Tag Archives: Italy

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: Assisi in Photos {Assisi, Umbria, Italy}

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Updates on here haven’t been as frequent as I have been wanting them to be. I guess this is what happens when we take on more work stuff and hobbies, right? In any case,here are a few photos from my visit to Assisi. We were driving around the Umbrian countryside and decided to make the pilgrimage to where St. Francis of Assisi is from. Don’t ask me what compelled me to go there– while I was raised Catholic, I’m not the least bit religious. Somehow, I was still drawn to this hill-top town and I am very glad that we took the couple of hours to explore. Note the photo of the specialty food shop in this slideshow. The people who run it are darling and really go in for the hard sell. It worked though. We left with two bottles of Umbrian wine, two jars of white truffle & artichoke paste, one jar of black truffle salsa, and some really terrific 12 year old balsamic vinegar. If you’ve got the time to add Assisi to your sight-seeing, it’s worth the trip. A lovely, quiet town (despite having a sort of religious theme-park-feeling parking structure and gift shop) with stunning views, beautiful churches, and killer sunsets.

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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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Reflections: Looking back on 2012

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View of the Shanghai Pudong Skyline from the Bund riverfront, 2012.

What a year 2012 has been! According to my end of the year review on WordPress, this past year was the busiest year of this blog — and rightfully so! It was an exciting year full of changes and transitions which for this blog meant more cooking at home (as my stress-reliever) and the opportunity to travel. Looking back on the past 12 months sort of makes my head spin and I cannot help but feel rather blessed.

While I wasn’t off experimenting with Avocado Key Lime Pie or making Stuffed Squash Blossoms, I was fortunate enough to head to the Caribbean for a brief getaway to Puerto Rico where we indulged in lechon and made memories on a boat trip to a bioluminescent bay. We visited the boy’s family for a wedding in Pittsburgh and experienced the old (Primanti Brothers) and the new (Meat & Potatoes) while soaking in the charm of the city. In the fall, we ventured to Europe– flying over snow-topped Swiss mountains on the way to Venice where I had some of the best seafood of my life on the island of Burano. There are so many memories from our time in Italy, I haven’t even finished blogging about it (so stay tuned)! Three weeks after we returned from two weeks in Italy, we were off to China for two weeks which included many of the country’s major cultural sites and a few days on a luxury cruise of the Yangtze River (the photo above was taken in Shanghai).

But it wasn’t just the trotting around the globe that made my 2012 so memorable. We didn’t have to stray more than 3 miles from our apartment to one of my favorite meals at Animal and a handful of hours took us north to beautiful Morro Bay. Whatever this new year brings, I am hoping for more of the same: adventure, growth, and memories that will last a life time. Happy New Year!

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Travelogue: A Day-Trip in Tuscany

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If there is one piece of advice that I can give you when touring Tuscany, it’s to rent a car (or at least a private driver to tote you from scenic town to scenic town). While it’s not my favorite wine producing region in Italy, Tuscany has a multitude of amazing things to offer the food & wine-centric traveler. A hub for centuries-old vineyards, olive oil producers, and some of the best food in the world, a day-trip through the Tuscan country-side makes for the best addition to your trips to Florence.

Using Florence as a home base, we recently rented a car to take us to our dinner reservations in Panzano. Since we weren’t looking to winery hop until reaching La Strada del Sagrantino in Umbria, we by-passed many beautiful wineries and made a bee-line to Greve in Chianti where we indulged in economical wine tasting at Le Cantine before heading to nearby Panzano for dinner.

Le Cantine, established in 1893, is a great alternative to those looking to get a taste of Tuscany without having to go through the process of drunkenly hopping from one wine producer to another. The process is simple. Buy a wine card that gets you a glass and mosey on over to one of their Enomatic tasting machines, individually priced and calibrated to provide you with a precise tasting pour. Harboring good relations with many of the region’s top producers, you won’t miss a beat here and will instead, have the benefit of finding the wine that best suits you while comfortably enjoying their beautiful tasting room. In addition to good wine at good prices, Le Cantine also offers light fare from Antica Macelleria Falorni, another premier butcher that has been serving the community since 1729 and is located less than a mile away. The meat board we got featured amazing salami and prosciutto of the highest quality and local bread.

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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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Filed under BLD, bread, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, Lunch, sandwiches, Travel, 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: 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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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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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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