Thursday, June 29, 2006

Dinner at Old Emilia in Rapallo

Now this was a great spot for a meal. Outside right on the main road across from the harbor. Mild temperatures, no wind - a perfect night for outdoor dining. And this was the place to be.

After walking down the main harbor-front street and inspecting several menus, we decided that old Emilia was the place for us. They had loads of fresh fish specials on the board and the "coniglio cacciatoria" (rabbit stew) was the clincher for me.

I began with an exquisite Spada carpaccio (thin slices of raw swordfish) served with fresh Roma tomatos and arugula. Drizzled on the plate was some wonderfully flavorful olive oil and sea salt. This was a superb starter. The swordfish was melt-in-your-mouth. The tomatos were at peak ripeness - (there is nothing quite like a fresh, real Italian tomato) and the rocket was peppery. We had a wonderful Ligurian frizzante - Crenzada de Ma - with it which went down delightfully.

Next I dug into a heartly plate of Gnocchi with Gamberi. Better to show this to you as the photo tells it all. This was excellent - it tasted as if it was prepared on the spot by a home cook. With this plate, we chose the Redure - Terra Bianche - Dolcetto d'Alba. It was smooth and cherry like and went well with this dish but even better with the third course of rabbit.

The rabbit looked and smelled homemade - it was piping hot; the meat was tender and flavorful and it came with braised vegetables - pepper, celery and carrots that were cooked nicely and sweet. A heavenly dish that I can only hope to replicate at some point in my own cooking efforts. But what a benchmark!

My friends order Dolci but I was too full - I just took coffee and of course, the first of what would be many post-meal grappas throughout my stay in Italy.

One last note, my friend Tony M. (yes that Tony M!) ordered the house speciality for a starter - something called "Chizze" which was some sort of deep-fried dough with cheese inside. They were huge and five of them came in a basket! Talk about abbondanza!

Lunch in Ventimiglia

This was our very first stop - literally the first town over the Italian - French border.

We departed by car from my friends' house in Aix-en-Provence about mid-morning. Our plan was to drive to the Italian border and then stop at the first town we came to for lunch.

This turned out to be Ventimiglia, a rather large town and it took us awhile to find some restaurants. Eventually we came upon a road running along a beach and found a tiny cafe.

We sat outside and ordered lunch as best we could - our halting Italian and the young wait-person's meager English.

I ended up eating a sandwich - parma ham and melted mozzarella cheese served on a crunchy role washed down with a glass of vino rosso which turned out to be delicious.

My companions orded pasta alla salmone and salad Nicoise respectively.

This was exactly the kind of quick and tasty meal we needed before resuming our journey by car to our first destination - the Italian Riveria town of Rapallo.

The Gastronomic Joys of Italy

I recently returned from a week travelling through northwest and central Italy. It was a tremendous time - offering me gastronomic inspiration and memories that will last a life time.

I tried to take pictures and record notes on all of my meals - but sometimes I got so engrossed with what I was eating that I simply forgot! Unfortunately this happened during the best meal of my trip - a lunch at a fantastic little trattoria in the Tuscan town of Arezzo.

During my five days in Italy, I managed to visit the towns of Ventimigli (for lunch), Rapallo (two nights and several meals), Arezzo (lunch), Citte di Castello (several days and meals) , Lucca (lunch) and finally San Remo (lunch).

I intend to describe these meals and my observations generally about Italy in several future blog entries.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Gardens and Vaults, Oxford UK

I enjoyed a lovely dinner with my team mates from Career Innovation this evening at the Gardens and Vaults restaurant in Oxford UK. We dined in what I was told is a former crypt in a 500 plus year old church on the campus of Oxford University.

Needless to say the facility was an architecturally fascinating place to visit.

I am also happy to say that the food was quite good - they use only natural and organic ingredients. The dishes were well constructed, presented with flair and of course, delicious to consume.

We began with a starterplate of assorted little nibbles - featuring chick pea cake with roasted yellow pepper, hummus, pickled zucchini, goat cheese and olive. Quite tasty. Each table had a basket of freshly baked white and dark bread.

Then on to a chicken and shrimp paella with a side salad. It had a North African touch - perhaps more tumeric than saffron but it was very well done.

We finished with a lovely pear and pistachio tart with a side of sour cream. Heavenly.

All washed down with a pleasant semillon/chardonnay blend from Australia (which reminds me why can't we easily find pure semillons anywhere in the US these days? They are an absolute delight when young and intense and sophisticated when aged. Either way I would love to drink them more but have not seen a bottle of wine made from pure semillon in any wine shop in the States in several years!)