Alchemilla, an Un-Italian Dinner (and some teething troubles)

picture via alchemilla website

Update: T. read this post and says it is too critical and negative. I definitely do not want this to be the message that comes across – I did love the food and the overall experience we had here! I just think that the little mistakes/shortcomings we observed are rather easily avoidable and would increase the positive feeling by so much more. That is why I was pointing them out, not because they were such a big, negative part of the experience.

Take a young chef with great ideas. Add charming family & friends. Spice up with a lack of money and cluelessness in customer relations, modern electronic communications and wine.

You get Alchemilla, a Roman restaurant where we ate exceptionally good (mostly!) and will definitely return soon.

The young chef Francesco Magiar Lucidi, named one of the baby-chefs of Rome, is 26 years old, has great ideas but maybe not just enough experience in important kitchens. His sister, an actress, is part of the service, the other waitress has piercings in her face. On the day of the reservation they change the advertised 9 courses to 7 without explanation and when asked send one that is worse than the offense – “…in order to not overwhelm the senses & speed up the dinner…”. They send out emails, which is rare enough in Italy, but these are mass emails with many addresses on “to”, no “bcc”. There is an insufficient and not carefully selected wine list, the recommendation is a red whereas white is the much better pairing with the menu on hand. Not one glass matches another in the whole dining room. The AC alternates between burning hot and freezing cold. The menu is also in English – or rather, pigeon English.

You get Alchemilla, a Roman restaurant where we ate exceptionally good (mostly!) and will definitely return soon.

During the dinner I had all contradicting feelings. I sat there eating great food, prepared with very good products; great ideas, some working out, some not; a service that is dear and charming but making unnecessary mistakes. I felt like giving them all a big hug, holding their hands and saying “It is gonna be alright. I understand. I see where you are coming from and where you want to go. I want to help you. Listen to me. Take some advice. You can be so much better.”

Lacking that, I will keep on going to Alchemilla. I will keep on supporting them as they (hopefully) learn. I will keep on eating great food. (I just wish I could organize their cellar; choose better wines, put together a wine-by-the-glass pairing.)

What we ate: (expect 7 to 9 courses for €36, “journey” (not menu!) of the week can be seen online)

* Extra-old parmiggiano cream with a forest-honey veil (a gelatinous sheet!), dried fruit, green apple, 25 year old balsamic vinegar – very subtle and nice play of aromas, very good!

* soft polenta with beurre noisette (brown butter), pecorino di fossa (pit-matured sheep’s cheese) and fleur di sel – delicate and comforting, great idea with the brown butter!

* Calamarata shaped pasta with puntarelle cooked in vanilla, red beets, anchovies and smoked provolone – weakest dish of the stretch, though the idea is actually great: taking the very Roman dish of puntarelle with anchovies sauce and warming it up, temperature and spice-wise, and combining with pasta. I think the pasta format and plating was wrong and the smoked cheese was out-of-place, too; the elements of the dish just didn’t come together – but definitely a great idea to play around with in my kitchen

* Meatballs made with Cinta Senese pork (from Sienna), wild greens and black rice (in sheet form!) – very good, the meatballs had a great seasoning.

* Pickled herring with yogurt, very young spinach and smoked salt – a very good idea gone wrong because the herring was way too salty and together with the extra sold became unedible

* Pork flank in sweet&sour sauce with marinated red cabbage – melt in your mouth meat with a lively and decisive taste – perfect.

* Dessert wine, honey (these two in the form of an ice-cream), orange (jelly) and chocolate (powder) – nice combination of tastes, though the honey taste was too strong for me – but that’s really just me.

Advertisements

10 Things in the Pantry

pickles

Tursu, pickles, a pantry staple in Turkish kitchens

I was reading through yesterday’s edition of Katha‘s “10 days, 10 lists” series (in German) as I stopped right in my tracks. In this post she writes about 10 things she always has in her pantry or fridge in Vienna, Austria. Moments ago I had already read Anke‘s list for her kitchen in Hamburg, Germany. And found it funny how different countries influence the very basics in our kitchens. So here are my 10 things that I always have in the kitchen.

1. Wine Ok, wine should never be in the kitchen (too warm!) except for its short stint in the fridge, but it is also unthinkable for me to eat without drinking wine, so it is on the list. Mostly Italian.

2. Pasta I live in Italy. Enough said? Ok, add to that: I am too lazy and dough-handicapped to make my own pasta. A mix of regular, organic, wholewheat, with egg, etc. At last count there were 18 different shapes in my pantry.

3. Risotto rice see above. Always Carnaroli, sometimes also Vialone Nano or Arborio.

4. Olive oil see above. Local and organic.

5. Butter This is not typical central Italian, but we just love it. On bread, for cooking (risotto!) and baking (bake something chocolate-y with salted butter and you’ll understand). Especially semi salted French ones that are very hard to get around here.

6. Guanciale So Roman, so unctuous, my secret weapon.

7. Garum, Colatura or sardine paste (aka something fishy). The Italian answer to fish sauce – more subdued, more elegant. Secret weapon #2

8. Olives Taggiasca, Gaeta or Sicilian.

9. Flour Regular. I used to say I am not a baker, but the last couple of years have proved me wrong. I do bake. Not bad either. I just don’t feel comfortable handling dough.

10. Canned tomatoes Italian, organic. In the winter they are better than fresh (especially after I saw the hothouses stretching to the horizon in Sicily) and give you a soup or a pasta sauce in 1 minute.

You might think where is all the fresh stuff? Vegetables, fruits, herbs? You can’t be living off of carbs and fats only! Well, we do eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, at every meal actually. But we always buy them fresh, seasonal and often very local (though not always, I admit) in the market – we go to a market around 5 times a week. So I don’t consider them things I stock in the pantry.

We also buy fish at the market, about once a week. We are not vegetarians (see 6 & 7), but a substantial piece of meat like a steak, roast or chicken etc. we buy only around once a month from our favorite butcher Annibale, often from organic and local, definitely happy animals.

What are your 10 things?

Menu For Hope is going on till the 25th of December – have you donated yet? Your chance to win great food & wine related items and feed the poor for only $10! My offer has the code EU23

Menu For Hope 6 – Donate and Win (a wine tasting for 8!)

mfh6_small

Update: Bidding just became easier! This nifty little form will help you choose your items and transfer it directly to the donation site – remember my code is EU23.

Menu for Hope is an annual fundraising campaign hosted by Chez Pim and a revolving group of food bloggers around the world.  For the past three years, Menu for Hope raised nearly a quarter of million dollars in support of the good work of the UN World Food Programme, helping to feed hungry people worldwide. We, food bloggers from all over the world, join the campaign by offering a delectable array of food-related bid items for the Menu for Hope raffle. Anyone – and that means you too – can buy raffle tickets to bid on these items. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on an item of your choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim.

Once again we’ve chosen to work with the UN World Food Programme. This year, we are supporting a new initiative at the WFP called Purchase for Progress (P4P). P4P enables smallholder and low-income farmers to supply food to WFP’s global operation.  We food bloggers understand the importance of buying locally and supporting our local farms, P4P helps do the same for farmers in low income countries around the world.  More on the campaign, the donation system and the programme we are supporting can be found here.

This year, I am again offering a bid-item:

hande_sommeliere

(EU23) My Italians wine tasting in Rome for 8! A great opportunity for wine lovers – beginner or expert – to get an overview of Italian wines, learning about and tasting 7 of them. Let yourself be guided by sommelière Hande (me!) through this fun and informative 2-hour tasting that gets rave reviews! Offer is valid for up to 8 persons, so gather your family, friends or colleagues and hop on a plane to Rome!

Small print: Tasting to be taken within 2010 and date to be arranged with vinoroma. No guarantee on exclusive, private date – there may be others taking part in the tasting, especially if your party is less than 8. Winner may not “sell” remaining places if his party is less than 8. Shipping N/A. Worth of bid item is (up to) €400 / $600 (for a group of 8), non-redeemable.

There are many food and wine related items out there that you can bid for. Over at David’s blog you can see the other bid items offered in Europe and at Alder’s vinography you can see other wine related items. For the master list of all bid items you can win with a donation of only $10, have a look at Chez Pim. And if you want to win the wine tasting in Rome, don’t forget to state EU23!

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list over at Pim’s.

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which bid item (EU23 for the wine tasting in Rome) you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item if bidding for more than 1, and please use the bid item code.

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02, so write: 2xEU01, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Menu For Hope 5 – Donate and Win

menuforhopesmall

Update: The deadline has been extended to 31st December – You can still donate and win! Unbelievable that we already have the 5th year of Menu for Hope, the annual fund raising campaign hosted by Chez Pim and a revolving group of food bloggers around the world. Each December, food bloggers from all over the world join the campaign by offering a delectable array of food-related prizes for the Menu for Hope raffle. Last year we raised almost $100K! Anyone – and that means you too – can buy raffle tickets to bid on these prizes. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on a prize of your choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim. Click here to read more about the UN World Food Programme (school lunches in Lesotho) we are donating to and how donations are handled.

This year, I am again offering a prize:

hande_sommeliere

(EU18) My Italians wine tasting in Rome – A great opportunity for 2 wine lovers – beginner or expert – to get an overview of Italian wines, learning about and tasting 7 of them. Let yourself be guided by sommelière Hande (me!) through this fun and informative 2-hour tasting that gets rave reviews! Tasting date (within the year 2009) has to be arranged directly with vinoroma. [Shipping: N/A] [Worth €100 / $140]

There are many food and wine related gifts out there that you can bid for. At Ms. Adventures in Italy you can see the other prizes offered in Europe and at vinography you can see other wine related prizes. For the master list of all prizes you can win with a donation of only $10, have a look at Chez Pim. And if you want to win the wine tasting, don’t forget to state EU18!

How to donate & bid:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at Chez Pim.

2. Go to the donation site at firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you’d like in the “Personal Message” section of the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize and please use the prize code!

For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU18 (my prize!) and 3 tickets for UW05. Please then write “2xEU18, 3xUW05”

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone!


Giuda Ballerino! What an Unexpected Dinner in Rome!

Tepid octopus, cold burrata cheese and smoked eggplant puree - heaven!

Tepid octopus, cold burrata cheese and smoked eggplant puree - heaven!

Ever thought about combining octopus, burrata cheese and smoked eggplant puree? Well, think again. Overcome your initial reaction and think about all these elements, all the best of their kind, and imagine the aromas, the textures and the temperatures playing around each other. Once you taste it, it makes you lament the 38 years where you had the possibility of this dish at your fingertips but the idea nowhere in the vicinity.

panzanella con tonno - bread salad with tuna

panzanella con tonno - bread salad with tuna

After 11 months in the Eternal City, we decided it was time to indulge in some serious fine dining. We would like to have something other than the ordinary carbonara or trippa (tripe) or carciofi (artichokes). Sorry folks, yes, I just wrote “ordinary” and “trippa” together. I know any food lover outside of Rome is hating me, but these yummy dishes we have just 5 minutes and 10 Euros away from us – or just a trip to the market and some time in the kitchen. And we do love “our” Roscioli, but there is still so much to try out there.

Fried muscles with sepia crunch and carrot puree

Fried muscles with sepia crunch and carrot puree

I have been eye-ing Guida Ballerino! (literally “jumping Judas”, an exclamation of surprise with origins which I refuse to write in depth here, on a FOOD blog. The relevance to the restaurant is that it is an exclamation used often by the famous Italian comic figure Dylan Dog, of which the owner & chef seems to be very fond of) for over 1,5 years now. Yes, your maths is right, even before coming to Rome I was interested in paying a visit to this place.

Foie gras terrine with whitefish, spicy apple and candied almonds

Foie gras terrine with whitefish, spicy apple and candied almonds

And it really has been worth it. T. and I chose the “classic” menu (6 courses, €65), where we were allowed to substitute one dish with Shrimps because of T.’s allergy. Other than the 6 courses we got 4 amouse courses, 1 pre-dessert and a mignardise plate. We loved (or at least liked) almost everything we ate. Exceptions was the dessert – we found it strangely bland and just too sweet.

Squid ink tagliolini with monkfish cheeks and crispy greenbeans

Squid ink tagliolini with monkfish cheeks and crispy greenbeans

We also had the accompanying wine pairing (4 glasses, €28) to the menu, because we like to test better restaurants in that aspect. Unfortunately, the wines, although good in their own right, were not the best matches to the food. Next time we’ll definitely get a bottle or two of wine that we choose ourselves from the extensive list. A word on the wines: This was the wine list with the highest mark-up we have seen in Italy up to now! Kind of a bummer for us wine lovers.

Vitello tonnato inside out - genius!

Vitello tonnato inside out - genius!

We will definitely go back to Giuda Ballerino!, the food was creative, the products used were very good quality and the results very enjoyable in most cases. This small restaurant (seating only 16 – all taken by Romans on this night) on the outskirts of Rome has great service and a very interesting atmosphere, with the emphasis on the right things (the food!). At the same location there is also a more informal osteria, which is open for lunch as well and has more accessible prices, which we’ll visit soon, too.

desPS: Excuse the pictures, I wasn’t expecting to be able to take pictures and had just my compact camera with me – no proper adjustings!

The Secret to the Perfect Wiener Schnitzel

Perfect Wiener Schnitzel

My friend B., a true Bavarian woman, prepares the best Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese breaded and fried veal cutlet). Since she once cooked this for us some years ago, we always ask for it whenever we visit her, although she cooks and bakes a lot of other things very good, too (she has a mean tiramisu, but that is for another time). I always wanted to learn her secret. Sure, you have to use the best veal you can find, otherwise it is not fit to be called Wiener Schnitzel, but her Schnitzel has this light and airy quality, the coating doesn’t stuck, it is perfectly golden and crisp with no blackened specks and it tastes so other-worldly.

This is her secret:

Butter at the end

Start with vegetable oil, end with butter! Now there are all kinds of recommendations out there for frying things, but this one here for a Schnitzel, it makes really sense: You start frying in vegetable oil, which heats up higher (and better) than butter, so you get the fluffy crumb. It doesn’t burn like butter would do if you used it all the way, so there are no black spots and burnt taste. And the butter in the end gives the great butter taste, which plain oil would lack. I also argued in favor of Butterschmalz (clarified butter, like ghee) which has a high burning point, but it really lacks the fresh butter flavor this method brings.

So next time you are frying a bread-crumbed cutlet, try this out. You will see it is the best method!

Drink: Best with Wiener Schnitzel is a fresh and light Grüner Veltliner (dry white wine from Vienna, Austria); what grows together, goes together!

Great Chefs and Their Quirks: Vissani

Gianfranco Vissani and Aldo Sohm

This is, according to some, the best and most important Italian Chef, Gianfranco Vissani, currently 2 Michelin stars (he is being helped into his chair by the soon-to-be best sommelier in the world, Aldo Sohm from Le Bernardin in New York). See his scarlet shoes, the matching belt and the red thingies (what are those?) on his jeans hems? The guy has an attitude!

Seen on May 24th in Rome, during the “World Best Sommelier” Competition, about which you can read a very interesting post at the vinoroma blog.