Posts Tagged ‘italy’

#Pray for Paris. I am currently in the city of lights, Paris  and was dining out with close relatives and watching France-Germany soccer match when the phones started ringing informing us about the sad events of the Paris attacks that were taking place just 2 miles away. Paris is currently extremely quiet with a heavy military presence, especially around the 10th/11th arrondissements. Pray for Paris.

With the recent addition of Manresa, California  has now 5 triple  Michelin starred restaurants  (Benu in  San Francisco, The French Laundry in  Yountville, Manresa in  Los Gatos, The Restaurant at Meadowood in St Helena as well as Saison in San Francisco), which makes it the most triple- starred Michelin  state in the US. With its exceptional wines, superb weather and enviable terroir , SF keeps positioning itself as a true, not just marketed as such (hein Montreal?), world class foodie destination. Here is a list of Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco (quite impressive, I have to say).

Visiting   Rome and Sicily – As with any popular foodie destinations, Italy has its shares of misses and hits when it comes to  food. Do some search, lots of it ..or else, you may end up …like me….with your share of really  ordinary (just Ok)  meals.

ROME1Rome – In ancient times, the saying “all roads lead to Rome” basically meant that whatever you do, only the Roman way mattered. Rome may not be the so-called “centre of the world” that it was once dubbed, but  its glorious past  still resonates nowadays in the hearts of  the impressive mass of tourists that it keeps attracting even in November, a period  when tourism frequentation  is at its lowest level  anywhere else around the world. One of this globe’s most touristicky cities,  as one would expect, and deservedly so….though, for the food, I am not fully sold about Rome’s position among world’s best foodie destinations. Perhaps I should have done better searches, perhaps…but I recall that  cities lile Tokyo or San Sebastian  dazzled more with no specific planning. I have to say, I am frustrated by the level of the food in Rome. Of course it is a good food city, but its better food is as tasty as any fine Italian food eaten in  America. The food here is victim of something called GLOBALIZATION…and between you and me…it is a  shame because what you generally eat in Rome could have been served to you in New York…and the difference is not that huge anymore.On Rome, during this visit, Vecchia Roma led the pack of the eateries I have tried. I also ate at: Ciampini, Baia Chia, L’Angelo Ai Musei. Just make sure that you are really familiar with Roman cuisine and do enjoy it, or else I  can foresee some serious inaccurate opinions.

PALERMO - MONREALE Palermo, Sicily, was no love at first sight for me. But the more I got to wander in its streets, the better it fared. Quattro Canti, the Norman palace, their beautiful old town, the unique blend of Christian and Muslim architectures and arts…Palermo kept fighting back. In the end, I had no other choice but to surrender: yes, some  parts of Palermo was destroyed during the second world war and little of that was  renovated since then, but this city has way more to offer than its first impressions,  which is not a surprise when you start digging in its past: Phoenicians, Greeks, Normans, Romans, Arabs…where else can you find such ecclectic influence?? Outside of Palermo, I had time to visit Monreale (sorry, I did not get the fuss.Yes, they have a beautiful church and a nice view over Palermo, but I had nothing more to bite into) and the very pretty seaside city of Cefalu. An island with such varied historical and cultural richness (few places in the world did themselves proud by proving to the world that Muslims and Christians can coexist together in such harmony…no  wonder Palermo, their capital city,  is a UNESCO  world heritage city) needs to be taken seriously (5 days in just Palermo, Monreale and Cefalu is clearly not enough). On the aspect of the food, with the surrounding Mediterranean sea in the picture, I was expecting the usual dazzling seafood I came to expect from  well, … the Mediterannea. But nah, that was not going to happen. Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera, which I visited two years ago, offered seafood and vegetables of far better quality than what I kept sampling in Sicily.

L’Oxygene (Paris) – is an African restaurant in Bois Colombes, with a Senegalese young Chef at the helm. To some, going to Paris is the opportunity to eat French food and that is obviously what I would recommend to the most. But the best African cooking outside of Africa is in Paris.  As   I “breath”/eat/cook French classic food since age 6,   it goes without saying that I do not need to eat solely French food in Paris. Given my familiarity with African cuisines, I do also eat at African restaurants whenever in Paris. On a first visit, I had the braised chicken which was as flawless as it could have been as well as their braised bass – nicely braised, but I was annoyed by the fact that the fish was not marinated for a long time. Furthermore, I ordered the braised fish for take out and it was mixed with a brunoise of tomatoes which diminished the flavor of the fish.  All dishes (there are just 4 or 5 items from what I recall) cost eur 15.  (My verdict: Very good>Good>Ok>Bad ): Good.  The best Senegalese restaurants in Montreal get  nowhere near  what you will find here.  Eventhough  I still prefer how ppl from the Carribean and the Indian Ocean do marinate and grill their fish (marinated longer, the seasoning a bit more elaborate ) —normal, as one tends to prefer the flavors he grew up with — , what you need to know is that the Senegalese do it a bit differently so consider than  when reading the aforementioned account. As for the brunoise of tomatoes altering the flavor of the fish..well, just ask to have your  brunoise served separately /  not mixed with the fish, if you order it for takeout. At the end of the day,  regardless of my personal taste, their talented young Senegalese Chef  is cooking good food.  Restaurant L’Oxyene, Addr:  241 Avenue d’Argenteuil 92270 Bois-Colombes Phone: 06 06 57 85 86

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris – As explained elsewhere, on this blog, I am not a fan of visiting plenty of high end restaurants. Most upscale restaurants have kitchen brigades capable of  offering a  good standard of food, but no more. At the high end dining level,  it is rare, nowadays, to eat food that tastes “personal”  in the way the food of Chefs like Jacques Maximin or even, on my last meal at L’Ambroisie, Bernard Pacaud, to name those two Chefs, could taste like (certainly food that could only come from an “artisan Chef”). In other words, most upscale restaurants cook food that can be easily replicated by many kitchen brigades because their food  just taste “impersonal”. Impersonal cooking is obviously the best way  to  run a restaurant successfully, nowadays, and I can certainly see why, but I am not moved by such evidence. PG is a big business, but at least it can’t be accused of playing it safe. The  review of my meal at 3 star Michelin Pierre Gagnaire can be found here.

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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.

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.

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/

Couple of days in Rome. A quick account of my meals at  some of their humble trattorias:

TEMPIO DI MECENATETempio di Mecenate, L.go Leopardi 14/18 Phone: 06 4872653 http://www.tempiodimecenate.it : Food would  have impressed a bit more had my plate of grilled seafood expressed a certain degree of  maritime flavor both to the smell and on the palate (they just lacked salinity), their quality perfectly fine  for this standard of eatery.  A dish of ravioli as well as roman oxtail stew were not going to be remembered as ranking among the ravioli and roman oxtails that knocked my socks off , but  both were tasty, for sure, and   technically executed properly. Perhaps not in my top tier trattoria food items during this visit of Rome, but this was a  pleasant meal   and on this  visit, there were plenty of Italians of different generations eating there, which I guess is not a bad thing at all. Verdict (Very good>Good>Ok>bad): Ok

MARGHERITAEqually pleasant without standing out was the nearby Il Pasticciaccio (Via Merulana, 34, 00185 Roma, Italia Phone: Phone: 0689528967) . On one visit, I had couple of pizze here of which my sole reproach would be that  the crust needed to be softer.  The rest (cheese, tomato sauce) was fine enough/ Ok / normal  even by the standard of your average pizza in North America.  I will admit that  what I was missing the most was the flavor of a wood fired pizza, and dreaming of Neapolitan pizza  was not helping at all , but that is obviously not the fault of Il Pasticciaccio. After all, it is not as if I did not know what were the best pizze of Rome (Sforno,  ).  The service is good, and on the first evening I was there,  they even had  one young Italian lady who was able  to converse in English. If you go there, try the dishes featuring  grilled meats (chicken, beef) as the people who were eating at the neighboring table  seemed to have liked  their grilled meats. Again, nothing out of the ordinary of this kind of casual restaurant, but not bad at all neither. Verdict (Very good>Good>Ok>bad): Ok

 

Roma VecchiaTrattoria Vecchia Roma – Opened since 1916, this trattoria is one of the older eateries of Rome.  Where such feature would allow  plenty of restaurants to rest on their laurels, Vecchia Roma is of a different breed: the food is traditional, indeed, but nothing tastes nor feels tired under this roof as exemplified by a buccatini all’amatriciana that tasted  great  and a trippa a la Romana with not one single quip.

Rome is touristy, but if someone complains about  Vecchia Roma’s  being touristy, then he has a lot to learn about traditional Roman cooking.

Verdict (Benchmark>Excellent> Very good>Good>Ok>bad): Very Good  – Very busy eatery. The crowd of Italians (of all generations!!!!) flocking here  is not a lure. This is some really well executed Roman restaurant cooking (it goes without saying that..unless you distance yourself from major Italian cities, and try the countryside, to take an example, do not expect some perfectly made nonna’s-style food at restaurants).  Too bad I have never been a fan of Roman cuisine (I tried hard to appreciate Roman cuisine,  trust me… but its flavors do not move me in general…yeah, I know, my loss) — When it comes to Italian food, I have a soft spot for Traditional Ligurian as well as most Italian coastal cuisines which Flavors  my palate perceives as  generally stronger, in their expression, than what is typically found in Roman cuisine. As ever,regardless of personal taste, no cuisine should be viewed  as superior to the other. TVR is considered by many locals as one of the better trattorias  of Rome. I am not  going to question that. Trattoria Vecchia Roma Addr: Via Ferruccio, 12b/c, 00185 Roma, Phone: 06 446 7143 URL: http://www.trattoriavecchiaroma.it/