Friday, April 17, 2015

Snapshot of the Day - Spring Part 1

Fresh peas have become one of my favorite Spring vegetables.  Pasta with peas has become one of my favorite Spring dishes.  The colors and flavors of this dish by Chef Peppe Guida of Antica Osteria Nonna Rosa in Vico Equense (Na)is one of the reasons why.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Glass of Wine, A Place to Stay - Cantina Del Barone, Cesinali (Av)

Karen, I want to show you something...
Those were the words wine maker Luigi SarnoCantina del Barone, spoke to me the other day as we were walking down the narrow road that leads from his small wine cellar to his vineyards in Cesinali (Av).
A new wine? I thought.  Vinitaly was just the previous week.  It had been several months since I had seen Sarno, and a couple of years since I'd visited the vineyards.  We chatted a bit, stop a couple of times on the small path that divides his Fiano vineyards into two separate sections.

I'll be right back, Sarno said.
He left me alone for a minute or two, so I decided to wander over to one of my favorite spots on the property.  A majestic century old grapevine that seems to stretch its arms out wild as if to say welcome...
But something was different.  To get to my vine, I had to walk around a freshly painted casa.  Walk across a freshly cut lawn.
Sarno joined me.
This is what I wanted to show you, Sarno smiled as he held a set of keys.

And with that, he opened the door to his latest project.  A project that he hopes will not only bring wine lovers to his territory...but will also keep them there.
4 mini apartments that can sleep up to 7 were just about ready. 4 mini apartments that would allow travelers an experience and not just a place to stay.  An Irpinia full immersion provided by Sarno and his family which could expand to tours of other wineries in the area, visits to local artisans, farms, restaurants.  Even cooking courses provided by Sarno's mom in the not so distant future.
My eyes went from Sarno to the window as I imagined myself waking up here, having breakfast with a caffe' and fresh jams prepared by the Sarno family.

 I imagined myself enjoying that Cesinali evening  breeze that his vineyards love. I imagined having a glass of wine and a place to stay. Sarno continued to speak, sharing his project...sharing his dream.  I continued to listen, entranced by his enthusiasm.
There are just a few finishing touches before opening like bedding, toiletries, and...a name.
Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Neroameta' Campania Bianco IGT 2013, Mastroberardino Winery (Av)

The bottle sat there on the coffee table.
Piero Mastroberardino's coffee table in his private office in Atripalda.  A lone unopened bottle waiting alongside  three place settings - three empty wine glasses.  I was about to begin a wine tasting featuring some of Mastroberardino Winery's latest white wines in the company of Piero Mastroberadino and enologist Massimo Di Renzo. And I was ready.
The bottle sat there while we tasted and chatted about the latest crus, I took notes, in silent anticipation of the newest member of the Mastroberardino family; Neroameta' Campania Bianco IGT 2013.  A wine presented at Vinitaly last week and tasted by few. (The winery only took 15 bottles to Verona, so you could imagine how quickly that went)

Neroameta' - a white wine made with Irpinia's most popular red grape - Aglianico. A white wine, made with red grapes, but not a rose'.
Maybe I should have known what that meant, surely I've read about that vinification process in my studies over the past years, maybe I had tasted a similar wine - but I decided to speak up and pose a question to Di Renzo.
How is this vinification process different than producing a rose', especially since the color - I noticed- is not, well for lack of better words...rose'.

Di Renzo told me that the grapes are placed in the press whole and gently pressed halfway in a manner that the must does not come in contact with the skins as it would with a rose'.
That being said, I was still curious about what would emerge from the bottle as it was poured first in my glass, then Mastroberardino's, then Di Renzo's.  A very light straw color, and depending on the lighting, and how you examined the glass, what was that? Grey tones?
The tasting began, Once again, I was silent first enjoying/interpreting the bouquet in the glass while I listened to Mastroberardino and Di Renzo's converstaion. (I have  always found it interesting to listen to wine makers discuss their wines)

Then I  took a quick taste, not sure what to expect.   What I found was pleasantly unexpected.  Evident was the powerful arm of Aglianico lovingly embracing the freshness and acidity that one would find in a young yet elegant and distinguished Irpinia white.
I kept my thoughts to myself for the moment, instead wanting to discuss particulars like the wine label.  Knowing that Mastroberardino is a talented artist, I was curious as to why he chose this particular design from his large inventory.
Mastroberardino arose, went to the back corner of his office/personal art gallery , and brought back a large framed version. He pointed out the strong feminine yet muscular arms, shoulders, and back.  A play on contrasts.
And the name?  Neroameta'?
One of several names that made the final cut.  Nero - black - for the blackish color of the Aglianico grape, for example.
While listening, I brought my glass of  Neroameta' to my nose several times, noticing how floral aromas were emerging and evolving. Young fresh white floral aromas.  Aromas that reminded Di Renzo of flowers that grow in his mother's garden.
Mastroberardino then shared that the concept of producing a white wine with Aglianico was not new at all for Mastroberardino.  His father, the late Dr. Antonio Mastroberardino produced a similar  wine back in the mid 80s named Plinius.  It was a popular wine that enjoyed 4 glorious vintages.  It was then decided to stop production and focus the winery's energy into promoting Fiano, Greco and Lacryma Christi.

photo courtesy of Mastroberardino Winery

So a new wine that is not so new?
Yes and no.  Learning from Dr Mastroberardino's notes from the 80s, the winery experimented new techniques.  The 3000 bottles produced spent about 10 months sur lees, for example.
Our conversation then continued to possible pairings. I myself could picture myself on a terrace of one of the many Campania restaurants which have an amazing view of the sea.  Enjoying the view and seafood that pair so well with Irpinia white wines.

It was time to move on to the next wine, but we decided to hang on to our glass of Neroameta' if waiting to see what this wine had to share with us as the tasting continued.  As our conversations continued - from art, to literature (Mastroberardino's latest book), then back to wine.
That is the beauty of a degustazione.
Discovering what a wine has to say.
Neroameta' will be available later this month.  It will be interesting to discover what Neroameta' will continue to share over the next few months...or years for that matter.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Milagros Gastrobar - A Bit of La Spagna in Napoli

Napoli, Naples, is a large city devoted to their traditional cuisine and recipes.  Diners here want their favorites, dishes that they grew up with, their customs.  Because of this, it sure isn't easy,  to find an ethnic restaurant in the heart of the city.  Spanish cuisine, however is another story.
That's why going back to Milagros Gastrobar a little more than a year ish after their grand opening was such a treat.  Milagros Gastrobar is a small Spanish restaurant tucked in a vico a whisper away from the hustle and bustle of Mergellina's lungomare.  I visited back in the fall of 2013 when Chef Carlos Peña and Marina Delle Monache had just opened up.  I decided to go back a couple of weeks ago for a chat, a glass or two of Spanish vinos, and a fresh look and taste of their revamped  tapas and paella menu.
Chef Carlos Peña

¡Buen provecho!

We began with Xato', a crunchy escarole salad which the chef prepared for me at my table as he explained the ingredients.  Ingredients which included black olives and  a romesco sauce,  popular  Catalonia, Northern Spain made with nuts and red peppers.  

Next up, it was time for baccala', or salted cod.  Another ingredient that pops up in Spanish cuisine quite often.

 This version is fried in a batter that is crunchy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside.    Known as buñuelos di baccala - ole'!

Since we all love little fried balls of goodness, it was only natural that I'd try a jamon croquette.

Excited to see a wine list with affordable Spanish wines, like this fresh crisp white which paired well with my dishes.

Next up,  this dish-Huevos “Cidón”-scrambled eggs with potatoes, morcilla di León, and a granny smith green apple sauce. Chef Carlos Peña's tribute to his maestro, Carlos Cidón (Castilla e León's first michelin star chef) who passed away a few years ago.

 The chef decided I should try another wine to go with my next dish.  I did not complain - excited to visit Spain in a glass.  This rich red reminded me of many of my favorite Aglianicos from Campania.

And what better wine to go with carrilleras with Spanish sauce.  Slow cooked braised veal with a red wine reduction sauce.  Red peppers on the side.

 Before dessert, I decided to stop by the kitchen and see what else was going on.   The chef was busy! The table next to me had ordered this dish - Pimiento del Piquillo stuffed with  baccalà...

And arròs negre with clams...

 The table next to me.  A Neapolitan family with 20 somethings and their parents.  Parents who one may assume would be stuck in their traditions, not interested in trying something new.  Old school Neapolitans who were just as curious as I, enjoying their meal, asking   Marina questions, who with a smile overflowed with information on recipes, cheeses, wines, culture and customs.
She brought me over my dessert. How did she know I liked chocolate?  Tartufo di di carajillo - with chocoalate, coffee and oruju - a popular brandy from Northern Spain.

A sweet ending to a revisit to Milagros Gastrobar.  A restaurant with a year ish under its belt has become a comfortable part of the Neapolitan neighborhood.  
A bit of Spagna in Napoli.

Milagros Gastrobar
Via S.Maria in Portico, 15 
Tel: 081 032 0143

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mastroberardino Winery's 'Sentieri di Vite' - 30 Seconds, 1000 Emotions

I received an invitation from the Mastroberardino Winery a few weeks ago.  An invitation for a tasting of the latest wines?  No.  I looked closer and saw that it was something different.  I circled the date - 27 March - and place - Museo Madre (Na).

The museum was packed  full of scholars, artists, writers, journalists, and wine enthusiasts like me patiently listening as  Piero Mastroberardino explained  his latest project.  A project to break away from the business as usual form of communicating wines.  A wine world that he comes in contact with daily as  he skims through international wine magazines and guides and travels around the world promoting his family's historical winery.   A project which takes  his passion for his territory and melds it with his love of the arts. So he, alongside talented director Nicolangelo Gelormini  shared with us their vision - a short  video  of life in the vineyard.

Piero Mastroberardino, journalist Rocco Moliterni, and Nicolangelo Gelormini

We were treated to this...

30 seconds.
1000 emotions.

Silence from the crowd as we reflected on what we had seen - then a roar of applause.  Applause that died down a bit only to watch the video again.  To absorb all that was happening.  To meditate, if you will, on the scenery which includes an Aglianico vineyard and a Chinese church altar.  To think about the  symbolism of wine as blood from the earth - sangue della terra.

The video continued to play throughout the rest of the evening.   Those of us who were treated to this world premiere screening enjoyed appetizers and a glass of wine or two as we discussed what we saw and what was to come ahead.

Yes, we were treated to this special screening, but there are big plans for Sentieri di Vite.  The video is  available by scanning the QR code on the back of the winery's bottles.  
Music and  striking images vs the usual technical data.

30 seconds.
1000 emotions.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Wine List, Please - Francesco&Salvatore Salvo, San Giorgio a Cremano (Na)

Saturday afternoon after a long long week.  And as I finished my last bit of weekend chores I decided that I needed a break. I needed a pizza.  I needed a glass of wine.
So I decided to head out to San Giorgio a Cremano to  Francesco&Salvatore Salvo - one of Campania's top pizzerias.
While greeting Francesco Salvo and the rest of the staff -Ciao, how have you been, it's been a while, etc etc - my eye was on the Enomatic wine dispenser machine that has a pole position near the front of the pizzeria. I was curious of the wine by the glass selection which changes often.
Bello - of the eight wines offered -three whites, four reds - three  were from Campania. Three heavy hitters; Terrantica Etichetta Bianca Greco di Tufo DOCG 2011 by I Favati, Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2011 from Rocca del Principe, and Fatica Contandina Taurasi DOCG 2008, Terredora. Wines that you'd expect to see on a top restaurant wine list were here, within my reach at anywhere from 4 to 6 Euro a glass.
My wine selection would have to wait until I decided on which pizza I wanted.   In the meantime, I wanted to try the famous Salvo fritture - fried goodies.  Particularly two new items; fried pasta and potatoes and batter fried cod. With a glass of wine? How about champagne???

Why not? I needed a break! And with the option of ordering by the glass I went for it.  Pommery Noir Brut paired perfectly.
Pizza chosen - though it wasn't easy.  I went for Nduja e Verzin - a white pizza with mozzarella di bufala campana DOP, nduja and verzin cheese.  I paired it with a glass of Terredora's Taurasi that I spied in the dispenser earlier.

While waiting, I decided to skim the wine list.  I mean, if the wine dispenser had some hot picks what would be featured in the carta dei vini? A wine list that included 105 reds, 73 whites, and 21 top champagnes, marsala, beer,
We're in a pizzeria, right?
A wine list jam packed with some of the top wineries in Campania.  A wine list whose prices are easy on the wallet. (la arge selection of wines around 15 euro a bottle)
I spoke with pizzamaker Salvatore Salvo for a bit before I left.  We talked about pizza.  We talked about the wine list.
A wine list which let's folks like me who need a break...
who need a pizza...
and who need a glass of wine enjoy it more often...

Francesco&Salvatore Salvo
Salvo pizzaioli da 3 generazioni srl
Largo Arso 10-16
80046 San Giorgio a Cremano (Napoli)
tel. 081 275306

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Sneak Peek at Spring - Taverna Estia, Brusciano (Na)

When is the best time to visit a restaurant for the first time?  At the beginning of the season to try the new items on the menu?  In the heart and heat of the summer?  At the end of the season to get an up close and personal taste of the classics?
My first visit to Taverna Estia - located in the small town of Brusciano on the outskirts of Napoli - falls into the none of the above category.
My first visit to Taverna Estia - located in the small town of Brusciano on the outskirts of Napoli was several months after I introduced myself to Maitre Sommelier Mario Sposito poolside during an event last summer.
My first visit to Taverna Estia - located in the small town of Brusciano on the outskirts of Napoli was a couple of months after I met Mario's brother, Chef Francesco Sposito at event last December.
My first visit to Taverna Estia - located in the small town of Brusciano on the outskirts of Napoli was a few months after this small taverna/ristorante was awarded their 2nd Michelin star.
I arrived at 1 pm ish on a Saturday afternoon - just in time for lunch.  And I was in luck.  Chef Sposito(Europe's youngest bistellato- 32 years old in August) had been working on a new dishes for the spring and asked me if I'd be willing to try it out before he finalizes the menu.  He didn't have to ask twice!  I immediately found my place at a small table next to the window. A table come piace a type of table, with a view of the terrace and a perfect view of the kitchen whose curtains were about to open.
Let the show begin.
Chef Francesco Sposito

It began subito when Maitre Mario Sposito alongside his wife Violetta Bobrova brought out the wine list, a plate of homemade pane and grissini, and what became my new guilty pleasure.  A small vase of algae chips.

 Taverna Estia's algae chips.  A salty savoury snack.  Ingredients are sea algae, rice, patience, and amore.

I wanted to concentrate on the meal, so I entrusted the wine choices to Sposito.  No problem for this highly recognized sommelier who placed down a feather light crystal wine calice and filled it with a glass of  NV Domaine de l'Ocre Rouge La Perle Noire, a French sparkling wine made with pinot noir. 

 It wasn't long after that the appetizers began to arrive, all under the watchful eye of Chef Sposito and his lively brigade.  

A colorful tray jam packed with numerous flavors and textures.  Like this soft green pea sponge with a sliver of pork cheek carefully laid on top.

Bread, butter and smoked anchovy.

A codfish bonbon.

A cannelino with caprino goat cheese and Bronte pistachio nuts.

It was time to change my glass of wine.  To my delight, a  Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio bianco 2011 by Sorrentino Vini.  

A Campania white which paired well with the next few dishes:

A beef emulsion with a foi gras granita, lemon and tarragon.

 With each plate, I was handed a little bit of background, of history, of preparation notes...of flavor.  I particularly rember being handed this plate.  Not sure where to begin.  A lot going on.  A squid ink bigne' filled with burrata cheese covered with a thin layer of squid.. Then, shrimp, mandarin orange slices, and a tarragon sauce.

Mario suggested that I swipe a little of the tarragon sauce as I eat the shrimp. To get that perfect balance of flavor.


Spinach in two versions:  fresh and spongy.  To accompany a lightly sauteed red mullet and a red turnip sauce.

New course, new wine...We went to Northern Italy for a 2011 vintage of pinot grigio..

Two pasta dishes.  Two pasta assaggini:  Beginning with a dish that whose aroma's brought back memories of my early days in Italia.  Mortadella.  Everyone's favorite sandwich meat.  Here, the staff made a pasta flavored with  pistachio nuts from Bronte.  On the side a smooth creamy mortedella mousse, powdered burnt leek, fresh pistachios and pistachio oil.

Sticking with pasta, Chef Sposito sent a dish out that the my camera loved as much as I did.

 Fettucce pasta cacio e ova - a cacio cheese and eggs sauce with slices of black truffles. And the cheese did not stand alone...A seabass tartar held its own on the side of the plate.

Spring had something to say in Sposito's second courses as well.  Beginning with sea bass with asparagus and a thin layer of pork cheek on a mussel sauce and an onion confit on the side.

Then, maybe the dish of the day... a scallop and fennel salad on a bed of creamy fennel al pastis.

Dessert?  I usually pass, but.  Ok.  Maybe a small tray of piccoli pastries.  And as usual, my eye and hand went straight for the chocolate.  Like this chocolte rosemary truffle  (which earned its own post! ) and a chocolatey macaroon. 

Meal over.  What is really 5:30 pm?  I guess so.  I enjoyed a  long and pleasurable conversation with Mario, his mother,  and wife Violetta, We talked about the upcoming season, lunch in the garden, jazz nights. I then headed into the kitchen to say goodbye to the kitchen brigade, salutare the chef.  A quick see you later/I enjoyed myself/grande/grande/ciao was basically all that escaped my lips, since the staff was in full swing getting ready for yet another sold out Saturday night.  
Chef Sposito shook my hand, a quick smile, then added - "On your next visit, I'll have you try some of our classics..."
Next visit?
When is the best time to visit a restaurant for the second time?  At the beginning of the season to try the new items on the menu?  In the heart and heat of the summer?  At the end of the season to get an up close and personal taste of the classics? 

Taverna Estia
Via G. De Ruggiero, 108
80031 Brusciano (Na)

081 519 9633