Monday, June 29, 2020

Ro World and Pastry Chef Antonino Maresca - Are You Saving that Dessert For Me?

Pastry Chef Antonino Maresca

    Ro World - a fantastically ambitious project that opened its doors for the first time back in February.  A hot spot in progress with a cafè, bistrot, restaurant, and...what caught my attention - a pastry department led by one of Italy's top pastry chefs, Antonino Maresca.  Maresca's desserts are known throughout Italy - particularly due to his work in Michelin starred restaurants such as Il Mosaico in Ischia as well as teaching courses throughout the country with a focus on high end deserts.  

So when the news came out that Maresca would have his hand in desserts that would be available for everyday dining, breakfast, and takeaway - I had to check it out.  I spent the month of June stopping by Ro World to see what was in the box.  

    When you walk into Ro for the first time, it is hard to miss the piccoli pastry counter on the left.  Small pastries that are made daily and refurnished throughout the day.  If you are lucky, you may even find Maresca himself behind the counter helping you pick out what to take home.  

So what is behind the counter?  Under the glass?  Campania classics such as a babà, a zeppole di San well as favorites such as berry tarts and eclairs.

During one visit, I spied a cheesecake or two under the glass.  Definitely a reason to come back a couple of more times.  Visits which I tagged #cheesecakethursday - a cheesecake to take home and enjoy at my leisure. One week I tried one with summer berries.

The next -  apricot and pistachio. 

    Or Ro World's hand made treats such as fitness bars and plum cakes.

    It was just last weekend that I had another chance to sit with Maresca, this time over breakfast.  The pastry which he calls RO, a danese with hazelnuts and filled with hazelnut cream. 

I tried to look somewhat elegant as I devoured another piece of Maresca inspired magic.  I tried to look nonchalant as Maresca spoke to me about pastries and desserts that he is working on, also including granita.  Ce la faremo is his motto, we will do it.

No doubt.  Save a dessert for me...

Friday, June 19, 2020

Reawakening - Lunch at Il Faro Di Capo D'Orso, Maiori (Sa)

    I call it my table.  The table in the far corner of the dining room of Il Faro Di Capo D'Orso, a Michelin starred restaurant located in the town of Maiori on the Amalfi Coast.  I've grown fond of that little corner table, even if I must admit, that this visit began a little different than the others.  The restaurant had just opened for their first lunch service of 2020, their first lunch service after Italy's lockdown.  So after a quick check of my temperature at the door - to ensure that I didn't have a fever- I headed over to my table, took off my mask, and sat down. 

   Feeling comfortable when you go out, particularly as the country reawakens, is very important.  That was immediate thanks to restaurant manager Bonny Ferrara and sommelier Antonio Cannoniero.  I was treated to an aperitif which included a glass of champagne,fantasticaaa finger foods prepared by Chef Francesco Sodano and his brigade, and a little bit of conversation. Here's a look.

      Corn meal disc with smoked goat milk ricotta cheese, herring caviar, and anchovies from nearby Cetara.

A puffed pastry with almond sour cream, pumpkin seed mio, razor clams and fermented caper leaves.

A won ton with pulled beef, shiitake mushrooms and lemon compote.

Burnt wheat crackers with liver fat, cave-aged pecorino cheese and truffle.

A mozzarella handkerchief with a dipping bowl of mozzarella serum.  

    This being the first lunch of the new season, I was excited about new dishes that Sodano had in store.  He had taken out the a la carte options, instead opting for tasting menus which included vegetarian and gluten free options.  I decided to choose to let the chef choose.   Like this new entry.  Leek with ashes, lemon compote and black garlic.

    Another amazing appetizer from the chef's new menu is a dish that he calls Crab between Varanasi and Hong Kong, the reef on a plate.  So let's begin with the plate - the ceramic bowl from Picky Pottery based in Paris.  At the request of the chef, they designed a bowl that looks like a part of the sea shore.  Then Sodano added his salad crab, mussels, sea urchin seaweed and poured a yellow curry sauce (the  Varanasi because it is a city of India famous for curry) and a rice chip with XO sauce (the  Hong Kong for  the XO sauce).

Next, a pair of brand new first course dishes, beginning with these little buttons that Chef Sodano brought to the table himself.  Homemade pasta buttons filled with fermented bread topped with tiny tasty  tomato and bread balls, tomato oil and green chili pepper juice ( aka peperoncini dei fiume).

I firmly believe that Chef Sodano enjoys speaking about his dishes as much as he enjoys preparing them.  So when he came to my corner table with the next pasta dish, I sat back and enjoyed the show.

On his FB page, the chef describes this dish in this way - 

One of the dishes of my "new cuisine" post covid to which I am already fond of I think this is ... the squid lard with "bbq" pepper preserves .... The research of the material is my concept of sustainability marry this philosophy: exloring ideas and techniques from all over the world while respecting and local products .... Eliche pasta cooked in squid extract, liver emulsion, smoked lard, bottarga in beeswax (matured a year), chorizo and “bbq” pepper preserves .... this is my concept of sustainability ... respect and use of  raw material at 360 degrees. Welcome to my #cucinanuova.  

    Before the next dish, Sodano invited me into the kitchen for a look at his new bbq grill shipped in directly from Japan.  He uses this small grill to prepare his tuna dish.

A gastronomic journey fantasticaaa was drawing to an end, as the arrival of Sodano's predessert silently announced.  This one included fermented beet and robiola cheese ice cream.

Then the dolce parade hit full stride beginning with Sodano's pastiera.  Pastiera is a traditional Neapolitan dessert starring cooked wheat, eggs, ricotta cheese, and flavored with orange flower water.  It is served during the Easter season.  Well, since we all were in quarantine, many of us did not get a chance to have a slice or two since it can be quite a challenge at make at home.  Sodano's version is a attractive twist featuring the fragrances and flavors of this classic dessert.  

I enjoyed that dish so much, Sodano sent out another dessert; licorice, galatina, sour caramel.

Then the Il Faro Di Capo  D'Orso piccoli pastries...from left to right -Haribo is the goodness that can be enjoyed at any age, cotton candy dumpling with raspberry gel and hibiscus powder, absolute hazelnut, salted caramel truffle, and  matcha green tea truffle.

A meal by Sodano is not complete without the arrival of his signature Shave the Chef.  A chocolate disc with a smiling Sodano, a side of foamy mint shaving cream and barber's brush.  

    As I shaved the chef, it gave me time to reflect.  Familiar, refreshing and a fun way to end a meal. 
 And maybe that is what some of us need - something familiar and refreshing as a drive on the Amalfi Coast, a glass or two of wine, a chit chat.  Maybe some of us need to sit down at a corner table, try new dishes...take of the mask for awhile. Maybe.  Something to think about at least.  

As I put on my mask and  got up to leave, Sodano invited me back into the kitchen for one last thing.  A little something for the road.  A piece of warm nerissima bread featuring a mix of flours handpicked and baked by the chef himself.  Sodano's bread has been voted the best bread in Italy by Gambero Rosso.  And now I had a loaf to take home.   

I mentioned earlier - Feeling comfortable when you go out, particularly as the country reawakens, is very important.  

The team