Saturday, November 26, 2011

Riconoscente (Thankful)

  Ok, here's the short list:

  Mom & Dad.
  Dear Brothers.
  Extraordinary Nieces and Nephews.
  Cousins and their Families, always in my thoughts.
  Extended Family, whom I share such history with.
  Friends, though I am most often missing in action.
  Really Good Food.
  Living by the Beach.
  The Gallery.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Food In New York

  Today I couldn't decide where to go...Paris, Napa, Venice, Panicale... tough decision, for sure. But since I'm hungry, I choose more food in New York. Why not get the stomach righteously growling? Why not lust once more after those amazing flash fried mushrooms? 
  We were only in the city for two nights, so we really packed it in on that last evening. Since we hadn't had much of a lunch, or breakfast, for that matter, we were really ready to chow down by late afternoon... We had stopped for a small bite while visiting MOMA, but that was hours ago. Back in our hotel room, we freshened up and headed out for a glass of wine and some tapas. It was a nice evening, with lots of people milling about... we stayed in the West Village, so there were plenty of places to check out. 
  I was looking for this tapas place again, but we just couldn't find the one I wanted. What we did find, was this great little pizza by the slice place on Bleeker Street. Johnny almost started crying when we peeked in the window. This is his idea of heaven on earth. He is a man who loves his flatbread. Pizza, foccacia, bruschetta... Johnny can't get enough. So the sight of this awesome array of thin pizzas, topped with various goodies, and available by the slice..., well, we had to stop in. I was plenty willing, knowing this would be an appetizer stop, with dinner still to come later on. I told you, we were going for it.

It reminded us of places we love in Italy.
 We were greeted by a delightful young woman, who gave us the rundown... we each picked what we wanted to share, along with a couple of glasses of the decent house red. We were the only customers, since it was between lunch and dinner time, so we had the place to ourselves. I don't like to "take-out" much, so we grabbed a small table in the tiny garden area in back. It was small, but sweet, and I imagined it after dark, with all the little lights on. As we found our way out back, we enjoyed seeing the small dining rooms....

Small, and really kind of cool...Garden to the left...
   The waitress who had taken our order brought us our wine, and we were able to chat a little with her. She is from Rome, and we chatted about our favorite spot,  Pizzeria Remo, which she knew of, of course. Then off to heat up our slices...
  Johnny ordered a cacio and pepe slice, while I went for potato and rosemary:

Warm and melty, just the way we like it!
   The thing that just rocks this pizza, is that the crust is super thin and slightly over done, so it's crunchy when you bite into it. It's gooey and not too hot... oh, yum. Also, the slices are cut into 3 pieces, so it makes it so easy to share. I loved that it was served just on parchment paper.

Potato and rosemary, raise your hands!

I mean, really. This isn't even fair. Cacio cheese and almost too much black pepper.
 And melty.
  Please, will someone open a place just like this in my neighborhood? Inexpensive, tasty, lots of veg options, and good wines by the glass. There was a regular menu, too, but for a grab and go, or just a tasty little bite, this was perfect. When in the area, We say go, man, go!

  So after our mini pizza break, we walked around for some time, checking out the halloween decorations that were everywhere, since it was just a day or two away. We enjoyed window shopping, stopped for another glass of wine, and had a grand time, as we looked for somewhere to have dinner. Eventually, we stumbled across a restaurant we had eaten at back in 2007, when we were last in New York. We loved it then, and decided to go for it again.
  I know what you're thinking. "Janelle. You are in freaking NYC! There are zillions of great restaurants to try! Why go back to someplace you have already been to?!? And, oh, what about that whole 'food truck' thing you wanted to check out?" Oh, I had big plans, let me tell you. But it was getting late, and dark, and we were hungry... so. Call me a weeny, I don't care.

   Sant Ambroeus has a few locations, and they are known for pastries and gelato, among other Milanese sweet treats. We like that it was walking distance, and had a small area to dine outdoors. It's on a corner, with seating all along the sidewalk, so we had fun watching West Village life go on all around us. Shocking that we had a lovely meal outside, and two days later, the whole city was cremated by an early freak snow storm. But at 9pm on the night we were there, it was really nice.
  After deciding on wine, a Barbera D'Asti, we started with a "carciofi" salad- thin slices of artichoke heart, dressed simply with lemon/olive oil  and served with arugula and shards of parmesan. (Let me stop here for just a moment. I will order this type of salad every time I see it on a menu, hoping that someday I will get what I really want....  the salad we had with my Mom & Dad at the restaurant Edi Piu in Lastra A Signa, near Florence. Sigh... We must go back there some day.)

 Carciofi salad. Ok, but I can do this at home. 
  I won't make excuses... we both love pasta. Get over it. Wait, maybe I need to get over it, and quit feeling like I have to make excuses. I shout it from the rooftops... "WE LOVE PASTA!" So anyway- I ordered the luscious and wonderfully rich Ravioli Alla Zuccha. Here, they used pumpkin, and served it with crushed amoretti cookies in a browned butter/sage with balsamic reduction... ooooh. The slight tartness of the balsamic really worked with the sweetness of the pumpkin.

Silky richness....

  My lovely husband, god bless him, went for the Risotto Al Tartufo. As well as all flatbreads and pastas, Johnny does enjoy his risotto. He is fantastically predictable. Just give him carbohydrates and he is happy. Works for me, because there is always some other pasta-type dish I want to try on all the menus. The risotto was great, not too truffle-y.

Beautiful. Just a little parmesan, please.

   We really went for it and ordered two veggie sides, roasted brussel sprouts and asparagus. I do these at home all the time, but am always game to have them served to me. And may I say, they really won me over with the brussel sprouts. These were just hammered, the way I love them... almost too much, but no. We grew up eating them this way, cooked to within a breath of being burnt. If you know anyone who says they hate brussel sprouts, cook them just like this.
  They will be converts. Brussel Sprout converts. Hehehehehe.

Just like Mom makes.

Roasted asparagus...good, but nothing super special.

   It was an enchanting evening, with lots of people out and about, getting ready for Halloween, (not snow, poor bastards), and we really enjoyed our meal. I stand by our decision to eat here - again.

We may just go back next time, too.

  So, you want to know what we did next? I kid you not, we went back to I Tre Merli for another bowl of Flash Fried Mushrooms with Truffle Oil. Well, we really went for dessert, but who the hell were we kidding? We were lucky to get a table, and as soon as we looked at the menu, it was all over. I just looked at Johnny and said it.. "I really want those mushrooms again. Is that so wrong?" 
  I will never find them here, so what's a girl to do? Over the top? I think not. We are very good when we are at home, eating right, walking our multitudes of miles every freaking day, being careful with our pennies. Johnny was totally up for it. 
  Mushrooms it was, my friends.
  Let's just have a second look, shall we?

Crunchy, crunchy, salty, creamy, yummy, yummy, yummy. 
Seeing this makes me want to cry. I am dead serious.
   Yeah, it was sweet. And we actually did share a dessert. A chocolate thingy that was really good, and a perfect end to our culinary adventures in New York.

Dessert was all chocolate-y and warm.

  Until Panicale, we are trying very hard to watch our pocketbooks and waistlines, so we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I sure enjoy going back in time to relive some great meals, don't you?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Old School in Napa Valley

  Man, it's been a wild, miles-laden Fall...... The New York exhaustion wasn't even over before we jumped in the car to visit Mom & Dad in Sonoma this week. Always fun, we try to get in a lunch or dinner out during our time together. Also, dominoes, cooking, drinking wine, a walk, a nap or two, etc.
  We have been going up the Sonoma Valley for our outings on the last few trips, so we decided to check out Napa Valley this time. There is nothing like the wine country in the Fall.... the vines are all in their massive glory, showing off autumn colors like they are on fire. So pretty... but what we really enjoyed was our first time to the Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg. Company. What a fantastically cool place! Leave it to my folks to be all over this totally old school store. They were surprised we hadn't been there together before...
  It was funny, because we stopped earlier to check out the much ballyhooed Ox Bow Market, in Old Town Napa, and came out shaking our heads. Sure, it's nice, with all the "foodie" bells and whistles covered (for a price), but it was so over done, kind of cold, and just seemed to be trying too hard. I wanted to love it, but instead, I know I will most likely never be back. Sorry, dudes.
  On the other hand......
  In business since the early 30's, the family run Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg. Co. is the real deal. They don't have to try to be "rustic" or "country", they just are what they have always been. One look around and you know this. There are thousands of business cards all over the walls, and hanging from the ceiling... Some from years and years ago, all faded and simple. An old poster of Lucca, shot from the air, hangs on one wall. Cement floors....

Loads of Italian specialty items on the shelves

  This isn't a big place, but it's packed with everything you would want from an Italian specialty store. They process their own olive oil and have shelves filled with all kinds of Italian goodies. There is a nice selection of cheeses as well as several types of cured meats and salami. Polenta in all it's forms, along with buckets of dried beans. Spices, farro, lentils....even little candies like Aunt Mary Alfieri gave us at Christmas time every year!

The cheese cooler

  We've all been wooed by the whole "foodie" trend and it's massive marketing.  I just love that this place runs rings around the upscale, overpriced and underwhelming "fancy" food stores in the area. You can not replicate this kind of operation. great in risotto and with polenta, dried porcini on the right.

Small bottles or big jugs of the family olive oils....

  Though I am a vegetarian now, I can completely appreciate the sight and smell of a bunch of salami. As a kid, salami was always a staple around our house. The ever fragrant, powdery skinned logs - o - pork are still popular at all the family gatherings. I have a total, pure image of my big brother, David, standing at the kitchen counter slicing salami to put out on a platter for all. 
  As kids, we could not get enough. I loved how you would get a nice thick slice, and pull the casing off... it would be salty and peppery, with just enough fat to make you want to sigh. My favorite school lunch bag sandwich was salami and cheese, with sweet "bread and butter" pickle slices. Of course on white bread. 

No mistaking these bad boys.... just a gentle but tasty memory for this long time vegetarian...

  We had to get a couple of treats... Mom wanted some pancetta, and Johnny couldn't leave without a jar of pesto and a bottle of that fab olive oil. As for me, I was strongly tempted by the dry beans, the incredible variety of pastas and the red tins of amoretto cookies, but I resisted. Regrets?  Ab-so-lute-ly. Fortunately, there's always next time. And, oh... there will be a next time.

More shelves full of delightfulness.

  The place is pretty small, with a front room that includes the check out counter and the totally awesome workbench where they cut up meats and cheeses for you. In the second room, (watch your step) there are the 5 gallon plastic buckets of bulk dried beans and all the shelves of what not. And all covered in business cards, like I mentioned.
  When we were there, there were a couple of women working the front area. Johnny was able to try out a few of his known words in Italian..."Quanto Costo?" He was answered with a swift "Venti due". Man, did that make his day....

Front check out area with old school style meat and cheese slicing workbench.

  We had a grand time, and I will so look forward to another visit. Afterwards, it was off to lunch in St. Helena.... but that will be for another post here in Live Pronto land.

Pretty, eh? Check it out next time you are in the Napa Valley.