Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Siena, Padova, Verona, Lucca, Venice, Modena…the North of Italy is ripe with progressive cities each with their own typical dishes, histories and distinguished personalities. Although I have seen my fair share of Italy, the bulk of my travels placed me in less touristy Southern cities. The arrival of Chaney meant a short trip was in order, just North of Florence. So here we are folks…Bologna.

Bologna is a noticeably slow paced melting pot of Intellectualism, Old City Red Brick charm, Contemporary Art, Political activism, Queer Theory and a style of cooking all its own.

As always here is the visual snapshot to the city streets which provide the soundtrack to my culinary adventures.

The residential streets are shielded by beautiful arches. Apartments rest atop the pedestrian streets below.

The leaning towers give distinctive charm to the University hub of the City Center
The fountain of Neptune stands proudly erect in a city with signifactly less public sculpture than Florence.

Chaney uses the advancement of modern technology to get “ups” in Piazza del Otto Agosto

Monday, October 29, 2007

Drunken Paradise

There are days where Wine indulgence takes over. A gloomy picturesque Florentine afternoon on a veranda turned into a zigzagged outing through the city streets. Destination, “Da Vino”. A Wine shop like no other I have ever seen…Italy and beyond.

“Da Vino” is a table wine emporium where tubular circuitry connects barrels to a portal which fills up used bottles, bags, boxes (anything goes folks). Deal is, you bring your used bottles and fill them with Deep Tuscan Reds, just pressed Olive Oil, Vin Santo, Crisp Southern Whites etc. Average cost is €3 per bottle.

The Brooklyn dinner party debauchery is unfathomable.

The day Trip

Sometimes a good walking tour is in order! Despite an overt reluctance to participate in group activities which deem me obviously American, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity for a heavily discounted afternoon of exercise and intrigue. And since I have now been joined by my boy Chaney it would make sense to sacrifice this minor pride on behalf of showing him the beauty of Tuscany. Here are the highlights.

We arrive in Fiesole a short distance from Florence and begin a hike overlooking Chianti vineyards, Olive Groves and the cluttered layered distant personality of Florence.

Chaney and I bicker lovingly, the Brooklyn backdrop replaced by green pastures.

We eat Wild Cherries from the side of the path. Baby Sophie likes them as much as I do.

Wild Berry’s, fresh Capers and Mushrooms dot our path.

Like a child myself, I steeply climb to overlook the mountainous residual marble which ordains the cities pillars; the medium for its opulence.

We arrive at a grand Villa and inevitably envision a life complete with gaudy chandeliers, large mirrors and an art collection of stiff historical figures sucking in their guts. And of course, Chaney poses. Its what you do.

We complete our day with wine and food; a typical, but not extraordinary selection of cured meats, cheese and crostini’s. Kid’s portions of Pasta and Risotto follow ;)

Grazie Eric for a beautiful walk through the hills of Tuscany.

Pizza, sempre!

I may no longer be in the Pizza capitol’s of Italy, but I remain skilled at seeking out the best a city has to offer. So if you thought otherwise, know that my Pizza intake and fascination remains a constant while here in Florence.

Ill save the Chicago Mafia flour conspiracy for another post. Always a new twist with Pizza…

"Bar Food" re-visited

Not since my time in Milano have I talked about "Bar food", but it continues to inspire an idea I have for my own restaurant in NY and fill me up when a traditional dinner is not an option. Here an overpriced glass of my favorite whisky is justified by 3 plates of good, but not great local Italian fare; smartly omitting a sit down meal from my evenings trajectory.

My free meal consisted of Pasta with rendered Pancetta and Tomato, Affettati misti, a selection of cheeses, mini pizza’s, raw vegetables and breadsticks.

A larger discourse : http://msteadyeats.blogspot.com/2007/06/bar-food-numero-uno.html

The first meal : Back in Firenze

I am back in Florence after my stint deep in the Brunello hills, slightly daunted by city choice and broader cultural observations. As I navigate through the hordes of Tourists and repeatedly past the looming Duomo my focus inevitably turns to my first meal…

I have had bad luck with “first meals” upon entering Cities I will soon call home. My anxiety about wanting to feel in touch with local cuisine at affordable prices brings on moments of jealousy from fellow diners and confusion on where to begin and end my meal. In the case of Florence I want to see past the typical plates of familiarity and into the minds of the chefs who not only have to prepare quality food, but also impress tourists with minor flair and diversity.

I chose Cibreo; an intriguing monopoly of a single corner consisting of a Trattoria, Restaurant, Cafe and Theatre. The Trattoria was my destination of choice. And what will unfold is indeed a very good review. To be clear there is a science to my specific food touristy goals; an exact arrival time which will leave me in their hands just after the rush (not dissimilar to my knack for being “the last in the club”).

I begin…

I had sworn off Tripe ever since allowing my favorite restaurant in NY to have once disappointed in its preparation, but it is a typical dish that I knew had to be tried at least once in Florence. For those who do not know, Tripe is usually taken from one of the first three of four Stomach chambers of a Cow (and in some cases Sheep and/or Pig). What arrived was a salad like, tepid bundle of translucent tender flesh in a marinade of Carrot, Celery, Parsley and hot Pepper lightly bathing in dreamy Tuscan Olive Oil. It was simply as good as I could imagine any single starter. Perfectly light, subtly spicy, tender and small portioned.

I could tell the staff was warming to me and could see my eyes begin to swell with curiosity. As a solo diner it is in my interest to win over the front of house who are my only connection back to the kitchen. This and they are the only ones able to answer questions I may have about the menu…in Italian of course ;), my distinguishing “I am NOT a tourist” recently acquired weapon.

For my second course I ordered a simple soup of Zucca, “Passata di Zucca”. I wanted to ease into the meal and I too often opt for Pasta even when Soup is prominently represented as a primi. As other pasta dishes exited the kitchen I began to grow weary of my choice. That is until it arrived. A sweet broth of smooth Pumpkin perfectly whipped (and likely strained repeatedly) into a light broth. Had it been embellished by the addition of cream, I wouldn’t have known. Atop was a carefully applied drizzle of Olive Oil which gently glided above the soup’s surface forming a beautiful shape. Next to it a sprinkle of Cinnamon sugar, a combination not only smart and appetizing but more than “presentable”. This duo of garnish allowed each bite to take on just slightly different characteristics. I hate nothing more than to tire of dishes before completion.

To be clear, I have a three squash soup recipe that verges on perfection, so my opinion about this soup was formed with near impossible standards. I explained to the chef that I made a similar dish, but garnished with shaved sharp cheddar and Walnut Oil. I think he wanted to give me a hug, but instead brought out a free dish for me to sample. Yes, folks I had arrived!

What came next was a dish I had seen prepared just two days ago in Montalcino, "pappa al pomodoro". A paste of day old bread blended into a Tomato Sauce where Basil takes on the role of ingredient. It was a dish I found intriguing, but not overwhelmingly tasteful, until it appeared in front of me at Cibreo. It managed to be light and sweet and the Basil’s minty finish was complex. However, I was beginning to get full and knew a main course was on its way.

Enter Chicken neck stuffed with chicken alongside Mayonaise; a dish I wish I liked but couldn’t stomach. I have always been honest about when I think a dish is good (ie. well executed) but that I do not like. The fact is I just couldn’t get past the texture and almost rancid after taste. That combined with the presentation put me in a difficult place. I didn’t want the staff to lose interest pleasing me, but I wasn’t going to eat something I simply didn’t like. So I let it be known. When asked if I liked it, I said the following “Io capito e il presentazione e bellisimo, ma…solo no piache molto. Forse il sapore e non per me” = “I understand the dish and it is presented beautifully, but I just don’t like it. Perhaps it is not to my taste”. She understood and returned with another Secondi of her choice to bring me back to a point of happiness.

My final dish (um, I was full) was reconstituted Salt Cod stewed with Potato. A stringy Crab like mesh of deep flavors stewed slowly. It was a comforting homey dish to end my meal.

I chatted about my journey thus far in Italy, finished my wine and said graciously that I would return for dessert when my friend from NY had arrived. For now I was just too full to continue.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It's that time

It’s that time…to move on!

As I say gear up to say goodbye to my quaint…non functioning, cold and far away…Tuscan hideaway (and the incredible view) I would like shout out the memories which made this experience otherwise livable.

To all the Cheese, especially Pecorino (in all its beautiful varieties) and aged Sardinian Parmesan.

If you get the feeling your cheese might be gearing up to go bad…go on, make a quatrro (or more) formaggi sauce! I won’t be mad at you. Serve it with pasta or atop Polenta as we do in our Antipasti Casa.

To Ribolitta, A traditional Tuscan soup of left over Minestrone, re-ignited with stale bread and in our case baked with cheese atop. Its gotten damn cold here in the hills. Thank you Ribolitta…for being you.

To our Antipasta di Casa. You will be missed, but not forgotten.

To the nights spent alone with damn good Wine and little (ok, niente) else to do…

A special mention goes to this cat. Of the 6 cats on the property (not including the bitsy strays), he was not only the friendliest, but also had a way of always matching my outfit.

And to all the meat...

…Its time for me to go! Ciao