Wednesday, October 28, 2009

La Cantinetta de Maurilio, Barolo

Lunch this time was in one of my favorite areas in Italy: Piemonte. There are many towns in Piemonte (La Morra, Alba, Barolo, Barbaresco, etc...) and so far, I have been to two of them for spectacular meals: Alba and Barolo.

La Cantinetta was recommended to me by a friend I met some time ago through my blog, Giampiero, who works for a wine producer in Barolo called Mauro Sebaste, a boutique winery that produces around 100,000 bottles a year. As we entered the restaurant, I was a bit skeptical as the place was completely empty, and it was about 1 Pm, just about the time most Italian have lunch, but I decided to trust the recommendation of Giampiero, and good thing we decided to stay.

We decided to let Maurilio, the owner, to prepare a degustation for us for the appetizers. When he mentioned degustation, I thought that it would be the typical small plates, lots of design, creative stuff. Thank God I was completely wrong. He brought us a series of dishes, most of them he would serve directly in our plates, so basically we tried the whole menu of appetizers.

He served us first a typical Russian Salad (no pictures) which is a simple salad with vegetables mayonnaise and egg...very simple but a classic at least for me in in Spanish tapas bar. Next, we were served a Pate de Fegatini D'Anatra e Coniglio su Cipolle di Tropea Caramellate (a Pate de Foie/Rabbit with Caramelized Onions) served with Tonatto sauce, a sort of emulsion made with anchovies, Capers, Tuna, etc.. I have still no pictures of this since I was enjoying my meal too much. We enjoyed this with a fresh crisp Roero Arneis (their house white), a very typical white wine of this region and one of my favorites.

Now come the serious stuff..they served us: Pepperoni en Salsa Verde (Red Pepper, Pesto and a Quail Egg)..again a very simple dish which I continued to enjoy with the Roero Arneis. The pepper was somewhat Pickled and grilled and very sweet, a good contrast with the sort of pesto sauce.

Next, Leak Flan con Fondutta e Tartufi Bianco (a Flan made of Leaks, covered by melted Cheese and a teaser of White Truffles). A Very tasty flan made of leaks, strong Cheese and a few shavings of the coveted White Truffle, which is in season right now in Piemonte.

Then came the star of the Appetizers: Uovo in Pasta con Tartufo Bianco (Egg in Pasta with White Truffle). A simple big 'Ravioli' with egg Yolk inside, and a generous served of shaved White Truffles. As I proceeded to cut the Ravioli and take my first bite, the golden liquid of the egg yolk oozed out, a surprise for me since I forgot that the pasta had Egg..well a good surprise that is..

Following wit the theme of our lunch and on classic Regional Pairing, I asked for a 2003 Pio Cesare Barolo. The wine was all I expected from it, a typical classic Barolo, and a good match with our White Truffles.

Now on to the main course (Yes, what we had were just the appetizers) another classic Piemontese dish which I love: Carne Cruda (Steak Tartare)..I know I always have this but I just can't get enough of it..simple hand chopped meat, simply seasoned with Oil, Sal, Pepper and a dash of fresh Lemon Juice. This type of Tartare gives you a chance to taste the meat rather than the dressing that sometimes overpowers the taste of the meat.

The next and last two dishes we had were: Tortelli (small hand made Raviolis with beef) and Bocconcini di Cinghiale con Polenta (Wild Boar with Barbera wine Sauce and Polenta). The hand made pasta was great was served with a generous serving of Parmiggiano Reggiano and the wild Boar was superb, with a thick Sauce made of Barbera D'Alba wine, which gave this dish a very earthy feel.

Dessert was practically forced upon us, since we were very full from the huge meal that we just had, but how could we say no to Maurilio?? A selection of four classic desserts: Panna Cotta, Semi Freddo al Torrone, Flan and Brunet Tradizionale. The Panna Cotta was my favorite of the four, and a great way to end our meal.

This is a meal I will not forget in a long time. Thank you Giampiero for recommending this place and hope to be back there soon. Ciao !!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Casa Lucio, Madrid

Following with my obsession in eating in traditional Restaurants (I'm trying to stay away from Fancy creative cuisine for the moment), I chose a 'must visit' place in Madrid: Casa Lucio. One of the oldest restaurants in Madrid, it's location is in the old part of town, in a street that every other place is a Tapas bar or a restaurant.

Inside the restaurant, the decor was very traditional, with waiter all in white jackets, as the olden times in Spain. As you enter, the restaurant looks very small, but they bring you in, and it looks more like a maze than a restaurant. Apparently, this is where the rich MadrileƱos would park their horse carriages. Anyway, on to the food we had....

For starters, I ordered a bottle of 2008 Fillaboa, an AlbariƱo which I have never tried I was quite surprised because it was a very good one. It was served too cold so I had to let it cool down in the glass for about 15 minutes before I drank it. Very fresh and crisp, it reminded me of the smell of the sea shells.

For Appetizers, we had a plate of Chorizo Iberico de Guijuelo. Guijuelo is a small town in Salamanca very well known for hight quality Chorizo Iberico and Jamon Iberico. A very simple plate was served to us with huge/thick slices of this heavenly chorizo, meatier than the rehular ones I normally have. Needless to say they were delicious.

Nest was one of the specialties of the house: Huevos Estrellados or Los Huevos de Lucio (Broken Eggs-Lucios Eggs). This is partly what made this restaurant famous. Now, you might think that this is such a simple dish and it does not look appetizing at all, but believe me once you try this, you will change your mind. Basically it is potatoes with a broken egg on top, with a sort of oil/chorizo/egg dripping beneath which gives it the fantastic flavors..truly a great dish.

After the 2 great appetizers, we proceeded with the main course, one of them also a classic Castillan dish: Cochinillo (Baby Suckling Pig) and Cordero Asado (Lamb). Two classic dishes which we enjoyed very much. The Cochinillo was perfectly presented, with crispy skin on the outside and tender juicy meat on the inside. The Lamb was also very good, although I much preferred the Pig. With this, I ordered a Bottle of 2006 Aalto, a wine made from 100% Tinto Fino from Ribera del Duero. With deep color and a full body, I thought this would be perfect for the 2 main dishes we had. Definitely a good match for me, I do plan to stock up on this wine soon.

We all struggled to finish the food, but obviously none of us were complaining. We had no more room for anything else except for some 'chupitos'(shots) of Licor de Hierbas (Herb Liquor) and Pacharan, a typical liquor from Navarra made from Endrinas (Sloe Berries). We kept on asking for more so the waiter just left us the bottle in our table. Obviously, we left the bottle empty.

A great meal and a great place that I recommend to anyone who likes this type of food....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Taktika Berri, Barcelona

I just can't get enough of this type of is such simple honest to goodness cooking, how can you get tired of it? After my meal at Lagunak, I was told that I HAD to try the 'best' Basque restaurant in Barcelona, called Taktika Berri. Of course, how can I pass on an opportunity like this, I just had to try it to find out for myself .

Taktika Berri is almost an institution in Barcelona. As you enter, there is a huge bar on the left side, with the typical Montaditos/Pintxos they serve in the bars in San Sebastian. All kinds of small plates and bread with yummy things on top. I had to resist the temptation to stop at the bar and go straight to my table, since someone was waiting for me.

As we sat down, the waiter came to take our order. They don't have a menu or wine list, so they just tell you what's the special of the day. For wine, obviously I had to have Txakoli, so we ordered a bottle of 2008 Txomin Etxaniz, I was told the best Txakoli available. I have tried this before a few times in our meals at La Tienda and I think this is the best wine to pair with this type of meal. Served in wide tall glasses, they pour at an arms length to 'activate' or 'air' the wine, for it to release its freshness and flavors.

On to the food..for starters, I asked them to give us a selection of their best montaditos from the bar. Very simple pieces of bread, where they 'mount' mixtures of Tuna, crab, egg, etc...anything and everything that's delicious. We had 4 of them to start, a perfect combination with the Txakoli.

We then had our second part of our appetizers: Revuelto de Setas (Eggs and local version of Porcini Mushrooms) and Txangurro (Spider Crab).

The Txangurro was spider Crab, minced with celery and a sort of mayonnaise..I think this is a very typical Basque dish. The revuelto, was a simple omelet with local mushrooms very typical of Spain. With this we continued to enjoy our bottle of Txakoli, which paired very well with the Txangurro.

For Main, of course I could not resist ordering the Chuleton. This is a classic together with others like Bacalao or Kokotxas that you should always have in places like this.

Perfectly cooked, it was charred on the outside and very rare and juicy on the inside. Served with nothing but some rock salt and a few pieces of pimientos, this is how a Chuleton should be. With this, we had a bottle of 2005 Contino Reserva. Contino is a classic Rioja wine, although they have adopted and now are labeled as 'modern Rioja'. Still very enjoyable, although again I should have ordered a more full bodied wine, maybe a Ribera at the minimum.

This is probably the best meal I had this trip...and one of the most authentic or closest you will get to basque cuisine in Barcelona without going to Basque region. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys this type of cuisine.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Restaurante Lagunak, Barcelona

I'm back in Barcelona and back to my usual culinary adventures. In this trip, I am more inclined to try traditional cuisine, rather than the usual modern, molecular cuisine that is so in demand nowadays. My first stop was a place called Lagunak, a traditional Basque Restaurant located very near my house.

They serve typical cuisine from the Basque region, including the traditional montaditos, where you just take the montadito from the bar, where they then charge you by the amount of toothpicks you have on your plate. But we decided to have a sit down dinner instead of the montaditos, since there were some dishes I was craving to have that are not available in the bar.

For starters though, we went to the bar to get some montaditos. There were so many available that I honestly did not know what to get. I ended up choosing 4 kinds of the most popular ones (Crab, Tuna, Bacalao and Empanada). Fantastic way to start our meal, together with a beer.

We also had a plate of Chistorra (traditional type of Chorizo from the Northern region of Spain)

and a Cazuelita de Cordero (Lamb Stew) which was to die for..

We then ordered our main dishes (mostly all traditional Basque dishes). Kokotxas de Merluza Rebozadas, Bacalao en Salsa Verde and Chuleton. All this washed down with some Rioja (2005 Muga Reserva). I would have wanted to order a bottle of Txakoli which I think would have paired perfectly with the Kokotxas and the Bacalao, but decided to just stick with the reds, since the others were not so keen on drinking Txakoli.

Food just can't get any better than this. Honest simple traditional cooking using the best ingredients possible. The Kokotxas de Merluza (Hake throat) were fried with flour, simply served with lemon. The buttery oily texture of the Kokotxas perfectly deep fried, which gave it a little crisp. The Bacalao (Salt cod) was another great dish, with the traditional Salsa Verde (green sauce - Garlic-oil-parsley).

The Chuleton (Steak) was a 700 grams of perfectly cooked steak. At first I thought it may have been over cooked, since they have a tendency to do this in many restaurants in Spain, but once slice proved me wrong. It was medium rare as I like it, although I would have preferred if they had put real fries on the plate, and not chips. Still a very enjoyable dish.

Over all a great dinner which I really enjoyed. I do plan to come back again and try the other traditional dishes they have, or to just have some montaditos and a few beers. For whatever it's worth, I recommend this place to anyone who enjoys this type of cuisine.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bistro Vue, Melbourne

I was in Australia 2 weeks ago for a short business trip. I was quite excited since it was my first time to go to the "land down under". I immediately did my research on what were the good restaurants to go to. After surfing the net and asking some friends, I had a short list of places to go. I even tried booking at Tetsuyas, supposedly the best restaurant in Sydney - to no avail since it was fully booked for the next months. We did not have much time for meals since we were quite busy, so we ended up eating out in good places just once in Melbourne and once in Sydney.

Melbourne is a city I loved, so cosmopolitan and with a nice European feel to it. For our meal there, we decided on a French Bistro, BISTRO VUE. It was a typical French bistro design restaurant, with lots of wine on the walls as decor. For starters, we had some Sparkling wine from North East Tasmania: CLOVER HILL SPARKLING 2004. Made from Chardonnay 60%, Pinot Noir 40%, this was very fresh despite the fact that it was a 2004 vintage.

We then had our orders of appetizers: We each had one order of: Garlic Snails with Parsley Crust and of course, I could not resist not ordering my Steak Tartare.

The Snails were quite dry ( I was expecting the typical Escargot Bourguignone) but they were surprisingly tasty. After seeing that they were Garlic crusted, I figured out why they would be so dry. The Tartare, one of the better ones I've tasted. It was very creamy and had the right spice to it. It was topped by a poached quail egg, which when pierced, oozed with the liquid gold egg yolk, which even made the dish richer and tastier. Definitely the dish of the night.

Since we were in Melbourne, we decided to go with a Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Coldstream Hills, which we thought would pair well with our main course.

For main course, we had: Darling Downs- 120 days grain fed fillet, with fries and Truffle Mustard. The Darling Downs is a farming region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range in southern Queensland, Australia. The steak was very soft and perfectly cooked, although I found the fries under cooked.

Over all a good experience. We did not have time to eat in any other Melbourne Restaurants (although I had a long list: Movida, Flower Drum, Rockpool, etc..) which I hope to hit when I return some day. We then moved to Sydney, where we had some great meals which I will post soon.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Miele 2009/2010 Asia Awards

Yesterday, the 2nd awards for the Miele Top Restaurants in Asia were hosted in Singapore. Below is the list of top 20 best Restaurants in Asia according to the Miele guide. Its funny how many of the restaurants mentioned don't even serve Asian cuisine (top 5 restaurants are French Cuisine).

As far as the Philippines is concerned, my favorite Restaurant (Antonios) fell from 10th place last year to 17th place this year. There is also a new Philippine restaurant on the top 20: Aubergine.

I have only been there once and after this award, maybe I should try them again soon..

1. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Hong Kong, China. (2)
2. Iggy’s, Singapore. (1)
3. Robuchon a Galera, Macau, China. (6)
4. Jaan par Andre, Singapore. (-)
5. Les Amis, Singapore. (3)
6. Mozaic, Bali, Indonesia. (5)
7. Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine, Singapore. (4)
8. Laris, Shanghai, China. (-)
9. Ku De Ta, Bali, Indonesia. (-)
10. Yung Kee, Hong Kong, China. (8)
11. Bukhara, New Delhi, India. (14)
12. Beijing Da Dong Roast Duck, Beijing, China. (-)
13. Zanotti II Ristorante Italiano, Bangkok, Thailand. (19)
14. M on the Bund, Shanghai, China. (17)
15. Nobu, Hong Kong, China. (16)
16. Caprice, Hong Kong, China. (11)
17. Antonio’s, Cavite, Philippines. (10)
18. Aubergine, Manila, Philippines. (-)
19. Fook Lam Moon, Hong Kong, China. (18)
20. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Tokyo, Japan. (13)