Category Archives: seasonal foods

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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Filed under Comfort Food, Dinner, fruits and vegetables, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, organic, Pasta, Pork, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

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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Filed under Dinner, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, microbrew, Pasta, seasonal foods, Travel, Vacation, wine

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

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: 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: Animal Restaurant | Los Angeles

*Disclaimer: In recent weeks, there have been numerous protests and aggressive behavior from animal rights activists throughout the city in response to chefs serving foie gras. Please note that this blog is of my own personal opinions and taste and I have already stated my opinion on the matter. Harassment in any form will not be tolerated, so please be respectful. Thank you.

With that out of the way, our recent dinner at Animal Restaurant was offally good. I have been a huge fan of the superstar team of Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo for many years now. Following them both at Animal and their more seafood-centric endeavor Son of a Gun. Animal is one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles and with the impending foie ban, we’ve been trying to make our way over there as often as our schedules (and wallets) allow.

There is a reason why Animal on Fairfax is packed with diners every night. Aside from offering a selection of meaty delights with an accessible gourmet approach, their innovation and strong nose-to-tail philosophy can please any palate willing to open their minds to something new. With California’s aforementioned foie gras ban taking affect in a couple of days, I knew I just had to have some of my favorite dishes including their sinful rendition of biscuits and gravy. Not into foie so much? Not to worry, there isn’t a single thing on this menu that I wouldn’t gladly recommend.

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In the Kitchen: Herbed Ricotta Stuffed Squash Blossoms

I love it when squash blossoms start popping back up at my local farmers’ markets. Typically found in the Los Angeles area in the late spring, these edible flowers are a special and versatile ingredient that are only available for a very short time before they disappear until the next season. You will often find squash blossoms at high-end restaurants ( Osteria Mozza and Jar included), but what many people don’t know is that these beautiful blossoms are very inexpensive. The Hollywood Farmers’ Market has them for about $4.50 a pound and our handful of 10 flowers only cost $1.50. Not too shabby for a popular gourmet ingredient.

There are so many different things you can do with squash blossoms but one of the most popular ways you’ll see them prepared is stuffed, battered, and fried. I am particularly fond of making stuffed squash blossoms as a light appetizer served with prosciutto or as part of a cheese plate. I try to get younger blossoms with a longer stem, but these blossoms with baby zucchini attach work just as well and make for a lovely presentation.   Continue reading

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Dining: La Estacion |Las Croabas, Puerto Rico

Today’s post will take us outside of San Juan and into the quaint area of Las Croabas in Fajardo to a place called La Estacion. A former gas station converted into a beautiful outdoor restaurant and bar, La Estacion is easily one of our favorite spots on the island for delicious drinks and delectable food.  We were so unbelievably impressed by the atmosphere and the chef’s all-local and never frozen philosophy, we wished we had the chance to eat here more than once.

The quality here is truly unsurpassed and the staff were very friendly. There really is no chance or ordering incorrectly here, but as a rule of thumb, I’d recommend having something fresh off of their grill, and of course, their seafood. Their seafood is SO fresh, our waiter came out with a beautiful five-pound Caribbean lobster which was vibrant, alive, and kicking. It was huge and I wish we had had more time for dinner before our boat trip to Fajardo Bay so that we could have indulged in this uniquely Caribbean treat.

Since we were in a pinch for time, we ordered cocktails and appetizers to tide us over until after our Bio Bay tour. Our drinks came out quickly (a mojito for the boy, a pina colada for me) and were the best cocktails we had on our entire trip. Then our selection of pinchos (skewers) came out. OH. MY. GOODNESS. Three skewers for each of us as a “snack” felt much more like a meal. The pork loin and the chicken were drenched in their house-made guava barbecue sauce, which to this day, I am dreaming of. Served with fluffy garlic bread, these fell into the ranks of the best barbecue I have had– anywhere. The highlight however, were the pinchos camarones. The BEST grilled shrimp skewer on the planet. Seriously. And I’m from California where there is no shortage of seafood.

Our waiter smiled when I asked him if the recipe for their dry rub was a secret– this just means we’ll need to come back here every chance we get!

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Sunday Bloody Sunday: Homemade Blood Orangello

Inspired by the beautiful blood oranges that are still available at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, we decided to make some blood orangello (a variation on the Italian limoncello/orangello) to help kick start the impending summer. I have made limoncello before with some of my favorite citrus, but it’s the delicate blood orange version that I often have a hankering for.

Orangello is incredibly easy to make. All you really need for the base is a couple dozen small oranges, a good microplane zester, an air-tight jug, simple syrup, and a whole lot of patience. You can use your choice of clear liquors (vodka, gin, or grain alcohol like Everclear), but I like to use a neutral-tasting vodka for a more delicate result. Absolut 100 does the trick without breaking the bank. The quality of the vodka does not need to be anything too fancy, but it is recommended that your spirit have a proof of 100 or more so that the mixture does not freeze when the simple syrup is added later on.

I have put my own spin on the simple orangello recipe by using high-quality, organic blood oranges. I also make a blood orange simple syrup as to not waste the wonderful juice — this gives it a really bright punch of flavor at the end, making it all the more flavorful. The beautiful thing about this recipe is that it yields enough juice to use for the recipe and enough left over to store blood orange simple syrup for other uses including cakes, Italian sodas, and cocktails. Continue reading

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