Category Archives: Vacation

Venice, how nice you are!

I thought that after all the delicious food in Florence, Venice would have to be pretty fantastic to compete. This city definitely stepped up to the challenge.

We arrived in Venice early afternoon, so after we’d gotten settled into our hotel, we ventured out in search of food and drink. I wanted to go to Osteria da Alberta as the description in the Lonely Planet guide sounded good. We stopped at an enoteca along the way, and then proceeded to walk a 2 block radius for 30 minutes or so to no avail. We were about to give up when I saw the Church of Miracles, which I remembered from the map being around the corner from the restaurant we were looking for. As is evident from the pictures below, we made it and it was well worth the 2 hour adventure we had finding it.

We started with the vongole veraci, steamed clams in olive oil, garlic, and butter. The clams were little, but they were extremely tender and sweet.

Osteria Da Alberto vongole veraci

We also ordered the quatro formaggio gnocchi. According to my note written on a piece of paper, BEST EVER!!! Tasty, melt-in-your mouth potato-y pillows. The four cheese sauce was out of this world good. One of the cheeses was gorgonzola which upped the creamy/savory factor. This dish is the stuff that heaven is made of! Mike and I both ate up every last bite of sauce with our bread.

Osteria Da Alberto quatro formaggio gnocchi

And while no picture exists (a testament to its tastiness), we ended this lovely meal with the tiramisu. My notes on the tiramisu: ALSO BEST EVER!!

This was only the start to the onslaught of awesome that were our meals in Venice. On our first full day, we went searching for Osteria I Rusteghi. Like almost every restaurant/eatery listed in our guide book, it was an adventure simply locating the place. But once again, worth it. The guide book said this would be the place to make you like lardon; this is an indisputable fact. Mike and I got a small lardo di collonata sandwich, grilled eggplant, and grilled cherry tomatoes to share. Then we each got another sandwich; I went with the copacolla and black truffle, Mike with the copacolla and eggplant. Everything was quite good, particularly the lardon sandwich (creamy texture with a good cured pork flavor) and the copacolla and truffle. Just as in Florence, the use of truffles is amazing and with gusto! Every bite of the sandwich was overflowing with truffle-y flavor! Mmmm!

I Rusteghi lunch

After that, we stopped by SuSo (click here for someone else’s flickr photo) for some gelato, another randomly delicious find! On this first visit, we tried the peanut gelato and another flavor I can’t quite recall; all I know is that they were delicious, particularly the peanut! On our second visit, we had the green apple and the hazelnut; both were awesome. No pictures exist as the gelato was gone before we could even think to take a picture!

For lunch the following day, we went to Al Merca, an osteria similar to I Rusteghi. For drinks I went with the prosecco (decent, but nowhere near as good as the Collalto Extra Dry!) and Mike had the Valpolicella classico. For food, we shared a polpette di carne (meatball). I also had the parma, robiola, and black truffle sandwich while Mike had the osso collo sandwich. Both were so delicious. Once again, truffle explosions in my mouth complimented by the salty parma cut with the freshness of the robiola. We then shared another meatball and each got one more sandwich! What could beat eating delicious food and drinking wine outside on a beautiful day in Venice?

Al Merca snack

Later that day, Mike took me on a gondola ride. It was pricey but the experience was one of a kind, most importantly Mike proposing! I just had to include some pictures from that; a view from the Grand Canal, just before going under the Rialto bridge, and then a post-gondola ride capuccino photo.

gondola ride

kiss_before_rialto

DSCN0566

To celebrate being engaged, we decided to go out for a fancy-ish dinner. After reading some reviews, we headed for Anice Stellato. It was a nice restaurant known for its seafood. To start, we ordered the small misto di cichetti di pesce. Once again, another dish so tasty we forgot to take a picture until it was gone. Ultra fresh seafood cichetti. From what I recall, it included pickled anchovies which I surprisingly enjoyed. The vinegar really worked with the salty fish. We also had some of the best octopus in vinaigrette I think I’ve ever had. And to Mike’s extreme delight,the misto included fried eel, something that isn’t easily found here in Seattle!

As for things we have photos of, we started with the seafood risotto. In order to ensure you get a bit of seafood in every bite, the mussels, soft shell crab, and langoustines are shelled and chopped up into the risotto – pure genius! All I can say is that the risotto was quite yummy although I don’t have much to compare it to as I’ve only had it once or twice stateside.

Anise Stellato seafood risotto

Then Mike and I shared the pistachio crusted branzino (sea bass). Yum, yum, yum, yum! The fish was flaky and light, a great protein dish to follow up the rich risotto.

Anice Stellato branzino

And for dessert, we opted for the panna cotta with mixed berries. Neither Mike nor myself had ever had panna cotta; this was a good first! The creamy texture was incredible, and the sweetness in tandem with the tartness of the berries was outstanding.

Anice Stellato panna cotta

Our last day in Venice we were walking along the main road, and I asked if we could take a look at a menu. A pasta dish with langoustines was on it for a reasonable price (9.50 euro), so I had to get one last taste of langoustines before leaving Italy. Thus, our lucky lunch at Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso began. We started off with the beef carpaccio; with lemon juice drizzled, each bite of sliced beef with parmagiano reggiano and arugula was a perfect start (no picture again)!

We followed that with the star of the meal, the tagliolini scampi e zucchine. Hand made tagliolini pasta with langoustines and zucchini in a light cream sauce, need I say more? It was so delicious, we only remembered to take a picture once we’d eaten about half of the dish! Check out that succulent langoustine meat!

al vecio bragosso

Have no fear though, it was so delicious that as soon as we’d eaten the last bite, we came to the instantaneous decision that we needed another plate! It was *that* good. The langoustines were fresh, tender, and sweet. The zucchini were ridiculously sweet and flavorful. Who knew zucchini was capable of such awesomeness?

al vecio bragosso 2

And that, folks, is our trip as our stomachs experienced it. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed recounting it! This upcoming week, back to our regularly scheduled happy hour programming!

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Florence Food Finds Day 2 and 3

On our first full day in Florence, we did quite a bit of sightseeing (Santa Maria Novella, the Duomo, the Baptistry, and surrounding area). On our way to the Santa Maria Novella, we popped into the Coronas Cafe and tried their gelato. This was a good move on our part. We went with the banana gelato and the mango gelato. The combination of the banana and the mango was like a tropical paradise in my mouth. Our only regret was not making it back here a second time!

coronas_cafe_gelato

After all that sightseeing, we were looking for somewhere nice to eat. Looking through my Lonely Planet guide book, I’d found a restaurant that was supposed to serve a great Bistecca alla fiorentina, a signature Florentine dish (basically a melt in your mouth delicious Chianina porterhouse steak).

We went to the address indicated in the book (a few blocks from Santa Maria Novella), but we couldn’t find a restaurant matching the name in the book (it escapes me now). We did find another restaurant called Ristorante La Spada in its place that served bistecca alla fiorentina, so we decided to go there.

They offered set menus, so we went with one of the “Spada’s Fantasy Menu” and one order of bistecca alla fiorentina. That way, we could try the Florentine steak and get a variety of other things. It was plenty of food!

We started with the antipasto misto della casa as the appetizer of the fantasy menu, a wonderful array of different sliced meats, pate, and bruschetta. I was impressed by the sheer variety!

Ristorante La Spada carne antipasto

For the pasta course, we were served a trio of pastas: ravioli with truffles and mushrooms, penne with a meat sauce, and gnocchi in a rose sauce. The pasta was good, but not great. It definitely pales compared to the pasta we ate during the remainder of our trip!

Ristorante La Spada trio of pastas

The steak was so delicious, we forgot about taking a picture until it was almost gone! The roasted potatoes it came with were the perfect accompaniment as well. We drank a bottle of wine with our meal. It was bottled and labeled especially for La Spada with a picture of the restaurant’s outer face on the side of the bottle!

Ristorante La Spada house wine take 2

For dessert, we had something I can’t recall along with Biscotti di Prato con vinsanto, ‘biscottini’ and sweet wine. It’s apparently only served in the Tuscan region. The wine was really sweet, but it went well with the biscotti.

On our third day, we did some more sightseeing. First off, we accomplished our goal of visiting the Uffizi, taking in Tuscan masterpieces including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We then walked the wrong way, turned around, and headed back toward the Gallerie dell’ Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David in all his glory. That dude is frickin’ huge!

On the way to the Gallerie D’academia, we stopped by the Mercato Nuovo to check out Il Porcellino, the little pig. Rubbing his nose ensures you’ll return to Florence, so I had to give it a try!

Florence lil piggie

After our visit with David, we made our way across Florence’s city center slowly back toward the hotel. We made a short pit stop at Giubbe Rosse, one of the cafes in the Piazza della Repubblica we’d been to the day before. They had such tasty cappucinos, I couldn’t get enough! They also had cheap, yummy pasta dishes for lunch, which we’d tried out the previous day as well.

Giudde Rossa cappucino

Before heading back to the hotel, we then stopped by Le volpi e l’uva for a few glasses of wine. This was a wonderful enoteca with a great wine selection at a reasonable price. I had the best prosecco (Collalto Extra Dry Prosecco) I’ve ever had for only 3.50 euro a glass. Mike also had a few different delightful red wines. The best part, you can purchase bottles of any wine they serve! I brought home 2 bottles of the prosecco, which was even more special as this prosecco was bottled just for Le volpi e l’uva. Mike brought home a couple bottle of reds as well. I so wish we’d had more room in our suitcase!

Since we had so many bottles, we took a cab back to the hotel. And since we hadn’t stopped thinking about our very first meal in Florence, we headed back to Antica Porta. We started out with some bruschetta, which was quite good with lots of garlic. However, we ate that before we remembered to take a picture! Do you see a theme here?

We ordered the pizza again, and then for the main entree we went with the paccheri al profumo di mare con vongole e scampi (paccheri pasta scented with sea clams and langoustines). I knew gamberi was shrimp, so we weren’t sure what scampi referred to. It does not mean a way of preparing a dish like we think in English, but it’s in fact Italian for langoustine. I’d only ever had langoustines once before at Bartolotta at the Wynn in Vegas. It was one of the tastiest sea creatures I’d ever eaten; I was ecstatic to get a taste of them again. I was so excited when they brought out the dish and I saw the lobster-shrimp creatures in the dish along with mussels, clams, octopus, and squid.

The dish was incredible. We used up all the bread at our table to soak up all the sauce. I could have eaten a whole other portion of this!

Antica Porta paccheri seafood pasta

Tomorrow, I’ll recount our culinary adventures in Venice. It only gets better from here!

Florence Food Finds Day 1 (Sunday, February 6)

After a night in London, we caught our plane from Gatwick Airport to Venice, Italy. From Venice, we hopped on a train to Florence. That Sunday evening, it didn’t seem like there were many places open. Instead of wandering aimlessly, we asked the concierge of our hotel (Hotel Villa Carlotta) what restaurants nearby were open. He recommended Antica Porta, so we headed down the hill from the hotel toward the restaurant.

Antica Porta

When we arrived at the restaurant, there were 4 servers/waitresses in their late teens/early 20s. Three of them were a bit hesitant to take us to our table, urging the fourth girl to assist us. From what we could surmise, the other girls urged our server to help us as she knew the most English.

She brought us a menu in both English and Italian. Sometimes I think this is a bad sign when in a foreign country, but in this case it wasn’t at all. We were starving, so we started off with the pecorino and salami platter. The quantity was a bit more than we expected, but we weren’t going to let any of it go to waste! The platter came with a delicious roasted red pepper tapenade that was just the perfect blend of smoky and sweet flavors. Together with a piece of pecorino and salami on a bit of Italian bread, it was a lovely start to our meal. I don’t think I’d ever had pecorino with such a sharp, rich flavor before!

Antica Porta Salami and Pecorino Romano

We followed that up with the Fonduta di tartufo nero e porcini pizza, black truffle and porcini mushroom pizza Tuscan style. It had a very thin crust, so it was a bit difficult to eat. That didn’t stop us from enjoying every last bite. There were decent size pieces of shaved black truffle and nice big pieces of porcini mushrooms. There was also some truffle oil drizzled all over for a little extra flavor. This was probably the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. It was so tasty, we almost forgot to take a picture!

Antica Porta Tartufo Nero Pizza

After the pizza, we were worried if anything else would live up to that! Luckily, the spinach and ricotta gnudi with buffalo mozzarella in a ragu sauce did not disappoint. The gnudi were rich, savory pillows with a veil of buffalo mozzarella covering each gnudi. The ragu added a tartness and meatiness that made each bite even tastier. Had we not started out with the salami platter, I guarantee you Mike and I would’ve ordered another order of the gnudi!

Antica Porta Ricotta Gnudi

After all that, we still had a tiny bit of room for something sweet. Not wanting anything too heavy, we decided upon the vanilla gelato with pine nuts and chocolate sauce. The gelato had such good vanilla flavor and the dark chocolate sauce added to each bite. The pine nuts throughout the vanilla gelato added another layer of flavor. It was like a deconstructed klondike bar with an Italian twist!

Antica Porta Vanilla Gelato and Pine Nuts

After such a delightful meal, we hiked back up the hill to the Hotel Villa Carlotta and fell fast asleep. Just a quick note, I would recommend the Hotel Villa Carlotta to anyone visiting Florence. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from the Duomo, but it’s so lovely and affordable. We reserved the hotel for 3 nights through Hotwire, for $65 a night! It had a nice bathroom with a shower and a decent bed. The staff was very helpful and nice. Also, the hotel has a free breakfast each morning with quite the spread including various bread, rolls, croissants, pastries along with a selection of salami, ham, prosciutto. They also had breakfast cereals, granola, and boiled eggs. The breakfast service also included tea, juice, coffee, and capuccinos/espresso.

More Florence Food Finds on Tuesday!

A Taste of London

So after a bit of a hiatus, I’m back! But before catching up on my un-Happy Hour at Lecosho with my best friend Jenn of Amateur Gourmand, I’ve got to post about Mike and my recent trip to Florence and Venice, including a night in London.

Since we’d have been too rushed trying to jet from Heathrow to Gatwick for a flight to Venice on the day we arrived from Seattle, we decided to stay the night in London. We had a few evening hours to kill, so we walked around near Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben. But before heading off to do that, we needed some food to sustain us.

After some walking around, we came across Bumbles Restaurant. They had a 3-course set price menu, so we decided it would suit our budget. While compared to the food we ate in Italy it wasn’t earth shattering, it was a good meal worth writing about.

Mike started off with the fish cakes and baked beans, while I went with the onion soup. Mike quite enjoyed the fish cakes and baked beans. I just thought it was okay, but that was more due to the texture than the flavors. I will admit the cakes tasted good in combination with the beans.

Bumbles fish cakes

The onion soup (as you can see) was just a simple onion soup, like french onion without the fanfare. It was good, but not great.

Bumbles onion soup

Then, came the entrees. Mike went with the roast pork with spiced aubergine (eggplant) and new potatoes. The pork was so succulent with a great flavor. The eggplant puree was spiced with curry, which really worked well with the pork! The new potatoes were delicious as well.

Bumbles Roast Pork

I had ordered the Devonshire lamb bolognese. While it was unlike any Italian bolognese I’d ever had, it was an interesting English take on a pasta dish. The lamb’s flavor really shined through even though it was ground; there was a healthy portion of lamb throughout the sauce, which was very hearty and comforting. And while I am not crazy about spaghetti noodles, I enjoyed them in this dish.

Bumbles Devonshire Lamb Bolognese

For dessert, Mike went with the vanilla ice cream while I decided on the yoghurt mousse.

Bumbles Dessert

While the vanilla ice cream was just fine, I couldn’t get enough of the yoghurt mousse! Imagine the flavor of Red Mango yogurt with the texture of a light mousse combined with some berry coulis, crushed gingerbread cookies, and meringue. It was so refreshing and a perfect end to the meal.

Bumbles Yoghurt Parfait

And since we were in a magical land where they exist, Mike and I had to make sure to get a Zinger Tower Burger while we were in the UK. This fabled burger first came into our lives while living in South Korea, a treat I’d only indulge in when going on vacation flying out of Incheon Airport. Imagine a spicy Zinger burger fillet with a hash brown and American cheese on top – need I say more? The UK variety (pictured below) adds salsa into the mix, which honestly really isn’t necessary. While it wasn’t as great as its Korean counterpart, it was still yummy (and something unattainable in the good ol’ U S of A).

KFC Zinger Tower Burger

I’ll be working tonight to format and upload all my pictures from Florence and Venice, so look out for those posts later this week!