Tag Archives: italian

Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni: Born in Brooklyn, based in Florida, available at many fine dining establishments!

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tortoni When the chefs behind Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni asked me if I would help them out by taste testing a few different versions of their product, I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and decided that out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, that I would grant them that favor. It is precisely moments like these that remind me of that cliche, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” While there isn’t paper money involved here per se, delicious tastes of dessert are worth way more than dollars as far as I’m concerned.

I grew up in New York, where it was common to see tortoni on just about every pizza place or Italian restaurant menu. The choice was usually tortoni, spumoni, or cannoli, and given the option of dried, candied fruit and nuts in spumoni (yuck) or ricotta cheese filling of a cannoli (Um, ew. Why would I want cheese and carbs for dessert after presumably eating cheese and carbs for dinner?), the choice was always clear to me. Add a single-serve sized paper cup that meant I didn’t have to share, a maraschino cherry and almond cookie crunchies on top and well, who could pass that up?

I didn’t realize until many years later that at some point I stopped seeing these delightful treats on menus. I didn’t even realize how much I missed them until this dessert duo brought it to my attention by offering me a taste of their version of this classic.

The first sample I had was creamy, cold, sweet, and sparked so many memories for me that I simply forgot to slow down and savor each bite. It was gone before I knew it and I was clearly NOT wearing my culinary taste-tester hat that day. I would definitely require another one to be able to give helpful feedback.

The second sample was a different story. I was mentally prepared to take small bites and really let all five senses tune in. The crisp cookie crumbles on top were my favorite part. They are blended throughout the cup giving a slightly granular feel and keeping that almondy flavor consistent from top to bottom. I saved the cherry for last, as I always do with any cherry-topped dessert, and it was a wonderful last juicy bite.

The taste is very similar to ice cream, but more like frozen custard with a slightly eggier quality to it. It’s sort of like someone melted one of those yummy, toasted almond, Good Humor popsicles, re-constituted it, used better quality ingredients, and then perfected that concept in a cup version. It was *almost* the perfect tortoni, but for me, someone who has a serious sweet tooth by the way, it was actually too sweet overall. Now that did not for one second mean that I left even one drop uneaten, it just meant that I actually had something other than a full rave to come back to the creators with.

And so, that brings me to the final version. The chefs tweaked the original recipe that they used by reducing the amount of sugar and the amount of crumbled almond cookies by nearly half. They brought me my third and final sample. The moment of truth. I used a small spoon so as better to slow my bites down and to allow me to savor every delectable taste. Now this is perfection. Creamy, sweet but not-too-sweet, crispy, almondy, cold, and just the right portion size (although I could admittedly eat 2 or 3 of these easily- I really shouldn’t).

This is a memory in a paper cup. A great memory…and now one that can live on in the present instead of only a distant past. Bravo!

You can have your own “creamy, dreamy, taste embrace” too! Find them at Mozzarella Fella, Solorzano, Don Giovanni’s and MANY more restaurants coming soon! Follow their Facebook page to see where they are going to pop up next! https://www.facebook.com/brooklynbiscuittortoni

And if YOU want to carry them in your restaurant, contact the chefs via their website for wholesale information:

http://www.brooklynbiscuittortoni.com/

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Sardinia: 5770 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34231

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sardinia

 

You’d think I was totally setting myself up for disaster when I ended up going to Sardinia for lunch. I was REALLY craving Thai food, so I’d intended to go to my favorite, Isan Thai, not realizing that they are closed on Mondays. I had a limited amount of time on my lunch break, so I decided to try Sardinia even though I really wasn’t feeling like eating Italian food.

When I went in, I was seated right away and the waitress brought me a menu and ice water. I looked over the lunch menu and was happy to see lots of delicious sounding vegetarian and pescatarian options and realized that my Thai craving had quickly disappeared. Most of the choices were around $10, very reasonable for a lovely selection.

I ordered the Grilled Marinated Vegetable Sandwich with a cup of Minestrone soup. When it arrived, it looked and smelled awesome. The fresh baguette was crusty and warm, and filled with artichokes, zucchini and various other lightly roasted veggies with a small amount of excellent olive oil over the top. The Minestrone was basically just a light veggie soup topped with a sprinkle of fresh parmesan.

The whole meal was very satisfying and a great value. I will definitely go back!

 

Cafe Baci: 4001 S. Tamiami Trl, Sarasota, FL

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From the street, Cafe Baci looks like it’s from 1960. The sign as well as the outside of the restaurant is dated and falling apart, and does nothing at all to represent the excellence that happens inside.

We were welcomed very warmly by the hostess and quickly led to our table. We saw right away that the clientele of this establishment is pretty much the over 65 crowd, and we felt slightly out of place and underdressed. The hostess assured us that people come in wearing just-off-the-beach clothes sometimes and that we were totally fine. Our waiter came over with menus and ice water and went over the specials, all of which sounded great. Shortly later, he brought over a basket of foccacia, delicious garlicy/parmesan breadsticks and some herbed olive oil. You see from my picture that we had all dived into those before I remembered to take a photo, and the basket is already partially empty.

This restaurant came very highly recommended by my friend and duo partner Mike (please visit mikesolomusic.com and careyyaruss.com com for more info ) and one of the things he mentioned to me was how accommodating they are to their patron’s requests. Knowing that, I asked if it would be possibly to add some grilled shrimp to the cappellini primavera, to which the waiter happily agreed.

When my entree came out, I was very excited for my first taste. It was loaded with huge, gorgeous, grilled shrimp, tons of fresh vegetables and homemade cappellini with a creamy, tomato sauce. It was seriously delicious, rich and indulgent. I was totally happy with it, even though I was expecting a nice, light pasta dinner and it was definitely on the heavy side. The portion was extremely generous and I happily shared it with Gabriel and my mom and step-father, who all agree that it was super tasty.

For dessert, we decided to order one tiramisu for everyone to share. When it arrived with an old looking strawberry on top, we assumed it must have been made much earlier and was just sitting in the fridge waiting for someone to order it. It was covered in a 2 inch thick layer of whipped cream on top and the espresso soaked cake was kind of overwhelmed by that. The flavor was good and if there had been less whipped cream I think we all would have really enjoyed it, but as it were, I pretty much was the only one who ended up eating it.

Overall, I was very impressed with Cafe Baci and would definitely go back. I would love to see some younger people in there, but unless they update the outside and make it look a big livelier and hipper, I doubt anyone under 40 will be going in anytime soon. With nearly full tables, it seems like their business isn’t suffering because of that, and maybe that’s really the crowd that they are aiming to attract. With it’s rustic, Italian interior, it has a classic feel that’s sure to please an older (and wealthier) clientele. The food is really top quality and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a hearty meal. Enjoy!

La Mela: 167 Mulberry st. New York, NY

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Last Thursday, Gabriel and I threw a going-away party for ourselves. We had an absolute blast doing karaoke and enjoying cocktails with about 35 friends at 2nd on 2nd in the East Village. When the party ended, we found ourselves starving and rather buzzed (well, okay I was plumb drunk) and everything around was already closed. We decided to wander over to Little Italy to see if we could luck out with finding somewhere open to get big, satisfying plates of pasta. Lo and behold, we found La Mela. Open, mostly empty, pretty inexpensive and with great reviews online.

We were seated right away and quickly scanned the menu. Water and bread were brought out and our orders were taken. I chose the traditional spaghetti and meatballs which came out just a few moments later. Perfect. It totally hit the spot (from what I can remember) and left me with 2 extra meals worth for the following day. The meatballs were huge and delicious and the pasta sauce was bright, flavorful and hot. The pasta was definitely not homemade, but it was fine anyway, and the price was very fair.

If you’re in the area, especially late at night, I’d suggest giving it a try.

Nino’s: 1354 First Ave. New York, NY

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Last night marked two days before I run the NYC half marathon for my second time, and what better reason is there than to go feast on 3 courses of rich Italian food at Nino’s? I’ve walked past Nino’s many time, being that I live less than 10 blocks away, and it always looks fairly empty from the front. What I did not realize is that the back is totally packed and hopping with a well-dressed Upper East Side crowd. Mixed ages, some on dates, some with family, and even a couple of birthday celebrations, this restaurant is clearly a favorite of locals. Judging by the many signed photographs and books, it’s also a celebrity hotspot.

Nino, the dapper gentleman who owns the restaurant,  warmly welcomed Gabriel and I and led us to our table. It was a good thing we had made a reservation because there were only a few free tables that evening, and I again wondered how I’d never been in before. A grand piano in the corner was played by a musician with a lovely voice, and his tasteful mix of standards and show tunes made for a pleasant mood. He showed beautiful restraint and control with his voice, and I really enjoyed the old school flavor of listening to live music while we dined.

Our waiter came out for our drink order and brought us crusty bread, bean/garlic/herb dip (YUM!) and water along with our menus. He went over the specials for us and gave us a few minutes to decide. I should definitely take this time to mention that the service was the standout at Nino’s. As much as my personal preference tends to be more contemporary, innovative, creative foods, the impeccable formality of the service at Nino’s is very special. The menu is traditional Northern Italian, and it is very comfortable with that fact. No crazy foams and strange flavor combinations here, just classic, time-tested favorites. The dishes are served with the flair of restaurants that have been around forever and cater to a crowd who will accept nothing but premier treatment. We were checked on frequently during and between courses but it was done in a way that didn’t feel over-bearing at all, just attentive and wanting to make sure we had a great experience.

Now, on to the food. The dishes we ordered were as follows: For our starters, I had the Pera e Prosciutto: Charred pear wrapped with san daniele prosciutto, reggiano chunks and truffled honey. The combination of flavors and textures on the plate were absolutely wonderful. The slight crunch of the pear wrapped in salty prosciutto went so perfectly with the crumbly reggiano and the drizzle of truffle honey tied it all together in such a luxurious way. This was my favorite dish of the evening. Gabriel had the Carpaccio Alla Romana: Thinly sliced filet mignon served with arugula, shaved artichokes, reggiano, basil and lemon drops. The meat was sliced beautifully and was incredibly tender. It was slightly lacking in flavor, but the reggiano and lemon helped to brighten it up a bit. A bit of black pepper really made it come alive for me.

For my entree I had the Capesante: Seared diver scallops with onion marmalade, english peas, diced pancetta and almond browned butter. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with this one. I felt that the scallops were over-cooked, the sauce they sat in was too strong for such a delicate mollusk and that the peas it came with did not taste like they were fresh- or maybe they were also just a bit over-cooked. The flavor was excellent and I love scallops, so I was happy to eat them anyway, but I think this dish could use a bit of re-working in general. Gabriel’s entree was the Ravioli Fatti in Casa Homemade ravioli: stuffed with ricotta and prosciutto cotto, sautéed with butter and vegetable broth with a hint of pesto. I preferred his entree choice to mine. I felt that the vegetables on top (a mix of thinly sliced squash, peppers etc) were a lovely assortment for the beginning of spring. The thin dough of the ravioli was delicate, but strong enough to hold a delicious interior filled with prosciutto and ricotta. The buttery sauce was light and complemented the ravioli beautifully. Judging from these two entrees, I would imagine that sticking to the more traditional Italian pastas is the way to go when ordering from Nino’s menu. If I return, I plan to try the Spaghetti Carbonara or the Gnocchi.

For our desserts we shared two; the delicious, creamy, rich, tiramisu and the strawberries with custard (I’m not sure of the exact name of this dish but it is one of their specialties) I’m always amazing by tiramisu in general, that something so incredibly rich can also taste so light. This was a wonderful dessert, and beautifully presented. The strawberry dessert was prepared table-side in a dramatic presentation. Our waiter whisked together egg yolk, cream, amaretto and champagne into a warm custard and poured it over a glass full of ripe strawberries. Next, he dusted a coating of biscotti crumbs over the top before he served it to us. This was not something I’d normally order (no chocolate!) but It was a refreshing way to end a lavish meal. The custard was creamy and almond-y and not the liquor was not over-powering like it sometimes can be. We decided to each order a cappuccino and were delighted when they were brought out with an impressive tower of fresh fruit and fresh homemade biscotti. Just when I think I’m totally full, it’s amazing to me that I can always find just a little more room for the extras.

Overall, Nino’s restaurant is a real class act. It’s clear to see why it’s a celebrity in it’s own right, and why it attracts people with a taste for the traditional to dine here time and time again. Bravo Nino’s and thank you for a wonderful evening.

 

Centolire: 1167 Madison ave. NY NY

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My aunt chose Centolire as the restaurant to celebrate my beloved Grandmother’s 96th birthday in, and what a perfect choice it was. There was an elevator to get to the upstairs dining area, and we were seated at a comfortable table near the windows. The decor is tasteful and cheery with fresh flowers, lots of sunlight streaming in, and orange and gold banquets. The service which was slightly on the formal side, was incredible knowledgable and attentive, save for some empty water glasses towards the end of our meal.

A $25 3 course prix fix was a very reasonable cost for a fine quality meal and the menu was full of so many appealing dishes that we all had a tough time choosing. Luckily for me, my boyfriend and I have very similar taste in food and were happy to share everything, so we were each able to try 6 dishes instead of just 3.

The fresh Italian bread that arrived in a basket alongside delicious olive oil was a good indication of the food to follow. Wonderfully fresh and high quality, the excellent olive oil was clearly carefully selected.

We began with our appetizers: a risotto topped with a bacon wrapped scallop and a baby artichoke, arugula salad with parmesan. Both were fantastic, and even though the one lonely scallop looked like not quite enough to share, it really was. Cooked to perfection and wrapped with a thick slice of bacon, this was amazing on top of the creamy, cheesy risotto and had we opted for the entree sized portion of it, it would have been too much. The salad was simple but fresh and delicious, and the thick slices of parmesan on top were again clearly of high quality.

For one of our entrees we chose the grilled salmon with broccoli rabe, which turned out to be good- but pretty boring. The fish was very fresh and cooked perfectly with a crisp crust. The broccoli rabe had large sliced of roasted garlic and was not at all bitter as it sometimes is. That said, the dish lacked anything exciting or original about it and we were a little disappointed with it’s simplicity.

The ‘strangled priest’ pasta with chicken ragout was a total hit. I’d never had this oddly named pasta before- they were almost like little twisted dumplings and had a great sort of springy consistency to them. The creamy, tomato-y chicken ragout had a similar texture to pulled pork and was something quite different than I’ve had before. I throughly enjoyed this dish and pretty much licked the bowl clean.

Alongside of a delicious cappuccino we shared our 2 desserts. The 2 scoops of gelato were incredible, on one side was pistacho and the other was amaretto flavor. I LOVED the amaretto one and really would have like a giant container of that one to take home. It had little ribbons of the almond cookies going through it and I was pretty much in heaven except that it was gone too quickly. The blueberry and vanilla creme tart turned out to be much more cake-y than tart-y but very good no matter what it was called. It was not too sweet but had a lovely crumbly texture and large fresh blueberries inside.

Overall, I was very pleased with Centolire, especially since the reviews online are kind of mixed and I didn’t go in with terribly high expectations. I would absolutely recommend a visit and think it’s a great choice for a date, a group or even dining alone. When we went, it was a fairly mixed clientele, centering around what seemed to be families and I got the feeling that it’s generally a local Upper East Side crowd. Bravo Centolire!

 

 

Farinella: 1132 Lexington Ave. NY NY

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I was excited to try Farinella for lunch today since I’d just bought a ‘Groupon Now’ deal for it.
I placed my order for pizza that looked lovely and a beet and goat cheese salad and showed them my Groupon when I went to pay for it.
The cashier gave me serious attitude and first said the groupon had expired. Ummm, no it hadn’t. It was a Groupon NOW deal, just bought, and good for today only.
She told me they never signed up for Groupon Now deals and wouldn’t honor it.
Oooookay.
I turned and left.
Too bad too, because I was looking forward to reviewing this place. Oh well. Not going back to pay full price for their overpriced food.

p.s. Yes, I called Groupon and explained what happened. They happily refunded my money and said they’d definitely be looking into it.
I’m guessing Farinella is staffed by a bunch of idiots and/or liars.