Posts tagged ‘Italian’

Il Mulino Aspen

If you’ve never been to one of  Il Mulino‘s many locations, I have two words for you, “pace yourself”. I recently went to the one in Aspen–the original is in New York, though there are locations across the country and in Tokyo. From the very moment you sit down you will be inundated with food. In quick succession a waiter comes by with a chunk of cheese from a massive wheel of Parmesan, bruschetta with tomatoes and basil, lightly fried and thinly sliced zucchini, salami and a variety of breads. Who needs dinner?

After inhaling all the food set before us, we turned our attention to the menu, a feast in its own right. There’s a mouth-watering list of pastas, along with risotto, fish, veal, beef and lamb. Since there were eight of us, we thought it would be fun to sample several of the pastas, passing them around the table family style. Each of us ordered an entrée as well.

Big mistake.

The waiter brought each of us our own plate of four pastas, which taken as a whole was enough for an entire meal. Whether the waiter misunderstood our wishes and thought we wanted enough for eight, or decided to take advantage of us by giving us double what we ordered,  it’s hard to know.  But the upshot was that we felt compelled to eat the pastas because they were so outstanding, leaving little room for our entree when it arrived.

The pastas included a very light gnocchi with pesto, pappardelle with sausage, a house capellini, and mushroom ravioli. All were excellent but I thought the pasta with sausage led the parade.

Thinking we were only going to have a bite of each of the appetizer pastas, my husband and I ordered pasta for our main dish. Living in Kansas City, we don’t have the luxury of eating pasta of this quality very often, so it seemed like a good bet. With more room in my stomach, it definitely would have been. I ordered a squid ink linguine with seafood in an arrabbiata sauce, which is one of my favorites, and this was as good as it gets. My husband ordered angel hair with the same spicy tomato sauce, and he was equally enthralled. Especially since there were plenty of leftovers for the next day.

Others in our group ordered veal Parmagiana. I have NEVER seen anything as huge. It looked exactly like a 12 inch pizza, only instead of crust on the bottom there was a piece of veal with the bone still attached.

We were all ready to roll out of the gorgeous restaurant when the waiter came by with a bucket holding cold grappa for all of us. He scooped up a glass for each of us with our bill. Nice touch.

Il Mulino’s sleek ambiance and smooth service would make this a restaurant to remember even if the food had been less than stellar. Was there too much to eat? Definitely, but that was partly our fault for the way we ordered, and of course, for the way we attacked the food. Would I go back? In a heartbeat.

Il Mulino New York on Urbanspoon

February 21, 2011 at 8:05 pm Leave a comment

Acqua Al 2 in Washington, DC

Acqua Al 2 has come to Washington, DC. Its owners know a thing or two about what constitutes authentic Italian cuisine. Started in Florence, Italy, the restaurant’s only other  North American outpost can be found in San Diego.

Acqua Al 2 took over a charming little space in the up and coming Eastern Market section of DC in early summer. Since that time, it’s been wowing diners who revel in the homemade pastas and  steaks that taste like they came straight from Tuscany.

On our visit, we couldn’t resist the pastas, sampled several and even ordered a second round. Maccheroni all Vodka looked bland but hit all the right notes with its spicy vodka tomato/cream sauce, Fussili  Lunghi  alla  Fiaccheraia, pasta with a spicy tomato sauce  proved that simple is often best, and the Cannelloni  Mascarpone  e  Funghi, certainly didn’t resemble St. Louis’s standard, but was every bit as decadent. And the gnocchi, essentially a potato dumpling, was light and airy (and then smothered in a rich cream sauce.) The homemade bread and focaccia was the ideal vehicle for mopping up all those sauces.

The two specialties of the house are the filet mignon with blueberry sauce, a combination which I just couldn’t bring myself to order, and Tuscan style rib eye (read blood rare) served on a bed of arugula, which I did order but they forgot to serve. I think it was a miscommunication rather than neglect–the server thought I was just asking how it was prepared and didn’t realize I had actually ordered it. No worries, I’ll be back and I had more than my fill that day anyway.

The restaurant is long and narrow, rustic and comforting, and on the night we were there was filled with families, groups and cozy couples. With its extensive menu, this is the kind of place where family style dining is preferred–more to try, more to love.

Acqua Al 2 on Urbanspoon

February 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm 1 comment

Maialino New York

For a recent trip to New York, I was armed with a long list of restaurants I was eager to try. 

One of them was Maialino, recently named best new restaurant by Zagat, and restaurateur Danny Meyer’s latest addition to his ever-expanding empire.  And, because pasta is my husband’s favorite food group, it seemed a good bet to satisfy that craving. However, I was not able to get a reservation for the night/time we requested, despite having called 28 days in advance as suggested. (This is standard for a Danny Meyer restaurant, both in terms of protocol  and difficulty in scoring a reservation.)  Rather than move around other reservations, we went for Sunday brunch instead.

A blessing in disguise, perhaps? While reviews of dinner service have been mixed, everything I had read about brunch indicated this was the time to go. Located on the first floor of the Gramercy Park Hotel, light streams in from the expansive windows, smells of rich coffee waff through the air, pastries and breads are piled high on cake plates  and many menu items are usually only found in Rome (where Meyer did extensive research before opening Maialino.)

Baked eggs in spicy tomato sauce are the perfect vehicle for the awesome bread that is brought to the table, scrambled eggs with pecorino and black pepper are light and fluffy, and the poached eggs with turnips and greens form a delightful combination.

To my husband’s delight, pasta plays a major role  at brunch, not just in the afternoon or evening hours. He chose a Roman specialty, Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe, a simple pasta with Pecorino cheese and a healthy dose of black pepper. The other selections include some form of pork, either guanciale or suckling pig ragu (except the ravioli which, like the cacio e pepe, is also heavy on the butter).

Panini, including one on chewy ciabatta with porchetta, arugula and fried eggs, round out the selections. It was substantial to say the least, but the quality of the bread (the likes of which cannot be found in Kansas City), kept me from leaving more than a few crumbs on the plate.

Maialino means “baby pig” in  Italian, so pork is king here. The thick  pepper bacon is more like chewy pork than what one thinks of as crisp bacon, but it works. Salty, fatty and rich, this side dish should be shared  to keep the arteries from instantly clogging.

The olive oil muffins and toffee glazed brioche had been highly touted, so we also ordered a couple of those as well, and we were not disappointed.

The overall effect of the dining room is mesmerizing. The layout is ingenious, with nooks and counters interspersed with  communal tables, tables for two and round tables for large groups. Wine bottles are displayed at one end, wood beams and tile floors complete the look.

For a change of pace from the typical waffle and pancake brunch, you’ll do no better than Maialino, but make a reservation!

November 11, 2010 at 8:50 pm 1 comment

Mario Batali’s Eataly in New York

Wow. I knew it would be worth seeing, but before my visit to Eataly, I could never have imagined such a concept. Billed as an Italian food hall, this endeavor was developed by Mario Batali, Lidia and Joseph Bastianich. It’s a food lover’s dream.Beautiful, beautiful food is everywhere the eye can see–much like Disneyland is for kids, this was for me.

A fishmonger displays the freshest of fish, next to the pasta maker who has just completed rolling sheets of pasta. Next to the gelato counter is a patisserie and coffee stand, and beyond that is a man making fresh mozzarella to put in the cheese case. Hungry for a bite of salami to go with some strong Italian cheese? Pick from an astonishing array of both, and it will be beautifully displayed on a wood tray for you to take to a marble table for a leisurely bite or a quick inhale.

Food stalls and retail sections are intermingled with restaurants and there is seating throughout for both. Pizza is blistered in an imported pizza oven, pastas are whipped up Batali-style, and even vegetables are roasted for light eating. While not an easy place to navigate, especially as the 50,000 square foot space fills up in the afternoon, it’s well worth the hassle  to not only see the whole setup, but to buy a little, eat a little and simply marvel at the extravaganza that these very smart operators have created.

October 14, 2010 at 8:09 pm Leave a comment

Carmen’s Cafe–Park Place

If you like the Carmen’s Cafe in Brookside, you’ll enjoy its second location in Leawood’s Park Place.  Same great food with just a few additions to the original menu.

The decor is fairly dark, but with a big window in the front, a mirrored wall that runs the length of the room, and a separate bar area. It’s certainly roomier than its cramped sister restaurant, though the four top tables don’t leave much room for maneuvering glasses, wine, bread plates, a bread basket and the marvelous bread dipping sauce (more on that below).

But all is forgiven when the food arrives. The house salad, is a classic Italian mix of iceberg lettuce, romaine, pimento, red onion, artichoke and Parmesan,  almost identical to the Rich & Charlie salads of my youth in St. Louis. The bread is soft, with sesame seeds on the top. Nothing special on its own, but practically mouth-watering when used as a vehicle to mop up the dipping oil that accompanies it.  Though easily duplicated at home, somehow it always tastes better here. Olive oil,  red pepper flakes, black pepper, Parmesan and julienned basil sit on a small plate, tempting diners to spoil their appetites. It’s quite hard to resist, and I usually don’t!

The list of pastas is lengthy, there’s something to satisfy every palate. Without or without meat, seafood or no, spicy or tame, shells and strands. A favorite of mine is the Fettucine al Diablo. Pasta is tossed with mussels, scallops, shrimp and calamari, and  a spicy tomato sauce  for a hearty and incredibly satisfying meal. This time though, I ordered the Paella Valencia, a dish that was a signature of Don Pepe’s when he was in the kitchen at Carmen’s on the Boulevard many years ago. It was obviously popular, as it has remained on the menu despite being a Spanish rather than Italian dish. The paella was as good as it gets this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the aroma of saffron wafting in the air as it’s placed before me. The huge platter of rice also has a healthy dose of mussels, squid, beef, chorizo, shrimp and peas. Like the Fettucine Al Diablo, the portion is enough for two and the waiter isn’t the least bit surprised that I need a doggy-bag.

Spidini is a big seller here. Chicken, beef and shrimp spidini are offered with a variety of sauces, including Marsala wine sauce, alfredo, and lemon caper and amogio. The chicken spidini we tried, atop angel hair pasta with tomato and basil,  was flavorful and moist.  There is also a large selection of beef, veal and seafood dishes, and all entrees and pastas come with a house salad. Though we didn’t have any appetizers, the stuffed artichoke is consistently a big seller.

The reasonably priced wine list has a mix of Italian and Californian wines, so a little vino with your meal will complete the picture.

Carmen's Café on Urbanspoon

September 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm Leave a comment

Jake’s Bella Napoli

Kansas Citians may know Jake’s as La Cucina di Mamma, but a recent name change ties this little neighborhood gem more closely to the deli next door, which Jake Imperiale also owns.

Though I’ve bought pastas, olives and sandwiches at Bella Napoli for years, it had been quite some time since I had eaten at Jake’s–when it first opened I was less than enthralled. The food was good, but I didn’t care for the ambiance or the plastic dishes. However, Jake has learned a few things since then, and the small changes he made (including the use of china), transformed the place. It’s now an adorable little spot where diners can enjoy a quick bite or linger over a bottle of wine. So now it’s a pleasant experience all the way around.

We shared the Margherita pizza made with fresh Marzano tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella. The crust was thin and chewy, though I prefer a bit more crispness and char, nothing that a bit more time in the oven wouldn’t fix. The Penne Siciliano was tossed with chunks of Italian sausage and ricotta in a spicy tomato sauce and was captivating.

The menu is broad–diners can choose from salads, pizza, pasta, as well as antipasti and panini. If you go on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, all bottles of wine are half-priced, making an already reasonably priced meal even more affordable.

La Cucina di Mamma on Urbanspoon<!–

April 11, 2010 at 8:00 pm 2 comments

715 Mass–Lawrence

715 Mass is not your typical college town restaurant.  Sleek, modern and trendy, this Italian cafe would more likely be found in a big city than in the small town of Lawrence. It has a vibe to it that will appeal as much to professors and lawyers as students. One striking design note–a wall of green water bottles are spotlighted to great effect.

715 opens daily at 7:15 A.M.  for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even has a late-night menu.  The kitchen focuses on pizza and pasta, with panini, salads and a few entrees rounding out the menu. I had a four-cheese pizza, which I watched being hand-tossed and put in a wood-burning oven. The crust was well-charred and had a chewy texture, but would have benefited greatly from more than a dash of salt. The rabbit confit salad with arugula and grilled radicchio was tossed with a flavorful citrus vinaigrette. The pastas are handmade and both of the ones we tried were tasty and cooked perfectly. They come in single or double portions–be sure to specify which you want if your server doesn’t ask. The menu has a few vegetables that can be ordered as sides, I loved the brussel sprouts with dates and almonds.

In line with a growing trend, bread and butter are extra, not a practice I embrace. I know it’s a recession-buster, and it does keep my husband from continually putting his hand in the bread basket, but it doesn’t feel hospitable to me.

Wine can be ordered by the bottle or glass, and house wines are also available by the half-litre or litre. THAT is a cost-saving measure I wholeheartedly endorse.

Breakfast is light, and features croissants, granola, fruit and biscotti, as well as waffles and a wide variety of coffee drinks.

Add this congenial spot to your list of places to try before a Jayhawks basketball game this season. Walk-in traffic is encouraged, as only a few reservations are taken each evening.

December 10, 2009 at 10:00 pm 5 comments

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