Category Archives: local 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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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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Dining: Osteria A Priori | Perugia, Italy

th_peruroma 034After the nightmare that was getting into Perugia, it was all uphill from there (literally). The hill-top towns of Umbria lured us in with charm and some of the best meals of our entire trip. But one of the most memorable was here, at Osteria A Priori– right in the heart of Perugia’s historic core. Located within a couple of blocks from our hotel, this little osteria has gotten numerous glowing reviews from professional critics and bloggers alike. But don’t think you’ll be walking into some stuffy, white tablecloth establishment. Osteria A Priori is as down-to-earth as they get. A modest spread of tall wooden tables in the back of a specialty shop (with a smaller private dining room upstairs). The food is all local. Meats, cheeses, and produce from less than 50 kilometers away to compliment the locally produced wine and beer.

Reservations fill up quickly, so book in advance. We witnessed many walk-ins being turned away during our visit– even locals who visit often were told that they were “al completo” for the night and to come back the next day. The menu is simple. Traditional dishes; hearty and lacking fuss. The star of the meal for me was the charcuterie platter which featured delicious salumi and prosciutto with local cheeses, honey, and nuts. The pasta dish was also memorable– served simple with a generous heaping of black truffles and olive oil. Regrettably, I was pretty full by the time my Osso Bucco hit the table. Although it’s melt-in-your-mouth goodness is surely worth noting. I don’t even need to tell you that we skipped dessert. Do yourself a favor and check this place out. If you don’t have time to stay for a meal, at least take advantage of their wonderful selection of beer & wine. A craft beer and natural wine lover’s must-try destination.

Two hours, a bottle of Paolo Bea’s ’06 Rosso de Veo, and too much food later, we stumbled back through Perugia’s back streets in hardly any light and uneven cobblestones (in heels). But my, we were happy.

Osteria a Priori is located at Via dei Priori, 39; Perugia, Italy. 

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Travelogue: Exploring Florence’s Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo

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One of my favorite pass times is visiting local markets when I travel. It’s something my mother and I did growing up– searching for local food at farmers markets and bargaining at eclectic flea markets. Growing up in California with a mom like mine meant that I appreciated waking up at the earliest hours of my Sunday morning if it meant getting the first crack at the season’s bounties. So when planning our trip to Italy, I knew that heading into markets as often as possible would be a must. Not only do you get a sense of the local culture at these markets, but you get to taste your way through their specialties and dive into every day life.

The Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo is one of these must-visit markets. It’s history dates back to the 1870s during the brief time when Florence was named the capital of what was then the Kingdom of Italy. Many of the vendors within the Mercato Centrale have had long-time ties to the market including one of my personal favorites, Nerbone. I am filled with sheer delight as I make my way through the labyrinth of produce vendors, butchers, and specialty stalls selling fine quality olive oils, wine, and truffles. Our visit in October meant that the season for white truffles had arrived and so I spent an obligatory few moments lingering near the luxurious tuber.

While the market attracts many tourists day in and day out, this is still very much a locals market. Lines form at the top of lunch hour at some of the more popular food stalls dishing out traditional tripe dishes and other offally good treats that may take the unaccustomed foreigner by surprise. and there are even a few purveyors who will have trouble understanding English. For the most part, enjoying this market comes with relative ease. Most stalls have someone who can understand some English and if you’ve got a simple phrase book handy, you can easily shop to your heart’s content. Take some time to peruse the cheap goods lined up in the outdoor market, too. While it may not look like much, you can find some pretty great Italian leather goods here and bargaining them down 10-25% isn’t considered rude– it’s part of the game.

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Dining: Perfect mid-day breaks at Procacci | Florence, Italy

th_TuscanyTuesdayCanon 034In an alternate universe, I am Florentine. I am the wife of a wealthy someone-or-other who doesn’t want me to break a nail working a “real job,” but instead indulges me in my passion to live by my pen; leaving me to myself most days while he does whatever it is he does to maintain our small fortune so that I can spend my days in cafes drinking wine, eating what I please, and getting “inspired.”

If this alternate universe were real, I’d practically live at Procacci. But since this isn’t my reality, it’s rare visits to this beautiful wine bar that will have to suffice. Procacci is located on a fancy stretch of fashion real estate– neighboring appointment-only designer boutiques and artisan retailers. It’s been around since 1885 and has a reputation a mile long with only two newer outlets in Vienna and Singapore. Despite the modern times, somehow, they manage to maintain a certain enchantment about them. Luxurious yet unpretentious. The kind of bar you want to imagine seeing Hemingway in.

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The interior is vintage-chic. Dark wood counters, ceilings high with shelves of fine wines and locally made products, small cafe tables lined up in a single row along a mirrored wall. Very Parisian…but you know, Italian. Their most popular product? Panino Tartufato, or truffled finger sandwiches. Imagine spending a leisurely afternoon here with a robust glass of Barolo and several platefuls of these dainty panini stuffed with truffle butter, smoked salmon, salumi, and the like. The prices are surprising; clocking in at under 2 euro each, you can fill up with an easy lunch or mid-day snack for under $20 euro for two people. Are these sandwiches all they’re cracked up to be? Absolutely. Order at the counter, pay when you’re done, and drift off into happy land as you day-dream your alternate reality. Procacci, via de Tornabuoni, 65R, Florence, Italy. 

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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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Dining: Trattoria Al Gatto Nero | Burano, Venice, Italy

With complete confidence, I can honestly tell you that our lunch at Trattoria Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero was one of the best meals we had on our recent Italian jaunt. Regarded as one of the best dining options in Venice, this family-owned trattoria is located on the beautiful outer lagoon island of Burano (a post about Burano will be up on here soon).

Specializing in seafood (Burano being an old fisherman’s town and all), Al Gatto Nero boasts incredibly fresh offerings; a majority of which come straight from the lagoon just a few meters away. Reservations are an absolute necessity here, so when I made plans for our Burano day-trip I did a quick search on the web and found what looked like the European version of OpenTable, called MyTable. WARNING: While I received a confirmation e-mail from MyTable, it should be of note that this restaurant DOES NOT work with them and your reservation will not be confirmed. I was in  a bit of a panic when I was told we were not in the books, but we were incredibly fortunate to have walked in right after a cancellation. Max, our host (and grandson to the owner), was very accommodating; handing us glasses of Prosecco to ease our grief. Lesson learned: book directly with Al Gatto Nero to ensure your table!

With the reservation mix-up taken care of, we dove right on into our seafood feast. We ordered the “Experience”-sized mixed seafood appetizer (around 30 euros) and were delighted when not one, not two, but FOUR plates of fresh seafood arrived at our table. I had been dreaming of Al Gatto Nero’s famed razor clams for weeks and they did not disappoint. Fresh scallops in shell, tender cuttlefish and octopus, delicious shrimp, steamed mussels and clams, and creamy baccala mantecato were only part of this comprehensive platter. If the meal had ended there, I would not have been upset.

Thankfully, the feast continued with our two main courses: grilled monkfish for me and fried calamari for the boyfriend. The monkfish was tender, juicy, and had the most amazing grilled flavor; delicate and rich. Unlike any other grilled fish I have ever had. There was no need for any other seasoning, nor lemon juice. Perfect as it was. The handful of calamari that I had stolen off boyfriend’s plate were equally as good– probably the best we’ve ever had with  a light, crisp breading but incredibly tender (not rubbery) interior. As much as we would have loved to have eaten their entire menu, we were getting pretty stuffed. So we finished up our bottle of Prosecco and ended on a sweet note with their delectable homemade Tiramisu and some coffee.

A meal to remember and a must-try for those heading out into the lagoon in search for a uniquely Venetian experience. Trattoria Al Gatto Nero, Fondementa della Giudecca, 88, Burano, Venezia, Italy. 

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Dining: An Impromptu Dinner at Vino Vino | Venice, Italy

I’m going to contradict myself a little here. While I know I emphasized the importance of booking tables in advance when traveling in Italy, our first day in Venice was an exhausting one and we broke the cardinal rule of jet-lag by taking a two-hour long nap late in the afternoon. The original plan was to wander around in search of ciccheti near the Rialto, but having woken up a little later than planned (damn snooze button), we were limited to some impromptu dinner plans.

It had rained quite a bit during our nap and having left our hotel after dark, many of the restaurants and bacari were packed with people trying to stay out of the cold. Following winding streets for a while, I noticed a small sign that read “Aperto | Open” and decided to follow it. The destination: Vino Vino, the intimate wine bar owned by neighboring Antico Martini which has been around since 1720.

Tucked away from plain sight mere meters away from Antico Martini and just steps away from the famous Teatro La Fenice, this intimate little wine bar features a lengthy wine list and a simple menu featuring fresh pasta dishes and a few entrees at a very reasonable price. We chose to sit in the covered heated patio and were the only English speakers around us during our visit. It was dimly lit and romantic. Our waiter was prompt and friendly, and while the meal was simple, after a long day, it really hit the spot. I found comfort in my incredibly tender braised beef cheeks in a red wine sauce, served with fluffy potato puree and my glass of Barbaresco. A decent meal to cap off a say of sight-seeing and time adjusting. Vino Vino, Ponte delle Veste, 2007/A, Venice, Italy. 

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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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