Category Archives: Comfort Food

Dining: Flavio al Velavevodetto | Rome, Italy {Testaccio}

th_peruroma 113If there was one place in Rome that I saw recommended often in the “foodie underground,” it was definitely Flavio al Velavevodetto located in the up-and-coming offal- centric neighborhood of Testaccio. This neighborhood is home to some pretty great things such as Il Birrivendolo craft beer bottle shop, the Testaccio Market, and places like Da Bucatino and Da Felice which specialize in true Roman cuisine. I had read about this place a few times from Elizabeth and Eleonara– both ladies whom I trust when it comes to good, honest food, at agreeable prices.

Our experience at Flavio was lovely. It was a glorious meal which included some of the best fresh-pulled mozzarella and prosciutto of our entire trip and the richest carbonara ever. Was it my favorite carbonara dish? Probably not. But believe me, it was damn good. Eggy, cheesey, salty goodness loaded with pancetta. Comforting and filling, I couldn’t finish my plate. It was a stark contrast to the fresh buffla which was clean on the palate and the mild prosciutto di parma which was lean and earthy.  Prices were criminally low, house wine was decent, and the ambiance was cozy. The stacks of ancient clay from Monte Testaccio were prominently featured in the windows of the space providing an extra special treat for history buffs looking for a peak into yesteryear.

Italians took up a majority of the dining room with a packed lunch crowd which is always a good sign. As with every place I’ve written about in Europe so far, if you know you’ll be heading to Rome, be sure to book your table in advance. Italians take lunch seriously and this is a place you don’t want to miss.

Flavio al Velavevodetto is located at 97 Via de Monte Testaccio, Roma, Italia. 

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Filed under BLD, Comfort Food, Dinner, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, Lunch, Pasta, Pork, seasonal foods, Travel, Travel Advice, Travelogue, Vacation

Dining: Just in time for Umbrian White Truffles at Spirito di Vino | Montefalco, Italy

My series of entries from my time in Umbria concludes with our last dinner in Montefalco at the award-winning Spirito di Vino. If I could go back in time to the day of our visit, I would change only two things:

-I wouldn’t have over-ordered.
-I would have made arrangements to stay in Montefalco instead of driving back late (in pitch black darkness) to Perugia.

Spirito diVino has got to be one of my most favorite dining destinations in Italy. Why? Because they’ve got a ridiculously solid wine list (boasting hyper-local and natural wines), and their simple farm-to-table cuisine is rustic yet luxurious. Aside from the copious amounts of Paolo Bea’s wine, it was one pasta dish that particularly blew me away. This, my friends, was the BEST pasta dish we had in Italy:

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Handmade pasta with a light truffle cream sauce, generously covered in fresh white truffle shavings. OMG.

Need I say more? Had the meal ended right then and there, I would have been happy as a clam. My error was in thinking that this needed to be a multi-course affair. Once my (still delicious) pork tenderloin came out with a melange of sweet peppers, I began to fade into the depths of too much food & too much wine sleepiness. My couple of bites of the boy’s eggplant dish was cheesy, comforting goodness which also didn’t help in aiding my looming exhaustion from the day’s wandering.

Luckily, dessert helped put the pep back into my spirit. A clever dessert of sorbets and gelato utilizing the shells & bodies of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that lend them their flavors was an almost meta dessert experience. Walnut ice cream made with the walnut meat and then shoved back into the shell, a sweet green bell pepper turned into sorbet and scooped back into it’s body…flavors I wouldn’t have dared to consider as a sweet end to a meal. And on top of that, a small tiramisu because I’m just a sucker for those it seems.

Overall, this intimate meal was a memorable one. And while the prices weren’t as economical as other places we visited on this trip, it surely didn’t break the bank and was worth every penny. Be sure to make advanced reservations, and be patient with the service. Our lovely hostess was also the only waitress of the evening, but with that wine list, who can really complain?
Spirito di Vino is located at Piazza Mustafa 2, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy, 06036. www.spiritodivino.net. 

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Travelogue: Perugia’s World of Chocolate

th_peruroma 018After being warmly greeted into Umbria during our day-time detour to Lake Trasimeno, we arrived into Perugia late in the evening when most of the residents of the historic core had already retired for the night. There was no traffic,no people walking around like we had seen in Florence and Venice. The streets were quiet and the roads, much more difficult to maneuver. We had rented a very small compact car,  and yet one wrong turn got us stuck between two buildings with no way out. How do these Perugians get around in cars? And more importantly, how the hell did that truck in front of squeeze its way through??

Only a local can truly answer these questions–and if anything, “years of practice” would have to suffice. Amid our frustrated cursing, we were subjected to the kindness of a stranger. An old man just happened to walk by and despite the language barrier, was able to help us out. We eventually checked into our hotel and called it a night. Walking to the hotel, we noticed that the shops were closed and many of the roads were blocked off. It turned out,we had not only chosen the wrong time to get into historic Perugia, but also the wrong day. EuroChocolate, one of the largest chocolate festivals in Europe would be taking place that weekend.

EuroChocolate! I had completely forgotten about this. In my quest to hunt down the season’s first white truffles,I had neglected the very thing that has put Perugia on an international map: chocolate! I’m sure you’ve perused the candy aisle of your major grocery store and have seen Perugina Baci’s. Similar to the golden-wrapped Ferrero Rochers, these little guys are hazelnut praline kisses adorned in silver and blue tin foil. Perugina, established in 1907 is one of the most recognizable Italian brands in the world, and is the major sponsor of EuroChocolate; bringing hundreds of vendors into the region once a year.

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To compensate for not being able to attend EuroChocolate this year, we decided to shoot for the next best thing.Thanks to a few recommendations,we made our way to Cioccolateria Augusta. Established in 2000,this small
chocolate shoppe is the ultimate spot for chocolate gelato and truffles.After having worked for Perugina for 25 years, Giordano surely knows a thing or two about high-quality chocolate. Located off the main stretch of retail
shops, nearly directly behind Perugina’s factory and shop, Augusta is a must try. We indulged in the best chocolate-flavored gelatos of our trip and took home some hot cocoa mix at reasonable prices.

For a sweet pick-me up in the afternoon or in lieu of a morning cappuccino,  dive into a thick European-style hot chocolate at Sandri. This pasticceria has been serving Perugia continuously since 1860…1860!! We started our mornings at this historic spot on the chic Corso Vannucci and walked right up to the counter. Their hot chocolate is dense so don’t forget to ask for some pana (whipped cream). You order first, indulge at the counter, then pay the nice lady at the antique cash register. Inexpensive, but no less luxurious.

Lastly, if you *must* visit Perugina, you may do so just a few steps away from Sandri. Load up on some gifts for friends and if you’re in the mood, tour their factory. For me though, a stroll through town with gelato from Augusta or a coffee break at Sandri was all I needed.

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Filed under Chocolate, Comfort Food, Desserts, Italian, Italy, Travel

Dining: Ristorante del Fagioli | Florence, Italy

th_TuscanyTuesdayCanon 022We recently dined at Ristorante del Fagioli based on the recommendation of several Florentine blogger friends who praised their rustic Tuscan cuisine and great prices. There was a heavy down-pour on our first night in Florence, so after considering our options, we found it best to try this place which was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel overlooking the Arno. Modestly tucked between small local shops away from the main stretch of high-end boutiques and restaurants, del Fagioli is the type of place you go to when you’re in need of a warm atmosphere and comforting home-style food.

It’s one of those places that feels out of a movie; Chianti bottles hanging from the walls in their signature straw baskets, a dining room mixed with actual Italians harmoniously dining among curious travelers. A no-fuss handwritten menu featuring some of the region’s most popular dishes (yes, including bistecca alla Florentina) at a fraction of the cost of most other neighboring joints.

There was a charm about the place. It was like we’d been there before. Weary from a long day out and about in the rain, we mistakenly (perhaps fortunately) let our stomachs order instead of our brains. And while we both agreed that we ordered entirely too much food, everything was delicious and was expediently brought to our table without much lag in their uber-friendly service.

We started off with a crostini appetizer topped with none other than silky melt-in-your-mouth fatty lardo and rosemary; local bread grilled just enough to give the lardo a bit of warmth. We followed it up with two pasta dishes: rigatoni in a rich veal ragu for him and the most amazing and simple tortelli, freshly made and stuffed with ricotta and lemon in a bright tomato sauce. Every bite of my dish was perfect; the cheese’s richness cut with a nice balance of acidity. At this point in the meal and halfway through our bottle of wine, I was just about ready to roll over and go to bed. But then the entrees came. Involtini for him and a plate of Bollito Misto (mixed boiled meats) with a side of fagioli (white Tuscan beans, their namesake). As we tried to eat as much of these dishes as we could, we had over-estimated our hunger. His dish was dense, rich,and comforting; mine being a complete protein on protein fest. The meat was tender and savory; the beans, petite and plump– delicately flavored with local olive oil and a simple dusting of salt and pepper.

This is the meal you want after a long day. When it’s a little chilly and you want to feel warm from the inside out. If in Florence and looking for a good hearty meal at low prices, del Fagioli’s got what you need. Reservations are highly recommended. Ristorante del Fagioli, Corso Tintori 47R, Florence, Italy. 

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Dining: Nerbone | Florence, Italy

After a few glorious days in Venice, it was time to move onto the next city on our schedule: Florence. Our time in Florence was going to be limited, but as we hopped off of our morning train and checked-in to our hotel, I had one thing on my mind. That one thing, was lunch from the legendary Nerbone in the Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo. Da Nerbone has been a Florentine institution since the 1800s, serving up comforting fare at honest prices. Their specialties are their very inexpensive sandwiches made on rustic rolls and filled with incredibly tender meat. While they offer a small menu of other simple Tuscan staples, it’s their sandwiches that bring in the large crowds of both locals and tourists alike.

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Boyfriend and I indulged in three different panini including their porchetta (which was lean but flavorful), bollito (boiled beef), and their famous lampredotto panino. Lampredotto is a popular Florentine street food and it is not for the weak of heart. If you’re familiar with tripe, lampredotto is just another step in the offally good equation (being a cow’s fourth and final stomach). While this type of sandwich filling may not sound too appealing to the average American, when in Florence, it is definitely worth a try. Besides, who’s to argue with long-standing tradition in a country known for a multitude of delicious food, right?

We planned our morning just right– getting to the Mercato Centrale around 11:30 before any major lines formed in front of Nerbone. Before long, there was a large group of businessmen getting in line for a quick, inexpensive lunch break. Be prepared to eat standing up as dining tables in this market are incredibly hard to come by. Worst case scenario, do as we did; set up shop on the outer stairs of the market and take in the atmosphere of the bustling market shoppers if you can’t find any empty counter space. Just don’t forget the salsa verde which is made with fresh green herbs– it goes great on everything. Stretch those Euros and satisfy your belly with the ultimate Florentine lunch on a shoestring budget.

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In the Kitchen: Spicy Shrimp & Creamy White Grits

There are some days when all you can do is think of a dish that you really want. Those “I gotta have it” days. In my case, I had a hankerin’ for some shrimp and grits and I thought I’d give it the ole’ college try.

Shrimp and grits is really pretty simple to make. For some reason, I stumbled upon a handful of recipes that claimed that making this dish hovered around moderately hard to difficult (don’t believe it). The trick is to use fresh quality ingredients, season appropriately, and make sure that you’re using good quality stone-ground white grits. Cheese, cream, and butter are surely your best friends; your reliable dorm-mates, if you will. And the use of your specially concoted spice blend will have Emeril saying “damn!” instead of “bam!” for having not thought of this combo himself. Continue reading

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Dining: Meat & Potatoes | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I’ve been sitting on this post for about a month now, which is nobody’s fault other than my own. Our dinner at Pittsburgh’s Meat & Potatoes was pretty much my favorite meal on our recent trip, and yet, it’s the last to get mentioned on this blog. I started a new job a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been playing catch-up on the web, so before this glorious meal starts to fade in my memory (which on second thought, probably wouldn’t happen since it was darn good), let me tell you of a place you must try if you find yourself in the area.

While searching for a place for dinner with the boyfriend and the pseudo-in-laws, I stumbled upon the website for M&P. Open for less than a year, the menu for this awesome gastropub made my mouth water. A stellar selection of craft beers, decent wine, and a cocktail list using fresh ingredients that could warrant the term “mixology” but without the “mixology” price tag? I’m in!

But while the casual-hip atmosphere and well-curated libations are definitely reason enough to go here, the food stands out as innovative yet familiar; filling, well-executed, and affordable. Our table started the meal off with an order of their mussels cooked in a white wine sauce and served with fried taters (fries) with a black truffle aioli. These mussels were fresh and quite flavorful with the addition of smokey chorizo, chili, and broccolini– it’s broth soaking in great flavor and accentuated with a touch of cream.

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The boyfriend’s parentals ordered the salmon (pictured at the top of this post) and the roast chicken, respectively. The salmon had a beautiful presentation and was exotic and packed some heat with its Brussels sprout kim chi, pineapple, chili, and Korean BBQ flavors. The Pan Roasted Chicken had more south of the border flavors with black beans, yucca fries, salsa verde, and queso fresco.

Boyfriend went the route of their Hudson Valley Duck Breast which was cleverly crusted with pastrami seasonings and served with sauerkraut pierogies, ramp butter, dandelion greens, and chimichurri– we shared bites of this and I must say, that duck was served at a perfect medium-rare and had loads of flavor. For my entree, the Braised Lamb Shank. I surprised even myself when I made this my dinner of choice, but the description sounded too good to pass up (and it did not disappoint). A giant bone-in lamb shank was placed before me; perfectly fall-of-the-bone tender and covered in a glorious sauce and gremolata. This entree was served on a bed of creamy Tuscan white beans, broccolini, and a bitter braised kale that helped cut through the fatty, homey goodness of the lamb. If you can’t tell, I was an absolute fan of this dish.

Completely stuffed from this rich and comforting dinner, we opted to skip dessert. But with Southern Tier’s Creme Brulee stout on the menu, the boy and I couldn’t resist. Do yourself a favor and head to Meat & Potatoes next time you’re in downtown Pittsburgh.

Big thanks to the McDowells for a lovely time!

Meat & Potatoes is located at 649 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. | http://www.meatandpotatoespgh.com 

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Dining: Primanti Brothers | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Friends that really know me can tell you that I am simply mad about potatoes. Whether it be in the form of mashes potatoes, hash browns, or French fries, I have never met a potato I did not like. With that said, when the boyfriend told me about the legendary Pittsburgh sandwiches at Primanti Brothers, I knew I just had to try them. French fries IN the sandwich you say?!?

I’m the gal that rejoiced when Liz Lemon gives the golden advice to put potato chips in your sandwiches. “Finally,” I thought. “Someone gets me!” With that in mind, the boyfriend and his parents were gracious enough to take me to Pittsburgh’s sandwich mecca. Primanti Brother’s has been expanding quite a bit in southwestern Pennsylvania, but it is at the original Strip District location that you get that real old timey feel.

In a nutshell, this genius sandwich was created many moons ago to help accommodate to truck drivers who needed sustenance in a hurry (or so legend dictates). The result is a giant sandwich consisting of Italian bread, sweet and sour cole slaw, tomatoes, provolone cheese, a handful of fries, and your choice of meat. My mouth is watering as I type this post right now, although I know some of you are totally freaked out at the concept. In all seriousness though, this sandwich isn’t as terrifying as it sounds. The bread holds up great, the fries are perfect and hand-cut, and the slaw has just the right balance of sweet and sour that isn’t overwhelming on the palate.

I LOVED this sandwich…and I hate cole slaw. I ordered the steak and cheese version of the sandwich as recommended by newlyweds Jess and Brian (we were in town for their wedding), while boyfriend opted for salami and his parentals got the pastrami. After stealing a couple of bites here and there, I’ve decided that everything was a winner. The steak was tender, the salami was cured well, and the pastrami (while different than what I am used to in LA and NYC), was perfectly lean and thinly sliced. At under $10 a pop, you can’t lose.

I am glad that my first Primanti’s experience was at the Strip District, which is still quite lively with specialty food vendors and warehouses supplying the city’s restaurants. The industrial surroundings are exactly the kind of image someone from out of state imagines Steeler town, and with a view of the smoke-stacks coming out of the Heinz plant just a stone’s throw away, it’s a point of Pittsburgh pride that can’t be beat.

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Personally, I’m just glad that we’ve got the Steel City Sandwich Truck to tide me over until our next trip to the ‘Burgh.

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Filed under As Seen on TV, Comfort Food, local eateries, local food, Lunch, sandwiches, Travel, Vacation

In the Kitchen: Panko-Crusted Artichoke Hearts

We’ve been seeing some beautiful artichokes at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market these past few weeks, and while there is nothing better than farm-fresh artichokes, they can be quite a bit of work to prepare. If you’re looking for a quick and easy appetizer, look no further than these Panko-Crusted Artichoke Hearts. Since I highly doubt anyone has the time to gut over a dozen artichokes just for their hearts, I recommend using good quality canned artichokes which are available at most grocery stores. For this recipe, avoid hearts that are marinated or are sitting in oil; you’ll want the simplest artichokes you can find– preferably whole canned or sealed in a glass jar in water or a salt-water brine; organic if possible.

If using artichoke hearts that are in a salt solution, really make sure you give them a good rinsing as they can be a little on the salty side. Frozen artichokes also work, but I have found that many flash frozen brands yield an undesirable texture and are more likely to fall apart when defrosted. You’ll need to defrost frozen artichokes in order to dry them and coat them in batter.

This recipe is great for entertaining. It’s also a good change of scenery for meatless po’boy sandwiches or even artichoke parmigiana. And since we’re using canned artichokes for this, you’ll be able to make this dish all year-round. Note: Since 99% of all domestic artichokes come from California, it’s not difficult to find locally canned or bottled artichoke hearts for those looking to keep their produce local. Whichever you choose, just be sure to stay away from any canned produce that has any scary sounding preservatives; salt, water, and citric acid are what you’d typically see on a decent canned variety. Continue reading

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Travelogue: Spend the day in Morro Bay

Some of my earliest summer memories involve feasting on fish and chips and chasing squirrels and seagulls in the sleepy coastal town of Morro Bay. Having been a Bay Area baby, we would often head down into SLO county on family day-trips. Although a bit off the beaten track from the more inland areas in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, Morro Bay is a great destination for those looking to slow it down a bit.

My first goal on this recent trip into Morro Bay was to grab lunch at Giovanni’s Fish Market. Giovanni’s has been around for over 25 years and features an amazing fresh fish market and restaurant. This casual spot has you lining up to order at the window so you can dig in al fresco with a killer Morro Bay view. This place is easily one of the most popular dining options in the area with great prices, hearty portions, and supreme quality. Don’t bother paying top dollar for linen table cloths and an ocean view; hunker down at Giovanni’s with a cup of their creamy clam chowder and enjoy the simple things in life. You will not regret it.

The order: Fried combo (fish, chips, scallops, shrimp, and squid perfectly battered and fried), Dungeness Crab Quesadilla (loaded with fresh crab and avocado), and a cup of clam chowder.

When you’ve gotten your fill, walk off that satisfied belly and check out all the little shops along the waterfront. You’ll find an interesting mix of touristy beach shops and hidden gems. Since I was looking forward to this trip down memory lane, I made sure to load up on delicious salt water taffy, fresh local jerky, and post cards to send friends. There was a really inexpensive bay cruise available every hour for only $10, but we were short on time for that. I also recommend driving down to the state beach to get a different view of the bay.

Walking away from the water, you’ll start to see more of the local mom and pop shops that make Morro Bay a great place to explore. We stumbled upon the old Rock Espresso, which has recently changed hands in the past handful of years, and found the former coffee joint to be in lovely and capable coffee-loving hands. Much cleaner and inviting, The Rock is a solid coffee spot in an area that is overrun by cheap coffee a la gas station-style.  Continue reading

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