Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cava Bistro

The wife and I met some good friends for dinner at Cava Bistro, a quaint, rustic restaurant serving American fare. Our friends were planning a wedding and wanted to try this place out for their wedding reception.

This was one of the three appetizers we ordered. It was an awesome plate of steamed mussels served with tomatoes in a champagne lemon tarragon broth. I was glad we were amongst good friends because I had to use my hands to eat these babies, not because it was difficult otherwise. Rather, I was trying to eat as many of them as possible. With 4 of us at a square table, I felt like one of those chomping hungry hungry hippos fighting over food.

The buttery caper sauce that came with the escargot was addicting. These little gems were served over grilled flat herb bread. I grew up eating steamed snails dipped in a lemon-salt-pepper sauce. It wasn't until much later in life that I discovered that escargot is usually served with a butter sauce in French cuisine. Needless to say, I haven't looked back since I've had it with herb butter. Anytime I order escargot, I ask for extra bread so I can sop up all that incredible butter. Don't judge me.

Our final appetizer was this dish of chicken, spinach, roasted red peppers and leeks wrapped in crispy phyllo dough with a coconut chile sauce. But after having it, I could have simply described as "YUM."

Cava Bistro's take on French onion soup uses three onions. They're all braised in a red wine beef stock and then topped off fresh slices of baguette and Swiss cheese. By this point of the meal, I was satisfied and could have gone home happy. But Mama didn't raise no quitter.

After all the above, I continued the meal with Cava's succulent beef short ribs. The fork-tender beef was serve on top of fluffy, garlicky mashed potatoes. Where's the foto? this point of the meal, I also had quite a bit of wine and started eating as soon as the plate touched the table. If it makes you feel any better, I can still close my eyes and taste the moist meat melting in my mouth.

For dessert, we shared their white and dark chocolate mousse crepes. I could try to channel my literary side by talking about the juxtaposition of the two chocolates. Instead, I'll leave you with the following words: fluffy, chocolaty, fruity, and doughy. Close your eyes and repeat them 3 times slowly.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gelato Insanity

So during our week in Italy, we have completely indulged our sweet teeth and overdid it with the gelato, the Italian version of ice cream. The scary thing is that the images below only account for about half of the amount of gelato we actually consumed.

Jelato 3

Jelato 1
Honey, chocolate Nutella, and hazelnut with chocolate swirls

Jelato 4
Sweet cream

Jelato 2
Chocolate and vanilla, AKA, ebony and ivory.

Gelato 5
Crema di Santa Fina (saffron and pine-nut cream) from the best gelateria in the world.

Gelato 6
Valrhona dark chocolate

Giolitti Gelato
Dark chocolate and sweet cream
Trashy Gelato
Trashy gelato

Monday, April 13, 2009

My Favorite Meal in Rome

My favorite meal in Rome was dinner at Ristorante Maccheroni. My wife found this place off a list of best restaurants in Rome voted on by Romans. This place was one of the eateries at the top of the list. Because we read that this place is usually full for the late meal service, the normal time that Italians have supper, we decided to just walk in as they open their doors. Entering the restaurant, we saw the cooks busy preparing for another evening's service within the glass-enclosed kitchen. The interior dining area was styled like an extension of the kitchen with white tiled walls and shelves full of wine bottles. Though cramped and loud, the place felt very homey. We felt almost as if we had been invited into the home of an Italian family. But by a stroke of luck, we got a table outside, where the tables were more spread out. The weather was perfect, street performers were serenading, and the indistinct conversations drifted through the air.

If you didn't already know, the Italians love their dinners. From what I've read and observed, dinners seem to be a nightly celebration where tables of diners will sit over a meal for hours, going well into the night. This was evident when we approached the host who apologetically told us that though there were tables available, we only had about 2 hours to dine. This was such a stark contrast to in the U.S. where we're expected to eat within about an hour and move on so the restaurant can turn more tables. Also, I was worried the two-hour time limit might indicate slow, unfriendly service. This was far from the case. Our exuberant waiter was very friendly and courteous. He spoke much more English than I would have expected and was patient enough to allow me the opportunity to practice my severely limited Italian. The food came out within a reasonable amount of time for us to eat and enjoy. And the most amazing thing was that we never felt rushed at all. Even after we finished our food and desserts, the check did not come until requested. The waiter periodically stopped by to make sure we had enough to drink. With this type of dining experience, the food could have been mediocre and I would still return. Speaking of which, let's get to the food.

Mozzarella e Bottarga
We got one our favorite appetizers, mozzarella di bufala, i.e., buffalo mozzarella. I fell in love with the creamy, stringy cheese during our first trip to Italy 5 years earlier. However, this place put a little twist on the dish. They topped the already awesome cheese with dried fish roe. Because it was dried, the roe packed the concentrated flavor and saltiness of the sea. This combined with the subtle, creamy cheese and bitter arugula made for an unforgettable combination. This was hands-down my favorite appetizer from our trip. If you're a fan of cheese and fish roe, as I am, this is a must when you're in Rome.

Truffle Fettuccine
For my wife's pasta dish, she ordered their truffle fettuccine. The pasta was tossed in the rich creamy Alfredo-like sauce made with real grated truffles. The flavor was superb. I've had truffle oil before but this dish helped me understand why truffles are so valued. Though the sauce was creamy, the pasta wasn't swimming in it, which made the dish much more enjoyable than what we're used to in the U.S.

For my pasta dish, I ordered maccheroni, their namesake. Again, the pasta was lightly tossed in fresh sauce with the taste of mama's love and topped with freshly grated cheese.

Spicy Meatballs
For our meat dish, we requested an order of their spicy meatballs. These morsels of meat tasted as if they were freshly ground and rolled by hand. They were tender, full of spices and herbs, and fell apart in the mouth. The sauce was light and not overly salted. The fresh arugula and tomatoes balanced out the rich meatiness of the balls.

Vin Santo
For dessert, we both shared a vin santo. This orange-flavored liqueur was served with pieces of sweet, crunchy biscotti. The biscotti are dipped into the liqueur so that it absorbs the orange-flavored alcohol. OMG, after this I'm not sure if I can go back to cookies and milk. This adult version of cookies and milk keep the belly warm and the laughter free-flowing.

Knowing our breaking point, we planned ahead and both shared an antipasto (appetizer), secondo (meat dish), and dolci (dessert) with each having our own primi (pasta). But looking around, there were Italian women half my size that consumed their own 4-course meal, easily putting me to shame. I felt like such a wuss complaining about how I over-ate.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Favorite Meal in Venice

My favorite meal in Venice took place at Osteria al Mascaron. This dim, cozy restaurant served up some amazingly fresh seafood dishes.

Antipasto Misto
I started off with the antipasto misto, which was a plate of mixed seafood and veggies. This Sea-World-on-a-plate consisted of freshly boiled shrimp, a huge steamed prawn tail, a sliver of pickled local fish, fried fresh anchovies, some sort of creamy crab dip, octopus salad tossed in olive oil, blanched zucchini, and a salty herb quiche. The only problem I had with this dish was the fact I had to share it.

Squid Ink Pasta
For my primi, I ordered the cuttlefish spaghetti cooked with its own ink. Sure enough, as the name indicates, the pasta came out in a sauce blackened by squid ink. Though it was a bit intimidating initially, after the first bite there was no more hesitation. The only way I can describe the ink's flavor is that it tasted like the sea. Not the pollution-clouded sea of Galveston, but the clean, blue-water open ocean. It was slightly salty but full of that sea-salt flavor. And though the color may be an obstacle for some, in the middle of the meal, after everyone had a bite of it, it became the source of laughter since everyone's lips and teeth were smothered in the black sauce. It seemed like we were on our way to a goth party but with less leather and spikes.

Fish Secondo
And for my secondi, I devoured this fresh grill fish with sauteed vegetables. It was simply fish caught earlier the same day, filleted, brushed with olive oil and grilled. Sprinkle on some salt, pepper and lemon and it was a deliciously satisfying dish that kept me smiling during our late-night romp to Saint Peter's Square.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Favorite Meal in Paris

After some extensive planning by my amazing wife, we're finally making like the Griswolds and romping through Europe on a European vacation. We're coming to an end on our brief stop in Paris and will be leaving for Venice soon. Considering the fact that I'm currently on vacation and these internet cafes only take euros which isn't favorable due to the exchange rate, I've decided to only post about my favorite meal in each city. After all, I am on VACATION. =D

My favorite meal in Paris was lunch at Cave La Bourgogne at 144 Rue Mouffetard. In full disclosure, we stopped into this restaurant because it was mentioned in a guide book and we were desperately hungry. So this wasn't one of our usually preplanned, well-researched meals. It also didn't help that only tourists were in the dining area while the locals were in the outdoor cafe/smoking area. I entered this place not expecting much. Luckily, I was proven wrong...thank goodness.

Smoked Salmon Salad
My wife ordered the smoked-salmon salad. As you can see, this thing was overflowing with smoked salmon. The fresh greens and tomatoes along with the hard-boiled eggs made for a nice break from the butter-laden carb-filled meals we've had thus far. And the fact that smoked salmon is one of my favorites didn't hurt either.

Confit de Canard
My dish was the confit de canard, or duck confit. This is without a doubt one of my favorite dishes of all time. FYI, I'm also a huge fan of duck. This was a quarter of a duck. The thigh and leg were cured and then fried. The pan drippings, i.e., wonderful duck fat, were then used to fry the golden potato coins that accompanied the duck. It was love at first bite. The fatty, salty duck went great with the fatty bland potatoes. The greens were merely there to break up the fat. Now I better understand why drug addicts always chase that first high...I'm not sure if I'll ever taste something like this again.