Racing Through Rome

Tiramisu di Fragola at L'Asino d'Oro (home of the best lunch deal in Rome)

I have written an article about the the food we ate on a recent trip to Rome for Parla Food, a site that records the personal thoughts of food and travel writer Katie Parla. I hope you enjoy the piece, as well as the rest of her Italy and Turkey focused content.

New Yorkers, Londoners and Romans (does anyone use that term anymore?) should take note that Katie is also introducing a series of culinary events later this year. These should prove to be very interesting and fun.

You can find photo sets of most of the meals we had in Rome (as well as in Umbria) within my Flickr sets.

Buon appetito!

Advertisements

My (2-week) Life in France

La Belle France

After some substantial Eurostar hell, after the stress of finding an alternate route to the distant shores of France (along with +30k people), and after eventually arriving in Paris a few days later than planned, my winter life in France turned out to be wonderful, as usual. I just wish it could have been for longer than 2 weeks.

In the end, we had about 1.5 days in Paris before we headed up to see Mrs. LF’s family in Normandy. In those 36 hours or so, we managed to sample treats from Ladurée, Fauchon, Gérard Mulot, Pierre Hermé, have lunch at a traditional neighborhood bistrot (Chez Janou, on the edge of Le Marais), and dine in what is possibly one of the finest restaurants in the world right now (but that will be covered off in a later post).

Once in Normandy, we had our traditional Christmas dinner in a many centuries-old farmhouse in a remote village with a warm fireplace, followed by lunch there again the next day, and then a very enjoyable New Year’s Eve meal (and dancing) at a newly relaunched restaurant in Caen.

I hope you enjoy my little photo-diary post. It certainly was a delicious and fulsome trip. As always, you can click on any of the images for the full-resolution versions.

Le Menu de Paris

~ Petit-Déjeuner à Ladurée ~

Le Breakfast Room Upstairs at the Rue Royal Branch

Mrs. LF decided on Le Petit-Déjeuner Ladurée while I ordered a few pastries. It was all a bit expensive (as one would expect), but this was one of the better Chausson aux Pommes I've had, and the Kouign Amann - one of my favorite French pastries, and one that is hard to find here - was to die for!

Mrs. LF had an amazingly thick and luscious hot chocolate, while I opted for coffee - I thought the little silver pot of sweeteners was cute

Trading Paper for Pastries

We didn't have any (because it was breakfast time & we were already stuffed) but we spied some of their beautiful macarons on our way out down, heading down the stairs

The usual beautiful decorations within the Galeries Lafayette department store. We shopped the rest of the day & then had our special dinner (not covered in this post), so no more food photos from Day 1 - sorry 🙂

~ Pâtisseries de Gérard Mulot ~

I always try to stop by Gérard Mulot in Rue de Seine to sample some of their wonderful bread or pastries. So, the next morning we opted for some breakfast pastries from Mssr. Mulot & took them to a nearby café to have them with our morning caffeine injection - an inspired idea indeed

The amazingly tempting window of Gérard Mulot in Rue de Seine

Le Pain

L'étoffe petit-déjeuner

Les pâtisseries

I love this photo & it reminds me of my coffee and brilliant bready breakfast morsels from Mr. Mulot (we took them to a nearby café in the French way)

~ Déjeuner Chez Janou ~

My favorite barman in London, Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes Bar in Mayfair, had highly recommended this neighorhood bistrot (they have over 80 varieties of pastis, which is why he may have heard of them), and after Oliver Thring reported that he had a good meal there a few weeks prior to our trip, we figured we'd stop by to warm ourselves after looking through the shops of Le Marais and the art galleries of Place des Vosges

Yes, over 80 types of pastis, impressive...

They have posters from Marcel Pagnol's plays/movies on the walls and it really has a great atmosphere - I mean, if Gregg Wallace had been there, he might have said 'It doesn't get more Parisian than this' 🙂

Starter: Salade d'endives, Sauce au Bleu et Noix - a really nice simple salad to start things off

Main Course 1: Sauté de Lapin aux Olives & Pommes Fondantes - this was a classic bistrot dish that was well done, the sauce was very moreish and the rabbit delicious

Main Course 2: Filet d'elingue, Sauce Citronnel, Riz Pilaf - Mrs. LF's dish was also solid bistrot fare, a very good dish all in all

Dessert: Poêlú d'ananas et Mangue à la Vanille et Lait de Coco - a very refreshing end to the meal, and a great deal overall (they had a 3-course lunch deal for €12.80, not bad eh?). Included in the lunch were also some very delicious marinated olives before the starters arrived and a basket of dried fruits and nuts that were presented with the bill. Tres excellent!

On the way out we spied some of the many pastis (and other liquid treats) they had at the back side of their bar (which wrapped around and had two sides) - cool place & glad we paid a visit

~ Macarons de Chez Pierre Hermé ~

Alright, the moment had finally arrived. After having breakfast pastries from Mssr. Mulot, we went to pay a visit to the shrine of macarons that is Pierre Hermé. I have always been a loyal devotee of their rival, Ladurée, and was curious to try out what are meant to be the best macarons aorund. It looked more like a fancy shoe shop or something like that from outside. Me likey 🙂

Yes, here they were, finally, all arranged beautifully in the little chic boutique - but which ones to choose...?

And there were some beautiful cakes too - but too big for 2 people walking around Paris

They also had some interesting looking pastries, like this Isfahan Croissant, which I would *assume* gets its name from the famous Iranian region & maybe as it has rose flavoring or something like that (?). We finally tasted the macarons on the train ride up to Normandy and they were unbelievably good. I had previously been a proponent of Laduée, but Mr. Hermé's definitely have the edge: they have more filling, the texture in the middle is a tad bit goo-ier and they have some amazing & original flavor combinations, which appear to change with the seasons (somewhat). I am so glad this guy is finally coming to London in February 2010!

Le Menu de Normandie

~ Building up to the Big Day ~

So, we took the train up to Deauville in time to make it for dinner on Mrs. LF's mother's birthday...and were greeted with bright blue Norman skies - here is a typical house from old Deauville

Hotel Normandy Barrière, smack-bang in the center of beautiful Deauville - it has recently been upgraded to 5 stars, apparently

This little dog (yes - he is real) achieved a small measure of twitter fame when I posted pictures of him a few weeks ago. He was really the cutest thing I've ever seen, and was the mascot of a cute little shop in Trouville. Apparently, when the owners take him out for a walk, he decides where he will be taking them! Cheeky little thing 🙂

~ The Big Christmas (Eve) Dinner ~

We began the annual ritual of Christmas dinner late on Christmas Eve (as is the tradition in France) in a centuries-old farmhouse in a village of less than 100 people with a roaring fire and many presents under the tree. Equally as traditionally, we started with some foie gras, which was accompanied by a lovely jelly. It was very high quality & delectable

The accompanying Jurançon wine went beautifully with the foie gras, a much lighter and less cloyingly sweet wine than the traditional Sauternes, with a brightness and acidity that kept me coming back for more

After the foie gras, a turkey was presented in the middle of the table, after which a bit of chaos ensued

The turkey, which was courtesy of the farm next door, was served with a lovely stuffing and some of the best potatoes in the world - after all, they were from Mr. & Mrs. G's garden right outside

We had a nice little bordeaux to go with the poultry main course, it went down smoothly (quite a few times)

And of course, being in France, even though everyone was stuffed by this point, we had to have some cheese...luckily there were some amazing ones on offer from the region

Which of course necessitated some baguettes

But that wasn't all. You see, Mrs. G has a little Christmas tradition, it's called her secret cake. In fact, it seems to be used for most occasions, as her grandchildren request it for their birthdays and other celebrations. We all love it and look forward to it. And Mrs. LF has finally gotten the recipe after some crafty maneuvering . It is a very Norman cake, as it is essentially 5 tons of butter, layered together with a token bit of coffee flavor added. That is well scientific, innit. But seriously, it is veeeery good. And just look at that cute decoration...

A close-up of that buttery goodness

My 'petit' slice 🙂

The aftermath of the christmas cake - poor Frosty got caught in the fray...

Ah, did I mention we went through a good deal of Champagne both before and during the festivities? (Evidence above)

And so it was, our lovely Christmas Eve celebration...but wait, that's not all...

~ The Big Christmas (Day) Lunch ~

The next day we returned to do it all over again, and we were greeted by Mr. & Mrs. G's striking feline

We were warmly welcomed by the family and then plied with a fresh platter of smoked salmon...

...and meat...

...and the left-over wine...

Putting it all together

...but then realized that this wasn't even the main course...THIS was!

I had a visit from the cat, she was hungy for left-overs too 🙂

~ Indulgences Between Christmas & New Year’s ~

In the intervening period between Christmas and New Year's, Mrs. LF and I visited old friends and indulged some more...and some more...this was some champagne we had at a friend's house, which he said was his favorite (the only one he drinks). It was rather nice - anyone ever heard of it?

The same friends had prepared some homemade foie gras as well (it's all the rage right now in France), which was lovely with the champagne

As some of Mrs. LF's family lives in Caen, we spent a good deal of time there too...this was a nice shot of one of the many churches (it was soooo bright there during our trip)

I was quite proud of this shot taken from a back-alley in downtown Caen

After all that walking in the cold, we were hungry and decided to go to an Italian place which was packed (when most other places were empty) - it turned out to be a good decision & this was my HUGE turkey escalope w/ pasta (where did they think they were, America?), which was very good & satisfying

Mrs. LF's very satisfactory pizza from La Buona Tavola in Caen

I really liked the little bowl they served the parmesan in - it looked like the skin that usually encircles the rind

And my petit café to get me through the rest of the day

Another night, we went for a couscous with friends in Deauville - it's called Restaurant Berbère (www.berbere-deauville.com) & they served some of the best couscous I've had - look at the beautiful snow-like couscous, it was feather-light & amazing!

The main courses were beautifully presented & really delicious

The meat fell off the bone and was to die for - yum!

~ Images from Another Year’s Passing at Villa Eugène ~

We had a very small New Year's celebration with Mrs. LF's brother and wife. We went to a new & very stylish restaurant in Caen called Villa Eugéne (www.villa-eugene.fr), which had a great all-inclusive New Year's Eve menu for €82/person, including about 7 courses, canapés & une coupe de champagne

We started with an assortment of canapés, which came with a glass of champagne (I believe it was Moët and it was nice)

Ah yes, here's a shot of that Moët champagne - they had very pretty water glasses too

Oeufs de Caille au Foie Gras & Toc' l'oeuf aux Truffes - a very well presented and delicate start to the meal

Carpaccio de Homard Juste Tièd à l'huile d'Argan - a nice little lobster dish perfumed with Argan oil

Saint-Jacques Trufées en Habit d'algues, Services avec une Crème Truffe - the scallops were cooked well & cleverly concealed in green (algues), though the truffle didn't exactly come through for me

We were drinking a fairly nice bottle of Pouilly-Fumé alongside all of this fishy stuff…but back to the food

Mrs. LF's brother had decided to order some red wine to accompany the main course. It was a wine known by the short-hand name of 'Moulis' in France, and is apparently quite well known. It was a nice little wine, and all the components were there, I think it just needed a year or two more in bottle for it to really shine

Suprême de Chapon au Foie Gras et Morilles - the poultry main was served with two little fried numbers alongside (right), with a sauce of morille which was quite rich. Chapon is a castrated chicken, and this procedure is meant to increase tenderness, moistness and mass...it certainly was tender and tasted good but nothing out of this world. The stuffing within the chapon was a nice little surprise

Cromesquis de Camembert, Bouqet de Salade - these were some pretty ordinary cheese balls, but they were prettily presented as everything else had been

Chocolat Éphémère - this was a 'solid' chocolate dessert, whose shell melted when the hot chocolate was poured on top...I enjoyed it, but then again I enjoy most things with dark chocolate 🙂

Mousse Mangue Nougat aux Éclats de Macarons - this was actually better than the chocolate dessert and a very refreshing end to what had become a very long & enjoyable evening/morning

Well, the music was getting louder, people were dancing, I was a minor celebrity (being the only American, everyone wanted to tell me how much they had enjoyed their vacation there - whether 1 year or 20 years ago), it was now 2010 and I was going to need some coffee to get me through this night. It was served in those great cups that look like they're crinkled plastic...I saw them in the Conran Shop not long ago and have been tempted to buy them...I think they're really cool!

And so it was, a grand finale to 2009. Here’s looking at you 2010 – in the words of John Lenon, I hope it’s a good one…!

An Indian Summer & Autumnal Eating in the Heart of Italy

An abbreviated version of this article was recently published on CheapOair’s Travel Blog.

My wife and I recently took a short break to Umbria, the green heart of Italy, to visit my parents who are in the process of finally realizing their little Italian dream. About three years ago, they purchased a rather remote piece of land in the rolling hills of Umbria just north of the largest lake on mainland Italy, Lago Trasimeno, and are now in the last stages of completing their home on the site which was previously home to just a few scattered ruins.

Note: you can click on any of the photos for higher-resolution images.

Ryanair's Window in the Sky

En route to Bella Italia

The closest airport to the property is the tiny one located just outside of Perugia (San Egidio), the largest city of the area. It is only a 2-hour direct flight from our hometown of London via Ryanair, the Marmite of airlines (i.e. you either love it or hate it, although most people probably fall in the latter category), making it very convenient for a quick trip.

the italian project

The Italian Project – ‘Under Construction’

As the property is not yet habitable, we stayed for five nights in the charming hill town of Montone which, although just off the E45 motorway, is not visible from the road and therefore less visited by tourists. The small village is well worth a diversion, if only for an hour or two. Our base was the lovely and very affordable Hotel Fortebraccio, a newly constructed hotel with well designed modern and functional rooms (we stayed for €80/night).

balcony of our room at hotel fortebraccio

The morning view from our large private terrace to the hills behind Montone at Hotel Fortebraccio

palo's window to the world

The view of Montone from our architect’s offices

As my parents were busy making final selections on furniture and paint colors during the weekdays, we were able to slip away and take a few day trips. We were very lucky as the weather was unseasonably warm during the days, with pleasant breezes in the evenings, enabling us to make the most of our time in Italy.

Tuscany, Part I: Volterra & San Gimignano

 

On the first day, we drove into central Tuscany to see the pristine hill town of Volterra and the nearby walled medieval commune of San Gimignano with its fabled collection of ancient towers. I had been to both places about 15 years ago and was eager to see if they would live up to my fond memories. While they are both prime tourist haunts, both are certainly worth a visit, and we especially enjoyed our time in San Gimignano, with its wide variety of shops, architecture and (most importantly) some very good gelato!

can you get more italian than this?

Can you get more Italian than this?! A new maroon Fiat 500 on the outskirts of Volterra

some towers in san gimignano

A few of the many towers in San Gimignano

being hung out to dry

Some laundry hanging on the back streets of San Gimignano – a common scene throughout Italy

pluripremiata gelato - the best in tuscany? maybe...

Pluripremiata Gelarteria in the central piazza of San Gimignano – apparently some of the best you can get in the world! It certainly lived up to my memories from 15 years ago...

coffee & chocolate were meant to together, right?

The coffee was particularly amazing, and the texture of the gelato was a perfect smoothness

Tuscany Part II: Montalcino & Castello Banfi

 

Our second day trip took us to the town of Montalcino, which is about a 1.5 hour drive from Montone. The town is perched atop a hill that is most famous for its native Sangiovese grapes, as these are what the ever popular Italian cult wine of Brunello di Montalcino are made from.

church bells ringing in montalcino

One of the churches in Montalcino

pedestrian street in montalcino

A steep pedestrian street in Montalcino

streetscape in montalcino

A typical scene from Montalcino

Montalcino is yet another beautiful little village, but we didn’t have that much time to spend in the town itself as we had a reservation for lunch at Castello Banfi, one of the best-known (and the largest) producer of Brunello di Montalcino. We believed it was just outside the town, according to some rough maps we had to hand…

After attempting to use my blackberry’s GPS to navigate our way to the winery (which took us, and our little Mini rental car, down an extremely steep and narrow dirt road that lead to the middle of nowhere), then losing my rag when I realized (and finally admitted!) that we were very lost, and finally having my wife not talk to me for a what seemed like forever, we eventually made it to the castle about 45 minutes past our reservation time :). If you ever go there, please be warned that Banfi is a good half-hour drive from Montalcino!

Luckily, their Taverna Restaurant was still serving lunch and our table had not been taken. The food was quite simple for such a formal room, and generally looked better than it tasted. It was okay, but we had much better meals elsewhere for less money (see the end of this post for more details).  That said, the free tour of the winery, which took place directly after lunch, was truly fascinating and entertaining, and we greatly enjoyed our visit overall.

taverna dining room at castello banfi

The Taverna dining room at Castello Banfi

 

 

banfi olive oil at taverna dining room

Aside from making wine, Banfi also produces its own olive oil

fusilli with chianina beef

Homemade Fusilli with Chianina Beef IGP Ragoût

roast pork loin

Roast Pork Loin with Rosemary Flavored Potatoes

pear & chocolate tart

Pear & Chocolate Tart

selection of tuscan pecorino

Selection of Tuscan Pecorino with Montalcino Honey & Pine Nuts

castello banfi wines at taverna dining room

The meal was naturally paired with wines from the estate, of which the <2004 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino> (right) was by far the best, and one of the best I’ve had from this very good vintage for Brunellos

banfi guest pass

My guest pass for the winery tour

grappa is made from the dregs that don't make the cut (so to speak)

The remains of the day – they actually make Grappa (the popular Italian digestif) from the bits of the grapes that don’t make it through to wine production

new modern vats for white wine at banfi

Recently purchased gargantuan modern vats for fermenting the white wines

roll ‘em on out...

Roll ‘em on out...

the cellars at banfi - split over two levels

The cellars at Banfi are truly cavernous and take up two subterranean levels, with the smaller barrels located on the higher of the underground levels, and the larger barriques located further below

finest french oak and gamba italian barrels (the best)

They use only the finest French oak and the best barrel maker in Italy (Gamba)

cool light fixture down in the cellar at banfi

A very cool light fixture down below...and, before we leave the tour, did you know that Banfi produces 20% of all Brunello di Montalcino and a grand total of 10 million bottles per year when including all of their wines together?

Umbria: Deruta, Perugia & Assisi

 

The bulk of our remaining time was spent in and around Umbria with my family. I have to say that while Umbria may not be nearly as well-known or as well touristed as its more famous cousin Tuscany, whose central eastern border it shares, it certainly does have a lot to offer, and is often less full of foreigners and less costly than similar places in Tuscany.

The town of Deruta lies directly south of Montone down the E45. It is world-famous for its traditional, handmade ceramics industry, with a large percentage of most studios’ pieces being sold in the Unites States and other international markets. We were there to check out some potential designs for the dishes in our future Italian retreat (see below for some examples) and also meandered into the older part of the town which lies above the rows of ceramic shops that line the commercial streets below.

ceramics makers in deruta workshop

Some of the ceramic artists at work in Maioliche Originali Deruta (MOD), one of the better known ceramics houses

before the ovens...

Before the ovens...

traditional ceramic plates from deruta

...and after glazing, the final products

which way to the center of town?!

Heading into the old town...classic! Now which was it to the city center, again? Only in Italy 🙂

ceramics on the facades of old buildings in deruta's old town

The center of Deruta is small but cute, and there are clues to the town’s ceramic heritage, with beautiful old ceramic designs integrated into the facades of many buildings

We found a great little restaurant down a side street in the old town, which looked promising, and indeed had very good food. Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me remember the name now, and can’t find it on the internet either – sorry!

prosciutto with melon

Prosciutto with Melon (all dishes were served on beautiful modern Donitiani plates, which were atypical of the designs we saw elsewhere)

spaghetti with butter & truffles

Spaghetti with Butter & Truffles

chianina beef with balsamic

Chianina Beef with Balsamic

brunello di montalcino in deruta

And, of course, what else but a nice Brunello to wash down the meat?

Our penultimate afternoon was spent in Perugia. In reality, we ended up there because one of my relatives knew there was a fantastic gelateria there, and somehow we ended up parking directly in front of it without even realizing we had done so!

I didn’t know that the place my relative had been searching for was none other than GROM, probably the most famous Italian gelato maker. In recent years, its popularly has swelled both within Italy – where you can now find a branch in most major towns (we had our first in Venice earlier this year and loved it) – and also internationally, with shops recently opened in New York, Paris and Tokyo. Anyway, it is probably the best gelato that you can get consistently across Italy, and I was very excited to be trying it again as I wasn’t even thinking about going to one on this trip.

The GROM facade in Perugia

A gelateria, an Italian man & his Piaggio – we had arrived

GROM laboratory

The ‘laboratory’ within Perugia’s own GROM

the menu - all in blue

What to order, what to order...

GROM gelato in Perugia

You can get three flavors in one small dish (a great value). I loved my original Crema de GROM, Cioccolato Fondente (the less strong of the two dark chocolate flavors, the other being Extranoir) & Caramello al Sale (Salty Caramel) – yummmm!

Grom on Urbanspoon

a fiat and shades in the autumn umbrian sun

A Fiat and an Italian gentleman in shades in the Autumn Umbrian sun

three old men in perugia

Three old men relaxing on the main pedestrian stretch in Perugia

On our last day, we made the quick 30-minute car journey to Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis and home to the world-famous Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, which Christians from all over the world flock to for pilgrimage. We were pleasantly surprised at just how well-maintained this ancient town was, and couldn’t believe some if its immaculate preserved pedestrian streets. It was truly stunning.

meat & cheese in assisi

A food shop in Assisi

amazing little home on a pristine street in assisi

One of the pristine streets of Assisi

basilica of san francesco d'assisi

The front of Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

basilica di santa chiara atop assisi

Basilica di Santa Chiara atop Assisi

a dome viewed from afar

A dome viewed from afar

a snooze in the shade in assisi

An elderly gentleman having a snooze in the shade

Tuscany, Part III: The Hidden Gem of Sansepolcro & the Two Restaurant Jewels in its Crown

 

The one truly hidden gem of a town that we discovered on this trip just happened to be a little past the Umbrian border in the far eastern reaches of Tuscany. The town is called Sansepolcro and, while it certainly doesn’t look like much when you first drive in off the motorway, it has a little secret. Drive further in towards the middle and there lies an old walled city that is home to some very charming streets, some very good shopping and two restaurants which certainly deserve special mention, as the best meals we had on our trip were spent in them.

Da Ventura is both a restaurant and a small guest house. It is very traditional in its decor, with wooden beamed ceilings and wine bottles lining the open arched doorways.

traditional décor of da ventura restaurant in sansepolcro

The traditional décor of Da Ventura restaurant in Sansepolcro

Service is wonderfully personal and professional, and we quickly learned the one rule that all the locals abide by: order by the cart, live by the cart!

The wooden trolley is first rolled out at the beginning of the meal and is filled with an assortment of antipasti that will get you salivating. They also shave truffles on top of pasta on the cart if you order that for your appetizer.

gnocchetti starter at da ventura

A simple gnocchetti starter

pasta with fresh truffles being shaved on top

The neighboring table’s pasta, with fresh truffles being shaved on top

The cart is then pushed out again for the meaty main courses. On our visit, they were offering roasted Chianina beef, lamb and pork (by far the best of the three). The dessert selection is also presented on a trolley, and they just sort of put anything you want from the offering onto a plate for you.

veal carpaccio with truffles

My veal carpaccio with truffles

the meat cart with a wide selection of seasonal vegetables

The meat main course cart, with a wide selection of seasonal vegetables

desserts - off their trolleys

My selection of desserts - 'off their trolleys'

one of my parents’ desserts

And one of my parents’ selections

The neighboring table, which was made up of three Italian gentleman who were clearly locals and regulars, noticed that I kept staring at their food as it was being served – especially when the waiter just decided to give one of the men the last hunk of one of roasts, and slopped about 50 ounces of meat onto his plate along with the already large portion he had served him just before. While they were sipping on Vin Santo with their desserts, they asked me if I had tried it before, and told the waiter to give me a glass on their tab. The whole meal had that wonderful feeling throughout, and we really felt at home there even though our Italian left much to be desired.

 

But I would have to say the best meal we had by far was at Ristorante Fiorentino, which also doubles as a small hotel and is smack-bang in the center of the old town, a few blocks down from Da Ventura.

fiorentino’s night-time facade

Ristorante Fiorentino’s night-time facade

First established in 1807, the restaurant has been run by the Uccellini family for over 50 years. Alessio, the man who greets you at the desk upstairs, is clearly the owner and runs the show. He is a truly amazing character, who will regale you with tales of how he has played his little tricks and surprises on other customers over the years as he slowly plates up the restaurant’s wonderful homemade dessert from the impressive trolley. He has an amazing sense of humor and you can tell that this is a family affair through and through, which makes it all the more enjoyable. His daughter is a very professional sommelier and is also very affable.

alessio running the floor

Alessio running the floor

The food at Ristorante Fiorentino was also a bit of a departure from the menus we had become accustomed to in the region (which tend to be very similar, traditional and not all that inventive). They serve historical Tuscan dishes but also infuse elements of Renaissance cuisine into the dishes (i.e. in those times there were many sweet and sour combinations, or piquant and salty dishes at the same time), with some particularly interesting flavor, texture and temperature combinations.

legume soup with spelt ice cream

Legume Soup with Spelt Ice Cream – we were told it was inspired by Italian Renaissance cuisine

For example, I absolutely adored my starter of Legume Soup with Spelt Ice Cream. The bean soup by itself was perfectly fresh and good, but when eaten with the ever so slightly sweet spelt ice cream (which also had little bits of chewy grains scattered throughout) it was truly delicious and interesting.  You can see some more photos of the restaurant below, which I believe is a fitting way to bid you adieu from central Italy. Until next time: arrivederci!

alessio's momentos at ristorante fiorentino

On the way upstairs to the toilets, you can see a portrait of Alessio and some old memorabilia

grappa contraption at ristorante fiorentino

A fascinating contraption containing all types of grappa

alessio doing his thing - entertaining

Alessio does his thing – he juggles dessert dishes and flips them over (with the desserts still inside!) and somehow the contents don’t ever escape...

my home-made desserts at ristorante fiorentino

My selection of desserts tasted were out of this world...Strawberry Shortcake, Chocolate Pudding & Coffee Crème Caramel...I will definitely return to Ristorante Fiorentino on our next trip!

Allez et Retour en Normandie / Return Ticket to Normandy

On a recent weekend trip to Normandy, we visited the coastal towns of Arromanches-les-Bains and Colleville-sur-Mer. These are both locations that featured heavily in the war, and The Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial is located in Colleville-sur-Mer. It was a pretty unusual experience…the pristine and perfectly laid out graves go on forever and it does make you contemplate what took place there and the sacrifices that were made, i.e. ‘the price of freedom’. So just one picture of this beautiful memorial.

The Normandy Amiercan Cemetery & Memoria

The Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial

In any case, the title of this post is ‘Food Photos from Normandy’ so this is what you’ll have! I hope you enjoy them.

Arromanches-les-Bains

We stopped for lunch in Arromanches at the appropriately named 'Le Bistro d'Arromances' which looked cute from the outside

We stopped for lunch in Arromanches at the appropriately named 'Le Bistro d'Arromanches' which looked cute from the outside.

Le Bistrot d'Arromanches:

Le Bistrot d'Arromanches: A delicious Norman 'shrimp' cocktail with tangy homemade mayonnaise.

Le Bistrot d' Arromanches: A simple but well preapred goats cheese salad

Le Bistrot d' Arromanches: Mrs. LF ordered a simple but well prepared goats cheese salad.

Le Bistrot d'Arromanches: My mother in-law ordered the sea snails, one of the local delicacies, which she loved - they were chewy but tasty

Le Bistrot d'Arromanches: My mother in-law ordered the sea snails, one of the local delicacies, which she loved - they were chewy but tasty.

Le Bistrot d'Arromanches: I also ordered what I thought would be a 'side' salad of mozzarella and tomato - as you can see, it was huge, and the mozzarella was much less salty & creamier than the Italian varieties I am used to

Le Bistrot d'Arromanches: I also ordered what I thought would be a 'side' salad of mozzarella and tomato - as you can see, it was huge, and the mozzarella was much less salty & creamier than the Italian varieties I am used to.

On the way to the bistro we had spotted this ice cream shop, which looked pretty good - we had a few scoops after lunch and the chocolate was particularly dark, rich and creamy...

Compagnie des Glaces: On the way to the bistro we had spotted this ice cream shop, which looked pretty good - we had a few scoops after lunch and the chocolate was particularly dark, rich and creamy...

Some of the flavors on offer - again, that chocolate was rather tasty!

Compagnie des Glaces: Some of the flavors on offer - again, that chocolate was rather tasty!

Ouistreham

We strolled through Ouistreham (where the ferry back to Portsmouth departs) and Mrs. LF really fancied a gauffre (waffle) - she only likes the French version and prefers it with Nutella

Just before departing to come back, we strolled through Ouistreham (where the ferry back to Portsmouth departs) and Mrs. LF really fancied a gauffre (waffle) - she only likes the French version and prefers it with Nutella.

I was actually the only one to get Nutella (the rest of the family wussed out and had just sugar) - it was one of the best I've ever had, perfectly crispy and cooked through properly (i.e. none of that mushy dough-ey mess in the middle)

I was actually the only one to get Nutella (the rest of the family wussed out and had theirs sugar-dusted instead) - it was one of the best I've ever tasted without exaggeration, perfectly crisp and cooked through properly (i.e. none of that mushy doughy mess in the middle) - again, American-sized portions...I was liking it :).

Brittany Ferries (Mont St. Michel Boat) – Seriously!

On the boat back we decided to have dinner at the relatively new 'Le Comptoir de Saveurs' on Brittany Ferreis' Mont St. Michel boat: this was the first time I'd travelled to France by ferry and I was extremely impressed with the quality of food on-board (just wait 'till you see the next photos), even in the self-serve cafeteria section. For instance, the raspberry tart we had on the way there was fantastic and much better than most tarts I've have in the UK, even at supposedly good places

Le Comptoir de Saveurs (Brittany Ferries): On the trip back we decided to have dinner at the relatively new restaurant area called 'Le Comptoir de Saveurs' on Brittany Ferreis' Mont St. Michel boat. This was the first time I'd travelled to France by ferry and I was extremely impressed with the quality of food on-board (just wait 'till you see the next photos), even in the self-serve cafeteria section. For instance, the raspberry tart we had on the way there was fantastic and much better than most fruit tarts I've tasted in the UK, even at supposedly good places. And it was less than €2 - amazing value, no? Sorry, no picture of that.

My scallop starter was very nice - I had to keep reminding myself I was on a ferry! The presentation was beautiful and while the scallops were slightly tough, the flavors were all very distinct and went well together. I particularly like the very sweet itsy bitsy cherry tomatoes that were served on the side

Le Comptoir de Saveurs (Brittany Ferries): My scallop starter was very nice - I had to keep reminding myself I was on a ferry! The presentation was beautiful and while the scallops were slightly tough, it had a nice sweet taste and the accompanying flavors were all very distinct and went well together. I particularly like the very sweet itsy-bitsy cherry tomatoes that were served on the side.

Brittany Ferries Mont St. Michel (Le Comptoir de Saveurs) - Chicken Salad

Le Comptoir de Saveurs (Brittany Ferries): Mrs. LF ordered the chicken salad, which she was very surprised by as it was exceptionally good (and, as I've said before, she is very fussy with her salads and vinaigrettes!).

The apple crumble very satisfying and was served with fresh cream and a cold shot of calvados, which I thought was a nice touch and was something you'd expect in a nice restaurant, not a ferry (sorry to bang on about this, but it's true!).

Le Comptoir de Saveurs (Brittany Ferries): We shared the apple crumble, which was delicious and very satisfying. It was served with thick fresh cream and a cold shot of calvados, which I thought was a nice touch and was something you'd expect in a nice restaurant, not a ferry (sorry to bang on about this, but it's true!).

They made my espresso exactly as asked for (and understood what I meant by a 'long' espresso - rare occurrence indeed). It was even served with a little chocolate cookie and a chocolate ice cream cube - plus a fancy sugar crystal twizzler. The other great part about this meal is that it came to under £30 total, including a glass of Pouilly Fusse which was about £7. We ate leisurely, read our books and looked out the window at the passing sea...au revoir for now...

Le Comptoir de Saveurs (Brittany Ferries): They made my espresso exactly as asked for (and understood what I meant by a 'long' espresso - rare occurrence indeed). It was even served with a little chocolate biscuit and a chocolate ice cream cube - plus a fancy sugar crystal twizzler. Again, very posh and nice. The other great part about this meal is that it came to under £30 total, including a glass of Pouilly-Fuissé which was about £7. Such good value. We ate leisurely, read our books and looked out the window at the passing sea...au revoir for now...

American Food Porn

I plan to post a few in-depth reviews of restaurants I visited while in the US of A in the coming week, but I thought it would be worth posting some food and drink related photos from the trip in order to share some of the nice and interesting things I ate and experienced over the 9 days. I hope you enjoy them :).

I don't know if you've had it, but I really do like Pinkberry frozen yogurt, which began in Los Angeles and is now in many cities across the US - this one was their plain yogurt flavor with some strawberries & mangos on top

I don't know if you've had it, but I really do like Pinkberry frozen yogurt, which began in Los Angeles and is now in many cities across the US - this one was their plain yogurt flavor with some strawberries & mangos on top

Pinkberry - Almond & Strawberry

This iteration had almonds & raspberries

Pinkberry on Urbanspoon

On our first weekend in the New York Area, we were invited to a barbecue at the house of my brother's good friend...amazingly fresh asparagus & corn-on-the-cob (it has taken me a few years to get Mrs. LF to admit that un-tinned corn is not just food for cows!)

On our first weekend in the New York Area, we were invited to a barbecue at the house of my brother's good friend...amazingly fresh asparagus & corn-on-the-cob (it has taken me a few years to get Mrs. LF to admit that un-tinned corn is not just food for cows!)

There were also pork chops and vegetable kebabs...mmm...

There were also marinated pork chops and vegetable kebabs...mmm...

Bu the thing that took the cake was the lamb, which had been marinated in an Indian marinade for looong time - succulent. It was so good, I nearly ate it all before I rememberd to take a photo!

But the thing that took the cake was the lamb, which had been marinated in an Indian marinade for looong time - succulent. It was so good, I nearly ate it all before I remembered to take a photo! BTW - his wife had also made a delicious Japanese noodle dish, which was perfectly refreshing for the summer weather

We went for burnch one day at my Aunt's favorite diner in her town of Great Neck (Long Island) - always a safe bet

We went for brunch one day at my Aunt's favorite diner in her town of Great Neck (Long Island). It has been around for ages, and despite its looks, it has good service and the food is a safe bet

Proper waffles with bacon & maple syrup - what can go wrong with that?

Proper waffles with bacon, maple syrup & a poached egg on the side - what can go wrong with that?

I know, I know...more bagels, but hey, when you're in Rome...Anyhow, the more interesting thing about this one is that it is 'scooped'. In the US, you can now ask for them to scoop out the dough-ey bits in the middle, leaving mostly the crisp outside crust, which is a very good option - in the words of Borat: "I liike, is niice"

I know, I know...more bagels, but hey, when you're in Rome...Anyhow, the more interesting thing about this one is that it is 'scooped'. In the US, you can now ask for them to scoop out the dough-ey bits in the middle, leaving mostly the crisp outside crust, which is a very good option - in the words of Borat: "I liike, is niice"

I just like this image because it is so American

I just like this image because it is so American

This is the facade of Carnegie Deli, one of the true NYC institutions, with sandwiches that will cause an on-the-spot heart attack (they have one called the 'heart attack sandwich). But even with their schtick of rude service, it is a damn good deli. Didn't get to go on this visit unfortunately

This is the facade of Carnegie Deli, one of the true NYC institutions, with sandwiches that will cause an on-the-spot heart attack (they actually have one called the 'heart attack sandwich'). But even with their schtick of rude service and their branching out to Las Vegasit, is still a decent deli. Didn't get to go on this visit though

Carnegie Deli on Urbanspoon

I found this invitation to taste wine in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California quite amusing

I found this invitation to taste wine in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California quite amusing

This was some really good French onion soup we had at a great little restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea called Bouchee

This was some really good French onion soup we had at a great little restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea called Bouchee

Bouchee also served up a mean salad nicoise during our lunch, just the way it should be

Bouchee also served up a mean salad nicoise during our lunch, just the way it should be

Andre' Bouchee on Urbanspoon

We also went to a great place called Fandango for dinner one night in Pacific Grove, California (another town on the Monterey Peninsula) - you can Google it for information on the interesting way the restaurant came into being

We also went to a great place called Fandango for dinner one night in Pacific Grove, California (another town on the Monterey Peninsula) - you can Google it for more information on the interesting way the restaurant came into being...it is kind of a fusion of Italian, French and Spanish cuisine

Their version of Veal Picatta was truly exceptional...extremely thin and tender veal with an amazing tangy sauce - absolutely loved it

Their version of Veal Picatta was truly exceptional...extremely thin and tender veal with an amazing tangy sauce with citrus accents and capers - absolutely loved it

A starter of yellow and red tomato salad, with mozzarella, olive olil & balsamic was perfect too

A starter of yellow and red tomato salad, with mozzarella, olive oil & balsamic was perfect too - such fresh produce

My mom really liked her paella, but I guess it just isn't my thing...

My mom really liked her fresh seafood paella, but I guess it just isn't my thing...

Fandango also had a shelf of very nice mangums and jeroboams - would have liked to have gotten some of this but didn't have the $10,000+ it probably would have costed...

Fandango also had a few shelves of very nice mangums and jeroboams - would have liked to have gotten some of this but didn't have the $10,000+ it probably would have cost for the privilege...not a bad dream to end the post on though

Fandango Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Reviews of Le Bernardin (3 Michelin stars) and maze at The London NYC (a Ramsay Empire outpost) to follow as soon as I can find the time.

Until then, have a great weekend – over & out.