Monthly Archives: July 2019

This is Scheggino (and Osteria Baciafemmine)

IMG_1380This was supposed to be a post about Osteria Baciafemmine, one of Umbria’s most hidden (quite literally here) gems.  But something happened during this visit.  A twist.  The kind I only see in South Korean movies.  As good as this meal was, the little village of Scheggino, with a population of 463 (we counted) upstaged the meal.  To the point that we changed plans on the last day to visit the village again.

Scheggino is a village nestled vertically at the foot of a mountain.  From the outside it may look like something you may have seen before.  But once you start climbing those narrow pedestrian streets, its like a fairy tale village.  One without tourists which is a rarity nowadays.  But that’s Umbria for you.  The unappreciated belly of Italy.  No wonder there was a wedding during our second visit.  When you visit a place this small, and there’s a wedding going on, you essentially become part of it.  We wished them a big Mazal-Tov, and sent them off with a fondue set.  I always carry one in the car in case of emergencies.

Scheggino, simply put is the most charming little village I’ve ever seen.  But there are more reasons to visit.  Scheggino is also home to Urbani, the truffle tsar, whose products can be found all over NYC.  You can visit its headquarters just outside the entrance to the village.  But even more accessible is “Truffleland” inside the village where you can participate in several rides like the “Its a Fungus after all” train ride through the mountain.  Ok, not really.  Its just a small museum and store, where you can sample the best “truffle truffles” (a marketing nightmare I imagine) you’ll ever have.

 

IMG_1321Cutting through at the foot of Scheggino is the Nera River producing one of the only seafood items found in Umbria, trout.  You can have it at Osteria Baciafemmine as is, or crusted with crunchy breadcrumbs and parsley.  Osteria Baciafemmine is a local legend, Slow Food fixture, and the reason we came to this village in the first place.  Rustic, all in the family Osteria, dishing out local specialties and meat raised in their own farm.  Mother, father, daughter, cat, all hard at work at a space decorated head to toe with food and drink stuff, almost museum like.  Toto, we are not in Staten Island anymore.

Not much English spoken at the Osteria, but the international language of food is sometimes more powerful than words.  Out of the soup offerings, the pureed chickpea soup was a standout, but the local lentils were not too shabby.  A fragrant and delicious gnocchetti with sheep meat ragu and tomato sauce worked better than the Strangozzi with truffles.  Excellent pork cooked with beer, apple and honey.  Two perfectly cooked and well crafted sausages comes with polenta topped with, what else, truffle spread.  A most memorable meal at a photographer’s dream setting.

 

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tomiño Taberna Gallega – A Galician Jewel in where else, Little Italy

Tomino - PrawnsWhile I was sitting out on a bench on Grand and Mulberry playing candy crush answering emails, a woman approached me to ask directions to Little Italy.  All I had to do is point to the street 10 feet from us and say “this is it”.  She followed with a disappointed “This is it?”, and I followed with the third “This is it”, with the facial expression of a “sorry you made it all the way to NY from Singapore for this”.  I spared her the clarification that she is technically inside Little Italy already even though it looks more like a Chinatown.

But you know, for someone who spends a lot of time poopooing Little Italy, I spend a lot of time on it.  The reason is twofold.  There’s ironically a wealth of great dining surrounding it.  And Little Italy is, maybe even more ironically, one of the best passeggiatas in NYC.  I do enjoy walking around on Mulberry after a meal saying Ciao to the community of restaurant salesman and selfie sticks, and watching people from all over the world dress up for no good reason.  But there’s one restaurant on Mulberry that did get my attention this time and that is Gelso & Grand.  Buzzy with no salesman, checkered tablecloth, and not even an accordion player.  Gelso means Mulberry in Italian (its on the corner of Grant hence the name), Ziggy’s favorite Granita flavor.  There, now you know more about me.

Tomino

Tomiño Taberna Gallega which opened in Little Italy (technically. Its on Grand, not on Gelso) a few years ago, is far removed from the usual checkered, red sauce neighbors.  Its a smart, elegant Spanish offering some of the most authentic Galician this side of, well, Tomiño.  A statement not so far fetched once you look at a map.  And it got the Cojones to to call itself Tomiño Taberna Gallega.  A three word monster is as close as it gets to a slamdunk.  Lets break down the other potential names shall we.  One word, Tomiño – Cute, trendy sounding, but pressure is still on to deliver.  Two words, Tomiño Taberna – Pass.  Three words, Tomiño Taberna Gallega – Strong, ethnic, if something doesnt taste right its probably due to cultural differences sounding.

The owners of Tomiño also own the popular Trattoria Trecolori in the theater district. Which is surprising considering this ambitious Galician menu designed by Lucía Freitas, one of the leading chefs in Galicia.  Our waiter tried to explain the owner’s Galician connection, but besides the noise I was too fixated on the tables next to us.  One table over was dipping their Chorizo in the “sauce” at the bottom of the plate which was the Orujo, the Galician liquor that helped flambeed the meat on arrival.  Another table opted not to touch their Empanadillas until they were the same temperature as their Cava.  I’m talking a good 40 minutes here.

And yes, those Empanadillas with tuna were quite good and need to be eaten immediately.  So was the homey Huevos Roto Con Zorza, a nice breakfasty blend of spiced pork, fried potatoes and egg that grows on you with every bite.  It feels almost criminal to order this instead of the more popular Tortilla de Betanzos, a hefty potato omelet with a runny egg in the middle, but I wasnt feeling it.  Next time.

Tomino - Mushroom salad

The Paprika dusted Galician style Pulpo is famous throughout Spain, but not very easy to find in NY.  Here its called by the actual name, Pulpo a Feira, and its as tender and satisfying as they get.  No complaints about the Arroz Negro topped with a well cooked Snapper, except maybe its missing the oomph and complexity of what you’ll find at a Tia Pol for example.  But I can still taste the prized red prawns, Carabineros, and the sweet Langoustines.

The salads here should not be discounted.  In North Spain, you can eat simply prepared  tomatoes and tuna, but rarely together like the Ensalata San Simon which also comes with figs, pickled onion and apple cider vinaigrette that ties everything together.  Even better however is the mushroom salad, Parrillada de Setas.  Not often in NYC you get a combo of Enoki, King Oyster, Maitake, with goat cheese, garlic and honey.  A sweet and addictive medley.  And I dont normally get excited about almond cake, but the Tarta de Santiago deserves its own pilgrimage.  This is a major go!

Tomiño Taberna Gallega
192 Grand St (Mulberry/Mott), Little Italy
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Empanadillas, Huevos Roto Con Zorza, Pulpo, Carabineros/Langoustines, Ensalata San Simon, Parrillada de Setas

 

Categories: Chinatown, New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Scenic Spots in Tuscany

italy-2013-1310Tuscany is a wildly misunderstood region.  You hear about it.  You read about it.  You finally decide to go.  But unless you plan carefully, you may just miss it.  Its large, very diverse, and it includes some of the most photogenic corners in Europe.  But finding these corners requires time, patience, and a Fiat.

Fattoria Poggio Alloro (San Gimignano) – Even if you remove the San Gimignano towers from the horizon, this would have been on the list.  Its a bustling working farm that welcomes visitors to shop, and stay for a meal  on their terrace overlooking this..

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Castello di Brolio (Chianti) – Its a castle that is a bit out of the way, but very much worth the drive.  Fair entrance fee, easy to park, and splendid views of the estate from the castle.  Drinks are on them!  Seriously you get a free glass with your ticket

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Siena to Asciano Drive– The Crete Senesi is more of a feast for the eyes than the camera due to its depth.  Its like gentle rolling hills meets a desert meets Mars.  As a result dont be surprised to see people stop in the middle of the road, like in a zoo.  You will want to do the same.

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Agriturismo Baccoleno (Crete Senesi) – You park by the gate, and walk on the path to the left until you see it.  Thats the view you saw on paintings in every art gallery you’ve visited so far.  Although the cypresses by the gate are photogenic on their own.

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Capanna Winery (Montalcino) – Just outside Brunello Disney Montalcino is one of the Brunello founding fathers.  Its worth checking it out just for the views from the back of the farm, but the farm itself is striking.

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Cugusi Silvana (Montepulciano) – And you thought there wont be any mention of food in this post.  Oh how silly you must feel right now.  This is a Pecorino producer that sets you up with a picnic basket, and some of the best cheese and salumi in the area.  All to be enjoyed in their picnic facilities just outside the store.  Glorious views of Montepulciano and the country side is a major bonus.  Nice alternative to the picturesque but super popular Podere Il Casale.

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Genna Borborini Maria Eva (San Quirico d’Orcia) – One of the Gladiator locations.  This farm is a bit overlooked when compared to the other hits on Via Cipressi (Montalcino to Pienza).  You park at these coordinates, 43°03’55.8″N 11°36’43.6″E and view the villa from the gate, while humming the Gladiator theme song.

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Cipressi di San Quirico d’Orcia (San Quirico d’Orcia) – Aka Cypresses Valdorcia or Circle of Cypresses.  Its not just about a bunch cypresses bunched together in the middle of nowhere, but the entire most scenic middle of nowhere surrounding that middle of nowhere.  Makes sense?  Just go, and look around at both sides of the road.

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Chapel Vitaleta (San Quirico d’Orcia) – The most photogenic little chapel in the world is a very easy drive and a short hike.  But do it in the afternoon when the light is in your favor.  Enjoy it while humming the Gladiator theme song because you cant get it out of your head at this point.  Dont leave any luggage or anything important in the car

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Le Foce (Chianciano Terme) – This is the classic zigzaging cypresses that is part of the Le Foce estate.  But in order to see it, you need to take a tour of the estate.  Otherwise its close to impossible to find a good view (we tried, and tried again.  Gladiator humming just made it worse)

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Cavour 21 – Unadulterated in Genoa

Cavour 21 - Trofie PestoThere’s a common belief in the travel community that vacations should be all about you, and what you like to do.  Stay in the type of accommodations you like.  Do the things that interest you.  Eat the things you enjoy the most in the setting you feel most comfortable in. “What type of food do you like?” is a common response to someone seeking dining advice on the travel boards.  It rarely makes sense to me.  But knowing exactly what you want and getting it when you want it, doesnt sound so wrong.  Some may argue its living life to the fullest.  In fact I’m often jealous of people who travel with their favorite cigars, coffee, rum, prunes.  Yes, prunes.  Prunes give people comfort.

But then there’s the camp that believes that vacation is all about experiencing different.  The camp that enjoys adventure, stepping outside the comfort zone, and generating memories.  The camp that leaves their prunes behind.  If you are in that camp, you most likely enjoy places like Cavour 21.  Oy, I didnt mean to go all over-dramatic on you.  I’m just talking about a super casual restaurant in Genoa.  Watching too much Jessica Jones lately, and all that narration is beginning to get to me.

Although we’ve been to local institutions as such (one is Coimbra, Portugal comes to mind) Cavour is as genuine as they come.  Traditional Genoa food, in a rustic, no nonsense environment, with too good to be true prices.  Stepping inside feels like stepping back in time.  For us at least.  For the locals it may feel like Wednesday.

Cavour 21 - Lobster pastaYou start this adventure before you even enter the place.  About 15-30 minutes before in fact.  To ensure a table its recommended to come before they open, otherwise you get an approx time slot, or risk missing out.  If its lunch time, and they run out of space and time, they can put you on a list for dinner.  Once they open (may not be on time), everyone surrounds the list reader like he is about to read the chosen names in a high school play, and about to give them free Focaccia.  Then he goes “Prego” and bam, a mad rush inside.  You are shown to your table or table that you’ll share with others.

While you wait outside, its hard to miss the “Pesto World Championship” proudly displayed on their front.  And unless you just spent a week in Genoa, its hard to pass on it.  It comes with the traditional Trofie, along with potato, green beans, and it’s outstanding.  But as good as it was, the Pansoti, Ligurian Ravioli with walnut sauce was the real revelation.  It’s a local specialty and unlike anything I’ve had before.  Stuffed with wild herbs, its creamy and ultra nutty.  Delicious even though the “Pansa” which means belly wasn’t super evident here.  They suppose to look like Ravioli with fat beer bellies.

We were on a mission to eat as much seafood as possible in Luguria before moving inland for over a week.  Lobster with Taglierini and tomato sauce was sufficiently flavorful, or divine once you factor the price (I dont remember the exact cost but trust me on this).  Fried and grilled fresh seafood was all good, with the standouts being the shrimp and Langoustines.  They get a pass for the forgettable desserts however.  This is one of two particularly memorable meals in Genoa.  The other being the great Rosmarino.

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Kāwi – At the Cutting Edge of NYC Dining

Eating With Ziggy

Kawi TunaJuly 20, 2019 Update:

Its a new record me thinks.  The quickest update in the history of Eating With me.  While the EWZ statisticians check the validity of these claims, let me tell you how awesome Kawi is.  Kawi is awesome!  Its scary how easy it is to get a table for 4 on a Saturday night.  They keep a big chunk of the space for walk-ins it seems, and its just a little unnerving to get in so easily when you account the quality here.  Lets call it mild Ma Peche Syndrome.  The location in Hudson Yards may have something to do with it.

But in three months, Kawi got even better.  Shortly after the first report, they started to offer dinner, and essentially unleashing phase two.  Stews, specifically Yesterday’s Stinky Soybean Stew that is generating a lot of attention but absent on our last visit.  Instead we settled for…

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This is Castelluccio di Norcia

IMG_1259I tell ya.  There are some beautiful places on this planet.  Some of which look like belong to another planet.  I can think of some parts in south Utah like Lake Powell, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona that look like something you may see in science fiction movies.  The common theme is usually color.  And if you come at the right time to this part of Umbria you might just see every color imaginable.  If you come at the wrong time as we did, its spectacular, still.

Castelluccio is where beautiful mother nature meets cruel mother nature.  It is perched dramatically on a hill in the middle of a large plateau surrounded by the Sibillini mountains.  On October 30, 2016 Castelluccio was the epicenter of a 6.6 earthquake that decimated the village.  Eight months later the famous wild flowers that surround the village were back.  And once the roads opened about a year after that, the tourists started to come back as well.IMG_1276

So when is the best time you ask?  Sometime between end of May and beginning of July.  Its something that is not possible to time properly.  We came in the second week of June and the colors were not quite as robust as the pictures we’ve seen.  Notice the before and after of Castelluccio (Google it).  Although destroyed, its still stunning due to its position.  Today you can drive up, enjoy a meal, or do what we did.  A picnic of Salami e Pecorino overlooking the mesmerizing back plateau, following the herd of sheep.  The feeling of being in the middle of the devastation you heard about years ago, while surrounded by this landscape is indescribable.

You will most likely pass Norcia on the way, which also got severely damaged during the earthquake.  One of its main attractions, the Basilica of St. Benedict, totally destroyed.  What remain is the facade facing the statue of St. Benedict, still standing, all defiant in the middle of the square.  The city was a ghost town when we popped in.  Many stores, and restaurants closed, or relocated after the quake. IMG_1296

The Norcia pork butchers are so famous, they are called Norcino across Italy, and their shops are Norcinerias.  They are the Culatello of Pork butchers.  Inside a typical Norcineria you’ll find cured meats galore including Grandpas balls, Palle del Nonno.  The Italians call them like they see em, although Grandpas balls seem a lot larger than mules balls, Coglioni di Mulo for some reason.  Be careful when slicing them.

On the way to the flower fields, pass by Antica Norcineria F.lli Ansuini for some picnic supplies including bread.  Or better yet get it from the store with the same name inside Norcia.  Although same name, they dont seem related somehow.  Like twins that are not in speaking terms.  Then stop by at Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia di Arianna Verucci for your chocolate needs and perhaps a tour of their facility as we did.  But if you prefer to sit down for lunch, reliable sources told me to head to Agriturismo il Casale degli Amici just outside Norcia.  A day trip to this area in the summer is memorable to say the least.

 

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Chicken and the City

Pinch Chinese Wind Sand Chicken

Pinch Chinese Wind Sand

I should have blog posts strictly devoted to Random BQE Thoughts.  Thats Brooklyn Queens Expressway if you are scoring at home, or if you are alone.  As the traffic reaches new levels these days, so are the thoughts.  Not exactly inspirational ones.  Other than how is the weather and traffic in say, Denver, this time of the year.  More like random silly thoughts like:  What do you call a female priest?  Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway?  Why do I eat so much chicken lately?  Is something wrong with me?  Am I helping the environment by eating more non-farting animals.  Is this the first step to vegan?  I had plenty of bumper to bumper guards traffic to think about it this week, and I think I know the answer.  Its not me, its you, New York City.

Simply put, the city is in the midst of a crazy chicken renaissance.  Gone are the days of playing third fiddle to the beef and pig.  The competitive nature of the city these days means chefs all over are trying to outdo each other and can not afford any duds on the menu.  Chefs realize that while there’s just so much you can do with beef and other ingredients that are best to leave alone sometimes, its the bird that allows for limitless creativity.

There are countless of articles about Best Fried Chicken, Best Roasted Chicken, Best Wings, etc, etc.  Many written in the past three years for the reason I just gave.  How about one more.  A general, unfocused, random one.  These are some of the most creative chicken dishes in NYC today.

Ssam Bar Fried Chicken

Ssam Bar Fried Chicken

Home-style Fried Chicken at Ssam Bar (East Village) – Served only for lunch these days this is a fantastic fried chicken reminiscent of the late Ma Peche Habanero chicken.  Although not quite Habanero, its ladened with plenty of chili, and double fried to crispy, juicy perfection.

Chicken at FOB Filipino BBQ (Carroll Gardens) – Impossible to select the best from this chicken paradise.  You can try the amazing grilled wings, the air chilled grilled chicken, chicken skewers, and Dad’s incredibly moist overnight chicken Adobo.

Big Plate of Chicken With Bone at Jiang Diner (East Village) – This is an instant hit.  I’ve seen versions of the dish before at Biang! and Spicy Village but honestly its been so long I forgot how they taste like.  I’ve had this twice already at Jiang.  Just ignore their other signature dish, “Big Plate of Chicken Without Bone”

Jiang Diner - Big Plate of ChickenWind Sand Chicken at Pinch Chinese (Soho)– A tasty rendition of a Hong Kong classic.  The whole bird is cooked like Peking duck.  Two days of Marinating (cinnamon, star anise, other herbs and spices), drying, spanking, repeating.  The skin gets thin and crispy, and the flesh redefines moist.  Garnished with the sand like fried garlic which gives it the name.  Update:  Just made resvs for 4 this Saturday night to have this again

White Pepper Wings at Kawi (Hudson Yards) – If you see wings at a Momofuku, pounce on it like your life is depended on it.  You just know that wont be boring.  You get three whole crispy, peppery,  juicy wings.  You will not want to wash your hands for a while after this.

Nori Chicken at Ducks Eatery (East Village) – Leave it to smoking wizard Will Horowitz to figure out how to combat our seaweed invasion.  Wrap it around smoked chicken and fry it to Korean style thin crisp and extra crunch.  Pair it with the incredible smoked carrots.Duks Eatery - Nori ChickenPollo alla Diavola at Maialino (Gramercy) – In the sea of Roman pastas and other Italian classics, this is possibly the unsung hero.  Heck, after all those years, I needed some help from a reliable insider to discover this gem.   The peppery ultra moist beauty comes with a tangy sauce you’ll want to scarpetta the heck out of.

Pollo alla Diavola at Dell’anima (Hell’s Kitchen) – Yes, another Diavola on the list but in a much more relaxed setting (Gotham West Market) and easier on the wallet.  This one also features extreme moistness and a nice peppery crust, and comes as a Panini as well.

Yellow Chicken at Wayan (Nolita) – a cute name for a suburb chicken curry.  About three pieces if I remember correctly.  Some got the crunch reminiscent of the great Perry Street chicken where Wayan owner Cedric Vongerichten is still the chef.  Why Perry Street is not on the list you ask?  I havent been there in over 10 years.

Seco de Pollo at Nano (Hell’s Kitchen) – I’ve mentioned this dish before, and many of you that took my Hell’s Kitchen tour have even experienced it during the last year.  The chicken is cooked with Naranjilla a fruit grown in Ecuador, which gives this “stew” unmatched layers of flavor.Nano Ecuadorian

 

 

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L’oste di Borgo – A Slow Jewel in Colle di Val d’Elsa

L’oste di Borgo - TartareI get cranky when a meal doesnt go my way back at home.  I tend to get very quiet, and everyone at the table usually knows it at some point no matter how hard I try to hide it.  But when it happens on vacation, its closer to a clinical depression.  After months of preparations, somehow I picked a place that just served me cardboard flavored crostini.  I start to doubt my research abilities and sometimes even change plans to maximize probabilities.  On my last trip, midpoint, I cancelled all remaining hotel dining, even though I read nothing but good things about them.

Thankfully the bad meals were few and far between.  The only quibble was that some of the really good ones were very early in their respective legs.  So when we came across similar dishes in the region we were often disappointed.  Such was the case with L’oste di Borgo in the picture perfect Tuscan town of Colle di Val d’Elsa.  Our first meal in Tuscany this time set the bar maybe a little too high.

Finding L’oste di Borgo is easy.  Enter the main gate (Porta Nuova) and walk until you see the first evidence of life conversing with other life.  The young couple that took over the space not too long ago runs the place like a well-oiled machine.  If you are in a rush, this place is probably not for you.  Its “Slow Food” in every sense.  From the wait, to the explanation of the 0 km ingredients (or 5 to be exact), and the enjoyment.  When things taste this good, three hour meals are pure joy.  When its not, its pure Tortura.

L’oste di Borgo - Appetizer mix

The mixed appetizer platter is nothing short of a triumph, especially once you compare it to other places.  Fresh, local, peppery Salami, silky Prosciuto, Crostini with liver and lardo, fruits, various spreads and more.  Impeccable attention to raw material.  Then comes an expertly prepared, Piemonte style, hand chopped Beef Tartare.  Not the prized Chianina but who cares when it tastes so good.  There was also a fine chicken, and Tagliata, but get the Tartare.

The Pici Cacio e Pepe was another big hit, and most likely best I ever had.  We enthusiastically ordered three more of this during this trip and they never got quite as peppery or creamy.  But the most interesting dish was the Paccheri coated with a Scamerita ragu.  Thats a white ragu of the back of the pork neck.  Only in Italy we experience such flavor from such little meat.  And only in Italy you can wash it all down with a nice dry red litter for the price of a NY glass.  One of our new favorites in Tuscany.     

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This is Colle di Val d’Elsa

IMG_9318What is the perfect base?  Its not rocket science.  Put your destination stars on the map, and pick something in the middle.  The only decision is whether it will be a city, a town, village, or something in the countryside like a villa or Agriturismo.  You’ll find many advantages and disadvantages with all options.  Thats why mixing it up a little works for many.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is a town in central Tuscany, or “North” Tuscany when you look at it from the tourist or wine vantage point, with Val d’Orcia in the south and Chianti in the north.  Its perched on a hill on top of River Elsa and the Esla Valley, hence the name which took us a good three days to pronounce.  Its smack in between the “The Kings of the North”, Siena and San Gimignano.  That makes Chianti well within reach, and Florence less than an hour by car.

But what makes Colle even more unique is the town itself, and the lack of those pesky tourists.  Its not in the destination level of Lucca, Pisa, or Siena as its lacking the monuments and attractions.  But as a base, it offers just enough.  Colle has a picturesque old town (Colle Alta), a new town surrounding a beautiful square, and another “town” which is sort of something in between the old and the new.  The old town sits on top of the new town.  In fact the only modern structure you’ll see in the old town is the elevator connecting it to the new town below.  It looks and functions like a time machine.  I’m slightly influenced by a dark German series I’m watching now on Netflix called well, Dark.  Everything looks like a time machine to me these days.

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But lack of tourists can sometimes feel that, lacking, if you dont find a thriving local life.  Thats not a problem with Colle.  Plenty of bakeries, restaurants, markets, atmospheric squares and even a glass museum.  Colle di Val d’Elsa produces 15% of the world’s crystal, and roughly 95% of Italy’s production.  Its the birthplace of the famous artist Arnolfo di Cambio.  One of the most famous restaurants in Tuscany, and the only Michelin star establishment in Colle, took his name.

Stay – Palazzo San Lorenzo.  A former hospital turned into a serviceable, modern hotel.  Easy to get in and out with a car.  Ample parking within 5 minute walk outside the only gate remaining.  Comfortable huge rooms, decent breakfast, with a restaurant and spa.

Eat – L’oste di Borgo.  A  young couple running what looks like one of the more popular restaurants in town.   More to come on this gem very soon

See – The mentioned glass museum, old town and the palazzos lining the main road on top, the new town at night, and more vistas than you can count.  Well, on two hands at least.

 

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Jiang Diner – Forming the EV Silk Road

Jiang Diner - Big Plate of ChickenJust when you thought the East Village Chinese food scene can not possibly get any better, or lacking in any area, comes Jiang Diner representing Xinjiang province.  Its beginning to look a lot like a Chinese geography lesson, and the formation of the East Village silk road that strongly resembles the real thing.  Roughly between 5th and 12th street, one can now visit Xinjiang, dose on lamb and cumin in Xi’an, and bath in the silky noodles of Dunhuang.  I may be missing a place or three in the plethora of Chinese eateries in the area, but this pilgrimage alone should keep your belly happy for a few hours.

Its geographically fitting that Jiang on 5th st is the first stop.  The province of Xinjiang after all, was one of the first stops on the silk road.  Specifically the westernmost (or one of) city of Kashgar which is home to the Turkic Uyghur minority.  Long time EWZ readers and those that took my Brooklyn tour know my fascination with Kashkar Cafe in Brighton Beach, our truest representation of the Uyghur cuisine.  But while you can taste some of that muslim influence at Jiang, its quite different than the Brighton legend.  Kashkar leans toward the cuisine of Uzbekistan where its owners moved like many others, while Jiang is undoubtedly Chinese.

Jiang Diner

Jiang is far removed from a “diner”.  No parm, no bacon, lacking a waitress named Louise who works there for 47 years, and as far as I know no coffee refills.  Well, there’s no coffee, period.  But this being East Village, you can get a decent espresso with a side of risotto next door at Risotteria Melotti (I forget that this place exists).  Jiang is bright, colorful, and so far on all my visits, fairly empty.  Judging by the food however, that may change.  Or not.  It doesnt have much in the way of looks, sex appeal or trendsetting dishes.  Its signature dish is the “Big Plate Chicken With Bone”, and its second signature dish is “Big Plate Chicken Without Bone”.

Always, always go “with bone”, whether its chicken, fish, or anything in life really.  A block away east at Hunan Slurp, one can get an outrageous bony fish plate.  The only time I’ve seen The Big Plate of Chicken in NYC is at Spicy Village in Chinatown.  Heaps of delicious chopped dark meat over thin soft noodles, potatoes, and a sauce you want to secretly pour into your empty water bottle and ask for more.  But this is not even the first sauce I’d steal here.

 

The Big Plate of Chicken comes in two sizes, small and large.  I’ve had both.  The small can easily feed two, and the large 3-5.  The three of us still working on it after I brought it home yesterday.  Ordering the big plate in the small size is like ordering the small size of the “Medium roast of the day” at some coffee shops.  When I said “medium small please” at the Porto Rico Coffee Company at the new Essex Market, I inadvertently created an Elvis and Costello routine and ended up getting a “medium medium”.

Try the Lamb Shumai.  Thats where that Uyghur influence comes through.  While it doesnt look anything like the Uzbek Manti, the flavors reminded me of those large steamed dumplings.  Jiang’s version are easier to eat.  The Steamed eggplant may be even better.  It comes almost pureed, and its garlicky scallion dressing reminded me of Danji’s famous tofu dish.  The stewed lamb ribs seem expensive when compared to the rest of the menu, and at first taste even bland.  But once you sprinkle some of the accompanied cumin seeds and homemade chili paste, its quite good, albeit fatty.  The chili paste reminds me of some of the better Israeli S’hugs (yemeni hot spread) out there.  I can, and did, eat this stuff with my chopsticks.  Next time I’m bringing a small jar.  This is a Go!

Jiang Diner
309 E 5th St (1/2), East Village
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Big Plate of Chicken, eggplant, lamb shumai

Jiang Diner- Shumai

 

 

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