Archive for the ‘italian’ Category

Marea, New York
Michelin stars: 2
Addr: 240 Central Park S., New York, NY 10019
URL: http://www.marea-nyc.com/index.php/
Phone:  212-582-5100
Type of cuisine: (Their contemporary version of)  Italian cuisine .

MAREA 01Widely known as one of NYC’s  best Italian restaurants, celebrated for its homemade handmade  pasta dishes (some of the best in the country, according to NSE  ) ,  Marea is situated in Manhattan. They offer what is  more accurately their contemporary take (refined,  small portions) on Italian cuisine, with combinations of ingredients that are not always traditionally Italian (cheese and seafood, to take an example) but the fundamentals of Italian cooking are never too far.

Marea does what it takes, in light of what we are accustomed to in North America…to deserve its accolades – nothing to fault here, not extravagant but tasteful contemporary interior,  great service.

 

What we ate:

3The trio of crudo (big eye tuna, long island fluke, pacific jack mackerel) ,  top quality raw ingredient.  they did  avoid the mistake of overseasoning them. 8/10

4 ZUPPA – almond and watercress soup, seppia, shrimp, roasted peppers. It had  everything a great soup needs: acidity, sweetness, texture, enticing flavors. Complex in a highly enjoyable way 8/10

2Gnochetti, ruby shrimp, chilies, rosemary. properly rendered consistency  (to the tooth) of the pasta , the chilies not too hot, which was a good idea as to add an extra layer of flavor without the distracting (unecessary) piquancy, the ruby shrimp not a serious challenger to some of the far more delicious shrimps of the mediterannea but the overall is tasty and well executed. I could not fault this dish, I could not fault one single dish of this entire meal, actually …BUT   in comparison to   other 2 Michelin star Italian meals that I had elsewhere a 7/10 would be a fair rating (what would it take to score this dish with a higher rating? A sauce that’s spectacular as I have enjoyed at plenty of other Italian restaurants. This one was great. Just not supremely delicious.

1 Tagliata – creekstone farms sirloin, bone marrow  panzanella, braised romaine. / the sirloin seasoned exquisitely,  their take on the bread and tomatoes panzanella salad a good idea …but time and again I could not stop thinking about how dazzling this entire meal would have been with produce as spectacular as what can sometimes be found in some parts of Italy. 7/10

 

5Polipo / octopus –  I had octopus a tad more remarkable than this (meaning with bolder maritime flavor) , in North America, but this was of really  good quality,  the seasoning enticing , it had an ideal chewy consistency (enough firmness to remind ourselves that this is octopus, and not a jellyfish but also  tender enough for proper enjoyable chew).   7.5 /10

 

6PANNA COTTA  – sicilian pistachio panna cotta, raspberry , rhubarb rose granita as well as a bit of  aniseed. This was fine, rather than dazzling, panaccotta (had the pistachio flavor been more expressive and the taste a tad richer, I would call it “dazzling” instead of “fine…BUT expressive pistacchio flavor would clash with flavors of raspberry and rose granita…so instead of the pistachio flavor, use something else that you can easily pair with the rest ).  Still …, a fair 7/10

7SORBETTI blood peach, apricot, strawberry balsamic – Sorbetti were excellent even by fine sorbetti  standards in Italy. The suggestion that sorbetti are better in Italy is oftently a fabrication of the mind. In North America, there are sorbetti  that are as good and this is one perfect example of just that  9/10

 

PROS: Marea does what it takes, in light of what we are accustomed to in North America…to deserve its accolades – nothing to fault here, not extravagant but tasteful contemporary interior,  great service.

CONS: However great the ingredients  – and great  they are at Marea (by North American standards),  it would take the finer ingredients of some parts of Italy ………AND  a  sense to make food taste extraordinary for me to understand the shower of raves on Marea.

Overall food rating:  An 8/10 by  the standards of  Contemporary Italian cuisine in North America  ..SO NOT  to be compared to my ratings of places like, to take an example,  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan —  a two star Michelin too —  which would, with no doubt  be a 10/10 in my books if it was in NYC.  We are in a completely different set of expectations …) – But a 7.5/10 when I compare it to the 2 Michelin star Italian food I had elsewhere (Michelin star is international, so I believe that is fair to also assess Marea against the 2 star Michelin food found outside of North America ).   I am ignorant about many cuisines (Brazilian, Romanian, etc) , but Italian, French, most African / Asian /Carribean cuisines are food that I have patiently mastered/familiarized myself with and cooked for decades.  By familiarizing myself with I mean …learning from those in the know, the Moms and Pops and NOT by watching food shows on TV or following recipes 0n the web. So, I know what I need to expect from such food. From Italian food, I expect the most (perfecting the simple texture of your pasta or risotto, pulling off superb flavors  ) from the least (simple/ classic combinations of  ingredients).  Of this lunch at Marea, I saw no evidence of perfected textures and the sort of dazzling flavors I came to expect, at times,  from some other 2 star Michelin offering Italian food, but   there was nothing to fault neither, and the food is certainly really good by  Italian upmarket restaurant standards in North America, though, not peerless by those same standards —).

 

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CEFALUCefalu (Sicily) is a  picturesque  tiny seaside Mediterranean city of the kind that you would expect to see  in movies. Very easy on the eyes, it certainly won’t be hard, for the most, to fall for this place. It takes 1 hr by train (it costs €5 one way) to get there from Palermo.

CEFALU2In Cefalu, I ate at Al vicoletto (Addr: Via Madonna degli Angeli, 12 Piazza Duomo – Cefalu Phone: 0921 420971) , where I picked a risotto alla marinara (mussels, clams, squid, shrimp, parsley — the fresh maritime flavor of the seafood was not muted)  as well as a cold couscous made of olives and tomatoes (enticing fresh lemony acidity).

My verdict (Very good>Good>Ok>Bad): Ok. Honest casual food. Fine ingredient by the standards of the seafood that I kept finding in Palermo and its surroundings at most of their casual restaurants. As ever, food this simple can always be bettered by spectacular ingredients and/or a touch of genius cooking at surprising the palate, which was not the case here, but  such features are rare across the globe.

PALERMO1Completing this short trip to Italy with few days in Sicily. Palermo did not knock my socks off, I will admit, but there is no doubt that Sicily is one of the jewels of the Mediterranea. My recommendation: if this matters to you, hire a car and tour the entire island of Sicily, do not stick just to Palermo.

PALERMO2Al cancelletto verde (Addr: Via Riccardo Wagner, 14, 90139 Palermo  Phone:091 320537) is opened since 1954, so one of the old restaurants of downtown Palermo (not far from the harbour). Bucatini with Sardines (the first  pic) was properly done (the pasta not as firmly aldente as so oftently found in Rome, but firm enough for proper chew, the sardine of fine quality). Grilled trout and squid was also another dish that was done as it should, meaning with respect to how Sicilian do traditionally  season their grilled seafood and the cooking  (temperature of the sea food, doneness, timing) without reproach.

My verdict (Very good > Good > Ok> Bad): Ok. Food this simple can always be bettered with a touch of bold seasoning, or whatever surprising effect/personal twist the Chef may deem interesting to throw in, and that was not the case, here. But that is not a fault, neither, as their intent was not to add a twist to the original recipes. Here, they keep the recipes as authentic as it is, so this is not food that is trying to wow, rather food that is done as it has always been. And it is done properly.  Excited, I was not, but you are warned (1)  many items of Sicilian cuisine  — I have the same issue with Roman cooking — are not my cup of tea for reasons that have nothing to do with what is  good or   bad. As an example, I can’t appreciate stuffed seafood …. which Sicilians do and which was served to me during this meal in the form of stuffed squid. Does that mean stuffed seafood is bad? I do not think so.  Just not what I prefer. (2) People who were raised by the sea (my case) oftently tend to  have an almost intimate preference for the types of fish they grew up with. Trout is not one of them.

Untitled3Really good pizze at Ciampini Bistro (Addr: Via della Fontanella di Borghese, 59, 00186 Roma Phone: 06 6813 5108 http://www.ciampini.com/en ) , with beautifully conceived  thin crust (soft) as well as ingredients of fine quality. The 4 cheeses Pizza being one of the finest in Rome. I went on a different day and tried other very simple trattoria items (chicken . It is situated in a very  touristicky area of  Rome (the Spanish steps), but this is not a place that is just taking avantage of the hordes of tourists passing by. At what it does (simple trattoria fares), it is doing a serious job. Not exceptional, and this is food that  tastes  similar to what you will get in any  good trattoria in America (…..thanks to the theme of the “globalization”, a magical theme denying any suprise effect to our  palates because food had to taste the same wherever you go — by magical, I hope you understood that I was sarcastic) but certainly fine.

My verdict (Very good>Good>OK>Bad): Good – Can’t go wrong here. Basic trattoria food,indeed, but well made.  Excellent service.

Untitled2While visiting Tivoli, I rushed on the web to find suggestions about where to grab a bite in the area and was disappointed  by the reviews: they sounded completely out of touch with what needs to be expected from such area. It is a touristicky area, miles away from Rome and I am not too sure why one would expect galactic culinary exploits from such humble eatery.  Anyways, on the back of the realistic expectations that happened to me mine……………., I found  Bar Villa D’Este to deliver some honest tasty food.  There was not a vast quantity of  beer, but the beer tasted fresh, which is perhaps what one should expect from any place,  but many touristicky eateries do offer cheap quality beers (Montreal does actually excel at that!). Then my Ravioli di ricotta al ragu was certainly not homemade ravioli,  its texture not of the refined type, but again…………………save for some  high-end restaurants and   few artisan Chef trattorias outside of Western big cities, who the hell is making homemade ravioli nowadays?? At least, theirs tasted good. My only serious quip is that they should STOP USING  plastic ustensils………SUBITO!!!!! There are lots of things that I can tolerate, but that …. I CANNOT!!!!  Bar Villa D’Este – Addr: Via Tiburtina Valeria, 330, 00011, Tivoli, Italy Phone: +39 0774 3883
Verdict (Very good>Good>Ok>bad): ……………… I won’t assess this eatery for the sake of……. accuracy. I do not want you to compare my rating of this eatery to the ones of my recent meals. Why? Because Bar Villa D’Este does not have the pretention of competing with a place like, say, Vecchia Roma..obviously!!!! It is just a humble eatery to grab some noce fresh  beer and have some decent food. And yet, compared to its direct competitition….it is doing a DAMN HONEST JOB!

UntitledBaia Chia was recommended to me by the same folks who did suggest that I eat at Vecchia Roma. VR was an instant success, for me, but BC, although using nice ingredients by western restaurant trattoria standards …. and specializing in food that I am partial to (seafood)…delivered a meal that I won’t be able to rate (as explained below) – Scampi risotto was  as all’onda as it is possible to  be, the scampi of good quality, the taste delicious enough  but lacking the depth / complexity of a great  seafood risotto (this was good, just not great — the sort of white wine as well as seafood stock used makes a big difference, and it is  that difference that I was missing ). A seafood platter of grilled seafood featured good quality scampi, shrimp and  and calamari, the maritime aromas in evidence. Simple, as expected  but certainly effective though nowhere as dazzling as its better examples. Baia Chia Via Macchiavelli 5A Phone: 06 70.45.34.52

Verdict (Very good>Good>Ok>bad): ………………There is no denying the fact that Baia Chia uses fine produce (BY WESTERN TRATTORIA STANDARDS), service is great, food tasty enough. But I was not floored, for reasons…that have nothing to do with them: when it comes to seafood, my point of reference is the seafood from the Indian Ocean and/or the Caribbean . My palate perceives them as way superior than the seafood found elsewhere.  BC’s seafood is good, but I made the mistake of having that point of reference in mind. It diminished the appreciation of my mean, so I can’t rate this ..l.

Even most of the  Italians I know  have hard time recommending the right local Italian bakeries. There’s also the fact that different generations of Italians have completely different appreciations of what I am looking for . A good example of that happened when I started doing a little search on one of my favourite Italian desserts, the zabaglione (I am fond of  most  of the classic Italian renditions of the sabayon)…well, forget it, lol…. virtually every single Italian I spoke to  seem to have never heard of it and I have talked to  folks of different  generations. Once they knew what it was, or recalled having enjoyed it a long time ago, the dessert was simply not enoughly hip for them to care about…which was actually the other major dilemma I had to face: many think of food as a trend. So,what’s too classic is not exciting, and so on. I think that when you really like food, you can’t trade in such terms. You like food or you do not.You do not like it because it’s hip and stop liking it when it’s not hip anymore, lol. Anyways, I love classic rich bold flavors and two bakeries in town did teleport me as close to Italy as a bakery in Montreal can: San Marco and Tillemont.

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
Event: Dinner at  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
When: Saturday June 16th 2012, 7:30 PM
Michelin stars: 2
Addr: Via Privata Raimondo Montecuccoli, 6 20147 Milan (Italy)
URL: http://www.aimoenadia.com/
Phone: +39 02 416886
Type of cuisine:  Italian Haute cuisine (Pan-Italian with Tuscan influence)

The Maestro is not cooking anymore but what I found here was some of the better Italian food of this  globe. 

 

Overall food rating: 8/10 Delicious take on Italian classic. One of my few favourite tables around the globe.
Service: 9/10 Lovely, attentive
Overall dining experience (the non food factor):  8/10    This is my type of  dining experience, classic, focused on real great food/flavors. For those whose ideal of  a dining experience needs to be pepped up with  ‘theater’, the score will undoubtly be lower, and   I also suspect that the dining room, not modern-looking though charming, and the neighborhood, perhaps too ‘suburb’,  might lack the little ‘extra mileage’ in appeal that some would require to be floored. To each their own, then.

 

Food I had:  I am a bit busy,  was there with some friends (so no pics since having fun between friends turned out more important than bothering about food photographing), so won’t  elaborate too much on each of the dishes — we basically shared bites of what we had ordered — , but I have sampled a tortelli / ossobuco of Piedmontese veal, the work of taste amazing, though very classic in presentation which is my liking (9/10), Veal (tenderloin cut) / Jerusalem artichoke, the veal (from the region of Piedmont) of stunning quality, the vegetable just ok (easily an 8/10 for that piece of veal — they could have simply served it as a carpaccio and I would have been a happy camper, the meat on its own being so fabulous in mouth) , Oxtail of beef is a classic here and you should not miss it if you go there, its deep meaty flavor enhanced by a well bodied stew made of red wine. Again, hearty and delicious like whatever we kept eating on that meal, easily a 8/10 for that oxtail.  Rest assured that you can’t make such dish exquisite only by relying on the fact that fat and bones will do the talk…it takes a great palate and skills and this brigade certainly has both.

The script:
This concludes an  interesting journey of seven days in Italy that I started off in  Rome (only 1 quick day in Rome) , and then  carried on to Northern Italy (Lombardy, Veneto,  and Emilia-Romagna). Tiring to say the least, but this is Italy: a borderless  ‘open-air candy store’ where everything is tempting. It is, as we all know, one of those rare countries where each parcel of  land worths its weight in gold. This is  not my first time in Italy, and everytime I visit this country, I regret of not having spent more time.

Gastronomy is, to me, as important as culture, history and architectures. Italy obviously offers plenty of those and this trip was the excuse to enjoy some great food as well as visiting as many historical vestiges as I could in such a short period of time. The dining part of this journey is crazy: Dinner on Tuesday at 3 star Michelin La Pergola in Rome, an impromptu quick lunch at 2 star Michelin Trussardi alla Scala in Milan on Wednesday, a big lunch at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio on Thursday, and finally this Saturday dinner at the iconic 2 star Michelin Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan. It is absurd to enjoy as many meals in one single week, but absolutely understandable given the circumstances.

It was interesting, as a reflexion on my visits at the above mentioned Italian Michelin  star ventures to reach conclusions I had not expected prior to the events: for eg , I had high hopes, given the raves and also its worldwide status as one of the grand tables of the world,  that La Pergola would  have blown me away. Although grand — It’s indeed a grand table, executing to perfection all the details that makes it known as one of the very best 3 star Michelin tables in the world – I have to admit that I was not fully impressed on a personal basis. I found it to be as expected: a great 3 star dinner, but not one that was outstanding enough in my view. This explains the recurrent 8/10, 8.5/10 marks (which means ‘very good’ in my assessment, but far from stellar) that I thought accurate to assign to most food items. In contrast,  other 3 star Michelin tables that many would find average have surprisingly fed me with sometimes quantitatively less…but  oftently far more impressive food. That is why this whole thing is subjective, after all … and it would be fair to remind that this is based just on one visit at those places.

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, situated in remote suburbs of Milan,  is a 2 star Michelin and legendary establishment of  the city’s haute dining scene, with over 50 years of existence. The original Chef,  Tuscan cordon bleu Aimo Moroni (he started cooking in the mid 50s) now fulfills the role of the  owner, while two  Chefs, Fabio Pisani (Grand Veyfour, Waterside Inn, Dal Pescatore) and Alessandro Negrini (Dal Pescatore, as well), are at the helm of  the kitchen’s operations. What they do is basically their own interpretation  of Pan-Italian cuisine with inspirations   from Tuscany, Piedmont, Sicily and many other regions of Italy as well.

Aimo e Nadia is particularly praised among experienced gourmands of  Italy’s high end gastro scene for  offering strictly  the very best produce of the country (for eg, the top grade veal from Piedmont, Sienese lardo, etc), which is a feature that  I do expect at any table anyways, especially at this dining  level and in this corner of the world, although I am mentioning this because that aspect will naturally grow big on the subconscious dimension of my perception of the meal to come.

In a world where there is a lot of babbling about classic   techniques being boring, you would think that  trendy modern cooking would bring the supposedly exciting palatable emotions that comes along,  but years after the rise of  those novel cooking trends, few modernist Chefs are really capable of offering the true excitement that pertains to the splendid impact that classic food can unleash in skilled hands (the Spaniards remain among  the very few  whose depth of modern cooking creativity can  indeed rise at palatable heights of  the fabulous taste of the kind of successful classic cooking that I am praising). So many people are lured by the superficial aspect of food that they can’t even make a difference between an average, above average, superior or excellent straightforward food item such a soup or a tartare.  You get the idea:  a restaurant like Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia  catches my attention more than any of the latest trendy eateries, but this naturally comes with the expectation that classic food being my favourite cuisine type, it therefore needs to surpass itself.

Conclusion: Italian cuisine is in my top 10  favourite in the world along with Haitian, Congolese (Ex-Zaire), French, Chinese (from all over China), Indian (from all over India), Burmese (a lot of Indian and Thai influence)  and Thai. In that top 10, it is perhaps the cuisine that is technically closer to my cooking philosophy: try  getting the MOST (vibrant taste, above average exciting dishes, etc) out of the very LEAST (a simple ingredient, no fussy manipulation). It is therefore a cooking style that I am at ease with, because you sense the skills  (or lack of talent) of the cook almost on the spot. When I was a kid, one popular   leisure activity   in my neighborhood was to give 1 fish to a dozen of kids (the exact same kind of fish for each of the kids), 1 humble charcoal grill (not the fancy ones we have nowadays),  a box of matches, a bit of  salt and 1 lemon. With those humble and limited elements in hands, the kids had to surpass themselves and make a fish as stunning in taste as they could. Their palate had to dig deep in its sensitivity. Their taste memories constantly enriched with subtleties.  To me, this was the best cooking school in the world because the culinary touch of  each of those amateur cooks could be sensed and appreciated. It was like appreciating Miro’s touch in a painting of Joan Miro, It was Chagall’s spirit in Marc Chagall’s works. Nowadays, when you eat at most restaurants , there is usually a brand name … then Paul, Clara, John and X cooking for the brand name. It’s Miro but not Miro that did it. It’s Chagall, but not Chagall that created it.  It does not  matter who is cooking, as  long as there’s some sort of standard and some buzz. Just paint like Miro and Chagall, the most important is that their name are on the ad and make some noise, hourrahh!!  And most people do not care anyways, since it’s mostly either good or bad food. Lol. No wonder it sometimes takes me 1 year of intense reflexion and research  before deciding over a dinner worth of my hard earned money. What I liked with a place like Aimo e Nadia, eventhough Aimo and Nadia are perhaps not cooking that oftently anymore, it’s the presence of just those two Chefs only (Pisani an Negrini) with one goal: trying to convey, along the years,  the spirit of Aimo e Nadia. They perhaps will never be in a position to replicate Aimo’s personal touch (I am not even sure that cloning Aimo can address this, Lol), but what they did on this dinner was exactly what both Aimo and I seem to have as a common culinary philosophy: a fascination for turning the least into the very most.