Monthly Archives: July 2009

Leaning into the good stuff at The Slanted Door

Destination weddings with a large group of close friends are always fun, especially when that destination is San Francisco.  So, in honor of the nuptials of our dear, superfoodie friends Blair and Keith, we decamped to San Fran, unquestionably the foodie capital of the U.S. and a great place for a weekend trip with friends.

Sasha and I, along with our friends Adam and Marina (who took all the great photos you will see below) and Drew and Dana decided to chow down at one of San Fran’s best known and strikingly beautiful restaurants, The Slanted Door.  Located at The Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, with one of the best views of San Francisco Bay, The Slanted Door is a modern Vietnamese restaurant that showcases the abundance of produce as well as ecologically farmed meat, game and poultry found at farms around the San Francisco Bay Area. For the menu, click here.

In addition to The Slanted Door, The Ferry Building also houses one of the great indoor food marketplaces in the U.S., and a great Farmer’s Market can be found outside on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Every meal should begin with a cocktail this perfect - Ginger Limeade with Hangar One Kaffir Lime vodka, ginger, and lime; served on the rocks (photo: Marina Cohn)

Every meal should begin with a cocktail this perfect - Ginger Limeade with Hangar One Kaffir Lime vodka, ginger, and lime; served on the rocks (photo: Marina Cohn)

Spicy yellowfin tuna tartare with english cucumber, scallion and toasted sesame, served on a rice and seaweed crisp - crunchy, spicy bites of wonderful (photo: Marina Cohn)

Spicy yellowfin tuna tartare with english cucumber, scallion and toasted sesame, served on a rice and seaweed crisp - crunchy, spicy bites of wonderful (photo: Marina Cohn)

Japanese yellowtail with crispy shallots and thai basil - a light, fresh way to both cleanse the palate and begin a meal (photo by Marina Cohn)

Japanese yellowtail with crispy shallots and thai basil - a light, fresh way to both cleanse the palate and begin a meal (photo by Marina Cohn)

Slanted door spring rolls with shrimp, pork, mint and peanut sauce - so fresh and delicious, we forgot to take the picture until they were almost all gone (photo: Marina Cohn)

Slanted door spring rolls with shrimp, pork, mint and peanut sauce - so fresh and delicious, we forgot to take the picture until they were almost all gone (photo: Marina Cohn)

Crispy vegetarian imperial rolls with taro root, cabbage, glass noodles and peanuts - food with instructions...(1) put noodles, roll and mint in lettuce (2) dip in the sauce (3) put in mouth (photo: Marina Cohn)

Crispy vegetarian imperial rolls with taro root, cabbage, glass noodles and peanuts - food with instructions...(1) put noodles, roll and mint in lettuce (2) dip in the sauce (3) put in mouth (photo: Marina Cohn)

Hue rice dumplings with mung bean, scallion oil and spicy soy sauce - a creamy, chewy texture with excellent, subtle flavor profile kicked up just so by the spicy soy sauce (photo: Marina Cohn)

Hue rice dumplings with mung bean, scallion oil and spicy soy sauce - a creamy, chewy texture with excellent, subtle flavor profile kicked up just so by the spicy soy sauce (photo: Marina Cohn)

Niman Ranch shaking beef cubed filet mignon, sausalito springs' watercress, red onions and lime dipping sauce - this signature does NOT disappoint; the tender, sweet beef and crisp red oinions flavor mixes perfectly with the lime dipping suace (photo: Marina Cohn)

Niman Ranch shaking beef cubed filet mignon, sausalito springs' watercress, red onions and lime dipping sauce - this signature does NOT disappoint; the tender, sweet beef and crisp red oinions flavor mixes perfectly with the lime dipping suace (photo: Marina Cohn)

Drool inducing sauteed pork and grapes with hoisin sauce; salty, savory sliced pork paired with bursting fruit is a winner every time (photo: Marina Cohn)

Drool inducing sauteed pork and grapes with hoisin sauce; salty, savory sliced pork paired with bursting fruit is a winner every time (photo: Marina Cohn)

Dirty girl farm haricot verts with beech mushrooms and roasted chili - crisp, crunchy beans with meaty mushrooms and a nice kick (photo: Marina Cohn)

Dirty girl farm haricot verts with beech mushrooms and roasted chili - crisp, crunchy beans with meaty mushrooms and a nice kick (photo: Marina Cohn)

Happy, satisfied diners (photo: Marina Cohn)

Happy, satisfied diners (photo: Marina Cohn)


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La Bucaccia – A family run jewel under the Tuscan sun

About an hour’s drive south of Florence, in the southern Tuscan province of Arezzo, high in the hills near Lake Trasimeno, site of Hannibal’s great defeat of the Roman Army under Gaius Flaminius in June 217 B.C., lies the commune of Cortona. Founded by the Etruscans, Cortona is known by the expression “mother of Troy, grandmother of Rome” due the myths which connect the town to the founding of both of those great cities. More recently, the commune is famous for being the setting of the book and film Under the Tuscan Sun.

Exactly 1782 years and 2 days after Rome’s defeat by Hannibal’s armies, Sasha and I, along with our dear friends Cosimo, Christine, Domenico and Angelina, arrived in Cortona.

Of all the Etruscan gateways to Cortona, there is only one that remains intact, the Porta Bifora, called “La Bucaccia” or “evil hole”. La Bucaccia owes its fame (and its name and closure until 1996) to 1258, when the citizens of Arezzo and the exiled Cortonese Guelphs entered Cortona through this gateway and sacked the town.

Porta Bifora "La Bucaccia"...the "evil hole"

Just up Via Ghibellina from the Porta Bifora sits a stunning example of Tuscan cuisine at its finest, Hostaria La Bucaccia. This restaurant, heretofore overlooked by Micheline, is sure to one day receive the star it well deserves. Run by Romano Magi and his exceptional, master chef of a wife Agostina, with ample help from their adorable daughter Francesca, La Bucaccia is not only the best restaurant in Cortona, but of all the places we ate on our Italian tour, it was my favorite.

Romano and Agostina Magi and Chad

Romano and Agostina Magi and Chad


La Bucaccia - Sign
Entrance to Hostaria La Bucaccia

Entrance to Hostaria La Bucaccia


The interior of La Bucaccia is the former cellars of the 13th century Palazzo Cattani

The interior of La Bucaccia is the former cellars of the 13th century Palazzo Cattani


Cinghiale Paradise - wild boar sausage, prosciutto con melone, salame, finocciono with apricot, and bresola with apples.  You sure can't get this in the US.

Cinghiale Paradise - wild boar sausage, prosciutto con melone, salame, finocciono with apricot, and bressola with apples. You sure can't get this in the US.


Carpaccio of black pork with fresh greens and balsamic

Carpaccio of black pork with fresh greens and balsamic


Tagliatelle with fresh black truffle, fresh ingredients perfectly cooked with that wonderful truffle flavor

Tagliatelle with fresh black truffle, fresh ingredients perfectly cooked with that wonderful truffle flavor


Sant’Egidio style chestnut Ravioli filled with ricotta and sprinkled with mint flavored porcini mushroom sauce

Sant’Egidio style chestnut Ravioli filled with ricotta and sprinkled with mint flavored porcini mushroom sauce


Pappardelle with wild boar ragu; savory and sweet, rich and delicious, this is a classic cortonese/tuscan dish that perfectly captures place and transcends time

Pappardelle with wild boar ragu; savory and sweet, rich and delicious, this is a classic cortonese/tuscan dish that perfectly captures place and transcends time


An up close look at one of my favorite pasta dishes ever: pappardelle al cighiale ragu (wild boar)

An up close look at one of my favorite pasta dishes ever: pappardelle al cinghiale ragu (wild boar)


Sliced steak of black pork in a peppercorn sauce - an Agostina speciality

Sliced steak of black pork in a peppercorn sauce - an Agostina speciality


Grilled steak with lemon

Grilled steak with lemon


Grilled steak topped with a smoky bacon flavored sauce

Grilled steak topped with a smoky bacon flavored sauce


Grilled steak in a sweet red wine reduction sauce

Grilled steak in a sweet red wine reduction sauce


Chocolate cake with cream and chocolate sauce

Chocolate cake with cream and chocolate sauce


Tiramisu

Tiramisu


Strawberry gelato

Strawberry gelato


Biscotti perfectly compliment Vin Santo as a way to finish a great meal

Biscotti perfectly compliment Vin Santo as a way to finish a great meal


Vin Santo "La Bucaccia" riserva 1977 shown with the decanting pourer
Vin Santo 3 ways, all of them delicious

Vin Santo 3 ways, all of them delicious


In this small but well equipped kitchen, Agostina makes magic happen

In this small but well equipped kitchen, Agostina makes magic happen


In Agostina's kitchen, with husband and partner Romano and sous chef

In Agostina's kitchen, with husband and partner Romano and sous chef


Florence’s Ringo gets by without help from his friends…but with amazing slow food – June 24, 2009

Our first day in Florence began where it should, at the Uffizi Gallery. Where else? I mean, why not start your day with some Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, and more. But after spending a few hours walking at a snails pace and battling crowds with firmly but gently placed elbows, one builds up an appetite.

A few weeks before we left, I bumped into my friend David, a man known to enjoy a good meal or two in his time. “If you’re going to Florence, you have to go to Ringo’s,” he mandated. “It’s the best lunch in Florence.”

Outside tables at Ringo's

Outside tables at Ringo's

When you enter Ringo’s, located here, just steps from the Boboli Garden side of the Ponte Vechhio, you may ask yourself, “Am I in the right place? Can this tiny space dominated mostly by a kitchen and small bar by a temple of gastronomic pleasure?” Then, you are promptly (and politely) informed that this is a slow food establishment, and that if you are looking for a quick bite to eat, go eat elsewhere. And maybe the “Slow Food” sign helps too. This place means serious business.

Is this a gastronomic temple?

Is this a gastronomic temple?

Ringo’s has been run my the same man, in the same way, for over 42 years. The maestro makes food one order at a time, using only fresh, local (he grows most of the veggies and herbs he uses) ingredients. He has been ably assisted for the past 20 years by his daughter, and with their back and forth banter in a typically expressive, Tuscan manner, gesticulating on each key word, forceful, passionate, respectful and loving all at once, you know that Ringo’s is more than a place to eat, it’s a family. Although it was empty when we entered at half past noon, we sat at the bar with the anticipation of a unique and extraordinary experience. And we were not disappointed.

Sasha and Il Maestro

Sasha and Il Maestro

Ringo’s is famous for his burgers; Roman-sized monsters of high-grade, fresh ground beef, simply grilled and topped with you choice of grilled onions and/or cheese. However, everything on the menu is extraordinary, including his daily pastas (only for 2), garden fresh salads, antipasta plates and desserts. Ringo is so protective of his food, he won’t let you over order. We had to come back twice (and very happily so) to try the breadth of his menu.

Botticelli's Primavera is a fitting image for Ringo's fresh focused cooking

Botticelli's Primavera is a fitting image for Ringo's fresh focused cooking

Il Maestro at work

Il Maestro at work

A simple amuse of grilled bread, fresh sliced heirloom tomato and a sharp, soft blue cheese

A simple amuse of grilled bread, fresh sliced heirloom tomato and a sharp, soft blue cheese

Garden fresh veggies ready for your plate

Garden fresh veggies ready for your plate

Veggie salad with cantaloupe, butter lettuce, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, red onion, basil, salt, pepper and Ringo's special mustard with extra virgin and aceto red wine vinegar served in a fish bowl

Veggie salad with cantalope, butter lettuce, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, red onion, basil, salt, pepper and Ringo's special mustard with extra virgin and aceto red wine vinegar served in a fish bowl

View from the top

View from the top

A sandwich press, a stove top, and a grill; simple, well seasoned tools make simply delicious food

A sandwich press, a stove top, and a grill; simple, well seasoned tools make simply delicious food

Ringo's pasta changes each day (or when he runs out of sauce)

Ringo's pasta changes each day (or when he runs out of sauce)

Pasta is only served in portions for 2 people; On our vist the Daily Pasta was a tagliatelle in a cheesy sweet sausage ragu

Pasta is only served in portions for 2 people; On our vist the Daily Pasta was a tagliatelle in a cheesy sweet sausage ragu

Great hamburgers start with great meat, so fresh and flavorful Ringo doesn't even use salt

Great hamburgers start with great meat, so fresh and flavorful Ringo doesn't even use salt

Every great hamburger joint needs special sauce...but Ringo's is the first mustard based special sauce I have ever had

Every great hamburger joint needs special sauce...but Ringo's is the first mustard based special sauce I have ever had

Ringo hollow outs the bun top and fills it with ketchup; special mustard sauce goes on the bottom bun

Ringo hollow outs the bun top and fills it with ketchup; special mustard sauce goes on the bottom bun

Burgers on the grill...on the way to being eaten

Burgers on the grill...on the way to being eaten

And a radish on top makes it perfect...

And a radish on top makes it perfect...

A mild emmentaler completes the cheese version of Ringo's masterpiece

A mild emmentaler completes the cheese version of Ringo's masterpiece

The "bunless" version: arugula, cherry tomatoes, aceto, grilled sourdough with special mustard sauce and topped with grilled onions
The best tiramisu I have ever eaten, bar NONE, comes served on the spoon

The best tiramisu I have ever eaten, bar NONE, comes served on the spoon

Ciao, Ringo; we can't wait to visit you again

Ciao, Ringo; we can't wait to visit you again


Dining among the Florentine princes at La Giostra – June 23, 2009

After a long day of travel, art and food, interrupted by 2 delayed trains, Sasha and I finally arrived in Florence a few hours late but excited as ever. We checked into our 16th century palazzo of a hotel, Palazzo Niccolini al Duomo, located here, right across the street from Brunelleschi‘s masterpiece on top of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore . Even though Sasha was tired from our very long day, I was determined to start the Florence section of our trip of with a proper Florentine meal. And in La Giostra, I found one.

La Giostra is run by members of the Hapsburg Lorena family. Italian princes from when Italy was under Hapsburg rule, the family home is at Barberino Val d’Elsa in Chianti where for many years, like others in the Chianti region, they had produced olive oil, wine and other culinary delights. The restaurant is run by the colorful and bracelet covered Dimitri, his brother Soldano and Anastasia.

The restaurant space (they have two dining rooms on the same street located here) dates from the sixteenth century when it was used as a storage area for the painted horses and other parts of the Salvemini square carousel. In fact, the restaurant takes its name, La Giostra, a word that used to mean ‘the joust’, from this very carousel.

Dining room and former carousel storage facility from the 16th Century

Dining room and former carousel storage facility from the 16th Century

The food at La Giostra is traditional Tuscan; rich pastas, hearty meats and strong wines abound. I was seated for my first meal in Tuscany, surrounded by the cacophony of a full restaurant in an old, narrow, brick room, ordered a bottle of 2006 Canneto Vino Nobile di Montelpuciano Sangiovase and prepared myself for a feast.

Antipasta La Giostra

Antipasta La Giostra: Bruschetta with pomodoro and chicken liver with rabbit, tomato, mozzarella and mortadella, roasted peppers, potato salad and two mini quiches

Tagliatelle con Porcini and Nipitella alla Toscana

Tagliatelle con Porcini and Nipitella alla Toscana, a mix of traditional Tuscan spices

Osso Bucco La Giostra

Osso Bucco La Giostra; Amazingly sweet and soft (almost candied) carrots make this dish shine

For those interested in this very fine restaurant’s menu…here’s some it is.

La Giostra Menu 1
La Giostra Menu 2
La Giostra Menu 3
La Giostra Menu 4

A 3 Star Lunch at Le Calandre – June 23, 2009

So, after spending a morning with Giotto and his magnificent frescoes, Sasha and I grabbed a cab to Sarmeola di Rubano, just outside of Padua, to visit Le Calandre. Run by brothers Massimiliano (in the kitchen) and Raffaele Alajmo, Le Calandre is a 3 star Michelin rated performance art experience hiding out as a restaurant. Only 28 when he received his third star, Massimiliano is a true artist, whose surface is the palate instead of the canvas.

Chad & Sasha with Massimiliano and Raffaele Alajmo

Chad & Sasha with Massimiliano and Raffaele Alajmo

Lunch began with a collection of amuses. The first was three tastes: a mini pizza margherita, cod fish salad encased in fried polenta and sprinkled with curry power, and an amazing little ball of Fassone beef carpaccio on a stick topped with shrimp crudo, chive and pink Peruvian pepper. There was something inside the Fassone ball that gave it a Rice Krispie-like crunch; I have no idea what it was but it was delicious.

Three Tastes...All Delicious

Three Tastes...All Delicious

Along with the three tastes, we were served a mozzarella tagliolini atop a pomodoro and caper sauce. The skinned tomatoes were garden fresh, just bigger than cubed and perfectly complimented by the low salt, eel-like mozzarella tagliolini and the salty, big Italian capers. It was at this point that I ordered a glass of Flor di Uis 2006 Via di Romans.

Mozzarella Tagliolini with Pomodoro and Capers

At the same time, we were presented with the following bread basket.

Bread anyone?

Bread anyone?

For our first course, we split the Antipasto, which is a tomato garden on a plate. It consists of chopped, just picked fresh, red and green tomatoes fava beans, green beans, ricotta, basil, chili pepper and extra virgin olive oil.

A tomato garden on a plate

A tomato garden on a plate

For our pasta course, I had maltagliati (a double wide noodle) with white asparagus, botarga, butter and parmesan. It was served in a huge stone bowl. Although everything about this dish suggested that it would be heavy, it was surprisingly light, hearty, creamy, salty and delicious.

Maltagliati and botarga anyone?

Maltagliati and botarga anyone?

Sasha was treated to Lasagnetta with a lamb ragu. This dish is one of the finest lasagna’s you will every eat. The round noodles were perfectly cooked and had a light texture to them. The lamb ragu, sweet and savory, was topped with creamy bechamel and complimented by subtle ricotta. We were again amazed by the lightness of the cooking for what is traditionally a heavy dish.

Little lasagna, BIG taste

Little lasagna, BIG taste

My meat course was a real treat; roast suckling pig with cream of potatoes, and amatriciana sauce. The pork was tender with a crunchy top, sweet and flavorful. The amatriciana was the best I have ever had; rich tomato flavor with the savory taste of bacon and just the right amount of spice. A forkful of the pork all’amatriciana combined with the creamiest, silkiest, smoothest potatoes I have ever eaten, brought my tastebuds to foodie heaven.

Calandre Roast Suckling Pig

Sasha had a perfectly cooked and tender medallions of beef over broccoli with puff potato crisps, egg sauce and basilica peppers. The kick off of those peppers combined with the rich sauce really made this dish shine.

Calandre Medallions of Beef

Although we passed on the cheese carts (yes, there are 2 of them!), but I thought I would capture it so I could share its treasures with you.

Cheese Cart 1
Cheese Cart 2

But we did finish the meal with some nice petite fours.

Calandre Petite Fours

If you want to see more about the menu, you can download it here, but you’ll have to be able to read Italian. Also, Massimiliano has produced a beautiful and artful cookbook, titled “In.gredienti”, which was awarded the 2007 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for the best cookbook in the world. If you have $350 to spend on a cookbook that you probably can’t cook anything from, but want something that will look spectacular in your home, click here.

Calandre Cookbook