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Thoughts on Italy

I spent the last few days in Puglia, a region in the Southern most tip of Italy. A sleepy little coastal area that I believe truly comes alive in the summer months, judging only from the breath taking photos that I have seen on googleimages. I would never have ventured to that area if not for Olivia who, relative to the rest of us, is quite the expert on Italy. We googled cheap flights, found an adorable apartment with an amazing rooftop terrace, booked our tickets and left.

Of course our entire trip revolved around food. I’ve heard so many stories from chefs who have spent time in a certain little town in Italy and were inspired by the cuisine and the ingredients, brought back those experiences and memories with them and have thus made quite a name for themselves, just through that one experience. I was definitely hoping for and seeking a culinary epiphany of some sort, especially since the only city in Italy I’ve been to Italy was the tourist-packed Rome that somehow lacked that authentic, countryside-ish feel that just seems so necessary for such a big, life-changing epiphany.

Safe to say, we managed to give our stomachs quite a workout. After settling into our apartment, we started off the evening with some cold paninis filled with proscuitto and mozarellas and enjoyed them on the rooftop terrace of our apartment with some wine. This was just to tide our stomachs over till the restaurants in the area opened (which was around 7 or 8pm). We then proceeded to have dinner at a trattoria with really simple and delicious seafood dishes including fried anchovies, olives, a stir-fry of seafood (of sorts), steamed mussels, and a delicious fresh pasta (of course) with tomato sauce and a langoustine. We definitely ate our fill and were completely blown away when the bill came up to only 20 euros per person– this included a bottle of Puglianese wine (which we found out was only 8 euros!) and a ‘buffet’ spread of appetizers, and a plate of pasta each. I knew we were off to a good start. Having consumed about 4 bottles of wine between the 3 of us, it was definitely quite a surprise that we managed to stumble back to the apartment, change into our PJ’s, clean up and put ourselves to bed without any major damage/injuries.

The following morning started off with cappuccinos at a cafe located right on the edge of one of the many sea cliffs at polignano a mare. Talk about breakfast with a view. We then took a stroll around the little town with cones of gelato in hand- pistachio ice cream will never be the same for me ever again, just saying. We spent the rest of the day in a nearby town called Monopoli- a town relatively bigger than Polignano a mare. Had lunch at a restaurant right by the sea- nothing too mind-blowing or new to me but still good seafood nonetheless. We meandered slowly down the coastal pathways of the town and finally headed back to Polignano.

Dinner was at a restaurant called Antiche Mura- something that Brittany found off tripadvisor. I have mixed feelings about trip advisor- sometimes they really have pretty good recommendations but other times, I feel like it’s usually an outsider, who has little understanding of the true cuisine of a place and who cares more for ambiance and service than just the food, writing a review from the perspective of a tourist, and sometimes all you want is the advice of a local. But Antiche Mura didn’t disappoint– food was delicious, albeit slightly pricier than the other local restaurants, but we thoroughly enjoyed our array of appetizers including a delicious bowl of straciatella, caprese salad, and calamari gratin, our 3 pastas- squid ink pasta with fried bread crumbs (MINDBLOWN MOMENT), gnocchi with tomato and clams, and another pasta (of which the name now escapes me) with zucchini flowers.

The rest of the days were filled with good, but unexciting food. I don’t know if this was just the period we were travelling (meaning non-peak period of not the season for seafood) or if that was just the cuisine in the South- simple, unpretentious, tasty food. I might not have gotten the culinary epiphany I was so hoping for, but I did learn to appreciate the art of simple and tasty food made with simple ingredients. Unlike french cuisine that I’ve been learning at school, there was no cream or heavy use of butter, no fancy julienne or the use of 20 different garnishes. Rather, olive oil was used generously and there were only about 3 to 4 ingredients in each main dish. Still, that simplicity was so tasty that it brought me the same amount of joy and happiness as would a dish at a restaurant in Paris.

Maybe what’s really different about Italian food is the basic philosphy and view on it- there is no incredibly fancy presentation or turned garnish, the sheer flavors speak for themselves on the plate. I could definitely learn something from that attitude 🙂

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Le Chateaubriand, Paris

Le Chateaubriand has become THE restaurant to talk about or refer to when talking to fellow foodies in France. If you’ve heard of it or been there, you’re probably assumed to be “in the circle”. Headed by Chef Inaki Aizpitarte, who is/was one of the pioneers of the whole casual fine dining bistro concepts, basically, good food at good prices in a non-pretentious atmosphere. One could always argue that the lack of decadent decorations and the mismatched silverware, the peeling wallpaints, server’s sneakers are in and of itself pretentious. But people seem to enjoy that, it fits in with the kind of atmosphere and concept he is trying to acheive. Works for me! Eve managed to snag a reservation for us during her visit here.

There are no menu choices. You have one prix fixe menu for the entire restaurant. I guess the only choice you would have here is your wine. Here’s the line up of the menu of the night:

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Gougere with poppy seeds

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Gazpacho shots

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Boudin noir with fried shrimp. Loved this dish, the deep fried shrimp really accentuated and complimented the earthiness of the rich and creamy boudin noir.

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My dinner date 🙂

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Squid, bouillabase, radicchio, almond powder

Personally, I was not a fan of this dish. Something about how the texture and taste of the squid really brought out the fishiness (in a bad way) of the entire dish. The radicchio was way too bitter for this dish, maybe it was supposed to cut the fishiness? But for me, it just made the dish even more fishy. :/

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Some sort of smoky bacon dashi broth (take on miso soup maybe?) with sliced radish and langoustine

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Pan seared scallops with an assortment of cereales, passion fruit, creme fraiche and dandelion greens. I absolutely loved this dish! From it’s beautiful presentation on that flat white ceramic plate, to the colors of the greens and the cereal tuilles, to how refreshing the creme fraiche was with the perfectly cooked scallops, to the bright hit of passionfruit!

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Lieu jaune (Pollack fish), pleurote mushrooms, poutargue (salt preserved roe of fish) that tasted like brown butter, pomelo.

Another pretty ingenious dish!

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Seared beef, thinly sliced celeriac “noodles”, shaved truffles, oysters. It was so strange how the texture of the oysters mirrored the texture of the rare beef, a pretty interesting dish. Did not go insane over this, but still, a prretty interesting play on textures.

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Quince, topinambour (jerusalum artichoke) and almonds. A dish that tasted so wierd in it’s individual parts, but kind of good altogether.

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Star of the night: Tocino de Cielo. Basically candied eggyolk on a meringue base (I think) with chocolate and peanut powder. Beautiful globe of awesomeness. You basically pop this entire bite-sized ball of glory into your mouth and ENJOY. I mistook it for caramel initially because of how sweet it was! Almost fell off my chair when the waiter said “candied egg yolk”. I was so blown away by this dish that I came home to google it and find out the secret to how it’s made. and it’s insanely simple. Almost frustrating because you wish you had thought of and made it first!! damn, how I wish I could steal this recipe for my future restaurant.

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Longans with fennel seeds.

I think I really enjoyed my experience at Le Chateaubriand. There’s always some hits and misses with prix fixe menus and I guess that’s part of the experience at a place like Le Chateaubriand. You don’t have a choice, you’re forced to try everything the chef puts in front of you. It did surprise in every way, there was always something about a dish that was new and exciting or interesting. I guess one of the best things about being at a place like Le Chataeubriand where the everyone receives the same dish is that you don’t have to share! 🙂

HAHA I kid. (but not really)

If you can manage to snag a reservation for the first seating at 7:30pm. it’s definitely worth the visit. Otherwise, you can always wait for the second seating at 9:30pm (no reservations taken). When Eve and I left around 9:45pm, there was quite a line out the door, and because you are  never told to leave your table by a certain time (which I completely agree with), one who is waiting for the second seating might end up eating only at 10:30pm.

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