Sunday, May 27, 2007

Postscript to Concentration of Elegance

In my enthusiasm for the wines in my last blog I neglected to describe why the agnolotti were so special and tasted so remarkable. First, the secret I think is in the pasta itself. The pasta must be a rich egg dough that can be rolled very thin. Secondly, you want enough pasta to cover the filling and then crimp the edges as close to the filling as possible. The art is the perfect amount of dough to filling and these were exactly that. I asked for the recipe which was given to me by the chef in Italian and as soon as I translate it and test it I will post it. The other secret told to me by the chef is you must have the rabbit in the mix because it does bring a sweetness to the meats which again made these total perfection. God only knows where I am going to find fresh rabbit in NYC.

Monday, May 21, 2007

“Concentration of Elegance”

Those were Angelo Gaja’s words when I asked him to describe his 1990 Spress Barbaresco. Gaja is the legendary winemaker who produces the finest examples of Barbaresco and Barolo in the Piedmont region of Italy. I met him more than 10 years ago, and each time I see him I am blown away by his passion for food and wine.

Jay and I are on our annual wine trip; at the moment, we are visiting winemakers in Piedmont. The other night Angelo took us to Guido da Costigliole, a restaurant located in Relais San Maurizio, a Relais and Chateau Property, formerly a monastery. It is surrounded by the most beautiful vineyards planted primarily with Moscato, the grape used in the delicious Moscato D’asti, a crisp refreshing dessert wine which is low in alcohol, 5% to be exact. The restaurant occupies the old cavernous wine cellar and is lit beautifully by its huge windows.

Angelo arranged the menu which made me happy because no one knows food and wine combinations better than he does. We began with a glass of 1992 Gosset Champagne and a starter of shrimp tempura served on a gorgeous puree of broccoli.

Then we had Vitello Tonnato, poached veal with a tuna sauce. This version was an update of the old classic; the veal slices were very thin, the sauce was served in the center of the plate over a bed of amazing micro greens, and a caper sauce was drizzled around the plate. Angelo poured his 2000 Alteri Di Brassica, a Sauvignon Blanc. He only makes 600 cases and I think the US market gets about 120 of them. It is one of the most elegant sauvignon blancs I’ve ever tasted--creamy, buttery and grassy all in perfect balance.

Next we had the course that sent me into the stratosphere, agnolotti in a meat sauce. Agnolotti is a traditional pasta from this region, an exceptionally thin ravioli filled with pork, rabbit and veal. The thing that knocked me out was that after we had finished the pasta they brought me a plate with something wrapped in a napkin. The waiter said Angelo wanted me to try Agnoletti the classic way: boiled in water and served without sauce; you just eat them with your fingers. For this course Angelo introduced us to his 1990 Spress. The nose had a slight hint of truffles and the classic hint of tar. The wine was simply, as Angelo said, a “concentration of elegance.” It could be put no other way.

Finally, we ended our meal with a variety of goat and cows milk cheeses from the region. The sauvignon blanc went brilliantly with them. They also brought us some cookies and lovely looking sweets. I particularly loved a meringue cookie filled with whipped cream which I had already had at a restaurant nearby called Guido. Angelo said that the chef of Guido has two sons and one of them is the chef here, hence the name of the restaurant guido da costigliole. That was the perfect ending to the perfect evening.

Il Ristorante Di Guido Da Costigliole
12058 Santo Stefano Belbo CN
Localita San Maurizio 39
39 0141 844455

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Venetian Restaurants

Eating around in Venice is pretty fabulous, but like anywhere else you can also go very wrong and end up with a wretched meal. During my week there I got around to quite a few restaurants, some great , some mediocre. Here are the high points:

Da Fiore was the most stylish place I went to. The food was a little fancy in its presentation but it was also very good. I adored the fritto misto, a truly creative mix of seafood and vegetables deep fried in the lightest batter. It came with a thin piece of fried polenta topped with sesame seeds, whole scallops, shell and all, and the thinnest vegetables .

Alle Testiere is a tiny, enchanting restaurant with amazing food and one of the best wine lists in Venice. It’s so good that you won’t mind being there with mostly English speaking customers. The staff seems to respect their foreign clientele which is nice. There are no menus, your choices are simply recited to you. My first course was a warm calamari salad served over a bed of puntarella greens marinated in olive oil, lemon and anchovies. The tender calamari was sliced thin and topped with black sesame seeds. We had a majestic honey colored wine, Ribiolla ( a grape from that region), made by the esoteric wine maker Gravner. It was dry with rich intense fruit.

Vecio Fritolin Since I was in Venice on St. Marks day when Venetians traditionally eat Risi e Bisi ( rice and peas), I ordered this dish for lunch at Vecio Fritolin, a wonderful restaurant near the rialto market.. The risotto was brilliant so I asked the owner, Irinia Freguia, how she made it and she told me that her secret was using the pea pods in her stock. It was incredibly creamy, perfect springtime comfort food. I’ve made it since I’ve been back with great success.

One of my favorite pastas came from a small, simple trattoria, Alla Vedova. Their Spaghetti con Vongole, (Spaghetti with baby clams) was cooked perfectly al dente, drizzled with olive oil and the clams were tender and sweet. To my surprise there was no garlic which was wonderful because the sweetness of the clams was allowed to stand out as it should. I ordered the same pasta in another restaurant and it did not come close to this version.

I would go back to these restaurants and recommend them to anyone visiting Venice. Though I have mentioned only my favorite dishes, all the food was exceptional at each and every one.

Trattoria "Da Fiore"
San Marco 3461 - Calle delle Botteghe
30124 Venezia

Alle Testiere
Castello 5801
S. Lio Calle del Mondo Novo
+ 041.5227220

Vecio Fritolin
Calle della Regina, 2262
+ 041.5222881

Alla Vedova
Connaregio 3012
+ 041.5285324