Thursday, June 28, 2007

More to Napoli...

More than just Pizza and garish Nativity Scenes (Presepi), Naples is a complex, seedy and enchanting city. I had been warned in the “North” about the crime and the cities outward decay, but my upbringing forces me to want to bump to a cities pulse firsthand and allow what and where I eat to inform my comfort zones. What I had heard was indeed visible; Prostitution was abundant in surprisingly close proximity to my Hotel, the Mercato overrun by imitation and immigrant disillusionment, the streets alarmingly dirty and petty thieves as present and irritating as the mosquito’s in the Navigli, but of course there is more…

I was magnetized to Via Tribunali, and it was here, each day, that Naples unfolded with more and more life and gave me the comfort (and base) needed in every new City. Distinguishing itself from other “Centro” districts I have seen, Naple’s “Old City” wasn’t as lawless as Palermo. It felt insular and homey, rooted and loyal to its history, elements I always appreciated about Brooklyn. Like other Italian cities I’ve been to, zooming Vespa’s, painfully attractive men, impressive dried pasta selections and stunning Churches and Castles were omnipresent.

I felt guilty about only focusing on Pizza, knowing that the cities inhabitants, however proud, wanted to be known for more. Still, if I asked someone why they came to Brooklyn and their reply was “Pizza”, or any food for that matter, I would smile and possibly marry them ;). Although I could have had Pizza for every meal, I trusted a local and did have an exceptional meal of Seafood Spaghetti alongside a Contorni Mista one afternoon at Antica Trattoria Da Carmine.

For a “Digestive”, I stopped into “Limoné” (, the Lemoncello headquarters to learn how it is made and now have a trustworthy connection; making importing feasible when the time is right…

Tonight, it is back to Pizza before I head to the Agriturismo in Paestum, Salerno early tomorrow morning.


What else is a Brooklyn Boy to do but stop in Naples for Pizza…

Me eating pizza...





(Editor’s note: Images of Pizza tend to look the same ;)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Weekly Round Up: Milano

Milan’s food scene can be hard to discover, but its classic Trattorria’s and Osteria’s, once found, show distinct local ingredients used proudly with influence from surrounding Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagno. Cured Meats, Cheese Plates are the norm as are traditional Primi’s (mainly pastas) and Secondi’s (meats) which shine when simple and summer fresh. Because of the cities haute leanings some choose modernity and showy techniques while others keep it simple.

Of the Antipasti’s I tasted this week, none was more aesthetically nouveau than the caramelized Shallot tartin at the prestigious L’Osteria Grand Hotel (75 Via Acanio Sforza). Rich, darkened, silky Shallots nestled freely in a light pastry shell accompanied by a buttery formaggio “fonduta”. Garnished with a single Chive and Red Pepper, the dish was otherworldly for its rich but fresh approach. At the considerably more down-home Latteria San Marco (24 Via San Marco), chef Arturo made a distinctly summer cold soup hybrid called “Crudaiola” which is comprised of blended Lettuce, Carrot, Fennel, Tomatoes, and Basil served with Bulgar Wheat. His wife Maria (who runs front of house) instructed my friend and I to first mix the dish and then drench it with fresh Olive Oil. Like a Gazpacho this dish packed an earthy summer punch and was distinctly seasonal. The love the husband and wife team clearly share (the menu is of them facing one another in baroque garb; king and queen of this culinary institution) informed all of their beautifully simple dishes.

At the centrally located, but hard to find Bottiglieria Da Pino (14 Via Cerva), the charming Ferry Brothers wowed me with an affordable and luxurious lunch menu. For just 13 Euro I got a beautiful Cured Meat Plate, a Primi, Secondi, Wine and dessert! The most memorable of dishes was their Risotto of fresh Tomatoes. Never could I have imagined that the watery and light freshness of a ripe tomato could resist being weighed down by a dense creamy risotto, but perhaps I have underestimated how “clean” and light a Risotto could be. Instead of overindulging in Salt and Parmesan this dish shined for its colorful straightforwardness. Another perfect Primi was the Spaghetti Carbonara at Letteria San Marco. Pancetta and Zucchini found their synergy in a salty concoction sans egg white. The tender Zucchini and Rich golden Pancetta were so perfectly matched that no garnish or extra flair could compete to enhance the dishes distinctly rich flavors.

In the Summer months, Meats which are traditionally braised in rich sauces are boiled instead and Anchovy and Parsley pastes (Gremolata’s) replace rich gravy’s. Often served with a lettuce and Tomato fresca, these dishes are tender but not falling off the bone. The best Secondi I had was at the rustic blue collar lunch spot, Tratorria Madonnina (6 Via Gentilino). Sliced Boiled beef slathered in a rich anchovy, parsley, lemon garnish was salty and defined; bright and tangy. But for sweetness and simplicity Letteria’s Ossobuco had the most character. Arturo revealed that the Carrots were added alongside the meat, rather than before braising to guarantee their sweet shine. A local Milanese dish, often relegated to cold Winter nights, transformed into a summer breeze of tender meat and natural sugars. Served with a couscous and drenched in Olive Oil, I ate it slowly and efficiently saving the buttery Marrow for the last spectacular bite.

Having resisted what felt like a million cheese boards I caved in for a slice of Madonnina’s Tellagigo cheese. With still a sip of my Vino Bianco left, I savored each savory creamy bite.

Most nights I walked off my meal before enjoying a Gellato, rather than concluding my restaurant meals with a dessert. I will work on my dessert bias in the coming months. Till then Gelato is the most affordable and social acceptable end (or beginning ;) to a beautiful night in Italia.

Arrivederci Milano and gazie...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Bar Food" Numero Uno!

I am not only in Italy to eat “well”. I am here to better understand food and hospitality. With that said, I am OBSESSED with Bar Food, as an “idea”. In America, bars have “Happy Hours” during competing dinner time hours, 6-8pm. The goal, it would seem, is to get you drunk enough ;) to forget that you want to eat (or adjust your body’s needs with alcohol). Assuming you are having fun, you may skip dinner altogether. OR if you are smart and listen to your body you will leave and go eat a healthy dinner. In this instance the restaurant has won ($). You were frugal at the bar (drinks were discounted) and now have a surplus of money and slightly altered judgment to go eat. You might even splurge!

In Milan (and other parts of Italy) you are given a buffet during their Happy Hour (7-9pm). The difference is manifold. Firstly, they are not competing with Dinner hours. You are being offered food to coincide with your discounted drinks before you would normally go eat (remember dinner is considerably later here). AND because it’s Italy (yes, even Milan) the food is good. Not amazing, but reputable, hearty and there is choice. You are not limited to how much you eat, although it is customary to only refill your plate with each drink (my inference). The first time I was greeted with Bar Food, it included a Crudités selection (Red Pepper, Carrots, Celery and FENNEL!), 4 rice balls/croquettes, 2 different sandwiches (one with Tuna, the other Prosciutto and Mozzarella), 2 different Pizzas (one Margarita, the other Anchovy), Nacho Chips and two dipping sauces (a sweet Tomato salsa, the other a Olive Oil and Balsamic).

My next encounter with Bar Food was considerably better. On my Father’s recommendation I headed for a Taverna/Birreria for “Cheap Beer, Carpaccio and Risotto”. I decided to go towards the end of Happy Hour time, 8:30PM. I had been walking all day and was ready for a cold Pint! Upon arrival I was asked if I wanted a full meal in the Taverna or to help myself to the beautiful display of food. I glanced over, thinking “is this a joke”, there is a full platter of cured meats!!! I’ll take the latter, Grazie! I kept thinking about all the jokes with my friends in Brooklyn about free food. They would die! So, I had…

3 cured meats, a cold Rice Salad (with Tuna, Corn, Tomato, Capers and Cheese), a pasta with Salami, Peas and Tomato Sauce, a salad with Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella, Garlic Bread, and some other cold salad ;). I debated about ordering additional food (the menu was indeed cheap and broad), but…no! Fact is I was full on 6 Euro and I am on a budget.

To be clear, my “obsession” with bar food is bigger than me liking free food. Lunches are taken seriously in Italia and being that I am here on a budget it is generally the most affordable way for me to try traditional cuisine (more on this shortly). SO, if I can indulge on lunch menus at reputable restaurants and fill up on bar food at night, I have a winning food tourist formula.

My other realization I have already outlined; I consider bar food a very smart “bar” idea, one that I would strongly consider bringing back to Brooklyn or integrating into future business ventures. I could sideline all the competition. That is why I am here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Designer Caffè?

Appropriate to Milano and all of Italia, I was greeted with a "Caffè?". An acclimation ritual of sorts. All cultures have lubricants disguised as greetings. Having lived in London, I eased effortlessly into the "cuppa tea?" tradition. And coming from the Starbucks obsessed hustle of New York City, the obligatory coffee was already superimposed in my daily psyche. In Sicily I watched even non coffee drinkers indulge happily in Espresso's, but in Milano I was offered a "Nespresso?" (!

What we see in American is a one-sided representation of "corporate" branding. Because of the scale and fragmented demographic data, America is keen to "dumb down". Lifestyle marketing is something that I thrived on, but I was always aware that what I did professionally, for brands, was meant to offset much larger strategies; to correlate brands with subcultures and emerging trends in order to deter the consumer from the larger media buys, and ultimately provide "cool factor" to a select group of influencers and not the mass consumer. The message was intended to "bubble up" as opposed to "trickle down".

In Europe, corporate brands have more tiers to their products. Exclusive lines if you will. I was surprised that my Nesspresso was Nestle branded...until I saw the packaging and focused offerings!

This is not my childhood cookie dough or cereal brand. This was Milan and I was being given not only choice of blends and uber packaging, but it it was being co-signed by my style conscious and coffee obsessed friends. Although they only drink theirs "short" and of the strongest blend "Nestretto", I was given choice...

I'm buzzing.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Peck ( is Milan's Dean & Deluca; the haute cuisine of gourmet shopping! Sounds pretentious?...not when it looks and smells this good.

If like me you can't afford (to carry ;) around expensive Preserves, Olive Oils, Cheese, Sausage, Balsamic Vinegar, rare produce and ravioli's, the experience of salivating, asking questions and talking to the staff is free!

An obligatory food destination!

A lite lunch ;)

Tre Funghi Cream "Lumaconi" Pasta

For a late lunch (people don't eat dinner until after 9pm) I made a pasta using 3 mushrooms and a splash of cream. Dusted with breadcrumbs instead of Parmesan. Simple and to the point.

I soaked dried Porcini's in boiling water and reserved the "broth" for the reduction. I sauteed the Mushrooms in Garlic and Olive Oil until golden crusted and tender (draining any excessive water released). I raised the temperature, added Shallots and reduced a touch of Vino Blanco. Once the alcohol was reduced I added the Porcini broth and the additional soaked Porcini's back into the pan. 10 minutes later I added a splash of cream and the pasta (along with a ladle full of the pasta water). I let the dish continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes for all the flavors and textures to mesh and for the desired texture of the Lumaconi. The best part of the dish was that the Mushrooms found their way into the snail shell shaped pasta, creating a mushroom cream burst with each bite.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Just cause...those who dress well....can afford to eat well ;). And because Fashion and Food have alot in common in Milano.


Milano. Ready to cook...

I was reticent to come to Milan. How do I continue my food voyage in a place with so many distractions; not only the outward Fashion (everywhere), Social Scene and Posing, but also a high end culinary tradition (subsidized often by fashion houses) where there is as much progressive/fusion (Armani/Nobu) and international cuisine as traditional Milanese fare.

I will have time to visit some key Trattoria's and Cafe's so I decided to get back to cooking, both as a thank you to miei amici for the their hospitality and as chance to pay homage to local ingredients I have read up on. Tonight I will focus on Veal (Vitello) and Saffron (Zafferano). While my friends sipped Gin and Tonic's, I got to work...

Appropriate to my Shrimp obsession, for the first course I made a Tomato Saffron based Soup of Scampi Fresce and Clams. I began by making a traditional vongole dish, working in stages; building the broth, straining it and adding new ingredients. I used a excellent Fazi Battaglia Blanco brought by Daniela for the reduction which we later drank with the dish.

I LOVE cooking for friends...

For the Secondi I made a traditional Veal Milanese served on a bed of Arugula (Ricola) and Tomato Salad. I had paid close attention in Sicily for clues on how to maximize the flavor, glisten and texture of this particular dish. I remember zeroing in on the dish, with each bite identifying the minutia of the process, thinking to myself "how can such a simple dish be so damn good". Aside from a great cut of farm raised meat, this is what I concurred...

Only use olive oil. Keep the heat low. Be patient (literally walk away). For the breading, use more dried Oregano than you think you should and only coat the cutlet in a small amount of beaten egg. Lastly (and most importantly) immediately after you turn the meat for the first time sprinkle more Oregano and squeeze fresh Lemon Juice. Serve the Veal that side up (the other side will need half as long to cook and will never have the same glisten).

Apparently the night is still young, so vamos...we go...