Sunday, January 27, 2008

white bean soup

I love a white bean soup. It's hearty and elemental in its flavors. And the version my good friends Andrew and Jill served up on Friday night hit the spot. Cooked with a healthy dose of rosemary, the soup was infused with woodsy undertones. Right before dinner, they pulled out their immersion blender and went to work in their new Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Within seconds we had a yummy soup to ladle into bowls, ready to be topped with crispy pan fried rondels of chicken sausage. It was great way to end a hectic week. I started the evening with an introduction to the Dark & Stormy - a combination of Gosling's Black Rum and Ginger Beer- a really refreshing drink.


The intimate and warm setting of Pomegranate in Richmond's Shockoe Slip was the perfect antidote to a windy January night and a friend's birthday celebration. I arrived a few minutes late, and was delighted to find a bottle of Amaraone opened on the table- i love this dry rich red from Italy's Veneto region. After a tuna seviche starter, I really enjoyed the braised veal cheeks, served in a rich tomatoey stock, accompanied by a polenta cake, all on a bed of fresh spinach. It was a perfectly hearty dish for a cold night- all we were missing was a fireplace.

Desserts were good- a chocolate soup, berries served warm with marscapone, and a creme brulee that hit my two requirements- crunchy on top and creamy inside. Things were a bit too quiet-- it seemed dead for a Thursday night- is there any parallel between their lack of business and a dwindling wine list that favors $50.00 + bottles ?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

mamma zu

when it comes to italian food, i am kind of a snob about what I eat- I guess that came from living in Italy during my college days where even a starving student could eat like a king. I have always admired the simplicity of genuine Italian food where less is certainly always more. In New York I tend to stick close to Mario Batali's empire.In Richmond,it's Ed Vasaio that impresses me the most. And of all his joints, Mamma Zu holds rules the day. My wife and I celebrated our wedding with a private lunch there on a snowy December afternoon eight years ago, and it became our special celebration locale. The same group of 8-10 of us have gathered 4 or 5 times a year to celebrate birthdays, babies, graduations, and anniversaries. And we always order the same thing, save a few small variations.

This is our standard fare:

2 large white pizzas ( with the perfect combination of garlic, cheese and crushed red pepper)

brocoletti (swimming in a sea of garlic and lemon)

scungilli salad (tender morsels of conch in a yummy vinaigrette)

fresh mozzarella with roasted red peppers

penne all'amatriciana ( a spicy tomato sauce with guanciale-pork jowl- read all about its origins in last weeks New York Times.)

penne alla gorgonzola- creamy blue cheese and peas coat the penne like a silky coat

eggplant parmesan ( delectably thin layers of eggplant, tomatoes and cheese)

rockfish (simply broiled with lemon- lightly salted)

Duck breast with polenta and white beans ( a rare piece of duck plattered with a crispy polenta slice with a side of yummy white beans and garlic)

Dessert of course- tiramisu, literally a "pick me up" wit its intense coffee flavor, and creamy cannoli.

Mamma zu sometimes catches some flak for what is described as surly service. They focus on the food, and that's what steals the show. Every time.

That's Italian

Had a few good meals last week. Om Wednesday I had a quick bite at Enoteca on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. Its a hip space with a nice bar- prints of vespas adorn the walls. They have an extensive wine list, both by the glass and the bottle and a nice array of panini. oh the ubiquitous panini that has shown up on lots of menus the last few years. Few however, offer versions with radicchio, fontina, and sopressata like I sampled. An excellent grilled ciabatta serves as the base for all of the sandwiches.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I had too much to dream tonight

After stopping by Page Bond Gallery for a great opening featuring Alyssa Solomon's salt prints, we had a nice meal at Gary York's Enoteca Sogno. I am embarrassed to admit that it was my first visit. Gary studied with one of the masters, Ed Vasaio of Mamma Zu, and learned his lessons well. It's a simple space with a simple menu, and that's the beauty of it. I have to stop for a moment of self importance- as I was giving my last name to the hostess for the waiting list, a woman sitting at the bar turned around and said, are you "the John Haddad?" I wasn't sure what to say- did I owe her money, or was I responsible for something I didn't know about? And then she said- see... capers... (and I noticed some capers on her plate.) I was telling my husband about your caper story in Style Magazine. It was a strange moment. I didn't know what to say. So I smiled and said "enjoy your meal." I am not used to this kind of paparazzi.

So back to dinner. It was a good meal. The Petty's joined us for a tasty dive into an antipasti platter ( a nice combo of grilled vegetables, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, mortadella, warm pecorino, roaasted red peppers) and white bean crostini. We enjoyed a few bottles of an Italian Barbera and Johnny and I both had a tasty ox-tail ragu over fresh tagliatelle- a rich sauce with deep flavors ( By the way, oxtail is no longer the actual tail of an ox but rather the tail of a cow or bull-its kind of a bony & tough piece of meat that needs to be cooked for a long time) Syd enjoyed pasta with ricotta, rapini and spicy italian sausage while Susannah was so-so on her bolognese- it lacked much body and had almost no tomato or veggie presence. A panna cotta for the table finished off the meal-rich and smooth while not too heavy.

I'll be back. Dreaming of the simple foods of Italy. Well done Gary.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Feasting

Whether for reasons of tradition or superstition, we eat certain foods around the holidays.

Growing up we always had Eggs Benedict on Christmas morning- this year Susannah was so ill on Christmas that we waited until New Year's to indulge- I cooked the eggs in new silicone cups that float in boiling water. I have to confess that growing up I loved the "holiday sauce" that crowns this dish- it wasn't until my teens that I realized that holiday sauce was in reality Hollandaise.

I was raised to eat black eyed peas and stewed tomatoes on New Years Day for luck, and cabbage for wealth. After living in Italy for a year and a half, I discovered a new tradition of eating cotechino sausage with lentils- the lentils presumably signify the coins of a prosperous future. For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of eating some of Richmond's tastiest sausage from the experienced hands of Belmont Butchery's Chris Mattera.

On Your Newsstands Today

Check out the latest edition of Style Weekly, where I bare my culinary soul to the world. Maybe its actually more like my belly, and not to the world either. But I'm pretty excited, and hope this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Click through for the story. Bon Appetit !