pasta

Seconda Parte: Varenna i Venezia, pasta i Gnocchi, mamma mia!

Part Two: Varenna and Venice, i.e., Italy, where pasta and gnocchi reign supreme! From Barcelona we headed to northern Italy, landing in Milan and taking a train directly to Varenna, a lovely town situated on Lake Como. (Well, to rephrase...the Milan airport is NOT close to the city but after a couple of trial and error attempts with a finicky train ticket machine, we managed to take a train to the city center of Milan and THEN navigate our way through the confusion of finding the correct train to Varenna.) Needless to say, no time for lunch!

Happily, our hotel in a tiny little haven in the hills was a five-minute taxi ride from the train station. We were deposited at the Hotel du Lac, just 8 minutes after arriving, checked in within 5 and out on the cobblestone path to find sustenance within 20 minutes of landing in Varenna. The weather was a little drizzly so searched no further than il Nilus Bar, where we sat on the covered patio directly at water's edge to have our first meal in Italy. Starvation had no bearing on the deliciousness of our roasted sopressata-potato-gorgonzola pizza, which we immediately scarfed down with a glass of wine. Oh my. Superb. 

Did I mention that within the 20 minutes from train stop to seated for lunch, we managed to ask our hotel receptionist/concierge/girl Friday to find a reservation for dinner? She found us a table at La Vista, a terraced restaurant atop the Albergo Milano. It's a tiny town but we experienced some trouble finding which little alleyway to climb. But so worth the search, steep hill, and confusion. Sitting outside, wrapped in a fleece blanket provided with each and every table, we watched as the lights twinkled on in Menaggio, the town directly across Lake Como from Varenna. After the hustle and bustle of the big city Barcelona, we were drawn into the calm, quiet beauty of the water and the Alps that towered above.

And our dinner! What a fabulous meal we had that evening. The menu offered a la carte and either a 3 course or 4 course fixed price option which included the entire menu. If you tell me I can have a starter, first course, second course and dessert for 45 euro...it's a no brainer! After all, this is RESEARCH! I definitely researched my way to satiation in the most delicious fashion.

  • Starter-  RB: charcuterie platter, JB: velvety potato soup
  • Primi-    RB: ravioli with seafood, JB: risotto with scallops
  • Secondi-   RB: baked lake fish with creamed potatoes, JB: lamb shank osso bucco
  • Dessert-   RB: cheese plate, JB: chocolate cake with raspberry sauce

Oof. It was too much food. But so enjoyable. 

On the dawn of our 5th day in Europe, we had a light breakfast in the hotel cafe and went out to explore Varenna. At 10am, we were picked up by van to take us to Ristorante il Caminetto (in the hills of Perledo), for a day-long cooking class. Our driver was also the chef, owner and instructor, Moreno Maglia. It was a delightful six hours...Moreno is charming, humorous and well-versed in American culture. The class was made up of two other couples from the US, a couple from Manchester, England, two young girls from Poland and a lady from the Netherlands. We watched our host prep a veal roast, form pasta dough entirely with his hands, and we learned to shape gnocchi. Then he rolled and cut the pasta, adding a dollop of ricotta filling to each square and allowed us to shape the packets into tortelloni. He demonstrated one porcini mushroom sauce for the gnocchi and then a fresh tomato topping for the tortelloni. And finally, we lunched on all of these amazing dishes, helping ourselves to refills of wine and laughing at his references to American rock and roll and movie stars. If you are ever in the Lake Como area for a few days, I highly recommend this cooking class--such an insight into meal prep at a small local restaurant. I loved it.

Following the class and being dropped back in our little town square, we had just enough time to walk to the train station and meet our son, who arrived from Rome after a semester at John Cabot University. What a happy sight to see him step off that train! He looked taller, wiser, and tired; it was so wonderful to put our arms around him after 4 months apart.

That evening, we had a very late supper at Osteria Quatro Pass, another tiny restaurant. Sometimes it is a challenge to order food coherently when trying to soak up each moment with a child you haven't seen in some time. But we managed to have a delightful meal which we shared family style: salumi board, cheese plate, seafood spaghettoni, fish fillets in an almond sauce, and a cheese ravioli before consuming a sweet apple tart to finish. Note: you can never order too much food when you have a 21-year-old at the table.

The next morning, the three of us hiked to Castello de Vezio, a wonderful castle ruin with beautiful views overlooking the lake and town below. It was a gorgeous morning and the hike was a perfect bit of exercise after the previous day spent wining and dining.

That afternoon we headed to Venice which also provided some physical exertion in the manner of hauling our luggage through tiny little streets, inaccessible to any other form of traffic. We spent a quick 24 hours touring with just one real sit-down meal. A carafe of wine, a little bourbon, some lasagna, gnocchi, and fried calamari was consumed and delighted in while sitting at a small table on a cobblestone street, 15 steps from our hotel. The next morning when we walked through that same street, any evidence of the quaint little eatery with a gregarious host had been shuttered away, only to be discovered again later in the day by other lucky wanderers.

Next week: follow along as we wrap up our trip in the City of Lights. ❤️ Ruth

 

An evening in the Mediterranean

A sweet lady recommended Sachet on Oak Lawn to me and I did not wait to try it...she has great taste, after all. As it happens, we were trying to decide where to have dinner on a Thursday night and upon her comment, I called and made a reservation, excited to try something new.

Their only available times were 6:15 and 8:00, and as Thursday is not usually a late night for us, we opted for the earlier slot. We arrived at 6:10 and sat at the bar, because we like to check out all the aspects of a restaurant--including figuring out if sitting at the bar for dinner would be a good option in the future. Many times, JB and I enjoy having dinner at the bar...it's a luxury we couldn't indulge in B.E.N. (Before Empty Nesting) The bartender also clued us in that they are happy to let you sample any of their wines and there are so many and from all over!

The bar staff was casual but very friendly. We sipped our Sachet Manhattans and though we declined, the barman offered bread to nibble on while we enjoyed our drinks. A nice touch, I thought. Another nice touch: complimentary sparkling water at the bar and your table. 

The hostess led us to our table at 6:20 and she was also very friendly. She gushed about our table location and indeed, we loved where we were seated: near the kitchen but cushioned from most of the noise of the restaurant, we could have a lovely intimate conversation. We would definitely request that table again.

Our server was cute, happy and friendly. She said "everything is good" which is not super helpful when you are a first time diner, but i'll put that down to the newness of the restaurant. The menu is quite large so we had hoped for a little direction. But we muddled our way through...

The first section, titled Meze, lists no less than 19 options at 3 for $14 and 5 for $21. Most were vegetables, some nuts and olives, with the intent to be shared by the table. We opted for 1) French Lentils served on a spicy pepper dip, 2) Farro, mushrooms, and cauliflower in a lemon sauce and 3) Grilled Carrots and pepitas in an herb sauce. Honestly, this was not my favorite part of the meal. The Lentils were the most flavorful and all the items although "room temperature" were kinda cold. I would definitely order from the Meze again but choose totally different items until we found the tastes we favored.

From the Salad section, we selected the chopped salad ($11) which was perfect, with salumi, olives, sweet piquillo peppers, cucumber and manchego cheese. On the Appetizers list, I chose the Charred Octopus ($13) and it was AMAZING! Might have been my favorite thing all night. Octopus can be chewy when over-cooked and this single, lovely tentacle was seared to perfection.

The Pasta section offered nine menu items that our server promised were small enough to perform as appetizers as well. We selected Ricotta Gnocchi ($12) with prosciutto and Short Rib Ravioli ($13) with mushrooms and crispy kale. I could have eaten either of those dishes all. night. long. Absolutely fabulous. Wait, I just said the octopus was my favorite but I think it was a three-way tie!

After all that, we finally arrived at the main course and chose just one to share. The Grilled Branzino ($26) was two perfect little filets served on a bed of Swiss Chard and accented with Marcona almonds and a lovely lemon vinaigrette. The dish was delicious and a great choice to split after the other courses.

Wait--one more. For dessert we chose Almond cake with huckleberries and Lemon Ice Cream. Yum. Yum. and Yum. 

Other thoughts:

  • The decor is gorgeous and the place settings are adorable with the flatware encased in a little burlap pouch.
  • The lighting is just right, soft but not dark with a lot of natural light from large windows on two sides. 
  • I have used the word "friendly" three times to describe the staff.
  • The atmosphere in the restaurant is energetic and the groups we saw dining at tables for 6 or more made me think of friends that are happy to be together.
  • So much attention has been paid to the details and it really shows.

I know this has been a long review, but thanks for staying to the end...Sachet is a win. You should definitely make a reservation sooner rather than later. But forget about me telling you our table number, because I don't want any competition for that perfect little spot!

 

Thursday Night Pasta

It was 4pm and I hadn't planned dinner...
My DH had asked for pasta this week and somehow the days got away from me and it was Thursday and I had yet to plate up his request. He called me when I was finishing up at the shop and made a suggestion. "How about if I grill salmon and you make some kind of light pasta to go with? Forget about the red sauce--just use what we have on hand." Being exhausted and given a free pass to avoid a stop at the grocery store, I jumped at his menu plan with both tired feet!

When I arrived home, I immediately raided the refrigerator for any and all available ingredients. This was the resulting dish and it was perfect with his smoky-lemon-butter salmon. 

Everything But The Fridge Pasta

Note: I am obsessed with this goat cheese, now available at my Costco! I eat it straight from the package and also with baguette toasts. 

All of this to say that I am grateful for my JB, who knows my heart...that my intentions are good but I don't always have the energy to pull my plans together without his assistance. 

Thursday night dinner: smoky-lemon salmon filet + everything but the fridge pasta

Thursday night dinner: smoky-lemon salmon filet + everything but the fridge pasta

Mini Food Explorations - NYC Edition

Typically when I head to a destination that is known for it’s diverse and delicious food landscape, I have a list in hand of restaurants and cuisines to explore. And I did have plans over spring break to discover a couple of boroughs in NYC that we had not yet visited. Unfortunately, with flight cancellations and delays, misplaced luggage and of course, Stella the blizzard, the trip developed a survival agenda and those plans were put aside.

Rather, the goal became “what CAN we do?” and not “here’s what we will do.” And that was fine. I’m not the girl to wallow over failed plans. So  I took my son to Burger & Lobster which we had extolled as an amazing burger palace with lobster thrown in. The Flatiron district restaurant did not disappoint. We sat at the bar and chowed down on cheeseburgers, crispy fries and a sweet, creamy lobster roll. Their once 3 item only menu now offers 3 different lobster roll versions, 3 burger varieties and 3 ways to have your fresh lobster. From there we walked through Eataly, always a fun stroll for food lovers and the Italophile in all of us.

The following day, my son’s mission was to taste an authentic New York bagel. We walked 11 blocks from our hotel to Ess-a-Bagel and found a line to the door. Luckily we discovered a second line — the Express-Bagels-only line and stood behind just 5 other patrons. As luck would have it, it was the best place to be where we could see into the back as the cooks pulled the bagels from the water and placed them on sheet pans which were shuffled to the front, right behind our counter, and placed directly into the oven! When we reached the top of the line, we learned they were out-of-stock of all flavors save two—the plain and the everything! So that’s what we ordered, along with plain cream cheese and some lox. We sat at a table and devoured the warm, chewy, crusty balls of bread as though it was our final meal! Oh. my. goodness. I am forever spoiled for these bagels.

By the way, I walked all over sodden, icy, slushy, snowy, dirty Manhattan in my Ugg rain boots. They kept my feet warm and dry and I happily splashed my way over hundreds of blocks and up/down countless subway stairs. I highly recommend! 

After a hearty bagel breakfast, we were ready for some exercise and because he’d not yet seen Central Park (there was a blizzard in the city early in the week…did I already mention that?) we headed there and were lucky to cross 5th Avenue ahead of it’s closure for the St. Paddy’s day parade. Frozen ponds, snow balls, and the Boathouse for hot apple cider and cappuccino.

From there we headed to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and after walking 30 blocks or so, I was hungry again! I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we purchased our admission tickets and headed directly to the cafe! But I’m so glad we did…I had the most amazing, out-of-a-plastic-container salad. I was so obsessed by this combination of grain, green, carrot, cheese and dressing that when we returned to Dallas, I made it on Sunday and ate it 3 days in a row!!! So…it’s on the menu this week. See what happens when you eat in an unlikely place just because you’re starving? Sometimes food-joy is waiting there for you!

There is one more food memory I want to share with you. We decided to see a show very last minute and therefore had no plans for a pre-broadway supper. I knew JT would love some pasta but we struck out repeatedly for reservations at all of the recommended Times Square area spots. We finally found il Corso, within walking distance of our hotel for a 5:45 pm meal. It was tiny, maybe 12 tables and the pasta was made in-house. Service was attentive and charming. Divine Cacio e Pepe. That’s it. That’s all I have to say.

A fun trip, though nothing like originally planned but delicious all the same. Lesson learned: always have an open mind, an optimistic palate and a willing stomach. Oh, and good walking shoes!