Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Joy Suck Club does Blue Ribbon Sushi Columbus

Blue Ribbon SquidSomeone 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!

Blue Ribbon Sushi Deluxe

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.

Blue Ribbon Chicken

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.

Blue Ribbon
6 Columbus, 308 W 58th St (8/9)

Blue Ribbon Fried Rice Blue Ribbon Sushi Squid Blue Ribbon Ribs Blue Ribbon Salmon

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Visiting the Egadi Islands

IMG_0345This was confusing to research, but turned into one of our favorite days.  Allow me to help the confused in the future.

You are faced with several options.  Which of the three islands?  how long in each?  By a boat excursion or on my own?  Should I pre-purchase boat tickets?  Of course we are all different, and we all travel differently, but this plan worked wonders for us.

The boat excursions sounded like a fun, stress free way of visiting the islands.  But the more I looked into this, exploring the islands on our own sounded superior in many levels.  The islands are just too beautiful for a quick timed stop.  We opted to visit Favignana and Levanzo.

First order of business, purchase the tickets at Liberty Lines in advance.  Recently two companies merged to make this purchase a lot more convenient, and tickets do sell out sometimes.  Arrive at the port, present your vouchers, and you get your tickets.  They ask you to pick up your tickets 30 minutes prior, but I dont think its a hard rule.  We opted for the 8:30 boat from Trapani to Favignana (30 mins), 14:00 From Favignana to Levanzo (10 mins), and 17:00 from Levanzo to Trapani (45 mins through Favignana).  The one caution:  When taking the ferry from Favignana to Levanzo, once  you arrive, you may naturally feel like waiting for some green light, or someone to tell you you may leave.  That will not come.  You need to get up and leave, otherwise, you leave with the rest of the passengers to Trapani.  You may be the only one getting off.  Get off!

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Five hours in Favignana, and three hours in Levanzo seemed about right.  In Favignana, the closest and most visited island, biking is king.  Rent bikes and explore.  And by explore I mean make sure to make it to the stunning Cala Rossa.  Or you can try to hire a taxi as we did, and for about 60 euros, give you a tour of the island, drop you off at Cala Rossa, and pick you up at a designated time.  We spent 90 minutes which felt about right, maybe another 30 would have been perfect.  He took us to see other beaches, coves and a very curious Cave Bianche Hotel, essentially a resort inside a giant hole.  Other than that you can visit the beach near the port (walk right), The Tonnara (tuna factory), and the charming little town where you can grab a bite.

On Levanzo, you have Egadi’s biggest, and most important attraction, the cave paintings of Grotta del Genovese.  You can try to schedule it in advance or just ask for some info at the bar, or the popup info desk (just a girl greets and helps new arrivals) when you arrive.  We opted against doing it, and instead take the 20 or so minute trek to the Cala Minnula.  This is another rocky cove with crystal clear water and the added bonus of a forest and picnic tables right there.  Just walk right (there’s only one way), until you see the sign at about the half way point.  The other big attraction in Levanzo is the picturesque little village you’ll see as soon as you get off the boat.  In a way, with only 400 inhabitants, and no hotels, this is the more memorable island.

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Categories: Sicily | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ristorante Al Boccone – Marzamemi

IMG_9669Sometimes the best laid plans are the ones you make that morning, after Modica coffee, or inside a stunning Baroque cathedral.  Not months prior while eating leftover General Tso’s Chicken.  To Noto or Not to Noto was the question I’ve been wrestling with the most during planning.  Decision was final, until Mrs Ziggy, suffering from a small case of ‘Fish called Wanda‘ syndrome, asked me time and again.. “why arent we going to Noto?  Italian men with Italian accents are telling me I should go to Noto”.  And so its back to To Noto.  And while in beautiful but Baroque Disney Landish Noto, escaping the heat inside that stunning Cathedral (picture below), another thought crossed my mind.  Instead of having lunch in Baroque Disney, we will have lunch at the old fishing village of Marzememi, 20 minutes away.  Its been 36 hours since our last seafood meal, and my left arm is starting to twitch ever so slightly.

IMG_9664The old village of Marzamemi, a sleeping beauty, where once tuna was trapped and tortured by the numbers.  One of the first and most important ‘Tonnaras’ on the island, though the practice is no more (Thanks Obama!).  Today, two shirtless men collect two euros to watch your car, restaurants are lined up along the shore, and the old center is now as  picturesque as fishing villages get.  Surprisingly fairly quiet during the day, even in the high summer.  Action picks up at night I was told by our host at Modica.  And nice sandy beaches (a luxury on this island) are minutes away in San Lorenzo

But the highlight of the day, as often is the case in Italy, was lunch at Al Boccone.  A huge deck overlooking the ocean, with an English speaking young waiter who really cared about our enjoyment.  We found this common all over Sicily – owners, workers were grateful and humble that YOU chose THEM, and they are on a mission for you not to regret.  An appetizer mix of local specialties including a fine smoked swordfish.  Another assortment of cheese and salami was forgettable.  Calamari Siciliano was a revelation of sorts, two huge squid stuffed with bread crumbs, more squid, pine nuts and more deliciousness, served in a stew like fashion with tomato and onions.  Excellent fresh grilled Amberjack was like a more succulent swordfish.  A Busiate-like Trofie (surprised to see Trofie pasta in the part) with tomatoes, basil, pistachio, big shrimp, little shrimp, medium shrimp (top picture) was well balanced and quite exceptional.  The one dish I didn’t care for much was spaghetti with bottarga, which tasted incredibly strong after sampling the other dishes (tho oldest didnt mind so much).  Fantastic lunch in a most picturesque village

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Noto

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Categories: Sicily | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ortigia Market – A Walk With a Chef

IMG_8961“I promised Marcello I won’t be taking too many seflies”, said chef Lele while we were gearing up for the second one.  My kids would argue that two in 90 minutes suggests that you are fairly close to a comma.  But different rules perhaps apply to the island of Ortigia in east Sicily, home to a spectacular Duomo, puppets, mussels, and a pretty nifty market

90 minutes prior we met Lele Torrisi next to the Temple of Apollo, the oldest doric remains in Sicily, 6th century BC, 27th century BI (Before Iphone).  The temple is adjacent to what later became our favorite market in Sicily.  I already knew chef Lele would sport his chef attire, and I briefly considered all four of us to show up in similar fashion.  But it was too hot, and I wasnt too certain about the chef’s sense of humor.  I was sporting my spanking brand new Fedora

Turns out I didnt need to worry about the sense of humor part, which made the walk that much more enjoyable.  And within minutes, I was an expert.  I knew which swordfish was frozen.  I knew where the pistachio really come from (hint: Not from here).  I knew what the vendors are shouting.  Mrs Ziggy knew what to do with the spice pack she’s been hiding in the cabinet for over a year.  And I knew how to inspect the fish for freshness.  I can already imagine the look on my fishmonger face on my next visit, when he sees me open up those gills with glovesIMG_8996

We also learned about the various seasons.  That July is a particular good time to cook in Sicily.  That mussels and peaches right now are at their best.  Another big lesson that set the tone for us the rest of the trip is not to judge a peach by its cover.  The uglier the better.  But the highlight came at the end, when we popped into the famed sandwich maker Borderi (if you wear “I love [your name]” t-shirt, you officially made it).  And out pops a board of deliciousness, including sensational smoked mozzarella.

Everything about Lele Torrisi reads like the Ferran Adrià of Siracusa.  From his time spent in various Michelin powerhouses, including Osteria Francescana and Massimo Bottura, to the more humble times spent with his dad Alfio at Ristorante Dioniso, 10 minute walk from market.  The unexpected expected consequences that came out from all of this, is that we ate exceptionally well the rest of our Sircausa stay.  Within minutes we were tasting local craft beer (a luxury in Sicily) at one month old Pani_Co, an artsy local wine bar with a full menu.  The Alveria American style IPAs turned out to be the best brew we drank in Sicily.  And later that night we were dining with locals in the know at Macallè, where Lele serves as a consultant

Lele markets himself these days via Marcello Baglioni’s Agave Travel Creative.  Marcello specialty is experiences, “Slow Travel”, memories that stay with you far beyond the memory of seeing yet another church.  Instead of just staying at an Agriturismo, he will set you up with various activities, like harvesting (pistachios, olives, grapes).  He can arrange an archaeological dig (I’ve done it in Israel, fun), climb Mt Etna with a volcanologist, tour mafia facilities and even go on a “job” with some.  Ok, I made the last one up, but you get the idea.

Lele is Agave’s culinary arm, where you can schedule such market walks, cooking classes, and anything you want really (anything!).  We could have walked the Ortigia market by ourselves in less than 10 minutes, take selfies with the fish, and ate in other restaurants I planned on.  But what kind of memories would have derived from that.IMG_9043 IMG_9040 IMG_9015 IMG_9021 IMG_8998 IMG_8997 IMG_8995 IMG_8991 IMG_8989 IMG_8987 IMG_8985 IMG_8965 IMG_8962 IMG_8924 IMG_3409 IMG_9046 IMG_9059 IMG_0615

Categories: Sicily | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Ciuci’s Manor

IMG_3500This is not a painting.  Just like every other visitor stepping into the second floor of this Agriturismo like no other, we thought we were staring at a painting.  Its a custom made window overlooking Ciuci Land, where once over 60 donkeys roamed free, producing milk for kids with special needs.  Only three, luckiest donkeys in the world, left in the property, but they have friends;  Ostriches, cows, rabbits, chickens, ducks, parakeet.  Ginevra’s dad promised one day, he will stop coming home with animals.  A week later.. “What is that you hiding under your arms”.  Its another duck.

As with any such trip, I choose to write first about experiences we speak most highly about.  The place that produced the most memories.  But pictures will do very little in this case, no matter how much digging I do (camera and 4 phones, 2 of which filled with only selfies).  You need to see it, listen to it, smell it, take the drive there, meet Ginevra and her mom, and maybe then you will get the idea.  The gate to Ciuci’s alone is reminiscent of a Gladiator movie set, when Maximus comes back to his family (In happier times).

“She is not real”, my oldest description of young Ginevra who manages this Agriturismo.  The only place I ordered eggs in the morning, with some guilt over the fact that our host is 8 months pregnant.  With everything so fresh tasting, and chickens a few meters away, I just coudnt resist.  And it was good.  Just like the rest of the morning lineup including rotating fresh fruit pies, and the legendary Pistachio cream.  To fully appreciate Ginevra’s pistachio cream you need to pop into any random store in Trapani and try theirs.  Feh!  Ciuci’s Manor is a pistachio paradise

And just when you think this can not possibly get any better… “We take all the guests in a 9 passenger van, and have dinner in a Palazzo we inherited in Favara.  Would you like that?” (speechless).  Just one question.  What should I wear?  My nicest shorts have three stains on them already but with proper lighting we can manage.  I live in NYC.  The closest thing to this experience is when friends invite us to a house in south Jersey where properties are a little bigger, and the Chinese food a little worse.  Dinner at Palazzo Fanara with our new friends from France was that proper magical finish, to a magical place.  Ginevra, Mama, and of course the wonderful Vagabonda – Thank you for the memories.

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