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Life is uncertain: eat dessert first. Does anyone know who said that? It was apparently an American writer named Ernestine Ulmer. I actually just looked that up, because I didn’t know.

Today’s post most certainly involves eating dessert first, a practice that I whole-heartedly support. I also support eating dessert last. First AND last would be best, I think.

While in Rome, Marmo kept going on and on and on about a bakery called Antico Forno Roscioli. It got kind of annoying, so I had to take her there. Then, once we got there, she kept going on and on and on about this particular pastry, ventagli, which means “fans” in Italian. So we had to eat one.

The sign lodged in the ventagli says “no eggs, no milk” so I can only assume that means one thing: BUTTER. Also: SUGAR. As for taste, a few words come to mind: HOLY %^$& that’s good!

Honestly, I was a little skeptical when Marmo was going on and on about ventagli. It really didn’t look that special to me. I like desserts and pastries that I can sink my teeth into. This one looked like it was going flake all over me, leaving me with very unsatisfying bites.

I was wrong. Proven wrong by a pastry is really not all that bad, folks.

This little “fan” was surprisingly hearty. It had a nice snap upon biting into it, and the layers, rather than being a flaky mess, really hung together making it more dense than it appeared (a good thing). As you may note from the photo above, the sugar coating looks intense, but honestly, this was not a sickly sweet dessert. The balance of sugar-to-pastry was quite good, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing in that regard.

Antico Forno Roscioli stocked a number of other freshly baked items, including pizza in the Roman style. I really liked those long ones shown in the above photo, but I have no idea how you go about baking such a monstrosity. However, for pizza I wanted to go to a real Roman pizzeria. I was going on and on and on about it. I think it was annoying.

So Marmo took me to Monte Carlo Pizzeria, where we sampled two beauties: the Margherita and the Fiori di Zucca (squash flower).

Pardon this PIZZA TANGENT: Roman pizza is characterized by an especially thin and crispy crust. The use of a pizza stone when baking this type of pizza is imperative as the crust really needs even heating from the bottom. The crust should have some give to it, like a thin bread. It shouldn’t crumble or have the texture and consistency of a cracker.

In terms of preference I’m not sure where I stand: Neopolitan Style or Roman Style. I like both, but if pressed, I may veer towards Naples. I am Neopolitan, after all…Feel free to leave your comments about your pizza preference!

Onto the Margherita:

You can clearly see the thin crust in the above photos. However, the pizza doesn’t stay rigid, but is a bit bendy (like bread). The taste was excellent. Pure crushed tomatoes combined with a thin, even layer of mozzarella cheese. I did find it interesting that there was no basil. I do love basil. I also loved the bubbles that formed around the outer crust (you can see this well in the top photo). Some of these bubbles got nice and charred, and really gave the pizza a kick.

Next up, squash flowers:

As I may have mentioned, I have become a bit obsessed with these flowers. I wanted them on everything while I was in Italy. This combination of the squash flower and lightly-cheesed pizza was quite good. The flowers have a very mild taste, almost buttery. This soft, buttery flavor compliments the salt of the mozzarella cheese. As you can see, this pie also had a nice char going on around the edges, which gave it a slightly smoky taste. Definitely a winner.

Overall, both of the pies were very light. It was quite easy to eat an entire pie and still have some room left over for dessert (again). Did I hear someone say gelato? This is both because of the thin crust, and also the light, even-handed application of the toppings.

I’m thinking this style of pizza would be a great appetizer at a party, cut into small pieces. I’m going to try out a thin crust in the laboratorio semi-moderno (test kitchen) soon for you all.

In the meantime….I did hear someone say gelato?! Let’s have some:

A few gelaterias to keep in mind, should you find yourself in Rome or Orvieto:

San Crispino, Rome

Ciampini, Rome

Gelateria Pasqualetti, Orvieto

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Today we bring you a comparison review. Since it is still pizza month and we like to stress using fresh ingredients on pizza, we bring you a review and comparison of three hunks of mozz (muzz) from three different places.

From left to right we have pictured mozzarella from:

1. Fiore’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

2. Eataly in New York City’s Flatiron District

3. Lisa’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

First, we would like to say that this is obviously not an exhaustive list of possible places to purchase fresh mozz. What about the Bronx? What about Little Italy? And so on….We will just say this: we know. We thought we’d start small. An intro, if you will, into the world of comparison tasting, with a few easily accessible candidates.

So, without further ado, here are our thoughts:

1. Fiore’s: This rendition was very tasty. It was lightly salted, which gave the cheese more flavor overall. It was not overpowering, but just right. Compared to the other two, it was a denser cheese. The color was also darker, an off-white instead of a bright white. I’m not really sure what that means, but I just thought it should be noted. This would be a great cheese to put on a Margherita pizza, as you wouldn’t have to add any salt. The flavor from the mozzarella would be all the seasoning you would need (excepting basil).

2. Eataly: This version was fairly bland in taste. It was unsalted. The texture was milkier, and it was definitely the softest of the bunch. This may have been because, while the other two were removed from their watery holding pens when I purchased them (many times fresh mozzarella is packed in water until it is ready to be used), this one came with its own little portable aquarium (tupperware container filled with water). We liked this softer texture, but weren’t blown away by flavor. This would be an excellent cheese to use on a pizza that had flavor from other toppings – pancetta or a similar meat for example.

3. Lisa’s Deli: This little one was also unsalted, and had a texutre somewhere in the middle of the other two in terms of softness….not too soft, not too firm, but juuuuuuust right. However, it didn’t pack a whole lot of punch in terms of flavor. This would be a nice mozzarella to use for a Caprese salad: sliced tomatoes placed on top of slices of cheese, crowned with a few basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

So instead of declaring a winner from these three, we feel like they all have their strengths and are appropriate for different uses. We are going to keep looking for THE mozzarella, though, so if you have a suggestion for one you would like us to try, please leave it in the comments section. Also, if any of you would like some mozzarella, I have a TON of it in my fridge right now. I think I was a little overzealous in my cheese purchasing.

* Disclaimer: The funny faces drawn on the cheeses in no way represent any real or actual person. I just thought it would be funny to give cheese faces that kind of look like gangsters. But not real gangsters. Just imaginary cheesey ones.

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This past Columbus Day proposed a serious dilemma for me: what to do with myself? I had the day off from work! On a suggestion from our friend Steve (you may want to follow him on Twitter, he’s very entertaining), I was inspired to make it a Brooklyn day and explore a bunch of different areas, starting with the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in Prospect Park.

I had never visited the Botanical Gardens and I really enjoyed it. Columbus Day gifted me with some wonderful weather, and I was able to stroll amongst the flowers, trees and buzzing bees… until I got hungry. Which, as you may know by now, happens with alarming frequency.

The next dilemma was: where to lunch? I checked my trusty phone and realized that somewhere else I had never before visited was nearby: the Brooklyn Larder. So I departed the park and headed onto Flatbush Avenue in search of it. I would have stopped at Franny’s and enchant you all with more pizza tales of finely baked crusts and tomatoes, but – alas – they were unfortunately closed.

However, Brooklyn Larder did not disappoint. First, a confession: as a graphic designer, I occasionally experience visual overload. It’s a good thing. It happens when I walk into a place (could be a shop, a museum, a nice street or a gourmet food market) and there is just SO MUCH to look at. So many cool things. So nicely designed. It’s like frolicking in a daisy field or something. For my brain. Anyway, that’s what this place was like for me. I literally had to hold myself back from buying everything. Instead, I took a deep breath and ordered lunch.

Me to friendly girl behind counter, “What should I eat?”

Friendly girl (not at all put off by my question), “Hot or cold?”

Me, “Hot.”

She, “The grilled sandwich with sauteed greens, olives and Taleggio cheese.”

Me, “Fire that up. Please. And a cookie. Maple ginger. Throw that in there too. Please.”

I grabbed a seat at the window-bar area and very soon, my meal was brought over to me (very nice of them considering it’s a deli and I definitely could have walked up there to get it). Here is my lunch:

Lunch was perfection. Truly. The sandwich bread was fresh and nicely toasted – crispy on the outside (and still warm) and chewy on the inside with just the right amount of sandwich filling. The cheese and olives paired wonderfully, neither overpowering the other. As for my cookie, well I was a fan. It had REAL chunks of ginger in it! I expressed my enthusiasm about this to the friendly girl behind the counter (in much the same way as I expressed my enthusiasm for fried pickles at Joe Doe). Her look was appreciative, but also seemed to suggest, “Well, of course. Why wouldn’t there be?” Fair point, fair point.

This seems to be the mantra and general offering of the market: fresh ingredients – either served or packaged (their range of perishable packaged foods like cheese, meats, and duck liver is extensive). They get all their food items that aren’t baked or made on the premises (many of them are) from places close-at-hand. In fact, you can read more about the cookie-baking process and the master mind behind it here.

Before I left I bought a few more things: a huge loaf of sourdough bread from Scratchbread, and a little package of Apple Cider Caramels from Liddabit Sweets which I will talk about later.

After this, I decided to venture out in search of pie. I had been hearing about Four and Twenty Blackbirds Bakery for a while and wanted to go find it. This bakery also gets excellent reviews, but unfortunately for me was closed on that particular day.

Oh well. So onward I walked to Park Slope! Where I discovered that there is an Almondine Bakery! Yes, folks, I do live in a hole. However, the sight of this bakery prompted me to walk to DUMBO (I got some good exercise that day) and go to the Almondine Bakery there. So I did. I first heard about Almondine when I was researching French macarons in New York. I was obsessed with this little cookie. Not the coconut variety called “macaroons“, but a little, flavored sandwich cookie made with meringue and a filling of choice. Almondine’s  macarons are very good. I’m not an expert on these little cookies, but I do like the following features: 1. a meringue cookie that has a delicate (breakable) outer crust that yields nicely to a much softer and flavorful interior, and 2. A filling that actually tastes like the advertised flavor. Almondine achieves both. They also have a nice line-up of other pastries, croissants and tarts.

Then, it was back on the subway to the ‘Boken to examine my purchased treats from Brooklyn Larder. First, was this gargantuan loaf of sourdough bread from Scratchbread. I decided to make dinner out of this beauty. So I cut it into thick slices, fired up the broiler and melted some Gruyere cheese on those bad boys. The bread was delicious. The crust is especially thick and flavorful, while the inside is chewey and nicely textured. The “sour” part of the sourdough is pronounced, which I like. It is a statement bread. I just made that up, but I think it fits. I definitely liked it, and have been eating it for breakfast (toasted with honey) and lunch (toasted with hummus and roasted tomatoes) too.

That about wraps it up for my day in BK (I have rhymed TWICE in this post. Can you find them both? GO!).  I leave you with a few random images in parting, and I would also encourage you to head over the bridge (if you are not already over there) and visit all the aforementioned establishments. Bring me back some cookies.

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This past Saturday I traveled to Montauk to compete in a sprint triathlon. In addition to the race, I used the opportunity to do some local restaurant and food reviewing. What I present you with now is a (limited) review of (parts of) Montauk, East Hampton and Bridgehampton.

My first concern was the race. And there was going to be no exciting food (or drink) in my immediate future until I crossed the finish line. You may, however, be entertained by how UNappealing my pre-race food was….check it out:

My room came equipped with a kitchenette and one very small pan. What you see above is a very bland arrangement of black beans, turkey breast, avocado, spinach and a whole wheat wrap. Can you feel the excitement, people? However, I find that balsamic glaze (instead of vinegar) makes a really nice sandwich/wrap dressing. You don’t need that much, as it’s kind of intense. You can also use it on strawberries. Notice the shameless plug for Clif Bars. I love these things. I had the spiced pumpkin pie flavor for a pre-race breakfast. I honestly couldn’t handle anything more than this, as I was about to pass out in fear on account of recurring visions of this:

This is where we would be swimming. I’m not the best swimmer, but I’ve gotten much better (thank you, Kacey!). When I went to go check out the pond, it was pouring rain, but everything appeared calm. That night, the rain stopped, the wind picked up and this cute little pond was a torrent of white capped mini waves and rough water. So between swim-related terror and race jitters, the above meal was perfect.

I made it through, went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep in all my racing gear (number included). When I woke up, marmo and I (mom was playing sherpa, cheerleader, driver and general support section for the event) decided we needed two things: alcoholic beverages and shopping. Girly. But whatever, people. Montauk and its surrounding towns (East Hampton and Bridgehampton included) are only too happy to comply with these requests. We had a plethora of options.

Our first stop was the Wolffer Estate Vineyard. As I said, it had stopped raining the night before, and all around were blue skies and warm sun. There is a small “wine stand” off Sag Road. You can order a few glasses (or bottles) at the stand, and then relax in their backyard among well-kept picnic tables equipped with ample umbrellas and surrounded by rolling hills of grape trees. You can even bring your own food. Citarella stores have populated like bunnies in the Hamptons, and it’s very easy to walk into one of the 12,984 locations, grab some cured meat and cheese, and then camp out at Wolffer and drink all their wine. It is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

I even checked out their bathrooms for you!

The loo was nothing crazy, but clean and in working order. I did like that giant mirror frame. I’m into those, though.

This is the wine we drank, and I do recommend it. It’s nice and oaky. Not everyone likes an oaky white. But I do. I also like swimming in a pond with 379 other people all jumbled up, so take my words with the proverbial grain of salt.

We also stopped into a Jack’s Coffee for a caffeinated pick me up (I certainly needed one). Because I live in a hole, I had no idea Jack’s had a coffee shop in NYC. Not far from my office. Huh. Anyway, it took me a trip to Amagansett to find it. I really liked this place. I loved the signage and layout of the store. You could get your coffee and sit on their porch on large benches sipping your Joe. In addition to something called the “Happy Jack” (a concoction of espresso, honey, cinnamon and milk) we ordered a blueberry oat and “Sunday” muffins. The oat variety had excellent blueberry action (I hate it when there is only one representative of its kind), while the Sunday Muffin was a more advanced, gooey (but not too much) apricot-y mini cake. Thumbs up.

On to the next event – the bike! No, sorry… I meant dinner! On a recommendation, we went to Inlet Seafood Restaurant. We were told that they had the freshest fish EVER. This was someone else’s emphasis. They meant it. We were additionally given a heads-up about the excellent sushi (repeat: freshest seafood EVER!!!). So, off we went, around the lake and to the restaurant.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. There is a bar area to the left of the entrance and seating on the right. However, the views are exceptional – and they have nice balconies from which you can enjoy the setting sun in all its pinky-golden glory.

We decided to take full advantage of the seafood menu. In fact, Inlet Seafood has 6 fishing boats of its very own – constantly bringing in the freshest fish. I had my eye on some sushi – a yellowtail and salmon combination with eel sauce, avocado and those little crunchy thingies, while marmo was hankering for some of the alarmingly large scallops that traveled with an asparagus risotto. But first, our very knowledgeable server directed us toward the tuna tartar as an appetizer. She said it was the “best ever”…

She did not lie. The tuna tartar was amazing. Circled by an expertly-arranged feathering of perfectly ripe avocados, it not only looked like a thing of beauty, but tasted like one as well. The tuna was exceptionally fresh (not fishy at all), firm and flavorful. My sushi that followed it was outstanding. In fact, if I were rating this restaurant on sushi alone, I would give it a 4 (The Godfather). My eight pieces of sushi were arranged in groups of two for a nicer presentation. Not only were the sauces complementary to the fish, but the composition of the rolls was impressive. Not once did they fall apart, nor did any one element escape from their ricey and seaweed entrappings. Which is great for me because I somehow always manage to look like an idiot when I eat sushi. Not tonight! I could concentrate on looking like an idiot for completely different reasons. Phew!

The scallops and risotto were also nicely done. The scallops were perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside and nicely soft on the inside (many people overcook scallops so that they are almost fibrous on the inside. Not these guys).

And now for the run! No, sorry, I keep doing that. I meant breakfast.

We ambled into Pierre’s, a snappy little French Bistro that we ran into in Bridgehampton while drunk shopping the previous day. Oops! Did I just say drunk shopping? I meant, slightly buzzed consumer perusing. Much better. Anyway, the place looked great, and we vowed to come back for breakfast.

We made good on our vow. I breakfasted on over easy eggs with rosemary potatoes. The rosemary potatoes were really the stand-out. They were perfectly – seasoned, and not overwhelmingly rosemarried. Also exceptional was the café latte that I ordered. I wanted to order 12 more. My coffee was served with a cute little square of dark chocolate, that I dunked right into the latte. I don’t know if that’s appropriate, but it sure tasted good. The service was attentive and their breakfast/brunch menu was well populated with offering of omlettes and toasts of the French persuasion. I would definitely return, especially in fine weather when you can sit outdoors and gawk at passers-by (heat lamps available for cooler weather!).

Their ladies room was sadly out of order (demerit!), so I had to use the “messieurs”. They did have some interesting art on the walls in there, including the exotic and lacy dame you see pictured above (middle photo, right column). Otherwise, the restroom was in good order. John would have appreciated the large mirrors for checking out his dome.

Pierre’s has a conveniently located pastry shop right next door where we decided to get some treats for the road.

We bought some madeleines (which ended up being a touch dry for my taste) and some little chocolate muffin thing that was OUT OF SIGHT. Seriously. It was dense, dark chocolately madness, with some kind of gooey center – like a pudding or custard, but better. The gooey-ness was concentrated in just one area – about 1/3 of the way down from the top. That was a nice little surprise. I would go back just for that little chocolate cake.

On the long ride home we stopped at one of the many roadside vegetable/fruit/pumpkin & apple picking/fresh pie/homemade jam joints. This one was called Hayground Farms. Let me say that I am not unfamiliar with impulse buying. However, I have never experienced gourd-related impulse buying. I really don’t know what came over me. But they had so many! In so many different colors! And shapes! I wanted them all! I don’t know for what. But I bought a bunch, including a weirdly dragon-shaped and bumpy all-black one that I nicknamed the “evil one”. And they’re all hanging out on my kitchen table looking quite happy with themselves (and recovering from the elaborate woodland photo shoot I inflicted upon them, which I will share with you later).

We did buy some normal stuff like eggplants and Honeycrisp apples and green beens. All the produce looked amazing. And it was so CHEAP! Seriously good deals that will only cost you two tanks of gas to get there and back. What are you waiting for??

That about wraps it up for my Triathlon-Hamptons weekend. I would definitely recommend going up there for the weekend at this time of year (sporting event or no). It’s fall, the leaves are gonna start turning any second now (wait for it….), there are roadside fruit stands, roadside WINE stands, roadside lobster roll stands (no joke), shopping and I hear there is golf too (John). There are standout restaurants, and the scenery is just so damn nice.

A few parting photos:


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Italy is Eataly! Or so says the banner outside the door to the newly opened Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich’s Italian gourmet food store and market.

I have not read many reviews of Eataly. Maybe I should have, but anyway. First, I would like to take a moment to comment on the name. Eataly? Really? I mean, I get it. But does anyone else find it kinda….I dunno…stupid? I was half expecting (hoping) the meat department would be called Meataly, and then the bakery could be called Treataly. Oh – and the bread section – Wheataly! Ok, you get the idea.

The place is enormous and comprehensive – it includes sections for meats (cured and otherwise), cheese, wine, pasta, bread, baked goods, gelato, fun, imported packaged foods from Italy, a Panini station, and even kitchen gadgets and cookbooks.

The produce section is up front when you first enter the shop. It’s very nicely laid out – it has the feel of a fancy farmer’s market with baskets heaped with eggplants and apples and little garden signs detailing produce names and prices. They have some fancier items, like white and purple figs, lesser-known mushrooms, and those tiny little grapes.

Once you walk towards the center of the store things get a little more confusing. Eataly’s solution to this is to use signposts to direct you to your desired destination. I still got confused. Probably because I’m slow, but really, there was stuff everywhere and I got overwhelmed.

I was also hungry. And if you know me, you know how I get when I’m hungry. Cranky. And I’m hungry pretty much all the time, so….Anyway, I was looking for lunch, preferably something relatively healthy and pre-made (because I didn’t have the patience to put anything together myself at that moment). There aren’t a lot of pre-made offerings except for baked goods, gelato, and Panini. I settled on a Panini. I ordered a hot Panini with prosciutto, spicy peppers, and Mizuna. There were only two hot and two cold offerings at the Panini station. I don’t know if this is good or bad, I’m just sayin’.

I knew this would not be enough food for me, so I wandered around checking out some other stuff. I settled on some white figs (which are really green), a Honeycrisp apple, some imported chips from Italy (of course – Chipaly!!), and a tiny pot of honey (I should note, I’m a sucker for fancy-pants gourmet stores and food packaging. I am a designer, after all.) As I was wandering around the isles, I overheard many astounded comments from other patrons regarding the prices of the food. It is expensive. My whole order came to around $20. Yikes. But it’s for science, people. And my readers – all 12 of them (readership is up)! I’m not really going to comment much on the cost of things, other than to agree it’s pricey, and suggest you should prepare yourself for that if you are going to shop there.

I perused some of the other sections including the cheeses (nice selection), the cookbooks (not extensive, but some good choices), and the kitchen gadget area, which I found a little tchotchke-ish and overrun with Alessi-designed implements.

Eataly really does seem to want to impress that they are authentic Italian. In fact, most of the signage is in both English and Italian. I suppose vacationing Italians will flock here in droves and need proper instruction as to the whereabouts of the Parmesano Reggiano.

I took my lunch across the street to devour it at one of Madison Square Park’s outdoor tables. The sandwich was good. The bread was fresh and crispy, and I liked the added kick from the spicy peppers. The produce (apple and figs) was fresh – no spores, molds or fungus. And the chips were decent – like the Italian version of tortilla chips.

Un pranzo costoso ma delizioso.

Eataly
200 5th Ave
23rd St
New York 10010

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