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In a state of hibernation. My backlog has long become unsustainable. Will probably tweet more and write less full-length stuff.

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Thursday
May192011

Open Colonna

For our second day in Rome, we had a big-deal dinner planned, so decided to go a little lighter for lunch. After doing some research online, I stumbled upon a weekend brunch offering close to our hotel at Open Colonna, a restaurant inside the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. The palazzo was refurbished into an art exhibition center in 2008, with a beautiful light-filled area tucked away in the back for restaurant use. Antonello Colonna, a dinner-only Michelin 1*, resides on the mezzanine, while Open Colonna opens for lunches and brunches on the main floor.

 

Brunch is €28 per person, and buffet-style tables are laid out in the center of the room, constantly being replenished. It's certainly not cheap, but this would rate as probably one of the fanciest buffets I have ever seen.

 

The space is quite simply gorgeous, and I'd say you're paying just as much to hang out here as you are to eat. I'm a total sucker for natural light, and this spacious glass box makes lunch at Zuni feel like a cave. It's an awesome juxtaposition of grand Roman palazzo on the outside and Dwell on the inside. My terrible photography skills do not do this room justice.

 

The food itself good, if not spectacular. This well-stocked cheese tray and salad bar was perfect for the build-your-own types. The creamy blocks of ricotta were fresh and delicious.

 

An awesome variety of prepared pasta/grain salads were also available, all of them quite tasty. These were the perfect light brunch fare we were looking for.

 

Rotating warm selections were quite good, with some hearty meatballs, sausages, potatoes, and grilled veggies. Zucchini frittatas provided eggs for those who need them.

 

And of course, a dessert table. Our choices on this day were a chocolate torte, a chestnut cake, and some kind of almond-based cake. All were a little on the sweet side for me, but the kids there seemed to love them.

 

We made our way upstairs to peek at the closed Antonello Colonna, where the serious food happens. In the first photo of this post, the mezzanine sits atop the wooden structure in the back. The main dining area is gorgeous as well, and we've duly noted to check this place out for dinner on a future trip.

 

Here's a look back down at Open Colonna from atop the mezzanine. As you can see, the place is very spacious, and comes complete with a little hangout/play area in the center for kids to run around in.

It was a very enjoyable brunch overall, and the space is worth visiting for all you design/architecture geeks out there. I love finding beautiful, modern design in the middle of old, historic places.

Monday
May162011

Tullio

Hi again all - sorry for the hiatus. I'm happy to report that I'll be going to grad school this fall, pursuing a Master's degree at the UC Berkeley School of Information. I'm very excited to start. It also means I've got this upcoming summer free, so get ready for a heavy dose of pictures from the rest of my Europe trip.

Continuing where I left off... after a short train ride from Florence to Rome, we were eager to see what the big city had on offer. I've been to Rome before (as a child and a teenager), and some of those old meals have stuck in my mind for a long time. Before I discovered sushi, Italian was my favorite kind of food, and that was largely due to some spectacular pastas I had in Rome when I was younger. On this most recent trip, I was excited to see if those great memories were the real deal, or just pure nostalgia.

 

We opted to have our first dinner at Ristorante Tullio, a nice but no-frills trattoria near Piazza Barberini. My dad thought it would be a good place to get some simple white truffles. The unassuming front is home to a very old-school Italian vibe, with gentlemanly waiters, bright lights, and simple decor. The crowd was a mix of older locals, a sprinkling of tourists, and, surprisingly, some young folks. We were seated next to an elderly couple who seemed like they had been going for 30 years, and a larger table of hip 20-somethings celebrating a birthday. It made for pretty good people watching, to say the least.

 

BAKED EGGS WITH WHITE TRUFFLES - €25The goal here was to get some simply-prepared white truffles. My dad opted for the egg version, shown above, which was baked lightly in the oven. The truffles were fragrant and powerful, and the eggs just the right level of runny. Truffles and eggs are a delicious combination, and this preparation was a perfect demonstration.

 

TAGLIOLINI WITH WHITE TRUFFLES - €50Geoff and I opted for the heftier tagliolini to start. These were truffles in their purest form, at home on a bed of buttery fresh pasta. It's my favorite way to eat them, and the quality of these truffles was top-notch. I've always found that truffle oils, butters, and other derived products do a good job of giving some truffle fragrance (though it can dissipate quickly), but only the real deal offers the intense taste of truffles. There's just no way to replicate it. It's costly, but at least these huge truffle shavings were very generous. This was heaven on a plate for a pasta lover like me.

 

ROASTED VEAL CHOP - €20The menu at Tullio is pretty straightforward. There's a bit of a Tuscan lean with various grilled meats that are simply prepared. I opted for this roasted veal chop, which was tender with a nice bit of char.

 

CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA - €7They have a wide selection of antipastis and sides. We went with artichokes cooked with herbs, garlic, and olive oil, a quintessential Roman preparation. Simple and tasty.

 

GIOLITTI GELATO (NOCCIOLA) - €8Conveniently, Tullio carries Giolitti, one of the big names in Italian gelato, which was on my list to try. I went with hazelnut, arguably my favorite ice cream flavor, and this version was delicious. A good balance of creaminess and flavor, without the overpowering sweetness.

 

FRAGOLINE DI BOSCO - wild strawberries with crema gelato - €8We also got an order of the fragoline di bosco, a species of little wild strawberries that are fairly common in Italy but virtually unseen here in the US. They're delicious - slightly tart and slightly sweet - and complemented perfectly with some crema-flavored gelato.

All in all, a great first meal in Rome. Nothing particularly groundbreaking, but a nice setup for the city. We certainly got our white truffle fix...

Monday
Feb282011

Cavolo Nero

Alas, it's time for the last meal I had in Florence. We had made arrangements to eat at Cavolo Nero, another inconspicuous neighborhood-looking restaurant on the south side of the river. My dad had been on his previous trips and had good experiences. Cavolo Nero has a more intimate vibe, with soft lighting accompanying a slightly more modernized menu. It would be a good place to impress a date while soaking in the romantic "we're in Italy!!" atmosphere.

 

PORCINI MUSHROOM SALAD WITH MULBERRIES AND VINAIGRETTE - €14We started with this salad of raw porcinis on a pretty wooden board. Nothing complicated here, just the wonderful simplicity of delicious porcini mushrooms.

 

CAULIFLOWER SFORMATINO WITH SAUCE OF PARMIGIANO REGGIANO - €10A souffle-like custard of cauliflower with a rich, salty, Parmigiano sauce.

 

MILLEFOGLIE OF EGGPLANT AND BUFFALO MOZZARELLA WITH PORCINIS AND TRUFFLES - €15This was quite an interesting dish - kind of like a white eggplant parm, minus the breadcrumbs. The grilled pieces of eggplant had a thick, almost meaty texture, but were slightly undercooked for my taste.

 

LINGUINE WITH BLACK TRUFFLESThey didn't have any white truffles on hand, but they did have some pretty good black ones. The pasta was cooked perfectly. This had a wonderful fragrance, but not quite the punch of the white truffles we'd gotten used to.

 

CHESTNUT RAVIOLI STUFFED WITH PANCETTA AND RICOTTA, IN A BUTTER, SAGE, AND BLUEBERRY SAUCE - €14Freshly-made, hefty ravioli with a rich filling of pork and ricotta - hard to go wrong. The standard butter/sage sauce was cut with a few blueberries, a subtle but nice twist.

 

PENNE GIGANTI WITH FLORENTINE TRIPE - €12None of us are generally fans of baked pasta, but this turned out to be a surprise favorite at the table. The baking lent a perfect mix of textures to the giant penne - chewy in some parts and crisp in others. Trippa alla fiorentina, as it turns out, is an ideal pasta sauce/topping. The tripe was delicious, and the lightness of the tomato sauce allowed the penne to really stand on its own.

 

FILLET OF SEA BASS WITH LEMON, LEEKS, AND BAY LEAF - €19We went pretty pasta-heavy this meal as usual, but wanted to try at least one of the secondi. We settled on this sea bass. The sauce had a wonderful aroma of leeks, and the meat was delicate and flaky. A great piece of fish all around.

 

PEAR TARTE TATIN - €7We finished off with this warm pear tart. Nicely cooked through, not too sweet, with just a thin layer of pastry. Very good.

Cavolo Nero is a perfect example of the stellar quality one can find throughout Florence. There are little neighborhood restaurants everywhere serving up superb pastas, and just a high level of food in general. I know there must be tons of places that none of us have even heard about. Oh, the joy of eating in Italy.

Next up is Rome, where we returned to some of the places I went to on my first trip to Italy. Stay tuned...

Thursday
Feb032011

Ristorante Cibreo

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! I'm in Hong Kong enjoying some awesome Chinese eats this week. I've still got tons of posts left from Europe though - I'll just keep it moving along...

This next meal is from Ristorante Cibreo in Florence. Cibreo is a fairly well-known restaurant family containing both a proper ristorante and a more casual trattoria. My dad had good experiences on his previous trip at the ristorante, and we thought it would be a good place for a slightly fancier lunch.

Cibreo has a simple and understated dining room, with white-clothed tables and a quiet vibe. It's pretty much the opposite of the vibrant Il Latini. Similar to Il Latini, Cibreo doesn't have any printed a la carte menus - instead, one of the friendly waiters will stop by to discuss the various menu offerings of the day. The place isn't cheap, and a 3 course lunch (along with some extras) costs about €60-70 per head. As usual, we got a variety of things on the menu and shared a little bit.

 

EGG CUSTARD AND CHICKEN LIVER CROSTINIWe started off with this semi-amuse. The egg was smooth and delicate, with some nice savoriness to it. The crostini was rich and hearty by comparison.

 

ASSORTED APPETIZERSNext came another batch of various appetizers, including some serrano ham, a tomato "custard," pickles, sun-dried tomato crostini, and a stew-like preparation of tripe. The tomato custard was particularly interesting, with a silky tofu-like texture but sweet/tangy tomato flavor. The tripe was also delicious.

 

PORCINI MUSHROOM SOUPI opted for this simple porcini mushroom soup, a slightly creamy exposition of porcini flavor. Very nice.

 

SALT COD BRANDADEMy main was a Florentine version of brandade. It was less salty than most versions I've had, with a nice crust on top. Potatoes were thinly-sliced rather than puree. Simple and hearty.

 

ROASTED RED ONIONSMy brandade came with a noteworthy side of onions that were beautifully caramelized and intensely flavorful. A perfect foil for the starchy brandade.

 

VEAL MEATBALLS WITH TOMATO SAUCEGeoff went with a simple preparation of veal meatballs. This rendition was as good as any I've ever tasted - the meatballs were smooth and evenly ground, and had a very refined feel to them.

 

DESSERTS - PANNA COTTA, CHOCOLATE TART, APRICOT TARTWe got a variety of desserts, all very simple and quite elegant. The caramel panna cotta was not unlike the crema catalan we'd soon be eating in Spain. The chocolate tart was a little too heavy for my taste.

Overall, I loved the meal at Cibreo. It's a big change of pace from the typical Florentine trattoria - it makes simple food but in a very refined, elegant way. Ingredients are clearly top-notch. If you are looking for some place nice to rest in between savage bisteccas, the ristorante here is a solid bet. Looking forward to trying to the trattoria next time.

Monday
Jan242011

Nerbone

We had a pretty tight meal schedule in Italy, but my dad claimed there was one snack that could not be missed. Nerbone is a legendary sandwich stand that has been serving Florentines lunch inside the Mercato Centrale since 1872. We decided to make a stop one morning as a pre-lunch. As you can see, the old school booth has a constant group of people lining up to grab one of their various meat sandwiches, much like you'd find at famous NY delis.

panino con lampredotto - €3.5We were here to try the lampredotto, a traditional Florentine tripe sandwich. It's funny how many parallels there are between Italy and China in terms of offal usage - I don't think they love tripe anywhere else. At Nerbone, the lampredotto is cut from a giant piece that clearly has been cooking for a very long time. It's served on a rustic round roll that's been hollowed out a bit, and dipped briefly into the beef cooking juice. The tripe is then topped with a salsa verde, a bright sauce of parsley, celery, carrots, and probably a few other things.

The sandwich is delicious. The tripe is tender with the slightest chew, juicy, and tremendously savory. The crunchy roll flavored with beef juice is the perfect counterpoint. We had gotten one to share because we were eating lunch shortly, and didn't want to spoil our appetites - but boy did we devour this thing.

They have a few other things on display; the next most popular item seemed to be the bollito, a juicy-looking specimen of boiled beef. Definitely trying it next time.