Sep
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

“It [Italy] must be inhaled wholly, with the yielding of the whole heart… It is really something transcendent, both spirit and body.”
- Margaret Fuller by Megan Marshall

Amarene (cherry) tart at Atti & Figli in Bologna

Amarene (cherry) tart at Atti & Figli in Bologna

9 Places To Eat And Drink Incredibly Well
In And Around Bologna, Italy

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller [This article was published in Food Republic on September 3, 2014]

Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar — these staples of Italian cuisine all hail from the flat Emilia-Romagna region, a place often recognized as the best area for food in a country where the cuisine is fantastic everywhere. In our recent explorations through the region, the food and drink (including Europe’s best Tiki bar!) is superlative. Bologna, a city of roughly one million, dates back to at least 1000 BC. Famed for being home to the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088, the city retains a rich academic culture and an impressive architectural landscape that includes medieval prison towers and endless porticoes. Arguably, Italy’s greatest food markets are here. Within those walls of ancient Bologna and in the surrounding countryside and neighboring towns of Parma and Modena, you can find many unforgettable places to eat and drink. Here are nine of our favorites:

Truffle and mushroom season at Da Cesari

Truffle and mushroom season at Da Cesari

1. Da Cesari, Bologna
Stroll down a narrow street off Piazza Maggiore to find this cozy, intimate restaurant serving traditional Bolognese dishes in a dark, shelf-lined room filled with dusty wine bottles. The Cesari family has run the place since 1955, with Paolino Cesari charming customers while his wife, Irene, brings out fantastic Bolognesi dishes, including her divine pumpkin ravioli melting in butter and shaved Parmesan. In the fall and winter, truffles and mushrooms are piled in baskets and featured in numerous dishes. Many ingredients, wine and even pigs (the rare mora romagnola pig) hail from their family “Umberto Cesari” farm. Via de’ Carbonesi 8, Bologna, 40124, +39 051-237710da-cesari.it

2. Nu Bar, Bologna
Nu Bar is a shocker — and not just because it is a Tiki bar in Italy. But also because it is an excellent one, thanks to Bologna native Daniele Dalla Pola, whose passion for Tiki stems from his time in Miami. Tucked away in the medieval city centre of Bologna, there’s an outdoor patio with pizzas and pastas to dine on. But, really, it’s all about the cocktails. Don the Beachcomber Tiki classics abound, set to a funky painting of Elvis, a chic lounge and an impressive collection of vintage Tiki mugs. Dalla Pola offers a choice of sugars from varying islands and different rums from which to craft your cocktail. In the mix with the classics, his creative creations stand out, like a rum, chamomile and matcha green tea drink made with sugar from Guadalupe, lime and a house pimento dram. Or, the Smoked & Spiced Colada, set alight with house cinnamon and cloves. You won’t find another bar with this unexpected congruence of cultures anywhere in the world. Via Dè Musei, 6, 40124 Bologna, +39 051 222532, nuloungebar.com

Nu Bar, an unexpected Tiki and rum haven in Bologna's medieval city centre

Nu Bar, an unexpected Tiki and rum haven in Bologna’s medieval city centre

3. Osteria Francescana, Modena
We would easily call this one of the best meals of our lives. Yes, it’s one of the world’s top-rated restaurants, boasting three coveted Michelin stars — and, for good reason. Here, amid the intimate five-table dining room, Chef Massimo Bottura cranks out works of art that are also sigh-inducing delicious. His playful personality shows in his avant-garde, modern menu, as well as more traditional offerings. He may start with oyster and anchovy macarons, serve lush cuts of rare culatello and assign whimsical names to courses. Consider: “How to Burn a Sardine in 3 Days,” and the popular “Oops we dropped the lemon tart!” dessert on a plate made to look as if it cracked into many pieces. The wine list is stellar. Try flights of the region’s famed Lambrusco in a wide range of a varietals, which are too often sorely misrepresented. Prepare for chef Bottura’s stories: an eel course represents the river Po with elements of salt water. Meanwhile, “snails in the vineyard” is a delightful combination of snails in balsamico, white truffles, beetroot and chlorophyll sauce. For food lovers seeking to push the boundaries, Francescana is worth the great expense. Via Stella, 22, 41121 Modena, +39 059 223912, osteriafrancescana.it

4. Ristorante Badessa, Reggio
In the countryside, between the towns of Reggio and Modena, sits a striking, multi-roomed building from the 1600s that once housed a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dairy. The multi-room structure moves from the elegant, vaulted ceilings of the center room to the comfort of humble back rooms where salt crystals are crusted on the walls from centuries past. It’s a family affair: gracious Alberto Ruozzi runs the place with his grandmother, mother and sisters rolling tortelli in the back as he and his cousin bring out rounds of fantastic dishes. It’s hard not to sigh over the sublime goodness of risotto cooked in mountain butter and leeks or stunningly fresh pumpkin ravioli, while they open up a treasure chest and pour their own house balsamico, dubbed “black gold” by locals. Post-dinner, order a pour of house nocino (walnut liqueur) in unorthodox flavors like mint. Via Case Secchia 2/a 42013 San Donnino di Liguria, Casalgrande, +39 0522 989138, ristorantebadessa.it

Sardines and squid ink - artful and delicious at Osteria Francescana

Sardines and squid ink – artful and delicious at Osteria Francescana

5. Trattoria Gigina, Bologna
More than 50 years old, Trattoria Gigina owes its legacy to Gigina herself whose recipes are still the focus of this cozy spot outside the medieval city centre of Bologna. Here you can try signature dishes of Bologna, like the rustic, hearty tortellini in brodo (broth) best doused in fresh-grated Parmesan. Lasagna Bolognese and a signature rabbit entree are other standouts. This old world respite is an ideal space in which to linger over a glass of amaro after dinner. Via Henri Beyle Stendhal, 1, 40128 Bologna,  +39 051 322300, trattoriagigina.it

6. Cremeria Funivia, Bologna
Gelato is one of the greatest pleasures of Italy and is excellent in countless places. But Bologna’s Cremeria Funivia is one of the best we’ve had anywhere in the country. The texture is of creamy silk. And, in the bright white shop, flavors range from tart limone or amarena (made from the Emilia-Romagna’s famed cherries) to boozy chocolate rum or “Alice,” mascarpone ice cream over melted chocolate in a cone or cup. Note: they even list nut sources for their fabulous nutty flavors from buttery pistachio to toasted pine nut. Via Porrettana, 158, 40135 Bologna, +39 051 614 5062, cremeriafunivia.com

7. Emilia Cremeria, Parma
In keeping with the superb gelato of the region, Emilia Cremeria is one of the great edible moments in the city of Parma and anywhere in Italy. Made from organic milk and finely sourced ingredients, the luxuriously creamy gelato is displayed in a charming, white shop with whimsical drawings of ingredients. All scoops are served in house-made, gluten-free waffle and sugar cones filled with fresh, dripping warm chocolate. Via Emilia Santo Stefano, 21, Parma, +39 0522 430532, cremeriaemilia.com

Ristorante Badessa in a 1600s former Parmigiano-Reggiano dairy

Ristorante Badessa, in a 1600s former Parmigiano-Reggiano dairy

8. Atti & Figli, Bologna
Dating back to 1880, family-run Paolo Atti & Figli is a quintessential Emilia-Romagna bakery, a prime stop for an intro to regional baked goods. Original furnishing and décor make it feel as if you’ve stepped into a 19th-century movie set. Look for traditional panettone, meringue shells filled with whipped cream, preserved fruits or chocolate, loaves of bread and rare local pastries like tortine Bolognese con le tagliatelle, an almond-based tart covered in crispy tagliatelle noodles. Our favorite is the amarene tartine, a tart loaded with juicy, sour cherries of the region. Via Caprarie, 7, 40124 Bologna, +39 051 220425, paoloatti.com

9. Zanarini, Bologna
Where Atti & Figli is classic and full of old-world charm, Zanarini is chic and modern, despite its 1928 origin. Look for brightly colored macarons (some better than others – try cioccolato arancia/chocolate orange), creative chocolate truffles and elaborate cakes in the windows created to look like everything from piano keys to owls. This bakery institution evokes the grand cafes of Italy, complete with seating in the square, ideal for an afternoon aperitif or espresso. Piazza Galvani, 1, 40124 Bologna, +39 051 275 0041

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Sep
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, in all its magical color

New York: My 8 Top NY Cocktails of 2014

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Golden Caddilac

Golden Caddilac

Working on a video project this Spring for Tastemade, I was asked to hand-select food and drink destinations to include in a Top 100 round-up of NY spots. This meant I was able to return to a number of my older favorites, like Amor y Amargo (my favorite amaro bar where, this time around, I enjoyed their iced coffee weekend brunch cocktail menu), Raines Law Room, Mayahuel, Cienfuegos, Brandy Library, Saxon + Parole and The Daily (the latter two of which I get into further below). Fine cocktails and spirits were had at each of these locations. Of course, I packed in some newer spots, too.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos

Sadly, the Golden Cadillac closed after my visit, though it hadn’t been open long. I appreciated the cheeky fun of the bar’s improved 70s cocktails, like a Golden Cadillac mixing Galliano, coconut cream, creme de cacao and orange bitters, or a Disco Daiquiri using almond milk instead of coconut milk (not to mention seeing great bartenders behind the bar, like Mathew Resler formerly of Empellon and Lulu Martinez, formerly of also-closed Painkiller. The East Village space will reopen as Boilermaker next month, involving none other than SF’s Erick Castro, who opened Rickhouse and the highly-lauded Polite Provisions in San Diego.

In the meantime, here are my 8 best cocktails in NYC this year (past years here), plus commentary on a couple newer cocktails bars.

ZZ Clam Bar's gorgeous vintage glassware

ZZ Clam Bar’s gorgeous vintage glassware

1. SAXON + PAROLE, NoHo

Masa Urushido

Masa Urushido

Saxon + Parole has been one of my favorite NY bars for years since Naren Young used to oversee the program. It remains a favorite in its current days under the able hands of Masa Urushido, a gracious bar manager who came from some of Tokyo’s top bars to NYC in 2008.

Raisin & Rum

Rum & Raisin

His seasonal cocktails can be stunners. This spring, I was wowed by a Spring Daiquiri ($14) combining Cana Brava rum, sugar snap peas, a house lemon-thyme cordial, lemon and tarragon salt. Topped with fresh pea pods, it tastes blissfully of crisp peas, backed with rum’s spice and sweetness, perked up with thyme and lemon. Another standout on the creamy end of the spectrum is Rum & Raisin ($14), a blend of Appleton Reserve rum, Greek yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon and Perrier to cut the lushness with a bit of effervescence.

Spring Daiquiri

Spring Daiquiri

The Daily-Virginia Miller

“Nacho” Jimenez

2. THE DAILY, Nolita

One of the great bar managers from the couple hundred NYC cocktail bars I’ve been to over the years is Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez, at The Daily, who crafts well-balanced drinks in a seductive, mellow urban respite of a space featuring straightforward, daily changing cocktails and bites.

There’s one cocktail daily in each category, like bottled, “on the rocks” and aperitif. Returning this visit, a standout was a bottled La Perla for two ($26), served in a Daily flask (pictured below), a tequila, pear, sherry recipe from SF local, Jacques Bezuidenhout.

3. MOTHER’S RUIN, Nolita

Mother's Ruin's carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin’s carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin is a bartender/industry favorite and one of New York’s good-time hangouts where you’re greeted with a smile, elevated slushie and beer cocktails, and particularly during the day, a laid back, restorative vibe. Recently, Rabbit Done Died was the bracing slushie churning in their slushie machine, a combination of gin, carrot, lemon, cucumber and bitters, reminiscent of a Pimm’s Cup but icier and bolder. Fun was also had with a tequila and Cholula hot sauce cocktail partnered with a can of Tecate beer.

The Daily's bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

The Daily’s bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

4. ZZ CLAM BAR, Greenwich Village

Produce lining ZZ's bar

Produce lining ZZ’s bar

ZZ Clam Bar, a 12-seat, reservations-only seafood and cocktail bar is an intimate oasis in The Village that sings of island breezes and upscale Tiki culture circa 1940s with its romantic setting, soundtrack of lounge, exotica and other musical treats. Sounds like my dream spot, right? In many ways it is. Opened Summer 2013 by Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of neighboring Carbone, it is, like that red sauce Italian haven, vastly overpriced. It can easily cost a few hundred dollars here for dinner and cocktails, the latter of which are $20 each (more on the food here).

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

ZZ’s sole bartender didn’t seem interested in engaging or explaining the cocktails we tried, despite the fact that we have many friends in common as he came from SF and The Alembic (where he used to work and where I bartended for a few months – I did not present any of this information but should not have had to to receive quality service). Even a bit of genuine engagement would have made the difference between a mediocre and a fantastic experience commensurate with merely 12 diners and the fine dining price tag. Thankfully, service was warm from our waiter, which should be a given from all staff.

It’s hard to say $300+ is worth it for a non-fine dining experience where portions are tiny, although in making reservations, one could request a couple seats against the wall and go just for drinks and a bite or two. At the same time, ZZ is such a one-of-a-kind spot that imparts romance in its size and decor, worth experiencing if you can afford it and desire something different, as those of us do who dine and drink at hundreds of places annually around the world. While we’ve seen seafood crudo and raw fish menus before, ZZ’s interpretations are imaginative and the cocktails maintain tropical flair, each visually striking in gorgeous vintage glassware.

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

I tasted six cocktails, intrigued by combinations like Plymouth gin, creamy with pistachio and honey, tart with kumquat, or a reposado tequila-based concoction mixed with squash, thyme and allspice. I crave this type of creative, culinary experimentation in cocktails. While some combinations worked better than others, I truly appreciate drinks with a vision beyond the usual. Kudos also for an anejo tequila cocktail implementing butter, pineapple and ras al hanout spices, and another with crème de menthe, apple brandy, mandarin orange and mole bitters.

5. BETONY, Midtown West

Betony's lush interior

Betony’s lush interior

Betony is an upscale Midtown restaurant that comes with a price tag as high as its gorgeously chic décor would suggest. Cocktails run $15-17 but are elegantly made with the type of sophistication one might expect from an Eleven Madison Park alum, namely GM Eamon Rockey. Betony is known for their lovely, regularly changing Milk Punch ($17 – read more about this in Robert Simonson’s NY Times article published around the time of my visit).

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Their Milk Punch during my visit had a Del Maguey Vida Mezcal base, combined with a Moroccan spearmint, cocoa nib tea and lemon. Another impressive drink was Coco Chanel, inspired by Chanel No. 5 perfume and made in collaboration with a master perfumer across the street. Though the drink seems to have evolved (note this earlier iteration in Town & Country), when I tried it, Rockey combined Cocchi Americano, lemon oleo saccharum, a dry French rosé wine and a spritz of rose water. The aforementioned master perfumier created a mixture including bergamot, roses, jasmine and citrus, which was rubbed on the garnish of mint leaves for enhanced aromatics.

My take on two newer bars:

2nd FLOOR on CLINTON, Lower East Side

2nd Ave's chilled out space

2nd Ave’s chilled out space

I was immediately smitten with the 2nd Floor on Clinton space for its removed, mellow vibe hidden upstairs in a Lower East Side space filled with mismatched couches and a lived-in, Victorian living room feel. The vibe (not the look) reminds me of the relaxed, non-trendy “speakeasy” days of Angel’s Share back in the 90s or the early days at the original Milk & Honey. One hopes the word doesn’t get out and make the space obnoxious or impossible to get in to.

d

Blessed Thistle cocktail

Too bad the cocktails ($15) don’t quite keep up with the romantic space. Despite how intriguing they sound, the cocktails I tried from listed “mixologists” Ektoras Binikos and Sarah Miller seemed to lack focus coming across “muddled” or confused, with no distinct flavor, like the Mistral (Martin Miller’s gin, Averna, verjus, sage and yuzu), or Blessed Thistle, a combination of Michter’s Sour Mash, Cardamaro, honey liqueur, lemon, Meyer lemon zest, Dutch’s colonial and cardamom bitters.

NITECAP, Lower East Side

Nitecap

Nitecap

David Kaplan and Alex Day are big names in the cocktail world, opening NYC’s Death & Company and more recently Honeycut in Los Angeles. They opened their intimate basement bar, Nitecap, just a couple weeks before I was in NYC in April so I caught it in early weeks. With brick walls and plum leather banquettes, the dim space is seductive and appealing. I just missed head bartender Natasha David, but tasted a few cocktails on their playfully-designed menu. They were pleasant though soft cocktails where the alcohol was barely a whisper (making some drinks feel more for the spirits novice rather than the aficionado). Service was aloof and unengaged, making it less fun than Portland’s Pepe Le Moko, which also opened this spring in Portland with a similar basement vibe and look though it is decidedly more fun. Kudos, however, for Nitecap’s late night, early ‘90s hip hop soundtrack.

Saxon + Parole cocktails

Saxon + Parole cocktails

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Aug
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

Empire State Building from my Ace Hotel room in the morning

Empire State Building from my Ace Hotel room in the morning

Empire State Building from my Ace Hotel room at night

Empire State Building from my Ace Hotel room at night

New York: My 10 Best Meals of 2014

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Working on a video project this Spring for Tastemade, I returned to my old stomping grounds, a city I’ve long and intimately known, to dig in again, this time staying in the Flatiron district.

Waldorf salad prepared tableside at Eleven Madison Park

Waldorf salad prepared tableside at Eleven Madison Park

I kept fueled on coffee at the delightful Happy Bones in Little Italy/Nolita, shakeratos from Zibetto Espresso Bar, and faced perpetual coffee lines at the Stumptown downstairs from my room at the Ace Hotel. Next time I will share cocktail bar discoveries from this visit, but here are my top 10 restaurants/meals in NYC this year (years of additional recommendations here).

1. ELEVEN MADISON PARK, Flatiron

Eleven Madison's Baked Alaska set alight tableside

Eleven Madison’s Baked Alaska set alight tableside

One of the great fine dining restaurants anywhere in the world, this 3-Michelin star restaurant is as spectacular as the best restaurant visits of my life, like Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. I’d also easily call it my favorite NYC splurge (second place would be the modern classic Gramercy Tavern). Here is my full review and photos from this year’s visit.

2. RUBIROSA, Little Italy

Rubirosa pizza

Rubirosa pizza

At his cozy, low ceiling Little Italy haven, Rubirosa, Angelo (A.J.) Pappalardo serves recipes inspired from his father Giuseppe’s Staten Island restaurant, Joe & Pat’s, since 1960. A.J. opened Rubirosa with his father and chef friend Al Di Meglio. His paper-thin, almost cracker-like pizzas are dreamy, laden with cheese and meat, among my favorite pizza in Manhattan (slices available at lunch only). The family-friendly, rustic space begs for an amaro cocktail and hearty bowl of fantastic “Sunday sauce”, a changing weekly option of pasta and red sauce. Recently I had the choice of spaghetti or rigatoni ($21) in a downright fantastic red sauce, savory from multiple meats: braciole, meatball, braised rib and sausage, topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

3. ZZ CLAM BAR, Greenwich Village

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

ZZ Clam Bar, a 12-seat, reservations-only seafood and cocktail bar is an intimate oasis in The Village that sings of island breezes and upscale Tiki culture circa 1940s with its romantic setting, soundtrack of lounge, exotica and other musical treats. Sounds like my dream spot, right? In many ways it is. Opened Summer 2013 by Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of neighboring Carbone, it is, like that red sauce Italian haven, vastly overpriced. It can easily cost a few hundred dollars here for dinner and cocktails, the latter of which are $20 each.

The sole bartender didn’t seem interested in engaging or explaining the cocktails we tried, despite the fact that we have many friends in common as he came from SF and The Alembic (where he used to work and where I bartended for a few months – I did not present any of this information but should not have had to to receive quality service). Even a bit of genuine engagement would have made the difference between a mediocre and a fantastic experience commensurate with the fine dining price tag and merely 12 diners in the place for hours. Thankfully, service was warm from our waiter, which should be imperative from all staff.

s

Shimaji tartare

It’s hard to say $300+ is worth it for a non-fine dining experience where portions are tiny, although in making reservations, one could request a couple seats against the wall and go just for drinks and a bite or two.

At the same time, ZZ is such a one-of-a-kind spot that imparts romance in its size and decor, worth experiencing if you can afford it and desire something different, as those of us do who dine and drink at hundreds of places each year around the world. While we’ve seen seafood crudo and raw fish menus before, ZZ’s interpretation is imaginative and the cocktails maintain tropical flair, each visually striking in gorgeous vintage glassware.

Cherry trout, trout roe, fried leeks crudo ($27)

Cherry trout, trout roe & fried leeks crudo ($27)

Menu highlights included uni toast on pretzel bread ($30) vivaciously accented by apple, mustard, horseradish, and also seared live scallops ($18), silky in brown butter and nutty with Sicilian pistachios. We splurged (big time) on rare shimaji tartare ($98), a square of lovely raw fish, with thick layers of ricotta and caviar. I tasted six cocktails, intrigued by combinations like Plymouth gin, creamy with pistachio and honey, tart with kumquat, or a Reposado Tequila-based concoction mixed with squash, thyme and allspice. I crave this type of creative, culinary experimentation in cocktails. While some worked better than others, I still appreciate drinks with a vision beyond the usual.

4. CAFE KATJA, LES

Cafe Katja's Emmentaler sausage

Cafe Katja’s Emmentaler sausage

Café Katja transports me straight back to Austria, owned by Austrian native Erwin Schrottner and business partner Andrew Chase. Though bustling with a Lower East Side vibe, it’s refreshingly comfortable for Manhattan, with a warmer welcome than at the majority of Manhattan restaurants, enhanced by plenty of woods and a candlelit glow. Most importantly, it’s a source for actual Austrian schnaps, expensive though a pour may be. While I have been bemoaning the lack of importation of real schnaps into the US compared to the amazing producers I tasted in Austria last fall, Katja pours a few of the greats, like Reisetbauer and Golles, albeit at high prices, $25 or more a pour. But there’s nothing better with a mountain of marinated herring ($11) and cucumber potato salad, or plump house sausages like an Emmentaler sausage ($14) – yes, filled with Emmentaler cheese, served with savoy cabbage and quark dumplings. Lovely food, drink and setting make this an ideal neighborhood restaurant.

5. THE SHAKESPEARE, Midtown East

The Shakespeare's burger

The Shakespeare’s burger

The Shakespeare just opened in December 2013 as a multi-room, wood-walled restaurant that evokes the classic pubs of England, Scotland and Ireland, serving all manner of cask ales and English drafts, from Jason Hicks and Yves Jadot who also run Jones Wood Foundry. The best part is that the food is top-notch gastropub fare, thanks to British chef Robert Aikens (from none other than London’s Le Gavroche). Despite the exhaustion of the gastropub category the last couple decades, this is one of the better ones in NY, serving flaky, beer-battered cod fish and chips ($23), and an excellent burger ($19) with a patty of aged NY strip and skirt steak, short rib and chuck, slathered in cheddar, smoked bacon and Brooklyn brine pickles.

6. DESPANA, SoHo

Afternoon tapas at Despana

Afternoon tapas at Despana

One of the great Spanish grocers (a Queens-based importer), Despana is not only killer source for all foods Spain, from cheeses and meets, to cockles and chocolates, it’s a winning tapas stop with changing Spanish wines by the glass and a few communal tables from which to enjoy a quick bite of fresh boquerones (anchovies) or octopus drizzled in silky olive oil.

7. LOUIE & CHAN, LES

Louie & Chan's Peking duck calzone

Louie & Chan’s Peking duck calzone

I almost jumped for joy when I heard about the opening of Louie & Chan in late 2013, a China-meets-Italy (due to its perch near both Chinatown and Little Italy) with an upstairs Neapolitan trattoria and a candlelit, downstairs Asian cocktail lounge. It’s the kind of mash-up I’d like to see more often, despite the heavy DJ and dance action in the downstairs bar (with thankfully good cocktails, like the Chinatown Daiquiri, a blend of Appleton’s Reserve rum, lime, ginger and honey syrups, Sriracha sauce and muddled strawberries). But the place still feels like its finding itself. A Louie & Chan calzone ($16) is a brilliant idea: a giant calzone stuffed with buffalo ricotta, mozzarella, tomato sauce, shiitake, bok choy – and, yes, Peking duck. It lacks cohesive unctuousness and the mushrooms are bland but the concept of an Asian-Italian calzone begs to be further explored.

Aperitifs and bites

Aperitifs and bites

The other very smart concept here is the Aperitivo menu, a pairing of aperitif cocktails with a bite, like a Negroni Blanco ($13 for drink and bite) with choice of bites like polpettine al limone (lamb/beef fried meatball in lemon, Parmigiano, herbs) or montanarina (fried dough, pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, Parmigiano). I’d love to see more of this kind of creative clash of cuisines happening everywhere.

8. MAHARLIKA, East Village

Maharlika's Filipino fried chicken and purple ube waffles

Maharlika’s Filipino fried chicken and purple ube waffles

This funky little Filipino spot, Maharlika, breathes life and even hip factor into the cuisine, honoring the authentic and playful (bottles of Jufran banana sauce – a Filipino banana ketchup – and black and white photo artwork of Filipina Miss Universe 1973). Nicole Ponseca, Enzo Lim and Noel Cruz’ intimate restaurant shines at brunch/lunch with traditional dishes like sisig (pig ears, snout, belly) and pancit bihon (rice vermicelli noodles). But it’s the funky, unusual entrees that make it a draw. Case in point: excellent, batterless fried chicken and purple yam waffles ($17). Filipino chicken and waffles are fun enough, but ratchet it up another level by dousing them in anchovy-bagoong (fermented fish/shrimp) butter and caramelized macapuno (a variety of coconut) syrup.

9. SKAL, LES

Skal's salt cod croquettes

Skal’s salt cod croquettes

I’m ever on the hunt for great Scandinavian food in the US. Skal (open since Summer 2013) is one of the better in the category I’ve been to in NY, although over the years, I’ve not found a Nordic menu I like near as well as Aquavit in its older days. Skal is a nod to Iceland (the name means “cheers” in Icelandic) serving the likes of pickled smelts on antique china in a cozy-chic space. The dishes don’t always wow and neither do the cocktails, yet both are consistently gratifying. Recent highlights: salt cod croquettes ($7) with horseradish remoulade, charred broccoli ($11) doused in green garlic and breadcrumbs, sugar snap peas ($12) artfully accented by crushed radishes, whey and Mangalista lardo, and smoked mackerel ($19) contrasted by sour onions, walnuts and shaved, frozen foie gras.

10. THE LIBRARY at the PUBLIC THEATER, NoHo

Inviting: The Library at The Public

Inviting: The Library at The Public

Upstairs above the Public Theater is The Library, a spacious, soothing restaurant lined with vintage theater posters. The place is refreshingly mellow, classy and half empty — until the theater lets out and all the actors and theater crew head upstairs, applauding each other over drinks and bites. While the food didn’t exactly impress, it is still good, and after a particularly hard day, I couldn’t imagine a more soothing setting in these parts of NY – with gracious service to boot. Andrew Carmellini (James Beard Award-winner behind Locanda Verde) and chef Michael Oliver (also of Locanda) keep it simple but comforting in dishes like smoked cauliflower cassoulet ($24) and crispy calamari and shishito peppers ($14) dipped in chipotle sauce, accompanied by decent cocktails.

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Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:
Jun
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Exploring the Willamette Valley from our home base, Abbey Road Farms

Exploring the Willamette Valley from our home base, Abbey Road Farms

SAKÉ in the WILLAMETTE VALLEY

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

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SakéOne’s rice milling machine

In the heart of the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s most lauded wine region, I found myself surrounded by vineyards, rolling hills, farmland… reminding me not a little of home in Northern California. I also found myself immersed in… saké? Yes, my Springtime jaunt not only caught rare, blissful, sunny days breaking out amid a sea of rain, but an education on the quality of sake now being made in the US, thanks to SakéOne.

Studying

Studying saké

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The only cedar Koji room in the US

Founded in 1992 (bottling began in 1998) as an offshoot of Japan’s Momokawa Brewing, SakéOne sought to fill a gap in the US where few sakés were made and most of low quality. Head brewer Greg Lorenz (who has been at SakéOne since 2002) and president Steve Vuylsteke graciously gave us proper schooling on saké, covering styles from gingo to daigingo, and walked us through the brewery for a step-by-step of the brewing process.

As with many spirits and beverages, water source is crucial, and theirs is nearby Hagg Lake, a reservoir filled with fresh coastal rain and mountain water.

SakéOne stores tons of rice, a Japanese strain grown outside Sacramento, California, which is first polished in the rice milling machine (pictured above, left), imported from Japan.

What rice looks like as it ferments

What rice looks like as it ferments

SakéOne is the only saké brewery in the US who mills their own rice. The milling/polishing process strips fats, removes bitter and “undesirable” flavors, getting down to the starch core. As with beer and spirits, there are yeasts involved, but with saké, there is also mold (aka koji), which helps convert starch into sugar over a 2-day period in their cedar-walled Koji room – the only one in the US (pictured right). The room is like a dry sauna, hot with aromas of cedarwood and rice.

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Milled rice

While there are numerous styles of saké, SakéOne focuses only on junmai gingo sakés in their production, which refers to the level the rice is milled or polished down to (60% or more, which gets to the essence of the grain, daigingo is at least 50%, gingo is at least 40%) and in Japan, it also refers the fact that no brewer’s alcohol (aka honjozo) is added (in the US, adding brewer’s alcohol is outlawed entirely). They also import a number of sakés from Japan, allowing the pleasure of comparing the subtle differences between US produced and Japanese sakés.

Studying rice in various stages of sake production

Studying rice in various stages of sake production

They cover the range, starting with entry-level sakés, like fruit-infused Moonstone sakés, or the soft, elegant import SakéMoto, produced in Japan in partnership with Hakutsuru brewery. I am particularly taken with their unpasteurized Nama saké, which is sadly only available in Oregon since it is quite fresh and perishable so quality degrades when shipping. It’s subtly effervescent and crisp, gorgeous with food.

I can’t get enough of Momokawa Organic Nigori, the unfiltered, creamy style of saké that leaves rice solids in for texture. It sings with coconut and pear notes and goes well with all manner of takeout and every day eating. One of their imports I am drawn to is the Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry, which is, yes, dry, but also crisp and earthy, produced by traditional methods from a brewery that goes back to 1725.

Hanging with llamas, sheep and goats at Abbey Road

Hanging with llamas, sheep and goats at Abbey Road

Try not to fall in love - my new friend, a precious, one day old baby sheep

Try not to fall in love – my new found friend, a precious, one day old lamb

Abbey Road Farms silos

Abbey Road Farms silos

Sleeping in Silos on a Farm

Enjoying a lovely charcuterie and cheese platter over dinner in the wine room/event space at Abbey Road

Enjoying a lovely charcuterie and cheese platter over dinner in the wine room/event space at Abbey Road

After one night in Portland, I made the jaunt about an hour outside the city to stay at Abbey Road Farms, an idyllic farm where I was surrounded by sheep (including just-born lambs who won my heart), goats, llamas, all manner of animals, and slept in converted, upscale silos.

The stay was made memorable by husband-wife owners, John and Judi, and their sweet dog, Fuzz, whose soulful calm invades the place, ensuring a visit is rejuvenating and restoring… even a press trip, which is normally about a morning-till-night, nonstop schedule. Over farm-cooked breakfasts and singing around a fire pit at nights under the stars, I left renewed and inspired.

Wandering the farm

Wandering the farm

Dining in a Restored Victorian

The Painted Lady

The Painted Lady

The Painted Lady in the town of Newburg, OR, is a special dining experience in a restored Victorian house (yes, the house is a historic Painted Lady, restored as part of the movement begun in San Francisco), which also doubles as a guest house. Charming and elegant, we ate in the intimate upstairs dining room with excellent service over fine dining, each course thoughtfully paired with saké.

Hazelnut-crusted venison loin, horseradish potatoes, foie gras & chestnut sauce with G Sake Fifty

Hazelnut-crusted venison loin over horseradish potatoes in a foie gras & chestnut sauce infused with G Sake Fifty

There were a number of standouts from Chef/Owner Allen Routt, including sweet onion custard accented by smoked, raw diver scallops and porcini consommé (paired with Momokawa Diamond saké) and pure-as-silk, slow-roasted (blessedly rare inside) steelhead salmon alongside spinach and butternut squash ravioli, paired with Momokawa Silver saké.

Tasting Regional Beverages

Big Bottom Whiskey

Big Bottom Whiskey

SakéOne threw an Oregon Craft Beverages tasting while we were visiting, showcasing regional wines, beers, spirits, cider and liqueurs that gave us a chance to meet producers and sample what is happening in drink in the region.

While Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider was a fresh, strong cider in the scheme of artisanal, small production ciders, they were oddly withholding at their table (considering this was a press event) in allowing tasting of the most interesting-sounding bottles at their table saying they were for display (?) and weren’t coming out till the fall, though the full bottles probably shouldn’t have been brought if they weren’t meant to sample. We’ll have to guess what their Sacrilege Sour Cherry (modeled after kreik lambic beer) tastes like.

Reverend Nat's Hard Ciders

Reverend Nat’s Hard Ciders

While I was wary of Vertigo Brewery‘s Razz Wheat beer made with fresh raspberries, fearing it might be too fruity, even after tasting their enjoyable Friar Mike’s English IPA, I actually preferred the Razz Wheat, which was dry, tart and subtle.

Based in Hillsboro, OR, Big Bottom Whiskey was refreshingly forthright about sourcing their “juice” (whiskey) from the South, as countless distillers do, to blend their Big Bottom Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It’s a pleasing whiskey, blending 36% rye whiskey with the corn/bourbon for stronger spice and complexity. They also were also pouring Calhoun Bros. Aged Rum, aged in their bourbon barrels, subtle with sweet, bracing spice.

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Jun
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

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Pepe Le Moko Grasshopper

Pepe Le Moko Amaretto Sour

Pepe Le Moko Amaretto Sour

One Night in Portland

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

In visits past, I’ve had a full week to dig into over 50 restaurants, food spots and bars around Portland. But this Spring it was a visit to the Willamette Valley with the wonderful SakeOne that brought me up north. I only had one night in Portland, though, in typical fashion, I packed in 3 restaurants, a coffee shop and 2 cocktail bars.

Basement charmer: Pepe Le Moko, the new bar from Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Basement charmer: Pepe Le Moko, the new bar from Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Cocktails

Luc Lac cocktails

Luc Lac cocktails

Let’s just get the bad news out of the way: some of the worst customer service I have ever encountered behind a bar anywhere in the world (out of a few hundred visits per year) – and from the bar manager, no less – happened at Luc Lac Kitchen. Though I must warn against making this a stop, it’s not worth getting into the details of disinterested, distant and cold service from the moment guests walk up to the bar (ask, and I’ll fill you in, however). The biggest disappointment  – besides having to pay for such treatment – was wasting a visit on this spot when I had singled out Luc Lac for its unique cocktail menu featuring Asian ingredients from kaffir lime to Thai tea to mung beans. The cocktails were good but the service makes it a big “no” (try Danny Louie’s fantastic Asian-influenced cocktails at Chino in SF… with gracious service).

Bakersfield Picon Punch Royale ($10): Torani Amer Picon, lemon, Oregon brandy, grenadine, sparkling wine

On a happier note, modern day bar legend Jeffrey Morgenthaler‘s Pepe Le Moko, around the corner from his famed Clyde Common bar, was merely a month old when I visited this Spring. Besides a warm welcome at the door, we received engaged service downstairs in the intimate bar that feels akin to spots like the new Nitecap in NYC… but Pepe Le Moko is friendlier. Bar snacks ($3) include cumin roasted pistachio nuts, and there’s also bocadillos ($5) loaded with the likes of sardines and pickled fennel or nutella and Jacobsen sea salt.

What’s fun about the cocktails here is the menu dominates with guilty pleasure favorites like an Amaretto Sour, Grasshopper or a Long Island Iced Tea – yes, elevated but not necessarily always using “artisanal” spirits. In fact, it’s funny seeing mainstream, sweet brands mixed in with smaller brands. Given the cocktail expertise behind the bar, balance is the name of the game and the four I tasted were lovely (and should be, at up to $14 per cocktail).

Pickled mackerel at Biwa

Pickled mackerel at Biwa

Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour ($14) recipe is a good as I’d heard: nutty, tart, sweet and boozy with amaretto, overproof bourbon, lemon and egg white.

But I couldn’t help it: my favorite is the Grasshopper ($11). While I’ve had (and make at home) gorgeous versions of what was my first favorite cocktail as a girl (ahem!) when Tempus Fugit first came out with their incomparable creme de menthe and creme de cacao in 2011, the Pepe version is more like a boozy-but-light milkshake – made with Bols Crème de menthe, Decaypur crème de cacao, Fernet BrancaMenta, vanilla ice cream and sea salt for balance. An ideal dessert.

Charming Zilla Sake

Charming Zilla Sake

Izakaya Crawl

Natto fried in shiso leaves at Yuzu

Natto fried in shiso leaves at Yuzu

On an izakaya crawl with SakeOne, I hit three memorable, wide-ranging spots within the category in one night.

The first, YUZU, is technically in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland, and worth the trek out for Japanese food aficionados. A humble hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall known for their sake and their ramen, we fared best on authentic Japanese small plates/pub (izakaya) fare. They shine in affordable dishes like tender, thinly shaved beef tongue, grilled sardines and natto (funky, fermented soybeans) deep fried in shiso leaves.

Snacking at Zilla

Snacking at Zilla

ZILLA SAKE HOUSE is more hipster and funky, but in a more residential area of Portland, it’s mellow and welcoming in rustic woods, churning out solid sushi and sashimi, with pleasing izakaya plates and specials, and a 40+ sake menu.

BIWA is a bustling izakaya with a basement dining room that serves food till midnight every night, fusing Korean and other cuisines and flavors into Japanese pub fare. There’s a number of enjoyable small plates but it’s all about the room temperature, pickled mackerel. Bright, pickled, briny and delicious, it accompanies the array of sakes beautifully.

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May
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

It could only be Rome: sunset from the Hotel Eden atop (just behind) the Spanish Steps... evenings in Rome are magic

It could only be Rome: sunset from the Hotel Eden atop (just behind) the Spanish Steps with the Vatican in the distance… evenings in Rome are magic

12 Food & Drink Destinations in ROME

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Inside Glass Hosteria

Inside Glass Hosteria

My beloved Roma, my favorite city in the world. The most romantic. Ancient. Chic. Otherworldly. I cherished being back for the third time to Rome (fourth time to Italy) in October for my 10th anniversary. The Renaissance Man and I wandered Roma’s ancient, cobblestone streets from our apartment near the Spanish Steps, near where we stayed on our honeymoon for a month-long exploration through a number of Italy’s fabled regions.

Returning to Rome meant, naturally, we ate well. Ridiculously well. So I must share with you my favorites this trip.

The otherworldly Pantheon at night

The otherworldly Pantheon at night

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A Glass Hostaria stunner: foie gras ball oozing passion fruit puree inside like an egg yolk, dusted in white chocolate crumble with brioche

Restaurants

GLASS HOSTARIA

Dark beer and dark chocolate-filled little button ravioli little button dusted with cacao y pepe (chocolate and pepper) in a sauce of special reserve Pecorino Romano

Dark beer and dark chocolate-filled little button ravioli dusted with cacao y pepe (chocolate and pepper) in a sauce of special reserve Pecorino Romano cheese

From brilliant and gracious Chef Cristina Bowerman, Michelin-starred Glass Hostaria is one of the more forward thinking and truly unique meals I’ve had anywhere in Italy – or Europe, for that matter. As an Italian native, she spent well over a decade living in the US (including Austin). Besides speaking English perfectly, she clearly possesses a global sense of scope – and fun – in her imaginative dishes (tasting menus run 70 Euros for 4 courses, 90 Euros for 8 smaller courses).

In the heart of the ever-enchanting Trastevere neighborhood, the two-floored, openspace is modern and innovative (pictured above) – the second floor view is best.

One course after another is striking and delicious. Just look at some of the ingredient combinations pictured (dark chocolate and beer filled ravioli dusted in pepper and cacao in a decadent Pecorino sauce, or spaghetti with lime curd, cilantro and Oestra caviar!) These combinations even world travelers who frequent Michelin-starred restaurants have not seen before. It’s hard to only share a few of Bowerman’s wonders, but they are described with photos here.

Bluefin tuna sashimi wrapped in veal tongue pastrami, peach kimchi sauce, algae, lotus salad

Bluefin tuna sashimi is wrapped in veal tongue pastrami (Bowerman studied pastrami in NYC), dotted with peach kimchi sauce, alga and, lotus salad

Wow: a Rome fountain

Wow: a 17th century Roman fountain, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, said to be the inspiration for the Trevi fountain

Purple potato (Italy-grown) cooked in clay, sea urchin egg sauce, sea beans (Buddha’s fingers)

At Glass Hostaria: a local purple potato cooked in clay, decadent in sea urchin egg sauce with Buddha’s fingers (sea beans)

Perfection: urchin from the spiny shell and oysters at Il San Lorenzo

Perfection: urchin from the spiny shell and oysters at Il San Lorenzo

IL SAN LORENZO

Plump & sweet: local red shrimp

Plump & sweet: local red shrimp

Seafood: I’ve been a fanatic about it my whole life and have eaten some of the best in the world from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. But at sleek, intimate Il San Lorenzo, I had one of my favorite seafood dinners ever. A huge reason for this was the incredible service, humor and wine recommends from the sommelier who attended to us. Sipping wines from Alto Adige (a gorgeous 2010 Borgo del Tiglio Malvasia) or an elegant, tropical 2012 Poppoff Sauvignon Blanc from German producers in Northern Italy, to the complex 2009 Lagrein Reserve, was a pleasure.

Sea urchin spaghetti

Sea urchin spaghetti

But so was eating sea urchin straight from its spiny shell. Raw red shrimp carpaccio splayed artfully across the plate and drizzled in olive oil and orange zest. From Chef Enrico Pierri, who focuses on locally caught seafood, we dined on cod, tuna and amberjack tartare. There were rare Belon oysters, thank you very much. And tortelli filled with spider crab. And sea urchin spaghetti. I could go on. But I’d rather just return again to this slice of Roman seafood heaven.

That only-in-Rome evening glow

That only-in-Rome evening glow

COSO

View from upstairs table at Coso over cobblestone streets

View from upstairs table at Coso over cobblestone streets

Coso is bustling and filled with boisterous locals filling up on hearty plates of spaghetti alla carbonara, saltimbocca alla Romana (veal topped with ham and sage, grilled in Marsala wine) and bucatini all’amatriciana. Start with cornmeal fried layers of aubergine (eggplant), Parmesan and basil and savor the affordable wines. Upstairs is particularly fun as you dine on grey and cream-checkered tablecloths. Besides its convenient location between the Spanish Steps and Piazza Colonna, most dishes run under 12 Euro and are big enough to share. This was a great locals’ recommendation.

ANTICO ARCO

Sidewalk seating view at Antico Arco

Sidewalk seating view at Antico Arco

Antico Arco is not so much about mind-blowing food as it is an idyllic hilltop setting, on Gianicolo hill, near Trastevere.

It makes a lovely lunch spot at one of three small outside tables on a warm day with Vespas speeding by over the hill. I filled up on buffalo mozzarella ($13.50) in a crispy pastry wrapping, accented by salted tuna roe and tomato confit, and raw amberjack tartare ($17) brightened by ginger, lime and fresh artichokes. The house chitarra pasta ($14), laden with Pecorino cheese, black pepper and zucchini blossoms, sounded amazing but was salty and surprisingly bland – I sadly grew weary of the dish a few bites in.

Hilltop over Rome

Hilltop over Rome

Drink

THE JERRY THOMAS PROJECT, Rome

We're in Europe, folks: cocktails & cigarettes

We’re in Europe, folks: cocktails & cigarettes

Those of us that have been following this renaissance the past decade plus long ago wearied of passwords and attitude-laden bars. In cities like my own, a well made cocktail with classic ethos is the norm, not the exception, so you expect it without pretension, though I am a big proponent of having elegant places to drink, even ones with reservations.

Inside Jerry Thomas Project

Inside Jerry Thomas Project

Thankfully, I wasn’t pressed to give a password at the unmarked door near Chiesa Nuova at The Jerry Thomas Project, Rome’s first modern-day speakeasy. Nor was there attitude. Bustling but intimate inside, I cozied up on couches set to jazz, the feel very New York or SF gathering for beat poets and writers circa 1950′s (despite the 1920′s speakeasy theme). After visiting Rome multiple times, it’s refreshing to see the cocktail renaissance finally hit my beloved city.

Sipping a whiskey cocktail next to shelf artifacts

Sipping a whiskey cocktail next to shelf artifacts

I even drank mezcal in Rome! (You know it’s universal when…) I enjoyed the Mex Man (15 Euro), a blend of Illegal Mezcal Anejo, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, agave syrup, house coffee-cacao bitters and a smoked cherry. They also have an absinthe fountain and do a nice twist on a classic Daiquiri, the Kaffir Daiquiri (10 Euro), mixing Havana Club 3 year rum, lime and kaffir lime-infused simple syrup.

There’s a few more cocktail bars that have popped up even since my fall visit, per The Spirits Business. I will check some of these out next time.

OPEN BALADIN ROMA

Open Baladin is craft beer/beer geek heaven. Engaged and passionate service made us feel welcome to linger, sample beers, get locals tips for food and hear about an incredible beer festival happening that very weekend we were there: EurHop! Beer Festival.

The back wall of Open Baladin

The back wall of Open Baladin

Baladin was started by a food/drink writer, so I already have a soft spot. And I’ve been drinking beers from Baladin’s breweries from San Francisco’s Healthy Spirits for a few years now.

Here at their Rome bar, they have over 40 Italian beers on draft and another 100 by the bottle. Since the Renaissance Man and I love Italian beers and the mark-up can often be so high at home, it was a delight to order them cheaply here and to sample even more. On draft, we loved bright, floral Borgo Duchessa, made with farro grain; the dry, bitter, tropical notes of Extraomnes ZEST; and I especially was drawn to the nutty, sweet, layered tones of Birrifico Ducato L’Ultima Luna, cask-aged with amarone wine.

Fantastic Roman pizza

Fantastic Roman pizza from Roscioli with a bottle of crisp, dry, Sicilian lemon soda, Lurisia La Nostra Gazzosa

Bakeries/Pizza

ROSCIOLI

Tazza d'Oro espresso granita

Tazza d’Oro espresso granita

Roscioli is classic Rome and a place I could return to again and again just for a slice of their daily Roman-style pizza… ah, that rosemary, onion and cheese white pizza with perfect crust. Perfection.

It’s also a fantastic take-out source (there are a few standup tables inside and one outside if you eat in) for baked goods, breads, cheeses, meats and wines.

BOCCIONE – Il Forno del Ghetto, Via del Portico d’Ottavia 1, phone: +39 066878637

There’s no sign and it’s closet-sized but as soon as you enter the heart of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto and see the gesticulating Jewish Roman women pushing their way around each other for baked goods, you’ll know you’ve found Boccione  also known as the ‘The Kosher bakery.” Be prepared to push and demand your way in. There’s no descriptions or signs for food so unless you speak Italian, be prepared to pick something and point.

Lines outside of B

Lines outside of Boccione

The ricotta and sour cherry pie (torta di ricotta e visciole) makes me sigh with happiness: fluffy ricotta in blackened, nearly caramelized crust (you’ll know it by the charred outer layer). I’ve also had it with ricotta and chocolate chips.

Cinnamon and almond biscotti and the fruitcake-like pizza ebraica draw crowds, but I go for the torta di ricotta, grab an espresso elsewhere and reflect on the intense cultural experience I’ve had. P.S. it’s cash only.

Expensive, nearly 20 Euro Americanos come with all kinds of snack and the spectacular sunset above in a quiet setting at Hotel Eden atop the Spanish Steps

Expensive, nearly 20 Euro Americanos come with all kinds of snack and the spectacular sunset above in a quiet setting at Hotel Eden bar behind the Spanish Steps

Gelato

Patio at Gelateria del Teatro

Patio at Gelateria del Teatro

GELATERIA del TEATRO

One cannot be in Italy without partaking of the incomparable joys of gelato. For me, morning, noon and night sounds about right and I partake as much as I can stand it. Il Gelato di San Crispino has grown into a mini-chain since I first fell in love with it over a decade ago, but I still enjoyed revisiting this gelato haven.

Every visit there’s a standout – or a few. This visit it was Gelateria del Teatro, near the Piazza Navona, that left the biggest impression. The side courtyard is certainly part of the charm (pictured right). But it’s all about the fantastic, unusual flavors and a storefront window where one can watch the ice cream being made daily in the laboratorio, the window lined with ingredients like Sicilian pistachios or lemons from Amalfi.

Standouts include their popular raspberry sage, pear caramel, Sicilian wine cream, and my favorite: cheese and cherry (like cream cheese with sour-sweet cherries).

Coffee

SANT’EUSTACHIO

Shakeratos at Sant'Eastachio

Shakeratos at Sant’Eastachio

Since 1938, Sant’Eustachio is quintessential Roma coffee and an ideal remembrance to bring back a bag or two of house-roasted beans… and they are just around the corner from the Pantheon.

Standing at the counter drinking an espresso, or better yet, a shakerato, espresso and simple syrup shaken on ice with their little red machine, is, for me, a necessary Rome experience.

TAZZA d’ORO

In the shadow of the Pantheon: Tazza

In the shadow of the Pantheon: Tazza

Thanks to my friend Steven Liles for turning me on to this gem, which, just like Sant’Eustachio, is mere steps from the Pantheon. In fact, Tazza d’Oro is within view of it.

Since 1946, owner Mario Fiocchetto has brought South American beans direct from growers to this charmingly dated, bustling shop.

Besides making beautiful espresso, cappuccino and all the necessary Italian iterations, they are famous for their espresso granita. Though there’s too much whipped cream piled on there for me (pictured above), the granita itself is perfection: robust, icy, sparkling, beautiful.

Scenes from Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori may be the most touristy market due to its location in Rome’s historic center, but it’s still an inspiring collection of the bounty that is Italy

Fresh chestnuts

Fresh chestnuts

Quintessential Rome: fresh artichokes

Quintessential Rome: fresh artichokes

Gorgeous: chilis on a bike

Gorgeous: chilies on a bike

This guy carves characters from carrots

This guy carves characters, animals and elaborate creations from carrots and cucumbers

Squash blossoms

Beautiful squash with blossoms

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May
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Waldorf salad prepared tableside via cart with vintage apple peeler/dicer

Waldorf salad prepared tableside on a cart with vintage apple slicer (see details below under the Waldorf cookbook photo)

ELEVEN MADISON PARK: One of the World’s Great Restaurants

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Enter Eleven Madison Park

Enter Eleven Madison Park, facing idyllic Madison Square Park

Three Michelin stars, # 4 on Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (the highest in the US), a 28 rating for food, service and decor in Zagat, the accolades for Eleven Madison Park go on and on. Then there’s the impressive tome, I Love NY, a book released last year by Chef Daniel Humm and EMP’s General Manager Will Guidara.

When in NY, I must have Finger Lakes Riesling

When in NY, I must have Finger Lakes Riesling

While I’m was not near as enthralled with Humm’s nearby restaurant The NoMad, EMP, on the other hand, is among the great meals of my life. Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, Chez Wong in Lima, Peru, Baume in Palo Alto, and other unforgettable meals made perfect with all the right elements and people… EMP is among that group. A short list given the 600+ plus restaurants and eateries I visit every year.

EMP is first and foremost about service. We chatted, engaged, connected with our servers, the sommelier, the floor manager. The harmony and flow of the staff (nearly 70 staff to 80 diners) is a finely tuned clock, just like the clock that looks like a giant Swiss watch in the kitchen, where we were invited for a liquid nitrogen cocktail while we watched the symphony that is EMP’s orderly kitchen.

We sit down to a letter opener and a card with our choice of four flavor profiles:

We sit down to a letter opener and a card with our choice of four flavor profiles: fennel, apple, maple, cranberry (we chose the former two)

Our own private tableside liquid nitrogen Penicillin cocktail in the kitchen of EMP (see photos below)

Our own private tableside liquid nitrogen Penicillin cocktail in the kitchen (see photos below)

Pickles & Rye sounded just my speed (rye whiskey, aged aquavit, white vermouth, amontillado sherry, honey, lemon, velvet falernum, orange bitters), but was a bit too sweet & muted in flavors despite the long list of ingredients; but I loved

Pickles & Rye sounded just my speed (rye whiskey, aged aquavit, white vermouth, amontillado sherry, honey, lemon, velvet falernum, orange bitters), but was a bit too sweet & muted in flavors with too long a list of ingredients; I was much happier with the focused, savory, layered notes of Celery Situation: Nicaraguan rum, aquavit, celery, grapefruit, lime

There are too many highlights. Dining here is four hour theater full of edible thrills, yet never feels flashy. The current incarnation of the tasting menu has just been around since Humm and Guidara changed the concept last year. I recalled the week in 2012 where Chicago’s Alinea (another 3 Michelin star restaurant) and EMP traded staff and kitchens for one week. I truly respect Chef Grant Achatz and see how his culinary innovation would experience synergy with Humm and EMP. While the food is impressive at both restaurants, I prefer EMP for warmer service and setting.

Here are some of the unforgettable dishes and moments from my April meal via photos:

Dessert is a Baked Alaska flambeed with rum tableside, then sliced up & brought out; it's a molasses rum raisin caramel cake filled with vanilla ice cream then served in fennel or apple sauces we chose at the beginning of the meal as flavor profiles via punch card

Dessert is a Baked Alaska flambeed with rum tableside, then sliced up & brought out; it’s a molasses rum raisin caramel cake filled with vanilla ice cream served in fennel or apple sauces we chose at the beginning of the meal as flavor profiles on the punch card

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One of my favorite courses: the NY pastrami sandwich reinterpreted & paired with soda (see photo just below to the left): here, rye bread is dotted with garlic, mustard and dill sauces, accompanied by pickled cucumber and endive sauerkraut

Pastrami arrives steaming, tender & fatty w/ sodas infused with flavor we chose via the cards we received at the beginning of the meal, modeled after classic Dr. Brown Cel Ray (celery) soda created in Brooklyn in 1869

Pastrami arrives steaming, tender & fatty paired with sodas infused with flavor we chose via punch cards received at the beginning of the meal; sodas are modeled after classic Dr. Brown Cel Ray (celery) soda created in Brooklyn in 1869

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Fascinating 2005 Chateau Musar from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, a white blend of Obaideh & Merwah varietals, indigenous to the mountains, akin to Chasselas, Chardonnay & Semillon; Obaidah grapes grown in stony, chalky soils; Merwah vines grown in gravel on the seaward side

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cheese course arrives as a picnic in Central Park, with blue & white checked tablecloth spread across the table & picnic basket complete with ceramic plates slightly crumpled & looking like paper plates

The cheese course arrives as a Picnic in Central Park on a blue & white checked tablecloth spread across the table & picnic basket complete with crumpled ceramic plates, made to look like paper plates

The picnic basket box holds creamy Greensward cheese from Vermont, pretzel rolls, onion marmalade & a bottle of brown ale/beer brewed just for EMP

The picnic basket box holds creamy Greensward cheese from Vermont, pretzel rolls, onion marmalade & a bottle of brown ale/beer brewed locally just for EMP

The first bite: soft, savory black & white cheese-apple cookies arrive in a box tied by striped string; the meal ends with a similar box & identical cookies but sweet with cinnamon

The first bite: soft, savory black & white cheese-apple cookies arrive in a box tied by striped string; the meal ends with a similar box & identical cookies, sweet with cinnamon

Creek oysters from Eliot, Maine, in vichyssoise & caviar

Creek oysters from Eliot, Maine, in vichyssoise & caviar

Eleven Madison Park's iconic, lofty dining room

Eleven Madison Park’s iconic, lofty dining room

Bone marrow is filled with cream, beef tartare &  Petrossian's sturgeon caviar

Bone marrow is filled with cream, beef tartare & Petrossian’s sturgeon caviar

Bread course is another showstopper:

Bread course maintains excellence: rolls are made from Cayuga Pure Organic Flour with butter from Trickling Spring’s Creamery in PA, duck butter dotted with duck cracklings, and sea salt from the Hamptons

One of two dreamy Hudson Valley foie gras courses: this one seared with sunchokes, hazelnut crumble, solera vinegar; the second cured with sunchokes & fermented mustard seeds/greens

One of two dreamy Hudson Valley foie gras courses: this one seared with sunchokes, hazelnut crumble, solera vinegar; the second cured with sunchokes & fermented mustard seeds/greens

An 1896 Waldorf cookbook is a brought out & the Waldorf Salad recipe turned to before being prepared tableside before you from a Waldorf salad cart mixing Granny Smith apples, celery, pickled cranberries, walnuts, lemon mayo, Middlebury Blue cheese from Vermont... then a second course is served of apple over celery yogurt & house granola

An 1896 Waldorf cookbook is a brought out, the Waldorf Salad recipe turned to before being prepared tableside from a cart, combining Granny Smith apples, celery, pickled cranberries, walnuts, lemon mayo, Middlebury Blue cheese from Vermont… a second course is then served of apple over celery yogurt & house granola

Razor clam with kale puree, lobster, sea urchin tongue in pear gelee

Lobster, part one: with razor clam & kale puree, sea urchin tongue in pear gelee

Lobster, part two: butter-poached with razor clams & kale leaves, foamy sea urchin beurre manié ("kneaded butter" or a thicker flour butter)

Lobster, part two: butter-poached with razor clams & kale leaves, foamy sea urchin beurre manié (“kneaded butter” or a thicker flour butter)

Chef Humm's legendary dish: Normandy duck coated in whipped honey, crusted in lavender, cumin, coriander, and Sichuan peppercorns for a beautifully crusted skin, stuffed with a bouquet of lavender

Chef Humm’s legendary dish: Normandy duck coated in whipped honey, crusted in lavender, cumin, coriander, and Sichuan peppercorns resulting in a beautifully crusted skin, stuffed with a bouquet of lavender

Accompanying the sliced duck, a side of rich duck consomme to sip, accented with a rye crisp/cracker topped with duck sausage under melted Gruyere cheese

Accompanying the sliced duck, a cup of rich duck consomme to sip, accented with a rye crisp/cracker topped with duck sausage under melted Gruyere cheese

Our own private table set up in the EMP kitchen

View from our two person table set up in the EMP kitchen

Misting liquid nitrogen Penicillin cocktails with peaty Laphroaig 10 year Scotch (the modern classic cocktail created by Sam Ross in the original Milk & Honey days is a combination of peaty Scotch - here in sorbet form, ginger - here in syrup form, lemon - here as a frozen dome)

Misting liquid nitrogen Penicillin cocktails with peaty Laphroaig 10 year Scotch (the modern classic cocktail created by Sam Ross in the original Milk & Honey days) is a combination of peaty Scotch – in sorbet form, ginger – in syrup form, lemon – as a frozen dome

Eleven Madison Park's own bottling/house cask of Laird's Applejack (American apple brandy distilled in New Jersey) to finish

To finish: Eleven Madison Park’s own bottling/house cask of Laird’s Applejack, American apple brandy distilled in New Jersey

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Apr
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

The stunning cathedral in Santiago de Com

The stunning Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – a prime example of Spanish architecture dating back to 1211

The Spain You’ve Never Met: Exploring GALICIA

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Ancient Celtic statue on the ocean in A Coruna

Ancient Celtic statue on the ocean in A Coruna

Windswept, green hills rolling to the ocean. Grey skies. Celtic statues and artwork. Vibrant seafood. Sounds more like Ireland than Spain, right? The northernmost Western reaches of Spain – with Ireland just across the sea – reminded me more of the Emerald Isle than it did of previous travels in Barcelona and down the coast to the south of Spain.

How to properly pour a cider, at Maeloc

How to properly pour a cider at Maeloc

The region of Galicia is comprised of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra provinces, with Portugal just to the south, influencing the Galician language native. Celtic roots and Roman influences: it’s a fascinating section of Spain unlike any other. It was chilly and blustery in November in A Coruña with biting winds and intermittent rain. But the sun shone brightly in the stunning wine region of Ribeira Sacra and the city of Santiago de Compostela, its Old Town a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I had the privilege of taking a November trip with Estrella Galicia, the region’s leading beer and one of the most popular in the country, found almost everywhere in Galicia and in restaurants and bars around the world, including Bask at home in San Francisco. I joined a group of distributors and importers exploring Estrella beer, wine, cider and spirits – and, of course – the food of Galicia.

View over the city of Santiago from

View over the city of Santiago from Monte do Gozo on the Way

Northenmost part of Spain on the ocean

Northernmost part of Spain on the Celtic sea

One aspect I appreciated about this trip was the thoughtful education and immersion we received in local culture. Typically, on food and drink press trips, the focus is, as it needs to be, on food and drink. Anything off that path can easily be information overload and a waste of time for writers who need to stay focused on relevant material to write about. The last thing needed in an already over-scheduled trip is unnecessary events. But on this trip, the Estrella team holistically weaved local history and culture into every appointment. Besides history tours, and walking a portion of the famed Way of St. James, we went to an intimate concert at the cool Sala Capitol venue featuring one of Spain’s biggest pop/rock musicians, Vega. As the whole crowd sang along to every word, it was true, engaging immersion in Spanish culture.

Outside Santiago's sprawling food market

Outside Santiago’s sprawling food market

Santiago's rambling market stalls

Santiago’s rambling market stalls

1. Among the best seafood I’ve had in the world

Pristine fish

Pristine fish

Pulpo (octopus), razor clams, barnacles, ox, and, of course, jamón ibérico – just a few regional Galician specialties I couldn’t get enough of. Though I get plenty of excellent octopus at home, I’ve never had razor clams like the ones in Galicia: milky, pure, almost like fresh crab meat in a tube shape, with a bit funk in the middle where their organs are. Unadorned, you eat them as is with no embellishments needed. Likewise, the famed (and expensive, due to the difficulty of climbing out on rocks to scrape them off) barnacles are fascinating local treasures.

Shrimps with roe intact at Santiago market

Shrimps with roe intact at Santiago market

Shiny sardines

Shiny sardines

I’ve wandered impressive meat markets from Italy to Mexico (though am still dying to visit Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market) lined with animal heads and organs. But I’ve never been so impressed with a seafood section of a market – in this case, rows and rows of stalls – as I was in Santiago de Compostela’s main market, conveniently just outside my room at Hotel Pazo de Altamira. Think giant eels hanging ceiling to floor. Little old women holding a raw octopus in each hand, trying to decide which one to buy. The cleanest eyes and freshest looking fish. Pristine oysters, clams and barnacles. Live shrimps with roe (eggs) still attached and hanging off their bellies. It’s one eye-popping delight after another. It was a bit tragic not to have a kitchen.

Pig meat in the market

Pig meat in the market

Meats and liqueurs

Meats and liqueurs

2. A stunning wine region of tiered vineyards on a river

Tiered vineyards

Tiered vineyards

Ribeira Sacra (“Sacred Shore”)… this wine region (a Spanish Denominación de Origen – DO) is truly magical. Under blue skies, steep hills covered in terraced vineyards roll down to meandering rivers Miño and Sil. This fall, sun sparkled on the river, glowing and illuminating fall colors on the vines. It’s a place that feels touched by God.

Walking up the tiered vineyard hillside at Ponta da Bega

Walking up the tiered vineyard hillside at Ponta da Boga

The region glows

The region glows

Three types of varietals are typically produced in the up-and-coming region, which is still working to attain the quality of the some of the famed regions nearby (Rioja, for one): red Mencía, white Albariño and white Godello. I particularly enjoyed Godello with seafood during my trip, while in the countryside of Lugo, A Cantina was a memorable restaurant showcasing the farms and wines of the region. Over rounds of manchego cheese, Spanish chorizo, and tortilla Española (a thick egg and potato “omelette” fried in olive oil), we savored local wines.

Ribeira Sacra

Ribeira Sacra

Ponte

Ponte da Boga tasting room

I visited Ponte da Boga, an elegant stone winery producing a lovely Godello, a range of traditional Spanish liqueurs, and special limited edition reds like the complex berry of 2012 Expresion Gotica Cosecha red wine (a blend of mencia, merenazao, souson and brancellao grapes).

Santiago glow before sunset

Santiago glow before sunset

3. Santiago’s striking architecture and spiritual history

The Way

The Way at Monte do Gozo looking out over the city of Santiago

Santiago de Compostela’s shining glory is its gorgeous cathedral, a prime example of Spanish architecture and the supposed site of the remains of Saint James, the impetus for the Way of St. James, a Catholic pilgrimage route originating in the 9th century. The Way of St. James, or The Way (which inspired a recent movie of the same name), is a spiritual pilgrimage through France and Spain, ending in Santiago at the cathedral, the shining finale to a journey that takes weeks or months for many to complete.

The world's oldest lighthouse (1 AD) on the A Coruna coast

Tower of Hercules: world’s oldest lighthouse (since the 2nd century w/ updates over the centuries) on the A Coruna coast

I had the privilege of walking along portions of the Way from Monte Do Gozo, a small mount outside of the city, into the city, culminating with a church service in the massive cathedral dating back to 1211. There are striking churches and monuments all throughout Santiago’s meandering, cobblestoned Old Town streets, but it’s the grand cathedral, from any angle, that takes your breath away.

Estrella's modern brewery

Estrella Galicia’s modern brewery

4. Drink culture

Estrella Galicia pub

Estrella de Galicia Pub

Beer, cider, wine, spirits… I explored it all in Galicia. And each of these brands is imported to the US.

Estrella de Galicia Pub in downtown A Coruna, lined with beer tanks and a locals-heavy crowd, was the ideal place in which to try their entire beer line (I tried six different beers). Hijos de Rivera Brewery, which produces Estrella, is a fascinating tour, including the most impressive bottling line I’ve ever seen. Walking around a glassed-in, elevated walkway to view the bottling machines was like overseeing a miniature city with packed roadways and constant movement.

M

Maeloc Brewery

Maeloc hard cider (sidra) is my favorite packaging/label with its playful, mannish Grandma drawing. I particularly like their dry cider, a fine pairing with seafood due to its crisp acidity. There are plenty of fruit and sweet ciders for those who like it sweeter in flavors like pear or strawberry. I particularly loved an extra dry, funky cider we enjoyed on premises at the brewery.

H

Hijos de Rivera

Getting schooled on Galician aguardiente (which is nothing like Mexican aguardiente, aka firewater, but rather their term for all local spirits), I learned typical Spanish spirits range from coffee liqueurs to bitter/sweet herbias (herbs) liqueurs, often thick, yellow, sweet and bitter/herbaceous.

Aguardiente stills

Aguardiente stills

I particularly appreciate grappa-esque orujo, an unaged (clear) brandy made from the pomace of grapes, stems, skins, etc. Often called aguardiente de oruj (pomace firewater), or sometimes caña, it’s typically distilled in small pot stills, giving it character and depth.

The aguardiente stills I saw for Hijos da Rivera were unique to any I’ve seen in distilleries the world over. As you can see from the photo (right), they look like tall pots with arms between them, lids placed on top.

YES to paella

YES to paella at Restaurante San Jaime

Mussels in a can at Abastos 2.0

Mussels in a can at Abastos 2.0

5. Exploring regional foods

Silky salmon at

Silky salmon at Abastos 2.0

Besides the aforementioned countryside restaurant, A Cantina, in the Ribeira Sacra wine region, the standout restaurant in A Coruña was one Michelin-starred La Alborada. Avant-garde and fresh, the gastronomico menu doesn’t exactly push boundaries but it’s fine dining execution of classics like beef tartare, Iberian pork, ravioli, or grilled octopus laced with paprika and cabbage.

The most perfect razor clams at Abastos 2.0

The most perfect razor clams at Abastos 2.0

In Santiago, Restaurante San Jaime‘s sunny, upstairs room is an idyllic lunch respite for paella, Spanish chorizo, meat and cheese platters, grilled fish dishes. Abastos 2.0 was my favorite Santiago restaurant. Modern, clean lines and a Spanish gin and vermouth menu charmed. Here is where I had those unreal, perfect razor clams. And a damn fantastic burger oozing with cheese and butter. Crudo/sashimi-style dishes wowed with white wines or Spanish cider.

Simple Spanish perfection: tomato sauce on toast with jamon Iberico

Simple Spanish perfection: tomato sauce on toast with jamon Iberico

Ancient A Coruna churches

Ancient A Coruna churches

A Coruna's María Pita Square

A Coruna’s María Pita Square

Clams at the Santiago seafood market

Clams at the Santiago seafood market

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