Posted by: lisetta | August 5, 2011

Rediscovering Buon Italia

When my sister and niece visited New York City this weekend, I saw no reason to take them to Eataly NYC, even though I had been talking about it for years. Instead, I thought it made more sense to head over to Chelsea Market, where we could eat lunch, walk on the Highline and then head over to our afternoon schooner tour (which I highly recommend to all NYC visitors!).

I thought we’d just drop in to Buon Italia market to pick up some vinegar, but once in there, I got excited about all the fabulous items they carry, and decided to make a little film:

 

Here are a few iPhone photos from our short walk on the Highline, an elevated park in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. I’d like to return there when the sun isn’t quite so hot!

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Posted by: lisetta | July 28, 2011

The fall of Eataly?

Just back from another midweek in the city … with a video chronicle of a visit to Eataly:

The pizza this time around remained quite flavorful, but was way too wet and soggy to get a two thumbs up. Gone are the two immigrant Italians behind the glimmering gold pizza ovens. Le sigh. Perhaps, like many restaurants, Eataly struggles to train and retain talent?  The take-out window cashier was friendly and attentive, as was the man who teased us about having walked right out of an alarmed door without notice. The cashiers in the front, however, were as surly as the teens at their summer jobs here in West Philly. Too bad. If my mind weren’t filled with memories of visits to Eataly in Italy, I’m not sure I’d “get” the Eataly concept here. My recent visits have left me somewhat dissatisfied.

I’m quite curious to learn about Eataly NYC’s business strategy. The restaurants are clearly a huge hit, but do they intend at all to build a market of people who will actually shop there for more than a novelty food experience now and again? a market of people who learn to appreciate – and thus pay a premium for – Italian food culture? How is the NYC store a place where you can “buy, eat and learn” all things Italian? Where’s the value innovation? Are they losing in translation Eataly’s core mission? My last few visits lead me to think that they are.

Eataly is running now a Facebook campaign which asks customers to compare two products, choosing which pasta/honey/etc. is “best”, for example.  To Oscar Farinetti and Italian Slow Food enthusiasts, all products steeped in artisanal traditions are worthy of praise, so there is pleasure to be found in all  the pasta/honey/etc. that Eataly stocks. When they guarantee that all the choices in the store are high quality, what’s the point of trying to play a silly little game in defining what’s best?  A game better aligned with Eataly’s core values might be a scavenger hunt promoting a  spirit of discovery in their shelves. Create demand for Eataly’s products by appealing to people’s desire to discover Italian food culture. The ethos of Eataly, and of Slow Food, is this.

In the American supermarket, small scale and artisanal food producers don’t stand a chance of competing in a marketplace driven purely by profit, where barcode data not only defines product placement on prime shelf or endcap space but also determines the ‘mainstream’, thus limiting choices for all. Is Eataly NYC pitting one product against another in an effort to determine what might be ‘worthy’ of shelf space? I noticed they now devote quite a lot of shelf space to Barilla pasta, for example, which I cannot imagine occupying shelf space in an Italian Eataly. Perhaps Eataly NYC is just trying to offer something recognizable to its customers…

Anyway, I’m simply taking issue with what I see to be the Americanization of the Eataly brand. It  seems to me that the consumer experience Eataly NYC is promoting – either mindfully or unknowingly – strays a bit too far from Eataly Italia’s core mission. I want Eataly NYC to be a place where anyone can buy, eat and learn all things Italian.  Segmenting the market for tourists and upper middle income customers represents a lost opportunity for everyone else who deeply enjoys exploring Italian food culture. Sadly, each trip I make to Eataly NYC disappoints more than pleases.

What never disappoints, though, are Guido Gobino’s giandujottino tourinots. I know of no one else selling them offline, so I’m sure I’ll be back to Eataly sooner or later to get a little fix. Perhaps, by then, someone in a leadership role at Eataly NYC will have thought deeply about Blue Ocean Strategy.

Posted by: lisetta | July 25, 2011

Fiori di zucca

Zucchini flowers: one of the best things about having a garden! Blaine was surprised to learn that they were edible, but found a recipe and made them for me. Behold:

Blaine's stuffed zucchini flowers

He stuffed them with ricotta and herbs from the garden, dipped them in egg and gluten-free flour mixed with a bit of parmigiano, and fried them in olive oil. They were delicious, of course, albeit a little heavy. I think a tempura batter (with a bit of ice water added to the egg and flour) might have lightened them up.

I’ve typically not fried zucchini blossoms, but use them instead in risotto or a frittata. While searching around to find out how other cooks are using them, I came across an article originally written by Suzanne Martinson for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and posted to the hgtv website. It mentions D’Imperio’s restaurant out in Monroeville, which I recall my parents really enjoying long ago. (Funny how a simple web search can connect you to memories long forgotten!) Though I’ve never actually eaten there myself, it seems their Italian-American menu hasn’t changed much since the 70s. Given the plethora of plant-based options in the Italian diet, I wonder why it is that so many Italian-American restaurants offer no vegetarian entrees other than a classic spaghetti with marinara sauce or pesto, a pasta primavera and cheese ravioli?

I think the time has come for someone to open up a contemporary Italian restaurant featuring a variety of more innovative vegetarian choices … how about penne with zucchine and saffron, or a zucchini lasagna, or gnochhetti alla pastorella with asparagus or red pepper replacing the ham? Just sayin’.

Posted by: lisetta | July 21, 2011

Milano Market, the movie

Ok, so it’s hot here on the East Coast. Really hot. I spent the afternoon indoors, playing around with iMovie. Behold my first movie filmed on my iPhone (and, no, this isn’t a paid endorsement for all things Apple). Forgive my weak narration … the video was an impulse, when I was very hungry and unable to articulate anything particularly meaningful:

I think I may be on to something here with this video blogging idea. What do you think?

Posted by: lisetta | July 19, 2011

Osteria Cotta

We had intended to head to the Batali/Bastianich restaurant Otto tonight,  but a last-minute change in plans took us to yet another mediocre Italian restaurant. Le sigh. Where is the great Italian food in this town, I wonder?

Osteria Cotta is a wine bar and small plates place on the Upper West Side, on Amsterdam near 85th. Our table ordered bruschetta with various toppings, a cheese plate, a salumi plate, and various pizzas. The bruschette were smothered in topppings yet lacking of any noteworthy flavors: olive tapenade, roasted garlic, caponata with goat cheese… how dull. Though we are in the local tomato season here on the East Coast, the tomatoes on the bruschetta with tomatoes and burrata were both waxy and hard.  For $3 for a slice of bread, they could at least chop up a campari tomato, which, while ubiquitous nowadays, would at least have a bit of flavor.  The burrata was utterly devoid of nuance as well.  I wonder if it was nothing more than a soft mozzarella in disguise? From the salumi plate I took a small piece of prosciutto, which was both dried on the ends and a bit salty for my tastes. I ordered a margherita pizza, which arrrived in a soggy mess.  The tomato sauce was truly awful as well, reminiscent of Spaghetti-O’s! The dolcetto we ordered was tinny. The server, though efficient, rolled her eyes at us when one of our guests tried to be nice. What a waste of time, energy and calories. The place was full when we left around 8:30.

Thankfully, the conversations with colleagues were entertaining; I saw no reason to share my opinions at the table. A quick Google search of the place reveals nothing noteworthy, as expected. The photo here is grabbed from a negative review that a student from Columbia University had written in April of this year.  Well, put, young man. I wish I had seen your review *before* agreeing to go there.  With all the Italian places all over this town, I need to find some way to get to one that the Italophile foodies really like. Where are they, I wonder?

Posted by: lisetta | July 17, 2011

Tagliatelle with corn?

Blaine and I celebrated our one year dating anniversary this week, at JG Domestic, a Jose Garces restaurant right next to the train station.  Of all the delicious foods that came to our table, this one was the most surprising:

Sweet corn tagliatelle, with heirloom tomatoes and the smoothest basil pesto I think I've ever had.

Though inspired by Italian ingredients, I honestly couldn’t tell you what else was in this dish, how they prepared it or how you might reconstruct it. For this, I am grateful. Eating at the Garces restaurants  sates my wanderlust for new food experiences every time, even if I order a dish I had already eaten some time ago.

Turns out this is exactly the type of experience they are trying to create:

We are a family of proud, passionate professionals who collaborate to tell a story, one plate at a time. We are fluent in multiple culinary languages. We take delight in translating–serving as guides and inspiring our guests to explore their tastes. We are driven to ensure every visit is an unforgettable journey and every dish a transformative experience. (Garces Group website)

“As a chef,” he writes in the introduction [of his book, “Latin Evolution“], “my constant challenge is to find the possibilities that new ingredients and techniques offer, while honoring what has come before. My mantra is simple: ‘authentic’ and ‘innovative’ are not contradictory. This recipe collection is a highly personal mix of my family history, culinary training and personal creativity. That’s how my cuisine evolved.” (About Chef Garces)

 

 

Posted by: lisetta | July 16, 2011

Posts unwritten

I got three phone calls today asking me why I’m not writing in my blog, so here I am with a photographic review of some thoughts over the past few months. My worklife has become so tiring that the last thing I want to do when I get back to my place is open a computer.

I’ve just begun to explore the Italian food scene in Manhattan, and will have some stories to post soon. What Philadelphia doesn’t have in food culture, Manhattan does. Whatever ingredient I want is in a six block radius from my apartment, so there’s little angst on the food front!  Though I’ve been spending several nights in the city for a few months now, I have not once cooked anything. I am too busy exploring what other people make….and there are some fabulous options. These days, I’ve been eating vegan bento boxes, amazed at how delicious they are. Who knew?

Anyway, here are a few pictures of posts I’d meant to write, with a few pictures from my life as well.  Enjoy!

Here's the living/dining combo of the faculty sublet I'm renting with a friend. Everything there is old. I don't like at all that elite schools privilege faculty over professional staff with subsidized housing ... yet wish they would subsidize my housing as well. LOL.

We went to Kitty Hawk, NC in early June. We were told to eat boiled peanuts. I understand why they aren't sold all across the states.

Look how WalMart displays its vegetables. No wonder people find them so unappealing.

And look how it sells bait. I sure wouldn't want to open those bags.

It's a fascinating state law, don't you think? What's the difference, I wonder?

You can get lost in WalMart. This is the secod time I've ever been in one. I see no reason to return.

I was so happy to find an Italian place in the Outer Banks! The family history of the place was charming; their offerings were not. Le sigh.

My beach souvenir was a bag of Garofalo calamarata pasta. It's the one on the right, shaped like big rings of calamari (squid). Why some shapes were $5.69 and others were $3.99 eludes me.

I cooked it when I got home, with tomatoes and beans. It was more delicious than anything I had eaten in an entire week. I don't want to go to North Carolina again.

There were some nice views there, though.

And really big rosemary bushes. Do they eat it, I wonder?

My friend Eric has taken an independent sabbatical. He made his own feta! It was the best I had tasted since my summer in Greece 10 years ago.

Eric makes fabulous cobblers...and they're gluten-free! I wish DC were closer.

Posted by: lisetta | April 12, 2011

Panzano Part 2

Last time I was in Denver, back in November 2009, I ended up eating multiple times at Panzano, wondering just how it was that Denver had more interesting Italian than Philadelphia. Is it just that we’re tied too tightly to tradition on the East Coast? Is it that our food philosophy and access to farm fresh ingredients are a few steps behind the curve? These thoughts linger a year and a half later, when I went back with a large group of colleagues to celebrate our working partnership.

We drank Gattinara, one of my all-time favorite wines, and shared incredibly delicious appetizers for the table: fried brussels sprouts fried served with thinly sliced green apples, crespelle with mushrooms and white truffle, and piadina with stracchino e prosciutto. The mood was jovial, indeed. Most of us continued on with the grilled Caesar salad:

Can you believe I took this picture with my iPhone?

The slightly smokey flavor of the grilled Romaine rejuvenated the familiar flavors of a classic Caesar salad. The garlic didn’t even bother me. Scandalous! I chose for my entree a vegetarian pasta: fettuccine con le ciliegie.

Made with tarragon, haricots verts, almonds, goat cheese and cherries over a lemon emulsion, this dish looked beautiful but felt a bit too heavy for my tastes. I’m not sure if it was the butter in the lemon emulsion or the goat cheese itself, but I felt like this dish needed to lighten up a bit. It didn’t help that the homemade pasta was slightly overcooked.  The other person who ordered it agreed. I think it’s interesting to note the differing amounts of goat cheese in the photo of the rosemary pasta I ate there in 2009:

Seeing both dishes side by side like this reveals the chef’s ‘formula’: long pasta + fresh green + herb + nut + lemon + goat cheese. Pretty smart!  I shall try this at home sometime.

Though we were too full for dessert, we left the restaurant with happy hearts. It had been a lng time since I enjoyed table fellowship with fabulous food.  Grazie mille, Panzano!

Posted by: lisetta | April 11, 2011

Osteria Marco, Part 2

When I last visited Denver’s Osteria Marco in March 2008, I was impressed with its owner’s enthusiasm and skill in making burrata, a fresh cow’s milk cheese best described as a fresh mozzarella with a creamy ricotta filling. This time around I was impressed with a few other menu items:

A beet salad with sarsette (mache), hazelnuts and goat cheese (photographed by my friend)

Mixed green salad with strawberries, pickled red onions, goat cheese and candied walnuts (photographed by my friend)

These salads were truly spectacular! The main dish, though, was something I’d like to write about once I get the photo from my friend and have some time to do a bit of research on it. Stay tuned for something special…

Posted by: lisetta | April 7, 2011

Letters from friends

Don’t have much to write about any food I’ve eaten today, but thought I’d share two emails I received on the same day!

This in from a friend in Philly whom I haven’t seen lately:

Maybe some people would be insulted if you said that you had some bad Italian food and thought of them, but I think you understand.  For some reason, my mom really likes Portofino, and they were at the Kimmel Center so it was convenient.  Previously I’d thought it was mediocre but this time it was just bad.  The only good thing (besides the nice company) was that they got a 10% discount for showing their theater tickets.  I had penne romano and the penne were definitely not fresh, and the cream sauce was completely flavorless.  On the other hand, when I went to Penne with my parents and had pumpkin gnocchi in cream sage sauce, it was good and I also thought of you.  So I guess it evens out.

This in from a former student in Russia, who found me in Linked In:

You were the best English-Italian professor I saw in the communicaction EB (English Business) in my life. I still remember the Italian  bread you cooked for us. If you gonna visit Russia I am your slave.

Love, yours

Sergey

While Blaine wasn’t so thrilled with Sergey’s offer to be my slave and proclamation of love, I persuaded him it was simply Russian-style hyperbole. 🙂 While I have absolutely no recollection of making my students bread, I do believe that it would have made an impression.

On days like today, I really appreciate how easy it’s gotten to reach out to people who have touched our lives in memorable ways. Sometimes a little email is all it takes to make your day!

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