Posts Tagged ‘rome’

#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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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.
Addr: Via Leone IV, 2, Roma Phone: 06 3972 3187 URL: http://www.angolettoaimusei.com/
Verdict (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.

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 touristicky, but if someone complains about anything touristicky about the food at Vecchia Roma , then send him to some serious traditional classic Roman cooking lessons.
Addr: Via Ferruccio, 12b/c, 00185 Roma, Phone: 06 446 7143 URL: http://www.trattoriavecchiaroma.it/
Verdict (Very good>Good>Ok>bad): 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.

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

Event: Dinner at restaurant La Pergola, Rome
When: Tuesday, June 12th 2012 19:30
Michelin stars: 3
Type of cuisine: Haute Italian
Addr: Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101 00136 Rome
Phone: +39 06 3509 1
Url: http://www.romecavalieri.com/lapergola.php

Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

La Pergola is not “earth-shattering’, but it does not matter as, at the end of the count,  it deserves every single of its 3 Michelin stars. Its cooking is  also superior to some  of its 3 Michelin star peers.   It is the sole 3   Michelin star of Rome. Deservedly so (the top tables of Rome are great, but LP did more by  perfecting  every single aspect of  the operation of a high end restaurant) . 

Overall Food rating: 8/10   At quick glance, many would have found it to be a flawless food performance. At 3 star Michelin level, in my view, this was indeed a very good meal but not an excellent (9/10)  nor a standard-bearing one (10/10). I am no god and MY assessment of MY meal is certainly just that, my assessment (which means a personal appreciation/thus purely subjective/far from being perfect), but there’s one major element I ‘need  to detect’ at such level, and it’s that …….firm/authoritative/personal cooking imprint. La Pergola has a high class cooking brigade, make no mistake about that, and it truly deserves its 3 stars (I’d say a very good 3 star, which is great indeed, just not a standard-bearing/strong 3 star in my opinion), but the firm/authoritative/personal cooking imprint  is what I was missing in the course of this meal (which my meals, couple of days later at Aimo e Nadia in Milan, Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio  as well as A cantina de Mananan in Corniglia, have all proven that what I was looking for is realistic at haute and casual dining levels).

 

Service/Dining experience: 10/10  Fabulous service.  I’ll take this example of  when they told me that taking photos of my meal is prohibited (I know…some were able to do so, but I insist on experiencing my meal as any normal diner would, therefore I was fine with this rule of them since it applied to their normal patrons): this  was handed with such a great tact that   we (both the staff and I) even gently joked over this.  Examples of this sort of coolness  abounded all along my meal there.

NO PHOTO RESTRICTIONI was in the mood of reviewing the meal, since I was alone and this was not a romantic meal, therefore I asked the restaurant staff if I was allowed to take photos of  my dishes. They said, no. so no pics of the food (though, I believe you can still make arrangements with them, since I saw web blogs with pics of meals at La Pergola; again, I did not insist since my intent is to experience things the way a normal diner would).  Which is fine to me, since I could appreciate what I was eating without any distraction. I took no note of my food neither, so I’ll go with general memory / impression of the overall meal and dining experience.

One quick day in Rome ( People look at you with big big eyes when you do that, Lol. Indeed, Rome deserves a longer stay)  before pursuing my journey of 7 days in Italy. I secured a reservation at the Rome Cavalieri’s hotel (an No..I didn’t lodge there, I do not have that kind of money Lol..) main restaurant and only 3 star Michelin in Rome (this sounds odd to me, I always thought Rome would have much more  Michelin 3 stars): La Pergola.

Upon entering the hotel itself,  most won’t fail to be seduced by the overall luxury and sense of wealth of this location. I think it is  smart on their part to open their 3 star Michelin restaurant only at night and not on lunch, since the view over Rome, at night, is really nice here. The restaurant is  situated at more than 3 miles away from downtown Rome . La Pergola offers Italian Haute dining and its executive Chef is a German who has spent the last two decades in Italy, Chef Heinz Beck; his success led him to also open Apsleys, a  two Star Michelin Italian haute table in London.

FOOD REPORT: I did not partake in their tasting menus (they have a 6 or 9 courses menu) on this dinner, since I had to catch a train around midnight (Yep, a crazy thing to do, I know), so I went with a choice of four food items on their à la carte  menu.

Started with an  item of sweetbreads (8/10), cooked to ideal consistency. As you might expect at this level, not one single technical slip is noticed, and the accompanied onion purée (9/10) and fig sauce (this had remarkable deep fruity taste)  offering logic balance to the meat. It  is  tough for me to get excited over this dish since I have sampled more impressive sweetbreads at bistrots that will never see the shadow of one single Michelin star in their entire existence, but in total fairness, this was a very good food item in which a lot of attention to details was invested and it would be inaccurate to  diminish the value of such dish (47 eur) simply because I had memorable ones at lesser $$$, elsewhere:  we all should know better that once you open the doors of a haute dining venture, you are paying for the stunning service, the luxury, the efforts that is put in the dining experience.

Then cheese and pepper spaghetti followed. A classic Roman fare, served in its chic version. This dish is  simple but this is where a skilled kitchen gets to show that a lot can be extracted from very little. Which, they did: flavors were good, the pasta cooked with the precision you would expect from a good Italian kitchen 8.5/10

Concluded the savouries with turbot served along asparagus, ham and spinach (8/10), which turned out to be more creative that what I anticipated (lots of thoughts in both the presentation and work of the flavors). The ingredients were of top quality, the fish in particular was an example of great seafood sourcing . At a non star Michelin restaurant, I would perhaps be tempted to give this dish  a 9/10, but with regards to 3 Michelin star standards,  the 8 over 10 score seems accurate to me.

I skipped the cheese and desserts since it  was, soon,  time to hop on my train. I still got to enjoy all their petit fours, which were expectedly well done without being as outstanding as some sampled at most haute dining ventures in Paris, for  eg(8/10).  No wine (I hate taking a train with wine in my blood), but they  have one  large wine selection of superb bottles covering most parts of the world, worth some intense perusing, with of course a vast list of Italian wines as well.

Pros: If I had to offer a special top-class dinner to a beloved one, La Pergola would be a top choice. It is not, on a personal level, a top favourite, for the simple reason that I am more into  personal/authoritative cooking (Dal Pescatore fits in what I am trying to point out), but that is subjective,  that is just me.  The most important, to the most, is that  it hits on all the right notes of a great haute dining experience. Which it does. I won’t argue against that. Also: the hotel of this restaurant (restaurant is on 9th floor) seems like a beautiful romantic retreat. I was not staying there and did not wander around neither,  but from the few glimpses at the hotel’s interior, it looked very pretty.

Cons: At 3 star Michelin level, I tend to favor a more   personal/authoritative cooking imprint, the type of cooking of which I can say ‘ok, ok, I think  not many, at its level,  can replicate that exact depth of flavor, this specific work of the texture, etc’. Though, in the case of La Pergola, their work of the texture of most of the dishes I was sampling was indeed of top flight level. The beauty with Italian cooking in Italy,  is that no one will forgive you for cooking a bad dish since the produce is fabulous, the sense of taste seems collectively high, the competition between eateries is an epic battle, lol. So, they have numerous highly skilled  artisan Chefs who know that people are eating their food because there’s something special/personal/authoritative in there, and you’ll find it at any level of their dining spectrum (haute or not). It’s really on that very specific aspect, where I felt that this meal could have been bettered (on the following days, my meals at Aimo e Nadia in Milan, Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio  as well as A cantina de Mananan in Corniglia would prove me right – they were not all as sophisticated as La Pergola’s, but I could remember each of the dishes I had at those 3 places…even months after, and in a blind tasting, I could tell exactly who cooked what).

Salute!