You may be wondering what is this pile o’ mush???? I swear, it’s not a mush! It is my special zucchinighetti with fried zucchini flowers on top… Continue Reading →
Month: August 2013
In August, It is a bit challenging to find good restaurants open as a lot of businesses close up and say “I’m blowing this popsicle stand- I’m off to the beach!” It is not impossible to find good places open, it just becomes more of a challenge.
Dear anyone planning a visit to Italy in August- THERE ARE FEW PLACES OPEN AND LOCALS AROUND IN AUGUST!! DON’T BE SURPRISED!! Call restaurants ahead of time!
I called Il Santo Bevitore in Santo Spirito (my favorite neighborhood and the last Florentine quarter that hasn’t yet been ruined by crap shops and plastic tourism) and they were thankfully open. With every morsel of delight, I highly recommend Il Santo Bevitore in Florence.
Some people say this restaurant is for tourists. Or rich schmoozy expats. I disagree. It is not the typical Italian mom and pop trattoria where service is non-existent and cuisine charismatically inconsistent. It is, however, for those who appreciate dining culture, graceful service, a handpicked wine list, cozy candle-lit aesthetic and beautifully thoughtful food. Yes, the price is not 5 euros for a pasta but for those extra 5 you get something truly incredible.
In restaurants, I almost never order a risotto. This is a pretty cliché dining intolerance among snooty gourmands. However, the menù tickled my intrigue…curiosity one may say. It was a black squid ink risotto with squid and cuttlefish. I love fish and anything seppia nera (black squid). I said yes…I will take a risk.
It was the best 10 euros spent on any 1st plate any fish and/or risotto groupie could wish for. The rice was perfectly chewy but not slimy. Dancing with umami…the fish had an unbelievable buttery texture and it seemed like the chefs made this risotto to order. Creamy, layered and luscious, you may now forget about any distrust you had for a resto risotto…
**This was not the plate I enjoyed..I was too busy in sensorial bliss to document that moment with a foodporn shot. I suppose you will just have to go and try it on your own.
The most unexpected surprise was the few slices of nutty soft cheese almost slightly Parmigiano in nature nestled on top just barely softened by the warmth of the fresh churned risotto.
The wine of the night was a super Tuscan white blend of chardonnay and malvasia. It was luxurious synergy on your palate. Gushing with euphoric acidity. This dinner- my curious readers- was indeed one of the most orgasmic gastronomic experiences I’ve been blessed with this year in Florence. Bravisssimi.
To finish, we had an amaro made from honey of the Brunello producing region of Tuscany (Montalcino). It was divine…reminiscent notes of a cardamom creamsicle. I am very much an adorer of amari (after-dinner bitter liquors) and get quite disappointed going to bars and restos only to see the usual sugary suspects of Amaro del Capo, Montenegro and if you’re lucky Amaro Lucano. So when I saw a honey Amaro from Montalcino, I nearly blushed…these guys at Il Santo Bevitore in Florence have it right: they are tasteful and artful with every detail of the menù.
I bid you a sweet a due…my dear curious eaters,
I love that in Italy, August is the national month of vacation. Towards the end of July, people go around saying “I’ll see you in September!” and this appreciation for leisure is partly why the Italian life is so hard to give up.
I went to Elba for a week. I’m not going to bore you with cultural facts and history (boring!).
My idea of a vacation is eating, working out (on getting a wicked sweet tan aka lying on the beach), drinking and lounging. And not feeling guilty for having brioche everyday at breakfast overlooking the sea. Fresh fruit and sweet island baby tomatoes. Crisp minerally wine. FISH. Oh man, I learned how to make octopus! I’ll make that adventure in a new post.
Elba island is off the Tuscan coast and can be reached easily by ferry from Piombino. It is one of the most authentic vacation spots with thriving fishing villages. Their wine and agriculture sector is exploding and bursting with deliciousness. The weather is perfect for ripe wine grapes and catches the perfect amount of breeze from the sea. The summer fruit like peaches and susine are simply incredible and juicy. However, this is not historic. In the sense that, Elba was originally a mining center and agriculture is just now starting to take root. If you are an Italophile like me, I highly recommend a stay in Portoferraiofor a real taste of Italian island life off the typical tourist path. If you do, do not miss a visit to one of the most beautiful wine bars I have ever been to in my life: Enoteca della Fortezza. They showcase Slow Food Italy wines from Elba and it is so not expensive! And you can get small platters and purchase bottles of wine on-site. Of course, you can sit outside with a view of the sea…che bellezza!
Enjoy the slide show!
For the longest time, I refused to visit Venice. Once I learned that there is only one Venetian for every hundred tourists, I had no desire to be apart of that statistic. Tourists are a necessary good in the world, but in cities like Venice and Florence, we become exhausting to the locals. Can you imagine living in a city that is a disneyland with people blocking your commute with their wanderlost stuck in a map or drooling with their heads cocked up at some random monument? Blocking the paths while posing for their obsession with documenting every single detail (um, has anyone ever tried to guess how many millions of other people have that same token shot off the Rialto bridge?) GOSH! C’mon!
I decided to break my boycott.
What I took away: Spritz and cichèti! YUMMM!!!! I discovered the glorious world of cichèti! Cichèti is Venetian finger food (like tapas!). It’s the revolution of the tavola calda, the mecca of the happy hour, the game changer of the aperitivo and paradise for seafood lovers and the hell for anyone with shellfish allergies. I feel so sorry for those people.
Drink: Spritz is a Venetian cocktail comprised of a bitter liqueur (campari, aperol, cynar, etc) prosecco and soda water.
Cost? In Florence, a spritz can be like 6€ (screw that!!!) in Venice, if you get out of the crap tourist traps, you’ll pay no more than 3€ and they are the best in Venice. My favorite was the Cynar variety (a bitter amaro liqueur made from artichoke, so good for your liver?).
A cynar spritz is served with one of those delicious fatty green olives and a slice of lemon. Perfect for potato chips and general sipping. Or, for many Venetians, perfect for that 11am pick-me-up. 😉
What I found most odd was the Venetian style of gazzosa, which is usually a soft drink like a lemon soda, etc. But what I drank in Venice included a light local red wine with sprite. EWWW you might think (as did I) but on a warm day on the lagoon, it’s not so bad.
Basically, cicheterie have a drool worthy spread of various first courses and fishy dishes like stuffed octopus, calamari salad, baccalà and polenta, baccalà mantecato (a puree of cod), baked mussels, scallops, pine nut and raisin laced sardines…the list is making me hungry just re-hashing it.
Do you have any favorite nibbles and sips from Venice? Share! 🙂
Until next time,
Want some restaurant and general travel advice for visiting Venice? Perhaps tips for a culinary tour in Venice? Contact me.
Do you know how to pick out fish from the market? Do you even buy fish?
I was recently sitting around the dinner table with friends and we were discussing fish and how asian cultures fight over who gets to eat the fish eyes and camp out at their local fish monger to get 1st dibs on the fish heads. And we also discussed about how ones Sicilian grandma used to know a good fish by how its liver felt or how its eyes were glazed. And how now his mom (his grandmothers daughter) can just barely pick out the freshest whole fish, having lost that knowledge from her mother on how to judge a fish by its gallbladder.
Being American, I was fascinated by this discussion. Most of us go to the shop to buy filets. Or frozen breaded packaged stuff. If we even eat the stuff at all. As much as I love food and want to deepen my relationship with it by gardening and cooking from scratch, fish intimidates me. As I suspect for most people. The only fish I know how to prepare well is salmon, and that’s because it is from my culture being from the Pacific Northwest where salmon defines our culinary identity.
My mom taught me how to buy salmon whole. How to cook it, skin it and de-bone it. This is a small beginning to American gastronomic heritage. This is what I fear we are loosing, all over the world. Gastronomic heritage.
I don’t know how to shop for good fish, and there should not be a manual. This post is not a series of top ten tips or even the 7 things you must know about fresh fish. What I think people need to do is to talk to people. Talk to your grandma or grandpa. Meet your fish monger. Find the nearest fishing terminal/port. Get to know your favorite restaurant staff. Hell, even talk to the barman at your local fisherman’s pub. These things in gastronomic heritage are things we must pass down by story telling. We must pass down through our relationships, not with some sterile blog who the author behind it you will never meet. Make a fish bake date with your grandparents or someone elses. Even if you don’t like fish, it’s probably a good idea to hang out for dinner with your Nan.
Also, I think it is important to understand how much fish are at risk. Fish are at pathetic populations, swimming in polluted seas. You must also understand how farmed fish is not the answer, at least industrial chemically farmed fish. I sometimes can’t believe how people put things in their mouths without understanding the whole story behind it, or at least part of it.
These are a few great resources about fish and fishermen.
L’assassinio del mare by Michele Santoro (For those who speak Italian)
Whatever you do, just at least to try to have a 15 minute conversation about your family gastronomic heritage. Just 15 minutes.
With all of my best,