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 (as an example, the amazing produce found at an Italian osteria like Osteria con cucina A Cantina de Mananan  in Corniglia …and there is even better than that 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 7/10 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 (not that bad, but not that impressive ..neither,  to tell you the truth). 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. In my case, trout is not one of them.

GIOLITTI1Last, but not least, a must-try in Rome: Giolitti. For those in the know,  Giolitti  is widely known as Rome’s ice cream shop to beat. On the day of my visit, there were even special tourist  tours focusing on  Giolitti.

GIOLITTI2Such fame tend to influence people, polarizing their opinions between instant haters (oh nah..another touristicky place) or lovers (oh yeah, it is the best ice cream of my life). I can only trade in facts that my palate is aware of, so I had no particular expectations. I just wanted their ice cream to be a technically well made ice cream, basta! And perfectly made it was, indeed, with a depth of  fresh milky taste (Never mind the flavors: whether the flavor of my ice cream  was pear or vanilla or something else, I believe that is not important — what matters to me is the technique, the depth in the work of the flavors) that is way more refined than at most of the other major ice cream spots of Rome.

Can it get any better than this? Was this my lifetime best ice cream? Remember, this …as excellent as it is …caters to the mass. So, ultimately, I had better ice cream (bolder milky flavor, bolder fruity flavor) done by talented ppl in their homes. But for ice cream catering to the masses, Giolitti’s certainly  one fine example. Giolitti  Addr: Via Uffici del Vicario, 40 – Roma – Tel 06.6991243  http://www.giolitti.it/

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.

Pursuing with further  accounts of my trattoria meals in Rome:

Angeletto Ai MuseiL’Angelo ai musei – flawless  pennette with pink salmon, with an osso bucco that was technically executed as it should, but that still left me perplexed as explained below.

Verdict (Benchmark>Excellent>Very good>Good>Ok>bad): Ok ++. This was some tasty classic Italian food, but I would need a second visit here to better assess this place since the sauce of that  good osso bucco had..somehow…a funky taste. Not too sure what the problem was… Furthermore, the house wine was really bad and that is hard to forgive in Italy. Sorry Angelo, but ….non posso perdonarti per quello!  L’Angelo ai musei, Rome  Addr: Via Leone IV, 2, Roma Phone: 06 3972 3187 URL: http://www.angolettoaimusei.com/