Sunday, July 31, 2011

Himalayan Kitchen

Address: 360 S State St, Salt Lake City, UT. 801.328.2077.

Review: With an hour between a mediation and a collections hearing, I thought Indian food sounded like a good bet for lunch. Since Himalayan Kitchen is a veritable hop, skip, and a jump from the Matheson Courthouse, the decision to eat there was simple.

Himalayan has a lunch buffet, but, let's face it, 99% of buffets do not contain high quality food. So, instead, I ordered the saag paneer and two types of naan. The first items to arrive were the naan. Their arrival was a bit awkward though, since the entree didn't arrive for another ten minutes, which mean the naans were cold when the eating got going. In any case, I had the regular naan

and sweet naan (naan stuffed with raisins, nuts, coconut, and cherries).

As I said before, by the time the entree arrived the naan was cold and stiff. However, even if it had been warm, the regular naan would have been only okay. If didn't have much flavor and lacked any sponginess or elasticity (not that there should be a lot with naan, but some). The sweet naan was, likewise, okay. I could sort of tell the primary flavor was cherry, but could not taste any coconut or raisins. The nuts gave a little texture, which was nice, but not much. Overall, the predominate flavor was sugar.

And introducing the saag paneer.

Saag is a spinach sauce studded with onions and other spices. Paneer is homemade pressed cheese. Himalayan's version was, again, okay. It lacked the complexity and deeply spiced flavor I've found in other saags. The paneer was adequate but couldn't make the dish.

Also, the rice was plain. There was no spice or herb to it, so it didn't add much more than starch to the saag paneer.

In all, what I had was alright, and nothing special that makes me want to return the next time I find myself between hearings.

Rating: 5/10 (5/10 is average).

Himalayan Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ristorante Della Nonna

Address: Strada per Talamello, V. Verdi 40, 61015 Novafeltria (RI), Italy.

Review: Italy is not an eating-out culture. The fact is Italian food is so uncomplicated, so unencumbered, that a restaurant cannot usually make it better than a homecook. Another factor in all of this is in Italy it is considered a badge of honor to cook at home, and each family will have a cadre of its own recipe, all of which, of course, are better than those of their neighbors.

I mention this because when Italians do eat out, they usually want something that is comparable to what they make at home. Ristorante della Nonna (Grandma's Restaurant) fits that bill perfectly. Like all good Italian restaurants, Nonna's appearance is unadorned, positively spartan even.

The food though . . . .

We began with the passatelli al pomodoro (passatelli with tomatoes).

Passatelli are interesting pastas in that their base is not flour, eggs, and water, but bread crumbs, parmigiano reggiano, nutmeg, and eggs. Once the ingredients are mixed together, the passatelli are extruded and cooked in boiling water. In this way, they are similar to spaetzle, but with a more salty and robust flavor. Nonna's passatelli came with a very simple tomato sauce. The taste was very simple and good. Not the best passatelli I've had, but enjoyable.

Next up were the tagliatelli al sugo di carne (tagliatelli with meat sauce).

I've had this dish a thousand times before, but this was truly amazing. The sauce, which is nothing more than a slight condiment on the pasta, didn't actually contain much meat, but it tasted like they dropped five pounds in there. Nonna's was able to imbue the essence of meat throughout that sauce like I've never tasted before. I have never seen more done with less. It was a truly great pasta experience.

After the pasta, we moved to the meats. First up, vitello tonnato.

Vitello tonnato is sliced cold veal covered in a mayonnaise like sauce flavored with tuna. Classic Italian fare. At Nonna's the veal was quality, if not slightly dry. The sauce was thick and complex. It tasted like mayonnaise, sort of, and tuna, but only a very small hint. You wouldn't think in a million years a dish like this would taste good, but it's somehow great.

And now, some pork chops, steak, and sausage.

The sausage was caseless and obviously made in-house. It was also juicy, with a bit of char, and full of texture. There's nothing refined here, and thankfully so. This is how sausage should be. The pork chops were thin, juicy, and tasty. There were no special spices added to enhance the taste, just salt and pepper. A little lemon made these chops sing. The steak was a tough cut (probably shoulder), and cooked quickly, hence it was a bit sinewy and tough. Good flavor though.

Finally, the veggies.

We got stuffed tomatoes, stuffed peppers, and potatoes. I'm not entirely what strain of crack Italians put in their roasted potatoes, but my goodness. They're always crispy and light, but not dry, and have a seriously earthy, salty flavor (usually aided by the addition of rosemary). Nonna's potatoes possessed all of these wonderful qualities. The stuffed peppers were okay. I know they were actually quite good for stuffed peppers, but roasted peppers is one of my least favorite foods on planet earth. Everyone else at the table loved them. The stuffed tomatoes amazed me. I usually cannot eat roasted tomatoes because the texture is just awful. Nonna's, on the other hand, were stuffed with a crunchy bread crumbs, onions, etc., and the balance of the stuffing with tomatoes cooked to the point they were almost disintegrating made a stellar dish. Very surprising and very good.

After we finished eating, I playfully told the proprietress (i.e. nonna) I need to take her home to make me food every day. Her response was something like, "If I went home with everyone who said that, I'd never go home again." Delightful woman. Delightful meal.

Out of all the meals I had in Italy, this was the one that best encapsulated the essence of Italian cooking. Simple homefood prepared with few, quality ingredients that absolutely blew me away.

Rating: 8.5/10.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Trattoria di Gesso da Titi'

Address: Via Gesso 133/A, Zola Predosa (BO), Italy. 0517511550.

Review: This, sadly, represents the last of my meals in Italy. Since I'm actually back in Salt Lake writing this post, I'll begin this post with the end and end it with the beginning. After my meal at Trattoria di Gesso da Titi', I had planned on going to Da Romano, located on Burano in the Venetian lagoon, and eating a fish risotto I had heard wonderful things about. I had been looking forward to this for months. However, I ended up eating so much at Trattoria Titi' that eating anything else for about the next twenty-four hours wouldn't have been worth it, or possible. Okay, so that's the end at the beginning. Now, let's get back to the beginning at the end.

Trattoria Titi' is on the outskirts of Bologna, and, unsurprisingly, serves Bolognese food. (If you think you've never had Bolognese dishes, you simply didn't know what you were eating was from Bologna. Many famous Italian foodstuffs, like lasagna, tortellini, bologna, are directly derived from Bologna and its outskirts. There is no greater food culture in all of Italy than that of Bologna.) And Trattoria Titi' specializes in the old Bolognese recipes. For example, tortellini are made by hand, panna cotta is cooked long and low without preservatives, and the crescentine are freshly fried.

I began with a classic antipasto of crescentine (a fried dough sometimes called gnocco fritto); squacquerone cheese (a creamy and tangy cow's milk cheese); pickled shallots, mushrooms, artichokes, and olives; and slices of cured meats (pancetta, prosciutto crudo, mortadello, etc.). It looked a little somethin' like this:

As with all things Italian involving bread or pasta, the bread (in this case the crescentine) was the star. It's fried bread, but it was lighter than any other fried bread I've ever experienced, and it was perfectly golden brown. The squacquerone is a cheese that needs to be eaten to be understood. It's liquidy (about 60% water), but tangy and beautifully creamy. It's a perfect accompaniment to cut through the fat from the crescentine and the fatty meats. And speaking of meats, they were gorgeous. The prosciutto was wonderfully salty, and the little token-size salami never made it anywhere but my hand and mouth. The pancetta was great, but, honestly, the best meat of all was the mortadella. Mortadella is what we called bologna, but Bolognese mortadella is not a amalgam of crap stuck in a tube like it is in America. Bolognese take their mortadella seriously, and it showed in this meal. The pink flesh and tasty lardons running like fatty veins through the meat were the perfect accompaniment to the bread and cheese. Likewise, the pickled vegetables added lightness and a distintive tang to what would otherwise have been a very heavy antipasto. This antipasto was brilliant 200 years ago, and it's brilliant now.

Next up came the tortellini in brodo di cappone, or tortellini in capon broth. (Capon is a castrated rooster. Why castrate a rooster you ask, other than the obvious answer that it helps control population? Well, castration helps keep the flesh supple, since in non-castrated roosters it tends to become tough and hard over time.)

This dish looked so simple, and yet tasted incredibly complex. The capon broth was like the Captain America of broths in that it beats up all other broths. It was fragrant and strong, with poultry running throughout. And while the vegetables used in preparation rounded out the flavor, capon was the unmitigated star. Then there were the tortellini. The pasta was fresh made by hand, and it was all cooked to al dente. Inside was a meat filling, likely of mortadella, sausage, and maybe some other ground meat. These were entirely different from the broth, and yet you couldn't really ask for a better taste combination. Every element was distinct but harmonious on the whole. Again, an old recipe flexing its muscle and showing why it has been around forever.

I was so taken with the food I ordered two desserts. The first was a panna cotta.

Never had anything like this before. The cream didn't seem really gelatinized, but cooked until coagulated by natural processes. It was creamy and stiff and very good. Underneath the cream was a layer of caramel that was heated to just under the point of burning. This created an intensely flavored caramel with the full range of sugar taste, from sweet to almost carbonized. So interesting.

And lastly, the tortino bomba al cioccolato (chocolate lava cake, more or less).

This was heavy, abundantly chocolatey, and gooey. There was no light sponginess you get with chocolate lava cakes in America. Very satisfying, although nothing spectacular.

What a wonderful meal. Stunning food made from centuries' old recipes by people who care about legacy and who care about doing things right. This was Bolognese food in all its glory, and a fitting end to a great Italian vacation.

Rating: 9/10 (5/10 is average).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lolly Pop Gelateria

Address: Via G. Carducci 21, Portferraio (Isola d'Elba), Italy.

Review: So, we took the day and went to Elba (a small located off the west coast of Italy straddling the line between the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian seas). While Elba is most famous for housing Napoleon Bonapart during his exile from France, it is a stunningly beautiful main island of an equally beautiful arcipelago. Its waters are deeply blue, and its forests are deeply green. Our Elba experience convinced me the next we vacation in Italy, we'll likely tour the islands exclusively --- i.e., Elba, Sardegna, Sicilia.

After picking up a quick, forgettable lunch from a bar, we happened upon the Lolly Pop Gelateria in Portoferraio (Elba's largest city, and where the majority of the Napoleon stuff is found).

I was a bit skeptical because of the name, which seemed a bit americanized, but we decided to give it a try when we noticed the only patrons were Italian.

I had three flavors: cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), frutti di bosco (fruit from the woods), and pistacchio (I'm sure you understood that one). The gelato's quality was recognizable upon the first bite.
The frutti di bosco was acidic the way good berries are. It was swimming with berry seeds as well, and while you would think they might be a laborious pain to eat, they weren't. In fact, they add mouth feel and a sense of "Hey, I'm actually eating berries here." Additionally, the flavor wasn't over sugared, which allowed the berries to come through with full vigor. In the end, it felt like these berries had been picked not long before from a place not far away, and you were being allowed to eat the best of the picking. This was the best frutti di bosco I've eaten.

The chocolate was also quite good. Again, not very sweet, but loaded with dark chocolate flavor. This flavor's smoothness made a great contrast when eaten with the seed-studded frutti di bosco. It also added depth and chocolatey goodness to the pistachio. So, it was quite good on its own, but better when pared with other flavors.

The pistachio was light on the tongue and had a lovely pistachio flavor, which is about all you can ask for. Honestly, I could have used a little more pistachio, but its creamy and slightly lactic taste, made this flavor very pleasing.

Lolly Pop was a great find. We'll certainly return on our next Elbacade.

Rating: 7.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Gelateria Paradiso

Address: Main Thoroughfare in Castiglione della Pescaia (GR), Italy.

Review: If you've read any of my reviews, you know I try to be thorough. Each food deserves its fifteen minutes of fame (or disregard). But in this case, I'm going to give you the quick and dirty on Gelateria Paradiso.

It's located in a swanky Tuscan coast town. Across the street from the Paradiso is a line of yachts and working fishing boats. The people there are parties from the inland taking their summer vacation to the coast. It's an Italian haunt, more or less.

I ordered chocolate, fior di latte, hazelnut, and another I don't really remember.

All were smooth. All had good flavor but nothing particularly stood out to me. In all, Paradiso's ice cream is pretty good. Not great. Nothing stunning. Simply good for a gelato you take with you while you watch the night life.

Rating: 6.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Osteria del Gatto

Address: Via San Marco, 8, 53100, Siena, Italy. 0577287133.

Review: A friend recommended Osteria del Gatto ("the cat osteria") because she worked there for two summers in college. Having been to Siena a few times, but by no means being an expert on its food or restaurants (other than having made panforte a couple times), we took her advice.

Gatto has about four indoor tables. You may end up with your own, or you may have to share with another family. And that's just fine. Communal dining is an Italian staple. We ended up not having to share, ultimately.

I began with the parpadelle al sugo di chianina.

This was strait up classic farmer fare. Parpadelle are wide pastas, and these were perfectly cooked, and possessed that intensely yellow color that comes from fresh pasta prepared in-house. The sauce was hearty, the chianina imparting a great beefy flavor, and the vegetables, while there, had been cooked to the point they simply melted into the sauce. One of the things I enjoyed most about this was that chianina is a lean meat, and yet here it was soft and juicy. Well done.

Keeping on the meat theme, I ordered the affetati misti (assorted cuts of cured meats).

As you can see, there's some prosciutto crudo in there, as well as a couple types of salami, and some capicola. They were all quite good, and better than I had expected them to be. Siena is a tourist town, and usually one of the first things to go to pot in tourist towns are the meats. Tourists are, for whatever reason, usually okay with crappy prosciutto and mundane salame, so purveyors give them what they want. At Gatto, however, all the meats are cured in-house. The prosciutto was salty and moist, more moist than any other prosciutto I've tasted. The peppered salame packed a punch with whole peppercorns running throughout. The capicola (using meat from the shoulder and neck of the pig) was likewise tender and moist. Heck, these meats made pane toscano taste good, and that's a true accomplishment. After finishing the affetati misti and discussing them with the waiter, I realized how much a labor of love those meats were to Gatto, and it showed. Good show.

Wonderful, hearty stuff.

Rating: 7.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Il Nomade

Address: 306 Localita' Piano di San Paolo, 61010, Maiolo (RI), Italy.

Review: Located just (and I mean just) over the bridge from Novafeltria, Italy, Il Nomade is an Italian restaurant whose cook is French-trained. This isn't a normal thing in Italy, since Italians tend to disdain French food as pretentious and overly elaborate. Just the same, the cook also makes the Italian classics and regional fare.

I had the gnocchi al formaggio di fossa (formaggio di fossa is a local cave cheese).

As you can see, the gnocchi came simply dressed with a little tomato, oil, and formaggio di fossa. The fossa is an aged sheep's-milk cheese that can be quite strong. I wasn't overbearing here, but it was the most prominent flavor. The tomatoes added a bit of acidity and lightness that helped balance the deep, earthy flavor of the fossa. The gnocchi, unfortunately, were not that good. They were dense and dense. If they had been light and airy, as good gnocchi are menat to be, it would have added another contrast to the heaviness of the fossa. Instead, it reinforced the weight of the dish.

My wife had ravioli.

Unfortunately, it has been some days since we ate at Il Nomade, and I cannot quite remember the particulars of this dish. I do, however, remember enjoying it more than the gnocchi. I would have ordered these ravioli again.

I also ordered a insalatone, which is more or less a big salad. It was a mix of greens with mozzarella, tomatoes, corn, shredded carrot, and other vegetables. It was good, standard stuff. Nothing particularly stood out to me until the end, when I realized they had forgotten to include the mozzarella. Oh well, it was good anyway.

In the end, the food was okay. I'm not sure I'll be back anytime soon, however, because there are superior restaurant choices in the area.

Rating: 6/10 (5/10 is average).

Gusta Osteria

Address: Via de' Michelozzi 13/r, Firenze (FI), Italy.

Review: Firenze can be a tough place to find something good and authentic to eat. Most anything near centro (downtown) or any other tourist destination is touristy, and, almost by definition, sucks. With a recommendation in hand, we walked from centro to Piazza Pitti (near where the Boboli Gardens are located) and hung a right. After a few hundred meters, there was Gusta Osteria.

I wasn't that hungry, so I ended up order just the garganelli al sugo di carne (garganelli with meat sauce).

Garganelli is nothing more than a shape of pasta, but it's a nice one that has a lot of surface area and holds sauce well. It didn't seem to me the garganelli were fresh-made, but that's fine. They were good and well cooked. The meat sauce was interesting in that (1) it utilized large hunks of beef that had been slow-simmered, and (2) there were no discernable vegetables. In this case, interesting was good. The meat was tender and juicy, almost flaky after what was undoubtedly a long time cooking. The overall flavor was deep, tomatoey, and meaty. I did miss the vegetable texture a bit, but this was a fun contrast to so many sauces I've eaten before. In all, good dish.

My wife and friends said they all enjoyed what they ordered as well. I have a feeling we'll be back to Gusta the next time we're in Firenze.

Rating: I only had the one primo, so I can't really give Gusta a x/10 rating. It was good though.

La Grotta Ristorante

Address: Vicolo Cesuola, 19, 47023, Cesena (FC), Italy. 054722734.

Review: Having eaten at Tre Papi a few nights beforehand in Cesena, we sought out a new experience at La Grotta Ristorante, which is located a hop, skip, and a jump away from Cesena's Piazza's del Popolo. And, having eaten a bit too much meat the day before, this meal was all about the vegetables.

Our meal began with a complimentary starter of baked ricotta.

I had never experienced bake ricotta before, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The ricotta was delicately salted throughout, although, amazingly enough, the oven-browned portion on top had a slight sweetness to it. Great contrast of flavors. I was afraid the ricotta would become stringy upon cooking in the oven, but that wasn't the case at all. Instead, it retained that individual curd structure while being light and creamy at the same time. Very good.

Next up were the passatelli agli asparigi (passatelli with asparagus).

Passatelli are interesting pastas in that their base is not flour, eggs, and water, but bread crumbs, parmigiano reggiano, nutmeg, and eggs. Once the ingredients are mixed together, the passatelli are extruded and cooked in boiling water. In this way, they are similar to spaetzle, but with a more salty and robust flavor. These passatelli were cooked al dente, and had a good amount of parmigiano in them. The asparagus alternated between slices that were light and had been thoroughly cooked to heads that still had a little tooth to them. Simple, clean dish that hit the spot.

Lastly, my wife and I shared the contorni plate.

As you can see, it's a plate of grilled and roasted vegetables. You know, it was okay. I've come to learn that I'm just not a plate-o'-veggies kind of guy. Everything tasted nice, and the bread crumbs of some of the vegetables were a nice textural touch, but nothing stood out to me as really good here.

In fine, we really enjoyed the cheese and the primi. Leave the vegetable contorni to the rabbits and a secondo of carne instead. Honestly, though, La Grotta is a good, centralized dinner option in Cesena.

Rating: 7/10 (5/10 is average).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Osteria Madama Do Re' II

So, we went back to Osteria Madama do re' because, as you can tell from the previous review, we dug the joint. This time, the culinary mission was clear: eat a bistecca fiorentina. Mission accomplished.

We sprung for the Chianina beef. Chianina is the largest, and one of the oldest, breeds of beef in the world. It is raised in the hills near Novafeltria, where Madama do re' is located. The steak, cut fresh from a side of beef and then grilled, came to the table thusly:

Unfortunately, the pictures don't do justice to the grandiosity of this steak. It was approximately two to two-and-a-half inches thick, and I won't venture a guess how long. The bone alone was weighty and massive. The steak itself was grilled to a bit less than medium rare. The center was heated through but not really cooked. While I usually prefer a steak medium rare, this level of cookedness (yes, I know cookedness is not a word; just play along) worked very well under the circumstances. Chianina beef tends to have less fat than other breeds, so undercooking ensures the steak will retain its juiciness. Also, there was something very satisfying about eating all levels of doneness (there, doneness is a real word), from completely cooked on the outside, to medium, medium rare, and essentially rare, all in one bite. The meat itself was substantial and soft, with a fresh, local flavor. The steak came garnished with rosemary, but there was nothing on it really. Salt was entirely unnecessary, as were rubs, sauces, pepper, etc. Ultimately, the point of this dish is to have a relationship with the meat, not something on the meat. And a relationship we had, and it was good.

I also broke one of my rules and ordered the mascarpone with frutti di bosco (fruits of the woods) and cioccolato. I had ordered the mascarpone before, and it was too good not to try again.
The light and silken mascarpone with the fresh, local fruit and dark chocolate was just, well, great. At times like this, saying less is saying more, so I'll shut up now.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gelateria Artigianale Marameo

Address: Piazza Fabbri, 3, Cesena (FC), Italy, 47023. 3487386806.

Review: Cesena is not a tourist destination. In fact, I had never been until last night, and then only because my wife's program was performing Rigoletto there. In the downtime before the performance, we trekked through the city, which was dead like a doornail on that breezy Sunday afternoon.

While seeing the town, we happened upon Gelateria Artigianale Marameo.

The proprietors are a very nice old couple who were open specifically because they know the opera would let out around midnight and droves would flock for a post-Rigoletto gelato nightcap. We talked for in excess of fifteen minutes about gelato, America, family, etc., etc., etc. During the conversation, they let us taste five or six different flavors, all of which were quite good. Needless to say, at the end of the opera we returned and partook.

We started with the zabaglione (a slowly cooked custard) and cioccolato fondente (extra-dark chocolate). The zabaglione was in a word: amazing. The custard base was sweet and thick, and the gelato had a gorgeous velvety feel on the tongue. The wonderful thing about this flavor was its simplicity. There are no add-ins or anything artificial. Nothing but custard made of eggs, milk, sugar, and as I found out upon eating my second cup, sweet marsala and brandy, and then frozen to a state of awesomeness. Oh, and the chocolate was pretty darn good as well. Creamy, not very sweet, chocolate laden from head to foot. The combination was great, but I could have eaten a gallon of zabaglione without accompaniment --- or a spoon, for that matter.

We also purchased some fruit flavors, specifically: melone (cantaloupe), pompelmo rosa (pink grapefruit), and pesca (peach).

Let's start with the pink grapefruit. Now, normally I disdain grapefruit. In fact, I find it and its aggressive sourness to be without redemptive value. And yet somehow, notwithstanding this longstanding disdain, I thoroughly enjoyed this gelato. Somehow, I tasted all of the grapefruit's citrus fruitiness, but little of its sourness. And the sourness that remained made the flavor interesting and contrasting. The cantaloupe was wonderfully smooth and possessed and upfront ripe-melon flavor. Melon is that quintessential summer flavor, and this gelato should be summer's quintessential flavor. The peach was, likewise, quite good. Honestly, it got lost a bit wedged between the melon and grapefruit, as it is a milder fruit, but it was fruity and moderately sweet in a very good way.

Oh, and I have to comment on one other flavor: ricotta e fichi (ricotta with figs). You (read: me) wouldn't think that finding large pieces of ricotta curd in your gelato would be a good thing, but you (read: me) would be totally wrong. Those ever so slightly savory curds help balance out the sweetness of the figs, creating one of the most ingenius gelato flavors I've ever eaten. Wonderful stuff.

If there's one thing I've learned in my years of eating gelato it's this: gelaterie that make good chocolate-based flavors usually don't make good fruit flavors. Marameo is an exception to that rule. Both the chocolate and the fruit flavors were sublime. Heck, everything was good. This place is a treasure located in the middle of a little nothing city. Having eaten at the ultra-famous Vivoli gelateria in Firenze the night previous to finding Marameo, I can say, unequivocally, that Marameo kicks Vivoli's a#$.

Rating: 8.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Vivoli Gelateria

Address: Via Isole dell Stinche 7r, Firenze (FI), Italy. 055299334.

Review: Vivoli is one of the more (or most) famous gelaterie in Firenze.

Of course in a town known more for its architectural beauty and intellectual history than food prowess, this might not be saying much. Let's see what this gelato's made of, shall we.

First a word regarding size. We bought the 5 euro cup, and I figured Vivoli would fill it up with quite a lot of gelato. I was wrong. Vivoli filled the cup to the rim, and not much more. Skimping on gelato like this is not especially appreciated by patrons, nor is it a terribly good business practice. That said, size has nothing to do with the taste of the gelato. So, let's shift focus and discuss taste.

We indulged in four flavors: cedro (i.e., candied large lemons from the Amalfi Coast), chocolate with orange, apricot, and pineapple.

The cedro was a very interesting flavor. Cedro itself is incredibly bitter, and candying it only takes away the bitterness to a certain degree. So, at points while eating, I would bite into the candied cedro and get a hit of bitter in contrast to the sweet creaminess of the gelato. Americans usually aren't huge fans of bitter tastes, but if you spend enough time in Europe or Asia, you begin to appreciate what bitterness can add to food. In this case, the citric bitterness livened the gelato and set it apart from almost all other gelato flavors I've tasted. Great idea. Great execution.

Chocolate and orange is a classic combination, and it makes a very good gelato flavor. The chocolate base was smooth, sweet, and deeply chocolatey. The earthiness of the chocolate, but not any artificial sweetness, was center stage. The orange added a fruity flavor and depth to the gelato. Classic. Beautiful.

The apricot and pineapple, by contrast, were more about the sugar than the fruit. This is unfortunate, since apricot lends itself to so well to a fruit-in-the-forefront gelato.

So, two small flavors were very, very good, and two small flavors were just okay.

Rating: 6.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Trattoria al Principe

Address: 52100, Arezzo, Localita' Giovi, 25. 390575362046.

Review: As I was passing through Arezzo to other destinations in Tuscany, I followed a recommendation and stopped at Trattoria al Principe in a small town called Giovi.

The location for Trattoria al Principe is deceiving. You first drive through a suburb of Arezzo that appears like any other Italian suburb. However, just before reaching Principe, a Medieval piazza envelopes your eyes. Its diminutive size does nothing to detract from its aged beauty.

You couldn't pick a better location for a restaurant, IMHO. The natural beauty of the place almost imposes itself on the food, enhancing flavor as if by magic. And now, on to the food.

I ordered the anguilla al caccio (eel in tomato sauce), and verdure grigliate (grilled vegetables). The eel came in a scalding hot terracotta bowl with the sauce bubbling away.

The eel came accompanied by crusty grilled pane toscano. (Pane toscano is a non-salted bread eaten regularly in Tuscany. Without salt, the bread is bland and unpleasant alone. Ultimately, it is designed to be eaten with other salty items.) The eel was served bone-in, as it were, which is about the only way eel can be served because its more spine than meat. This make for a fastidious eating process, because, after taking eel from bowl to plate, all the meat must be carefully removed from the spine and the skin before begin eaten. Once it is though, eel has a very mild white flesh taste. It is only on the very back end can you taste any hint of the eel's nature as a water-dweller. This meant my eel was fresh from the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea. Crusty, hearty bread was the perfect accompaniment to the light meat. And the tomato sauce was hot and spicy and salty and full of basil, which added flavor to what could have been bland dish. Quite good in all.

The grilled vegetables were a bit drab by comparison.

They were grilled through but a bit mushy. They were also entirely unsalted. In the end, I wish they had come to the table with some flavor enhancer. Vinegar, salt, herbs I could taste. Anything.

In the end, if you are looking for a good seafood experience in a beautiful setting, Principe is your place.

Rating: 7/10 (5/10 is average).