers tomato and fried eggplant and peel as well Messinese style, while I chose the swordfish stuffed with eggplant, mashed potatoes, sun dried tomatoes, mussels and clams.
It was a delicious meal but alas there was no room for dessert so we headed home.

time for fish in Taomrina at Osteria Nero d'Avola (7-9-17)

After driving further south on Sunday we ferried across the Straits of Messina (Scylla & Charbydis were not in evidence) to Sicily where we will spend the next 2 weeks.
Taormina, the super chic and expensive resort town perched on cliffs overlooking Mt. Etna was our first stop and our first night was at the quiet, off the beaten track, Osteria Nero D'Avola (named for the famous red grape of the region). The outdoor terrace was beautiful, save for the bees that kept bothering Will & Samuel, but ultimately as the sun set and the moon rose (FB photo) they let us eat in peace. The 82 evening temperature seemed cool with a nice sea breeze as the bells of St. Pancras chimed for a local celebration.
Will started with Pulpo Fiction which was a monstrous and delicious portion of octopus topped with paprika for spice, while I loved my Cozze gratinata al finocchietto delvatico, pinoli, uva passa e zafferano a magnificent dish of local mussels seasoned with breadcrumbs, fennel (very mild), pine nuts sultanas and saffron.
Samuel started with the Eggplant Parmigiana which he ordered to avoid more pasta, but said was just as rich, yet delicious.
A bottle of Zahara Grillo, Case di Grazia 2016 was fruit forward with gooseberries, but turned to citrus as we let the chilly wine warm a bit. It was our first Sicilian white in Sicily and we intend to have many more. Indeed we moved on to a spectacular chardonnay 2015 from the famous Regaleali Vigna San Francesco called Sicilia Contea di Scalafari that was superb with our main fish courses.
Three types of olive oil were poured with bread but we tried them without first to truly experience the flavors:
Monte Etna Romano was the lightest from the nearby volcano slopes on the east coast, followed by No. 1 Lorenzo, a Cerasuola olive from Trapani on the west coast (where we go later on) and Letizia from Monte Iblei in the south which was pepper intense and really needed bread or food (I wish I had that on my boring salad today at lunch!).
Samuel had the Trofie Pasta with Zucchini & Mint for his main course, and it was novel but quite delicious.
Will's pasta was Sicilian macaroni (longer and thinner than ours at home, as it was in Basilicata the other day) with a sausage ragu and I had the richest Spaghetti ai ricci di mare e bottarga di tonna which was sea urchin sauce with tune bottarga that was salty, rich, creamy and divine!
Will and I had fish for main courses (Sam skipped) and Will's Spada Siciliana was a gorgeous local swordfish (the #1 fish dish on the isle) while mine was Spatola (or silverfish) gratinata con istacchio di Bronte escorza di limone and I have to say the pistachio crumble (from the slopes of Etna) was an amazing treat with the lemon zest.
We couldn't even fathom dessert, so tonight we shall rethink having do many courses....maybe not!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

La Locandiera in Bernalda boasts brilliant food from a real family run restaurant (7-8-17)

Tonight's dinner was brilliant treat from the moment we entered (www.trattorialalocandiera.it) the small 8-10 table tiny family run La Locandiera here in Bernalda. The owners greeting us, while their mother assisted and the aunt was in the kitchen with a giant chef hat, long earrings and glasses on a chain, which would have made a great photo! Chequered red and white table cloths, terra cotta floors and food awards, books and photos adorned the place for an even more family feel, only the wicker chairs were uncomfortable. The 35 Euro menu (under$40) offered us enough to eat for close to 3 hours starting with an amuse of cucumber& caccio ricotta cheese in a large spoon. The five starters were enough to fill us up!!!:
-Frisella was a warm toasted bread with fried red peppers, tomato and basil; I would call it bruschetta gone Basilicata (the region) crazy
-Crappiata was a bean soup made from more types of beans you could count on your hands and meant to celebrate the August harvest
-Zucchini balls were beer battered and fried and served on skewers in the coolest piece of tree bark that resembled an open book (check the FB photos)
-Ciambatta was a jar full of cooked eggplant, peppers and tomatoes
(you may notice the vegetarian theme here as they knew Sam was a vegetarian and totally catered to his tastes)
-the last dish to start was a tomato "soup" concasse with local ricotta and green peppers which they called a "Basilicato Gazpacho" but it was too thick and rich for that simple title and totally won us over (as if this has not happened yet!)

We had a bottle of Calaprici "Amastuola" which is an organic white made form Fiano Bianco & Chardonnay with super strong acidity and dry as can be from nearby Puglia.
The first pasta course was Maccheroncini with creamed ceci bean, bread crumbs and sun dried tomatoes which was an elongated and thin macaroni-style pasta that was divine. Before this arrived, they asked if we like "spicy" and of course we said yes. A bottle filled with oil and pepperoncini was delivered which we tasted on the bread and then were told to add to the pasta for extra spice:OMG!
Sam next had Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli in Tomato Sauce with loads of fresh grated Parmeggiano Reggiano while Will and I chose the truly local Toretelloni with Burrata filling topped with codfish tartare that was out of this world. We did not expect raw fish and it was truly a novel and exciting dish.
Our main course was Braised Pork Cheekin Red Winse sauce that was as tender as it can be and so rich, yet small enough that we were not overstuffed, Some lettuce was on the side to check the dish as we enjoyed it with a glass of local Aglianico del Vulture(only grown in Basilicato) 2012 Liscone that was structured and intense.
Samuel's "main course" was Bread dumplings that looked just like two giant meatballs in tomato sauce which were gone quite quickly.

Dessert was a hit with the boys having Strawberry Marmalade Tart while I went for the local Apricot Jam and Cream over Apricot Semifreddo that was out of this world. Limeoncello arrived for Will and Sam while I loved the Nespolino, a local summer fruit liqueur mixed with almond.
When we thought no more could come a slate arrived with honey biscuits, gelees, chocolate truffles and raisin jelly cake; all were superb.
If I told you this all cost under $200 you would not believe me, but the whole bill with wines, sodas and 3 bottles of sparkling water came to under $165US!!
What an amazing night.
Sicily next!