A much needed update…
Trenette Al Pesto Trapanese at Mercato.
From the port of Genoa sailors brought Trenette al Pesto to Trapani, Sicily where the dish was perfected even further with the addition of almonds. Homemade chewy dried Trenette cooked to al dente perfection, with almonds, garlic, tomato and basil. Its fresh, simple, and quite tasty. I havent seen this dish anywhere else, and at $12, I feel like I negotiated something at the shuk with a simple stare
Fusilli with Octopus and Bone Marrow at Marea
One of two NYC classics on the list, and perhaps the most celebrated pasta in
NYC America. Articles, blog posts, children books (Goodnight Fusilli with Octopus!) have been written about this clasic. The twisted homemade Fusilli is tossed with the most addictive fresh red sauce you will ever taste, with Sangiovese braised…
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One of the joys of travel to me, not so much to others, is the time spent researching the destination. Reading food blogs, online magazines, finding those obscure dining spots, stores, attractions. That new gelato shop that was just opened by a master ice cream maker and not quite on the tourist trail yet. All part of the fun. Other travelers we talk to derive no pleasure out of this. And for some of them, the research process can be a painful chore, like folding laundry, or changing diapers. Grandpas diapers. The one thing I learned however over the years is that staying flexible and going with the flow is equally as important. And no matter how much research you do, you may somehow bump into a Macallè, a place that makes you look silly, with all that research dimmed just about useless.
Researching Sicily is more challenging than mainland Italy due to lack of information out there. Tourism in general is a fairly new concept for Sicilians, and Italians visiting Sicily. Its like mainland Italy 20 years ago. There are practically no food blogs written by locals. To find the right places you need to make local friends quickly, and in the case of Macallè, friends in high places. After our tour of the market with chef Lele, I was essentially at his disposal. First stop was Pani_Co for some local beer tasting, followed by dinner at Macallè where Lele consults.
Macallè, just like 99% of the restaurants we visited in Sicily, is a family affair. Chef Maurizio, Margherita, and son run a tight ship in a corner of Ortigia not too frequented by tourists. I didnt think its possible on this island but you may not see one tourist walking by in this corner unless he’s lost and trying desperately to get back. When I asked Maurizio how a visitor like me would find this place without the help of a Lele, he said I would need to stay in one of the few area hotels that recommends it. This is the definition of “Hidden Gem”. And while the place gets generally high praise on Trip Advisor, the TA algorithm that takes into account the quantity of reviews, ranks Macallè fairly low as of this writing. In Sicily, more than anywhere else, Trip Advisor is king. Because there’s not much else.
Chef Maurizio created a playful, whimsical take on Sicilian cuisine. He’s very proud and passionate about his ingredients, and in Slow Food style explains where this and that came from and why. The menu options include a “Leave it to Macallè” 30 euro 4 courser which we took advantage of, and a la carte items like the sensational chicken. You will be hard pressed to find a juicier, more flavor packed bird. It was so good we ordered it twice, something as rare as the Olympics. Buttery swordfish, pistachio bruschetta with raw Gambero Rosso (red shrimp) from Mazara and white scampi set the tone nicely early on. Clams with mussels, gnocchi in a delicious clear broth. After several meals on the island, I realize that Mussels is the one must eat especially in the summer. That saltiness and flavor stays with you hours later even at the most inappropriate times! Marinated Squid cooked in three stages, sitting on top of a small hockey puck of mashed potato shows the attention to details here. Perfectly sautéed tuna on a bed of delicious peppers with sweet sautéed onions. To make peppers taste this good requires some work and a lot of love. The kids enjoyed their own Bruschetta (same as ours), the magnificent chicken, and Tagliolini with shrimp and shrimp broth. Easily our favorite meal in Ortigia.
Via Santi Coronati 42/44, Syracuse
First I will attempt to put this day in perspective. If for some ever reason, on the way to our hotel, I would have gotten kidnapped, blindfolded, and left in a room somewhere where I would get abused in ways I can not describe for 15 days. All while able to watch only reruns of Full House, and eat nothing but olives and 2 day old bread. It still would have been a good day.
I may have to dig the archive or consult with Eating With Ziggy Historians to see if I ever wrote about a tour guide before. I recall writing about some special accommodations, and experiences, but never really about a particular guide or an experience quite like this. Guides are becoming a bigger part of our travels which is ironic in a way since its easier than ever these days to research a destination. I think it was in Portugal when we realized that guides provide much more than information about the subjects you hire them for (food, attractions, etc). Guides can also help you connect with the local culture, and provide you with an experience that is a lot more meaningful than doing it on your own.
As a result, wife and I had our share of tours over the years. Some private, some not so. Some guides we found are extremely knowledgeable, but then turn into encyclopedic funeral directors who put you to sleep. Some are fun and pleasant to be around, but are not that engaging with kids. We basically figured out that the most important trait of a guide is not something you can detect from email exchanges or even reviews. Personality! Ok, enough reviews do help, but they can easily mislead when guides are likable. Though in the case of Davide of Continente Sicilia, out of 121 Trip Advisor reviews as of this writing, only one is lower than 5 stars (4 stars)
You can not possibly design a better tour guide. Recent deregulation now allow anyone to essentially become a tour guide of Mt Etna, and as a result Mt Etna tourism simply took off. These days most tours out there are operated by knowledgeable but unlicensed guides hoarding tourists on buses, or jeep around the mountain in areas where vehicles arent permitted. Davide was already licensed before the recent deregulation took place, and is one of a few “Licensed” tour guides remaining. Did I hype this guy to unmet expectations already? Good! ;)
I even put full trust in Davide with more serious matters. Breakfast! Davide and Lya run the comfortable Agon, a B&B just outside Taormina, by the sea. Convenient with a car, quiet, and spectacularly fresh baked goodies on offer in the morning courtesy of La Dolceria in nearby Giardini Naxos. After the tour when Davide learned about my struggles to find Gelsi Neri (Mulberry) Granits (first world problems), he took us straight to the bakery where the Granita was fresher than the one in the famed Caffè Sicilia in Noto
We started the day at Alcantara Gorge for the first wow moment of the day and the entire trip really. We kept struggling with the name (including my Auto-correct), and kept calling it Alcatraz. I was fully expecting Davide to take us to the touristy location you see on TA, but instead he took us to a remote location without a human in sight. It was just us, and 5 very surprised cows, the only Alcatraz inmates. Davide explained the geology of the area, and the rich fauna and flora, much of which we witnessed. Then we briefly stopped at the picturesque Castiglione di Sicilia, and Linguaglossa (literally means Tongue Tongue) nearby where we picked up sandwiches and tasted some of the most delicious baked ricotta we ever had.
The hike on Etna Nord couldn’t have been more perfect. We walked about 6-8 km which was a good fit for my family. The way I tell the degree of fun is by the amount of “are we there yet” “what’s next”, “when do you think we’ll back, I have to check how many likes I got on the picture I took yesterday” from the youngest. Zero! Not a word, as she was not only having a blast, but found new and improved selfie opportunities. We take full advantage of our National Parks in the USA, and this was as spectacular as it gets. Steep at times but manageable. The contrast of the colors, the craters, the fractures, the dead Lord of the Rings trees (it will catch on, you heard it here first). At the top of a crater (one of many) every 50 meters yielded a different spectacular view. Davide provided walking sticks that came in handy
At one point while walking behind Davide I saw him pick up a small water bottle cap from the ground which seemed a little strange when taking into account the massiveness of this place. His knowledge and love for this mountain is very evident. Quite possibly the most easy going, fun to be around guide we’ve ever met. One you want to be friends with, and who is interested in you just as much as the tour. A tour full of intangibles, like the knowledge and understanding we got about Palermo and its struggles with the mafia. A tour I cant recommend enough
To open a Mexican restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen these days requires some major Chalupas. I need to double check with the EWZ stats department but its entirely possible that Mexican is more represented in the Kitchen of Hell than Thai these days. The last couple of years saw Taquerias, Tex-Mex, and all sorts of various sit-downs flood the area. All while old fashioned Mexican bodegas forced to close or transform themselves. So forgive me when I say this, but when I saw yet another Mexican being developed on 9th between 54/53, I said the same thing when they replaced Little Chef with Choza at Gotham West Market. We need another Mexican here like I needed Shingles
Then I find out this is another place from Julian Medina, of Toloache fame. That intrigued me enough to stop wishing for shingles, but not quite enough to make it a priority (sorry Medina). But I needed to try it for myself eventually. Oh and by the way did I mention that spot is cursed? It saw a bunch of places come and go, whose names no one can recall. The only memorable thing about this location saw one of my co-workers get slapped by a former CEO when it was an Italian joint. It was a playful slap, but a slap to the face nonetheless.
But the reason that intrigued me wasnt Medina (sorry again Julian, I owe you a drink), but the fact that with all the Mexican we have in Hell’s Kitchen, I was never truly comfortable recommending any of them to visitors looking for a “Mexican restaurant”. They are all either too authentic, too taqueria, too hole in the wallish, too tex-mex, too chilish, or just simply too suck. I couldnt think of one spot, but I think that’s about to change. There’s this new place opening soon on 10th promising to make Mission style… just kidding Medina (make it a pitcher). I think Tacuba may very well be it.
Talking about Mission, the dish that is simply called Carnitas at Tacuba has that Mission District slow roasted nastiness. It comes with Chicharron (Cracklings), four little tortillas for you to master your taco skills, but thats not all… A beautiful, tangy tamarind habanero salsa that will make you want to dip you car keys into. You may also want to add some sides to go along like the rice and beans, and the unique Avocado Fries. But dont overlook the terrific Sweet Plantains.
The one thing I love about Tacuba is its short, to the point menu. Other than the good looking Ceviche section, they only have about 5 appetizers, which they seem to master. The Guacamole is thick and proper, with chile serrano giving it a little kick. The Zucchini Flower Quesadilla with Burrata, Manchego and kale pesto tastes much better than it sounds. Good luck finding this in your neighborhood Cantina. But the one must eat here for both lunch and dinner is Octopus. For lunch you got a Torta featuring Chorizo, Octopus, and Chipotle Butter. And for dinner (and lunch) Octopus comes on a toasty Tostada with chipotle butter and mezcal. Carnitas Burrito at lunch time is well done as well, other than the accompanying fries that can use some work – I suggested rosemary and garlic chips or something to oomph them up. No Complaints on the desserts and drinks side either. Go!
802 9th Ave (53/54)
Even my Google Maps app was in a confused state as my taxi raced through traffic, seemingly going the wrong way. Our female driver just smiled and said “Welcome to Palermo”. The only time she slowed down was when we passed Giovanni Falcone’s monument for me to take a quick picture. The site of perhaps the most famous mafia assassination in history, which changed Palermo forever. Falcone’s friend and fellow judge Paolo Borsellino who spoke at the funeral, was killed in similar fashion 57 days after his friend’s death. The airport is named after both heroes.
Palermo is misunderstood. Just like most of Sicily pretty much. Its old, its gritty, its congested, and its old! The same can be said to much of metropolitan Europa, but it feels different here. Emphasis on different, which is essentially why we travel. This blogger compares it to India, and I can understand why. Strangely, some of my favorite moments in Palermo came from the times when my daughters were slightly terrified. Like when we witnessed the scene at Mercato Vucciria at night – an intestine, seafood, clubby, smoky BBQ
orgy extravaganza. A scene we only see in movies, never in Italy. Different! Like our neighbor restaurant Il Pipino Rosso (the red penis) and its slightly disturbing logo. This heat made me only imagine that when the Pipino committee met to discuss the name, someone showed up with a horrific heat rash.
On this post, I will touch on some of the obvious (markets, churches), and some of the not so (fountain, dog droppings, red penises, etc). You probably already heard about Palermo’s legendary street food and market scene. Panelle, the Sicilian falafel, alone with a drizzle of lemon, or as a sandwich (Pane E Panelle), or with fried potato croquettes (Pane E Panelle Con Croquette Di Patate) quickly became our snack of choice. It sounds and looks bland, but yet another example of “Dont judge a food by its cover”. It also holds true for peaches. The uglier the better, while the most beautiful often come without substance (AKA The Paris Hilton syndrome).
The Sicilian peaches in July are outrageously aromatic and sweet. At the bustling Capo market while I was busy admiring the fishy creatures from Mazara for too long, my family would simply hold a peach 5 meters out to the direction of where I’m supposed to go. But just like with the Oritgia Market, one needs to spend some quality time (alone preferred) with the Rialto-like seafood displays. Make sure to come to Capo early, Ballaro before 13:00, and Vucciria at night for the party. If you’ve seen markets and “shuks” like in Israel and Barcelona, these markets may not exactly shock, but interesting nonetheless.
The usual suspects in Palermo… the magnificent, jaw dropping, slap your sister Cathedral. The awe inspiring, splendid, slap your other sister Cappella Palatina. And the only in Palermo, elegant Oratorios, are reasons enough to spend a few days. The recently Unescoed Cefalu and Monreale nearby means make it 4 days. You will pass by the cathedral a few times, and get mesmerized by its majestic magnificence as if you are seeing it for the very first time each and every time.. staring, admiring, selfying… until you step on dog poop.
Ziggy’s Palermo Dog Poop Survival Guide:
Do not despair. The Palermian dog poop, perhaps due to the seafood and Panelle diet doesn’t smell too harsh. Think 3 week old asparagus meets Bengay. Pick a nice looking square with pretty cobble stones and a place to rest. Chance are there’s some water on the ground there. Have someone in your family pick up little spoons off the ground, the spoons used for granitas and ice crea, they are everywhere. Gently remove the poop with the spoons. Use that bottle of water you are carrying if you have to. The square may have a different meaning to you when you next pass by as it loses its charm a bit, but thats the small price you pay
The summer heat also means discovering things you may otherwise overlook. Like the Orto Botanico di Palermo with its ancient trees (including oldest in Europe), and Zucchini shape trees (Maybe I was just hungry). Its location near the train station also means discovering the Palermo Chinese wholesale district, just in case you need to buy handheld fans for 100 of your closest friends. You can also cool off at the Fontana Pretoria, where up close it transforms into one of the most photogenic fountains in Italy. There’s even a “Costanza Pose”. When I posed in similar fashion on one of the fountain steps, Mrs Z said a policeman watching from the corner whistled to get off. Or was he just admiring? We’ll never know.
Our entire Sicilian schedule centered around one particular event, the Santa Rosalia Festino. This is arguably Sicily’s biggest festival, with concerts, fireworks, races, and various parades throughout the week. And the grand finale, July 14, where the entire town, and 1000’s of tourists come out to see Rosalia slowly parade down Vittorio Emanuele. The energy, the anticipation, the emotion was heart felt. I hope my rabbi will understand
When you take a close look at the history of Palermo, it may seem like everyone and their mother invaded Palermo at some point. Arab influence is more evident here than anywhere else especially when it comes to the wonderful cuisine. They brought in the citrus fruits, raisins, fennel, sugar, and introduced the Arab “Shuks” (markets). You may see some sort of an Arab influence in almost every dish in Palermo and elsewhere.
At Ferro Di Cavallo we started our Panelle relationship, and enjoyed Spaghetti with seafood and a fine spaghetti with squid ink, among other less memorable dishes.
The father and son team of A’Cuncuma dazzled us with colorful flavors, while mom was home with fever. This is Haute Palermo, a playful homage to Palermo classics. We enjoyed more raw Gamberoni, and fresh fish which we couldnt get enough of in Sicily. A duller, lighter version of Pasta Con la Sarde was missing its oomph, but everything else worked ]. In particular, the perfectly cooked Fassone beef from Piedmont. You can’t get this stuff in NYC. The closest is Fassone-like cattle from Montana
Turns out there’s also good pizza in Palermo, like at Ciccio Passami l’Olio. Unlike the rest of Sicily’s notables, here its a lighter, airier fare with cleverly assembled ingredients. Out of the three we tasted, the mortadella with pistachio, tomato and various cheeses stood out. Our favorite Pizza in sicily
But our favorite meal in Palermo came courtesy of La Cambusa. Originally recommended by a trusted waitress from Mercato (NYC) who grew up in Palermo. Being in the center, it does attracts a fair number of tourists, and evidently… clowns. A misunderstanding led to double the house white we wanted (bigger than a bottle) which turned out to be a fun challenge. The previous day in Trapani I ordered a fish sandwich instead of peach juice in a cafe, but my Menu Italian is getting better. As a result of all the drinking, I was desperately trying to avoid eye contact with the clown. Pasta con le Sarde here was outstanding. Same dish featured in the last Travel and Leisure issue (as of this writing). The raisins, fennel, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, sardines resulted in this sweet richness we’ve never tasted in pasta before. Vongole was one of the better Vongoles of a Vongole filled trip. Rabbit loin was tender and juicy, but the branzino baked with potato stole the show among the secondis
This is a new monthly feature on EWZ that simply features a NYC establishment that I like right now. Not a full blown post as I will spare you the unnecessary details and jokes and simply say GO, and why. And yes, I’m changing the meaning of the conventional usage of “Flavor of the Month” and making it my own
There aren’t that many places more deserving to kick this thing off than Gazala’s. I’ve been going to Gazala’s in Hell’s Kitchen for many years, and only met Gazala a handful of times. Thats partly because for a while Gazala was cooking at the bigger Gazala near the Natural History Museum until she was forced to close it. As a result she spends more time in Hell’s Kitchen these days, especially during lunch time making dinner preparations. Middle Eastern is the proper way of categorizing Gazala’s, but its more than that
At the moment Gazala is in Israel, visiting her family at the Druze village of Daliat el-Carmel, in the north near Haifa. The village where years ago as a young girl she had to make a decision that would shape the rest of her life. The decision to whether follow the religious path or not, as every Druze boy and girl requires to decide. Sacrifices surround each decision, and luckily for us New Yorkers she chose the non-religious path (as most do). This essentially allowed her to travel, and bring us a taste of that druze culture. This may be the only Druze restaurant in the country
Gazala’s Place is not a particularly sexy place. For that go to Room Service across the street where you can swing by their many chandeliers. But if you want some of the best and freshest Hummus in NYC, a Bourekas (like Bourek, flaky pastry stuffed with cheese and other goodies) popular with food tours, and fantastic falafel the size of a small monkey head, come to Gazala’s Place. Her $10 lunch specials alone like the Kafta kebab with outragously delicious chicken, hummus, salad, rice, and Baba ghanoush is the best deal in Hell’s Kitchen. Like the gift that keeps on giving
Someone out there in Denver owes me an American dollar. And I know where she lives! The bet was that taking my immediate extended family (The Joy Suck Club) to something like Blue Ribbon Sushi will be a big flop. Last time I attempted this, we wind up in Rosa Mexicano due to the reluctance of the Denverphile who should pay me another dollar for enduring another meal at Rosa Mexicano. The belief of the Denverite is that Blue Ribbon Sushi is all about that.. Sushi, and blue ribbons and stuff. And that this is simply a disastrous match to the members of some of the pickiest eaters on the planet.
Introducing the Joy Suck Club….
One is so picky that anything remotely slimy will make her puke in her mouth a little. Forget Oysters. I’m talking about mushrooms! She had her first mushroom at the age of 65, and said it was “ok”
One requires everything well well well done. Forget steak! I’m talking about pasta and eggs.
One likes generally everything, but will immediately tell you where you can get this better somewhere else even though he doesnt get out much. “I understand this is prime meat, aged 60 days and perfectly cooked. But there’s this place near where I live who does it better”
One can not handle anything with… whats the word I’m looking for… Flavor. The dish requires zero flavor whatsoever. No sauce, no seasoning. I will take the Spaghetti alle Vongole, without the Vongole please.
And then there’s the one who needs proper lighting to enjoy his meal. And by proper I mean nothing short but stadium power, blinding kind. “This is good, but I cant see anything. I would like to see what I’m eating please”
In other words, everything sucks!
To them we are freaks of nature. “You are eating uncooked meat. Should I call an ambulance now, or you’ll do it later in the middle of the night”. And so with us in the mix I’m constantly looking for that balance. Italian normally works, but gets a little challenging in the theater district (if nowhere near Mercato). At Blue Ribbon I have a secret weapon that the Denverite may not know about. Chicken! And Salmon! Not to mention steak, the sickest fried rice dish in town, and a very full menu. But what I like about Blue Ribbon and large groups more is that I can reserve at any time, and have a family style meal. I’ve done it with co-workers, and now it even passed the Joy Suck Club. The biggest test there is
Blue Ribbon Sushi has been a staple in the Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide, even though depending on how full the moon is, and who you ask, may or may not be in Hell’s Kitchen. But deliciousness has no borders. And Blue Ribbon needs to be in a neighborhood like HK. Blue Ribbon is a chain, but one should not hold it against them. While you can find their sensational oxtail fried rice with bone marrow and omelette downtown as well, they do some things unique to this location. Like the Ika Shoga, simply sauteed squid with ginger and garlic. Why no one else does this is a mystery to me. Its not only a dish I enjoyed many times, but I do get some pleasure from watching people react when they try it for the first time. Mrs Ziggy, kids, and yes, even some members of the club, raved about this one.
For me, family style meals are not about going to Carmine’s and eating 2 oversized dishes shared by 6 people. There’s just so much you can order and share, and the quality of large dishes is almost always poor. Instead, go to any place and simply order as many dishes as necessary of the same thing. Blue Ribbon is great for this because some of their signature dishes like the fried rice, and the squid are very shareable. I once sent a group there (I wasnt invited, just consulted) and pretty much wrote the entire order for them based on how many people were in the party. You want variety, especially with picky eaters. And Blue Ribbon chefs know how to cook
The rest of the meal was a big success with the Suck Club. My secret weapon fried chicken, and the salmon with a light teriyaki glaze worked like magic. The only concern was that the salmon would not be cooked enough for the club, but hey, they ate, and raved about it. I especially loved the smoky bean sprouts and rabe that accompanied the fish. While I’m not the biggest fan of the fried chicken, its almost always a smart order, and I’m slowly warming up to the honey sauce that comes with it. The fried rice is a smash hit as usual, and I’ve essentially already written essays and articles about it. Nightly specials included a fine Nobu-esque rock shrimp tempura, and finer spare ribs. There was plenty of sushi as well, shockingly gobbled up by some JSC members who may not have been aware that they were eating raw fish. And to complete the experience, I was reunited with my favorite Japanese light beer, Hitachino Nest. This did not suck.
Someone in Denver awes me a buck.
6 Columbus, 308 W 58th St (8/9)