Category Archives: Lunch

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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Travelogue: An Umbrian Detour to Lake Trasimeno

th_UmbriaWednesdayCanon 009We had every intention of waking up early and soaking in a little bit more of Florence before driving into the next part of our vacation in Umbria. But you know how it goes…you eat a heavy meal, get drunk off of too many glasses of red wine, grappa, and some sort of military spirit you’ve never even heard of…and then all of a sudden, your 7am wake up call became more like 10am and your plans of making it into Orvieto for lunch on your way to Assisi disappear out of thin air.

Not to be the sort that gets down on a shift in the plan, we leisurely ate our breakfast, took one more look at the river, and even did some light shopping by the Ponte Vecchio before hopping in the car to leave Tuscany. The game plan had turned into an “eat lunch wherever we see something good,” sort of thing and we decided that our ambitious Umbrian day-trip would have to do without one piece of the puzzle. As we drove on the autostrada blasting an Italian Top 40s cover of the international Korean hit “Gangnam Style,” we noticed a beautiful body of water in the distance.

It was Lake Trasimeno and we had entered Umbria. I had read about Lake Trasimeno while doing research for our trip, so I was familiar with the ancient town of Castiglione del Lago close by. As we hesitated and drove past it, we instead pulled off to get a view of the water and instead stumbled upon Passignano sul Trasimeno;  a dainty lakeside town that was quiet but had an assortment of restaurants and small hotels. The vibe here was casual– almost like a lazy beach town. And so we parked the car, surveyed our dining options, and popped into this cute little place called Ristorante Luciano.

I won’t lie. The reason why this place won over the others was that the building itself was just so endearing. The decor was vintage-looking and there was a charm about it that drew us in. Luckily, they were still seating late lunch (around 2pm) and were able to accommodate us. Making the most of this impromptu lake trip, we ordered a bottle of sparkling white wine and sat next to a big open window over-looking the water. Continue reading

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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: 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: Taverna San Trovaso | Venice,Italy

If there is one thing that you should know about dining in Italy, it’s that booking is essential. Even for lunch. Sure, you can always wander the streets and pop into a place that looks lively– taking a chance here and there in the name of dining spontaneity, but I for one, prefer to have a loose game plan, utilizing the recommendations of locals and friends. The truth of the matter is, some of your best dining options (budget and fine dining-wise) will require a bit of advanced planning, so don’t be put off if you’re turned away and the restaurant seems empty at the time because more than likely, they’re “e al completo” (fully booked).

For our first lunch in Venice, we decided on a casual lunch at Ristorante San Trovaso in the Dorsoduro neighborhood close to the Academia. Our reservations were confirmed via e-mail about four weeks prior to our arrival, but somehow I had missed their cancellation e-mail one week prior letting me know that they were actually going to be closed for a private event that day. Luckily, I was able to scan my e-mails on my phone and find the message where they recommended going to their sister property, the Taverna San Trovaso, located just around the corner.

Slightly discouraged, we made our way to the Taverna. Since it was early enough, we were seated immediately for lunch at noon. The menu at this location featured many similar dishes as the Ristorante with the addition of pizzas in a livelier setting. Based on the recommendation of a few blogger friends, we opted for the mixed seafood appetizer and two pasta dishes to accompany our locally-produced Prosecco.

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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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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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Dining: Rancho Nipomo for Authentic Santa Maria Tri-Tip | Nipomo, CA

If you think that California lacks its own barbecue culture, you are surely mistaken. I have heard this sentiment over and over again throughout the years from proud Texan friends and folks who have grown up with their own regional ‘cues in Kansas City, Memphis, North Carolina, and so on. But truth be told, California does have it’s own distinct style– developed some time in the mid-1800s by local ranchers. And it’s damn good, too.

We were able to re-live some major food memories of my childhood this weekend as we ventured up the 101 northbound to Paso Robles. En route to the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival, we found ourselves stuck on the I-5 N for a few hours due to a brush fire near Castaic that shut down all lanes of traffic for miles. When we were finally able to get off of the 5 near Valencia, we hopped onto the 126W to the 101 for a much less congested trip up the Pacific coast. Falling behind schedule, we decided to stop for dinner just outside of Santa Maria in nearby Nipomo.

Rancho Nipomo Deli & BBQ has only been around since 2006, but it’s become quite a beloved destination for tender, juicy barbecue Santa Maria-style. Located in a rather isolated area off the 101, Rancho Nipomo has all the elements of a Santa Maria bbq joint; hearty portions of tri-tip and pulled pork in a Mexican-American inspired menu where you can get smoked tri-tip enchiladas or regular ole’ pulled pork sandwiches.

We opted for two smoked tri-tip sandwiches; a regular bbq sandwich and a tri-tip dip served with rich au jus. Both sandwiches were piled high with tender thinly sliced beef and served on the most amazing locally made Telera rolls. At under $10 each, these filling sandwiches were well worth the investment. We also ordered a tri-tip taco smothered in fresh guacamole and a side order of crinkle cut fries. Add a bottle of Mexican coke and their luscious tres leches cake and you’ve got yourself a simple meal to remember.

So next time you’re in SLO county or driving up the coast on the 101, make sure to stop by for some distinctly California ‘cue and a craft beer.

Rancho Nipomo BBQ is located at 108 Cuyama Lane, Nipomo, CA.

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Power Lunch | Heywood: A Grilled Cheese Shop | Silverlake

An interesting new lunch spot just opened up in Silverlake. Heywood: A Grilled Cheese Shop is located right next to our beloved Lark Cake Shop off of Sunset and Micheltorena. This little local joint officially opened this week and we dropped in after hearing about their ooey, gooey, cheesy goodness.

The set-up is simple. Order at the counter, grab a seat, and dig in. I went for their namesake sandwich, The Heywood, which wo-year old English cheddar and carmelized onion confit spread onto fluffy sourdough bread ($9). My pal order their Muy Caliente which was loaded with fontina, spicy jack, jalapenos, fresh cream cheese,and crispy tortilla chip strips between sourdough bread ($13). Both sandwiches were served with a small cup of their tomato soupfor dipping and a handful of dressed mixed greens.

The general impression? Love at first bite. Buttery,gooey, and perfectly toasted grilled cheese sandwiches that can cure any case of the Mondays. The flavors were bold yet balanced and the bread was nice and soft. The onion confit was a great touch on my sandwich. I’ll definitely need to try more of their menu. With a decent selection of cane sugar bottled sodas and quick locally made desserts like cookies and s’mores bars, Heywood’s got a good thing going on. Dare I say that Silverlake just got a little bit cooler?

Heywood is located at 3337 1/2 W. Sunset Blvd., Silverlake. | heywoodgrilledcheese.com 

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Dining: Lechonera Los Pinos | Guavate, Cayey, Puerto Rico

To a gal like me who’s been raised on the wonderful pork dishes of the Philippines, the small village of Guavate in Cayey, Puerto Rico is as close to the promise land as I can get in the United States. Known affectionately as La Ruta de Lechon (Roast Pork Highway), this hidden mountain town has more lechoneras within two to three miles than anywhere else on the island. Specializing in spit-roasted whole pig (lechon) and all the traditional fixin’s, these little shacks don’t look like much. Don’t be fooled. This will be one of the most memorable meals not only of your trip, but perhaps of your lifetime.

The pigs are raised on the island and contain a texture and flavor that I would consider a rarity in terms of continental U.S meat. They are marinated in sofrito and slowly roasted yielding an incredibly tender product with a beautifully crisp golden skin and juicy meat. Simply AMAZING. Lechon is a common dish in Filipino cuisine which we have relatively often, but lechon this melt-in-your-mouth good only comes around once every few years.

Guavate is only about 45 minutes away from San Juan, but with its winding roads and higher altitude, renting a car is an absolute necessity. The scenery in this area is stunning; very lush and green. We even saw some bamboo scattered about in some areas. While there are so many lechoneras to choose from when you approach the town, we decided to stop in on some of the most popular ones that were featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. As a precaution on over-hyped TV tourist traps, we made sure to consult with locals to make sure this was a good choice. The response was unanimous.

 

 

There are two benefits to choosing to go with Los Pinos or its neighboring El Rancho Original (which was featured on Bizarre Foods). 1) The space is usually larger which means more seating, entertainment, and better facilities (restrooms are hard to come by in this area). 2) You will most likely be able to visit on a weekday as many lechoneras are only open Friday- Sunday. This entire village is very lively on the weekends, but there is also an added benefit of visiting on a week day; less crowds, more parking, and a calmer atmosphere. Either way, La Ruta de Lechon is something you cannot miss.

Make a note that English isn’t as prominent here as it is in larger cities. We were able to order without too much trouble, but this was the only place where we really started to feel the language barrier. Luckily, if all else fails, you can just point to what you want– everything is good. We went with lechon for two, a pint of arroz con habichuelas (rice with pigeon peas), an order of sweet roasted plantains, and two sodas. The rice here was especially tasty with chunks of pork and sausage tossed in for added flavor. The roasted plantains were perfectly carmelized and reminded me of Filipino turon minus the crispy shell. Servings were enormous and only cost $16!!

Some folks online have complained about this area being over-hyped, but in my opinion, if you pick the right lechonera, you are in for a treat. Follow the crowds, look for where the locals are hanging out, and let the porky goodness do the rest. I cannot wait to go back…

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