Imola, Italy, tasted on March 23, 2004 — There is simply no
doubt that Italy is a superior country when it comes to food. And
the beauty is that the quality is expressed at every level of the
food "chain". But to be honest, our experience at the high end
wasn't superlative, until that is, we arrived in Imola to eat at
With two Michelin stars we weren't exactly
finding a hidden gem. But being well-known didn't detract from what
a great meal we had. And in fact, unlike our experience at
La Pergola in
San Domenico was relaxed even amid its high standards. Imagine
a home cooked really refined meal. That's what we had at San
Domenico, and it was fantastic.
We started off with a
series of amuse, a
tray-full in fact. The
salmon amuse was a bite of pure and solid
salmon flavor that was delicious. The
olive oil on top was a great complement. The
bite of eggplant with
tomato and cheese was an enjoyable collection of warm and honest
flavors. My favorite (surprisingly) was the small plate of
deep fried olives.
The flavor was meaty and delicious and
not overly olivey. Really quite good. The croquette on top was also
fried perfection. The series of amuse was rounded out with some salt
cod with little salt bursts dotting the cod landscape, and a
egg. The egg was surprisingly smooth and had a deep eggy flavor that
was not grainy. The balsamic on top, of course, was beautiful to
behold and taste. All in all a pretty solid start. We had to keep
reminding ourselves of it as we ate the
dry and flavorless bread.
One of the pieces tasted stale to me. What is it with bread in this
area. So weird.
Not to worry, soon after big bowls of
potato soup arrived. The first spoonful was the best. It was smooth,
beautiful, with a velvety savory flavor depth. The first spoonful
was so complete and wonderfully textured, that it was the best.
Nothing could beat the contrast of your mouth pre and post the
potato soup. The
foie gras that followed was excellent (and beautiful to look
at). On it's own the foie was superb, creamy with a delicate savory
goodness. The apple sauce and geleé were good, but ultimately I
preferred just eating the foie on its own. I was assured the raisins
Perhaps my favorite dish came next. It's
simply hard for me not to love combinations of pasta, egg, cheese, and
truffles. I admit that bias. That said, I am not unable to distinguish
your run-of-the-mill yummy pasta-egg-cheese-truffle combo from one
that's world class. And this one was world class. Imagine a
raviolo filled with ricotta pesto. An orange colored egg yolk
surprises you on your third or fourth bite. The raviolo is showered with
tons of parmigiana reggiano and white and
black truffles. I'm close to running out of superlatives to describe
this dish. Suffice to say, it was warm, luxurious, and delicious. The
gorgeous yellow brown buttery surface looked incredible and tasted better.
If there was a complaint, believe it or not,
it's that there too much. I forgave them for the large portion.
When you eat at a sushi restaurant it's good
to try the tamago - the egg sushi. It's in some ways the simplest to
make, but also a kind of benchmark of the quality of the restaurant. The
thinking is that if they focus their attention on making something as
simple as tamago perfectly then you're in good hands. I think you can
consider risotto in that category when it comes to Italian restaurants.
It's a deceptively simple dish to make, but ultimately getting it
perfect is quite difficult. Most of us thought the
risotto passed the tamago test with flying colors - it was creamy
with a light sharpness, rich and straightforward. It had a subtle meaty
richness. There was some dissent.
Debbie and DebDu didn't love it.
Peyman thought it was very good,
but again, too big.
course asked for a veggie menu. Given the quality of everything we ate,
we were semi-surprised when her meal started off with a lame salad with
a mealy tomato. The fact that some restaurants fall off a cliff when it
comes to vegetarians is actually not that surprising. The fact that we
got a mealy tomato served in a restaurant in Italy was very
disappointing and unexpected. Luckily the salad/tomato incident seemed
to be an anomaly as what followed was quite good. Specifically, the
gnocchi and parsley risotto were both excellent. The
ravioli with ricotta and cinammon were better than excellent. They
were unique, interesting, and according to Lauren, one of the best pasta
dishes she'd ever had.
Then our main course arrived.
Brilliant as it was so simple. Medium rare beef drenched in a butter
sauce. Three perfectly caramelized onions with balsamic tanginess and
gentle smoky bacon accents. Amazing! You just can't help but feel lucky
to eat a dish like this.
course followed. Pecorino di Pienza - nice but not special. The mucca
was cow cheese in herbs - its flavor was somewhat
bitter. Ahd finally Pecorino Cenare - shockingly strong for a
pecorino - sour, slightly antiseptic, not exactly enjoyable but super
interesting. While the cheese plate wasn't a home run, it was certainly
Dessert came to the rescue though to end
things on a very positive note. My personal favorite was the
It had an intense almond
flavor, very light, and not sticky. The candied almonds sat perched on a delicate thin cookie shell.
Super yummy, as were the
perfect raspberries on cookie with cream, the
light cream puffs, and the
assorted chocolate items. The
chocolate cake on a banana disc with a thin candied top was amazing
as well. Our tour of the
kitchen and the
cellar that seemed 1000 years old - super cool, were very neat as
Imola was yet another adorable little Italian
city. And on this lazy afternoon with the restaurant less than half
full, San Domenico came through for us and gave us a meal that was
unassuming and unpretentious, but refined to an incredible degree. And
ultimately everything just tasted great. I still think about this meal.
Asparagus Velouté with Eggs and Enoki,
tasted on April 24, 2005 — Sorry for the few days between
postings, but we've been busy cooking for the most recent Jewish
holiday - Passover. Think of it as a kind of Jewish Thanksgiving.
Lots of food, and four mandatory cups of wine. Yes. Mandatory. I've
already documented our
efforts from a couple of years ago. This year we decided to do
fewer courses and do them even better. Focus focus focus. We thought
we would follow our own advice we regularly dole out to restaurants.
The menu consisted of: chicken soup with matzah
balls (I'll write a full report on this later), homemade gefilte
fish (again, I'll have to write up this report later), eggplant,
purple yam, and garlic terrine, and
Cookies among other things. But there was one dish I'd like to
focus on today. At our Passover meals it's tradition to start off
the eating portion of the event with a small bowl of saltwater with
a sliced hard-boiled egg. This year I decided to do something
different. I still wanted to retain the essence of the dish, the
saltwater being tear-like and intended to evoke sadness. But I
wanted something more interesting.
Instead this year I made White Asparagus Veloute
with Egg, Enoki Mushroom Tempura and American Caviar. (Note: for
anyone really up on the rules of kosher food. Some Jewish sources
consider Sturgeon not kosher. But
some Conservative sources say it is. If you are keeping kosher,
and won't eat caviar from sturgeon, feel free to replace with eggs
from a fish that you will eat. Or even capers.) The caviar is there
for the salt. The white asparagus and tempura'd enoki mushrooms make
for a sea of softer tones with the egg.
Here's the recipe:
- Take one bunch of white asparagus, rinse and chop off the
bottom couple of inches from the stalks of asparagus.
- Chop the asparagus into 1 inch pieces, and set aside.
- Roughly chop half a large onion and set it aside.
- Take 2 tablespoons of rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) and
put in a saucepan large enough to hold the chopped asparagus and
an inch of water above it.
- Put the saucepan on a medium flame, and then add 3 ounces of
- Keep stirring the meat as it fries in the fat and cooks, but
don't let it get brown.
- After about 2 minutes add the onion.
- Sautee the onion and chicken in the fat for another few
minutes until the onions get soft. Stir frequently so that
nothing gets brown. Turn down the heat if you're worried about
- Add the chopped asparagus, 1 cup of chicken stock, and then
fill the pot with enough water to just cover the asparagus.
- Salt to taste.
- Cook on a medium flame and stir every few minutes
- The trick is to get cook the asparagus on the medium flame
until it's super soft and the different flavors in the saucepan
have started to integrate. This should take roughly 30 minutes.
- Take the pot off the flame and allow it to cool for another
- Fill your blender halfway with some of the contents from
your saucepan (likely they won't all fit at once, and you don't
want to fill too high as blending hot ingredients can result in
- Liquefy the contents of the blender and empty out into a
- Repeat this process until all the contents of the saucepan
have been liquefied to the finest consistency your blender can
- At this point you have to make a decision about thickness. I
was happy with what my blender produced. You may want to put
your velouté through a tamis to get it even thinner. The key for
me is to have a consistent consistency (as it were). Velouté
means "velvet". It shouldn't be watery, but it should be smooth
- When you have the right thickness put the velouté in a
sealed container in the fridge for 24 hours.
- After 24 hours put the velouté back in a pot and heat on a
- Hard boil 6 chicken eggs. Set them aside to cool
- Beat 1 additional chicken egg into a bowl and add 1
tablespoon of potato starch. Mix well. This is your batter.
- Dip 6 stalks of a few enoki mushroom each into the batter.
- Remove the mushrooms from the batter and deposit them for 60
seconds in very hot oil.
- Remove the mushrooms from the oil onto paper towel and allow
- To plate, slice the hard boiled egg with an egg slicer and
deposit in the bowl.
- Pour some of the asparagus velouté around the egg and stand
up a spring of the tempura'd enoki on the side (for anyone
familiar with the story of Passover, this is supposed to evoke
the reeds on the shore of the Nile)
- Top the egg with a half teaspoon of a salty caviar (I used
American sturgeon, feel free to substitute). This is the "salt"
in the dish (and it's also more eggs, so you get double
- Serve immediately so the caviar stays cold and the soup is
I had slightly different plans for this dish as I
was hoping to cook the eggs so the whites were cooked but the yolks
were soft and warm. That way when you put your spoon into the egg,
the yolk would leak out into the asparagus velouté. I also had
fantasies of cooking the eggs in containers that would make them
into cool shapes, but I'm not sure these even exist. Is there such a
thing as a plastic cube or pyramid or other shape that you can fill
with egg, seal, and then hard boil, only later to release the egg in
its cool shape? If that does exist, please tell me. If not, then I
expect royalty payments.
A couple of things to wrap-up. This seemed like a
big hit at our meal. Jenny in
particular enjoyed it. Additionally, I basically ripped off the
Velouté formula from the red cabbage veloute in All About Apples.
And finally, it doesn't need to be Passover, and you don't need to
be Jewish to enjoy this. I think it's quite good any time for
Bologna, Italy, tasted on March 23, 2004 — Any city worth its salt has
a cluster of markets and shops
focused on quality food. San
Francisco has the Ferry Farmer's
Market, Seattle has Pike Place
Market, Tokyo has Tsukiji, New
York has Chelsea Market, you get
the point. They all have their
pros and cons. Some are better
than others. They are also often
a reflection of the food
standard in the city that they
call home. It's not surprising
that in a country as, well,
delicious as Italy, the markets
are rich, varied, and exciting.
Honestly, as beautiful as the
architecture is, as cool as it
would seem to live in Italy, the
thing that gave me the most
incentive to pick up and move
was the thought that I could
have on of these markets just
down the street from me. I
imagine heading down every
afternoon, picking out some
wonderful ingredients, and then
going home to make a wonderful
Each of these markets also has a variety of vendors.
Some are good, some are great, and some are the cornerstone of the
market. The reason you go. In Bologna that store is
It's quite simple. An incredible selection of fresh cheeses, fresh
pasta, beautiful charcuterie, and a small cafe in the back. I'm not
sure how to use any additional words to explain why it's essential
to visit this little shop. The trays and trays of fresh pasta just
seem endless. The folks behind the counter super-knowledgeable about
the countless varieties of cheeses and hams for sale, and a cozy
place in the back to have a drink and think about what to take home
and cook and eat. In my head, I'm there right now.
Bologna, Italy, tasted on March 22, 2004 — Yet another
gelateria in Italy. I'll keep this short. They had a huge selection
including flavors like "Kill Bill" and "Remember Me". Forty-nine flavors
in all. While
Gelateria Gianni didn't stand out hugely for me, it's really a
matter of context. When you're in Italy, the huge number of these
shops make it impossible not to raise your standards. In the U.S.
Gianni would have been very good. In Italy, it was just fine. Next
we travel out to Imola to eat at San Domenico. A treat.
Seattle, WA, tasted on March 26, 2005
— Derrick from
Obsession with Food and I are bringing you a joint
blog entry. I've covered
enthusiastically here on tastingmenu before, so
this time we're leaving the words to
Derrick, while the pictures are
mine. Here's Derrick's
report from our meal:
and I planned a five-day visit with our
Pavel and Kathleen, we only had only one
thing on our must-do list. We wanted to eat at
Lampreia. And we wanted to go with
I learned about Lampreia through Hillel's
blog of eating adventures around the world,
and Chef Carsberg's Tyrol-inspired
restaurant sits high on his list of favorite
haunts. That's a noteworthy recommendation
in its own right, but
the cookbook from Carsberg and the
tastingmenu.com team renewed my
interest in eating at this medium-sized Belltown establishment. Hillel and I met at
last year's Fancy Food Show—his frequent
Lauren is a friend of mine from
back when I was famous —and he and I
have kept in touch. I knew he couldn't pass
up a meal at one of his favorite
He and his wife
Debbie and their friends
dine there often ("I've been here four
times," said his college-bound sister
visiting from the East Coast), and they
urged us to let the chef cook whatever he
wanted. This is good advice. With no menu,
you can't build up any preconceptions about what a meal
might offer. You wait, slightly giddy. A
dish appears. What is it? You don't know
until the waiter steps back, waits for
conversation to die, and announces the new
arrival, simultaneously quiet and
The first dish we ate exemplifies Carsberg's
cuisine. It featured
Dungeness crab wrapped
in Honey Crisp apples with an apple gelée
and blackened sea salt. The subtle
flavors and textures played off each other
in a flawlessly choreographed dance, and
created an unexpected synergy. Carsberg says
he favors simplicity, but there's something
of a wink there. The fresh and local
ingredients may be simple, but not so the
techniques and flavor combinations that are
both classic and novel. You can taste his
attention to detail, his obsession with
getting things just right.
Why stop at one dish, no matter how
representative? We didn't want to. The
paper-thin slice of fatty duck ham laid atop
smoked white asparagus in the next course
was a savory treat with nutty undercurrents, and the small baton of foie gras with a Sauternes aspic added an
unctuous feel that enriched the dish without
weighing it down. A curl of Meyer lemon peel
refreshed the palate. It was a simple
presentation with clean lines and perfect
proportions. We sighed.
Then it arrived. The highlight of the
evening for many of us. A raviolo filled
with sheep's milk ricotta and a still-intact
egg yolk. Around it, shaved ricotta
salata, salted and aged for half a year.
Truffles everywhere. It sounds simple,
doesn't it? But as I broke into the pasta
and punctured the egg yolk, it flowed over
the two cheeses and re-released a heady
truffle aroma. This dish was bass notes and
earth tones and creamy fat, and the depth of
these flavors resonated deep in my belly.
The craftsperson in me tried to figure out
how you get an intact egg yolk into a pasta
shell. The gourmet in me just kept eating.
From that heady dish we moved on to a
see-through pane of gravlax-style
kobe beef, topped with a quenelle of an
apple-red wine purée and a crunchy tomato
wafer ("It's a communion wafer," said
Hillel. "He found the recipe and adapted
it"). I enjoyed this dish, sort of a
deconstructed hamburger, but Pavel was less
sure. He felt the purée overwhelmed the
subtle flavor of the beef.
Pavel may have been our solo dissenter on
the kobe beef, but Melissa and I felt that
the kitchen made a slight misstep with the
scallop with meyer lemon and sea salt. The
presentation, a plump scallop resting on a
baby bamboo steamer, appealed to my love of
the cute, but the scallop was slightly
overcooked, especially contrasted with the
breathtaking scallop we ate at
Union two nights earlier. And the salt's
texture didn't blend as seamlessly as we had
become used to. Taken in toto to some
other restaurant, this scallop would
probably shine as the star of the menu. This
dish faltered only because Carsberg raised
our expectations so high with the previous
When the waiter brought out plates with
three tiny red scoops, we figured they were
balls of sorbet. When Carsberg dripped
some thick aceto balsamico tradizionale
onto the mounds, we weren't surprised. True
balsamic vinegar ($25/oz for the entry-level
stuff) complements fruity sorbet
surprisingly well. Imagine our surprise,
however, when the pale red mounds turned out
beet-ricotta gnocchi. The gnocchi were
light and flavorful, though the beet added
little but color. The aceto balsamico
added a perky acidity and sweetness that
rescued a dish that might have lost appeal
At this point, the waiter asked if we'd like
to move on to dessert, or if we wanted the
chef to prepare another savory dish. I
looked at Hillel, seated to my right. Was
there some option here? I suppose the staff
wanted to protect us from becoming overly
full, but who could resist just one more?
Maybe we left a little too stuffed, but we managed
to find room for the
Atlantic black bass
"tagine" with smoked paprika and pork belly.
This may have been Pavel's favorite dish,
even more so than the raviolo. This dish
brought us back to the world of a few
ingredients in perfect balance. The pork
belly, which added mouth-watering umami
qualities, was super tender with just the
cheese course was a
pecorino under a glaze
of honey speckled with black seeds from tahitian vanilla pods. The melting slice of
cheese came on a cedar plank. Honey and
cheese is a great combination, and the
vanilla added that heavenly muskiness that
is so unlike anything else in the world.
At last dessert arrived,
stuffed with a white chocolate mousse,
sitting in a thick strawberry sauce,
garnished with a spiraling tuile. The
raviolo may have been my favorite dish, but
this is the dish I'll try to replicate at
home, especially with strawberry season
bursting upon us here in the Bay Area. The
mousse was delicate and flavorful, and
contrasted nicely with the ripe but firm
strawberry flesh. Hillel, I think, was the
first to forget decorum and slide his finger
through the strawberry sauce. We had a
discussion about licking plates. That's how
good the sauce was.
Most of my readers know how much I love the
mignardise course. Our little plate
contained a cinnamon cookie, a lemon one, a
chocolate truffle, and a tiny thumbprint
peanut butter cookie with a chocolate mound.
All the treats were light and airy, the
perfect sweet end to an incredible meal.
I did notice one problem with the
surprise menu. We didn't know quite how much
wine we needed. Hillel and I each brought a
bottle, I the superbly balanced 2002
Donnhoff Riesling Spätlese from the
Oberhauser Brücke vineyard, Hillel an
equally well-balanced Pride Merlot, possibly
the best Merlot I've ever tasted. But it
wasn't quite enough. Another bottle would
have been nice, I think.
This meal ranks high in my pantheon of
great life experiences. The sense of balance
and harmony that registered with virtually
every dish was astonishing. I envy Hillel,
who not only lives close enough to eat
there, but takes advantage of it often.
Midway through the meal, he said to me
quietly, "The people in this town have no
idea what they've got here." I imagine he's
I'll just add
that one of the only things I
enjoy more than eating a
wonderful meal is sharing that
experience with someone else and
watching their reaction as they
get a firsthand understanding of
my excitement. This meal was no
exception, and that's
essentially the purpose of this
website (in a more scalable
Coconut Cookies from Lampreia, tasted on March 13, 2005 — For
as long as I can remember macaroons have been a fixture of every
Passover in my life. I didn’t even used to really like coconut, but
year after year, when faced with the narrow selection of kosher for
Passover foods available at the supermarket, macaroons invariably
make their way into my shopping cart. Some years I get chocolate as
well as the traditional plain just to spice things up. And some
years they actually taste semi-fresh coming from their sealed
cylindrical cardboard containers. Macaroons not only serve as part
of dessert during Passover meals, but also as between-meal snacks.
You might imagine that matza could serve that purpose, but usually
people get matza’d out relatively quickly, so the trusty Macaroon
comes to the rescue. Unfortunately, even the best packaged variety
can be a little heavy and dry.
Put Passover aside for a second and now consider
going out to dinner during the rest of the year. In fact, go out to
dinner at a higher end restaurant. Often at the end of the meal you
may get a small plate with an assortment of mini-cookies and
chocolates – “petit fours”. According to the Oxford Companion to
Food, the little ovens in which these post-meal small “cakes” were
baked may be the origin of the name. Etymology aside, it’s on the
petit fours dish at one of Seattle’s few world class restaurants
that I discovered the object of the macaroon quest I didn’t even
know I was on.
For 12 years in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood,
Chef Scott Carsberg of
Lampreia Restaurant has quietly and
diligently perfected his refined expressions of Northern Italian
food. This is Italian food quite unlike what most American’s would
recognize. Odds are many of the diners think the food is French. In
fact much of the culinary “spine” of the cuisine hails from the Alto Adige region of Italy that borders with Austria and Switzerland.
Chef Carsberg’s cooking uses this framework to ground his cooking,
but innovates freely within the framework, using seasonal local
ingredients, a genius for flavor and texture combinations, and a
near obsessive focus on flavor and quality. Who else would spend so
much time making a simple macaroon?
But Chef Carsberg’s macaroon isn’t strictly a
macaroon. Technically, it’s more of a haystack. A coconut macaroon
(they’re often made from almonds as well) is related to the meringue
family as it relies on separated egg whites as a key component. A
haystack doesn’t have the almond “roots” or the egg whites and as
best I can tell, it’s often cooked mostly or even entirely on the
stove, not baked in the oven. The batter is dropped in a little
haystack-like pile on a cooking sheet, allowed to cool, and then is
ready to be eaten. Chef Carsberg’s cookies are cooked both on the
stove and in the oven. And regardless of what genus they belong to,
Carsberg decided that his shouldn’t have any flour. He was focused
on having his cookies be singular examples of deep buttery coconut
goodness, with a light chewiness that you simply won’t find in any
other coconut cookie you’ve ever eaten. Lucky for us, his singular
focus on flavor and texture also made his cookies kosher for
Before we embark on making the actual cookies, a
couple of notes: 1) The recipe is dairy. The reason the cookie is so
good is that it tastes like an entire stick of butter has been
condensed into each one. You don’t get that buttery flavor without…
well… butter. Don’t even think of using margarine. 2) The recipe
yields a lot of cookies. You want the cookies to be relatively
small, and depending on just how small you will get several dozen
cookies. That said, Passover is eight days, and these cookies are
Lampreia Coconut Cookies by Chef Scott
- 6 regular sized
- 12 ounces sweet cream
- 16 ounces regular granulated
- 16 ounces Bob’s Red Mill Fine Macaroon
Coconut (1 & 1/3 bags)
Crack the eggs into a bowl large enough for
aggressive whisking and whisk with gusto. Chef Carsberg says you
cannot overwhisk eggs. They need to be truly integrated to give the
most consistent possible texture. Whisk until it hurts. In a deep
saucepan (large enough to hold all the ingredients and leave room
for whisking) melt the butter over a medium flame. Do not let the
butter get over 186 degrees or it won’t emulsify later. With a
separate whisk stir the butter repeatedly as it melts so it doesn’t
separate. Remove the saucepan from the flame while there are still
some solid chunks of butter in the mixture, but they’re small enough
to melt even off the flame with the help of a whisk.
With the butter melted but not separated slowly pour
the sugar mixture into the saucepan with the butter whisking all the
while. Mix aggressively so that the sugar is truly integrated into
the butter. At first the melted butter will creep up the side of the
saucepan during mixing and look relatively thin. The sugar is
integrated once the mixture up the side looks thicker. Let the
mixture sit for a couple of minutes to cool down while the eggs are
re-whisked. You need to mix the beaten eggs into the butter and
sugar but can’t do it until the butter-sugar mixture is below 100
degrees or you will get sweet buttery scrambled eggs. Once the
mixture has cooled down, and the eggs have no inconsistencies slowly
pour the egg mixture into the butter and sugar mixture in the
saucepan, whisking energetically while the egg is slowly poured in.
Once the ingredients are completely integrated, put the saucepan
back on a medium flame and repeat the procedure pouring the Fine
Macaroon Coconut into the saucepan, and whisking.
The goal is now to mix the coconut completely with
the rest of the batter, and slowly cook the mixture until it
naturally pulls away from the sides. At first the batter should
still be relatively wet. Cook the mixture for 5-10 minutes over
low-medium flame mixing well with a wooden spoon the entire time.
The goal is to slowly eliminate some of the moistness while not
letting any of the batter get brown. Liberal and consistent mixing
with the spoon should achieve the desired effect. When the batter
would rather stick to itself than to the side of the saucepan, take
the batter off of the flame. Let the batter sit on the counter in
the saucepan for another hour, mixing every 10 minutes with the
wooden spoon. Then seal the batter in an air-tight container and let
it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next day you should have a
dough that can be made into tablespoon size balls with out any
compression from your hands. The less you rely on your palms, and
the more you rely on your fingertips, the lighter your cookies will
be. Place the cookies on a non-stick baking sheet and bake in the
oven for 10-20 minutes at 350 degrees. The key is to watch them very
closely. The will get a golden color but shouldn’t get much darker
than that. Baking time will vary depending on the quirks of your
oven as well as the size of the cookies you made. When they’re done,
remove them from the oven, allow them to cool for awhile on the
baking sheet, and then on a plate. You should now have several dozen
cookies ready to either cap off a world class meal at a fine
restaurant or satisfy your family’s cravings between meals. Either
way, they’re delicious.
Note: These beautiful pictures were taken by
Peyman. Also, this post is
rebroadcast from its original appearance in the
Bologna, Italy, tasted on March 22, 2004 — In a
tiny stuffed space, with sparse decoration (mostly of cans of
Campbell's soup), no smoking, and an "L" shaped marble bar crowded
with locals, and inundated with the smell of warm flatbread is
La Tua Piadina. The Piadina is yet another specialty of the region of
Emilia Romagna, a region that's already rich with
culinary specialties. The piadina is a grilled flatbread wrapped
around various meats, cheeses, and vegetables. It's simple. It's
fresh. And it's delightful.
Nothing fancy, but variety is the spice of life at
La Tua Piadina. Four different choices of bread and twenty different
things to put inside.
Any combination you want is yours. The
veggie piadina was delicious. The grilled flavor permeated
throughout the sandwich, and the olive oil was excellent throughout.
On some of the other sandwiches we got the spicy. And it wasn't just
heat, but more of a subtle building effect that crept up on you and
then got very complex. We also tried the
head cheese. Despite the appearance (or maybe because of it) it
was surprisingly delicious. It had a
deep meaty flavor, almost like a roast beef ham.
La Tua Piadina is just the kind of place you'd love to have around
the corner from where you work. Quick, fresh, delicious sandwiches.
Warm freshly made bread, filled with delicious meat, cheese, and
veggies. Such a simple formula, I'm not sure why more people can't
figure this out. If you want this particular combination, you'll
have to go to Bologna.
April 12, 2005 — What a cool surprise to hear from a friend
who is having the adventure of her life. For the last couple of
years Dana has worked at
Lampreia, a world class restaurant in
Seattle that I have written about quite a bit. We got to know Dana
as she helped us work on the cookbook and she has helped cook
countless meals for us at Lampreia. We were excited for her when she
got the opportunity to stage (essentially intern) at
Fat Duck, in
Bray, England. She left a few weeks ago, and how cool to find out
she's put together her own blog chronicling her adventures at what's
considered a very exciting restaurant by many people (I had a pretty
exciting meal there myself). Check out her blog -
Phat Duck. It's cool.
Dana has a bright future. I wonder what she'll do when she's done at
Fat Duck. Hopefully she'll keep up her blog and keep us posted.
(BTW, I ate at Fat Duck a few months ago and have
yet to post my experiences. Sorry for being so behind. I'll try and
speed things up.)
Bologna, Italy, tasted on March 22, 2004 — On this day in
Bologna we weren't sure exactly where to go eat.
Dinner the night before
wasn't spectacular though it had it's moments. We were nervous about
trusting our instincts on where to eat. I can't recall exactly who
recommended that we eat at the unfortunately named
Gigina, but whoever it was, we should thank them. The baseline
of quality for restaurants is simply higher in Italy so despite our
best efforts, our expectations were pretty high. Trattoria Gigina
beat even those.
Gigina was a long cab-ride from the center of town.
We had no idea where we were and along the way wondered if we had
been kidnapped by our cabbie. Our fears were unfounded as he
delivered us to
our destination somewhere in Bologna. As we entered Trattoria
Gigina, it felt a little traditional. And while we would assume that
would be likely to mean high quality, the night before we felt
traditional had meant slightly out of touch. We got this impression
from the purse table for ladies in the
entrance as well as the special menu for the women in our party
(the menus didn't include the prices), and the
picture of the ample woman, obviously a veteran of the kitchen,
stirring a huge pot of sauce.
We took our seats up on the second floor of the
restaurant. Things started with a bang as we ordered a bottle of
San Valentino Terra Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2000.
On my own personal (and somewhat wacky) 100 point scale I gave it a
93. It was a touch thin up front but blossomed into big acidic (in a
good way) tangy deliciousness. Plenty of soft tannins on the finish.
Nice. While the wine was great, the bread (of course) was not good.
Not terrible this time, but not good either. No worries, much better
food was to follow.
The food started coming in earnest when our
Roast-beef della Gigina con La Sua Salsa arrived. Pink and juicy
and topped with a lemon wedge, it was delicious. So light, so moist,
hugely savory. The flavors were rustic and (not surprisingly)
slightly tangy. As if the region didn't have enough specialties,
Mortodella was another one. But I hadn't had a superlative
Mortadella experience yet. That changed with
Spuma di Mortadella e Gelatina di Balsamico. It had a bit of a
rougher texture than others I'd had which I thought ended up being a
positive note. The balsamic gelatin cubes added welcome sharp sparks
of tanginess. This was Peyman's
Speaking of regional specialties, up next was a
plate of the best prosciutto I've ever eaten -
Prosciutto di Parma Stagionato due Anni. It was perfect. Salty,
savory, porky. The texture was slightly dry in a good way. We also
carpaccio with enormous parmigiana reggiana shavings on top.
Most folks at the table thought it was served too cold. That said,
the texture was amazing. It was like raw tuna. So soft and supple.
And once you let the meat sit on your tongue the subtlest flavors
made their appearance. The touch of mild savory tones were also like
a beautiful piece of raw tuna. While I did love it, I have to admit
it could have been overwhelmed by the other dishes given its
Typically when we go to eat we order in an atypical
way. We avoid huge entrees and try for as many smaller dishes as
possible which we share family style. The key is for us to taste as
much as the restaurant has to offer. In Italy our approach is almost
impossible. There's antipasti, then primi, then secondi, then
dessert. That's it. Anytime we try and deviate the restaurant gets
nutty. They also are so worried about us getting enough food (by
their definition, not ours) that we always end up with too much. By
this time on our trip to Italy we'd basically figured that out. And
if we hadn't by this time, they made it clear when they wouldn't let
us not order secondi. As you'll see below, there are worse problems
bowl of freshly grated parmigiana reggiana showed up at our
table before the primi arrived. How could we be expected not to try
some. It was creamy, tangy, and fresh. We worried it would be gone
by the time the dishes arrived. What arrived next was the
Tortellini in Brodo di Tradizione Bolognese. Now my Italian is
essentially non-existent, but after tasting this dish I think I can
safely say that Bologna has some great traditions. The broth was
rich and wonderful. It started out with this simple chicken flavor
but got meatier and had citrus notes near the mid-palate. The little
dumplings were soft and delicious. I really loved the soup. I
swallowed the tortellini whole sometimes.
Next up was
Larghissime con Funghi Porcini. The mushrooms were butter. The
pasta delicious and light. This was
DebDu's favorite. We also got
Tortelloni di Ricotta al Burro e Salvia. Essentially, huge
tortelloni filled with super flavorful ricotta. Excellent. We also
had some of the best Bolognese pasta so far. Very very good. The
creamy cheese completed it. This (not surprisingly) was
All the food came out of the kitchen piping hot and
great. I guess it's no surprise that temperature is key in making a
great food experience. It is surprising though how rarely you eat
somewhere that the food consistently comes out of the kitchen at the
right temperature. It wasn't just the temperature of course. The
pasta was perfectly cooked as well.
Finally we got a couple of secondi. The first was
Cotoletta alla Petroniana con Tartufo. Turkey cutlet, truffle,
cheese, and ham. It was good but dense. The truffle showed up quite
nicely. We also got
Tagliatina di Vitello in Salsa all'Aceto Balsamico. The veal was
a touch overcooked. And while I never usually feel this way, in this
case it really didn't matter. The sauce with it's balanced and not
overdone tangy sweetness was really incredible and made up for any
deficiencies in the meat. Great. The
veggie accompaniments were quite good as well.
I didn't realize it at the time but this meal was a
first class tour of the specialties of Emilia-Romagna done without
pretense or pomp. Just first class ingredients, simple recipes, and
perfect execution. The prosciutto di parma, parmigiana reggiana,
balsamic vinegar, mortadella, the bolognese sauce on the pasta, and
the chicken soup with tortellini all were iconic representations of
the best the region has to offer. It was Emilia Romagna's dream team
of ingredients and dishes all making their appearance before us. And
much like the original basketball version, this group destroyed
everything in their path including any willpower I had to say no. It
may have been a dream experience for me, but I'm almost positive
that this was just another meal for the people at Trattoria Gigina.
April 8, 2005 — The New York Times (free registration
required) gives its
guide to high-end food shopping on the web. Unlike most print
publications putting their articles on the web, the Times actually
puts hyperlinks to the sources in the article. Amazing!
Not to raise the foie gras issue again (please
please don't write to me complaining) but here's a pretty well-known
chef, Charlie Trotter,
renounces foie gras on "ethical grounds".
Jeffrey Steingarten had a whole chapter in one of his books about
salt and whether it really makes any difference which one you use.
Since salt has the same chemical makeup no matter what brand you
buy, dissolved in water, how could you tell the difference. That
said, I have found, at least for me, that the shape of the salt (undissolved
of course) really does play differently on the tongue. The Los
Angeles Times (free registration required) talks about the
variety awaiting you in the world of salt.
Heidi at 101 Cookbooks is kicking ass with some great posts. My
favorites as of late have been her
potato spoon bread, and
cream waffles which I plan on making Sunday morning for
Derrick of Obsession with
Food is still cranking as well. His
post for SFist all about snap peas has such a mouthwatering
picture at the top that you don't even have to read the article to
There's a new food
blog (roughly every ten minutes) called
Eggbeater that I found
out about via Food
Chronicles. I was immediately inclined to like the site as the
first post I saw talked about
making green beans with guanciale. There is nothing not to love
Orangette is a
really good food blog. It's not just that the author Molly writes
well and posts great photographs, but she really opens up about
herself. I think if you're going to put yourself in the position of
giving opinions on something, you need to have a deep honesty about
yourself and all the aspects of yourself that will affect your
judgment. Trust me, this is hard, but I think important. Her latest
post covers her
aversion to change and chickpea-tomato soup.
I've been meaning to post about this for awhile. At first the idea
of a pretend restaurant seemed a little wacky to me. Why have a
restaurant without food? But
really well done and a labor of love. And essentially there's no
difference between writing about food in a blog or a magazine vs.
writing about it as if you were cooking it in your own restaurant.
I'm thinking of starting my own virtual food spot.
April 7, 2005 — On the contest circuit, both the
Foundation Journalism Awards (.PDF) and the
IACP Bert Greene Journalism
Awards have announced their finalists. Here's the thing that makes
me a little crazy - not a single nominee was a food blogger. Both
contest make distinctions between magazines and newspapers, but
anything published on the internet gets lumped into one category. I
think each group needs a food blog category. And furthermore I think
they need to tighten their requirements on internet submissions that
they not also be found in print publications.
There was one ray of hope when in the original IACP
announcement, Jon Bonne of
Amuse Bouche was nominated for a food story he did for his day
job at MSNBC (not a food blog entry, but at least a food blogger).
But in an unbelievably lame turn of events, the IACP later retracted
his finalist status claiming that they sent out the wrong list. This
is absolutely and incredible unprofessional. Rather than retract his
nomination they should have just taken all five finalists to the
finish line. You can read all about this nutty turn of events
The mainstream food media has really started to
recognize the high quality content coming from the hundreds of food
blogs that have sprouted all over the net. Maybe eventually these
contests will catch up as well.
Seattle, tasted on March 31, 2005 — I have written many times
about my priorities when it comes to eating. It's really all about
flavor for me. Ultimately if the food tastes great and special, I
don't care hugely about other things like service, decor, and even
cost. But for the first time last week I was influenced by something
other than the taste of the food. A couple of months ago
DebDu started volunteering at a
Seattle organization called
FareStart. FareStart trains homeless
people to work in restaurants and other food service businesses.
Through a partnership with local restaurants Fare Start places 80%
of its graduates in jobs. This simple strategy is making progress
helping the homeless and being incredibly effective. And they do it
all through food.
Every day of the week FareStart
serves food to roughly 2500 people. It provides food to homeless
shelters, does catering, and also has its own restaurant where it
serves lunch in downtown Seattle Monday through Friday. And every
week on Thursday night FareStart invites a
typically from a local restaurant to cook
dinner. And from what I can tell, every Thursday night is packed. On
the night we went the guest chef was Heath Swanson of McCormick and Schmick's Harborside. Chef Swanson, some folks from his restaurant,
a crew of volunteers (on this night from the Microsoft alumni
network), and of course the folks in training from FareStart cooked
dinner. Things started off with Living Butter Lettuce Salad with
Julienned Jicama, Dijon Ranch, and Pink Peppercorns. The salad was
followed by Cedar-planked Salmon, Northwest Berry Beurre Sauce with
Herb Roasted Potatoes and Fresh Asparagus. For dessert we got Fresh
Northwest Berry Shortcake with a Buttermilk Biscuit and Vanilla
Honestly, the food was fine. And for the first
time, I didn't really worry about it too much. There was an energy
in the room that I haven't seen at any restaurant in Seattle. The
closest thing I've felt to it was the energy at Balthazar in New
York. But FareStart's restaurant isn't a hip huge French bistro. It
feels Scotch taped together. The equipment in the kitchen is
ancient. FareStart is currently in the middle of a capital campaign
to renovate another downtown building into a nicer facility. I hope
they don't make it too nice. The "low-endness" of their current
restaurant is part of what gives it charm. Strangely enough, the
decor, the service, the price, and (warning, heresy follows) even the food
is not a huge factor much because it just feels good to eat there.