A weekend binge of flavors: Restaurant Roux and Shanik in Seattle

I debated making a onesy post for two very distinctly different restaurants in Seattle, but I do so because a. it’s my blog and b. because it is a testament yet again to how wonderful the food scene is in Seattle.

It is so cliche’ for foreigners (especially Americans like me in Florence) griping about the lack of diversity of food in Italy, i.e. that you can only get Italian food. Okay let me ramble about this for a minute. 1stly, why are you in Italy…one of the greatest food cultures in history who gave the world PIZZA if you are seriously going to gripe that there is not enough options. Italy wouldn’t be Italy partly without its food culture! Want to live where there is a plethora of “ethnic” food? Go to boring cold England where they have to have a variety because they simply don’t have a food culture besides eating cheese and port at Christmas and Sunday roasts (which ARE amazing but not world food defining). Or come to Seattle where it is absolutely wonderful, but also cold and rainy. Funny coincidence.

And second- that is simply untrue! Italian food is SO diverse! Especially in Florence you have Renaissance cuisine, Tuscan cuisine which I never tire of discovering, restos that serve traditional foods from Puglia (which was inspired by the Greeks), Sicilian food which was inspired by the Arabs, French fusion and more. PLUS I hear there are some descent joints for Indian, Thai and Japanese. So stop crying. And I’ll stop being so la la la I know it all.

Ramble. Over.

So granted you can in theory eat diversely in Italy, it is for sure not as abundant as what I am seeing in my larger “hometown” of Seattle.  And this is what I am rediscovering in my time back.

Let’s get back to business. Shanik is an Indian restaurant in South Lake Union (Seattle) which whips up fine, modern Indian food and is directed by the chef Meeru Dhalwala who gained initial fame and a loyal following from her Vancouver based restaurant Vij’s. My curiosity was first tickled after reading The Stranger’s write up which spoke of cricket paratha (a sort of flatbread). I am a curious eater so I just had to see this place for myself. I then cross referenced yelp for reviews and found that some yelpers had some unsettling chicken korma with the quality of dishes in proportion to the pricing. I took the plunge regardless to see for myself, after all- yelpers can be whiny and untrained critics at best. A restaurant has to make money. It costs a lot to run a restaurant in American cities like Seattle.  I struggle with this statement as I have a hard time swallowing the exclusivity of restaurant dining. But you know, it’s just the way it is. Italy is a cheap place to eat because the economics of food is just different. Most great places are family fun for decades and their overhead is simply lower.

At Shanik, we were sat by the kitchen. Some people despise this but I do not. I want to see who is making my food. I am not some snob who thinks I am above being near the kitchen. I am curious to catch the behind the scene glances and the occasional whiffs of what they are whipping up which enhances my tasting experience. After all, your taste buds are only as good as your sense of smell.

At the table there were rounds of calculated rotated dishes of smoky, gamey ground lamb kebabs with a creamy fennel seed curry and a side of sprouted mung beans for health sake which served to compliment the meaty, lusty kebab’ery.

Because I believe in eating before food porning, I thank you google images

Lamb kebabs at Shanik. I thank you google images.

The quirky cricket paranta that had serious kicky spice with a chunky chutney that served as a texture buffer with a Pacific Northwest topping of sauteed cabbage and kale.

Cricket bread. Google images.

Cricket bread. (Photo credit Zagat)

Mains included a very flavorful spinach sag and housemade paneer cheese curd goodness with no mercy spicy turmeric rich dal lentils on the side. What was really the home run was the grilled venison medallions with a date and tamarind puree which provided that dolcastro sweet/salty/savory tart flavor fusion on the palate that left a pleasant unending flavorful finish on the palate. Intermittently cleaning the palate with a soft Pilsner which renewed my buds for the experience over and over.

Shanik's Saag and Daal with Chapati. (photo credits Urbanspoon)

Shanik’s Saag and Daal with Chapati. (photo credits Urbanspoon)

I disagree with disgruntled yelpers. I am glad there are sites like yelp which provide a second opinion from critics and the staff praises, but they must be taken with a grain of salt. Most of these people quite frankly don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

The service was swift, sincere and unobtrusive. Intuitive and courteous. They did not interrupt in my tasting parade 3 minutes in with my mouth full nor did they obsessively refill my water glass every 4 sips. The barman even was kind enough to sample us on a few beers and a cider before able to choose the one that was just right.

In other words, the curious approves.

Next on the docket is Restaurant Roux in Fremont (Seattle).

The chef behind this soulful kitchen is the mastermind behind the food truck Where Ya at Matt. Aside from being a handsome sight to behold with style, Matt has not ceased to impress me with his creative twists on Southern inspired food and has wooed me again with his French inspired Creole joint in the once great watering hole “The Buckaroo.” In case you didn’t already know, I spent 7 years living in the south and hush puppies and fried chicken livers were apart of my mother’s dinner menu rotation as a teen growing up. I was pretty spoiled by my mother’s cooking as she formed my palate and appreciation for gastronomic identity and place.

What I loved about this place is we spent hours here and did not feel like we overstayed our welcome. Matt is great because of his presence, the restaurant is filled with some soul. It is rare to find the chef of a restaurant in Seattle actually in the front of house, being a social counterpart to the experience greeting and meeting diners as they savor through. That is what I find missing in the fine eating scene in Seattle: soul and warmth. This is why, albeit inconsistent in quality, I love eating at mom and pop hole in the walls in Italy. We started at the bar with cheap tallboy beers and jalapeno cheddar hushpuppies. This is another 10 points for Matt in my book- he has a little something for everyone and not just 8 dollar pretentious beers. You can easily experience Roux without burning a massive hole in your wallet.

Sweet and salty hushpuppies fried to crispy, moist heavenly heights.

Sweet and salty hushpuppies fried to crispy, moist heavenly heights.

The hushpuppies were a great mix of spice, corny carb, sharp cheddar, sweet and salt as they were drizzled with a smidgen of honey, touched with lemon and specked with flaked sea salt. After we had leisurely enjoyed our bar snacks and tallboys, we were whisked over to a table for dinnertime. Roux has an open area where the plate staging and sous chef prep takes place and I love it. Next time I am in, I will definitely have to sit at this side of the bar. I was lucky enough to get to grill the sous chef on his picks and he said “you gotta have the pigtail. period.” So pigtail it was. I do not shy away from foods of the offal sort. In fact, one of my favorite foods in Florence is lampredotto (basically cow guts).

The pig tail was subtly smothered in a Korean inspired sauce and speckled with kimchi a top. The tail smacked me in the face with crisp, fat and fall off the bone melt on your fork meatiness. Please take note this is not for the faint of fat. This tail was a episode of crispy layered fat.

Smack your taste buds with pig tail at Roux. Sous chef's pick.

Smack your taste buds with pig tail at Roux. Sous chef’s pick.

Worth noting was a starter portion of fried chicken livers and gizzards with a silky, creamy spicy mayo-like sauce which brought me back to my fried organ eating days in Memphis. The batter was flavored and spiced quite nicely, not over fried nor overly overwhelming as offal can do.

Other noteworthy dishes at the table was an explosively delicious Shrimp and Grits (which I will order next time even if the shrimp do come from the Gulf) and Fried Chicken and Rice which sounds boring but was totally juicy, breaded to the perfect crumb and juicily fried. My only ONLY critique (which I should give otherwise my readers might think I’ve gone all buttery and nice) is that there was a tad much salt in just about everything.  Which was a shame since the food was beautifully spiced and balanced otherwise, it was as if someone in the kitchen made a masterpiece without the crutches of salt but didn’t have quite the confidence to make the plunge without jumping in a little more naked.  But maybe they had a salt spill in the kitchen or I am not used to the American standard of salting anymore.

So I will leave you, my dear readers with a sweet closing. My jaw dropped at the sight of the red velvet cakes on the staging platform of the open kitchen bar, but my heart dropped more at the sheer delight of nibbling (devouring) this banana cream pie with a cream delicately touched with peanut butter and a micropinch of salt. Perhaps this is where the careful salting energy was focused because it definitely had the exact precision of sweet and salty euphoria.

Diabetes, I'm coming for you with this Banana Cream Pie.

Diabetes, I’m coming for you with this Banana Cream Pie.

In your eating revel,

Curious Appetite

p.s. Looking for more tips for eating in Seattle? In addition to updates about Italy and random deep thoughts, I throw in the occasional Seattle restaurant alert on my facebook page and eating scenes on my instagram feed.  Cheers!

My top 5 favorite gelato places in Florence

Just a few weeks into my break from Florence and I am already going through gelato withdrawals. As some of you may have gathered, especially if you are a long time follower, that I am what I have coined as a gelatoholic and in Florence, a gelato shop is where you can usually find me on a smoldering day or even in the dead of winter. Obviously not so anonymous about it. The thing I love about gelato is that..well there are many things. 1st I love that it is an affordable pleasure. Most people can get a little dollop of heaven for just 1.50-2.50 euro. In Seattle, I fooled myself into thinking I liked American ice cream and wasted nearly 5 bucks of overly sugared, grainy, milky indistinctly flavored cholesterol bombs. Bluebird, I’m looking at you.

I also love the culture of getting gelato. If you just want to meet a friend that doesn’t involve dinner, drinks or coffee you can just grab a gelato and sit in the piazza or stroll around the beautiful city.

Handmade, artisan gelato is not hard to find if you know how to find it. On my food tours in Florence, I give a couple tips on how to spot real gelato and that is usually anything that is not a massive, neon colored mound of god knows what but it is definitely not fresh, artisan made gelato. Why is artisan better than commercially produced gelato? Well, mainly it tastes better and I think it is better for you. I don’t think our bodies were built to eat copious amounts of Xanthan gum, thickeners, powdered milk, artificial colors and the sort.

So based on my brief little ramble about Gelato, here are my top 5 favorite gelato places in Florence:

Gelateria dei Medici- Run with family passion, Gelateria De’ Medici has been churning out some of the most delightful gelato creations since 1997 and is a place very dear to my heart. I have been known to bike here just to get my fix for their Ricotta and Pear gelato with Dark Chocolate and Rum. Which by the way- I HATE rum in chocolate but the Medici have made me a believer. You cannot miss anything they do with ricotta and caramelized figs. They also have a wicked case of gelato filled fruit which I have yet to try but only foodpaparazzi’d.  Info: Tues-Sun 9:30am-1am, Via dello Statuto, 3 (Statuto) Florence, Italy

Pomegranates stuffed with Gelato. If this isn't love, then I've been living a lie.

From my instagram feed: Pomegranates stuffed with Gelato. If this isn’t love, then I’ve been living a lie.

Il Re Gelato- This pokes out on the corner from the historical smack-dab center, which is totally walkable from Piazza della Indipendenza. Il Re serves up some stellar Sicilian style gelato which I personally love. Why Sicilian style? Well, its more rich and decadent than usual gelato and they focus on Sicilian inspired flavors like cassata (candied fruit + ricotta), lemon (which is eaten for breakfast in a brioche down in the sweltering South), and pistachio which grow beautifully in Bronte (Sicily). They also sell Sicilian desserts to take away like Cassata and Cannoli. Info: Tues-Sun 9am-12am, Viale Filippo Strozzi, 8R (Indipendenza) Florence, Italy

Il Procopio- This is especially dear to my heart because it is in my neighborhood of Sant’Ambrogio and through the food tours I worked on this year, I got to know the owners who are too sweet for words! They put their sweat and tears (figuratively- not literally!) into their artisan creations EVERY DAY and work ridiculously long hours to scoop up mind numbing gelato to Florence. I love how they use high quality, alpine milk from Northern Italy and select the finest, 1st pick fruits for their sorbetti. They also use whole, pure cacao for anything they do chocolate with and nuts (not just nut pastes with tons of additives). On one of the food tours I work on, we take guests behind the scenes in the laboratory to witness how gelato is made and tasting of just churned gelato. If you’re interested in joining whether with me or another food tour guide, just reach out.  My favorite flavors here are: La Follia (which has caramelized figs and almonds. Surprise surprise), PISTACHIO (omg their pistachio is awesome. Sometimes they make a granita or sorbet of pistachio and it is one of the best moments of my life) and their YOGURT is my favorite in town.  Info: Tues-Sun 10am-12am Via Pietrapiana, 60R (Sant’Ambrogio/Santa Croce) Florence, Italy

Every gelato from Il Procopio comes with a little "cialde"

Every gelato from Il Procopio comes with a little “cialde”

Gelateria de’ Neri- Okay so this place is no secret whatsoever and is raved about in just about every guide to Florence but it is popular for a reason. Let it be known that in general, Via de’ Neri is one of my FAVORITE streets in Florence so I truly relish every slurp of gelato from this historical gelateria. My favorites here are the dark chocolate, again anything with figs and ricotta, green tea and their STRAWBERRY. Recently I nearly fainted after tasting their rose water gelato. This is a safe place to try experimental flavors that are not the traditional chocolate and vanilla. Info: Mon-Sun 9am-12am Via De’ Neri 26R (Santa Croce/Piazza Della Signoria) Florence, Italy

A sample of their flavors (thanks to google images)

A sample of their flavors (thanks to google images)

Gelateria della Passera- When I come here, I am in total peace with Florence. I absolutely love how this Gelateria is not only in one of my favorite Piazzas of the city (Piazza della Passera- a great story behind the name!) but the owner plays with wild flavors like cardamom, foraged herbs, fresh mint (FRESH MINT, not some colored syrup- MINT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE BRIGHT GREEN IN GELATO!!!) cinnamon, rose water, WHOLE vanilla bean and more. I particularly scoglie (melt) for this lady’s creations because it is so focused on creating distinct flavor balances and compliments. I think her creations are truly a taste of art. It is too bad for those of you who cannot read Italian because she has quite a delightful blog detailing her gelato creating and inspirations. But for those of you who do: http://gelaterialapassera.wordpress.com/ Info: Mon-Sun 12pm-12am Via dello Sprone, 16 (Oltrarno/Piazza della Passera/Palazzo Pitti) Florence, Italy

IMG_0119

Triple scoop threat in Piazza della Passera. I have a suspicious figs were involved in this crime.

*Please note that with any of my listings, you should be prepared or check in advance if they are open. In Florence, family run places are not the most consistent and tend to take lots of vacation or close on random days. That’s Italy!

In case you didn’t already know, my mom is part Sicilian and I grew up eating her homemade cannoli and lots of things with ricotta PLUS my dad being Iranian meant lots of exotic flavors (like saffron, figs, sumac, etc) and nuts (pistachios and nutella for breakfast being what corrupted me as an 8 year old foodie already) so my taste buds naturally lean towards these things. You might be a chocolate chip or sorbet kinda eater and these places are also great for all types of tastes- not just my personal faves!

In your gelatoholic anonymity,

Curious Appetite

Are you planning a trip to Florence? I offer travel consults and provide suggestions or yay/nay your already existing list to create a food and drink itinerary for the best foodie curiosities in Florence. Contact me for more info.

2 weeks back, 13 restaurants in Seattle down

Actually, not even 2 weeks. Should I be proud of this? Yes. Yes, because it has shown to me how amazing food in Seattle is and how easy it is to find it. To be honest, this should not be a normal week in eating out for anyone. Not only for your pocketbook, but for your health! I suspect the main culprit for this extensive list is due to lots of catching up with old friends and such- after all I have been living abroad. Plus it was my birthday last week:)

We are truly lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest- oh the bounty!

We are truly lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest- oh the bounty!

Anyways! So like any food blogger it was my duty to YOU to hit the ground running (and surprisingly enough, I am not 12 kilos heavier- I think walking these killer hills of Seattle are helping to buffer these indulgences)

Here is the list and some notes:

Pecado Bueno- Okay so this is just a throwback totally Americanized burrito and margarita joint in fratland yet granola rich Fremont. I almost should not include this on my list as it should not be considered anything more than a glorified, yuppified taco time.  I was jet lagged and desperate for a taco.

The best combo meal in the U-District: Tamale, Pupusa and (fried) Pastelito. Get pork or beef when possible. Never chicken.

The best combo meal in the U-District: Tamale, Pupusa and (fried) Pastelito. Get pork or beef when possible. Never chicken.

Guanaco’s Tacos Pupuseria- Okay, so I love and have always loved this place. After being in Florence and spoiled with down home Tuscan mom and pop cooking, I decided my mission is to find good, cheap food with soul. Not some fancy frilly bulls*** that has the words “local” and “seasonal” and “pastured” which also means 17 thousand more times expensive. Please forgive my self-righteous-I-just-lived-in-Europe-and-Italians-do-everything-better high horse, but honestly give me a break. Sometimes you gotta appreciate a cactus filled Pupusa made by the cashier’s sister by hand (and with love. or sweat. Probably the latter).

Brouwer’s Cafe- Again, another fratland throwback BUT they do have some amazing beers. And that is one thing not only America has got going on but Seattle nails like the regular beer gut Homer Simpson doppelganger regular  at the local karaoke bar when belting out “Unchained Melody.” Which by the way, THANK GOD karaoke exists!!!!

Tango Tapas- Um Happy Hour at Tango Seattle is pretty amazing? The tempranillo is not bad and neither is the baked Queso Fundido which also sounds fun to say. Which is essentially baked Manchego and Mahon cheeses with Spanish sausage and apples- you can fundido me any hour, Tango. The Albondigas were also great too which seems strangely like paprika spices goat steak meatballs. Don’t ask me why.

Rockcreek Seafood and Spirits- So this place is pretty new and did not exist when I was still living in Seattle, but I stopped by for happy hour. I had a fried oyster and bacon roll sandwich which was full of contrasting, mouth drenching flavors with an amazing arrays of textures (i.e. fried crunch, crispy bacon, chewy soft roll and the occasional rooster spiced sauce). It was confusing because the food was so incredible, the wine list pretty decent but the interior seemed like a scene from Ikea. This is something I want to dive deeper into about restaurants in Seattle.

Mistral Kitchen- Oh. my. god. Lunch in Seattle has never been so luxury. 48 hour (FORTY EIGHT HOURS?!) braised short rib ribboned with delicious buttery FAT and thick with flavor, savor and umami thanks to the little tiny enoki mushrooms and whatever sauce base they made sent me to the moon. It is moments like this when I realize I know nothing in the kitchen. And since in Italy recently I’ve had some beef with some lame potatoes, this was a refreshing reminder how perfect potatoes can be. Perfect chew to the flesh, melty, salty and with just the right amount of give in its skin- not too tough, fluffy or soft.

Chiso- Okay, so happy hour is quite nice here in terms of location, table size, service, etc. BUT not so thrilled with beer in a can (I’m a stickler for details and draft beer or at least bottled) and the rolls were forgettable and boring. However, the raw slices of fish were pretty good. To be honest, places like Shiro’s or Maneki is where you should be putting your sushi dollars.

Because I believe you can have your cake and eat it too.

Because I believe you can have your cake and eat it too.

Simply Desserts- 3 words: Red. Velvet. Cake. So American it hurts.

Barrel Thief- Alright, LOVE this place! Essentially it is a wine and whiskey bar and it has small snacks like truffled POPCORN. They have a distinct selection of wines including juice from Turkey and Barbera from Piedmont (Italy, swoon!) and some of Washington state’s popular producers like Tranche Cellars who I just discovered at this month’s most recent Foodportunity event. What’s even better is you can get half-glass pours for the curious and non-committal winos like myself. Why have one whole glass when you can have TWO halfsies? Variety- hello!

The Sixgill- This is quite possibly my new favorite happy hour EVER. Beer list- great. Especially if you are an IPA fan which I am not BUT they have solutions for you fellow non-hoppy beer lovers out there. And the food was surprisingly interesting! Grilled zucchini with a hazelnut sauce which was pleasantly a perfect flavor combo of salty nutty savor with this green summer vegetable. Crispy, fatty peppery pork BELLY in a creamy corn pudding (mmmmm pork belly Seattle craze how I have missed thee). Heirloom tomatoes that did not suck (life has been hard for me in the tomato department here in the PNW!) served with a slab of  ricotta that actually tasted like something! I sound cynical but I tell you ricotta in the states tastes like watery cottage cheese but with no salt. This ricotta at The Sixgill on the other hand was about 40% closer to what I have tasted in Italy. I was surprised since after all this is just glorified pub food, oh sorry “gastropub fare.” :)

Brimmer and Heeltap- I must say, I can’t decide if I was more devastated that Sambar and Le Gourmand were gone or relieved that it was replaced by one of the masterminds behind the beloved Joule and not something lame like a Chase Bank (which Seattle is due a HUGE tisk tisk for!!!) but in any case, despite its obnoxiously pretentious nonsensical name, Brimmer and Heeltap is actually a delicious refuge for the classy food snob in all of us. The service was great, and not too invasive which I am starting to notice. (Asking me 5 times if everything is alright and obsessively refilling my water glass makes me miss the “service” in Italy). Oh man, so I LOVE raw meat and tartare and here they have this steak tartare starter with housemade sesame (I want to say) nori cracker that was fab. The tartare was cubed perfectly, seasoned distinctly and had just the right amount of oil weaved in. The cracker being somewhat asian-y gave a great contrast as it was slightly sweet as being a rice cracker, but natural sweetness not sugar added sweetness and the sesame/nori mix lent a good umami kick to the whole thing. Also enjoyed was a crab trifle which was tasty and had a creative Brussel sprout chiffonade-like accoutrement atop but if you have a large appetite consider it more as a first course at best or an appetizer since it should be ordered more for the flavor experience rather than for satiety. Everything they do here is solid. Including desserts which involves things like dark chocolate ganache-y cake with a cilantro sauce which sounds weird but is actually tasty and a good contrast of flavors and they really kicked my ass with their homemade macaroons.

Raw Hamachi on buttered Texas Toast- as seen on my instagram feed:)

Raw Hamachi on buttered Texas Toast- as seen on my instagram feed:)

The Old Sage- I was here only for a wine tasting sponsored by Tranche Cellars for one of Seattle’s Foodportunity Food Blogger events. One of the things I have missed so much about Seattle is the food and wine community and how friendly it is, not to mention how generous it is with organizations like Foodportunity which host happy hour networking events to showcase interesting wine makers, food purveyors and restauranteurs. I have been very much on my guard about American wines since I have returned from Chiantiland, Tuscany but I was really delighted by Tranche’s Sangiovese. What I think made it not suck (unlike most WA winemakers who think they can just make whatever they want) is that they had patience (this was a 2010 vintage at the event and I personally do not like a Sangiovese after 2011)  and some of the aging was spent in concrete rather than just oak barrels. I am not a wine expert, I know what I like and I show people how to enjoy wine without being a boring snob about it, but I feel like these 2 factors is what could possibly be setting Tranche’s Washington Sangiovese apart from many others. The food at The Old Sage was fine as well, good gastropub fare but with creative thoughts like fermented black bean sauces (is that just fancy for something rotten? Everything is fermented these days). They served a panzanella salad I couldn’t help but want to give my 2 cents about. Panzanella is essentially a poor peasant food from Tuscany which involves re-purposing stale bread which is stale because in Tuscan peasant cuisine, they could not afford salt which is the agent that retains moisture in bread so therefore day-old bread is inedible and that is why Tuscan cuisine is so heavy on bread soups and salads which repurpose the stuff. Instead at The Old Sage, they shaved frozen (fancy) bread on a meat slicer for presentation effects. Which was good and very creative, but defeated the whole purpose of the culture and history behind the dish. At least they didn’t try to put mozzarella in it which drives me a little crazy when I see that in Panzanella. By the way, this is one of the things I dive into on my Foodie Tours in Florence, REAL Tuscan food that is!

Taylor’s Seafood- Surely not new to the Seattle food scene is one of my favorite food groups: fresh, raw oysters with my other preferred food group (sparkling wine like Cava, Prosecco or better yet Franciacorta). Yes I know bubbly is not a food group but it comes from a food so therefore it is now one of my food groups. If you are coming to Taylor’s for happy hour- stick to the raw oysters on the half shell and bubbly because anything else on the menu will feel like dinner (i.e. baked oysters with kale and bacon) and will have way too many flavors, unless you are that person who thinks a club sandwich with all the fixings is something not confusing and not horribly exaggerated.

And I can’t decide if I should keep dining around or actually go on that diet I have been saying I was going to to for the last million years….

nah…diets are boring. Plus, who would trust a skinny foodie? ;)

In any case, back on my road bike I gooooooooo!

Still in love with Italy,

Curious Appetite

Postcards from America by Curious Appetite

Postcards from America by Curious Appetite

 

 

Last thoughts on Florence- Sabor Cubano

Fresh spiced mini-daiquiris

Fresh spiced mini-daiquiris

Why last thoughts? Has the curious abandoned her fair maiden Florence? And why are the last thoughts Cuban? I’ll explain all this and more.

Yes, I am back in Seattle- my former foodie stomping grounds. To make a long story short, I am taking a hiatus from Florence (my love) for several reasons (family, work, bla bla bla). So this post is intended to give you one last taste of my curious Florence until I can get back.

My favorite drink in Florence, named after Clet Abraham.

My favorite drink in Florence, named after Clet Abraham.

One of the things I miss the most about the Seattle drink scene when I am abroad are the cocktail bars. My favorite cocktail bars in Seattle include Sun Liquor (who operates a distillery), Canon Whiskey and Bitters Emporium and the very tried and true Rob Roy. I also love the fact you can get a decent well drink for under 5-7 bucks in most places in Seattle. Well drinks don’t exist  in Florence. Actually they do but the bartenders (bless their Chianti spoiled hearts) consider them a 7-10euro cocktail and they are usually watered down nasty gin and overly sweet tonics with dried out lime wedges. Throw away any hope for a whiskey and ginger.  Seattle may suck at having a non-pretentious wine drinking culture (I am not opposed to a 6 euro liter of house wine at a restaurant in Florence even if I know it smells slightly of gasoline) but they rule at getting you liquored up.

However, thanks to the ever evolving International scene in Florence- bad mixed drinks are being phased out. With places like Mayday and Sabor Cubano, you can now find a true craft cocktail that doesn’t only not suck, but will knock your socks off.

"Ricordi" of Cuba in Florence

“Ricordi” of Cuba in Florence

However, in Florence I have a favorite cocktail bar and that is Sabor Cubano. I love this place so much that my heart expands almost as soon as I walk inside. The owner is one of the smartest people I have ever come across in my life.

Lopez, the warm barman/owner

Lopez, the warm barman/owner

This man, not only being a dapper sight to behold, but has some serious taste and attention to detail. The humble, small bar is a sort of reclusive,  refreshing nook in the belly of Florence. You walk in and are greeted instantly with class and style. It’s colored with vintage and Cuban nostalgia. The smells…the smells of freshly squeezed and pureed citrus instantly lift the mood. Lopez, the bar owner, makes all of his mixers with fresh squeezed juices carefully stored in sturdy glass liters. Feeling thirsty and they’ll quench it with filtered water and fresh lemon puree.

the Clet and a Himalayan salted margarita.

the Clet and a Himalayan salted margarita.

In addition to the best mojito you’ll ever have outside of Havana (I have never been but I am that confident in his skills), Lopez offers a handful of other fresh mixed drinks and they all include rare and select rums and spirits, thoughtful notes like aromatic mint leaves, black Himalayan salt for the margaritas, tart, sour and sweet FRESH tamarind fruit and grated spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.If you are not a cocktail imbiber, there are also some crisp Cuban beers in the fridge which is decorated by photos of grandmas being bad-asses smoking massive cigars.

When this lady isn't being a badass behind the bar, she is a surgeon at the piano.

When this lady isn’t being a badass behind the bar, she is a surgeon at the piano.

Anyone that comes here must appreciate style and the good things in life. I love even how if you’re lucky, one of the bartenders will jaw drop the place with a tiny piano performance. The even better part is that these little sips of Cuban heaven cost just 5 euros a pop.

Dark but cozy

Dark but cozy, like a cove

I hope that this humble watering hole retains its edge and quaintness until I can return. But if you are in Florence, do me a favor and have a CLET for me. It is a sort of lightly blended fresh daiquiri with a citrus twist or enhanced with touch of mango. It is named after the famous street gorilla artist Clet Abraham who likewise gives Florence it’s contemporary flavor beyond the overly in-your-face renaissance.  Just like Lopez gives a fresh citrus and rum twist to an overly Chianti dominated Florentine village.

Until the next time in Florence,

The Curious Appetite

Me and my very talented friend (designer, illustrator) on my last night out in Florence. THE Trinity Mitchell (I'll miss you!)

Me and a very talented dear friend (designer, illustrator) on my last night out in Florence. THE Trinity Mitchell (I’ll miss you!)

pssstttt!!!! So speaking of Trinity Mitchell, she is also a badass designer and illustrator! (Not to mention a heavenly baker who is responsible for the last 3 kilos I have “adopted”) Formerly one of the best foulard designers Salvatore Ferragamo ever had and also illustrates for the most popular ex-pat newspaper in Florence The Florentine. She illustrated my site banner, too! She lives in Italy as a designer and illustrator so if you have any inkling of taste- check her out: Trinity Mitchell Design. Toodles!xoxoxo

Uscio e Bottega- new gourmet food and wine nook in Florence

It is not impossible to find good food in the center of Florence, in fact that is where some of the best food in the region can be found. However, it is very hard to find it. You need to know where to go. You need to know locals. Or follow bloggers who live there. Or follow the local Yelp chapter. But throw tripadvisor out of the window. And chuck out sheer luck unless you have a curious nose like mine, constantly sniffing out the good s***. It is so unbelievably easy to get ripped off in the center of Florence. But alas, I have a tip for my dear curious readers: Uscio e Bottega located just a stone’s throw away from the utterly famous duomo.

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The flowers are hiding the panino options, but they range from 4-6 euros depending on size. Tagliere are smorgasbord platters. Meant to be shared.

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Tucked in one of my favorite little streets of Florence (Via Santa Elisabetta where there is a chocolate shop AND a shoe boutique. Swoon!) as I said near the Duomo, lies a little gourmet hole-in-the-wall with not only style but gusto. Wines by the glass by little tiny producers that the owners know personally and even some small batch craft fermented bubbly. Slurp. Delicious, soft schiacciata (Tuscan flatbread) that has the perfect balance of moisture and olive oil specked with grains of sea salt on top. They source their bread from Pugi, probably the most beloved bakery for Tuscan breads and sweets of almost every Florentine I’ve ever met.

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Soft, buttery schiacciata panino and a gushing glass of bubbly…

Delicately selected cured meats from small producers that make a soft, melt in your mouth mortadella from Prato that you’ll probably never taste again in your life or look at the same. Cheese from local sheep’s milk and true cheesemongers. Thoughtful condiments that need to be enjoyed on their own like housemade pickled onions, tiny squares of ricotta and onion tart, olives soaked in olive oil and not overly salty vinegar brine and even making stracciatella cheese a condiment. Stracciatella is one of my favorite cheeses on earth and it’s like the strands of burrata cheese and if you don’t know what burrata is then please don’t tell me because I’m in love and I think burrata should be a food group. Ooooooh that’s an idea for a next post: the food pyramid according to The Curious Appetite…

Olives, stracciatella, pickled onions...

House cured Mediterranean anchovies, stracciatella cheese and olives…

My definition of a lush is someone who sees wine at a party, has a glass, sees a cheese platter and thinks “now this wine would be so much better with a piece of cheese” and then when cheese and wine are in hand, they spot someone quite dapper and thinks that spotted cutie would go even better with said cheese and wine. And that my readers, is appreciating life. The only thing Uscio e Bottega is missing in order to be a proper lush establishment is a fine selection of eyecandy. Otherwise, the fancy cheeses and pleasing wines will suffice for 72% of your lush tendencies.

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A very gourmet nook lunch (those are artichokes in the sandwich and pickled onions on the far right)

If you are in the center of Florence, looking for a decadent (lushy) lunch I highly recommend Uscio e Bottega. Or even just a pre-dinner a nibble with a glass of wine. There are little chairs outside that you can perch yourself on to enjoy the brisk, mild weather that we in Italy are blessed with 9 months out of the year. Not to mention the dainty street and piazza you are immersed in, away from the droves of tourist mauls but still a stone’s throw away from one of the most famous historical city centers in the world. They even have dessert covered with Cantucci biscotti (also from Pugi) and sweet dessert wine to dip them in. Since every food in Italy must be paired with wine. Or someone gorgeous. ;)

In your lush trust,

The Curious Appetite

Uscio & Bottega- Vini e Spuntini
Via Santa Elisabetta, 7/Rosso – 50122 Firenze
Tel. 055 2670452 Mon-Sat 10:30am-8:30pm

Coming to Florence? Contact me if you’d like travel (and moreover eating) advice.

 

Gilda’s Bistrot- my favorite coffee and pastry bar in Florence

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There is nothing more than I love than character and quality. One may say a cappuccino is nothing more than milk and espresso, but for me it is a coveted pleasure that I partake in at few places. There are a few things that can put me in a funk and one of those is a bad cappuccino, and you may think that could never happen in the country of coffee culture but I assure you it does and it does for many reasons. 1. The method in which milk is steamed is fundamental. 2. How it is poured over and weaved into the luscious dark espresso and 3. How much the barista actually cares about their job. Anytime I have been into Gilda’s, it has been like walking into a friend’s home. There is no high pressure. There are no overwhelming crowds. There is not some hungover barista annoyed by your caffeine feening existence. There is a little spread of homemade pastries welcoming your arrival into this little peaceful nook into the heart of the very Florentine Sant’Ambrogio, one of the most special neighborhoods in the food-loving world.

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According to their website, the bar is from an old bank in Turin which operated in the 1920’s

I quite enjoy the presence of Gilda, her wildly awesome red hair reminding me of Lucille Ball and an unforgettable thick Florentine accent, chit-chatting with the locals discussing probably really important things but all I can notice is the art nouveau decor, attention to detail and how really eclectic just having breakfast can be in Florence.

(thanks, google images!)

(thanks, google images!)

If Gilda is not at the bar serving up smooth coffee, her son is. Funny story: for the longest time I thought this gentleman was her husband. She is just that badass that I would have pegged her with a man young enough to be her son.

They have a lunch and dinner menu’ too which I have yet to try. They source their fruits and vegetables from select vendors/producers in the Sant’Ambrogio Market while they source their meat from farmers in Piedmont which includes heritage breeds of cattle (beef) and source fish from a local cooperative in Viareggio.

There is no table charge and breakfast at Gilda’s offers you a sweet oasis from the usual coffee bars dotted all over Florence. The pastries change every day, for example I had one recently with summer apricots and a dot of custard and the most perfectly buttery, flaky chew.

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90 cents gets you a slice of heaven. AKA more buns for your buns.

I'll just take the whole thing, thanks.

I’ll just take the whole thing, thanks.

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….And this is why I will probably have diabetes by the time I’m 30 for as long as I continue to live in Florence…

I was not paid or endorsed for this post. I just felt like sharing. All pictures (minus one) are mine. So go and visit Gilda and her son (not her husband) in Florence:

Gilda Bistrot 

Piazza Lorenzo Ghilberti
50100 – Florence – Italy
tel. +39 055 234 3885
e-mail: info@gildabistrot.it

Looking for more authentic advice for food, dining, travel tips, drinks and more in Florence? Contact me!

Trattoria Mario in San Lorenzo, Florence (Italy)

As much as I enjoy a fancy cave aged, herb crusted goats milk Tomme cheese and a oily, aromatic glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Dolomites, at the end of the day I simply adore a good rustic Tuscan greasy spoon hole-in-the-wall with house wine that could pass just as easily as an oily gasoline…

This is what I ACTUALLY adore most about Florence. It’s the family run, health department renegades, the hole-in-the-wall where you sit elbow to elbow with strangers at your table, the Tuscan peasant food oasis that has abso-fucking-lutely ZERO pretension…Italian food is this to me. Fancy name brand chef restaurant serving shot glasses of heirloom tomato coulis and vanilla pod risotto with some equally pretentious mystery “foam” that lacks not only soul but the ability to make you break a sweat when you’ve eaten a little too well. Put it away. I don’t want it. Unless a gorgeous Mediterranean man is insisting on taking me there (happens ALL the time!), I will snub it just like it snubs me with its out of reach menu prices.

Which brings me to my next point is that these greasy spoon, Tuscan hole-in-the-walls are affordable. And meant for the blue (or skirt?) collar wallet.

A friend of mine in Florence whispered to me sweet nothings recently, aka restaurant recommendations which may as well be dirty talk in my foodgeek world, and it was this pretty solid Trattoria Mario in San Lorenzo, Florence.

I am a bit hesitant to trust his recommendation because it is located in one of the most candy coated touristic corners of Florence: San Lorenzo which is extremely hit or miss.  Some spots are extremely authentic and utterly Florentine while others make me want to cry in a corner, shake my fists and curse everything that American pop culture superimposed on the world. And it’s round the corner from the line up of tourist trap restaurants (with few exceptions).

Historical, Florentine restaurant for the last 60 years.

Historical, Florentine restaurant for the last 60 years.

But albeit being mixed up with the bad culture kids on the block, most aimless fanny-pack wanderers would not be able to easily stumble upon Mario’s. Great. The front entrance is almost undetectable and plastered with guidebook stickers and newspaper reviews from over the years. It looks like it’s not open, but it is. Indeed it is.

Walk in. Stick to a corner where the waitstaff couldn’t possibly knock you in the head with a massive platter of bistecca fiorentina (the Florentine t-bone) or pour a crock pot of Tuscan ribollita soup (twice cooked peasant “kitchen sink” soup) all over your pathetic clean clothes that are about to get ruined anyways (despite your best efforts) by crunchy skinned fried rabbit, saucy oily zucchini ravioli and the token splatter of fiasco bottled “chianti” house wine.

Do not ask for a well-done steak in Florence. Please.

Do not ask for a well-done steak in Florence. Please.

Put your name on the list and wait to smash in next to a couple of others who if they don’t become your best friends afterwards, are probably just French.

Fancy, Michelin-starred multi-course menu. Obviously.

Fancy, Michelin-starred multi-course menu. Obviously.

The menu is written on paper on the wall. There might be a dog in the kitchen. The old man is hacking a massive row of t-bones right in front of you (well, behind the kitchen which is transparent and protected by some sort of glass. There is the waitress’s daughter sneaking bites of potatoes from ready plates and from the fryer (I bet. I’m onto you, kiddo!) and a very cute cook giving you googly-eyes (or you imagine that’s it and not just his lazy eye which got burnt from too much hot grease). You are immediately thrown into the chaos and your job is to embrace it, watch steak getting hacked and order as fast as you can.

Meet your meat.

Meet your meat.

Me and a lovely partner in eating crime ordered: Tuscan Zucchini Ravioli stuffed with ricotta. Fried bunny thighs. Panzanella salad.

Word to the wise: Vegetables at these casareccia, casalinga, greasy-spoon mom & pop trattoria places will ALWAYS be soggy, over-boiled, over-oiled and greasy. Any hope in nutritional value has been washed down the drain. That is not why you are here. Want vitamins? Take a vitamin. Or eat your frilly salad at home to save calories for gut busting jaunts like these.

The pasta will not be al-dente. You will be lucky it wasn’t sold out since these primi piatti usually sell-out in the first hour or so during lunch. And that grease puddle is what that tasteless Tuscan bread is for: la scarpetta. La scarpetta means “the little shoe” and is that chunk of bread you dance around your plate with to sop up what juice is left.

Silly rabbit...

Silly rabbit…

The fried bunny (rabbit) tasted like fried chicken. A thick fried layer of batter blanketing a very white moist thigh meat. Ditch the dainty fork and knife, sink your teeth into that thigh like it was Jessica Rabbit’s.

The panzanella was forgettable. Panzanella is a peasant bread salad served in the summer with ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and onions. I absolutely usually don’t like raw onions but if thinly sliced, I can manage. But these were like massive haphazard chunks that seemed like they had been cut with a butter knife. I guess they were saving their chopping/slicing energies for the massive rack of steak.

The meal ended with a chat to a group of gentlemen, one of which looked like Ray from Girls (but a more handsome, Roman version) and strangely enough I couldn’t stop looking at him (shameless) and soon enough either my own googly-eye-ing or the random old man singing “happy birthday!” (probably the latter) got us over at their table, slamming down more wine, laughs and culture exchanges and moving over to the nearby bar for a post-meal coffee and shots of limoncello. At four in the afternoon. And this, my dear readers, is why I can’t see a country better to live in than this.

With wholly adoration for il bel paese,

Curious Appetite

p.s. Useful info: Trattoria Mario is only open for lunch Monday-Saturday.

http://trattoria-mario.com