While pondering what to order, we enjoyed ripe, black olives and fresh, crisp, crunchy potato chips. Every time we frequent A Taberna, we order the snails as an appetizer and this visit was no exception. That being said, we also ordered the quail as a starter and both were a lovely way to begin our meal. The snails were soft, smoky, and cooked to perfection. As if this wasn’t enticing enough, they were immersed in garlic, oil, and lemon all of which came together flawlessly. The quail was doused in a garlic, tomato, and citrus sauce that was a wonderful accompaniment to the tender, juicy poultry.
Located on a busy street stands A Taberna; a small, welcoming restaurant that allows you to enjoy the flavors of Portuguese cuisine in Island Park, NY. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a kind host and seated quickly in the dining room, which is separated from the long bar. Within a few moments, our server greeted us, shared the mouthwatering specials, and took our drink order. I have to say that every time we dine at A Taberna the servers are knowledgeable, attentive, and happy, which consistently has a positive impact on the overall dining experience. After deciding on red, The Skinny Chef and I ordered a bottle of Eugenio. Crafted from the main grape varietals found in the Alentejo region of Portugal, this warm, easy to drink wine boasted rich fruity notes of red cherries and hints of tobacco and cocoa. Maintaining a solid structure and incredibly persistent and smooth finish, this delectable wine tingled and danced on my tongue as I enjoyed each and every sip.
Pleased to see monkfish on the menu, The Skinny Chef ordered the Monkfish Kebab for his main course. To his delight, the meaty monkfish was served with scallops, shrimp, sausage, peppers, and onions over a bed of rice. Playfully plated, the kebab was presented as if on a skewer, but the skewer itself had been removed prior to serving so The Skinny Chef could "dig in" if you will without getting his hands dirty. The dish was well seasoned with each protein cooked to the desired temperature and the smoky flavor added by the sausage enhanced the dish as a whole. I decided on Paella because the last time I ordered it in Barcelona, Spain I was extremely disappointed and I am happy to say that this was a completely different experience. Served in a warm, silver pot; the fluffy rice was mixed with fresh peas and bright red and green peppers. The seafood was fresh with the scallops, mussels, and clams cooked to the perfect texture; however, the lobster and shrimp were a bit overcooked and tough. The dish was balanced and although I could taste the saffron used, it wasn’t overpowering. By the end of the night, The Skinny Chef and I enjoyed yet another tasty meal at A Taberna from start to finish.
Walking up a slightly inclined Panzano street overlooking the lush, rolling hills, we saw a large, red and white striped building with a sign that read, "Antica Macelleria Cecchini."
Sitting at communal tables where we met people from all around the world, we enjoyed each meal in the company of others who had the same level of respect for Dario and his food as we did. Sipping on glass after glass of Chianti, savoring expertly prepared meat, talking, laughing, smiling, and ending with a toast to good food and good company with grappa made on the premises; we didn’t want any of the meals to come to an end. Just one person we had the good fortune to meet was Anna Morelli editor in chief of Cook_inc. magazine; a publication that should be in the home of every foodie. While each meal offered something different, what remained constant was the incredible freshness, perfect texture, and rich flavor profiles present in each and every piece of meat.
I never knew meat could taste as good as it did when prepared by Dario Cecchini. There are countless reasons why this man is deserving of his title as the number one butcher in the world. As the saying goes, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman,” and that woman is Dario’s wonderful wife Kim who is smart, beautiful, and kind. Together, they make the perfect team and The Skinny Chef and I would like to express our gratitude to Kim for her hospitality. As I reflect on this experience, I am at a loss for words to adequately thank Dario for the work that he does, the respect he has brought to his craft, and the way he shows others to be passionate about what they do and make a positive impact on others as they carry out their dreams.
On the hunt for a tapas bar in Barcelona recommended by a friend, we wandered the winding streets for what felt like hours when alas there it was! Like spotting land after a long journey across the Atlantic Ocean, we saw a light that beckoned us and barely illuminated a small sign that read, "Quimet y Quimet." With herds of people standing on the sidewalk, we had a sense that getting a table inside might prove as difficult as finding the bar in the first place. Luckily, we are "pushy" New Yorkers so we made our way through the crowd and found a small table that two locals were willing to share with us. Surrounded by hundreds of bottles of wine and liquor carefully stacked from floor to ceiling, with standing room only, and a "line" rows deep of patrons hoping to inch near the ten-foot counter to place their order, I had a strong sense that we were in for a real treat.
We decided to order one of our favorite foods to start, Boquerones en Vinagre. The delicate boquerones were gently placed on a round, stark white dish and their soft, white meat and shiny, silver skins glistened as they had been sprinkled with droplets of golden extra virgin olive oil and ever so slightly dusted with spicy Spanish paprika. Accompanied by plump, ripe, green olives this was a delicious way to begin our tapas experience.
Sipping on Vermouth made in-house, which was as dark in color as Coca-Cola and boasted notes of licorice, raisins, and sweet grapes, we ordered a Croqueta Bacalao. The mixture of cod and puréed potatoes made for a salty, earthy, creamy flavor and the crunch of the fried exterior provided great textural balance.
In addition to a lengthy menu of tapas plates, Quimet y Quimet offers a wide variety of Montaditos. Resembling the slice of bread you get when cutting off the end of a baguette, with a perfectly toasted surface and soft center, each "sandwich" was adorned with creative, thought provoking, and satisfying toppings. With mild, softened cheese and caramelized onions and mushrooms that weren't overpowered by what must have been high quality truffle oil and aged balsamic glaze, Setas, Queso, Aceite Trufado proved to be an exquisite introduction to these picturesque beauties.
Who knew preserved tuna belly could taste this good? Sandwiched between chunks of glossy, red tomatoes and a heaping spoonful of rich, creamy sea urchin; the Ventresca Con Erizo was in a word umami. Slightly funky goat cheese and sweet, dehydrated tomatoes topped our next delectable Queso De Cabra Con Tomate montadito.
Since we have never tried codfish liver before, we knew we needed to sample the Higado De Bacalao Con Tomate. The smooth liver mixed with firm tomatoes and supple beads of caviar was unlike any liver we've tried before due to its almost oceanic flavor, which was not too dissimilar from tinned tuna. The texture of the liver was somewhere in between that of foie gras and perfectly poached cod. A layer of thin, baked red pepper provided a home for two expertly cooked, plump prawns as they seemed to embrace each other and welcome a dab of creme fraiche and caviar. Savoring the Langostinos Con Piquillo was a wonderful way to end our night at Quimet y Quimet; our favorite tapas bar in Barcelona!
We almost walked past Chok, but the beautiful pastries displayed in the large glass windows stopped us dead in our tracks along with the two young ladies outside telling us that we must go inside. So, in we went and we ordered a creme brûlée kronut to share, despite my desire to order two. What can I say? Everything just looked SO good!
The kronut was baked to perfection, topped with a chocolate and vanilla glaze, and then torched ever so gently to resemble the crispy, crunchy shell you would expect from any creme brûlée. It was the most outstanding and decadent pastry I've ever had! It was perfectly balanced; light and airy dough covered in rich, creamy, sweet bliss. I long for the day when we can go back to Chok and try more of their delicious creations!
Having brought our own bottle of wine, which was opened for a reasonable ten-dollar corkage fee, we focused primarily on the food. While several dishes piqued our interested, we made our selections and reveled in the romantic and relaxing environment as we waited for our server. Just as she approached the table, I took a bite of focaccia and she walked past our table so as not to try and take my order mid bite. Although this may seem silly to point out, I appreciated that she was not only attentive, but also responsive and considerate. It is always uncomfortable when a server approaches you as you are chewing on food and are unable to respond; so to me, this was worth highlighting.
Now…on to the food. The first appetizer up; House Made Mozzarella. Five golf ball sized pieces of mozzarella cheese were carefully plated on top of a well-dressed salad. Unfortunately, each piece of mozzarella was a tad dry and rubbery. The salad however did complement the cheese quite well and when consumed in one bite, the flavors were harmonious. Considering the fact that The Skinny Chef and I love mussels, we ordered the P.E.I. Mussels, which were served in a bath of garlicky, sherry vinegar and white wine broth with pieces of toasted crostini. Cooked perfectly, there was a bright, plump mussel in each glistening black shell. The sherry vinegar and garlic broth was delicious and a nice departure from the typical white wine broth that usually accompanies a dish like this. One of the best parts was dipping each piece of crispy crostini in the warm, flavorful, and slightly acidic broth after savoring each and every mussel.
As his main course, The Skinny Chef ordered the Veal Porterhouse. Served with summer vegetables and a warm fregola and goat cheese salad; the dish was plated beautifully. The veal was cooked medium and was tender and slightly pink on the inside. That being said, the fat cap needed to be rendered or trimmed a bit more. The fregola and goat cheese salad was a good choice for a side as the vegetables (i.e. zucchini) were firm and added a nice bite to counterbalance the soft fregola. Succumbing to a craving for red meat, I ordered the Sirloin Tip Steak, which was served with fried purple potatoes, roasted butternut squash, kale, and pecorino crema. The steak was cooked medium rare with grill marks surrounding the exterior of the tender, juicy meat. The vegetables were sinfully good. They were thick, crisp, meaty, and filled with flavor. Combining a slice of steak with rich, salty, nutty pecorino crema and sweet vegetables provided a special treat for my palate as I enjoyed each bite. At the conclusion of the savory portion of our meal, The Skinny Chef and I both agreed that each dish, with the exception of the mussels, was unevenly peppered, which resulted in some bites being overpowered by the strong flavor of black peppercorns.
When it came time for dessert, The Skinny Chef and I ordered two espressos and the Baby Jesus Cake. The espresso was rich in flavor and reminiscent of the many we drank at the end of each meal while in Italy. We ordered the Baby Jesus Cake because with a name like that; how could we not? The cake was light, fluffy, and sweet. Topped with warm toffee sauce and served with whipped cream a la mode; this cake was a delectable way to complete our meal.
I would recommend Venturo for a couple looking to spend a romantic night together or an evening out with close friends eager to listen to some fun music, enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, and eat well.