While trying to decide, we ordered a bottle of Sicilian Morgante Nero D'Avola 2011. This ruby red, full bodied wine with intense aromas of vanilla, exotic spices, and a balanced acidity is made with the signature grape from the beautiful island. Although it would be paired great with any pizza, hence, the reason they sell it, The Skinny Chef and I decided to have a heartier meal and return at another time to try Gosto E Mea's raved about pies.
Sitting outdoors on a beautiful day in Tuscany was an amazing and humbling experience, but being treated to a phenomenal meal while sitting outdoors on a beautiful day in Tuscany was even better. Trattoria Gosto e Mea, a pizzeria and restaurant, is located just outside the walls of Lucca and is masterfully decorated both inside and out.
Munching on crisp triangles of flatbread baked in an authentic brick oven, we had trouble deciding what to order because everything sounded so good.
We started with the Sformatino di Gamberi e Melanzane con Salsa al Pomodoro. Aside from being beautifully plated with a round bed of shiny pomodoro sauce with the sformatino delicately placed in the center and topped with a plump cherry tomato; this "pie" constructed with shrimp and eggplant had a slightly firm exterior, but was set perfectly so it was still soft in the center. It was exquisite, warm throughout, smooth, well-balanced, and creamy in texture with pops of plump shrimp here and there to give it bite.
The Tagliatelle al Ragu' di Seppie, Calamari, e Gamberi consisted of bright, yellow housemade noodles cooked just right and a ragu that tricked your senses. Why? Because the cuttlefish, calamari, and shrimp were harmoniously ground together to create an original and quite tasty sea creature that was crumbled over the pasta as opposed to the slices of seafood I had expected. It was surprisingly light for a pasta dish, especially a ragu, and embodied the fresh flavors of the ocean without being too salty. It was expertly seasoned and although we ordered it to share, neither one of us wanted to.
Without a doubt the best piece of cooked pork we have ever eaten was served with the Spalla di Maialino da Latte Spadellata con Spinaci Saltati. Cooked impeccably well, it was tender and so soft that our butter knife literally slid right through it. Clearly rested for exactly the right amount of time before arriving at our table, it sat poised on the plate in a thin layer of its own juices. As we began to slice through the crispy skin and layer of gelatinous, salty, sweet fat, the warm savory goodness continued to flow saturating each piece of meat. Accompanied by spinach that was rich in both color and flavor, this was a truly outstanding dish.
What could be better than a crisp, round focaccia carefully sliced down the middle, filled with creamy white mascarpone, chocolaty Nutella, and dusted with sweet powdered sugar?
The answer...nothing! Enjoying every last bite of the Focaccia mascarpone e Nutella Piccola was a great way to end this fabulous meal!
Borgo La Torre is nestled between the breathtaking, rolling hills of the Tuscan wine country. It was like a scene from a movie...we pulled up in our red and white Vespa facing a smooth stucco facade whose color was reminiscent of the flesh of a perfectly ripe summer peach. Every window was flanked with wooden shudders that matched the color of the leaves on each tall, full olive tree. The last piece to complete the puzzle of this gorgeous structure was the terra cotta roof. Like the scales running down the body of a fish, the burnt red tiles were carefully placed one on top of the other.
On the back patio sitting under the warm rays of the bright Tuscan sun high in the crystal-clear blue sky, our eyes were met with the beauty of lush green grass, tall bright flowers boasting every color of the light spectrum, and hectares upon hectares of expertly planted rows of vines. Dangling from the delicate stems of each vine were plump, crisp, deep purple and soft green grapes that were eager to be picked, crushed, fermented, and aged as they prepared to move into their new homes, bottles of Fattoria La Torre wine.
Our lunch began with Tortino Caldo Di Zucchine e Fiori Di Zucca Con Salsa Alla Panna Acida. Baked in a golden-brown crust, this warm pie was filled with thin slices of fresh zucchini, zucchini flowers, and a rich, tangy sour cream sauce. When biting into it, the crust was crisp and salty and the filling, which was soft in the center, was both savory and satisfying.
After enjoying our first course, we ordered Spaghetti Alla Beppe and Tagliolini Alla Mediterranea. The Spaghetti Alla Beppe was cooked al dente, served in a carefully spun portion and coated in a thick, garlicky tomato sauce whose acidity and sweetness were well balanced. Generously finished with flakes of parmigiano reggiano, it was almost creamy and the kick that hit my palate just seconds after swallowing confirmed the dish was thoughtfully spiced.
Each strand of the Tagliolini Alla Mediterranea was spiraled by hand onto an oversized, clear bubble glass bowl with brushstrokes of fire engine red; this vessel was a piece of art in its own right. The long, narrow pasta was expertly cooked and united with briny, muted green cappers and tangy, glossy red pachino tomatoes. Tossed in at the last minute in order to retain their firmness, each tomato burst in my mouth and showered my taste buds with their juices.
For dessert, The Skinny Chef ordered the Gelato Al Limone Con Limoncello e Menta which was light, refreshing, and sweet; the perfect choice for a hot summer day. Excited to sample a sweet treat myself, I ordered the Semifreddo Al Croccante Con Salsa Al Caramello. This dessert consisted of rich, velvety, semi-soft vanilla ice cream with sweet, crunchy almond brittles and it was cool and delicious. The carefully crafted cuisine we enjoyed during this meal was the perfect compliment to the astounding and picturesque atmosphere.
Having heard Marea was one of the top rated Italian restaurants in Manhattan according to Zagat and has earned two Michelin Stars, I decided to take The Skinny Chef there as my gift for the holidays. Prior to our arrival, I called and asked if the chef could sign a copy of the menu so we could keep it as a memento. Although this is a request I make at almost every restaurant we dine at, the hostess responded as if this was the first time she had ever been asked that question and didn’t give me a straight answer regarding whether or not my request could be met, which was extremely unusual to me.
Located at the intersection of Columbus Circle and Central Park South, Marea has a location many restaurant owners would die for. As we entered the restaurant, a hostess took our coats to be checked while I took in the setting. A long bar sat directly to our left with accents meant to give the illusion you were looking at the exterior of a shell and wine and liquor bottles arranged neatly on two long shelves. To our right, was a large dining room with white linens, beige and dark brown chairs, dark wood floors, overhead lighting along with lamps strewn here and there atop cabinets used to store napkins and silverware, and an oversized “wine cellar” encapsulated by a high-gloss espresso wood finish. On the walls hung artwork that was neither inspiring nor connected to the roots of the restaurant, that being Italy or the sea. Overall, it was a somewhat drab room with too many tables and too many servers and runners on the floor at one time. Regardless of the lackluster design of the dining room, we were there for the cuisine and I was hopeful Back of the House would bring some much needed light and happiness to this fine dining establishment.
After taking our seats, we were welcomed by our server who gave us the wine list and menu. As The Skinny Chef scanned the list for a bottle of white a staff member, who failed to introduce herself, asked if we would like to speak with the sommelier to which we said yes. When the sommelier arrived at our table, she literally stood there. She didn’t introduce herself, nor did she provide us with any guidance regarding the menu. To say we were shocked by her lack of knowledge of the menu and inability to conduct a conversation with us to assist in selecting wine for the evening is a severe understatement. As a result, The Skinny Chef and I decided on a bottle based on our limited knowledge of their wine list and hoped for the best. We have never been at a restaurant, let alone a fine dining restaurant with two Michelin Stars, where the sommelier was for all intents and purposes useless.
Unfortunately for Marea, we had a bad taste in our mouths before ordering. That being said, we were optimistic the cuisine prepared under the guidance of super talented Chef Michael White and Executive Chef Jared Gadbaw would conquer all and we placed our order. A few moments later, a runner placed an Amuse-Bouche on the table. Without introducing himself or greeting us, he quickly stated what the dish was in a low, monotone voice. To be completely honest, The Skinny Chef and I had no idea what he said and before we could ask him to repeat it, he was gone. Luckily, it was obvious that two pieces of raw fish sat before us so we consumed the small bites, which were a fresh and simple way to begin our meal.
Our order started with Zeppole, which was an item to be shared or as they refer to it “…E Per Cominicare.” Served on an oval shaped white plate were five small, perfectly round and delicately fried bacala fritters. Drizzled with a Meyer lemon and basil sauce, these fritters had a firm and crisp shell with a creamy, tasty bacala filling and were well-matched with the sweet and tangy flavors of Meyer lemon. As we enjoyed this course, I couldn’t help but think; Front of the House: 0, Back of the House: 1.
While waiting for our Secondi Di Pesce we couldn’t help but overhear comments being made from one server to another, which included remarks like, “Oh my god, I just read this crazy article…”, “I’m going to kill myself!”, and “Those people at table twenty-three are pricks!” Upon hearing each comment, The Skinny Chef and I looked at each other in disbelief; not because we have never heard anyone talk like that before, but because we have never heard it and would never expect to hear it in a restaurant with the kinds of accolades Marea has received. These statements reinforced our disappointment with the service and overall performance of Front of the House throughout the evening.
As we tried to tune out the inappropriate conversations occurring on the floor, our Secondi course was served. To my delight the Capesante was as wonderful to look at as it was to eat. Four large scallops with a crisp sear were carefully placed around pieces of cider braised pork cheek, celery, apples, and pine. The scallops were like butter, soft, sweet, and well matched with fatty pieces of pork cheek that fell apart after being braised in cider, which lent a hint of acidity and fruitiness to brighten the dish. The Coda Di Rospo or roasted monkfish with parsnip, fennel, and smoked Umbrian lentil ragu was also well thought out. The creamy parsnip and anise of the fennel provided a nice balance to the smoky lentil ragu and worked to enhance the flavor of the meaty monkfish. From presentation to flavor profiles, both dishes were well executed and earned some more points for Back of the House.
When the time came to order dessert, The Skinny Chef and I ordered the Semifreddo, Bomboloni, and Crostata. The Semifreddo was plated skillfully with layers of milk chocolate, hazelnut, and banana drizzled in caramel. The texture and temperature were spot on and the sweet, chocolaty flavors melted in my mouth. The Bomboloni or bite-sized donuts were lightly fried and covered in earl grey infused sugar. Accompanied by small ramekins of dark chocolate and honey for dipping, this dessert fulfilled every craving a "sweet tooth" could have. The Crostata had a firm, golden-brown crust and was topped with slices of pear, cranberry, ricotta, pine nuts, and a dollop of brown butter gelato. While I enjoyed the side of the Crostata with brown butter gelato, the other side, which consisted of pear, cranberry, and pine nuts simply didn’t work. In addition, a small Cookie Plate and Petit Fours were served. Unfortunately, these plates were not as successful as the desserts we enjoyed prior to their arrival.
As I looked at the dessert plates strewn about the table, I noticed they were all different and not in a good way. Some plates were modern looking, crafted from porcelain with a crisp white color and square edges, while others were made of china with a white center, bright silver band, and gray edges, and yet others were off-white porcelain with a textured pattern. The inconsistency struck me as odd.
A new trend in fine dining seems to be receiving a "parting gift" if you will, a muffin or granola made in-house, to enjoy for breakfast the next day. At every restaurant we've dined at that embraces this trend, a "gift" is given to each patron as they leave. When we left Marea, I was given a muffin wrapped in cellophane and tied with a navy blue ribbon while The Skinny Chef received nothing, which made me wonder if they had run out. In addition to one of us being snubbed, neither of us were given a copy of the menu signed by the chef, which I requested prior to our arrival. This made for a disappointing end to the evening,
For me, fine dining is not just about the cuisine; it's about the dining experience from the moment you walk through the door, to the moment you leave, and every moment in between. From the tone set by the environment, to the interaction with the staff, to the joy you get out of each bite; dining at a restaurant with two Michelin Stars should make you feel like it was worth the stop on your journey. The quality of service provided by Front of the House simply didn't measure up to the level of cuisine prepared by Back of the House. Unfortunately for Marea, New York City is a culinary capital where patrons can experience the best of both worlds in the same location for a similar or even more conservative price. Based solely on this experience, I would not choose to make another stop on my culinary journey at Marea.
We were fortunate to have dinner there, which was cooked by owner and Chef Israel Shavit, who was as kind and hospitable as he was talented in the kitchen. With glass walls from the floor to the vaulted ceiling, we felt as though we were in an open tent as opposed to an enclosed dining room. Our order was taken by their son, Gefen, who was clearly cut from the same cloth as his parents as he made us feel right at home. The food was simply divine! From the freshly baked bread, to the salads, grilled and caramelized vegetables, stewed lamb, and rich desserts we were extremely impressed with the flavors, textures, and presentation of each and every dish.
These feelings continued the next morning when we were greeted by Sara and Israel along with a table filled with delectable dishes prepared just for us. A wide variety of salads covered our table along with freshly baked bread, delicious shakshouka, yogurt, granola, and homemade jam among other things.
In addition, Chef Israel is a chocolatier who creates his sweet treats in a wine cellar where you can also find local wine, olive oil, and honey. Overall, Shavit Guest House is truly a gem in Arbel!
It was a dreary, rainy Saturday when The Skinny Chef and I decided to hop in the car and make our way to Manhattan to enjoy a nice Italian meal together. Just a short walk from Washington Square Park sits OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria, which is one of the many restaurants in the B&B (Batali & Bastianich) Hospitality Group’s empire. Although OTTO is located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 8th Street, the environment is as casual and comfortable as your local pizzeria, but serves cuisine worthy of the B&B brand. Upon entering the restaurant there was a large bar area with high bar tables and chairs and columns decoratively wrapped with wine bottles directly to our left. To the right of that was a counter with a glass partition that allowed us to watch the delicate process of slicing expertly aged meats on large red and silver slicers. Directly in front of us was the hostess, who warmly greeted us, and a long, rectangular dining room. We were quickly shown to our table and presented with the wine list and menu.
After munching on a few breadsticks, our meal began with verdure or more specifically, Eggplant Caponatina and Cavolo Nero & Ricotta. The caponatina was well balanced between the acidity of the tomatoes, creaminess of the eggplant, and briny flavor of the capers. That being said, the temperature at which it was served was problematic. When it arrived at the table, the caponatina was frigid and the temperature overpowered the dish and took away from the overall taste, which was a shame because I think the flavors would have enjoyed a beautiful marriage if served at a warmer temp. With a rich, dark green color and specks of creamy, white ricotta the Cavolo Nero & Ricotta boasted a slightly bitter taste with hints of spicy peppers and salty cheese. While the portions of both dishes were perfect for starters and the building blocks of each made sense together, The Skinny Chef and I were underwhelmed and wished certain tweaks had been made to both plates before being served.
For our mid-course, The Skinny Chef and I ordered the Fennel & Bottarga Pizza. Curious to see how the chef would integrate the flavors of each of the ingredients (tomato, raw fennel, bottarga, pecorino, and mozzarella), we couldn’t wait to take our first bite. With a rustic and crisp thin crust topped with slices of fennel, pecorino and mozzarella cheese, and a generous dusting of bottarga; this pizza looked too good to be true. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, when something "looks too good to be true, it probably is" and this was the case with the Fennel & Bottarga Pizza. The acidity of the tomatoes didn’t jive with the anise flavor of the fennel, fishy bottarga, nutty pecorino, and creamy mozzarella. We were disappointed by the disjointed flavors present in this dish and were left wishing we had ordered one of the other pizzas on the menu with more “traditional” ingredients.
For our pasta course, The Skinny Chef and I ordered Spaghetti Alla Carbonara and Fusilli Con Sausage & Escarole. The carbonara was thick and creamy with slices of salty, fatty pancetta to compliment the scallions and black pepper.
The sausage in the fusilli was plump and sweet and was paired perfectly with garlic, escarole, and fusilli that was aldente. The ingredients used created flavors that made for an enjoyable pasta course that hit the spot.
Having heard great things about Pastry Chef Meredith Kurtzman, The Skinny Chef and I were excited to order dessert. We were intrigued by the fennel gelato that accompanied the Pignoli Rosemary Torta so we ordered that along with our waitress’s recommendation of a Black & White. When I took my first bite of the Pignoli Rosemary Torta it was fluffy, buttery, light and covered with pignoli nuts. Sitting beside it were slices of bright orange, candied clementines with a white sphere of fennel gelato perched delicately on top. As I built and savored the “perfect bite,” which consisted of a little bit of each ingredient, the flavors of citrus, mild licorice, and buttery, nutty cake blended together in perfect harmony. The Black & White was also a well thought out and executed dessert. Consisting of milk chocolate chip and crème fraiche gelati, hazelnut croccante, chocolate sauce, and caramel crema, this dish was beautifully presented in a martini-like stemless glass. Just looking at this dish brought a smile to my face. Layers of gelati, chocolate sauce, and caramel cream were artfully displayed along with a triangular piece of a waffle cone carefully placed on top. Every spoonful of this delectable dessert was creamy, chocolately, caramel goodness. All elements of both desserts worked well and as a result, our meal at OTTO ended on a high note.
If you appreciate food in any way you MUST visit La Boqueria Market! As you walk through row after row of incredibly fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, cheese, fish, poultry, pork, beef, and so much more you can easily become intoxicated by the colors, textures, and scents. The perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables are supple to the touch and the cheeses range from soft to hard and mild to strong and funky. At first glance, the fish look alive as their glassy, clear eyes stare up at you, but the hues of their red, pink, and white interior confirm they are ready to consume. The poultry, pork, and beef; butchered with heads and hoofs intact seem to beckon you to taste the tender muscles, marbled in fat, that were grown and bred for your enjoyment, but leave you with a deep sense of appreciation for their sacrifice. In addition to having essentially every type of food product you can imagine, La Boqueria boasts several counters and restaurants that specialize in serving all that Spanish cuisine has to offer; carefully crafting each dish from the fresh ingredients available throughout the market. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, making time to frequent La Boqueria should be at the top of your list!
La playa in Barcelona is most definitely a place to let your hair down, relax, and set yourself free in every sense of the word. Be prepared for your significant other to have plenty to feast their eyes and if you're the "jealous type" I would stay away from this beach. That being said, the sun and surf leave nothing to be desired and a day relaxing, swimming, and soaking up the rays on this beach would certainly be considered time well spent.
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!