Notes from Umbria, Part 1

August 1, 2017

It is embarrassing, I’ll admit it, that I’ve never been to Panzano.  I’ve known Dario Cecchini and his wife Kim for years now (among other things, Dario cooked at the 40th Anniversary party for Chez Panisse), but somehow I’ve never been to visit the Dante-quoting butcher at his Antica Maccellia Cecchini in his hometown.

Until now.

It was worth the wait, and as the French say, the voyage. Spectacular fun.

Here’s Dario, in his new Russian hat, with Nancy Silverton.

You start with Chianti, lardo and what may be the world’s best salami, standing around, drinking, in the middle of  the butchershop, with dozens of other hungry people.

Then you sit down and the food starts to arrive. First a bowl of raw vegetables, with olive oil and salt, the consistency of powdered sugar.  There will not be a lot more vegetables….

Head cheese, all taste and chew. If you think you don’t like head cheese, this will change your mind.

Half-cooked steak tartare, the meat as primal a taste as you can imagine, like eating life itself.

And then meat is flying to the table – roast beef, rib eye, filet – one cut after another until you’re in an orgy of eating, scarfing up everything in sight and forgetting to take pictures.  “Can I have the bone?” I asked when the main event arrived.

After that I was truly lost.  All meat is more tender at the bone, but this…..

Chewed it clean, then ate the potato, slathered in lardo (what a brilliant notion), and then went back to the bone.

There was pork after this, and more beef, and, and, and. But I was there to eat rare red meat, and I ate more, and more and more. I left a happy woman.

Did I mention that we stopped for gelato on the way home?

Lunch the next day was at La Locanda del Ribollita – a modest but extremely satisfying establishment right outside of Chiuse. This is one of those restaurants that reminds you how good simple food can be here in Italy.

Gorgeously ripe melon, sending its perfume into the air, with soft rosy slices of prosciutto

a plate of mixed salume

On to the lightest, loveliest, butteriest pasta with lemon…

And finally, some local cheese.

Dinner that night was in the ancient walled town of Panicale, high in the hills, at Ristorante Masolino, a traditional kitchen in the heart of town. Wonderful food.

Pappa al pomodoro with ricotta to start

Lasagna bianca

tiny grilled lambchops

With an icy cold bottle of white Orvieto.  Have I mentioned that the temperature all week has been 105?

More tomorrow….

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Fish, Glorious Fish

July 28, 2017

It hurts me when a really good restaurant isn’t packed with people.  I walked into Gloria last night and instantly knew it was going to be a great evening. I’d liked everything I’d read about this new Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, from the fact that the chef, Diego Garcia, had worked at Contra and Le Bernardin, and has focused his menu on sustainable east coast fish.  I liked that the wine list features natural wines.  And I certainly appreciated the airy, open, gracious room. The service could not have been more pleasant, and as the night progressed, I kept wondering why only half the seats were full.

The first taste was promising.  I could have made an entire meal of this  buttery, crunchy corn bread.

And it was uphill from there. That octopus up top was impressive, tender little discs set on a colorful bed of black rice and red cabbage. I was even more taken with this inky iteration of squid, the way the pea tendrils added a green note and d those sneaky little heaps of white turned out to be cauliflower masquerading as rice.

Crab was served with a generous hand, interlaced with crunchy little bits of kohlrabi (is it about to become the new kale?) and a smooth sabayon infused with the flavors of bouillabaisse.

And the tomato salad was superb – a really appealing take on caprese – all texture and taste.

On to the larger plates:  Whole shrimp were served with their heads, on a bed of hominy.  Pure simple pleasure.

 

A beautifully cooked whole snapper came with lobster sauce (and would serve two)

Should this be entirely too pescatarian for your taste, or you’ve got a bean freak in tow, don’t miss these:

There’s a lovely simplicity to Rivera’s food; it’s pretty but never contrived, and the flavors come shining through.  This is also true of the desserts: none of those over-engineered fantasies, but a straightforward tart

And a tres leches cake whose memory stayed with me long after I’d left the restaurant.

Why wasn’t the room full?  Beats me.  But I, for one, will certainly be back.

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So So Seventies

July 24, 2017

I find old recipes like this one from Gourmet, August 1977, irresistible. When was the last time you read instructions that told you to moisten slices of white bread and then roll them out thin before deep-frying.  So seventies!

As for this old ad, it pretty much speaks for itself….

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