Monthly Archives: December 2017

Mastering Cicchetti in Venice

IMG_7382The best tip I can give you when you go to Venice with kids is this:  Start planning your return trip without them.  Meanwhile you scout, you observe, you take notes, and study.  And by the time you return you can pretend to live like a local for just a few days, and do crazy things like have a full meal before dinner.  You may even be proficient enough to able to spell Cicchetti without Googling, like the pro that you are.  Cicchetti (Chee-ke-tee) is Venice’s answer to the aperitivo (Aperitif).  Its the Venetian happy hour.  They are served in bars called Bacari, usually 5 to 7 pm, but some are open throughout the day for the rest of us tourists.

We travel because we want to see and experience different.  Taking a peek at Ziggy’s current culture back home, things are looking fairly reversed.  5 to 7 pm is when I have dinner.  At 9 when the Venetians go out to eat, I may have a small Cicchetti of my own.  And by 10 pm when the Spaniards (our next focus) go out to eat, we watch Netflix and fall asleep by 11.

In a way I was glad that my planned Cicchetti crawls failed.  I had to cancel a Cicchetti tour so we could attend the lighting of the Menorah at the world’s first ghetto (as they say “happy wife, happy Ziggy”.  Seriously who says that?!?).  And my self planned Cicchetti crawl was a complete bust for a variety of reasons.  But after visiting and enjoying a few Bacari during the week, I now get the sense that this type of forced Cicchettiing is the wrong approach to this social scene.  And while I see the appeal of a crawl, I also see the appeal of doing what the Venetian do.  Go to one, meet your buddies, and see how things shape up.  Or visit one when you dont have the time for a full meal, like before a concert.

Cà D’Oro alla Vedova – This is one “Widow” I would trust with my life.  They are famous for the meatballs and rightfully so.  Its a dense filling of mostly bread, but satisfyingly salty.  The white beans, grilled calamari, and octopus salad are delicious as well.

Cantine del Vino già Schiavi – One of the oldest and more popular Bacari around, specializing in nifty crostini like combinations like smoked swordfish, ricotta with walnut purée, egg Funghi and truffle cream.  These are my recommendations, but you can also look around and just pick what looks good to you.  English descriptions next to each one.

Bar Alla Toletta – Tramezzini, fat crustless sandwiches is something you’ll see all over Venice, and this is the best place to try it.  We are partial to the tuna

IMG_7273Salvmeria – The newest kids on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi block isnt too concerned about its spelling on Google (Yes, its a V in there) because its main aim is locals, not so much tourists.  Although far removed from the tourist route, this is one of the most picturesque streets in Venice.  The clever assortment of wine goes as far as Moldova.  Try the Salumi, and baked scallops with breading and carrots if they have

Al Portego – We had a full sit-down meal here.  But judging by the quality, and the army of Cicchetti lovers we had to fight in order to get to our table, this place looks legit.

IMG_7135Fritoin del Gondolier – Its more of a street food shack that can be as convenient as Cicchetti.  Here you can try some fried goodies like Mozzarella in Carrozza (a fried sandwich with fillings like ham) and fried cream squares on a stick.  Those creamy squares can work well with hot chocolate from Vizio Virtu not too far away

Instructions:  You dont need no stinking instructions.  Ok, I didnt mean to sound brusque there.  Too early in the morning.  But every place is different, and you need to remember that you are in Venice.  Chances are you are not the only clueless tourist inside.  Just smile, point and shoot!  And order a glass of red or white, or ask what other wine options they have available.

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

Osteria Alla Frasca {Venice} – Definition of Hidden Gem

Osteria Alla FrascaAdjective fatigue, title fatigue, are some of the biggest challenges in writing blogs like this.  At some point you just sit there, staring at the computer, looking for new ways to express yourself without sounding like a douche.  A douche is when you get bored with all the cliches and resort to cuteness that is not translated well on the internet, and you begin to sound like a douche.  But what do you do when a cliche that you used many times fits a description so perfectly.  You swallow your douchy pride, write that thing and move on.  While hinting to the audience how dirty you feel for using one of the most overused cliches in the food blogger universe yet again.  Its the thought that counts, right?

But in the case of Osteria Alla Frasca, another title sounds almost like injustice.  In today’s Trip Advisor age nothing is really entirely unknown.  Just like a falling tree in the forest, “Hidden Gems” are not so until people find them and write about them for everybody to see.  Alla Frasca is not exactly a secret.  It is mentioned in just enough publications and blogs like the excellent Naturally Epicurian, the only Venice based blogger as of this writing.  But its all about the quality and location, tucked deep inside Cannaregio, inside a little picturesque courtyard that is so deserving of the title.  When you discover it, you pause.  And when you visit it, you really want to like it.

Osteria Alla Frasca - Octopus

And then when the food exceeds the already lofty expectations, it becomes a home run.  Octopuses and even Octopi dont come any more tender than this without crossing to the mushy side.  It is served with two purees, a potato, and cherry tomato for you play with.  A fresh tasting Cheese Ravioli was nicely perfumed with lemon and herbs, with razor clams added for good measure.

Here we tasted one of the best pastas of the trip.  So good a restaurant is named after it!  The Pasta Alla Frasca is a spectacular medley of seafood on spaghetti, brimming in that wonderful white wine and seafood juice we couldnt get enough on this trip.  A grilled mixed seafood plate was another delight though by this point we started to struggle as we were getting full.  We found that in Italy, and even across the pond in Croatia, one needs to be careful with those “Mixed Grills”.  Pistachio creme brûlée was fine but not great to finish still a most wonderful meal.  The Sicilian in the kitchen adding oranges and pistachios and other Sicilian touches when no one is looking.

Osteria Alla Frasca represents everything we love about eating in Italy.  When it’s just you, Bruno the owner, the young Sicilian peeping out of the kitchen cracking jokes, and a few more diners in a small room.  Bruno has been in the food business in Venice pretty much all his life, including a major presence in the Rialto market at some point, resurrecting what feels like a local institution loved by locals and savvy tourists alike.  This is a big time GO.

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Random Venice



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Ristorante Sirena di Sansica in Bonagia – Meal of the Year

Its that time of the year again. Off to another unpaid, unsponsored eating expedition. I leave you with one of the gems from 2016. For more on Sicily, click on the Sicily link, or go here…

Eating With Ziggy

sirena-di-sansica-red-shrimpTo understand the notion I’ve been “preaching” here that Sicily is mainland Italy 30 years ago (I went from 20 to 30 after being corrected by actual Italians living in NYC) one must simply go to Tonnara di Bonagia on the western tip of the island where once tuna hunted and butchered in ways that are only talked about these days.  And to fully appreciate a meal at the sensational Sirena di Sansica, a 20 minute drive from Trapani, one must arrive earlier, right before sunset.  The rugged coastline leading to the rock of San Vito Lo Capo is mesmerizing.  Even with a wedding party patiently waiting their turn, you hesitate to give up the spot.  Compared to much of mainland, the area is underdeveloped and you selfishly wish that it stays like this forever.  Ancient boats lining up next to the Tonnara, overlooking the colorful port around the Albergo Tonnara Di Bonagia Resort.  A magical…

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Somtum Der – For Babies Who Lunch

Somtum Der - Goi HedIts time to bump up this Z-Lister and one of my favorite Thai in NYC.  All these recent Thai posts can only mean one thing.  Its getting freakin cold!  And when its cold I like to eat spicy things.  And we are also just about outta here to escape this cold front.  But this time we are trying something new.  We are leaving for something colder instead of warmer (no TCI).  The idea is that by the time we come back, we can enjoy better weather.  At least thats what we are convincing ourselves.

A few weeks after dining at Ugly Baby I found myself surrounded by them at the most unexpected of places.  It was like a Thai mommy and me and Papaya salad event at Somtum Der on a weekday afternoon.  And I suddenly felt this urge I never felt before… calling random babies ugly.  No, its not me losing my marbles, but really it felt more of a Mitsvah.  As I mentioned before, in Thailand apparently you call random babies ugly in order not to attract the ugly spirit.  I even asked the waitress while chewing on their fried chicken (good as usual) and she confirmed.  She then remarked how they always say the opposite in regards to many other things for this reason.  But when I mentioned how awful their food was she gave me a look and said this doesnt apply to food.

Not much has changed at Somtum Der since they opened 4 years ago.  Its usually fairly empty when I’m there but thats because I’m usually there between lunch and dinner (after a tour).  The funky looking room that is not quite East Villagy is bright and colorful hence well received by ugly babies and bloggers.  And there’s a side of me that loves menus with pictures, huge colorful pictures.  Thats how I pick travel books.

When in Rome… I der you not to start with the Somtum (Papaya salad).  You see what I did there?  Any of the pictured salads will do, but I’m partial to the ones with the salted eggs.  But every meal at Somtum usually starts and ends with Moo Rong Hai Der, the house special grilled marinated pork.  Its playful and delicious.  I love sucking on those coconut rice sticks and dipping everything in that fish sauce including car keys.  The fried chicken as mentioned is Thigh meat which can be tough and stringy at times but always delicious.

But perhaps the best thing I’ve eaten at Somtum Der as of late was a mushroom special called Goi hed.  Name perhaps was invented by someone who thought the Beech mushrooms reminded them of uncircumcised penises (get it?).  It has all the elements of a nice and spicy Larb but without those chewy beeches losing that command.  A very well balanced dish that was perhaps part of a November mushroom celebration, but it could still be around if you hurry.  Love me a good mushroom dish

Somtum Der
85 Avenue A (East Village)
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Lemongrass Juice, Goi hed, Sa Poak Kai Tod Der, Moo Ping Kati Sod, Moo Rong Hai Der, Tum Thai Kai Kem





Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Thai Dishes in Hell

Pure Thai RatchaburiIn East Village, during my tour we discuss the 4 pillars or principles of the Temperance movement when we visit a Temperance fountain: Temperance, Faith, Hope, and Charity.  While in Hell’s Kitchen we discuss the 4 pillars of Hell’s Kitchen: Thai, Mexican, Ramen, and Gay Bars.  Temperance supporters would obviously disapprove of this neighborhood today.  Until they taste any of the items below that is.

My 5 favorite Thai dishes that appear in the latest W42st, come from 3 places, the only Thai I go to these days in Hell’s Kitchen.  (There must be around 30 in the area).  Rule of thumb for Thai in HK and anywhere pretty much, the dingier the place, the better the food.  If you see chandeliers, run.  If it smells a little, and you see a menu that looks like hasnt changed in 15 years with items crossed out with a pen, stay.

Pick up your free copy of W42st anywhere in Hell

Ratchaburi Crab & Pork Dry Noodles at Pure Thai Cookhouse – Its all in the name. Mix in the broth from the bottom of the bowl and you get magic. A good introduction to the outrageous 9th avenue Thai scene for the rookies

Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai – One of my favorite winter dishes. Chunks of tender, juicy Oxtail in a beautiful Vinegary broth that packs a punch (heat!). Its BYOB! Bring Your Own Bounty.Pam Real Oxtail Soup

Duck Larb at Larb Ubol – When in Larb, you have to eat, well, Larb. An Isan specialty of liberally seasoned minced meat with chili, lime and other addictive goodies served in room temperature. I’m partial to the ducky

Larb Ubol larb

Seafood Kee Mao at Pam Real Thai – And the Dandruff award goes to… Over the years I tried this guilty pleasure all over Hell’s Kitchen. This is head and shoulders above everyone else.

Pumpkin Custard at Pure Thai Cookhouse – When a place has only one dessert, well, you have no choice. Because its only one. A not too sweet custard with coconut sticky rice inside a banana leaf is pure diviness.

Pure Thai Pumpkin


Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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