“Zack Bruell be my boyfriend, are you married?”
“I want to be best friends with lardo.”
These were the one-liners rolling off my tongue as I ate bite after bite of excruating beauty at Chinato, on E. 4th Street. I’ve lived in Milan, my mother has lived in Bologna and Florence but an evening at Chinato brought us almost to tears. Here was Italian food, dare I say, better than or on par with the pinnacle of Italian gastronomy in Italy. The price point is well, on point! I ate here again just tonight with a friend and with a crudo, an antipasto, an entree, a dessert, a cocktail and a glass of wine WITH tip and tax was $52. Not to mention the service was outstanding (our waiter from a few weeks ago was our waiter again and remembered us), the wine choices impeccable, we were visited by the chef himself and treated to Damilano Chinato (a digestif) following our meal.
We started with a crudo, tuna with lardo and our hearts melted a little. My mind was racing to figure out how I could make and eat lardo every day, even if that meant my body would take the name and shape of the delicious slivers that were melting in my mouth.
Next we shared the fresh sauteed sardines with parsley, olive oil and lemon — the nostalgia of eating fresh fried sardines in Genoa when I was 20 washed over me and pulled me, like the strong oceanic undertow, back to that fleeting moment. After, an exquisite salad of julienned pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, arugula, goat cheese, roasted turnips and balsamic dressing. I don’t even want to describe the dish because then it’ll just give away the ending.
Our entrees: for me, the fritto misto of sweetbreads with fried caper berries (our country is at least a trillion light years behind every country when it comes to our definition of bar food — because this would blow those pee covered pretzels and peanuts at the bar out of the water), for my mother the veal breast with polenta unlike any kind of polenta you’ve ever had and salsa verde (parsley, olive oil, anchovies).
Dessert was the best almond panna cotta I’ve tasted and also a lemon polenta cake with a scoop of cherry gelato. This is Italian comfort food, the peasant food, the cheap cuts of meat or fish and making the most out of them by perfecting the cooking technique, letting ingredients speak for themselves and coaxing flavor out of tough cuts. The result is something like magic.
I listen to/watch TED talks daily and they have a great catch phrase: “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Recently I came across one that just spoke to me so clearly. This time it was Chip Conley, who spoke about how we should re-evaluate what we value: GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or GNH … Gross National Happiness. Surely, a restaurant such as Chinato is a focused human lesson in what we should appreciate and what counts. What is the logical outcome of people loving what they do and creating what they love for others’ enjoyment? An intangible measurement, with a very tangible result. I don’t think it folly to say the lessons in Chinato are ideas worth spreading.
I’m not the first and certainly not the last person to write about Victor Churchill. I found out about this spot from The Cool Hunter and then begged my mother to stop by while she was on a trip to Sydney earlier this spring. Like the darling she is, she did and came back with some great pics.
It’s a high end butcher shop in a small, boutique neighborhood in Sydney called Woollahra. Apparently they have a curing room where they cure meats hung on circulating racks, revolving in front of a wall of salt blocks. The revolving meat in stasis resembles designer dresses hung styled for the front window, it’s that beautiful. The door handle itself is made of fake linked sausages. According to Victor Churchill’s site, the store design is the first retail store project taken on by Dreamtime Australia Design, known for their work elsewhere in the luxury industry. They have butchers on site who prepare meats and charcuterie for display and by order.
All I have to say, is the second-hand experience is not enough. I want in this store… badly. And maybe if I was like the luckiest girl in the whole wide world they’d think I was cool enough to hire me and my dreams would come true. A girl can dream.
Over my birthday weekend, the program I was studying with in Milan took us to Parma for a Culture/Cuisine Trip where we toured the Parmigiano Reggiano factory and watch the magic unfold. I bought a solid 5 lbs. of cheese but the only thing that was missing was a good tart sour ale like Jolly Pumpkin Perseguidor, Rodenbach Grand Cru or perhaps an impy like Victory Storm King Imperial Stout. Here’s a quick run through of the process that goes into parmesan cheese:
The head cheese of the Parmagiano Reggiano factory, separating extra whey to be fed to the piggies.
Skimming the cheese with a wooden rod to check consistency.
Bagging the cheese in cloth to drain before being pressed into the molds.
Brine bath where the proteins and little fat basically cure and harden until aging begins.
Cheese cheeeese gloriousss cheeeeeeseeeeee!!!
While I adamantly loathe the era of the celebrity chef and next Food Network stars, I actually turn to Martha Stewart occasionally. I learned this behavior from a boss of mine when I was working as a special-events intern at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Whenever I was stuck on decisions for little things such as napkin holders, she told me that she often went to the MS website to get an idea and then mold it to the MOCA aesthetic.
Together with my roommate in Milan, we threw many dinner parties so I turned to the site for some fresh ideas towards the end of our time in Italy. The recipe I found and followed without elaboration was a simple summer treat that fit perfectly with our Italian life: strawberries, balsamic vinegar, fresh ground black pepper.
as many strawberries as you want to eat, cut into quarters and piled high on a plate
drizzle balsamic vinegar over top without drowning the fruit
fresh ground pepper over top
*I like to serve it in the middle of the table with forks for everyone to eat off the communal plate*
This plate also lead me to drizzling balsamic on fresh orange slices for a party. Within minutes the plate was empty.
Now then, beer. What goes best with the tangy zip of balsamic, the sweetness of strawberries and the spice of pepper? My thought is a nice porter, perhaps a stout: Smuttynose Robust Porter or Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura. You get the bitterness of roasted coffee notes with a mellow mouthfeel to play off the bite of the vinegar and fruit, everybody wins!
I really should have. I really should be. A big thank you to good genes.
I recently confessed to my mother that my favorite pasta was capellini, and not for the taste. I wanted capellini because I could spool huge amounts on my fork for one mammoth mouthful. I blame my mother for this because she makes an incredible meat sauce. Sometimes, even now, when she makes it and there are leftovers I will eat it out of the tupperware with a spoon foregoing the pasta.
I’m not quite sure why I was so secretive about this, but oh well.
In other pasta news, I actually made myself ill on an incredible dinner in Genoa, Italy. We sat at a long table and were served simple spaghetti with pesto and fresh fried sardines. I had one bite of both these local specialties and was hooked. When others at the table couldn’t finish their food I gladly took over. By the end of the night my stomach was so distended I could barely move, I’d already unbuttoned and unzipped my pants and everyone’s plates were fighting for a spot on my small corner of the table. I couldn’t help myself it just seemed criminal not to do the food justice.
As previously stated, Anthony Bourdain had a positive influence on me starting in high school. So, I was terribly happy when I found one of his episodes called Food Porn. This might be one of my all time favorites. Now I’m realizing that I have a dirty addiction, which would explain my Filthy Meat Lust. I love the talk of the voyeurism of eating and cooking. My persian roommate in Milan loved to watch people eat. Our other friend was so taken with the perfect bite that she reveled in the finding and sharing of them. I definitely share these sinful pleasures and it certainly includes good beer. I love exposing craft beer virgins to their first really good beer. This is where food and beer will always win out over wine for me: wine can only be so complex and have only so many varieties, but beer is infinitely diverse just as much as cuisine.
And then there’s the idea of cooking and brewing with love. It sounds so cliché but I truly believe if you intentionally and actively insert love into what you create, you can taste it in the results. And why not? Chefs, cooks, brewmasters and homebrewers the world over are passionate about their creations from process to presentation. Here are professions and hobbies that demand a full blown love affair from their partners.
I read two books, two summers ago that my mother recommended, A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford A. Wright and The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser. And it lead me to think about how we view food, and food coupled with drink.
Myself, I am a slave to pastas of every variety and the blue and yellow of a DeCecco box are enough to make me swoon, but what about everybody else? My 4 months abroad in Italy gave me a chance to make some lifelong friends and alter some of my perceptions while strengthening others. Everyone had different tastes, many of which I found amusing. My dearest roommate, a Persian pescatarian who didn’t cook, relied heavily on Buitoni pre-made pizzas, gelato from Chocolat (I am happily, equally as guilty) EXY — the local vegetarian take-away store — and hard boiled eggs.
She is not a fan of cooking but she is a lover of food and would eat anything I put down in front of her never shying away, even when I brought out the Srichacha chili sauce. Her pescatarian ways also challenged me to produce meatless meals and remold my brain from its strong convictions that a meal isn’t a meal without some meat. It was a running joke when she would catch me hunched over my computer for hours looking up recipes for our next dinner party or sniffing out the new Italian microbreweries/brewpubs around Milan. There were still others in our friend group who would order plain cheese pizzas, something I’ve never understood, and a Becks. However, when sat at our kitchen table they too ate what was in front of them and enjoyed it.
Back in the states, I had an illuminating conversation with a dear friend of mine who is also an avid cook and a lover of good beer. We had a discussion about how we were raised when it came to food and drink. Her family rule was no matter what you were served you were expected to eat.
In fact, she and her siblings would become the catalyst for other families’ picky children to try new foods when faced with the attention-creating prowess of their eating habits. This too was how I was raised and we both benefitted from parents who could cook, who were adventurous in travel and diet, and with the money to do so. Is the blame or the responsibility for “good eating” shouldered solely by the parents as Willy Wonka would say ? Are we faced with a combination of good parenting and personal choice or are some people naturally inclined towards, as Visser would say, neophilia - the pursuit of the new?
We also talked about the idea of the “food pusher”, or one who forces food upon one’s guests consent given or not. She places herself in the more aggressive streak of food pushers whereas I find myself in a more insidious position: if I invite people to dinner, I place all the food on the table equally in front of everyone and food in the middle to be eaten by hand. The arrangement uses unseen peer pressure as the trigger for the others who lag behind. For example, if everyone is eating fettunta and you are the only one not, you feel kind of stupid and HUNGRY when everyone else is making those lovely yummy sounds and wolfing down the few pieces left.
From a personal stand point, I have never been afraid to try new foods and actively crave the seeking and eating of these new morsels. A pivotal book in my high school years, was Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: the one line of advice I took away from the book was to never order something I’d had before.
Even in my baby diary my mother wrote (besides, “she cries when is told No.”) that my new favorite food was mulligatawny soup. I have the same craving when it comes to craft and microbrews. The emotions I feel when confronted by a wall of pasta are much the same when I step into a beer store for the very first time. I’ve been compared to a kid in a candy store when I shop for beer: in the beginning, I had no control and could spend $100 on beer, oops!
My drive for the new usually means I try a beer and move on to the next, so that drinking a beer I’ve already had feels counterproductive — like I’m wasting my time on a beer I know, when I should be plowing through to discovering unknown breweries. However, this urge too I have learned to control and recognize the benefits of coming back to some beer to dig a bit deeper and create a better understanding of it.
There are certain things that seriously inspire food lust in me. Take for example raw or cooked cuts of meat or even whole fresh animals. I suppose you could say that this lust borders on the macabre and this certainly came to fruition during my semester abroad in Milan, Italy and in my travels that took me to the Mercat de la Boquiera in Barcelona.
The first thing I saw walking into the market was a veritable outpouring of colors and ripe fruits.
These polished babies were some of the most beautiful on display at La Boquiera.
Milan has a grocery store in the historic centro of the city, Peck, that makes Dean&Deluca look like a pile of bricks. I saw legs of prosciutto that would make you weep they were so beautiful.
I can’t remember what these snails are stuffed with but just look at the smoked mozzarella ring.
But even this immaculate store could not compare to what I found in Barcelona. La Boquiera was a market made of dreams for me: here I saw whole piglets, smiling!, piles of fruit, candies, spices and the fish market was incredible — visceral in smell, sight and sound, with tough women hacking heads off fish, shucking oysters and drenched in blood. Heaven.
Growing up in my household meant weekend brunch was full of glorious pancakes. These babies were homemade, none of that god awful Bisquick-add-water-to-the-jug-and-pour mess. No these are completely from scratch. I think my record was putting down 3 of these, more than that and I might have passed out with my face on the table for a solid 3 hours. Ken Albala, author of Pancake: A Global History, deftly describes the joys and pains of pancake love.
If we’re talking comfort food, these are definitely the top dogs for me and what could possibly heighten my love for them but a seriously delicious beer. I am a neophyte when it comes to the breakfast/oatmeal stouts but as of now the first beer that popped into my head to pair with pancakes was a local: Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher Oatmeal-Imperial Stout. It pours a very solid dark brown black with a small lighter brown head. Aroma like a moist slightly bitter chocolate cake and reminds me of the sloppy cake little Brucey Bogtrotter had to eat in the book/movie Matilda. Molasses, smooth ripe dark fruit sweetness. Seriously seriously delicious and proud it comes from Ohio. Coats the mouth but not too much with slight bubbles of carbonation and a very mellow smooth finish. Just because it was the first to pop into my head doesn’t make it the perfect choice. New adventure to figure out!
(Sift together dry ingredients in a separate bowl)
1 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
(Mix together in a separate bowl)
1 cup whole milk and 1/4 cup BORIS the Crusher
3 tablespoons melted butter
Now that the prep work is done, pour the wet ingredients into the dry and fold into the mixture, DO NOT WHISK UNTIL SMOOTH. The ideal mixture is kinda rough and lumpy which makes the cakes rise and thicken better, so carefully make sure the wet ingredients cover the dry. (If you have the time cover the bowl of batter with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for an hour)
Next take out a griddle and turn your stove to a low medium heat and wait for the surface to warm. Take peanut oil and drizzle a little on the griddle and with a folded up paper towel spread the thin coating all over. While this is going on, place plates in the oven at a low heat so they warm up.
Put a small slice of butter on the griddle for each spot you intend to cook a pancake and place whatever size dollop of batter you want over top. The pancake is ready to flip when the sides pull away from the griddle and the uncooked batter on top starts to blister. Then flip and cook until it reaches a consistency you like: personally, I like mine a little doughy on the inside!
To serve, take out plates from the oven and serve up the cakes with whatever sides you choose. The flavor is beautiful - it’s only a touch of booziness, but mostly you get a light chocolate taste. SO GOOD.
I guess this is more of a post to describe my background with food and in particular my early childhood memories associated with beer and food. One of the fears most commonly represented in movies for kids is the idea of getting lost and separated from your parents (sup, Home Alone I and II). My real-life encounters with parental separation usually took place in the grocery store.
I was so in love with pasta at an early age that I would frequently head for the pasta aisle and stare up at all the different styles (gemelli, which means twins, was an early favorite) and somehow lose the rest of my family. I would also lose track of time pouring over the wall of pasta until over the PA I would hear my name being called and being asked to come to the cash register. My mother was smart enough to also groom me as an intuitive pasta tester at an early age. Every time she made pasta she would ask me to try it at different times so I would grow accustomed to what was raw, semi-cooked, al dente and overcooked.
As for beer, I was also groomed at an early age to pour a beer properly and specifically a Guinness, by my father. He would take us on family vacations to England, Ireland and Scotland where I spent some quality time in pubs inhaling fish and chips that were drowning in malt vinegar while keeping my eyes trained on the tap pulls. My next adventure is to become the queen of pasta making, something in which one would think I’d already dabbled. So I guess let’s just call this a work in progress and I’ll fill you in on the details as it grows.
This one is a serious stumble and it all went down as I was hunting for food — for a student art exhibition I was in charge of running and making the aperativo — in my local grocery store on Via Olona in Milan.
The recipe popped into my head as I was going through my favorite section of produce and fruit.
RAG SALAD: radish/avocado/grape
4 large avocados diced into bite size chunks
1 large bunch of red (preferably red globe) grapes cut into halves or quarters
1 medium bunch of radishes thinly sliced so there are beautiful circles of them
Layer all this up in a large bowl and toss with a light coating of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pepper over top. The smooth, sweet mellow of the avocado goes really nicely with the crunch and sweetness of the grapes and the spicy crunch of the radishes. Plus it just looks really beautiful and summery heaped on a nice white platter.
I came back with this recipe to Ohio after my semester abroad in Milan, Italy and served it as one of the dishes at our annual potluck Memorial Day party and every guest came up to me asking how to make it and could I please make more. You’ll get serious points for deliciousness, easy presentation and innovation — people like eating something that looks and tastes great and they feel better about themselves for trying something different. You won’t have to ask “Ne vuoi ancora?” — Would you like some more? Treat them with some prosecco (Italian champagne) or a nice juicy hopped up IIPA like: Bells Hopslam or Buckeye Aquarius.