Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Taste of Venice - Gelato and Pasta - Venice Part 2

When Kyle and I were in Japan, we fell in love with gelato. I know, it sounds so bizarre. Gelato in Japan?? But yes, it is wonderful. Coming to the motherland of gelato, I expected something great. However, it was beyond was heaven. We had no specific recommendations on where to go for the best gelato in Venice, so we picked a random shop that was open early enough to cater to us cruisers that needed to feed our gelato craving at 9:30AM before leaving the port for the next destination. You might think that these type of places wouldn't be good--but yes, oh yes, it was.

There were so many flavors to choose from, it was hard to pick one. 

Kyle chose the tiramisu which was creamy with a nice cocoa/espresso richness. 

I picked the frutti di bosco, which was a perfect combination of vanilla gelato and an uber-sweet and fresh tasting fruit topping.  

Once you have real Italian gelato, I don't think you could go back to anything else--not even Japanese gelato.

So what do you do when you only have a couple hours in a foreign city? Some might say: see the most well known sights, go shopping, or wonder the city and talk with the locals. Kyle and I try to seek out the best looking place to stop and eat some local food. This trattoria was tucked away in a narrow street/alley off the main path from San Marco Square to the Rialto bridge. We figured it would be OK since there was no sign of hamburgers on the menu.

After we ordered, the waiter plopped down a couple bottles of infused olive oil. Wdipped fresh Italian bread in the oils and instantly fell head over heels in love. At first there was a lemon and a red chili pepper infused olive oil. Each oil was so flavorful and dressed up the plain bread, turning an ordinary loaf of JC Penny-like white bread into a Prada equivalent that made you wonder why anyone would ever use plain butter or oil to dip their bread. Think Pretty Woman for bread.  

This is the point in the trip where I started to think of a future Mediterranean themed party that I would throw in Seattle. I asked the waiter how they made their infused olive oils. He was so happy we liked them that he brought out two more bottles: a garlic and an anchovy infused olive oil. 

As soon as I came home I looked up recipes for infused oils online. The key is to make sure to either refrigerate or use your oil immediately because there is the risk of botulism if you do not properly handle the oil. The key is to heat the oil and add whatever ingredients you would like in your oil, letting them steep in the warm oil long enough to infuse the flavor. You then let the oil cool and use a funnel to transfer the oil back to a bottle, adding a little canola oil to keep the concoction from solidifying in the refrigerator.

Kyle got the saffron gnocchi with dried baby scallops--he loved the scallops which were a little chewier and smokey tasting compared to fresh scallops. Plus, you can't go wrong with a luxury ingredient like saffron!

My dad loves clam spaghetti and has made it for me at home since I was a baby. This version was the real deal. The clams were fresh and the pasta was handmade. It is a simple recipe, but with simplicity, there is so much that can go wrong. Not this pasta, it was perfect.

I got the winner for the day--the lobster spaghetti that came with half a fresh Mediterranean lobster. The sauce was no ordinary tomato sauce, it was hearty and creamy tasting. The sauce was so flavorful I almost took home a doggie bag of just the remnants on my plate. 

We weren't exactly starving when we stumbled upon this restaurant--we just didn't want to waste a good meal time in a new city and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity before our boat left the port. However, whether it was the time crunch or the delicious food, we scarfed the food down as if it was our last meal before a Space mission or something equally worthy of the veracity we ate with.    

Happy Eating,

Monday, August 15, 2011

Prosciutto di Parma pizza - Dinner in Venice - Venice Part 1

After fattening ourselves up in Paris we were ready to flaunt our bikini ready bodies on an 11 day cruise through the Mediterranean. Our port of departure was Venice, which we had been told to expect "OK" food, so we weren't as focused on finding food in this city. However in the end maybe because of lowered expectations or sheer luck we found some truly great Italian food.

We met up with my parents in Venice and for our first evening went on a gondola ride through the "streets" or rather waterways of Venice. An amazing experience made even better with a bottle of Prosecco. After finishing our gondola ride we were ready to hunt down some pizza!

Venice like many stops on our cruise was a beautiful and unique city just waiting to be explored by us. We made it our goal to eat local cuisines for every stop of the cruise. If it said "hamburgers, pizza/pasta (outside of Italy)" we avoided the place like the plague. We wanted what the locals would eat.

We went back to a restaurant my parents had discovered earlier in the day by the Academia Bridge in the heart of Venice. We started with a Caprese salad which we dressed ourselves with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. The fresh mozzarella and tomatoes were spectacular. We were soon to see the fresh cheeses and tomatoes across the Mediterranean were like nothing we had ever enjoyed before.

My dad went with the melon and prosciutto which was even better than the one we enjoyed in Paris primarily because the prosciutto was amazing.

I ordered the prosciutto di Parma pizza which came with a slightly spicy tomato sauce and caramelized onions. Emi and I discussed if we had been to Italy back when we were in grade school, (pre-California Pizza Kitchen which then turned into wood stone oven, gourmet, thin crust pizzas) we may not have enjoyed this pizza. Knowing only thick crust, greasy Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Little Caesar's, and Godfather Pizza we were not necessarily pizza connoisseurs. Good thing food has changed and improved over the years.

This pizza was not perfect, (the dough was a little chewy, even though the crust was thin) however still one of the best pizzas I've ever enjoyed. Maybe it was the environment and sitting by the Grand Canal in Venice that made this pizza memorable, but more likely it was the amazing prosciutto di Parma. I've enjoyed it before, but for whatever reason this creamy, rich, salty, melt in your mouth prosciutto was the best I've ever tasted and truly made this pizza extraordinary.

Emi's mushroom and ham pizza.

Even though the city shut down completely by around 9:30pm and we almost didn't make it back to the cruise ship (long story), it was all worth it because of my vivid memory of this amazing pizza.

- Kyle

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Pre-Cruise, Cruise through Paris

Although you would think 3 nights in Paris would be too short to really see the city, I feel that we filled our days with meaningful Paris experiences that allowed us to get the most out of the short time. It's hard not to fall in love with the city; Kyle and I became just another one of Paris' groupies. Lucky for us, we also had the most amazing tour guide in my Auntie Charlotte.

One night, as we sat eating yet another life-changing meal instead of packing in another museum or church, Kyle and I decided that food is the best way to experience a new city/culture. You can learn so much about the people and the land by what they eat. And we certainly did a lot of "learning" while in Paris.

As a final hurrah before heading off for our cruise, we tested our sea legs with a dinner cruise through the Seine River on the Bateaux Mouches. The dinner boat floats through the heart of the city, passing the main landmarks like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and more. It was a magical way to see the city, especially as the sun began to set and light the city with a fiery glow.

We started with an amuse-bouche to whet our appetites: a crostini topped with a dollop of slightly salty cod roe cream.

Wine was mandatory with the meal--and I mean that literally. The dinner automatically came with a bottle of champagne, and then another bottle for every 2 people. Meaning, for our group of 5 people, we got 3 bottles of wine. The champagne was no cheapo Cook's or Korbel--no, no, the French would have none of that. This was a fantastic bottle of bubbly to start off the night!

We decided that we needed to be adventurous and try out both the red and white. This red was superb and went beautifully with the food; although, let's be honest, even a bottle of Carlos Rossi when looking at the sun set on Notre Dame would taste pretty good.

Kyle and Auntie Charlotte got the quail thighs cooked in quail jus as the first course.

Auntie Charlotte taking a dainty bite of the tiny quail.

Mom and I decided that we just had to try one last bite of foie gras. It was paired with a peppery baguette and hit the spot.

Dad got the carpaccio of smoked swordfish, topped with a soy sauce reduction and white vinegar.

Our family takes our food seriously--notice my mom also taking a photo of my dad's food. Not to mention, what the hell my dad is doing?!?

Second course: tender veal cooked with summer vegetables

Kyle got the free range chicken with "ratte" new potatoes and asparagus tips.

I love this photo because it shows every table, lined with bottles of wine and happy eaters.

MMM, one last bite of stinky, raw-milk French cheese. I miss those cheese courses--we need to incorporate that more into our American culture.

A delicious lemon tart

The black forest gateau, which my aunt said is her favorite dessert.

Strawberry tart...mmm, I love French desserts

The mango and semolina cream was so elegant and refreshing.

Two happy, and very full, tourists.

The days are long in summer, so the boat circled around the river for a while to try to outlast the day in order for the guests to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, all lit up. The day won, so we got off the boat and wondered over to a nearby bridge where at 11PM on the dot, the Eiffel Tower started sparkling.

It was too beautiful and perfect a moment to leave behind, so Kyle and I passed up the convenient metro that was next to the bridge. Instead we walked back to our hotel and took in one last drink at the famous Fouquet's.

Now on to the Mediterranean...

Happy Eating,

Monday, August 8, 2011

Museum d'Orsay Lunch

I had to post this commercial because I thought of it often throughout this trip. It is almost comical how much it plays into the stereotype of America: all work, no time for real food, no time for what really matters in life--only time for a crappy microwavable meal before your boss is on you to meet with another client. Europe gave me perspective and allowed me time to truly savor the moment and the food in front of me. 


My Auntie Barb and cousin Kelsey said one of their favorite lunches in Paris was at the Museum d'Orsay. So after spending a couple of hours looking at the fabulous works of art, we found some edible art in the stunning museum restaurant.


The museum was built in an old train station. This restaurant at one point must have been an elegant stop for rich travelers to eat before boarding a train out of the city. Now it is an elegant stop for hungry tourists to rest their feet and eat in style.

The lunch was prix fixe for around $16 euros, not at all a bad deal for a three course French meal in a beautiful setting.

Beef carpaccio with olive-sized capers, arugula, and Parmesan shavings. Can you believe that was the first course? So much for the petite French portions!

When this dessert arrived, my parents instantly became nostalgic as this was a popular dessert during their childhood. The Floating island is a fluffy pillow of meringue, topped with crunchy slivers of almonds and "floating" in a sweet pool of custard. 

This dessert was a tangy yogurt cheese topped with a delicate raspberry puree. The flavors were very subtle, which was a nice contrast to the rich and flavor-heavy dishes we had been feasting on up to this point.

Apricots were in season when we were in Paris and many of the desserts reflected the highlights of the season. Kyle wanted this apricot tart so much that he made my dad order the more expensive prix fixe meal so that he could sample this dessert. Luckily, my dad agreed and passed the dessert onto Kyle because he was trying to eat a "light" lunch. Typical men, of course they both ended up trying all of the desserts and all of the entrees and appetizers! There is no such thing as light lunch while on vacation in Paris.

My mom often calls meals "gorgeous." In this case, the meal was very good; however, it was truly the setting that made the meal stand out and embody that "gorgeous" meal my mom loves to talk about.

When in Paris, the Museum d'Orsay is a must-see, and lunch in the dining room is a must-eat.

Happy Eating,