Category Archives: seafood

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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Filed under Italian, Italy, local eateries, Lunch, Pasta, seafood, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation

Travelogue: Exploring the Venetian Outer Lagoon {Italy}

For those fortunate enough to spend more than a day in Venice, I highly recommend venturing out into Venice’s outer lagoon. The vibe is entirely different and well worth the 20+ minute trek on the vaporetto (water bus). Most tourists tend to flock to two popular locations: Murano, known for their exquisite hand-blown colored glass and the island of Lido, where many affluent visitors and celebrities live it up resort-style during the Venice Film Festival. Less congested, but no less beloved, are the islands of Burano, Mazzorbo, and San Giorgio Maggiore. The latter only being a short 5 minute ride away, offers a stunning panorama of Venice’s Piazza San Marco; while the other two (located about 30 minutes away by boat) are connected to each other via a small foot bridge. Wherever you go in the outer lagoon, you will surely not regret it.

My favorite destination in the outer lagoon has to be the colorful little island of Burano. Known for it’s Easter-egg colored houses and Venetian handmade lace, Burano is a popular tourist destination that somehow retains much of its local charm. There are still quite a few people who reside on Burano, so when passing through their narrow cobble-stone streets, be sure to be respectful of the island’s residents as you snap away at its darling scenery. An old fishing town, Burano is home to several famed restaurants including my favorite, Trattoria Al Gatto Nero. Also of note are the many little shops dotted along the island, which I have found, offer many little souvenirs and Italian specialties at a fraction of the price you’d find it near San Marco. In some shops, you’ll even see some authentic Murano glass jewelry. I bought a large bottle of good limoncello for only 10 euros on Burano, whereas the same bottle was selling for 17 in the shops near our hotel. For a traveler on a budget, this purchase made me feel like I had struck gold. While there isn’t terribly much to do on Burano aside from eat, take photos, and some light shopping, there truly is something special about it and it should not be missed.

For the gourmand, a short walk over the bridge to the tiny island of Mazzorbo may be worth a try. While there are much fewer dining options and shops here, it is Venissa that is worth the visit. Housing an award-winning restaurant, cozy little hotel, and some of the only wine-producing vines in Venice, Venissa is luxury and quiet in an old world setting with modern amenities  While a meal at their restaurant will set you back quite a few euros, they’ve garnered several great reviews for their all-local, slow food approach with a contemporary twist. Just taking a walk through their grounds after some lunch make for an impressive afternoon.

Wherever you decide to go, be sure to bring your sense of adventure. Wander around, get lost, but remember to check on when the last vaporetto back will depart and if you’re on the hunt for a grand meal, be sure to book your table in advance no matter what the season.

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Filed under Excursions, Italian, Italy, seafood, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation

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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Filed under As Seen on TV, Italian, Italy, local food, Lunch, seafood, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation

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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Filed under Italian, Lunch, Pasta, seafood, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation

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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Filed under Brunch, Comfort Food, Dinner, recipes, seafood

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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Filed under beer, Cocktails, Comfort Food, Dinner, duck, lamb, local eateries, local food, microbrew, organic, seafood, Travel, Vacation

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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Filed under coffee, Comfort Food, Dinner, local eateries, local food, Lunch, seafood, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation