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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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Entries in Italian (54)

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.)

Saturday
Oct032009

Ristorante Aso

For our last lunch in Tokyo, we wanted to mix it up a bit and try something Western. We decided on Ristorante Aso, the flagship Italian restaurant of Japanese chef Tatsuji Aso. We were looking in particular for a Western place run by someone Japanese, rather than a Japanese outpost of a European chef. Aso, with 2 Michelin stars and a reputation for the best Italian in Tokyo, fit the bill perfectly. The Japanese have been known to embrace Italian food and put their own little twist on it. Given my love for the very popular rustic Italian places in SF like Delfina and A16, I was excited to see what the Japanese were doing with Italian.

Ristorante Aso is on a pretty road in Daikanyama, hidden away behind a more casual cafe operation which occupies the streetfront. Walking through the cafe, we passed a small interior courtyard before getting to the main entrance of the restaurant. Aso is actually a big house, with 2 stories and multiple rooms of varying sizes. There's one main salon with the most tables. We sat upstairs, in a smaller room with 4 tables overlooking some trees in the back. The place has a very calm, country atmosphere, although I can also imagine it becoming more formal during dinner service.

Aso offers a 3 levels of set meals, ranging from ¥4,000 to ¥8,400 for lunch, and ¥10,500 to ¥21,000. One of the reasons we went was the relative value of the lunch sets compared to dinner, and we ultimately opted for the middle one at ¥5,250. It's hard to beat a multi-course Michelin 2-star meal for around $60!

 

BREAD PLATEAso started us off with this pretty awesome bread presentation. We got two of these for 4 people, which is a definitely lot of bread... and since they were all different, I had to eat everything. They were all freshly baked and quite good, with my favorites being the scallion roll at the far left and the flaky thing second to the right. They also served another hot country roll, not pictured, and gave us 3 different butters.

 

SANMA AFFUMICATO - marinated and smoked saury with lardo, chives, and olive oilOur first course was this beautiful sanma (Pacific saury), a fish rarely used in sushi. Reminiscent of my mom's cured salmon dish, this fish bursted with smoky flavor. The combination with lardo was genius, giving the entire thing a rich, luxurious mouthfeel. Simple, creative, and tasty.

 

BEEF CARPACCIO - tonnato sauceA very interesting spin on carpaccio. The beef was cut thicker than usual, giving it a more chewy, tartare-like texture. The tonnato sauce, more traditionally used with cooked veal, was bright and slightly tangy. Loved this.

 

DECONSTRUCTED AMATRICIANA - spaghettini, clam foam, guanciale, onion gelee, roasted tomato, parmesan crispAt the beginning of the meal, our waiter summed up the pasta course as "Amatriciana," to which I quickly thought "awesome, probably bucatini amatriciana, a classic pasta dish." Imagine our surprise when they brought out this plate of what looked like prosciutto. I was confused at first and thought maybe there was a course I had forgotten about. The plates were then followed with glasses filled with hot spaghettini in a foamy sauce. This dish was like nothing I'd ever seen. We were instructed to mix the whole thing together (you can see some action mixing in the background). I've decided to dub this officially as a "deconstructed Amatriciana" - a more accurate description than the humble standard I was expecting.

AMATRICIANA... UM... RECONSTRUCTEDAfter putting everything back together, and getting over the crazy/weird/awesome factor, I was happy to discover that this dish was in fact delicious. The spaghettini was perfectly cooked. The guanciale (to be honest, I couldn't tell if it was guanciale or pancetta - I've never been served either sliced so thinly before) had a little bit of crisp to it, and balanced beautifully with the clam foam sauce. I was simply blown away by this dish. It showed some extreme complexity and creativity, and yet the sum of all these parts was very hearty and comforting. I ate about half of my grandma's share in addition to my own...

 

MYSTERY MAIN DISHOur main dish came next, covered in a parchment puff pastry of some kind.

CHICKEN - spring onions, radicchio, mizuna, topped with puff pastryCutting open the paper revealed chicken with a variety of greenery. It tasted grilled, and was actually quite similar to the chicken we had the day before at Ukai Toriyama - tender, and juicy. The pastry wasn't your typical puff pastry. It tasted a lot more flour-based than usual, without the overwhelming buttery flavor. All in all, this dish was pretty good, but definitely not up to the level of the other courses. (Admittedly, the pasta would have been hard to top.)

 

CHEESE - camembert, hard orange, taleggioIn more French than Italian style, Aso has a proper cheese cart with about 10 available selections. I opted for this camembert, a hard, dry orange that I didn't catch the name of, and some taleggio. All very nice, especially with the provided fig.

 

PINEAPPLE SHERBERTSorry for the crappy photo on this one. Palate cleanser was this pineapple sherbert, which tasted like a foamy essence of pina colada. Not a bad thing.

 

TIRAMISUYou get to pick from a few choices for dessert, and I went with the simply-described tiramisu. Again, it was a presentation like I've never seen before. The plate just had the square of cream at first, and the waiter "freshly" grated the bits of coffee on top. Lady fingerish cake was hidden under the cream, and the whole thing actually tasted like a rich regular tiramisu, except with an added bit of crunch from the bits of coffee. Very interesting.

 

GELATO - caramel and coconutMy grandma opted for the gelato, which I thought was photo-worthy. I believe the flavors were caramel and coconut, and it was served with some grate-your-own fancy salts. The ice block presentation was pretty slick.

 

PETITFOURSWhen they first brought this out, I thought it was just some flowers. This not being a French restaurant, I wasn't really expecting petitfours, and it took me a few seconds to realize they were in there! It was definitely the most beautiful set of petitfours I've eaten, with a very Japanese aesthetic to it. All of them were quite good, especially the cake-based ones.

Overall, I was very pleased with the Aso meal, most notably for the pasta, the sanma, and the carpaccio. And while I didn't think the chicken was all that great, it was more because of the standard set by the other dishes. Tatsuji Aso is capable of some excellent cooking, and has a creative perspective that is quite different than what I've seen from Italian places in the US and Europe. And for ¥5,250, this meal was certainly a great value. I'm not sure what you get for the dinner courses, but it seems like the formality and length of the meal are both stepped up quite a bit at night.

Either way, I highly recommend a stop here. It's the perfect place for a little break from Japanese food. Italian with a Japanese twist!

Tuesday
Sep122006

Enoteca Norio

norio.jpg

I've told some of you already about how I actually had an Italian meal for one of my dinners in Tokyo. It may sound weird, but Japan actually has excellent western food, Italian in particular. During my food anthro class we actually talked about how Italian food swept Japan in the 90s, and the country sort of developed their own style of it. I was thus quite looking forward to our dinner at Enoteca Norio (couldn't find an English page, but that site is good if you can find some help with translation). Norio-san, an acquaintance of my dad's through friend Nobrin, is a Japanese-born and raised chef who studied Italian cooking. My dad had been hyping up his cooking skills for quite some time.

Enoteca Norio is located far down a dark side street in the district of Shinjuku in Tokyo. To be honest, I have no idea how one might stumble upon it without knowing where to look, so it's good to hear Norio-san has a bigger and more central new location (I think in Ginza). Enoteca Norio is a pretty small, two-floor restaurant. A small bar and a few tables make up the downstairs, while the kitchen and more tables are upstairs. Norio-san was apparently a little nervous about handling our group of 11 in the midst of his move, so he left the whole restaurant to us for the night, a luxury we certainly didn't expect.

Despite all I've heard about the good Italian cooking going on in Japan, it was still quite an interesting sight to see a small Japanese guy like Norio preparing the kind of food we ate. Norio-san has a very noble, altruistic vision - to expose the newer generations of Japanese to great Italian food. This apparently means that he tries to keep his prices as low as possible, to the point that we suspect there's no way he is making any money. The restaurant offers a set-style menu of 5 courses (cold app, hot app, pasta, main dish, dessert), with 4-5 choices for each course. The whole thing is 6,000 yen, which is barely over US$50! That's not much for a meal like this to begin with, but throw in the superb quality of the food and the fact that this is Tokyo, and this becomes an absolute steal. Anyway, here it comes...


CAPRESE SALAD I was extremely curious to try this mozzarella/tomato salad because the cheese came from a local Japanese farm. Who knew they were making fresh moz in Japan? The quality was excellent - smooth, creamy, and very clean tasting. The preparation was top notch, with just a bit of olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. The tomatoes were hearty and sweet - I assume they were some kind of Japanese heirloom.


TRIPA ALLA FIORENTINA Another classic Italian dish, this tripe in tomato sauce was just mouthwatering. The steaming hot, simmered tripe was supremely tender, and the sauce had a wonderful sweetness balanced by just a bit of tang. It'd been a while since I'd had this dish, and this version has made me want to eat it regularly. Luckily, we found a very good preparation here in SF at Florio. :)


SMOKED UNAGI PASTA WITH FAVA BEANS AND TOMATOES Now this is what I was looking for in Japanese-style Italian food. Where else would you find unagi in a pasta dish? The noodles were a fresh pasta (something pretty close to tagliolini) and cooked perfectly. The whole dish had a great, strong, smoky flavor. In fact, it was actually reminiscent of the smoked eels I tried while visiting the van Berkels in Holland.


SPAGHETTI WITH UNI Sorry bout the blurry picture on this one. Pretty much everyone at the table ordered this uni spaghetti, and I thought it was quite picture-worthy. I wanted it too, actually, but I couldn't let our whole group not have anyone ordering the unagi pasta. Plus, I have seen uni pasta in the US (Taranta in Boston comes to mind). Anyway, I only tried a couple bites of this, but I remember the uni flavor being actually a bit more subtle than the overwhelming orange color would indicate. The creaminess of urchin sure makes for a great pasta sauce base though.


STEAK Awesome description there huh? The menus were all in Japanese, so Norio-san was giving us basic translations for all of the options. This steak was some kind of sliced rib, and simply superb. The beef had some great marbling going on, which you can partly see. It was also dressed with some kind of vinaigrette that was also on the salad and tomatoes. Oh, those tomatoes... they were every bit as good as the heirlooms you find during peak season here in SF, and matched surprisingly well with the meat. Yummy. I had to jet early to go meet my Yokohama-based friend Yui who I hadn't seen for years for a drink. I missed the included dessert, but it got the rest of the Che family's seal of approval.

So my first proper Western meal in Tokyo was an astounding success. You could plop Enoteca Norio in the middle of SF or Boston and it would compete with each city's best Italian joints. I wish I could help more with the directions and whatnot - Norio-san is a great chef and I hope you can check him out if you're in Tokyo. Let me know if you need more details on his new bigger and badder digs, and I'll... uh.. ask my dad or something.

Sunday
Jan082006

Mores Cafe

Okay, so it's been a while. I've fallen into all-out lazy vacation mode since my trip to Vancouver, and it's been tough to get off my ass and start the task of recapping Australia. I'm finally doing it though. It's time I get back into the Arthur Hungry swing of things, and I'll start it all from the beginning.

Eating my way through Sydney was, like eating in any other city, a long learning experience. When you move to a new city, the eating scene is strange and mysterious. People have weird words to describe different things. They put different toppings on stuff. The city has odd trends, and different standards. I landed in Sydney without doing much research (I know, that's a bit odd for me), but I figured I'd have a lot of time to figure stuff out.

The only place I really knew I wanted to try before I got there was Tetsuya's, the country's most famous and supposedly best restaurant. Other than that, I started with a blank slate. So with some 50 or so posts about Australian food, I'll hopefully be able to slowly show you what I learned about eating in Australia - the nuances, the trends, the standards. It was an interesting experience for me, to say the least.

 

mores.jpg
My first meal out was at Mores Cafe, one of many little cafes along Glebe Point Road in Glebe. In Australia, addresses are all broken down into neighborhoods, so only a small section of what is largely considered to be Sydney will actually have a Sydney address. The student housing for my program was just across the street from Sydney University, at the intersection of three neighborhoods - Broadway, Chippendale, and Glebe. Glebe is an interesting place just a few minutes walk from where I stayed, and has a long main street with cafes, restaurants, and shops of all kinds. We (my roommate Dan plus new friends Ben and Greg) were lured into Mores because they had a A$10 pasta special. The decor was simple and casual, and I would soon learn that Mores was one of hundreds of simple cafes with menus I'd quickly get sick of.

garlic bread - A$3 This garlic bread was pretty standard fare, but I should note the type of bread used. In Sydney they call it Turkish bread (or pide bread), and it's used pretty much everywhere from restaurants to pizza/kebab joints. I have no idea if it's actually Turkish, but it's actually pretty good for what seems to be a very mass-produced bread. It's basically a little round white loaf that can be cut into strips like for this garlic bread, or horizontally acrosse to make a sandwich. It is great for toasting or grilling, as the outside becomes nice and crispy while the inside stays doughy. Another thing I found out though is that in Australia they often charge you for bread, even if it's an extremely basic kind.

fettuccine carbonara - A$10 I saw a carbonara for A$10 (it's about 1 Aussie dollar to 75 US cents) - just one of many pastas on the discounted pasta list. I'd discover later that these generic pastas are served everywhere. Usually, places will have a list about 10 long where you can mix and match noodles with sauces like carbonara, boscaiola (a very common sauce in Sydney), marinara, pesto, and so on. This pasta wasn't great. It definitely wasn't authentic, with its liberal use of cream, as well as the use of ham rather than pancetta. (I'll leave the discussion of bacon and ham in Australia for another post; for now I'll just say Australian bacon isn't quite the same as American bacon). Still, the pasta wasn't overcooked, and it made for a pretty good cheap meal, though as you can see it was an eggy/creamy mess. It didn't look quite as bad in person, actually. And since I hadn't gotten sick of standard Australian-cafe style pasta yet, I was pretty happy with it.

Mores is a good example of Sydney's most typical restaurant. A simple, fairly cheap, usually sit-down place with a list of sandwiches, pastas, and a few other random items. These places are really formulaic and get pretty repetitive after a while, so you won't see me going to many of them. Rest assured that they're ALL OVER THE PLACE, and very easy to identify with a quick look at the menu. The mix-and-match pasta list (see: boscaiola) is usually the first giveaway. Mores was actually a pretty good one, as they managed to avoid the common deathtrap of overcooked noodles.