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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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Saturday
Oct162010

Antica Trattoria della Pesa

One of the reasons I was excited to come to Milan was because I absolutely love a few of the traditional Milanese dishes. Risotto milanese and veal milanese can be found all over the world, and I have always wanted to try the real thing. After a slight delay on Geoff's flight, we embarked on a late dinner at Antica Trattoria della Pesa (near our hotel around Porta Garibaldi).

Antica Trattoria della Pesa is a true old-school joint... it opened way back in 1880. It's been serving the same thing for the past century - Milanese classics in their truest possible form. I could tell things haven't really changed much here based on their huge reservations book that looks like a thick wine list that belonged in some old library. I think it's places like this that would stop OpenTable from taking off in Italy. The restaurant is definitely on the tourist radar, though my guidebook says that Giorgio Armani and Carla Sozzani are still regulars. I don't think they were in the house with us, but the locals seemed to outnumber the tourists while we were there.

 

UOVA STRAPAZZATE CON TARTUFO D'ALBA - scrambled eggs with Alba truffles - €25White truffles are now on menus everywhere, and we just had to have a small taste. We split an antipasti portion of the eggs (so we got double the pictured amount for our 25 euros). The golden yolky eggs were scrambled beautifully while the white truffles absolutely took over. There is really nothing in the world that tastes like white truffles, and the combination with eggs is a perfect match.

 

TAGLIATELLE AI FUNGHI PORCINI - tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms - €15Next up, we got 2 pastas to split. First was this simple tagliatelle with porcinis. I really love porcini mushrooms, and I'm so happy when they pile on big slices as they did here. The noodles were a good al dente. Yum.

 

RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE - risotto with saffron and bone marrow - €15The famous risotto alla milanese looked beautiful. Gleaming and golden, it's no wonder the dish is frequently used to symbolize the wealth of Milan. This is certainly one of the best versions I have ever had, tremendously fragrant of saffron and rich with bone marrow. The risotto itself was cooked perfectly.

 

COSTOLETTA ALLA MILANESE - breaded and fried veal cutlet - €27This imposing piece of meat is their rendition of the classical veal milanese. They're so serious about the dish that they don't give you any lemon to squirt, and consider it blasphemy to suggest the very idea. Clearly, they believe the meat stands on its own. The cutlet is actually wafer thin, pounded diligently and evenly before cooking. The breading is light and greaseless. A superb version of one of my favorite dishes.

 

CREME BRULEE - €8Sadly, by the time we got to dessert, it was too late to try their zabaglione. We settled for this very standard creme brulee - solid all around but nothing spectacular.

Overall, I'm very happy that I ate here - I satisfied all my Milanese cravings, and I'm confident I got some of the best preparations of these dishes short of having an actual Milanese grandmother. Go without hesitation if you're looking for risotto and/or veal milanese.

Thursday
Oct142010

Al Porto

I'm officially posting on location from Europe. At the moment, I'm in my Milan hotel, and a little bit jet-lagged. It's 6am and I can't really sleep, so I thought I'd get the Arthur Hungry action started.

To give some quick background - I've just embarked on what might be the most ambitious eating trip of my life. I'm starting here in Milan then going to Florence, Rome, Naples, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon. It will be my first time in Spain and Portugal, and the Italian cities are all new to me except Rome. I've got a massive spreadsheet with nearly every meal planned for the next month, and I've brought my camera along with the full intention of photographing everything, then posting very thoroughly like I did back in the old days. Admittedly, I'm on a 10" netbook and my internet will be spotty, so a lot of my updates may not come until I'm back home in November. My eating/sightseeing schedule will also get a lot busier once travel companions join me (starting with my cousin Geoff tomorrow).

But on to meal #1. After 15 hours of travel (I turned down the plane food on Swiss), I was very excited to dive right in. I had made plans to eat at Al Porto, an old-school restaurant established in 1966 in the Navigli area near Porta Genova. In my research, I found that it was one of the most highly-recommended seafood joints, and supposedly has one of the best fritto mistos in town. I figured some simple fried stuff would be the perfect post-flight meal.

I was literally coming right off the plane, and I had to rush a bit to make it to my reservation. I wish I'd changed before I went. The inside of Al Porto doesn't seem all that fancy, with simple tables, wooden chairs, and light reddish tablecloths. The general vibe is reminiscent of North Beach Restaurant in SF. But Milanese fashion is no joke, folks - every guy in the restaurant was wearing at least a suit (with about an even split on neckwear), and all the women were wearing serious dresses. There I was with jeans, sneakers, and a zip up sweater. Oh well - I had to play the ignorant American card. No one seemed offended, but I felt a little out of place.

 

MISTO CRUDO DI PESCE - scampi and tuna crudo - €18I started off with some simple crudo, at the advice of my waiter. The tuna was good, if unspectacular - meaty, fresh, and well-seasoned, with a nice olive oil soaking. The scampi were superb. You just don't find pristine scampi like this back home, and I don't recall ever eating it raw. It tasted pretty close to a top-shelf amaebi, but with a softer texture and a lighter flavor. The stuff on the lemon was tuna chopped up with some capers and dressing - pretty tasty.

 

FRITTO MISTO MARE - fried mixed seafood - €25I had come for the fritto misto, and it did not disappoint. I received a heaping pile of calamari, octopus, whitebait, baby crevettes, rock shrimp, and various small fish I wouldn't be able to name. All were light and not greasy. The variety of textures was wonderful, ranging from the slight chew of the calamari to the crunchy bones of the fish and the shrimp. My dad frequently compares great Italian fritto misto to Japanese tempura, noting that both are delicious because they recognize the need to fry with light battering and a delicate hand. Al Porto's version affirms that observation loud and clear.

So meal one is down, with many more to come. Geoff arrives tomorrow - then the real fun begins.

Friday
Aug272010

Pizza Politana

I'm sad to say that my old office was located in a bit of a culinary wasteland up in the north bay. You pretty much had to at least drive to Central San Rafael to get to anything of interest. Luckily, there is a Farmers' Market at the San Rafael Civic Center every Thursday. I pretty much went every week because it was a more interesting lunch option than most things in the immediate area. There are maybe 10 or so food vendors there - nothing big compared to the Ferry Building markets, but still not bad at all.

Most frequently, I would hit up Pizza Politana, Joel Baecker's mobile pizza operation. It so happens I have some photos from lunch there exactly a year ago - August 27, 2009. Pizza Politana is basically a wood-fired oven on wheels, and they churn out beautiful little 1-person pizzas. They show up at many Bay Area farmers' markets, so you've probably seen their little trailer around before. They started going to Marin first before they expanded, and Joel himself would be there every week making pies. They're now at the Ferry Building Thursday market as well, so I guess he's got a lot more running around to do.

 

PEPPERONI - tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, artisan pepperoni - $10The pepperoni pizza is always available, and it's a great rendition of the classic pie. The sauce is subtle and never overwhelming, and the crust has a nice chew, which I prefer to the cracker-like crispy pizzas out there.

 

MARKET - tomato sauce, black olives, spinach, red onion, mozzarella, parmesan - $12They also have a constantly-changing Market pizza, with a variety of toppings based on the season. On this day it was this pizza with tasty black olives and some nice fresh veggies. The Market pizza varies a lot, and I've had everything from clam pies and white pizzas to classics like Italian sausage.

Simple pizza in the gleaming Marin sun - what could be better? Pizza Politana is quick, consistent, and always delicious. If you're at Marin Civic Center on a Thursday, don't hesitate to try them out. Alternatively, if you're at the Ferry Building, and there are literally 493 people lining up at Roli Roti for a porchetta sandwich, I promise one of these pies will leave you very happy.

(Don't get me wrong though... those porchetta sandwiches are bomb.)

Wednesday
Aug252010

Maverick

I once promised to post some brunch pictures from Maverick, one of my SF brunch mainstays. There are two critical factors about brunch at Maverick. First, the food is delicious. Second, they are on OpenTable and take brunch reservations. It's generally pretty easy to get in, and there is rarely a line like other top brunch spots (such as personal favorite Universal Cafe... and I won't even get into places like Dottie's or Mama's). The intersection of convenience and quality make Maverick a standard brunch stop. I guess it's at a slightly higher price point than the packed brunch places, but I'll pay an extra few dollars to avoid the hassle.

 

ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE BENEDICT - grilled andouille sausage, poached eggs, crawfish and jalapeno hollandaise, English muffin, home fries - $15If you're eating brunch at Maverick for the first time, order the andouille benedict. It's been on the menu for years, and it really is their best dish. I'm a sucker for any good eggs benedict, and these eggs are expertly-poached. Maverick then mixes it up by using andouille sausage instead of ham, and throwing some crawfish into the hollandaise. The result is a nice peppery kick that gives the whole plate some life. The potatoes are also excellent here - hot and crispy on the outside, smooth on the inside.

 

MAC 'N CHEESE - $6Their mac 'n cheese is also a winner. Extremely rich and comforting, and also an excellent pair with the hot sauce...

 

YOUK'S HOT SAUCE - free, but it'll cost you $7 to take a bottle homeAnd a fine hot sauce it is. In fact, it might be my favorite American-style hot sauce of all (though admittedly, I've never been to the south). According to the label, the sauce is based mainly on serranos, jalapenos, and cayenne. It's got a wonderful tangy bite that goes perfectly with the potatoes and the mac 'n cheese (or just about anything, really). Love this stuff. Looks like they're actually selling it online now too.

So that's a typical brunch at Maverick. Apologies again for the long long overdue post. If you're awake in the morning on a weekend and looking for some numnums, definitely check out Maverick. You won't have to deal with the 600-person line in front of Dottie's.

Sunday
Aug222010

Hachikian - 八起庵

So, I'm now officially unemployed (by choice, fortunately). Without going into too much detail, I'm planning to go back to school, but I've got some time to kill. Luckily, this means I'll be able to catch up on some Arthur Hungry meals from the past year. Chuck, who just last week posted pictures from a year-old meal at RyuGin, has inspired me to take a look at my backlog, and post stuff even though it's a bit outdated. It can be done. So, without further ado, here's the last meal from Kyoto last year.

 

Hachikian (Japanese-only website, but Google Translate kinda works), despite its unassuming storefront pictured above, is really quite a unique place. The restaurant runs a small-scale poultry farm outside of Kyoto, which breeds specialty chickens and eggs and showcases them in Hachikian and its 3 smaller outposts. The main restaurant on Marutamachi specializes in a multi-course chicken kaiseki, using many different parts in many different preparations. This meal from September 2010 had some chicken preparations you really won't find anywhere else, as well as a few things some of you might be pretty scared to actually eat!

 

APPS - chicken gizzard and meat, cucumber, pickled quail egg, snap pea, tomato gelee, tamagoFirst up was this plate of chilled appetizers. Nothing too remarkable, but a good set of clean refreshing flavors to start off the meal.

 

CHICKEN TATAKIBeef tataki is pretty ubiquitous here in the US (and probably the rest of the world), but nowhere other than Hachikian have I ever found chicken tataki. Obviously, the danger of eating raw/undercooked chicken is pretty appalling to most. At Hachikian, it appears to be completely safe (at least, I've been twice and I'm still standing). And I'm glad it is, as chicken provides a very different textural element than beef or fish. It's a slightly chewier and lighter than you'd think, and very delicious.

 

CHICKEN SOUPThis milky white chicken soup was as pristine as can be. Simple, clean, and intense chicken flavor. I'd love a pot of this the next time I get sick.

 

KIMO - poached chicken liverThis looks a bit like the more common ankimo at first glance, but actually tasted quite different. It had a silkier, more tofu-like texture, with a slightly sharper liver taste. I loved it.

 

CHICKEN SASHIMI - heart, gizzard, white meat, dark meatI realize we've been trained since youth that eating raw chicken would be like a death wish, thanks to our dear friend Salmonella. At Hachikian, the chickens are disease-free and have been served as sashimi for 40 years without incident. I won't waste my breath trying to convince you that raw chicken is "safe" - it's probably a terrible idea to try it in all but a few places. Suffice it to say I felt comfortable enough to try it at Hachikian. I've eaten it twice in my life with no issues, and my dad has eaten here more times than he can remember. Here's a Chowhound discussion about it if you're interested.

Once you get over the mental aspect of it, you'll find that raw chicken tastes pretty good. The different parts varied in texture - the heart had a slight chew, along with an almost-refreshing "crunch" similar to chilled Chinese-style jellyfish. The gizzard was also chewy, with a more even bite throughout. The white and dark meats were both like a lean fish, with the dark meat having a bit more muscular fleshiness. Sustainable toro replacement it ain't, but this stuff was interesting to say the least.

 

STEAMED CHICKEN THIGH - chilled, with white onionsA very simple dish here, cooked not unlike Chinese steamed chicken. The crunch of the white onion played well with the skin.

 

KAWA - fried chicken skinKawa - the simplest (and guiltiest) of chicken pleasures. The version here is superb. Crispy, slightly chewy, and all-around awesome.

 

CHICKEN SANDWICH - minced chicken in sliced bread, breaded and fried, served in chicken brothThis was the highlight of the meal for me. Most preparations at Hachikian are pretty traditional, and just focus on the quality of the chicken. This dish was a total curve ball. The center was minced chicken, like you'd use in a meatball, sandwiched between two pieces of bread. The entire thing was panko-crusted and deep fried, but then served in a clear chicken broth. The result was like a wet cross between a Japanese croquette and a Monte Cristo. This was extremely savory, with an umami level that was off the charts.

 

BBQ CHICKENSome simple BBQ chicken with green onions. The sauce was a cloying teriyaki-ish glaze that I didn't enjoy too much.

 

CHICKEN NIGIRI - white and dark meatBoth very tasty. Like the sashimi, the dark meat definitely had a more muscular texture to it. Still, raw chicken is closer to fish than one would imagine. The rice was serviceable, considering Hachikian obviously doesn't specialize in sushi.

 

CHICKEN BROTHThe lightest and clearest of the various soups we were served. This contained just a few pieces of fish cake. Again, a very pristine and concentrated chicken flavor.

 

GRILLED CHICKEN WINGOf course, what chicken meal would be complete without chicken wings? This giant wing was simply grilled - a little too much so, in my opinion, as it had too strong of a smoky, charred flavor to the skin. The meat was juicy and tender though.

 

CHAWANMUSHIA beautiful, silken rendition of the classic egg custard. No bells or whistles. The egg flavor was quite subtle and very delicate.

 

GRILLED CHICKENAnother highlight. I'm not sure which exact part of the chicken this came from, but this was probably the best piece of meat of the night. Very rich and fatty, and perfect with just a squeeze of lemon.

 

CHICKEN ROLL, CHICKEN MEATBALL, CHICKEN CRACKLINGThe roll on the left wasn't too memorable, but the meatball was exceptionally moist, and crumbly once broken.  Very tasty. The fried pieces of skin would be best described as a chicken version of chicharrones, but firmer and more crackly. They'd have made for an awesome beer snack.

 

DUCK NOODLE SOUPHachikian serves one non-chicken item at the end of the kaiseki - their specialty duck noodle soup. Like the chicken, the duck used here comes straight from their own farm. The soup was a simple broth, and flavoring was handled mainly by the duck meat itself. This bowl of noodles was good, but I was pretty overwhelmingly full already at this point. I guess in true Japanese fashion, they have to finish you off with one big starchy item to fill you up in case you are somehow still hungry.

 

GINGER ICEThis simple shaved ice drizzled with a ginger syrup was fine, but fairly unremarkable. I guess it was good to wash down all the food with.

Hachikian is really a unique experience. It's not the type of thing I'd eat regular, but if you love chicken like I do, it's definitely worth a stop just to try. The quality of the birds here is as high as anywhere, and the generally simple preparations really highlight that.

Hilarious side note: the guy who runs the place is a friendly, jovial character, who actually kind of looks like a chicken himself. (If you click on their website, there are some caricatures of him that are shockingly accurate.)

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