Pre Vinitaly 2014 – Roundup #1

Apologies for the short update

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Things are a little crazy at present, covering more ground over the last two days than I have driven last calendar year. From Rome, we belted across to Abruzzo and had some amazing dinner at a defiante starter if you ever find yourself around Chieti – Ristorante Ferrara (Via Orientale, 39 Bucchianico)

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Pay your €25 and head downstairs into the cantina where you have your selection of a fantastic array of cured meats and cheeses

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And roving appetisers that will make you question whether you are in the basement of a restaurant, or simply in heaven.

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BUT, don’t fill up – because after an hour of that with all the bubbles you can shake a stick at, head upstairs and get into the local cow.

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From Abruzzo, we made a 5 and a half hour stint in the car up to Veneto, to a little town called Vittoria Veneto where lives our Prosecco producer Le Vigne di Alice.

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From here we took a drive into the mounts of Belluno, to a restaurant we were told, has not dropped below a single Michelin star since inception – Dolanda (Via Dolanda, 21 Plois d’Alpago). This deconstructed Carbonara Nuova was simply sublime, done so, we were told, so that you can see how the sum of the parts comes to be. Toss the lightly poached egg into the hot pasta and carve what appeared to be Capocollo and dig in. Amazing.

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We also had their take on Costoletta alla Milanese. This entailed remains from what only could be a Brontosaurus (As you can see by the enormous bone). This was again a dish to be in awe of.

So that’s in for now – Today we head to San Daniele, no doubt to throw another couple of points onto the end of my cholesterol reading.

Armando al Pantheon, Roma, Italy

When in Rome..

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Blah blah, you know the sayings. But possibly the one that holds the truest, is that one should avoid restaurants adjacent to any tourist destinations like the plague; ‘less you want to wander into one of hundreds of Rome’s honeypots of trap destinations. Menus with half a dozen languages, wait staff hawking business Lygon St style and fusion classics such as Hamburger and Pizza featuring on the same menu are also usually giveaways. However, what if there was a restaurant that flew in the face of  everything you were taught?

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And that’s where Armando fits in, because it’s been here a million years, serving Roman classics such as Amatriciana, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe and Scaloppine to scores of locals and tourists alike, and it’s within a stones throw of its namesake. It’s the sort of place, that, even before it’s facelift in summer last year (I know this first hand because I was here in August and went to dine only to find it completely gutted) remains a ‘no reservation, no chance’ sort of place.

Truth be told, this was only my second outing here.. And honestly I didn’t rate it the first time. So, with a helpful dose of skepticism in we went to quench our 31 hours of transit time famine and thirst.

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The wine list is fairly comprehensive. Whether your after local regional wines from Lazio (we never are), or from greater Italy you will find something suitable to both your palate and budget. We had a ripper Barolo from Cavalotto, and amongst an at-capacity restaurant, we set in.

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My fiancé, despite having Napoli origins makes once of the best Carbonara sauces I’ve tried, and this was almost identical. Crisp, al-dente Spaghetti thrown into some fine olive oil and crunchy pancetta, tossed through a couple of runny eggs at the end and sprinkled with a liberal dose of both black pepper and Parmesan. Heavenly

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I finished off with the quintessentially Roman veal Scaloppine with a white wine reduction, crisp prosciutto and sage. Easily the best I’ve had, and Australian restaurants please take note: leave the soggy ‘Gnocchi alla Romana’ I have to fork aside anyway off the menu. If I want a pasta, I’ll order it.

So there we have it. A fantastic evening capped off at one of only two ‘must eat’ restaurants for me in Rome. A delicious meal, and an even better foray into our pre-culinary antics for Vinitaly 2014

And that was that. So then, Armando is perched amongst, for me, one of two real must-stop destinations when visiting Rome. Just make sure you have a reservation.

Armando al Pantheon
Salita dei Crescenzi 31, Roma, Italy

Fresh alba white truffle, fabulous porcini

If an impending Christmas wasn’t enough…

porciniWorking in the food and wine industry also gives you a couple more guilty pleasures to look forward to. At this time of the year? It’s fabulously fresh porcini, air freighted in from Italy. I’ve eaten it in various forms the last couple of nights, but last night it got thrown in with my favourite bianco base.

tartufodinner7Onion, fresh pancetta, and some good old fashion peperoncino. While this sizzled away, was the perfect time to tuck into some antipasto

tartufodinner424 month aged Ruliano prosciutto di Parma, some of my favourite Roquefort, and a middle eastern olive bread made by my father.

tartufodinner5When everything is coming along nicely, some fettuccine are tossed through and a healthy drizzle of EVOO

tartufodinner3Then? The best part of all. Pasta – meet truffle.

tartufodinner2Let that infuse for a minute or two, while the main course gets sizzling.

tartufodinner6Veal Scallopini done right, is one of the most visceral pleasures one can have. The crisp acidity of white wine, sweet caramelisation from the veal and the sage sets it off.

tartufodinner1Some 24 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and buon appetito! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiaschetteria Toscana, Venezia

Driving into Venice…

4K6A1903Even from the brisk trek that is from Verona (~100 odd kms) is one of the most daunting experiences you can do in the heart of summer, especially if for the first time. When you eventually work out how it is exactly you are supposed to return your hire car, and then reach your hotel when nobody seems to know where it is, lug your baggage through the vast enclaves of the town and up this stairwell, and that one, and the other one over there too, and then back down that one, and over another.. And was it this Vaporetto stop, or was it the last one? It seems the last thing in your mind about the town is captivating and positive. Especially when the masses of tourists make it apparent that moving your round peg through this vastly square hole is entirely necessary to navigate the variety of sestiere that comprise the town.

BUT, stick with it. Despite my obviously less-than-positive first impressions of this town, it drew me back unto the fond memories of my childhood and something about the town just mesmerised me. It’s eery at night, with the sometimes dark alleyways and luminescent green lit waters… The occasional Riva passing underneath you or an opportunistic Gondoliero picking up one last fare. During the day, its a bustling maze of craft shops, expensive restaurants and underpasses, bridges and piazze.

The second largest sestiere of all though, Cannaregio, captivated me the most. This almost town-within-a-town, on the opposite end to Piazza San Marco is swathe with boutique shops and restaurants and this very Tuscan of restaurants was recommended to me and visited on our first night when our original plans (Enoteca San Marco, Vini da Gigio) were closed. Ferie, and day off respectively.

4K6A1893The menu changes often, daily even, and the delightful menu (Available in pure English, or Italiano) is printed on thick paper, almost like a wedding invitation. The food, so obviously fresh meant that L’s first two choices of fish, had both sold out for the night.

4K6A1892The wine list is extensive, but it was hard to go past proven favourites… Such as this Bianco Secco from Quintarelli.

4K6A1894Classic antipasti such as stuffed zucchini flowers never get old, and these were surrounded by a chive and yoghurt dressing which was fragrantly refreshing.

4K6A1896Having snubbed Chianina beef in Tuscany, a regional speciality from a specific breed of bovine, I was quick to pounce on it both from entree, as a pasta…

4K6A1898…And as a main, with both dishes impressing immensely.

4K6A1901To finish, as we always seem to gravitate to, the Tiramisu was class-beating, easily up there with the best I have eaten out and what a special way to end the meal.

So, while it may seem to be a cop-out eating Tuscan in Veneto, some things are just too good to pass up.. We both agreed this was meal of the trip, and will most definitely be back. When in Venice, this is, put simply, impossible to resist.

Fiascherettia Toscana
Salizada S.Giovanni Grisostomo, Cannaregio 5719 Venezia
http://www.fiaschetteriatoscana.it

Enoteca I Terzi, Siena

It’s rare on vacation…

photo 2to go two-for-two when it comes to stand out restaurants, but this one was not only recommended by our good friend and local Senese resident Francesco, but also visited when we stopped here in April. Bear in mind folks, when it comes to Tripadvisor, sometimes a mediocre rating is a blessing; especially when they come from a certain demographic and refer to Italian service. Anyone who’s travelled to Italy should shelve any thoughts of decent service – don’t rate any restaurant on this merit alone or else you will be bitterly disappointed. For this reason, and the point I’m trying to make is while the restaurant was full, it was full of locals.

We sat down to some antipasti consisting of contrasting flavours…

photo 3Insalata Caprese was refreshing and tribute to some amazing produce.

photo 1My eggplant flan was moist, creamy, and perfectly proportionate.

photo 4The zucchini risotto was also lovely, if a little rich, but enjoyable none-the-less.

photo 5The pici with ragout was delicious, but admittedly I had this last trip here. I have a feeling a little egg tossed through the pasta added a layer of creaminess which set it off perfectly. In true Northern style tomatoes were all-but-absent which let the quality of the meat sing. Oh so beautiful. Yum. 4 euros for the biggest glass of Vernaccia you have ever seen, backed up with a 6 euro glass of the same volume in Vino Nobile define value and finished this one off in one of the finest examples of Italian value you are likely to see. A definate visit, and if visiting in warmer periods, sit outside. You’ll love it.

Enoteca I Terzi
Via Dei Termini 7, Siena, Tuscany
http://www.enotecaiterzi.it

Osteria Le Logge, Siena

In such a beautiful, historic town…

4K6A1863You’d actually be surprised to see just how hard it is to avoid the ‘tourist traps’ in many of these beautiful places. This one came recommended as not only a place to visit, but the place. Inside, low slung curves and buttresses line the roof and spectacular bottles of vino, including the houses own Gianni Brunelli label adorn the walls. The food offered is both a splice of local Tuscan flavours, with a left-of-field twist that sets them aside from your usual holiday fare.

The menus, handwritten and presumably therefore very dynamic, pair fresh seasonal produce with a bullet-proof wine list that will ensure whatever it is you’re chasing, you can find.

4K6A1868Classics such as tempura-battered zucchini flowers filled with ricotta will impress with their decadence…

4K6A1869While others such as the panzanella, a deliciously refreshing quintessentially Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes topped with spoked Piemontese cheese will refresh on such a warm winters night.

4K6A1870Other antipasti such as the burrata cheese with avocado salad with insalata all’Acqua Minerale (Salad with sparkling water) meld contrasting textures to alarming success.

4K6A1871The mains, while likely to appeal to your adventurous side marry seasonal flavours you’d likely never even thought possible. One such derivative, the gnochetti porcini e mirtillo blends fresh (a real treat) porcini mushrooms, with blueberries. Yes, blueberries. The result? Unusually delicious, and again perfectly suited to the climate, and season they are served in.

4K6A1873Desserts continue the trend, even the classic tiramisu arrives deconstructed, with jellied amaretto cubes and an altogether absence of savoiardi.

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I preferred this delightful vanilla creme filled cannolo with melted gianduja and hazlenut gelato was pure heaven.

If you only have one night to dine, don’t mind being a little adventurous, and want to try some local flavours with a truely outstanding wine list, Le Logge, just outside the main Piazza del Campo is the place to go.

Osteria Le Logge
Via del Porrione 33, Siena, Tuscany.

Pizzarium, Roma

There are certain places…

photo 1That are institutions in the restaurant industry. Places like DOC in Melbourne, Da Michele in Naples,  Di Fara in New York City, and of course Pizzarium in Rome. Mind the walk (15 mins from Vatican City), mind the heat (August in Rome nudges 40c), mind the neighbourhood (ghetto) and mind the wait in line, because Pizzarium serves up some historic (the starter used is several hundred years old) pies.

photo 5Inside, a sort of hole-in-the-wall that sells pizza by the kilo and serves up a variety of pies from classics with barebones pomodorini to exotics such as ricotta and blueberries and everything inbetween. Also on the menu, various suppli and arancini can also be had. During our visit (The month of July), we learned Bonci will only serve vegetarian, a rare move for restaurants in Rome to show their support for local farmers.

Be prepared to wait if arriving on normal meal hours, because confining an armada of clientele into a place so small is never going to be efficient. Nevertheless, what makes Gabriele Bonci’s pizza so decadent is his ancient recipe for dough, which centres around burrato flour from antico mulino, the product of stone-grinding artisan methods.

photo 3Pizzas do vary wildly. In our visit, the menu was 100% vegetarian and pies such as this one with fresh ricotta e zucchini with a dash of lemon juice really satiated hungry appetites on such a stifling Rome day.

photo 2Others, such as boiled potato and a sharp cheese (Didn’t catch the sort) also impressed. What makes them so special? The dough, crisp on the outside, light and spongey in the centre, is not one you’re likely to find anywhere, let alone Rome which prides itself on its wafer crusts.

photo 4The arancini and suppli were a nice treat as well, obviously not their core competency but a fabulous accompaniment to what should be a scheduled visit on any Rome stop. If you want to learn the classic from the master, you can purchase his book, or check this out.

 

Pizzarium
Via della Meloria, 43 Roma

Ristorante La Gattabuia, Roma

After 24 hours in the air…

photo 1We weren’t feeling too adventurous when it came to researching dinner. After meeting with my sister B, and her husband D, we decided to take the short cab from Centro Storico in Rome to Trastevere, what was one a hip and trendy spot for local diners to escape the tirade of tourists and eat Roman soul food with themselves.

La Gattabuia serves up such local classics, but with their antique wood burning ovens also serve out a variety of pizzas including their trademark Gattabuia which includes porcini and truffle, and other classics such as brocoletti and salsiccia.

photo 4I went for my standard when in Italy, Margherita con prosciutto crudo.

photo 3It was a pretty straightforward number for Rome, extra thin crust that flakes as you eat with a nice and conservative dose of toppings and a high char (Perhaps too high).

They also serve some local tap, and artisan beers.

photo 5It’s perhaps a shame that the area has fallen victim to a swell of tourists, as invariably the food will be taken down a notch as a result. Maybe its Anthony Bourdain’s constant ramblings on The Layover (Roma Sparita is also in Trastevere). The food, however, was good. Worth the trip if you’re keen to see the area… Although perhaps not so if you are looking for something extra special. Sorry for the lame phone pictures, after travelling for so long I left my camera in the hotel room!

Ristorante La Gattabuia
Via del Porto 1, Trastevere Roma
http://lagattabuia.jimdo.com

Antica Macelleria Cecchini

Dario is no ordinary butcher…

dario 21Well, in the simplest sense of the word, perhaps he is. He runs a small butcher shop in the tuscan town of Panzano, but unlike other food celebrity figures, you will see him here running the shop  every day of the week.

dario 20He is a true maestro in every sense of the word. Even routine things that other icons wouldn’t dare be seen doing, such as answering the phone for orders, Dario does.. And does so with passion. When we entered, we were immediately offered a bicchiere of wine, even just for looking. We were given bread with lardo, olive oil, even fresh salami. In the commerce part of the shop, a simple yet stylish meat cabinet gives you a glimpse of just what the place is about. Fresh cuts cryovac’d and out for display, and  everything available to eat in the kitchen is available to take home as a cut.

dario 19So what is it about Dario’s that is so important? It’s the little things. The attention to detail, the passion behind the work, and of course the quality of the meat. It’s not your typical Italian venue where customer service doesn’t exist, and even if it’s become one of the World’s great landmarks for meat lovers, the staff still enjoy interacting with customers and making sure they are well looked after.

Oh, it’s worth noting too that he is the King of Tuscany’s regional dish: The bistecca alla Fiorentina: A monstrous 1KG+ piece of T-Bone cooked on the bone, from a special type of beef called Chianina which has more age than your typical cow when slaughtered and needs more attention when cooked as a result.

dario 17Dario is a magician when it comes to preparing cuts of meat such as beef and pork, and his propiertary blend of wild fennel pollen gives the store an unbelievable aroma.

dario 16The meat fresh, vibrant and very affordable.

dario 15Upstairs, we were treated to a recently developed kitchen and dining hall complete with a large communal table and smaller ones in the corners. The big one gave us firm views of the coal pit where the chefs prepared the meat using nothing but a few levers, a plate and some red hot coals.

dario 14For lunch, you have some great small options. We opted for the ‘Super Dario’ consisting of a 250g deconstructed beef burger and a plate of assorted house specialities like tomato puree and fresh fagioli.

dario 13Wine lists are non-existant, but you can opt for the house stuff or take advantage of the free corkage. We did.

dario 11Arriving first was a bowl of the freshest ingredients you will see. Fennel, carrots, celery, and onions which only a few hours earlier were still buried in the ground.

dario 4Oh, and you dress it yourself how you like.

dario 9Sure, the theatrics almost impress as much as the meal. They enjoy working as much as you enjoy eating.

dario 10The proprietary blend of salt and herbs went fantastic in the fresh olive oil as you dipped in the vegetables. It also was spanking on the potatoes.

dario 12The condiments were great too. The highlight a house tomato ketchup made with Chianti.

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Seeing the beef ready to go on made you salivate, and looking at the colour of the patty gave testament to the institution Dario has created.

dario 6As the beef patties are house ground and so fresh, the Tuscans recommend serving it sangue, or rare. I went for mine medium.

dario 3The plate came bustling with food, and with the sides you needn’t worry about leaving hungry. The cost of everything here? A ridiculous €15.

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Even with the coffee they go the extra mile, serving with Tuscan olive oil cake free of charge really adds to the homely feel.

dario 1And that, in a nutshell, is what Dario’s is about. It’s an institution and a mecca for meat lovers the World over. If you are ever in Tuscany, take the scenic route and head to Panzano where you will see Dario working his magic.

Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Via XX Luglio 11, Panzano, Tuscany
http://www.dariocecchini.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antica Bottega Vini, Verona

You don’t simply visit Verona…

bottega_vini 2 (1)…Especially during Vinitaly, without stopping at least once at Antica Bottega Vini. It has for many years (albeit with different ownership recently) serviced locals and foreigners alike with a grand degustation of some of the finest wines known to man.

bottega_vini 6 (1)From sparkling, red, white, even orange – It’s simply an institution renowned throughout the world. We went there and ordered at least 2 bottles every night (pre and post dinner) and ate here for our final evening.

bottega_vini 4 (1)It’s a multi faceted venue. In the entrance you have various antipasti that can be consumed al banco with your choice of tipple – of which there are thousands to choose from. During Vinitaly, they pull out all the stops and we indulged in favourites such as Tignanello 2008 (€10 a glass) to Gaja Barbaresco 2008 (€35 a glass) which are outrageously priced in the interests of responsible consumption of alcohol. In our final evening here, M insisted on a 3 bottle degustation.

bottega_vini 3We each chose one wine. M chose a 2003 Quintarelli Amarone Classico, I chose a 2006 Cappellano Pie Franco Barolo, and A chose the 1997 Gorelli Brunello. Each well and above over delivering – even if Amarone is not a style I would personally choose irrespective of price. They were all truely astonishing.

bottega_vini 5Service is something Bottega Vini truely excel at. When (Or, more importantly, if) you manage to get a table (People were still pouring in the door at 1:30am when we left) the staff really look after you, particularly if choosing special bottles. Old wines are served in a straw basket, and the sommelier gets his head around the wine (and takes his one glass commission) before serving to you.

bottega_vini 2The fit out is fantastic. Old, rustic and homely. Space is something you won’t find here, and you’ll need to get cosy to everyone if you need to move about.

bottega_vini 4Starters like warm chicken salad refresh the palate. We pared ours with a delightful ‘orange wine’ compliments of the maitre d’.

bottega_vini 7Risotto all’Amareno was also good, but probably not the restaurants strong point. It lacked length and depth of flavour and was quite one dimensional.

bottega_vini 8The leg of lamb was brilliant. Slow cooked, succulent and tender. The meat fell off the bone and nearly melted on the plate. You are unlikely to find a better compliment with Nebbiolo on their menu in my opinion.

bottega_vini 10Needing something for the Amarone, M decided we grab a cheese platter. Only here will you find such myriad assortments of flavours. .Even aged Gorgonzola!

bottega_vini 5 (1)So come for the wine, witness the frenzy, and stay for the culture. Whilst the food does delight, it’s not the real reason you’re here, and while you can find better fare elsewhere in the old town, you’re not going to drink better anywhere else on the planet.

Antica Bottega Vini
Via Scudo di Francia 3, Verona, Italia
http://www.bottegavini.it/