Archive for the ‘bistrot’ Category

 La Ferme aux Grives (Addr: 334 Rue René Vielle, 40320 Eugénie-les-Bains, France. Phone: +33 5 58 05 05 06) – A casual / countryside take on Chef  Michel Guerard‘s classic French cooking is available in a pretty farmhouse located next to the Chef’s 3 Michelin star restaurant, which I did also visit . I did hesitate between going back to Pau and eat at one of the rare touristy restaurants that are opened on sunday or to pursue my journey at Eugenie les Bains. The decision was not too hard to take, given the   favorable online reviews on la Ferme aux Grives.

What I ate:

Saucisson sec: The traditional dry-cured sausage (saucisson sec), air dried for a minimum of 6 weeks, came from the nearby commune of Les Aldudes in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Saucisson sec is one of the things that the French rarely fail to do well, and this was no exception. Nice distinctive nutty aroma, beautifully marbled filling, balanced intensity of its spicy taste. Sourcing great dry-cured sausage from artisans is one thing, knowing how to store it is another story. They excelled at both. 9/10

Gougère soufflé: The technique of the savoury choux pastry was on point (good puffy structure, with a nice golden exterior and carefully rendered soft interior). You can serve your gougère cold , hot or lukewarm. Lukewarm (my preferred temperature for this  choux pastry) is what they were looking for, at La Ferme aux Grives , but theirs was not enoughly mildly warm to lift up the gougère flavor. Consequently, the cheesy flavor of the the gougère was not expressive. This was still a well made gougère, with enough enticing gougère flavour brought to the fore. 7/10

 

Salade de boudin grillé, jardinière de coco, vinaigrette de simples (mangue/fruit de la passion). Blood sausage, white beans, a vinaigrette made of mango and passion fruit. Great technique in the execution of the blood sausage (soft filling, judicious seasoning), a blood sausage that had a taste that is more refined than your usual traditional French blood sausage, cabbage, white beans as well as the vinaigrette were all seasoned adequatly. Perhaps not enoughly ‘bold’ on the palate as I would have preferred when I am ordering grilled blood sausage, but again, as it has been the case all along this meal, the execution and work of flavors could hardly be faulted. 7/10

Spit-roasted suckling pig (over an open fire). As tasty as your suckling pig will taste at most good restaurants in France and North America. A bit like with the lobster, I have hard time finding suckling pig, in France and North America, that can match the dazzling suckling pig I was eating in my tender childhood in the Indian Ocean (I think it happened just once in North America
and twice in France, within the last 20 years). Anyways, this was good: carefully seasoned, quality suckling pig, and you cannot go wrong with meat cooked slowly for so long. 7/10

Gratin de pâtes, fromage parmesan, cèpes- Gratineed pasta, cooked in a parmesan/penny-bun bolete mushroom cream. The pasta cooked a bit longer than aldente. I find it less “fun” to eat pasta cooked too long in a cream because you have less textural contrast,  less ‘counterpoint’ to the cream, but hey…we are in France, not Italy. That said, this featured precisely balanced rich and delicious flavors. 7/10.

Charlotte aux fraises (Strawberry charlotte) – The dessert featured a properly executed chantilly, an equally properly rendered luscious strawberry mousse, a timely cooled sponge cake as well as quality strawberries picked fully ripe. The fruity flavors in evidence, the presentation was rustic but that was intentional as to fit with the theme of the restaurant. A good charlotte. 7/10

Overall food rating: 7/10 Good standard of French bistrot food

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The old tavern of psaras (Erotokritou ke Erechtheos 16, Athina 105 56, Phone: +30 21 0321 8733) is located in the very touristy area of Plaka

If you meet someone complaining about plaka’s  food been touristy, he is certainly not wrong, but then he needs to eat at places like the old tavern of psaras. The  food, here,  is genuinely Greek. 

I discovered this tavern after a joke with a local. I argued with him that Plaka was the worst place for a foodie. He responded that I needed to try the old tavern of psaras, and that I should let him know how things went.

The tavern is situated at the top of a flight of stairs of Plaka, in an area called anafiotika. 

Feta cheese ravasaki – the folks at Fato o Mano should come here and have a taste of how grilled feta cheese, sesame seeds and honey does rarely fail in the hands of the Greeks. An example of a benchmark feta cheese ravasaki (dazzling flavours, superb ingredients). 10/10

Boiled octopus in vinegar and olive oil – loved the rustic presentation. they do not go rustic because tourists are looking for that. The cooking is rustic because it is genuinely traditional. big pieces of semi firm octopus (the texture I grew up to consider as the right texture for octopus, in the fishermen village of the Indian Ocean where i was born), with a good chew. Superb maritime flavour and exquisite seasoning. 9/10

Baked Chicken in lemon is very Mediterranean and, of course, very Greek. Delicious traditional sauce, the quality chicken cooked expertly. This is one of my preferred classic Greek / Mediterranean dishes and although not a dish that is hard to execute, I cannot say that it has always been as great as this one that they made at the OToP. Excellent 9/10

Fava purée- after the refined versions at R41 and Argo, I was ready for a rustic rendition of the Fava purée, which is what the OToP offers. Another successful traditional dish 7/10

Overall food rating: 9/10 Flawless traditional Greek cuisine. To the local who has recommended the old tavern of psaras, you know your food really well, buddy! 

01Escondite (Addr: 1206 Union Ave,  Montreal; Phone: 514-419-9755; URL:  http://www.escondite.ca)  is a popular  tacos and tequila bar  revisiting some staples of tex mex cuisine , adding  their  own twists such as the El general Chapo dish, which is their  mexican take  on the general Tao or combining  familiar local ingredients such as the maple syrup with  ingredients typically found in Mexican food, or, to take another example, by adding Mexican twists to some local staples.

Mexican food as well as its Tex Mex Americanized rendition is not unfamiliar to most of us, North Americans. Mexico being one  neighbor we tend to visit when trying to escape our harsh  winter. So, this is food  of which most of us   know what to expect. I am talking about realisitic expectations – For eg, I do not expect Mexican food outside of Mexico to taste exactly the same as in  Mexico as, obviously …  the tacos were not made with the exact same water, flour,  their  fillings not with meats coming from the exact same purveyors.  The diners are not the same neither, therefore not opened to the same depth of flavors. I doubt that diners outside of Mexico are ready to feast on some of the bold flavors found in Mexico or on some chapolines anytime soon. That is why I refrain from comparing  Mexican food in Mexico to its incarnations abroad. It would be nonsensical.

On this evening, I ordered:

 

03Their fish tacos (All their tacos are served as  a pair of  soft tacos made of 6 inches snack flour tortillas  for $8) are made of  battered deep-fried cod, a cream of avocado (in place of the common white creamy sauce that is usually found in baja-style tacos — which these tacos took their inspiration from) and cabbage slaw. I prefer this simple combination of ingredients in my tacos to the overhelming display of ingredients that can sometimes be found with fish tacos elsewhere. The battered deep-fried cod   featuring  a delicate  crisp. Although I tend to prefer the bold and rustic flavors of some traditional tacos, I have to admit that Escondite’s  refined fish tacos were still  very enjoyable 7/10

04Al pastor soft tacos, pork belly al pastor, grilled pineapple, onions. They use quality ingredients and that was key to this  taco as, to take an example, their pork was of better quality than at your average taqueria. They have marinated the pork belly exquisitely  well. 8/10

Guacamole: prior to my meal, while reading the online reviews on Escondite, I found that their guacamole is praised by some as the best guacamole they ever had, others finding it lacking in terms of seasoning. This one I was having was  judiciously seasoned,  the avocado perfectly ripe (essential for a good guacamole), the splash of acidity coming from the lime not overwhelming at all (the mistake you do not want to make with a guacamole) and yet vivid /  exciting on the palate. 8/10

 

steak-koreano-e steak koreano & nopal – sirloin, oaxaca cheese,  grilled cactus, pickled jàlapeno, spicy orange crush crema- this had a complexity of flavors that were very exciting.   This as well as the el pastor taco are my preferred bites at Escondite.  8/10

la-tinga-la tinga (tomato and chipotle chicken, queso oaxaca, lime crema ,  lettuce) hard shell tacos were the least interesting of the tacos I have tried as the flavors did nothing for me, and the hard texture of a tortilla is something I can live without   6/10

 

quesadillas-Quesadillas ($14) were as tasty as you would expect from good quality melting cheese (oaxaca and cheddar, in this case) in flour tortillas. black truffle paste and mushrooms were added for complexity. Oaxaca and cheddar were thoughtful and stood as the right choice of cheeses for the quesadillas. 7/10

 

05-Nachos 2.0 ($12) – Gyozas au monterey Jack, jalapeno, pico de gallo aux grenades, guacamole, queso fresco, crema au poivre noir (black pepper  crema).  Gyoza nachos are nachos shaped like dumplings. Rustic, in presentation, rather than sophisticated but that is normal for taqueria food. The mild flavor of the monterey jack cheese  complimenting well the guacamole and salsa fresca laid atop the nachos. The enticing blend of flavors perpetuated with the addition of the queso fresco and black pepper crema. This was a  highlight for me.   8/10

06-Pepper/Cinammon coated churros – There are many types of churros around the globe, therefore the suggestion that one churro is superior to another one is generally a misconception as it is more likely a matter of personal preference (talking about preference, I prefer the churros that are simply coated in sugar to the ones that are filled with either chocolate or dulce de leche – Escondite’s are of the coated sort ) … unless, of course, your churro is carbonized or drowning in a pool of oil.  I have heard  great things about  Escondite’s long ridged donuts, but they  were flawed on this evening:  they were surprisingly dry and hard  in texture and consistency instead of  boasting a nice crunchy exterior. I wish I could tell you about the interior, which — regardless of  the type of churros —  is expected to be soft,  but the churros I was having in this evening were way too  thin, making the interior so tiny that it would be hard to describe to human eye. It is not hard to find far better freshly made churros than these in Montreal   5/10

The cocktails (I took a cafe/tequila as well as a mezcla  based cocktail) I had on this evening were all memorable.

 

Upon its opening, Escondite took the local  restaurant scene  by storm. Since then,  not one single  local food blogger/journalist has missed the opportunity to shower the place with superlatives such as “the best tacos in town”, the “most authentic of them all”, “the best churros”,  etc. Of course, the “best of” has never meant anything, but I was curious to see if  this taqueria could better its competitors on the culinary front. For traditional tacos,  it is El Rey Del Tacos that will pull flavors as close to the motherland’s as it is possible to find in Montreal. Maria Bonita  and Caifan are great at that, too. Maria Bonita and Caifan are not to be missed, btw. But this should  take nothing  away from Escondite which has opted to voluntarily add a their own  twists to tex mex cuisine. And it is doing it well. The best tacos in town? There is a myriad of taquerias here in Montreal with the big majority of them being fine and performing at virtually the same level. There is no benchmark tacos in Montreal. Just plenty of fine and some (very rare) bad ones. To the contrary of popular  belief, bad taquerias are rare. What is common is the unfortunate propensity  to perceive food as what we want it to be instead of accepting things the way they are supposed to. Most ppl  think that greasy mexican food equals badly executed food. It is certainly not healthy, but that does not mean that it is not delivered the way it should . Then we have preconceived notions about what temperatures are supposed to be right or wrong, what textures should prevail. Take the abalone or the squid. We have denied them the right to be what they are…they should be tender, that is what we want them to be. They are not tender by nature…but dare serving them a bit  chewy (which is their ideal texture for palatability ) and you get an avalanche of inaccurate views. Soon, we’ll have genetically modified abalone and squid, they will born tender like a kiss,  just to fulfill our fantasies, and everyone will talk about the squid and abalone of their incredible dreams.
Bottom line: Mexican food is flavor-packed by design  (who can’t make something tasty out of an avocado? strips of pork belly and pineapple? ground meat with grilled cheese? ) , therefore I do expect much more than just  tasty food at this kind of eatery. I expect good drinks, fine ingredients, good work of the textures of the food, the appropriate technique and a great sense of timing. Bad timing (who wants his ground meat served lukewarm?) and bad ingredients are the common culprits when people tell you that they had bad mexican food. I did not find those  usual culprits of bad Mexican food at Escondite, but good drinks/technique/timing/textures. And delicious food.  Escondite is doing well for a  tex mex inspired bistrot in Montreal.
Overall rating for the food: 7/10 (Category : tacos and tequila bar in North America)  by Tex Mex cooking standards in North America. I found the food generally well executed, always refined and yet full of  gusto. One fine taqueria, for sure. And it’s hip/lively.
What I think days later: One fun local taqueria that deserves its popularity. One important thing to know, though, but that virtually no one seems to have mentioned online is that the portions of the tacos are not sizeable (6 inches snack flour tortillas), which is starting to be the norm at many local taquerias, but those (like me) who are used to larger tortillas at tacos bars will need to know that.  With that in mind, the average diner will do fine with  two servings of their tacos if he is not hungry. At least three tacos may  be necessary to feel satiated.

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01Otto  yakitori is the first  Japanese style eatery dedicated to Yakitori (Chicken grilled skewers)  in Montreal .

 

I took their $18 mix of several grilled chicken skewers (Chef’s selection – chicken wing, chicken skin, chicken meatball, soft knee bone, etc), pork belly as well as short ribs . All just Ok by local standards, but no more, as I had more delicious grilled  chicken skewers as well as of other types of meats at other local isakayas.

Yakitori does not require pre-marinade, but on that evening, I wished it was the case as the yakitori seasoning was not particularly exciting  (one important feature of the better yakitori food I had elsewhere).  They really need to impart more flavor to their grilled chicken meats as I came to expect from plenty of yakitoris in Tokyo  as well as in North America. And contrary to popular belief, you do not need quality meat for that.

The rave reviews of the local food journalists and the big majority of enthusiastic online opinions  about Otto Yakitori is yet another reminder of the power of marketing a business. You have a business and you have no other choice but to flood the web with friendly reviews. That is how things work nowadays. That said, Otto is a new venture. Give it some time. Hopefully, it will get better. Rating for this specific meal  5.5/10 by local Japanese grilled meat standards. Yakitori Otto Addr: 1441 Rue Saint Mathieu, Montréal, QC   Phone: (514) 507-8886 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ottoyakitori/

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Tofuro  is a chain of restaurant serving all sorts of food (soba, sushis, grilled chicken, misc Japanese bistrot food). I went to the one situated in Ginza .

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I picked a bowl of hot Soba which featured perfectly thin delicate noodles. I usually prefer thick soba noodles, but this was soba of flawless technique, the noodle impossibly refined, the broth having balanced seasoning.  I won’t hide the fact that this was a bit too gourmet for my taste as I am fonder of the mom and pop type of soba noodles that abound in Tokyo, but that should not detract from the observation that Tofuro’s soba was superb. 9/10

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The yakitori (grilled chicken) was another showcase of the high level of cooking technique found under this roof, with meat of fine quality and flavors that can only come from an inspired kitchen of talented cooks. Miles away from the poorly executed , oftently dry and tasteless, grilled chicken that can be found at plenty of bistrots. Superb yakitori offerings with not one single flaw to be noticed. 8/10

The service was also of really high standard.

Pros: It is rare to find a ‘jack of all trades’ (they do not specialize in one type of food) that does virtually execute pretty much everything flawlessly. I am not implying that Tofuro is exceptional. What  I can tell you,though, is that few restaurants can do as much …this well.

Cons: perhaps  such  refinement will not be the cup of tea of someone looking for rusticity

My verdict: 8/10 (Category: mid-level all-rounder isakaya/soba/yakitori in Tokyo) By reading reviews of local foodies, I realized that they tend to not like their chain restaurants that much, a recurrent trend  a bit  everywhere around the globe. But I could not care about feelings and perceptions. Chains or not, what matters to me is the food and how great it fared to me. Tofuro’s display was one of superb and consistent high level of technique. A place like this could easily remain in the top5 of Montreal’s finest restaurants for years and yet our top 5 is nowhere close in terms of consistency ( I ate 3 times, at Tofuro,within 1 week. Tried lunch and dinner and the  technique was great and  flawless on each instance).

What I think weeks later: Obviously, it would be irrational to expect a ‘jack of all trades’ to showcase the sort of homey/artisan feel that’s more appropriately the affair of a ‘specialist’ (sushiya, dedicated soba place, ramen ya, etc), but finding an all-rounder that does execute pretty much everything flawlessly, and oh, btw…at such low cost, with actually …quality produce, everything homemade, with such level of consistency, well …that is no ordinary achievement by any restaurant standards.

Restaurant: Au Pied de Cochon
Type cooking:  Remake of rustic traditional Quebecois cuisine+ Misc French classic bistrot fares
Address: 536 Avenue Duluth Est, Montréal
Date/Time of the meal: June 13th, 2014 18:00
URL: http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/

Recent reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché.

 

I went back to a long time favourite bistrot, Au Pied de Cochon. Sadly, this is the 3rd visit in a row that leaves me disappointed. I am one of the earlier fans of APDC, with amazing souvenirs of its brighter days. I do understand that not every cook can trade head to head with super skilled Chefs like Picard or Dufour (the earlier kings of this house) but there is no excuse for  subpar cooking….especially for food as easy to satisfy as classic-based bistrot  fares. It pains me  to write this about  Picard’s stronghold, Au Pied de Cochon (APDC),  as I had some of the  most interesting restaurant remakes of  rustic/old school hearty Quebecois and French bistrot  food,  there in its early days when both Picard himself and Chef Hugues Dufour were  still at the helm, but it now  seems, to me, far, and each time further and further, from its  best days. On this evening, I dined with a friend who knows his food well. His first time at APDC.  His opinion is that he was impressed by the great service and loved the concept but sharp cooking skills is basically what he was missing.

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, CRAB SALAD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crab salad – Basically, well sourced fresh crab flesh mixed with a salad of cucumber. Not bad, but an $18 salad of crab certainly calls for a sign or two of ….restaurant quality effort. This was basically as decent  as any salad that  anyone would have made at home with quality crab and cucumber in his/her hands. Casual cooking does not mean easy / basic food….And btw,  most bistrots would deliver this with a bit more creativity, a witty touch. Want more? Ask Chefs Dufour and Martin Picard if they would have deliver this salad in such uninspired fashion (simply toss a mayo-based vinaigrette with cucumber and crab meat..the effect was as basic as that)   5/10

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, SEAFOOD PLATTERSeafood platter – Summer at APDC has the seafood platter as the star of the house. APDC seafood platter comprises of a mix of raw (oysters, clams, conch , whelks, mussels, calamari) as well as fried items (sometimes fish, but on this occasion, well…anyways, we’ll get to that later), served with condiments such as tomato sauce, aioli, spicy yoghurt. Everything was well sourced on this platter, but sadly…everything was overdone and in a nonsensical fashion: whelk was drowned in a sort of mayo-based concoction that I did not bother inquiring about since it killed the appreciation of the whelk with its heavy creamy overwhelming dimension. Poor whelks, one of my favourite seafood items…. – The brigade on duty this evening seems to really love anything that  pivots around  mayo or cream-cheese or whatever yoghurty look alike dressing:  the oyster not escaping from this pattern  as one of those nonsensical dressings did escort my oysters,   an aigrelette cream sauce   accompanied the oysters this time . Good lord, … that is a perfect recipe to turn the oyster serving into an unappetizing bite both texturally and palatably (the effect being exactly the same, on this instance, as pairing cream cheese to oyster…certainly, that was not going to do anything good to the oyster).   Mussels came in the form of small mounds of heavy-loaded brunoise of veggies mixed with mussel flesh, introduced within the mussel shells…so heavy on the stomach that I would hate mussel forever had this been my lifetime first mussel bite.  Calamari, were drowned in what looked like a squid-ink based concoction that managed to be cloying, …poor calamari!  As for the fried item..well, it  came in the form of what looked like tiny pieces of fish (??) tempura sitting atop  some of the sea shells offerings, and shall be remembered as yet another element too many in an already confusing seafood platter (this was the $60 seafood platter).  For me, this was nothing more than just a  waste of well sourced ingredients  2/10

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, LOBSTER RISOTTO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lobster risotto featured rice that was properly cooked to the bite but the overall texture was   ‘cloying’ rather than creamy.  I do not expect them to compete with the finest Italian risotti in town but for me, this was cloying, not creamy and cloying is not the texture I need with a risotto. And at $42 the plate, I need the lobster morsels to benefit from more inspired work than just featuring as morsels of boiled lobster laid atop the risotto…  5/10

AU PIED DE COCHON, VEAL TARTARE

 

 

 

 

 

Veal tartare was the best item of this meal, the veal seasoned judiciously, its taste really appetizing. The ‘asian’ touch of wrapping them in a nori sheet is an idea that never fails to entice as raw meat and seaweed sheets is one of those combinations condemned to pair well.  7/10

PROS : Popular, boisterous, it is never boring here. The service really great as always.

CONS: This (a remake of rustic traditional Quebecois cuisine) is one kind of food that I am very familiar with (by very familiar, I mean about 2 decades of enjoying it…) and to which my palate tends to be partial to, therefore easy to reach out to my expectations, BUT their current cooks really need to  draw the line between enjoyable rich food (what made Au Pied de Cochon a widely praised foodie destination)  Vs overwhelming fares (what I have experienced all along the recent  3 visits). Today, I saw plenty of dishes, served at other tables, and that were lost amidst an unreasonable amount of ingredients and condiments. My past two visits starred a lamb shank confit that was so over garnished to the point that I could not tell the difference between the meat and its garnishes. On that same visit, a piece of delicate fish suffered from the same problem (why, on earth, do you associate a delicate piece of fish with that much reduction on the plate??).  As for the current meal, same old problems….

Overall food score for this meal: 4/10 You have all you need to know in the description of each of the dishes. Needless to add more …

Conclusion: Once upon a time, under this very same roof, the exact same items that failed today … were better conceived, and came with a very personal touch, because whoever was crafting them had a better sense of flavor combination, in my view and for my taste. APDC remains ‘unique’ / ‘original” by local standards, but, for me, the soul of this house has moved to their sugar shack (the souvenirs of the inspired rustic food that Martin Picard or Hughes Dufour were once crafting … they seem to have somehow resurfaced at their sugar shack). I do not  know if there is an  urgency of hiring a Chef of Picard’s or Dufour’s ilk, I just know that ADPC  seems, to me, to fail to thrive well.

Post thinking: I usually have a section called ‘what I think a week or a month later”.  With a meal like this, there’s no need for such section as it’s not a performance I want to think about. There are many things in life that we learn to cope with, and a forgettable meal is just part of life, even when you pay as much as what you would have paid at  a 3 star Michelin restaurant….  for a poorly executed bistrot performance, but I   have a friendly advise, just a friendly one:  seafood are a gift from the above, whoever cooks has no other choice but to  be gentle with them (the seafood), respect them (the seafood) because they (the seafood) are unforgiving when you treat them badly….they bite! (wink).  I know that, because I have yet stumbled upon a kitchen that cooks well without paying utter respect to them (the seafood). Seafood is the mother of all ingredients, trust that one….On an aside note, I’ll conclude by suggesting that as an old fan of Martin Picard, and knowing how proud and passionate this man is, I can safely presume that Martin would not be proud of what I was left with in the course of  the underwhelming past 3 visits.  The past 3 meals had more to do with testing my patience rather than getting the job done…Now, can we resume with  serious cooking???Is that too much to ask?

WOLD CUP SOCCER 2014On a non-foodie subject, the magic of  the soccer world cup is now in full effect. So an exciting summer for us, fans of soccer. June 12, July 13, let’s play!  My WISH : a final between Brazil and Germany! ;p Though, I have a soft spot for Italy (would love to see Pirlo with the world cup in his hands, he’s my favourite soccer player ) as well as the UK (I grew up admiring Steven Gerrard). Regarding the recent games, my opinion is  that the defeat of Spain against the Netherlands should not be taken seriously. Spain knows how to win and their next games will reveal an unbeatable side. I really do not see Brazil going that far eventhough my wish is that they face Germany for the cup. Yes, they have some of the players that I do admire a lot, like Oscar and Willian, but I do not sense, from their part,  the fire or strong and deep passionate commitment  typical of a team that is on mission (It’s of course a bit too early to talk about such, but Costa Rica seems to have that fire up to now). I also think that the South American teams will surprise many during this WC! Ah, soccer, the beautiful game….

 

 

 

 

Osteria con cucina ‘A Cantina de Mananan’
Via Fieschi, 117 – Tel 0187 821166
Corniglia, Liguria, Italy 19018
Email: mananan@libero.it
URL: https://www.facebook.com/cantinademananan/

One   highlight of my gourmand’s journey in Northern Italy was  a tiny stone walled  Italian osteria in the very touristy destination of Cinque Terre   called  A cantina de Mananan  :

The local gastronome  who brought me here did also introduce me to other  non touristy eateries that are popular with the locals in nearby  Lombardy as well as Emilia-Romagna . Therefore, when he told me  about this  spot located in the  touristy  ‘hamlet’ of Corniglia in Cinque Terre,  I had hard time believing him as Corniglia looked like a place where decent food would be hard to find.

 

I had their Piatto misto acciughe / Mixed dish of anchovies. Top quality produce that has been soaked in the sun of the Mediterranean sea, hand picked, kept away from any freezer or fridge. It is of produce of such  quality that the most ambitious Italian tables outside of Italy do dream about. There are Italian tables with Michelin stars, across the globe, outside of Italy, that would dream to serve ingredients of this quality. But then, it is not just about the sourcing. You also need to know what to do with that superb  produce and at that, they nailed it too: the seasoning was judicious, the flavours divine.  This was  an unusually well executed  dish and  would pass as NO ordinary at all, even by the standards of the finest osterias of Italy. 8/10

 

 

I also ordered   their gnocchi salsa di noci (gnocchi and walnut sauce) – Ethereally light gnocchi, featuring a delicious potato flavour, standing up perfectly to the walnut sauce it was served with, rendered in a way that some ambitious Italian tables, especially outside of Italy, would not  achieve this well (the soft texture of that gnocchi was that great). Superbly well executed potato dumplings paired with a flawlessly creamy, smooth and flavorful  walnut sauce  that could only come from combining quality ingredients (it is a simple sauce that relies on few ingredients, therefore the ingredients need to be of topshelf quality, and that was the case here) with a great know-how.  9/10

 

PROS: Great  Italian regional cookery (I am talking about the food I had there in summer 2012)

CONS: Do not come here expecting anything special as far as service goes. Do not get  me wrong: the service is not bad, far from that. Just remember that you are here for the food, though. After all, just keep in mind that it is not a ristorante, it is not a trattoria. It is an osteria (the most casual and laidback of the 3).

One drawback of  Italy’s lucrative tourism industry  is that  plenty  of subpar eateries  are competing with the few rare  gems like OCDM  to  feed the legion  of tourists . Therefore, for a foreigner, it is hard to locate the rare genuinely great eateries  that are silenced by the aggressive competition of the lesser ones.

Over a decade ago, there was great food to be found pretty much anywhere across Italy. To the contrary of what the Tourism authorities are trying to sell to us, that is not the case nowadays. Right here in Italy, a big city like Rome will offer mostly generic food that taste the same as it would taste in any other city in the western world.

Further down the boot, do not be surprised to be served fish that was frozen while eyeing at the Mediterranean sea.  Because that fresh seafood coming straight from the Mediterranean sea is way too expensive. Therefore, they will serve you the more affordable fish that came straight from the freezer, imported from afar. It is not like that just in Italy. It is like that pretty much everywhere alongside the Mediterranean sea .

Exceptional produce does exist, but you will have to pay through the nose to enjoy them at expensive restaurants. My first two days in Northern Italy were frustrating in that regard. On my 3rd day, I was lucky enough to meet with some knowledgeable local foodies and things went uphill from there as  I did enjoy some great  food and produce  at reasonable cost on the ensuing days as it was the case here at A Cantina da Mananan.

There were also some truely great celebrated restaurants such as Del PescatoreIl Luogo di Aimo e Nadia as well as Le Calandre that I did visit during this trip.  But food-wise,  few  left such a big impression on me as this humble osteria (there are 2 other osterias that also made a big impression on me – I just can’t remember their names, right now).

As for  A Cantina da Mananan, it would be interesting  to see how such eatery will fare in the long run: Corniglia is very touristy, therefore I hope ACDM does not, one day, turn into yet another eatery that just wants to cash in on its tourists. It certainly would be tempting. But I can talk only for what I have experienced and  those truely interested by / knowledgeable about genuine Italian regional cuisines would have found this meal at A Cantina de Mananan to be  one great example  of    Italian regional cookery that is hard to improve upon at an osteria  (great ingredients, superb  taste, excellent cooking technique).