Jun
01
2014

Top Tastes

Weekending/day trip to Saratoga at the Mountain Winery

Weekending/day trip to Saratoga at the Mountain Winery

My Food & Drink Recommends, New Opening Tastes and More: May 15-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

As I have been for over a decade, I’m on the ground daily looking for early standouts at each new opening, I also share underrated places and dishes you’ve seen me write about here at The Perfect Spot for years, and continue with plenty of drink coverage (cocktails, wine, spirits, beer).

Events

OUTSIDE LANDS FOOD LINE-UP announced – plus for more summer festivals for food & drink lovers

BAYVIEW UNDERGROUND FOOD MARKET every Thursday in the Dogpatch

New Bay Area Openings

Every Friday: 25 NEW RESTAURANTS TO TRY IN THE BAY AREA

10 BAY AREA RESTAURANTS set to open this Summer

BEST BITES at the new GASHEAD TAVERN

Early favorite dishes at the new GASPAR BRASSERIE

First Look at PALM HOUSE, a new tropical/Carribean-inspired restaurant and bar

BARTLETT HALL (aka Maverick Downtown) opens near Union Square

Bay Area BEER GURUS open PERDITION SMOKEHOUSE in BERKELEY on June 13

UNO DOS TACOS opens on Market Street

Drink Coverage

Local bars, writers, bartenders and industry folk finalists in the Oscars of the cocktail world, TALES of the COCKTAIL

5 COCKTAILS to LOVE at the new SMOKESTACK

3 COFFEE COCKTAILS you’ll want for breakfast

8 EARLY FAVORITE COCKTAILS from Kevin Diedrich at the new GASPAR BRASSERIE

Trend Alert: 3 PRICKLY PEAR COCKTAILS around the Bay Area

3 LOCAL WHITE WINES to pair with take-out

South Bay/Peninsula

10 REASONS SARATOGA should be your next day/weekend trip, from a Michelin starred restaurant to quality Indonesian food

Coffee

EQUATOR COFFEE opens first SF location downtown

Underrated & Established Spots & Dishes

5 BEST CARIBBEAN SPOTS in the Bay Area

6 BEST BAY AREA LOBSTER ROLLS

UNSUNG HEROES: Gaspare’s Lasagna

10 TOP OUTDOOR dining and drinking spots in the Bay Area

SECRETLY AWESOME: Champurrado at La Espiga de Oro

PAXTI’S GIVES AWAY $500 worth of pizza

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Written by in: Top Tastes |
Jun
01
2014

Imbiber

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

Imbiber

Sampling beers during Strong Beer Month at Magnolia Pub in San Francisco

Sampling beers during Strong Beer Month at Magnolia Pub in San Francisco

5 NorCal Beers You Should Try

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

SANTE ADAIRIUS’ SAISON BERNICE, Capitola

Sante Adarius' cask

Sante Adarius’ cask

Sante Adairius is Santa Cruz’ beloved beer haven since it opened in May 2012. Run by gracious Sante Adairius co-owners Tim Clifford and Adair Paterno, they not only make some the best beers in the area, but among the more exciting to come along in the massive beer world of California in the last couple years.

When I visited back in January, the place was mobbed on a Sunday afternoon, though at the end of deserted-looking street bordering the freeway. While I enjoyed the like of their Vanilla Joe made with local Verve Coffee, it’s their Saison Bernice (6.5% ABV), named after Tim’s mom’s middle name, that made the strongest impression, with its classic Belgian profile and lively nature. 

MAGNOLIA’S PROMISED LAND IMPERIAL IPA, San Francisco

Promised Land Imperial IPA’s 10.5% ABV, long, grapefruit-bitter finish was a standout during Strong Beer Month in February at Magnolia Pub. Thankfully, it’s still on the menu so we can continue to enjoy this bright, boozy beer.

RUHSTALLER’S GILT EDGE CALIFORNIA GOLDEN LAGER, Sacramento

Weekend crowds at Sante Adairus

Weekend crowds at Sante Adairus

Ruhstaller Beer uses almost all local, organic hops, grown at 2000 ft. elevation in volcanic soil near Mount Konocti. They’ll inform you that pre-Prohibition, Sacramento was once the world’s greatest hops growing region.

Their understated beers keep winning awards, particularly the refreshing Gilt Edge California Golden Lager. Best of all, they give a percentage of their sales to Pride Industries towards jobs for disabled and mentally handicapped.

PALO ALTO BREWING COMPANY’S COOL BEANZ COFFEE PORTER, Palo Alto

Palo Alto Brewing Company‘s Kasim Syed was brewing in San Jose, serving his beers only at Palo Alto’s Rose and Crown Pub, but demand grew and now his beers are all over the Bay Area. Cool Beanz Coffee Porter is a nutty-chocolate laden standout made with beloved cult SF coffee, Philz.

KNEE DEEP BREWING CO.’s HOPTOLOGIST DOUBLE IPA, Lincoln

Yes, it’s hoppy. In all the right ways. Knee Deep Brewing, located in the town of Lincoln between Sacramento and Auburn, creates award-winning, uber-hopped beers, thanks to Founder/Brewmaster Jeremy Warren, that keep the sometimes maligned category from being merely a gimmick. He crafts drinkable, flavor-intense beers, particularly Hoptologist Double IPA and Simtra Triple IPA.

Cheese platter with beer at Magnolia Pub

Cheese platter with beer at Magnolia Pub

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Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
May
15
2014

May 15, 2014

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done!” Vincent van Gogh, My Life & Love Are One

Returning to the Eternal City... and my favorite in the world, Roma (see "Wandering Traveler")

Returning to the Eternal City… and my favorite in the world, Roma (see “Wandering Traveler”)

You may have heard: I took on the job as Zagat Editor for San Francisco/Bay Area (sign up for the weekly Bay Area newsletter here; follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF where I post daily articles).

For one who marked up Zagat guides for NY, LA, Chicago and SF – and other food books, including my favorite, Patty Unterman’s San Francisco Food Lover’s Guide – with my own rating system and notes over 15 years ago, it’s special to be providing daily content for a site that I go way back with – one that focuses on the best dishes, drinks and tastes over “the news.” So I can do what I do best: hunt down and share best discoveries with you.

Chilis on a bike at Campo dei Fiori market in Rome

Chilis on a bike at Campo dei Fiori market in Rome

My multiple daily posts and articles mean I will have to shorten articles here at the Perfect Spot, though I don’t plan on discontinuing what has been my entrance into the food writing world since I launched the site back in 2007.

Because I am sharing so much of my knowledge on Zagat daily, I will link to some of those articles here so you can peruse the many new openings and places I am photoing and writing about.

This issue:

Top TastesMy Zagat Articles, May 1-15: Food & drink recommends, early tastes at new openings, and more.
The LatestMeet You At The Square: Delighted with the food and drinks at North Beach’s latest in a historic restaurant space.
Wandering Traveler12 Food & Drink Destinations in Rome: Returning to my beloved Roma, the Eternal City.
ImbiberBests from Whiskies of the World 2014: Three standout whiskies aboard the boat this year, including Taiwan’s first whisky line – and dinner with their master blender, a stunning 1969 Scotch and experimental goodness coming out of Monterey, CA.

As your personal concierge who tells it like a good friend would, I also create personalized itineraries: trips, meals, explorations (under “Services“).

Virginia

CLICKABLE LINKS to Social Media & Articles:
Twitter
Facebook

Liquor.com
Zagat
7×7 Magazine
Spoonwiz
Pinterest

**Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Virginia Miller**

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Written by in: Intro Letter |
May
15
2014

Top Tastes

Schroeder's, the historic beer hall and restaurant, reinvented and now a destination - but thankfully those beautiful murals remain intact

Schroeder’s, the historic beer hall and restaurant, reinvented and now a destination – thankfully those beautiful murals remain intact

My Food & Drink Recommends, New Opening Early Tastes, and More: May 1-15

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

As I write a few articles a day in my new role as Zagat Editor, I will summarize and link to just some of this extensive coverage for easy access (you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here for some highlights and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF where I post daily articles).

As I have been for over a decade, I’m on the ground looking for early standouts at each new opening (and there has been a slew of high profile openings the last few weeks), I also share underrated and forgotten dishes and places you’ve seen me write about here at The Perfect Spot for years, and continue with plenty of drink coverage (cocktails, wine, spirits, beer).

News

JAMES BEARD WINNERS INTERVIEWS: Charles Phan and Daniel Patterson react to their big wins

New Bay Area Openings

SMOKESTACK – Killer BBQ, beer and cocktails in one cool Dogpatch space from brew master Dave McLean

PRUBECHU – Guam cuisine and tasting menu steal

SCHROEDER’S – Legendary German beer hall and restaurant reborn

4505 BURGERS & BBQBBQ, burgers and more from butcher king Ryan Farr

HOG ISLAND OYSTER BAR – More than doubled in size, and now with cocktails

MANOS NOUVEAU – Under-the-radar Mission opening serves lovely ceviche and Mexico-meets-Peru cuisine

LA RONDALLA – A historic Mexican classic reborn after being closed since 2007

HOMESKILLET – Potato chip-stuffed burgers and breakfast all day at the newcomer from Little Griddle folks

GRUBBIN‘ – Pastrami and meat-heavy sandwiches in friendly Parkside shop

BISSAP BAOBAB OAKLAND – SF’s longtime Senegalese favorite opens a second Oakland location

Drink Coverage

TRENDSPOTTING: Coffee and soda, coffee and tonic

3 LOCAL WHITE WINES to Pair with take-out

5 BAY AREA ROSE WINES for a Spring afternoon

3 COOLING COCONUT MILK COCKTAILS on SF menus now

9 CURRENT HAPPY HOURS with a view, quality food and drink, and more

Napa

12 ESSENTIAL NAPA RESTAURANTS – Tough to choose but here are 12 iconic, important spots from Napa to Calistoga

CITY WINERY NAPA: The third location of the NY music venue and winery puts music, wine & food under one roof

Underrated Spots & Dishes

SECRETLY AWESOME: Fang’s Peking Beef Bao

5 UNUSUAL BRUNCH DISHES

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Written by in: Top Tastes |
May
15
2014

The Latest

Delicate, perfectly prepared sweetbreads

Delicate, perfectly prepared veal sweetbreads

Meet You at The Square

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

THE SQUARE, North Beach (1707 Powell St., 415-525-3579)

One of the most popular drinks of the 1960s (created in the ’50s), Harvey Wallbanger ($11) upgraded: vodka, Italian bitters, vanilla, orange, lemon weave into a not too sweet yet juicy whole

The Square surprised me. As the second incarnation in a historic North Beach space since the legendary Washbag (Washington Square Bar & Grill) closed in 2010, I half expected it to be a mediocre replacement, especially after perusing the menu. The initial impression was a pretty typical modern-day menu.

The housemade Parker rolls are one of the many highlights, served free with fennel pollen and super soft butter

The housemade Parker rolls are one of the many highlights, served free with fennel pollen and super soft butter

But after dining here twice, I quickly realized every dish I’d had was far better than it sounded. Even delicious. I knew the cocktails would be strong under the direction of Bar Manager Claire Sprouse (of Rickhouse and Tradition), and her drinks are what brought me in not long after opening at the end of February. Sprouse’s cocktails are classy twists on cheeky ’70s and 80s cocktails typically shunned in the revival of artisanal cocktails. She takes these “dark ages” cocktails, often loaded with vodka and fruit juice – like a Tequila Sunrise or Appletini, and brings them into balance for a more educated palate.

Roasted strawberries ($9) with tart fromage blanc ice cream, graham cracker crumbles, fresh spearmint

As with many dishes on the menu, more wonderful than it sounds: roasted strawberries ($9) blissfully coexist with tart fromage blanc ice cream, a graham cracker and fresh spearmint

Even the baby kale salad ($12) is better than average dotted with feta and pistachio

Even the baby kale salad ($12) is better than average dotted with feta and pistachio

The Square was opened by chefs Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty (of Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters and Sweet Woodruff) who oversee dishes that have an unexpected amount of comfort and ease, starting with warm gougeres ($8) oozing fromage blanc cheese and chive.

I’ve not had one letdown among the dishes over a few visits. In photos, here are some food and drink highlights in the initial 2 1/2 months of The Square.

 

Excellent rabbit platter for two, accented by edible flowers

Succulent rabbit platter for two, accented by edible flowers and morel mushrooms

One of my favorites on the menu: the Appletini redeemed with Calvados (French apple brandy), Leopold's Sour Apple liqueur, lemon, and a splash of St. George Absinthe

One of my favorites on the menu: the Appletini redeemed with Calvados (French apple brandy), Leopold’s Sour Apple liqueur from Denver, lemon, and a splash of St. George Absinthe

Barley risotto ($16) with green garlic, lemon zest, maitake mushrooms

Heartwarming barley risotto ($16) marked by green garlic, lemon zest, maitake mushrooms

The Square dining room and bar

The Square dining room and bar

Clarified White Russian ($12) rye, coffee, milk, brown sugar, allspice

Another delightful play on a ’70s/80s favorite, Sprouse takes it to new territory as a Clarified White Russian ($12). Instead of vodka, it’s rye whiskey with coffee, milk, brown sugar and allspice, clarified like classic milk punches, resulting in a clean, creamy, lovely cocktail.

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Written by in: The Latest | Tags:
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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