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

 

 

 

First Floor of Mercato Centrale in Florence

(photo from google: Top Floor of Mercato Centrale)

(photo from google: Top Floor of Mercato Centrale)

Mercato Centrale is a historic food market in the San Lorenzo district of Florence, Italy. The district itself is utterly famous for the leather and tourist trap stands (selling mostly overpriced souvenirs and sometimes poor quality leather goods) lining the streets wrapping around the market. The reason I don’t particularly like these stalls is that they block the way of some truly legitimate foodie joints like Casa del Vino and the historical carb-oasis Forno, not to mention amazing cafes, wine shops and kitchen gadget shops. I think in someways, the mercato centrale is a huge sellout to its historical roots. There still remains some rustic Florentine spirit, amazing fruit and veg vendors, fish mongers, butchers, bakeries and wine shops…not to mention the always valid Nerbone comfort food pitstop which melts my heart with its luscious boiled beef sandwich with hearty Tuscan men serving it up to match and solid greasy spoon primi  (like a rich, ragu’ smothered lasagnole pasta) which washes away any cynicism I may have walked into the market with.

The top floor of the Mercato Centrale has always been a mystery to me as up until recently, it was an unused space and now has been transformed into what I deem a sort of upscale food court, but that the marketers term “Street Food with Comfort”. In short, I absolutely love the idea. Finally. Something young and modern in the Florentine food scene. I love the rustic hole in the walls and food markets, but you know sometimes I want to see a semi-pretentious hipster food haven for the younger foodie scene in Florence. I like that there is a collection of food stands in one bustling space where it feels just a little like something I would find in London. I.e. Borough Market. Basically how it works seems like a food court. You pick your food from the variety of stands and mosey over to the bar or seating area to nosh. You can bring food to the bars which is nice. Easy access to booze.

But of course, because I am a critic there are things I must slam. The chairs: I personally don’t like to hover over a beer or a food plate. The high tables have even higher chairs.  The inconsistency in service and quality: Once I visited the Il Fritto e Le Polpette stand which does only fried meatballs and battered fried seasonal veggies. No,actually I visited twice. The 1st time was pretty solid. Crunchy yet soft oily salty (aka blood pressure enemy) veg basket with warm, plump and savory balls (that could be cheeky!). The second time was completely unsatisfactory. The veg fry was almost inedible, too mushy and absolutely no flavor. The polpette, served almost with disdain, were cold, dry and puny. For 11 euros, I expect a little more than cold meatballs and baby food.

The wine bar was anticlimatic. It’s operated by the Consortium for Chianti Classico so I am a bit surprised by the lack of satisfaction I gained from my experiences there. Once I went with friends and asked the staff for a wine list and they pointed out very dryly (no pun intended)  “we have these wine by the glass”  Which were a few Tuscan reds and a mysterious “Bianco” which meant absolutely nothing to me. For being a DOCG Consortium run wine bar, I expected more.  I asked what could they suggest by the bottle and then said ” we have everything here as you can see” and points to the wall of wines. Excuse me. I know you have a wine list somewhere- how am I supposed to know what your stock is?? How hard is it to talk to me? Or better yet, sell me something? Why are you working behind a bar if you are so rude and antisocial? And another time I went, we brought some fried fish over (which was also a bland tragedy that was worse than the fish and chips I had in my University cafeteria) and they had run out of white wine by the glass. Okay…luckily they had some franciacorta (the champagne of Italy) but how could a wine bar run out of white wine in the (nearly) summer? I mean, franciacorta was an amazing back-up plan but you get my drift I hope.

Anyways, back to my 1st story (rant). Finally, I managed to fanagle a wine list from a fairly competent woman who was pleasant and after dealing with my dates and making a final decision on a bottle, the former barman returned to pour. Insultingly enough, even though I had done most of the wine questioning,  the barman directed (without asking) the 1st pour to my male (Italian) friend who actually then passed it to me to check for cork. Maybe it was a coincidence, but that is not the point in service. No matter how crazy your clientele (i.e. me) is, they should never leave a customer questioning or doubting the level or quality of service they were provided. I’m not a wine expert (I dabble!), but bar staff should first ask who is tasting rather than assume.

Another last jab I’ll twist into this critical rant, is that all the TV screens together with the Ikea furnishings make some parts of the place feel like an airport lounge.  And what’s up with the Vietnamese-esque hanging wicker and cane lamps? Someone pointed out to me that Florence has a unique history with basket weaving (think fiasco!) so why would they choose these decorations that obviously look like more Ikea accoutrements when the market is supposed to represent Florentine traditions, albeit with a modern twist? I know it probably came down to the almighty budget and this one is probably a harsher criticism than necessary but I just had to say it.

I must give some positive vibes somewhere in this post. The pizzeria Sud: go. Just go. The manager is really sweet and it rubs off on his staff. The pizza is pretty damn super as it is the same masterminds behind Caffe Italiano (one of the best pizzerias in Florence, hands-down).  And they make a cheesecake which rocks my world. And I usually never go crazy for cheesecake. It’s something so creamy, full of flavor and texture and cosmically delicious.

Also, the barmen? Oh, hello. Not bad eye candy, ladies! Those little vests, wannabe speakeasy vibe and hipster hats can serve me mass-produced beer anytime of the day.  A side note because I’m starting to get too nice: why the heck aren’t they showcasing more artisan, Italian beers on tap??

The final verdict: I will still go. I’ll just avoid the places I ripped into. The cheesemongers look promising as does the meat stand that serves up mean tagliere charcuterie boards and my favorite: steak tartare. And I am at the end of the day, glad they are there to represent modern Italian food culture in such a traditional location while also being one of the few spots in Florence that breathes a European air.

In fierce criticism,

Curious Appetite

 

 

 

White wine pairing tips for cheesy, saucey foods.

I live in Florence and summer has indeed arrived. Except for today. Which is why I am not a sweaty mess and why I can even stand to be near my computer. It’s so funny to see my friends in Seattle through the social media webs wearing light spring jackets and here I am pushing the envelope basically trying to see how much I can get away with not wearing and pondering how sheer I can really get away with because I feel like I am going to die if I wear anything other than a gel pack of ice. I am exaggerating, after all I could be in Cairo where it’s like 110  degrees. Anyways, I digress as usual.

I am very weary of red wine in the warmer months in Florence, not only because to me red wine says cozy sweater and fireplace recounting the days I spent backpacking through Europe saving baby kittens from olive trees, but because most shop keepers are infuriatingly aloof about how they store their wine on the shelves. A wine shelf near the door is a horrible idea. And unless it is a super market, or a very smartly designed shop (that is not ever in direct sunlight) or has the luxury to invest in air-conditioning I don’t trust poorly stored red wine to be anything but vinegar or acidic grape juice at best.

Apart from that, I honestly can’t fathom consuming something that isn’t cold. I recently had a dilemma where I wanted to make an eggplant parmigiana but didn’t want a red wine. In normal weather circumstances, I would usually go for like a Negroamaro from Puglia or a Barbera from Piedmont for a baked cheese, vegetable and tomato dish like an eggplant parmigiana (or even for like a cheesy lasagna too) but I wanted to figure out how I could pair with some white wines. So I went to the wine shop at Eataly on a Sunday to stare at all the bottles hoping my food and wine pairing classes would flood my memory. Here is what I managed to pick out after many minutes scratching my head and having a lot of “oh yeah!” moments:

photo4(2)I wanted to stick to a white wine from Southern Italy because I am obsessed with gastronomic identity, meaning to pair local wines with the local cuisine. In theory, an elegant white wine from the Langhe (in the Northern, Slow Food capital region Piedmont) such as Marin by Fontanafredda could have sufficed just as easily as a rich, aromatic yet balanced Sauvignon by Bastianich from Friulli. But I wanted to go down south where the dish originates. You should still try these with something cheesy or creamy like risotto, the traditional Piemontese vitello tonnato (which is boiled veal in tuna mayonnaise) or anything with seafood, of course.

In the end, this is what I found and which I suggest for a baked cheese and tomato dish like Eggplant Parmigiana:

COS Rami Sicilian White (as early as 2012) This is a very unconventional winery which specializes in local, indigenous grape varieties and abides by biodynamic production methods. The particular grapes showcased in COS’s Rami are Inzolia and Grecanico.

 photo3(1)
photo5(3)But what I ended up choosing was a Sicilian Viognier by Calatrasi & Miccichè. This would be good also with a chicken dish in a cream sauce or a creamy mushroom risotto- perhaps not exactly Sicilian foods but just to give you an idea what Viognier could also match well with.
Photo from the googleland

Photo from the googleland

 

I picked this because Viognier tends to be a richer white wine, what I like to call a greasy wine which give a nice full mouth watering start and long finish but not too fruity or aromatic, with just a tinge of petrol on the nose which for me is also why I call it greasy. This was a great wine pair for a saucy, creamy ricotta filled Eggplant Parmigiana which I proudly made, by grilling (not frying) the eggplant, and whipping up the tomato sauce from scratch with heirloom umami rich tomatoes, garlic, herby olive oil from the most recent fall’s pressing and fresh basil.

I'm hungry just looking at this ricotta eggplant burger looking thing.

I’m hungry just looking at this ricotta eggplant burger looking thing.

In my posts regarding food and wine pairing, I don’t go into the tasting notes too much because I just want readers to know what’s good in my opinion and to find out for themselves. Wine is all about opinion. And these are my suggestions that you can take or leave. This is my blog and this is what I think.

In my humble opinion,

Curious Appetite