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

Merah Putih, Bali

It may seem a little strange…

3-seminyak-restaurant-merahputih-baliTo write this, but you actually have to look when you’re in the market for quality Indonesian food in Bali. There is fine food aplenty in many different cuisines, most notably International and European styles but in terms of home grown talent you really need a pointer to get you in the right direction.

And that direction is Seminyak, food meccah and arguably one of the fastest growing regions in Bali. Just a stones throw from Sarong, another highly regarded restaurant that offers Asian centric food Merah Putih on the other hand is unashamedly Indonesian.

photo 1Starter dishes like  beef shin in doughy pockets laced with an incredibly potent chilli sambaready the palate for the hearty Indonesian food that follows. Incredibly sweet, slow braised shin testament to such a talented crew working behind the stoves.

photo 2For something a little left of field? Why not try these super-fresh quail spring rolls. They were a refreshing change from cookie-cutter Chinese specials, and so good that we actually ended up ordering it twice more for a total of three serves (Between 4).

photo 3What about this? Again, a little different. This time the classic Nasi Goreng, but with a beautifully tender duck tossed through. The trademark fried egg on top added a layer of delicious creaminess.

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Decadent, crispy corn fritters with an eggplant sambal were lovely.

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The gado gado, a refreshing salad with beanshoots and cucumber included a quail egg and was magnificent.photo 4We finished off with a beef short rib, which was arguably the only weak link of the day. Not to say it was a bad dish, it just lacked the panache of the others and came off a little bland.

So, truth be told, during this mens lunch out we actually tried Merah Putih on a bit of a whim after a long slog through the rain. Much to the dismay of our partners (Who had decided, mind you, that we were dining here for dinner but neglected to mention it) we did the lunch/dinner double and not once did we feel like we were eating more of the same. Even with a fixed dinner menu for our large group, we still tried uniquely different things that I would not hesitate to revisit.

If you are in Bali and want to sample some of, if not the finest cuisine of the region, make the journey to Merah Putih. Personally, I could’t see a Bali trip without at least one.

Merah Putih
Jl. Petitenget No. 100x, Kerokoban, Bali
http://www.merahputihbali.com

Le Relais de l’Entrecote, Saint Germain, Paris

Certain “Institutions”…

4K6A1906…Are better explained, if I may paraphrase, with the old adage of ‘You don’t tell your friends about your hairdresser, or your cleaning lady’. Such is the case with Le Relais de L’Entrecote, a literal house of the Paris bistrot classic steak frites, or, more simply, steak and chips.

It’s the sort of place Parisians drove to by the hundreds, at peak dining times the line has been known to stretch out the door and onto the zebra crossing (Cars don’t seem to mind, it’s as if they understand). It’s a place little known to tourists, and for good reasons, because residents of Paris want to keep this one to themselves. The decor, while it looks showy does nothing to stand out on the corner of Boulevard du Montparnasse in the heart of Saint Germain. There are actually 4 of these hidden treasures, but we picked the one closest to home.

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You walk in, you’re handed what looks like a lovely hand-written menu with a twist. The charming waitress comes over to take your order, but the only thing she asks is what colour you’d like your meat. Because, and therein lies the beauty of this place; the entrecote is the only thing on the menu.

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So, you choose your drinks (Don’t expect a stellar wine list, as Chateau de Saurs graces every listing and it’s the sort of polish you drown your casserole in) and the wait begins.

4K6A1917About 5-10 minutes later, and the is plate of deliciousness is wafted in front of you. A juicy, tender, crisp, flavourful and above all tasty piece of steak arrives, cooked just how you like it. Served with the classic french fries and drowned in the houses own secret sauce, you take a moment to breathe it all in, absorb your surroundings and prepare for the onslaught. One bite, and your tastebuds are drowned in a medley of flavours that just work so well together. The crisp baguette on the side delights as it adds texture to every piece.

And just when you finish that mountain? The waitress again appears, this time for a refill. No, not wine. She actually tops up your plate, just like nonna, with yet more steak, chips and dipping sauce! Whilst it spells double trouble for your hips, it’s impossible to say no, and before we knew it we were two plates down so heavily satiated with protein and carbs that I could reel off euphoric superlatives all night.

4K6A1925I had the creme brulee, yet again. Didn’t disappoint.

4K6A1924Even L’s meringue medley goes to show you that you don’t need Michelin stars to win over the hearts of diners. She loved it.

So where does that leave us? Thoroughly impressed. Dare I say it, but at €80 including the mandatory 15% service charge, it was an absolute belter. I feel guilty for having enjoyed this more than last nights meal.

I wish someone back home had the stones to come up with a concept so devilishly simple, because this steak may have just been the best one I have ever eaten.

Le Relais de l’Entrecote, Saint Germain
101 Boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris, France
http://www.relaisentrecote.fr

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, St Germain, Paris

Usually…

photo 1I’d never pass up an opportunity to dine at “celebrity” restaurants, much less double-Michelin starred ones. By now it’s sort of obvious I cant help but be sucked in to the hype. Truth be told though, high end French cuisine doesn’t usually do it for me. I don’t do snails, or frogs, and of course seafood isn’t for me.. Which sort of leaves a steak, which can be had anywhere. That, however, is all largely irrelevant for Joel’s left bank setup – A restaurant with no tables, no chairs, and no English.

photo 3You sit down on bar stools overlooking the frantic, yet impeccable open kitchen as over a dozen chefs prepare dishes non stop, with almost Monet style precision. The servers, hosts and sommelier handle the sushi-bar-meets-teppanyaki-grill setup that they have opted for, which is fabulous for diners but must be chaotic to waitstaff who awkwardly serve plates with bent elbows in-between cutlery and glassware.

photo 2The cuisine is far from French, though there are quite a few dishes like the signature foie-gras sliders which will appeal to fans of the genre.

photo 4Even the olive oil is top notch from Provence and was of a seriously high calibre.

photo 1The drinks list, while extensive, was really the only shortcoming when it came to choice. The burgundy list in particular was dissapointing, and even this 1er cru from Jean-Marc Boillot was the epitome of mediocrity.

photo 4The first three plates arrived simultaneously. Jamon de Belotta was good, though I’m still not sold on what I’ve tried, along with a bruschetta side and and eggplant stack that while good fell a little short of the mark.

photo 2Tomato gazpacho was next which was tangy and refreshing.

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Then came the Japanese gyoza, which were chicken and leek in a sauce reminiscent of tangy ponzu,  this was bright red in colour and filled with sesame. These were brilliant.

photo 5We followed this up with a special of the night, Spaghetti with Australian (!!!) truffles. You sure did get a generous serving, although this was reflected in the cost of the dish it was a lovely pasta. Cooked al-dente and with minimal intervention it truly let the truffles (Which I saw 3 being prepared that were at least 100g each) sing. I estimated at least 10-15g per serving, which was generous.

Regrettably, I forgot to snap our mains, which were 2 different cuts of beef (Weren’t specified, but mine was eye and L’s was sirloin from the looks). Both were great, and another one of Robuchon’s signature dishes, the mashed potatoes  (Or, more correctly, whipped butter garnished with potato) were devilishly good.

We passed on dessert, but the soufflé looked epic. As a side note, with your espresso you do get about half a dozen of their madeleines, which were so good they should be a standalone item.

To conclude, we had an amazing meal. Whilst I possibly think that there is room for improvement on the more simple of dishes, L’Atelier is certainly a hallmark for a fine evening, even if its for the theatre more so than the meal. Do I think it’s worth 2 Michelin stars? Probably not, though it does seem to be more accurately represented in the price, not the quality. Which is a bad thing.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Rue Montalambert, St Germain, Paris
atelier-robuchon.com

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

Florence, August 2013

Sometimes, even on vacation…

4K6A1875The little things are memorable. We had an apartment here for three days, so we made sure today (Sunday) for lunch we put the kitchen to good use, to escape the 39 degree heat in the comfort of our lovely cool pad.

4K6A1877We bought some lovely smoked, pre-sliced cured meat for a quick tomato sauce, along with some San Marzano peeled tomatoes.

4K6A1879Some artisan pasta…

4K6A1878Some fuel… (For us)

4K6A1880 The 24 month aged Parmigiano on top finished it off at cost of about 4 euro for a wedge!

Buon’ Appetito!

 

 

 

 

 

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