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!

Update!

So I haven’t forsaken my blog, I’ve just been a bit busy. Mike and I spent a week in Italy (Florence and Venice) followed by a week working in Cork, Ireland. I promise a blog update tonight with a recap of all the delicious food eaten in Italy!

Prego!

Review: Hard Rock Cafe

After running some errands downtown, the boyfriend and I decided to check out the Happy Hour at the Hard Rock Cafe since we’d had a good time at the Yelp Rock Star Elite Event we’d been to the week before. Happy Hour runs until 7PM Monday through Friday, so it’s a good choice if you can’t hit one of the earlier happy hours downtown. Draft beers are 50% off (under $3), Washington wines are $5, and I believe $3.50 wells. The starters menu is also 50% off during happy hour (except for the Jumbo Combo).

So to start things off, Mike went with a pint of Longhammer IPA. I chose the Maryhill pinot gris. I will say they pour a generous glass of wine for $5!

hardrock_hh_beer_wine

As we were quite hungry, we ordered three appetizers starting with the potato skins. Each item was around $5, ($10~ish non-happy hour price) so we wanted to make sure we got enough food. With happy hours, you never know if they will be full portions or ‘happy hour’ portions.

The potato skins were very tasty and were cooked just right. The bottoms of the skins were crispy but not overdone, and the potato itself wasn’t dried out. And the bacon on top was sweet and smokey! Combined with the melted cheese and green onions, it was one of the best potato skins I’ve had in a bar!

hardrock_potato_skins

Then came the hot wings, a bar food that often disappoints. For $5 during Happy Hour, you get 10 juicy, meaty Hickory Smoked Chicken Wings. We opted for the classic buffalo style this time to see what the ‘baseline’ chicken wing was like. Next time, we may branch out to the Heavy Metal or Tangy Bar-B-Que sauces!

I was quite impressed with the wings. They were each a decent size, and the chicken was moist and flavorful. The buffalo sauce was a great balance of spicy, vinegary, and salty. Oftentimes, I find hot wing sauce is too salty; but I quite enjoyed these wings!

hardrock_hot_wings

And to end things, we decided to try the Santa Fe Spring Rolls. I was expecting more of a thick egg roll wrapper as I’ve had this type of thing in the past, but I was pleasantly surprised when the dish came out. They actually use a thin spring roll wrapper, so the dish while fried wasn’t too heavy. The spring rolls were filled with spinach, black beans, cilantro, corn, jalapeƱos, diced red peppers and Jack cheese. I think the spinach in the rolls really added a creamy texture and a unique flavor that really made this quite an enjoyable dish. And another great deal at $5 during Happy Hour!

hardrock_santa_fe_spring_rolls

All in all, the Hard Rock Cafe happy hour is a good choice if you’re downtown looking for decent drinks and good bar food. The two bartenders we had serve us (Tony at the Yelp event, and Jeremy at the bar during HH) were both awesome, so the service is a plus as well! And in the summer, it’s even better if you snag a spot on the rooftop!

Check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Review: Toulouse Petit

While I didn’t make it out to Happy Hour this week, I did get a chance to enjoy breakfast at Toulouse Petit this morning. And since their entire breakfast menu is available at Happy Hour prices ($7 for most items) Monday – Friday from 9am – 11am, I’m counting this as my ‘happy hour’ review of the week. So you get a brunch/breakfast review and a happy hour review for the price of one!

My friend Lillian and I met at Toulouse Petit at about 10:30. It was a bit full, but we were seated within 10-15 minutes. Bigger groups will definitely have a longer wait on the weekends, but a small group of 2-4 shouldn’t have too long of a wait.

We kicked things off with some cocktails. Lillian ordered the mimosa, and I went with the Breakfast Flip (navan vanil, bakon vodka, irish cream, maple syrup) since I’d wanted to try a cocktail with Bakon Vodka! The drink was quite tasty, reminiscent of a white russian without the heaviness. I couldn’t really get much of a bacon flavor, but tasted more of the maple and vanilla flavors. All in all, a good drink to order in lieu of a white russian. All their breakfast cocktails are $6.95 before 7pm, so it’s a decent deal.

mimosa_breakfastflip

While I didn’t get it this time, the Madame Toulouse ’76 (Finlandia grapefruit, sparkling wine, peach puree, honey), a play on the classic French ’76, is another fantastic breakfast cocktail I’d definitely recommend. I’m not a grapefruit vodka fan, but the combination of ingredients really balances the grapefruit flavor.

After a good 10 minutes debating what to order from the impressive breakfast menu, the two of us finally made our choices. Lillian went with the Prime Rib Eye Steak and Eggs ($15, $10 during HH), while I decided on the Duck Confit Hash ($11, $7 during HH).

I had a bite of the Prime Rib Eye Steak, and it was fantastic. It was lightly seasoned, so the flavor of the steak really shined through. It was cooked medium rare and served with potatoes, arugula atop the steak, and two eggs (she ordered them sunny side up). Definitely a good choice for those who enjoy steak & eggs for breakfast! As you can see, it was a hearty portion of steak!

steak_and_eggs

The Duck Confit Hash was definitely an excellent choice! It was in a Worcestershire type sauce that gave the dish just enough ‘bite’ as not to overpower the other flavors. I ordered my 2 eggs poached, which was (in my opinion) the way to go for this one! Each bite had a bit of the egg white, yolk, duck confit and either a potato, parsnip or piece of asparagus! It was also topped with arugula, which wilted just enough. It was a great accent to the dish! I have no complaints about this one. My only regret was that I didn’t have a piece of toast to sop up the sauce!

duck_confit_hash

All in all, an excellent Sunday brunch! I’ll definitely be back – so many menu items I’ve simply got to try. Check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp.

Review: Issian Seattle

I figured I’d kick things off with a review of my favorite restaurant in Seattle, Issian. But this time, we made it to happy hour and stayed until close (9pm!). And before I begin, my apologies for the length! To be fair, we were there for 3 hours. It reminded me of going out to dinner in Seoul, no rushing just enjoying eating and the company of good friends.

First, I’ve got to say that their happy hour is a great deal. It runs everyday from 4:30pm to 6:30pm, with both food and drink specials.

The highlights are the $1 yakiton (kurobuta/black pig pork belly) and yakitori (chicken thigh) kushiyaki (skewers)! For that alone, it’s worth it. But then you’ve got 9 other happy hour food items ranging from $2-4 to round out the HH food menu. The drink menu will keep you going as well; with draft beer (including Sapporo), house red/white wine, and small house sake all only $2.80 each (large sake is $4.50). All bottled sake is half off, but that’s a story for another day!

We started ordering off the Happy Hour menu. The yakiton kushiyaki was a must, but we tried out the yakitori as well. Just a touch of black pepper and salt on the yakiton is all that’s needed to really bring out the awesome, rich, melt-in-your mouth flavor of the pork belly. And just a little tidbit, kurobuta/black/Berkshire pigs are much more delicious than their pink counterparts!

The yakitori had a sweet glaze that wasn’t too sweet or overpowering, but highlighted the dark chicken thigh meat.

We also gave the gyoza a whirl. While it wasn’t mind-blowing, the balance of pork and ginger flavors was quite good and the crunchy wrapper was cooked just right.

The agedashi tofu, however, was quite delicious. My boyfriend is not always a fan of tofu, but he really enjoyed this dish as the texture of the tofu was ‘firm enough’ for him. The tentsuyu broth was very good, and the tofu was fried to a perfect consistency!

We’d gone out with 2 friends of ours who enjoy Issian as much as we do, so we had to get the JFC (Japanese Fried Chicken, aka karaage). The boneless lightly marinated chicken coated gently in flour is a must-have (along with those pork belly skewers). It’s hard not to order it every time!

Our friends left at this point in the meal. My boyfriend and I were still a bit hungry, so we decided to continue on. To be fair, I’d been to Issian a fair amount of times in the past few months while he had not. He was making up for lost time.

We dove right in, ordering the half omakase sashimi plate (2 slices each of 4 different fish of the chef’s choosing). For the price and the quality, I’ve not found a better place that Issian for sashimi. This time around, we were served (from left to right) yellowfin, seared albacore, octopus, and yellowtail. Each fish had great flavor and texture; and while I don’t always enjoy octopus, the octopus at Issian was cooked just enough (not too tough) and had incredible flavor.

While we were waiting for our sashimi to come out, the server brought us some tempura lotus root – a first for me. I’m not usually a fan of lotus root (often has a weird flavor and texture, in my opinion), but I did enjoy it tempura style!

And since it’d been so long, we went all out. We finished the meal ordering scallop sashimi, duck no robata yaki, and yaki onigiri.

The scallop sashimi took a while to come out, so the server brought us a seaweed salad, apologizing for the wait. The seaweed salad at Issian is more ‘Korean style’, with a sesame dressing as opposed to the ‘Japanese style’, which has more of a vinegar dressing. That being the case, it was delicious as I’m not too crazy about the Japanese style seaweed salad.

The scallop sashimi was worth the wait. It was extremely fresh and incredibly sweet. Issian is the first place I’d tried scallop sashimi (on my first visit), and if it’s on the fresh fish menu, I can’t resist ordering it! If you are a sashimi fan, then I highly suggest giving the scallop sashimi a try.

A little while after, the yaki onigiri (grilled rice ball) came out. This is another must-have in my book. So simple, but so delicious. Just a forewarning, it takes about 10-20 minutes to cook, so order it earlier rather than later. For me, it’s a perfect item toward the end of the meal. The rice ball is grilled on a wire rack, and the soy sauce brushed on the outside caramelizes as it cooks!

And to end things, we had the duck no robata yaki. This is probably one of my favorite duck dishes and one of my very favorite items on the Issian menu. Perfectly seared, sliced duck breast with the most amazing green onion sauce (green onion, boiled peanuts, and garlic) is placed atop a bed of mixed greens and balsamic vinegar. The juice from the duck mixes with the balsamic vinegar to form an awesome ‘dressing’ for the greens. The greens sit upon a puffed up rice cake, akin to the saifun noodles you find in Mongolian beef. And for $9.50, it’s a steal!

Throughout the meal, we had a few large sakes. This is one of the few places where the house hot sake is quite good and doesn’t make you want to reach for a drink of water after each sip! And you get to choose your own sake cup, which is a fun plus.

To sum it up: Issian is a great place to enjoy an affordable meal of delicious sashimi/sushi, authentic casual Japanese cuisine, and sake. Go during happy hour to get even more bang for your buck!

And since we didn’t have room for the Maguro no Kama (tuna collar) this time, you can bet I’ll be back with another review of Issian.

Check them out on Yelp and Facebook!