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  1. An Evening of Extravagance and Wonder La Pergola - Cavelieri Hilton - Rome, Italy A Celebration of Brian's 50th Birthday Date: 11/26/2010 Overall review Twenty years ago, my wife and I were lucky enough to enjoy 3 Michelin Three Star Restaurants, all in France. Since then, I am no longer in the computer business, have worked in restaurants, learned to cook fairly well and now sell wine for a living. We rarely eat out as I love to cook and there are few better dining options around. I also have access to almost anything I need and have lots of wine in the "cellar" just waiting to be drunk. We now also have a 14 year old daughter who was weaned on the soup stock veggies, refused medium-well cooked steak at 4, ordered linguini vongole at 9, and; well you get the idea. My two girls surprised me with a quick trip to Rome to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Arrive midday Wednesday, depart Sunday morning. The trip included dinner for the three of us at La Pergola. My initial reaction was total disbelief! The trip was a fantastic idea; the dinner reservation was pure fantasy. Should dinner be more than a mortgage payment? Echo of Catholic School nuns from 40 years ago rang out saying "there are starving children. . . .", etc.. But, who the heck was I to say no! Liz does the books and budget; she's making the reservation; I succumbed. Plus I kind of looked forward to seeing the product that could be created with the absolute best materials in a city/country of phenomenal ingredients. Here is the tale: Arrived at 7:30pm - Got into a cab back to our apartment 1:20am Walked the hotel and arrived upstairs for dinner around 7:45pm. Reservation was at 8:30 Decided to have a drink and peruse the wine list (turns out there were two - more later) Drinks were basically 18Euros (28$US) and went up from there. My daughter order a N/A fruit juice at 15 Euros and our vodka tonics were 18 Eros. Homemade "pretzels" and macadamia nuts were a nice touch. Our drinks were substantial, basically doubles, and lasted a good 45 minutes. The glasses were exceptionally delicate - fantastic! I always said that no one complains about a good drink at any price - no complaints. Then the "bar snacks" arrived. A custom made Lucite "tray" held a skewer vertically with minced shrimp wrapped with rice paper and quick fried - one bite of pure heaven. The next treat in line and only be described as "a paper thin "fruit rollup" of tomato" wrapped around a 1/2" ball of fresh buffalo mozzarella - now we are seeing Herr Beck's genius. . . The third little tidbit was a paper-thin wood veneer "cone" containing tempura "fries" of zucchini, sweet potato and orange bell peppers. All perfect batonette, 1/4 inch wide by about 2.5 inches long - bar snacks on steroids. The wine lists were divided into two separate and equally sized tomes. The non-Italian list was interesting but got a cursory review. It was reminiscent of the French versions 20 years ago in it's 20+ vintage of D'Yquem and First growth Bordeaux, the best burgundies from the best producers and parcels, etc.. It was the Italian list that piqued my interest. After all, when in Rome. . . The Cliff Notes version is; this is a Michelin 3 Star - the only one in Rome. Get out the Gambero Rosso for the past 15 years and take the cream of the crop. The best of everything. You name it; it was on the list. What amazed me was the depth of older vintage whites. I didn’t have the budget or the nerve to order a 1999 Soave. The wine steward was fantastic although a bit flustered that he didn't a corresponding wine sampler to accompany the 9 course menu. His initial recommendation was a crisp white in the 40 Euro range. After letting him know that the Anselmi Capital Croce is, IMHO, one of the great, value priced wines in the world, we decided on: Pieropan Soave "La Rocca" 2005 - about $75US Vietti Barbera d'Alba "Scarrone" 2005 - about $90US Both were fantastic. They are also apparently famous for their "water list". A list of about 25 waters from around the world. Each has a 1/3 page description of mineral content, amount of carbonation, etc. etc. I'm a guy that drinks water when I'm thirsty and to take meds. I also love about 500ml of San Pellegrino with dinner. Other than that I am not your quintessential American walking around with my "adult pacifier" everywhere I go. People complain about $3 gas but will pay $9+ for Desani filtered Atlanta tap water. Anyway, we had a great water from Umbria with a hint of frizzante and passed on the "Bling™" from some movie producer in California at 155Euros or the ???? water from Japan with the Swarovski crystals at 215Euros. Mr. P.T. Barnum was correct. . . . Ohhh, almost forgot. I thought taking pictures of the food in this environment (no recession here - they were full) would be rude so I asked our server if he would be willing to take pictures of each course in the kitchen before he brought it out. His response was "you American's are kind of crazy about your food." That earned him a big tip! Ok - so what about the food - hear it comes, I'm getting tired of typing. Amuse Bouche - 3 quenelles of tartare, again; on a Lucite box, with Arrugula foam, and a small "cream roll" of parmesan and a few specks of black volcanic salt - GOOD MORNING tastebuds! We were then served Sicilian olive oil and a choice of salts and an assortment of rolls. I hate to admit I had that flashback of my parents telling me "not to fill up on the bread" just as I said it to the rest of my family. There were 3 vases of apricot hued roses on the table and votive candles "sprinkled" around the table. The Grand 9 Course Tasting Menu Carpaccio of Lobster and Avocado and Cherry Tomatoes A room temp pureé of avocado as a base, slightly warmed cold water lobster sliced 1/8" thick over the avocado, 3 small quenelles of tomato concasse that were room temp and loaded with fruity olive oil. A few sprigs of micro greens and dots of 25 year balsamic around the plate. Grilled "La Perle Blanche" Oysters on pumpkin cream with Parsley puff The only way I knew they might have been grilled was the menu and a hint of smokiness on the oyster. The parsley puff was actually parsley foam. There was a teaspoon sized portion of very tiny, delicate sea beans with just a hint of soy and sesame oil - just to bring out the unami??? Wholemeal "maccheroncini al terretto" with Red Shrimps, smoked aubergine pureé and croutons Maybe the most interesting course of the evening. The pasta was made from some sort of dark whole grain; maybe buckwheat, maybe ground spelt. The pasta was a tube half way between the thickness/radius of bucatini and penne. Interestingly, it was about 2.5 inches long; just long enough that you had to stab it just right or cut it in half. The base of the plate was coated with a smoky, absolutely smooth eggplant pureé. There were then noodles which were topped with 3 red shrimp. I've seen these shrimp in markets in Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, etc. but never had the opportunity to cook them. They were as sweet and delicately textured as fresh Japanese sweet shrimp - Amaebi but with the bright red edges of perfectly cooked Maine lobster. We caught a hint of orange citrus. Turns out the "croutons" were actually fine breadcrumbs which were toasted with anchovies and orange rind and then used to decorate the plate and add texture to 3 relatively soft ingredients. I was hoping the girls might leave some but no such luck - this was VERY good. Emincé of Scallops on lentil with pearls of tapioca and balsamic vinegar A slightly creamy, delicate pureé/mix of lentils set out in a rectangle on the plate topped with paper thin slices of scallops (about the size of a US quarter) It was garnished with tiny sprigs of chervil and tapioca pearls that must have been macerated in great balsamic. Very nice Filet of Seabass in licorice crust on sweet pepper and tarragon sauce Neither my wife nor daughter like licorice so I knew this would be interesting. The plate may have been the highlight of the dish - no wait, sorry chef - the fish was awesome. (I worked in kitchens long enough to feel the hot, dripping sauté pan being hurled across the line. . .) It was the package that was a little off for us. The plate was a huge rimmed soup with a small bowl and angled down toward you. Very nice. The fish was perfectly cooked and probably not out of the water more than 24 hours. It was topped with a perfect strip of licorice "crust" which was more like a paper thin fruit rollup which was more like tarragon on steroids. The sauce was a delicate broth of sweet pepper. Interesting, but not our favorite. Terrine of Rabbit with artichoke vinaigrette and beetroots Ok - now for the first red wine course. . . Also, the first "high-tech" course. Three seconds after I put the first bite in my mouth I knew this was unlike anything I had ever tasted or cooked before; sous-vide! A later conversation with Chef Beck confirmed this. I may be asking Santa for a seal-a-meal - it's keeping the temperature constant that's the tough part. The beauty of this was that it appeared that the chef used the tiny thin strip of "belly meat" from the rabbit (yes, it was tiny and very thin) to kind of act as the caul fat to hold this all together. It was basically a membrane of silver skin so the sous-vide was perfect. The texture of the rabbit prepared this way was perfect. This dish was fantastic. There were slivers of crispy fried artichoke petals to add texture. Suckling Pig's Cheeks with curly endive, "Burrata" and chili flavored popped rice Well, this was the first dish that was actually rich and reminded us that we had had 9 courses over about 3 1/2 hours. I tasted each component separately and it just didn't work like the sum of the parts - have to say, best demi-glace ever - rich and velvety. The curly endive as actually pureéd and in the States we would call it curly chicory. Think VERY dark green - it was salty but again, the dish as a whole was great. The 'burrata" was a ribbon of what you would find at the heart of great burrata mozz, but I suspect it may have been something else. A dap of that, a nugget of the cheek, and a swipe of the sauce spoon to collect a bit of the demi and a bit of the pureé and life was very good. The chili flavored rice - think Rice Krispies with seasoning (but made in-house) - added texture both visually and for mouth feel. A fine selection of cheeses from the trolley My daughter actually ate almost her entire cheese course. A few years back she really didn't eat "good" cheese at all - she even swiped some of Liz's parmesan. Liz and I had - 2 medium ripe goat cheeses, 2 Tallagio (one from Lombardy, one from Piemonte), a 36 month parmesan with 50 yr balsamic, Cacciovalo - aged 1 year mozz, a pecorino from Siena served with a macerated fig, and a gorgonzola dolce from Alto Adige I twinge of fullness is starting to set in! Grand Dessert Now things just start to get crazy - I'll try to be brief. . . First round: Lime Souffle, two raspberries topped with Crème Anglese and "bruleed" for a second, and a "cappacino" in a shot glass with ultra rich milk chocolate sauce topped with coconut foam The tower of cookies and treats arrives - Twelve little drawers, each with 3 treats just waiting for us to enjoy (linzer torts, pistachio macaroons, homemade marshmallows, "elephant ears" about an inch round, marzipan "sushi" etc. etc.. . . Second Round: Vanilla sorbet with mango, mousse of chocolate with caramel and whipped cream, dark chocolate "log" with mocha mousse, tiny wild strawberries in champagne aspic. Then we had coffee and a plate of handmade chocolates arrived Then, the staff sang happy birthday and presented me with a birthday cake Overall - an evening we'll all remember forever. I must thank the front and back staff at La Pergola for demonstrating what being a virtuoso is all about. I hope you realize the pleasure that you can bring to people who want to share all of this with you - not simply because we have the money - but because for some of us - this is theatre, ballet, opera and a meal all wrapped into one.
  2. One of my favorites is also one of the easiest - brush the inside of the thigh with hoisen sauce, stuff it with an appropriate lenght of scallion and a bit of julienned fresh ginger - season with S/P and grill. Be patient while grilling - thigh skin and hoisen sauce can be a dangerous combo on an unattended grill. OVerall - our favorite part of the bird (unless you include the oyster - but those are just so darn tricky to stuff )
  3. Oh come on. . . we all know we just can't wait to buy the "2-Buck Chuck"! It's amazing how many people buy that stuff, insist it's great but would rather drink tap water at a party than Franzia box wine.
  4. I would try Taqueria Mexico on South Blvd. (just North of Arrowood). I've never had a bad meal there (althogh the red salsa may have been a bit "ripe" last week at lunch). Be adventurous - order the Baracoa de Cabrito - "BBQ Goat" (it's really kind of a rich stew with great spicing, chick peas, etc.) if it's the daily special. Looks like the prices went up a bit on the newly printed menu but you have to go out of your way (or drink alot of beer) to spend more than $15 with tip. BDM
  5. Most of the accolades I found out and about for this restaurant were a bit dated. Let's just say there is no cause for concern! ! ! My daughter and I had an absolutely fantastic meal there last night. Every aspect of the evening was flawless! Easily made an on-line reservation via OpenTable for 7:30 on a Saturday night (This really concerned me) Arrived a few minutes early and was seated at a great table (my daughter is 12 so they could have given us one of the less desirable tables) Our server was as competent and accommodating as anyone who has ever waited on us. After being in the business half my life I really appreciate great service. The wine list was great; very eclectic; more "obscure" wines that typical chards, beefy cabs and overpriced insipid Pinot Noirs. Their prices were very reasonable and the selection was great. How many "big-city" places have a German red by the glass? I asked if I could have three courses to my daughter's two and there was not even a hint of bother! She started with a puree of asparagus and Dungeness crab soup with a zucchini blossom stuffed with a delicate soft chess and stuffed with chunks of crab and then drizzled with chili oil. It tasted great and came out fantastically hot. My first course was a soft-shelled crab, corn meal crusted over a bed of tender braised collards and a sort of sweet/sour tomato concousse (sp?)/sauce. Paired with a nice Gruner Veltliner it was a perfect start. Our next course was served with perfect timing. My daughter had an entree of pan seared halibut over creamed corn and grilled radicchio. There was a drizzle of truffle oil which made the creamed corn even more delicious and a drizzle of great balsamic which acted as an acid to brighten the dish. My course was a "slab" of foie gras seared to a bacon-like crispness on the outside and absolutely rare on the inside. It was served over a bed of wilted bok choy no bigger than my pinky finger and topped with a "candied" kumquat. Best foie gras in the states in a long time. The server offered a Sauternes by the glass which was great although may have been opened earlier in the week. None the less, fantastic. My third couse may have been the best food (including mine ) I've had in years. It was a 1/2 portion of "Braised Rabbit with Pancetta, wilted arrugula and Agnolotte" My daughter and I almost fought over the trading of this dish. Rabbit braised to it's ultimate sweetness, salty crisp "lardons" of pancetta, the slightly earthy bitterness of the arrugula and then the richness of the obviously house made cheese filling in the delicate pasta. The sauce was kind of a mix of the rabbit braising stock with a bit of tomato. This was a masterpiece. Anyone over that way, get there for this dish alone before the arrugula goes out of season! I asked a server to bring a wine she would recommend and she brought a glass of Montepulciano which was the least expensive red by the glass and thankfully just opened that evening. Dessert for my daughter was coconut panna cotta with a 3/4 inch pineapple upside down cake. The house made caramel sauce just kind of uped the dessert to another level. At just over $100 with a few bottles of sparkling water (before tip) I wish I wasn't 3 hours away in Charlotte. Anyway, I don't post here too often but thought I'd share. BDM
  6. To many choices here. But to answer the question. . . 1. Great homemade potatoe salad with boiled eggs, dijon mustard, Hellman's, etc. 2. Fingerling potatoes sauted in goose fat and then slathered with foie gras sauce in a little bistro in Alsace, 3. Homemade "potatoes Anna" sliced paper thin and sauteed to perfect crispness, with a layer of carmelized onions in the middle to accompany a crisp herb and garlic rubbed hallal chicken on a cold winter night.
  7. All sorts of stuff have been passed down. I guess the thing I use most is my great grandmother's meat grinder. It was originally purchased upon arrival in America from Poland around 1910. Somehow, the act of clamping it to the counter and the process of feeding, cranking and pulling off various sausages is more rewarding than using the KitchenAid attachment. The "fresh" kielbasa" for Easter is ALWAYS made on that old grinder. My other Grandmother left a set of old pastry bag attachements and an old food mill. Everything always seems better when I use those.
  8. We've always had a GREAT time at the Reef Grill in Jupiter which is right in the middle of your various locales. They have great fish and a very reasonable wine list. When you see the breathe of their menu you may think it's impossible to carry off well but they do. Try sitting at the bar and bs'ing with the cooks, it's lots of fun. Let me know. Brian
  9. Gee, I've been reading may of your posted since joining a few weeks ago and am happy to be able to give a little back. Making a good cocktail or mixed drink is just like making a good saute pan of pasta sauce - have a great pan, use the best ingredients, and keep it simple. That being said: To me, the 3 most important things to making a good drink are: An appropriate glass, alot of ice and good booze and mixers. Also, offer drinks you are comfortable making rather than offering the world. There are 3 basic glasses which will satisfy your needs: A short/rocks glass maybe 7-10 oz. These are used for any "rocks" drink or a drinks served with a splash of mixer. A tall (or my favorite, a double old fashion glass) approx 10-14 oz, I use these for almost everything else (gin/tonics, scotch/soda, cape codder, etc. and an "up glass"/martini glass. The next trick to a great cocktail is loading the glass with as much ice as possible. This is the major downfall when I ask for a drink at a friend's home. Also, by loading the glass with ice you will not only make a cold, refreshing drink but you will also almost force yourself to get the proportions correct. It sounds like you've got your booze all ready to go. Make sure you get good liquor. The cost difference per drink is minimal and your guests will taste the difference. Another important note: buy great mixers! I'm a huge proponent of the 10 oz. bottles of Shweppes mixers (especially the tonic) They make 2 perfect drinks per bottle and are always fresh and zippy. So, with all this being said begin to make your drinks: This recipe works for any single liquor/single mixer drink: 1. Fill the glass to capacity with ice. 2. Until you get the hang of it, use a shot glass and pour 2 - 2.5 oz. of booze over the ice. 3. Squeeze in the appropriate garnish (lemon/lime wedge) 4. then top it with the mixer (soda, juices, water, etc.) It willl come out perfect every time! Now that you have that there are dozens of great drinks you can offer your guests. Let me know when you've master these. Making cocktails (martinis/manhattens, etc.) is not much more difficult but it's better not to cloud the issue. I will, however, give you my recipe for the perfect, fool-proof frozen margarita. It's simple and impressive and will work even if you are truly lazy and forgetful. 1. Fill a sturdy blender with ice. 2. Pour in decent tequila to 1/3 full 3. Pour in 3-4 oz. of triple sec 4. Splash of OJ 5. 1 small can of defrosted limeade. 6. Blend completely and enjoy. Enjoy, Brian
  10. Thanks all for the feedback - SiseFromm you're making me hungery and it only 8:15am (never too early for pizza huh?) Dave, thanks for the previous pizza stone, etc. thread. Lots of good info there. I should have look deeper before starting an additional conversation. Brian
  11. Thanks for the info Bux. I'll look into that site. vserna - These three small towns are all located on the coast about 75 KM SSE of Valencia just before the the small penninsula juts out into the Mediteranean. They are basically on the other side of the penninsula from Benidorm. We've amost always done well selecting little local places once we arrive but I thought that with the apparent wealth of knowledge floating around this site that maybe someone had found one of those "not to be missed" kind of places. Thansk for your help. Brian
  12. BDM

    Dinner! 2004

    Last night was really simple: Chicken legs, thighs and wings marinated in olive oil, s/p, herbs de provence, shallots, garlic and lemon zest and then grilled over charcoal. That was served with fresh brussel sprouts as well as leftover boiled potatoes sauteed with pancetta (had to use it up) sliced shallots, and diced red bell peppers. We also had a simple tossed salad with a dill vinaigrette. Total cost of dinner about $6 and we've got leftover chicken for lunch today. yum! Brian
  13. I'm kind of new to this site but thought this was the best place to pose this question. Growing up in CT and having great NY style pizza (Pepe's and Sally's in New Haven, Ray's Original in NYC, and other local brick oven style places) I'm constantly disappointed witht the pizza in Charlotte, NC (Portofino's is pretty good IMHO but it's 1/2 hour away and not often convenient) What I'm looking for is a large rectangular tile or "pizza stone" that I can put into a 36" Viking oven. I'd like the luxury of being able to cook a few 12-14" pies at the same time. When I cooked in CT we did them at almost 600 degrees but I figure I can adapt my recipes and cool them at the 500 degree level in the Viking. Does anyone know of someone selling such a product? If feel that having the entire shelf covered will allow me to use a peel and make a better pie than the individual stones you find in the "gourmet" stores. ANy help would be appreciated and if I should post this in another area of this forum please let me know. Brian
  14. We will be spending 4 days in this region (approx 1 hour S/W of Valencia) the last week in May. Any dining suggestions would be appreciated. We will have a car and are very flexible. We're traveling with a 9 year old daughter but she has travelled extensively and will eat just about anything except avocados and tomatoes out of season (can't say I blame here there ) We're not looking for "haute cuisine" just great local fare served in a friendly atmosphere. We will be staying in an apartment and while I try not to cook too much on vacation I would love to know about any special market days, etc. that we shouldn't miss. Thanks in advance to anyone who can help and I'll report back once we return. Vaya con dios, Brian