Monday, May 24, 2021

This Ain't Your Grandma's Chicken of the Sea - Armatore, Cetara (Sa)


What do you know about sustainable fishing?  I must admit that I do not know much. So when I watched that controversial Netflix documentary a few months ago (Seaspiracy) I was pretty shocked.  Then I saw a blog post by Armatore – a fishing company in the sleepy fisherman’s port of Cetara on the Amalfi Coast.  They have been been around for four generations had something to say about the documentary in a blog post on their web site. 

In their post, in Italian here, they invited Netflix to come on board with them.  Here is how the blog post begins:

It was hard to watch it, we don't deny it. However, it had to be done. It was right to put a spotlight on industrial fishing and shed light on the consequences of uncontrolled fishing. But it is not right to ignore those who work every day to change the future of the planet by respecting the environment, the sea and people. An investigation by Seaspiracy which completely ignores artisanal fishing, forgetting those who are engaged in a continuous effort of Research and Innovation with the aim of protecting the sea and guaranteeing a future for the people who live on this sea. A reality like ours knows only one way of fishing, the ethical and sustainable one. FOR EVERYONE.  Images like these are meant to shock, when in reality they should help consumers be more aware and informed, because SUSTAINABLE FISHING IS POSSIBLE and we can prove it.

So what is sustainable fishing?  Once again I turn to Armatore and their website for some help.

Those who practice sustainable fishing undertake to respect the health of the sea through measures that protect its habitat, biodiversity, and the long-term viability of the hunted species. 

It goes on, and I invite you to take a look on their site like I did.  There is info on their history, what they are doing to protect the sea, and recipes.  There is even a shop.  Yes, a shop.  That is where I decided to take a look at their products and, yes, even purchase some items.  And this ain't your grandma's chicken of the sea. By that I mean, Armatore produces products that you do not want to drown in sauces like mayonnaise, like you may need to do with other tuna and/or anchovies.

Armatore is known throughout Campania and beyond for two types of fish – anchovies and tuna.  They are in compliance with TAC- Total Allowable Cach.  They do not use FAD (Fishing Aggregating Devices).  They also respect the fishing season – Anchovies - 15 March through 15 October and Tuna - 25 May through 30 June.

So what’s in the shop? On the anchovy side, you can purchase them salted, fillets packed in olive oil, or even the prized anchovy extract.  Tuna, you say? Armatore has bluefin tuna-known as the king of the Mediterranean Sea.  It is available in fillets in olive oil as well as a roe.

So I went for it -  ordered the salted anchovies, anchovy extract, and tuna fillets packed in olive oil.  The website promised delivery in 24/48 hours – and even though I ordered on a Sunday evening, my they delivered as pledged.

The next step was to taste, of course- and I posted pics on Instagram on some of the quick dishes that I tried. Dishes that, I hoped, would highlight the fantastic flavor and quality of the tuna and anchovies.


 So what is the next step, since they seemed to have caught me as well?  A visit of course to Cetara, of course!  Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Chi Tene 'O Mar - Il Pacchero, Salerno (Na)


Chi tene 'o mar..e 'o sape ca è fesso e cuntento

Who has the sea knows that he is foolish and content……

those are the lyrics to the late  Neapolitan musician Pino Daniele's song Chi Tene 'O Mar...

Those word are pretty much how I felt last weekend.  Foolish and content.  Here in Campania, where, when I want I have the sea. And now that the weather seems like would like to reward us with warm and sunny weekends, it seemed the perfect opportunity to head out to the sea.  To Salerno, to be exact, to visit restaurant Il Pacchero, located just a quick 5 minute walk from the city’s  seafront. 

A 5 minute walk to a small  side street, to a small table  with a crispy clean white tablecloth, I arrived to ‘o mar.  The sea presented in the dishes prepared by Chef Claudio Russo – who tene o mar/has the sea in his head and in his heart. 

So let’s take a look how Russo made me foolishly content last weekend.

We started with an antipasto ‘crudo’-which I must say, what better way to understand Russo’s attention to quality when he shops for the seafood that he serves in his restaurant daily.

Crystal oyster (Apulia), Tuna tartare with ponzu sauce and chicory,Salmon tartare, red turnip dressing and black rice, Mediterranean scampi.

Then on to something warm and comfortable - .

Grilled octopus, saffron potato mousse and truffle

Cream of cod, curly endive, black olives, marinated Tropea onion, and papacelle Neapolitan peppers.

After the appetizers were complete, as well as a couple of glasses of bubbly and minutes of chit chat with Maitre Sommelier Salvatore Russo, it was time to move on to the first courses…

Vicidomini spaghetti, sea anemone, plankton, crusco pepper and lime


Risotto with basil pesto, red shrimp, steamed milk and tomato.

There was still some space for a second course...

Sea bass caprese

I decided to skip on dessert this time, but said a hearty yes to ‘na tazzulella 'e cafè – an espresso.

Lunch was over, but mu experience wasn’t  As I left Il Pacchero, that narrow side street and arrived to the seafront, I couldn’t help but think about two things, no three.

How Salvatore made me feel at home choosing wines that I would not have chosen on my own.

How Claudio made me feel ‘o mar.

And the lyrics to Pino Daniele’s Chi Tene ‘O Mar…

A selfie with Chef Claudio Russo and Danilo Mertino

Maitre Sommelier Salvatore Russo

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Welcome Wagon - Chef Giuseppe Molaro, Contaminazioni Restaurant, Somma Vesuviana (Na)


Last week I wrote about my fantastic first at Contaminazioni Restaurant.  Today I’d like to rewind to the beginning of my meal.  I’d like to step back to those first few bites served to me by Chef Giuseppe Molaro.  The first few bites of the Nami tasting menu which boasts 11 dishes. A menu which was served almost immediately after I was led to the table by Yuky Mitsiushi Molaro, the chef's wife and the perfect hostess.

Here’s how Molaro rolled out the welcome wagon….

Hibuscus cocktail -which is a cocktail made with a hibiscus flower vinegar that the chef makes made with alcohol, h2o, hibiscus flowers and brown sugar.  He told me that he lets it oxygenate with the aquarium oxygenator for 1 week then lets it rest for 1 month. 

To vinegar he adds  chilli oil, green tea  kombucha and bitters.


This welcome caught my eye – not only for its look and flavor, but also for the story behind it as well. I asked Molaro about it and here is what he shared:

The memory of my arrival in Tokyo, my first evening I got lost and entered a restaurant with the menu only in Japanese and by chance I chose 3 dishes among 1 of these there was this grilled eggplant with a light dashi and very simple but spectacular katsuobushi.

We prepared this eggplant cooked first under vacuum, then grilled, over an eggplant cream, some katsuobushi, fried eggplant skin, dashi and yukari (yukari and the schiso leaf that is used during the fermentation of plums (umeboshi) which  is dried and reduced to powder. 

I was then told to drink the flavorful clear broth underneath.  Indescribable.

The following welcomes on the wagon came in bite sized versions.

Scales and sesame

Puffed fish scales accompanied by sesame sauce (made with soy sauce, toasted white sesame, sesame pesto, mirin and honey)

Caramelized red onion sandwich and pork neck marinated in tare sauce

This perfect panino is a tribute to Molaro’s father who is a known and respected for his sandwiches. Pork neck is cooked at a low temperature then marinated in soy sauce. sake, mirin, katsuobushi, kombu.

 Pasta filo, chicken and bbq sauce

Pasta filo is a very thin layered Greek puff pastry.  Molaro stuffed it with chicken leg meat, then fried it and served it with a homemade bbq sauce.

The chef shared the following:  Our bbq sauce is made with ketchup, tomato, brown sugar, honey, raspberry vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and curry.

In the chicken filling there are chicken legs which have been cooked at low temperature with oil, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, cream and carrots.

No welcome wagon would be complete without a bread basket. One that included a warm loaf of sourdough bread made with type 1 flour, flax and poppy seeds.

Side note...I noticed that alongside the extra virgin olive oil, there was a section for sea salt.  I asked why, and apparently it is a custom in the area.  For a mid morning snack, bread was served with a drizzle of oil and salt.  Fantasticaaa


Breadsticks and crispy carta di musica aka Sardinian flat bread was presented in this nifty tower designed by the chef which closely resembles the building that the restaurant makes its home.

With a welcome like this, well…I can't wait to share what he had next in store for me.




Monday, May 10, 2021

Spaghetti Madness - Chef Giuseppe Molaro, Contaminazioni Restaurant, Somma Vesuviana (Na)

Last Saturday. Lunch.  Contaminazioni Restaurant in Somma Vesuviana in the Naples province.  I was about 1/3 of the way into Chef Giuseppe Molaro's Nami tasting menu when it arrived.  A plate of spaghetti.  Spaghetto freddo alle alghe,  I was told.  Cold spaghetti with seaweed.

I know what you may be thinking.  But don't.  This is not leftover spaghetti that the chef had just taken out of the blast freezer.  This spaghetti was cooked to order, then 'cooled down' bain-marie style but over ice.  The result is a perfectly cooked al dente pasta.

 When Molaro stepped into the dining room,I asked him about the dish.  He described techniques and procedures that I would not be likely to reproduce at home. As he spoke about ingredients such asginger, tomato vinegar (made by the chef), iko wakame in chardonnay vinegar, parsley cream, nori seaweed, ...  I must confess I went into a little trance.  

As I swirled my spaghetti around my fork, I couldn't help but think  deeply about the color of his pasta dish.  Green.  A color that many believe symbolizes nature and the natural world.  Spring. Tranquility.  There are some who believe it also represents rebirth, prosperity,  balance and harmony.

After last Saturday, for me it stands for spaghetti madness.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

I'll be on the First Floor - Primo Piano, Portici (Na)

I’m going out
, I said.  After weeks of the zona rossa, the Campania region made it back to yellow.  Which for some in the restaurant industry is a little bit of fresh air.  Literally.  Bars, restaurants, and pizzerias could finally accept diners in their establishments – but only if they could be seated outdoors.

So…I told my son, I’m going out.  And if you need me, I’ll be on the first floor…. Primo Piano in Portici (Na). (A burger place reccomeded to me by the simpatico Francesco Colantonio, who is a close friend and menu consultant for Primo Piano.)

The guys from the first floor - Andrea Valletta, Antonio Improta, Emanuele Raniello, and Pasquale Formisano

I arrived around 6 pm. A little early, but I wanted to have time for an aperitif and a quick chit chat with Emanuele Raniello.  It was during this chat that I learned quite a bit about this burger restaurant, which was founded by Raniello and his partner Antonio Improta about 6 years ago.  Raniello invited me to scan the QR code for the menu – which is divided into 2 parts.  Part 1, the restaurant, which is where I was, and Part 2, cocktails.  For those who were interested in hanging out and listening to music in a separate area. 

I glanced at the menu. Once, twice, three times.  I couldn’t decide.  There was a quite a bit to choose from, and this being my first time, I did not want to over do it.  That is when bartender Andrea Valletta stepped in. He suggested I try a Mi-To, which is a cocktail made with Campari and vermouth.   

Bene.  What should I order with my cocktail?

Ti aiuto io? Raniello asked.  Can I help?

Please do! – Not sure if I whispered or shouted.

Raniello suggested an item that was to the menu. Like really new. Pork belly with raw red shrimp. fantasticaaa…

Next up, a suggestion from the chef.  Chef Pasquale Formisano wanted me to try his pancakes. Pancakes with zucchini alla Nerano and those incredible raw red shrimps.

Both appetizers were amazing…ready to warm me up to what I had been drawn out to Portici for.  The perfect panini…which began with the perfect bun. 

I went for 2 –

The first is called Sea Side - Artisan bun from Cesto Bakery, homemade tuna burger, cheddar, cucumber, bacon, fried onion in tempura "Primo Piano", tomato, and lettuce.

Then I went for their burger called Joker (from Batman).  (Artisan bun, Scottona hamburger Bifulco Selection 30 days of maturation, provolone, crumbled tarallo Leopoldo, pistachio cream, baked potatoes, crispy mortadella I.G.P.).

Earlier I wrote that Primo Panino was a burger restaurant.  Well, to me it is so much more.  There was so much energy. So much, how can I phrase it, so much life.  A home away from home for many.  Even if just for a few hours.  And that is just what we all have been craving for. A chance to slowly get back to some kind of normal. 

So, if you need me, I’ll be on the first floor…. Primo Piano in Portici (Na).

Thanks, ragazzi!!!



Sunday, May 2, 2021

Amarante and Armani Restaurant Japan- Chef Carmine Amarante's Plans, Programs and Projects in the Land of the Rising Sun

Chef Carmine Amarante
Last September, I was scrolling social media and I found these words written by a friend, chef Carmine Amarante:

It is with great pleasure and honour that I announce my new adventure with Armani Ristorante Japan. I am so thrilled to be part of this new challenge and team, to continue giving my best in providing memorable experiences to our guests and giving my passion to my team.The launch of my new menu at Armani Ristorante Ginza and Omotesando will be on September 24th and I cannot wait to receive you all very soon!

Fantasticaaa!  I remember thinking.  I can’t wait to virtually take that adventure with him as the now 30-year-old chef, originally from Campania, continues to enrich his culinary style of merging Italian fine dining cuisine for his Japanese clients using local ingredients.

In his role as Executive Chef, Amarante is responsible for all things Armani in terms of cuisine which include the Armani Ristorante, Armani Wine Lounge, and the Emporio Armani Caffè.   So we’re talking about fine dining, bar/lounge, afternoon teas, aperitifs and bistro in Tokyo and Osaka. Several months have passed, so I decided to reach out to Amarante for a chat. You know, to get a little bit more info on some of his recent projects. 

One of my first questions had to do with Amarante’s menu, his Loss Food Menu to be exact.    In order to understand his response, one must understand that Amarante has an intimate relationship with many of his suppliers.  He has been to their farms, their markets, etc.  He knows their products very well.

How did that come about, Carmine?

The idea began when all the suppliers that I had – and some that were new to me- wrote me telling me that they had too many goods that they could not  export or sell  due to Covid restrictions. Products that were destined for Australia, for example, as well as restaurants in Japan that had closed.  So, what happened then?  Many suppliers found themselves with a large quantity of unsold products in their warehouse. So I thought, even if I was able to order a small part of the goods and use them, it would be a way of letting people know the plight of these suppliers.  That these were goods that were going to be thrown away.  And I’m not talking about contaminated products.  In Japan, for example, diners want the products to ‘look perfect’…products that are not would be unsold. So I got back in contact with these suppliers looking for items that were destined to be discarded---the imperfect tomatoes for example.  Imperfections such as small holes, a little smashed, missing skin…and I designed a menu based on these products.  So from that idea Loss Food was born.  The entire menu from appetizers to dessert is made with items destined to be scrapped.

So, what is on his Spring 2021 Loss Menu?  Here's a taste:

Shonan Gold with edible wild plants, beets and citrus fruits.

Two amazing appetizers;  the first one is called Tomato Variation using boiled tomatoes, tomato gelato, powdered tomato and tomato consomme.  The second is White Asparagus with Saffron Béarnaise Sauce.

His Loss Menu also features this fantastic first - Amarante's Spaghetti Marino with smoked amberjack and arugula.

Sea bream with a green pea puree and herb sauce.

Amarante's pre-dessert (top picture) is made with citrus fruits.  Meanwhile, the picture at the bottom is his main dessert featuring cocoa cream, cocoa husk jelly, granita made from white cotton, fermented “cacao” syrup, and other parts that are discarded during the chocolate making process.

Amarante was the first in Japan to have this idea and it is having enormous success.  There are many people who are curious about this project such as those who understand the importance of issues such as nature and food waste.  So much so, that he is working on his Loss Menu for Summer 2021. 

With all that the chef has to do, he still takes the time to explore the territory and learn about products and cooking techniques up close and personal.  This video, for example, gives you a taste of what I mean.

 When I asked about it, Amarante responded:

This project was presented to me by an ambassador of 50 Best and the Kochi government.  This video was filmed in 5 days, it was a beautiful experience.  Beautiful because, well, you need to know that about 95% of the world’s yuzu production is from this part of Japan…So after this video, a form of advertising for the area, people became really interested in the products from Kochi.  So people were able to learn about Kochi, which is a beautiful territory in terms of agriculture. 

Many of the products that find their way to Amarante’s menu besides yuzu include the fruit tomato and the Earl’s Favorite melon.

It was a pleasure to chat with Amarante – not necessarily easy to do due to the 7 hour time difference and his busy schedule.  It was also great to see that he hit  the ground running since he was  appointed to Armani as Executive Chef.  He is always looking towards the future, continuing to enrich his portfolio of cultural experiences that not only help form his as a person, but as a chef as well.

I am looking forward to seeing what is coming next.

Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita, Carmine!

(Photos courtesy of Chef Amarante)