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 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 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'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 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 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 ( 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!

Bernalda's Palazzo Margherita: a private palatial treat for the palate (7-7-17)

After arriving in Italy we immediately drove south to the Basilicata region near the instep of Italy's "boot" and the quaint town of Bernalda where Francis Ford Coppola traces his roots and returned several years ago to buy and renovate Palazzo Margherita with his daughter Sophia (who was married here?). There are only 9 rooms and the "restaurant " is indeed the patio or kitchen of the palazzo and only open to guests. Last night it ws the three of us and another couple that were treated to top notch service in a most congenial garden setting.
Crusty awesome homemade bread arrived and we dressed with local olive oil, balsamico, and some red pepper flakes. Oro di Elena was a local Fiana Bianco grape from Basilicata wine from Masseria Cardillo that was dry and had a wonderfuly minerally and slight grassy taste. It was superb with the starters as I had the most amazing Cozze ammollicate or mussels baked with breadcrumbs and Will had the  Calamari with fava bean puree with mint. Sam raved about his eggplant caponata, and I explained he can have it made every day a different way when we get to Sicily tomorrow!
The pastas were very good with Sam's Lucanian black truffle risotto and Will havinf the same with shrimp, and my divine Linguine alla vongole(clams) winning stars as well.
Sam tried the Zucchini/ALmond Pesto Pasta for his main course which he said was okay while Will and I both enjoyed the "Peasant" roasted sausage over a bed of rustic crispy potatoes but felt a bit over-carbed. A bottle of F. Negroamaro, Negroamaro Salenino IGT from Feudi di San Marzano was the perfect red, but the 90 degree heat (albeit dry) was killing us by the end the long day of driving and touring sent us right to bed!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Barcelona's Bohemic is now the glorious SANT ANTONI GLORIOS (7-4-17)

We were just in Barcelona on the cruise ship for the day, but it was mandatory to grab lunch (albeit for almost 2 hours) at our favorite place in virtually all of Europe, When we last visited this city,Chef Francesc held rule over the tiny Bohemic, which has recently changed to the bistro-like Sant Antoni Glorios at the same address (Carrer Manso, 42 which has a simple menu, but some of the best food you will eat anywhere.
After a warm reunion, I settled in with a glass of refreshing Cava Reserva Brut from Ferret Guasch while Will enjoyed an Alhambra beer. The famous Papas Bravas arrived and Sam's eyes burst out of his head as he fought his father (see FB video) for the superbly fried potatoes now served with a spicy BBQ like sauce and a mayo aioli like cream; nobody can make fries like these.
Next came the typical Catalan tomato bread, followed by Mackerel with Yuzu and yogurt which is basically sashimi gone Catalan Crazy. No wonder, the chef's nickname is Crazy Mandu!
I switched to an amazing white blend courtesy of "sommelier" Davide from France which was a blend of Godello, Albarino and I think Heredura(?) called Ribeiro from Ramondo Casar in Galicia that had amazing minerality and unreal flavors that was perfect with the fish. Next came Samfaina Omelet vegetables which Samuel wants me to make every day; good luck with that. Grandfather's Fried Egg is slow cooked first then quick fried and served with small side sauces of fermented onions  and sabrasosa (a cured pork cooked into a ragu). It was like a poached egg but firmer then dropped into a sea of sweet potato puree (see FB foto). Gambas came in the sauce of its own head, and by now I had switched to a superb Garnacha Sindicat La Figuera from Montsant. More shrimp (gambas) arrived with chickpeas in a divine sauce and the  final dish was a revelation, Albondigas Ibericas which are meatballs made from the famous Iberico pork and served super rare in an amazing sauce of aji/yuzu mayo and ciboulette onions with pork cracklings. I could have eaten a dozen if I was not full.
Of course there was time for dessert and espresso and we all split one of the most glorious desserts ever: Borracho Glorioso or Glorious Drunk Rum Cake that was like a baba au rhum gone crazy Catalan.

The space is small and the hours are short, so plan your trip here with care and leave plenty of time to savor each bite. Soon, Chef Francesc will open up a secret back room for small tastings of fish, meat or chef's choice around 14 courses, but you have to have a connection to book this truly exclusive experience. We will return there for sure as this is indeed our favorite place in all Europe.