Monthly Archives: August 2013

Confessions of a Citibiker

photo (48)On a balmy August Monday, as I sweep ever so dangerously between a sea of cabbies on 8th ave in Midtown, I reach a red light. And within seconds I’m surrounded by 5 other frontal balding middle aged men looking “Heisenberg” tough on those blue Citibikes. We all look at each other with a sense of accomplishment, uber coolness, until we smoothly shift attention to the lowly pedestrians crossing the street. Say my name pedestrians!

Ok, I need to stop watching Breaking Bad. It affects my sex life and now my writing style. But I did join the Citibike program 6 weeks ago with an annual membership. Today, I got notice that the credit card they have on file will soon expire and I spent no time rushing to correct the issue. Which means I cant be without it even for a day. Citibike is the best thing that happened in NYC since the invention of General Tso’s Chicken.

I somehow convinced myself that one reason to join was to lose some weight. I was only about 5-10 pounds overweight, but I figured that if I join, riding the bikes will give me that much needed exercise I lack in my daily routine. Well, I gained 5 pounds since I started. Not 5 pounds of muscle. 5 pounds of glorious white fat. And the reason is fairly simple. The bike takes me to more food and I eat more. Last night I took the bike to Di Palo, a store in Little Italy, and now my fridge is stocked will all sorts of Italian imported Salumi and truffled Pecorino cheese. Last week I met a friend at the Chelsea Market where we shared all kinds of goodies together. I’m discovering all sorts of new 9th ave possibilities that were not very easily reached pre Citibike, and I go there alone since non of my coworkers have memberships. The bikes are a game changer. But with the weight thing and eating more solo, something will have to give. As of now I vote for anti social and weight gain.

Ok, I’m half kidding about the anti social stuff. The truth is I’m actually meeting quite a few people while using the bikes, whether meeting someone at a bar for lunch (no worries Mrs Z its just casual sex. Not true love) or a tourist struggling with the process of getting a bike which is very common for first timers. The other day I helped a German couple take out their bikes and besides the fact that at that moment my breath was sporting a garlicky, peppery mess courtesy of Szchechuan Gourmet where things got mildly uncomfortable, it was pleasant meeting and talking to them. A few days ago I met a Russian stunner student who was having a hard time with one particular station so I walked her to the nearest station.  Although I had to go back to work she really needed some help.

And now to the big confession you’ve been waiting for.  I, Ziggy, am not wearing a helmet!  Why aren’t you wearing a helmet Ziggy?  Good question Timothy.  Here’s why…

1)  I don’t like wearing helmets

2)  Its not like the bikes can go very fast.  There are 3 speeds… slow, slower, and Angela Lansbury.  You can pedal as fast as you can (and look like a dork as a result) and still stop within 2 seconds.

3)  Not that many are wearing helmets.  50% of all bikers out there wearing helmets and less than 25% Citibikers wear them.  The ones that do look like dorks, especially the ones on the Angela Lansbury speed.  The other NYC phenomenon, walkers who text and cross the street while doing so need helmets more.

4)  In order for me to wear a helmet I would pretty much need to carry one at all times.  Take my helmet on the bus, to work, take it to lunch, and take it back home.

5)  The most important reason.  The cool factor.  You cant look cool on those bikes no matter how hard you try.  On my first ride I got yelled by an old lady “Arent you too old to ride on the sidewalk? idiot!”.  That was my grandma.  Sometimes you have no choice but ride on the sidewalk a little bit to avoid traffic.  I already touched on the speed issue and how dorky you look when you pedal like superman in order to go 3 miles per hour.  And then there’s that old 1 hand move trick.  You see a beautiful girl and suddenly you are cruising ever so smoothly with only one hand.  Doesn’t quite work on the Citibike, I tried.  Today I saw someone ride a regular bike with no hands, while texting.  Now he looked cool even with the helmet.

But don’t try that at home kids.  Citibikes like I said is the best thing that ever happened to NYC.  Riding on the west side by the Hudson especially is such a delight.  The inner Ziggy comes out of hibernation, free to explore, and eat more while doing so

Categories: New York City | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Sostanza in Florence – Underdog Pollo

Sostanza ChickenAnother year, another City of David. First Jerusalem, now Florence.  After withstanding repeated 14th century attacks by Milan, underdog Florence over time chose David as its symbol.  Besides the masterpiece in the Accademia you can see all sorts of Davids everywhere in Florence such as Donatello’s David at the Bargello. It may take more than a day trip to see and understand this phenomenon.  And then there’s that other famous underdog, found only in one particular 140 year old trattoria

SostanzaIn a city dominated by the Bistecca Fiorentina, a stocky and bloody T-Bone, the little Pollo al Burro, Chicken with Butter prevailed, reaching legendary status over time.  2 generous breasts are cooked over coal before pan fried with eggs and one stick of butter.  Thats still 2 sticks less than the similarly celebrated BBQ Shrimp at Mr B’s in New Orleans, but rich nonetheless.  The result is moist and addictive.  With the massive Sostanza Bistecca Fiorentina side by side, for the first time ever my fork was reaching for the bird over a well cooked medium rare steak.  Long live the pollo!
But that’s not all we enjoyed in Sostanza. Tortellini al Sugo was a subtle, cruel reminder how different are the sauces in the States.  A nice assortment of prosciutto, melon, salami, and a well crafted Finocchiona which made us order it just about everywhere we would see it the rest of the trip.
Sostanza Tortellini al SugoSostanza antipasto
There were a few misses however on this night. The omelette with artichoke which is another signature dish, was just ok for us.  I Didnt care much for the artichoke part in particular (out of season perhaps?).  A “stew” with beans produced 2 fairly dry bland veal cutlets but mighty delicious white beans.
Sostanza is like a timeless well oiled machine. 7:30 reservations for tourists like us. You may share your table with other {shrug} tourists. 9:30 is for mostly locals who may share a table with more tourists. Although fairly touristy, Sostanza is far from a tourist trap, like this one for example.  If you only have the weekend, you are out of luck, as Sostanza closed Saturday and Sunday.  Otherwise, try to make reservations ahead of time (by calling only unfortunately).  I like places with signature dishes like Sostanza.  Easy to write about and easy to recommend.  Get the chicken!
Sostanza Bistecca Fiorentina Sostanza Omelette Sostanza Stew Sostanza Dessert Sostanza Chicken in action
Categories: Florence, Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Parking in Tuscany – The Survival Guide


After reading the helpful tips below, click here to view the parking maps.

So you decided to rent a car in Tuscany?  Mazal Tov!  Here’s what you need to do first…

1)  Get up and dim the lights

2)  Open that bottle of Prosecco you were saving for that special occasion.  The special occasion is here.

3)  Open your laptop and pump up this baby in the background

4)  Go to Google Maps and start “Google Driving” all over Tuscany.  Thats it.  Rinse and repeat the next day

What is Google Driving you ask?  Its driving using Google’s “Street View” feature.  If you haven’t been using it to prepare for a trip somewhere, you need to start now.

While you are at it, you need to get familiar with ZTL

And now, everything you always wanted to know about parking in Tuscany (But were too afraid to ask).  Thats one of the most common questions on the boards and I spent more than my fair share looking for the most convenient lots while avoiding the dreaded ZTL signs.  Your GPS doesnt care about ZTL zones.  But Ziggy does!

So here’s what you need to know.  Click on each map to enlarge and save the locations to your maps as needed.  Disregard the “A” flags on the map and focus on where the little guy is

Note: I had to move the map to this page

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Cesare al Casaletto – Another Useless Rome Post

Cesare al Casaletto - meatballsContinuing my streak of useless Rome posts I will now write about our last meal in Italy.  Why is a post about this particular meal useless you ask?  Well, good question Timmy! The answer lies with Google and the reason I picked this place in the first place.  Virtually every Rome blogger and their nonnas has already blogged about Cesare since they opened a few years ago.  Some of them even show you the same pictures like the Kodak friendly meatballs and the fried gnocchi.  I really don’t have much new to offer here.  The Oxtail?  Looks like that tip was already covered by Katie Parla.  “off the beaten path”, “Last stop on #8 tram”, “Only locals”, “gotta have the fried stuff”, bla bla bla, all of that was already covered extensively.  Perhaps I could add a picture of myself trying to smile but that would just make things more awkward and may ruin any appetite you may have, or may make you moody.  I got nothing but reconfirm what the locals already said.  Cesare al Casaletto has left us impressed.

Cesare al Casaletto - wineIts almost like every major Italian tourist destination has this line in the sand.  Cross the line and you dine with the locals.  Cesare is well beyond the line but extremely easy to get to especially if you are staying in Trastevere.  Take tram #8 all the way to the last stop, about 15 minutes from the river, and its right there on Casaletto street.

I almost didnt make it to Cesare after seeing less than glowing reviews on the boards.  But then it hit me.  Caicos Cafe in Turks and Caicos is just about my favorite restaurant in the world, but does not always get rave reviews from visitors.  So just like I expect my friends and family to trust my judgement on Caicos Cafe I decided to stop reading and start trusting.

The menu here reads like a roman cuisine dictionary with a surprising English translation for such a residential area trattoria away from the center.  Within an hour the place got filled with locals.  How do I know they were all locals?  Well for starters everyone got kisses from the staff except us.  I tried forcing a wet one but the young waiter got a little confused.Cesare al Casaletto

Appetizer portion of the menu consisted of all sorts of fried staff which is a specialty here.  Started with a very interesting and very generous fried gnocchi on a bed of light cream. Terrific, although the the gnocchi loving little ones declared their preference for the regular kind.  Tough to argue but this was satisfyingly unique nonetheless.  Excellent fresh succulent mussels here. The reason we order them everywhere is because the kids ask for them every time they see them.  But the star of the apps and perhaps the entire meal was probably the meatballs with pesto. Not the meatballs your mamma used to make. Better!  Like an airy slow cooked savory brisket balls.  Well done!

Cesare al Casaletto - bruschettaThe pastas were fine here but again the least memorable course as was the case with all the meals in Rome not named Sorpasso.  More of a testament to the other courses here really. You select a pasta type and the classic preparation. I wanted another Carbonara and Cacio but the wife said lets try something else so I opted for a Gricia with Tonarelli and Bucatini Amatriciana which was more satisfying. I realized I prefer all the classics over the Gricia overall.  Roman pastas to me is like Mexican food. A 3 to 5 ingredient shuffle.  Pasta, Pecorino, Guanciale, black pepper, egg or tomato sauce.  Stuff I would eat over Mexican food any time of course.

Another winner was the last course of oxtail stew. Chunky, falling of the bone juicy, tomatoee, packed with flavor meat.  Although I forgot to take a picture of this one since we were so engaged telling the kids the story of Maximus (gladiator).  I took pictures of pretty much every single dish on this trip except this last one

We skipped dessert this time and left very satisfied.  For the price perhaps the best dinner in Rome (70 something. 100 euros less than Roscioli).

Special thanks to Hande of Vino Roma for all her help with the restaurant choices.  Thanks Hande!

Cesare al Casaletto - fried gnocchi Cesare al Casaletto - Tonarelli Gricia Cesare al Casaletto - Bucatini Amatriciana Cesare al Casaletto - mussels

Categories: Italy, Rome | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Malai Marke – Shiva latest + German Draft Beer = Success!

I will make this one short and sweet and spare you the usual nonsense.  East Village is kicking butt lately.  What else is new.  Already perhaps the best foodie neighborhood in NYC which makes it one of the best in North America, things are only getting more and more exciting, and deserving of a run-on sentence.  Its almost like something new pops up in the East Village on a daily basis.

The title refers to Shiva Natarajan, not what you do when your goldfish dies (sit shiva).  Malai Marke is the latest from Natarajan, the king of Indian food in NYC.  Shiva owns more restaurants than I own boxer shorts and briefs combined (note:  I know what you thinking and its really none of your business.  Its between me, my wife and my briefs.  I should have more briefs but mrs Z keeps throwing out all my “air conditioned” ones whenever she packs for vacation).  While Shiva virtually owns Curry Hill including Chote Nawab and about 4 eateries on one block, his presence on “Curry row” is now firmly established with Malai Marke.

I’ve already been to Malai Marke twice now, sampling all sorts of complex deliciousness…

Garlic Naan fresh from the oven as good as it gets.  German draft beer, major bonus.

Kurkuri Bindi – Okra.  Fried and dry which was a surprise. I was expecting a saucy okra but  it was still very good.  Reminded me of one of those spicy Indian nut snacks.

Bindi Sasuralwali – I much preferred this Okra – “okra you would eat at your in-laws house.” as it says on the menu just like in Chote Nawab. If anyone here can introduce me to someone who’s parents can cook like this I might need to reconsider my status. My in-laws don’t even know what Okra is.

Chicken Xacuti – Outstanding!  Had it twice already.  Mild but subtle, with roasted coconut, peanut, and poppy seeds

Lamb Madras – One of the better Madras dishes I’ve had.  Tender lamb and the dish overall was fairly similar to the Xacuti

Tand Mix Grill – Another must for me.  Great chicken tikka, Tandoor, unique lamb kebabs with just enough heat

Lamb Chettinad – So good. Thicker and heavier than the others but in a good way.  Again I expected more heat but was pleasantly surprised with just the right amount.

Chicken Tikka Masala – something I eat often but never in places like these even tho I’m always sure it would be much better. This was no exception.  Creamy and perfectly buttery, tho I sort of liked it more as an occasional bite vs eating it continuously if it makes sense.

Chicken Rizzala – Green nutty korma almost dessert like compared to all the other dishes.  Korma is another dish we eat often at home and this was like eating it for the first time.

As with pretty much any Indian restaurant I would not bother with dessert.  East Village has too many great choices like Chikalicious, Big Gay Ice Cream, Sundaes and Cones

Add another one to your East Village list people.  and excuse the horrific Iphone pictures please

Malai Marke - Tikka masala Malai Marke- Garlic Naan Malai Marke - Chili Chicken Malai Marke - Bindi

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nish Nush – Ach Ya!

Nish Nush - Falafel A little Borat/Bruno humor there

So the other day something weird happened at night that never happened before.  No, not what you think.  And shame on you.  What happened was I was awaken by Mrs Z’s stomach making all kinds of weird noises.  I spent about 10 minutes lying there listening to this processing symphony with a certain amount of fear that she’ll wake up with some sort of ailment.  The night before we had an incredible meal at a place where 2 Yelpers got sick recently and I couldn’t help but worry.  (That place is not Nish Nush).  Unlike snoring, there’s really nothing much you can do in this case.  I mean, imagine this conversation..

Her:  “What?”

Me:  “Ahhm, your stomach is making noises”

Her:  “And..what exactly can I do about that?”

Me:   “Ahem, can you.. like.. go downstairs and have a turkey sandwich or something”

Her:  Speechless

Me:  “I love you”

Her:  “Fuck You!”

See what I mean?  But thankfully Mrs Z woke up fine the next day and everything turned out fine.  False alarm.  What does it have to do with Nish Nush?  Good question Timmy.  Nish Nush is sort of a symbol that we are eating out a little bit too much lately, and as I was listening to Amadeus Belly I was wondering if I’m going too far.  The place is an hour drive from my house and I already visited it twice in one week.

Quite simply Nish Nush (“snack” in Hebrew) serves the best Falafel in NYC at the moment.  Their classic “Green” Falafel is not really green but picture perfect blend of brown and green herbs, mostly brown which I prefer.  Along with the perfectly crispy exterior its the closest I’ve had to Falafel in Israel.  Although I used to live in Israel as a kid, my best Falafel came last year when I returned as an adult (stop laughing Mrs Z!).  Falafel here is made to order which makes a big difference.  Pitas are baked in house which is another big plus, and are served warm.  There’s free Hummus inside the Falafel sandwich, which is sort of a sad plus.  Hummus should always be free, like wifi.  So many charge extra for Hummus these days.

But thats not all Nish Nush serves of course.   They have a pretty large menu in fact for a place like this.  All sorts of Hummus specialties, the Hummus Whisperer a former? contributor to this blog swears by their Masabacha, Hummus with warm chickpeas, boiled eggs, and spices.  Hummus is made fresh daily and second only to Gazala’s Place for my taste.  The Falafel Platter puts other Falafel platters to shame and I’ll let the pictures do the talking.  They also got Sabich on the menu and get this, they even spell Schug correctly.

Move over Taim! Just a little bit

Nish Nush

88 Reade St, New York, NY 10013

Nish Nush Platter Nish Nush Falafel Nish Nush

Categories: New York City, TriBeCa | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

24 Hours in Lucca

Lucca - San Michele in ForoWe started our Lucca adventure with a missed turn and ended with something we feared will happen eventually but not in a foreign country.  Lets start with the missed turn

Looking at the map roughly 8,754 times prior to the trip did not stop me from missing the most important turn leading to the Alla Dimora Lucense hotel.  We circled for a little bit trying to get back to the hotel but to no avail, so I just had no choice but park on the street 200 meters away from our hotel.

Ester, our fantastic host:  “Oh no you cant leave your car there.  You will get fined since you are not a local”

Me:  “Ok, so how do I get to your garage”

Ester: “Oh its very easy.  I’ll show you”

Me thinking: Oh thank goodness.  I thought the only way is something drastic like completely leave the old city

Easter: “You need to leave the old city” pointing on the map how easily it can be done

LuccaOh well, out of the gates and back to the same gate we came from and this time I knew exactly where to turn.  After showing Ester how an American backs into an Italian garage with minimum sweat, off we go with some major eating, I’m talking about 5 meals sight seeing.

I just took a moment to think about how to best describe Lucca and I’m having a hard time.  Its either indescribable or the show I’m currently watching (chopped) is interfering with my writing.  (Mrs Ziggy if you reading: I think its time for me to get an office now that my blogging career is taking off.  I highly doubt Katie Parla is writing posts from a noisy living room.  And we are out of Halva).  But Lucca is unique, and being in Lucca just felt different to me in ways I cant quite explain.

First stop:  Palazzo Pfanner and its lovely garden right by our hotel.  We really enjoyed this place and spent a bit too much time here, mostly taking roughly 100 pictures of ourselves jumping from a bench.  I would show you my shots but its NSFW.Lucca - Palazzo Pfanner

Instead of having the customary 2 meals in Lucca I chose to snack around during the day.  We wound up going to 2 particular places 4 times (2 each).

Da Felice is the oldest Pizza in town, and the the most popular with locals.  We sampled some delicious pizza with salami, and another one with prosciutto that blended nicely with the rest of the ingredients.  But to be honest, I wasnt there for the pizza.  I came for the Cecina, thin  pancake like or crepe if you will made of chickpea flour.  But since they were down to the last few slices I opted to come back later for a fresh batch.Giusti

And around the corner is another local favorite, Forno Giusti.  The smells alone in this bakery worth going in.  People love candle scents, perfume, etc, while I feel at home inside a bakery like this.  We sampled some focaccia (plain and with cheese) and Buccellato, a simple sweet sticky cake with raisins.  But everything else including the fine looking focaccia sandwiches looked amazing.  By the end of the trip “Forno” became my new favorite Italian word.  Surpassing Tartufo and Finocchiona.Lucca -Forno Lucca - Giusti

Turn the corner again and you are staring at one of the most stunning church exteriors in all of Tuscany, in my opinion at least, San Michele in Foro (top picture) or San Michele near “Forno” as I call it.  Built on top of a Roman Forum (hence “Foro”), this Romanesque beauty and its ornate facade is not to be missed.  Same goes for their Duomo, Cathedral of San Martino and to a lesser degree the peaceful Basilica of San Frediano.  The good news is that you will not find a more walkable city, so seeing all three and all the sites in Lucca is fairly simple.  Although we biked to the DuomoLucca - San Martino Lucca - Basilica of San Frediano

Right near San Michele is a little square that is all about Lucca’s claim to fame, Puccini.  The composer’s house which is now a small museum, and a statue dominate the square.

We then proceeded with a little bit of shopping.  By shopping I mean the girls went inside a large store while I waited outside with other annoyed husbands.  They were inside long enough for me to get invited to a Bat Mitsvah in Israel.

“My name is Lucca and I live on the second floor” couldnt get the song out of my head.  Especially after numerous stops at our hotel where we stayed on the second floor.  Italian 2nd floor, like American 3rd floor.  In Lucca you have to stay inside the walls to maximize convenience and Alla Dimora Lucense really did the trick with its clean and spacious accommodation for the 4 of us.  Breakfast by Ester not too shabby either.  More on what we left behind soon

Lucca - lawnsInternet connection issues limited my ability to explain to the family some of the sites.  I was relying on some websites I had saved but couldn’t open them.  So in order to make it interesting for the kids I had to invent things.

Me: “And here you have what looks like a statue of Lenin” (some statue that sort of reminded me of Lenin)”

kid 1: “John Lenin?”

Me:  “Ahhm Yes, John Lenin.  Liberator of Lucca”

Kid 2: “I’m hungry”

Lucca bikingMe: “But we just…never mind”  It suddenly hit me that all the numerous “but we just ate” arguments never really went anywhere

After a short rest it was time to take advantage of Lucca’s main attraction.  The one of a kind Lucca walls, a 4 km park encircling around the old town.  We picked up the bikes in Piazza Santa Maria but there are bike rentals all over town.  Some of them I pointed on the map below.  We simply had a blast biking all the way around.  And to truly appreciate this scenic town biking around it is the way to go.  Dont forget to look outside of the walls for more views, and to go down occasionally to visit other areas of the old town and some gelato of course.

Lucca Walls

Time for Cecina.  Delicios!  Add a little bit of seasoning, Delicious-er!  And since we are already in the neighborhood, more yumminess from the Forno where we enjoyed mini flat pizzas.  Basically I just went in to get another whiff and wound up buying more food

Lucca - Cecina Lucca Giusti Pizza

Lucca - De FeliceAfter another short break we went on to climb Guinigi Tower, one of numerous towers all over Tuscany built by wealthy families to either symbolize wealth or for protection (the towers of San Gimignano).  Again, I have to use the word unique here as on the top of the tower you find shade in 2 oak trees, with plenty of breathtaking views to go around.  No wonder John Lenin found refuge here as a small child.Lucca anfiteatro

Lucca Guinigi TowerAt this point most of the tourists are gone and walking around is a little more pleasant, although you dont mind the tourists here so much.  I couldnt help but notice the Lucca dogs dont stop to poop but do it while walking.  Possibly foreign dogs walking around marveling at the architecture while their owners desperately trying to clean their mess.  I almost felt like grabbing a few napkins to help this poor woman.  Almost!

On the way to dinner we bumped into a lovely couple I met on Trip Advisor.  They drive to Lucca every year from England and stay for a while.  It was very cool meeting them.

Lucca - Piazza AntfiteatroOne benefit of staying in Lucca overnight is visiting Piazza Anfiteatro during the day and night.  The site of a former Amphitheater holding 10,000 spectators.  And of course the site of John Lenin’s eventual execution for giving away Chianina secrets to the Florentines, as I explained to the family.

For dinner I chose a place called Baralla and was very pleased with the meal overall.  A fantastic antipasti including a very different Sopressata, farro with sundried tomatoes, bread soaked with vinegar and onion and basil which tasted much better than it sounds.  I got spoiled with all the Tuscan spoiled bread specialties.Lucca - Baralla Starters

Loved the pastas here. Seeing truffles on the menu finally was like seeing David.  These were black truffles from San Miniato shaved on tagliolini and although summer black truffles arent the best quality every little piece counted big time especially now that the entire family is into them.  And of course I had to try the Tortelli Luchese which reminded me of Russian Siberian pilmeni stuffed with mystery meat with a meat ragu on top. Really enjoyed this one.Lucca - Baralla Truffles Lucca - Baralla tortelli Lucchese

The Bistecca Di Chianina was surprisingly a little overcooked (more like medium) which I didnt think was possible in Italy.  The rabbit cacciatora was more like it.  Tender and flavorful.  Good tiramisu and a fantastic parfait with pistachios and dark chocolate capped a fine meal overall.Lucca - Baralla Chianina Lucca - Baralla Rabbit Lucca - Baralla

As we were saying our goodbyes to Lucca it was time to say our hellos to… Lucca.  We expected this moment to happen as we’ve seen it happen to all our friends numerous times, sometimes even digging through the trash cans outside with gloves.  But we never expected it to happen in a foreign country.  My oldest forgot her retainer inside a napkin over breakfast and so we had come back.  Basically just delaying my next anxious moment:  Taking pictures of people trying to straighten the tower of Pisa.Pisa

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Da Roberto in Montisi – Slow Food Nation

Da Roberto - Insalata lagumi“We are far from Da Roberto” is a phrase I’ve used more than once already.  The first time was in Rome’s Le Mani in Pasta where we got treated like second class citizens. The last time was in my house where Mrs Ziggy flat out refused to disclose where she got the couscous. I suspect now that it wasnt organic couscous.

Da Roberto, in the remote Tuscan village of Montisi, represents everything I love about eating in Italy.  Fantastic setting, great food, local ingredients, and a man whose passion for food is contagious.  I said “Man” instead of “Chef” for a reason.  “I’m not a chef, I’m not a cook, I’m simply here to present the finest local ingredients in the simplest form”.  And what ingredients they were.  Every grain, every bean, every tomato, cow or pig that you will consume at Roberto’s house, its origin will be explained to you in full detail.  Roberto’s freezer is turned off and his has no microwave.  You get fresh or you get nothing.  The only salt in the house is for the pasta water in the kitchen and out on your table. The fact that our American salt demanding palates only reached for the salt once throughout the meal apeaks volumes.Da Roberto in Montisi
As you come in through Roberto’s herb garden and security guards (pictured above) you immediately get the sense that you are not in Kansas anymore.  The 10 or so items you see on the board are carefully selected dishes that showcase what I was trying to describe above.  Meaning, you don’t ask “what’s good here” or “what do you recommend”, or what’s the house specialty.  The board is the specialty.
Some of the things we ate…
Insalata lagumi (top) – 5 different beans with pecorino, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, carrots, stem of garlic, olive oil.  All work together like a beautiful symphony.  A fantastic starter

Pici, the Tuscan specialty we couldn’t get enough of, was well represented here, in a healthier more organic way.  Pici with Chianina ragu – most excellent.  Pici with pork sausage, pecorino and sweet onions was even more satisfying.  The fact that we had Pici for lunch that day and the previous day did not affect our enjoyment.

Da Roberto - pici with sausage Da Roberto - Pici with Chianina ragu

Our short streak of overcooked, dry secondis was stopped here with a lovely, tender roast of chianina.  And “The last sausage of the season from a {vendor name} 15 kilometers away”.  Sorry Roberto’s guests who came in the following days and months. You missed a darn good sausage.

Da Roberto - Sausage Da Roberto - Roast of Chianina

You will be hard pressed finding a better Slow Food ambassador.  “Slow Food”, the fight against fast food and globalization in Italy means fighting a bug that is in its infancy, or hasn’t fully developed yet. While in the USA, its like fighting a late stage cancer.  In Lucca, they recently banned any non-Italian restaurants from opening within the ancient walls, leaving 4 kebab houses as the only ethnic options in the historic center.  While I, ethnic food lover Ziggy, cant even begin to imagine life without ethnic food, I understand what Lucca, and other Tuscan towns like Siena (who banned fast food in its beautiful historic center) are trying to do.  They are trying to prevent the floodgates from opening.  Can you really blame them?  Its a sensitive subject in Italy that deserves its own post.  But as much as I like living in ethnic food capital of the world, New York City, I’m not sure I would mind trading all that for a few Robertos and its farms in my area. Well, at least for a short while.   Gotta have that non-organic couscous eventually.  Da Roberto - Dessert Da Roberto -  Montisi

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

George Costanza Rome


This post is dedicated to my Ozzie friend Tanya who is a big Seinfeld fan.

Rome surprised me in many ways.  The Carbonara, the matzoh pizza, the in your face vendors turning into Orange Yogi man.  But the biggest surprise was the abundance of statues and religious figures posing in what I can only describe as George Costanza poses.  While the poses are indeed different than that infamous Costanza pose, that was the first thing that popped into my sick mind.  Can anyone explain this to me.  We are fortunate enough to be able to travel all over the world but I don’t recall ever seeing this.  And on daily basisItaly - 2013 1811

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“show me angry.  now show me sleepy..  ye that’s it…”

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“show me sexy… not a full smile.. just a smirk..that’s it”

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“Miror mirror in my hand.  Whos the prettiest king on land”

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On the last day we even spotted this sign of a restaurant.  I think it confirms it

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More statue and fountain images.  The last one is for momcat, the hardest working woman on Trip Advisor.

“I cant feel my right arm”.  “You cant feel it because its fake”

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Categories: Italy, Rome | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

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