Author Archives: Ziggy
Razor Clams at Osteria alle Testiere
If I knew I will not see them again in the next 7 days, I would have ordered 5 more of these if they let me. Simple yet so addictive in one of the premier seafood destinations in Venice. And I could have easily subbed this mention with the phenomenal Gnocchetti with shrimp
Octopus at Osteria Alla Frasca
Its a lesson in texture, and complimentary liquid. Its served with two purees – potato, and cherry tomato for you to play with. The outrageous Pasta Alla Frasca should be mentioned as well, in a place that not only redefines “Hidden gem”, but feels like Uncle Leo’s house
Bosega at Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti
Its always fun bumping into fish I never heard of. This Adriatic beauty is firm, delicate, and as expected here perfectly cooked. Served with Jerusalem artichokes chips, and an oniony vinaigrette that even onion haters can enjoy. Ai Artisti is one of our favorite new discoveries on this trip.
Seafood Carpaccio at Antiche Carampane
A standout among standouts in a seafood mecca. There was buttery tuna, seabass, Sicilian red shrimp, Adriatic Langoustine and more local canal residents. The seafood pastas here delivered big again too. Repeat #1 for us on this trip.
Octopus and Potato Salad at Trattoria Alla Fontana
When you stay for more than 96 hours this time, you discover Venetian specialties you didnt know exist. Like the Octopus and Potato salad which quickly won us over (until we had a stinky one). At this quiet, canal side Cannaregio joint, this was the freshest and most balanced of them all. And a not too shabby risotto.
Spaghetti with shrimp and Wild Mushrooms at Trattoria Da Jonny
Ok, I admit, I’m fishing here a little. But this was a very solid pasta, at least on par with many such pastas throughout this trip, with the delicate mushrooms setting it apart. But the goal is to mention the one place where we were the only tourists. Try the Tiramisu too
Mixed Seafood at Trattoria alla Maddalena in Mazzorbo (Burano)
This brilliant combination of flavors and textures probably led the trip in Wows. Various kinds of large shrimp, small shrimp with grilled white polenta. There was an amazing Bacalau-like spread made from a local fish called Dentice. A fresher than fresh octopus salad. And something they made from eggs of Sepia that tasted like crab that I couldnt get enough of. Fantastic value to boot, and another big reason to visit Burano.
Baked Scallops with breading and carrots at Salvmeria
Notice a trend here? This post is not for the seafood haters, many of whom probably stopped reading by now after seeing all this raw footage. “Best meat dishes in Venice”, is a blog post I may have to reserve for another life. Salvmeria (yes with a V) is a newish bar attracting mostly locals due to the location. A location (Via Garibaldi) worth checking out.
Meatballs at Vedova
Ok, I’ll throw a bone for the meat lovers still reading. Although just about everyone, including accountants may find these delightful. Its a dense filling of mostly bread, but so satisfyingly salty. This is what this widow (Vedova) is known for.
Tiramisu at L’Osteria di Santa Marina (top).
The older I get, the more I appreciate a proper Tiramisu at the end of the meal. I have never had so many great looking and tasting Tiramisus in one week, but this last one topped them all. Here its deconstructed with waffles and slightly frozen cream resulting in different mesmerizing morsels. A surprising hit out of many from this old timer.
Bonus: daPrette in Padua.
The only thing we ate in Padua was a targeted snack. Small Calzone or Panzerotto, which is dough stuffed with different combinations like ham cheese, tomato. Talking about a fresh, super satisfying snack. It’s not stuffed like a NY calzone but the dough is so delicious. Great stop for a quick bite.
In order to understand the name, one first needs to understand the location. One block over to the south is Hasidic Williamsburg, the most ultra-Jewish neighborhood in a borough loaded with Jewish neighborhoods (around 5). Once inside Hasidic Williamsburg you are not mistaken where you are. This is the one place in Brooklyn I’m not comfortable touring with visitors and I declined such requests in the past. Traif simply means “non-kosher”, a term not really used much even with Jews. Practically next door is sister restaurant Xixa, the Mexican version of small plate Traif. Xixa is pronounced Shiksa which means gentile girl, especially one that attracted a Jewish boy.
The Jewish husband cooks in Traif, while the Shiksa in Xixa. This type of Chuzpah would normally attract a visit from the local Rabi. Perhaps the logo of the pig with a heart in the middle on the Traif door legally prevents it from happening. And the Shiksa in the other place complicates things further. A third venture called Kish Mein Touchess would essentially entice a riot but thats just a rumor (which I’m starting here). Traif is a pork-centric establishment after-all. But you get the sense that even if you remove all the porkiness like the bacon around my drink rim Rude Little Pig (meh), this will still be a very good restaurant.
This is the type of place that expires on me over time. Its 8 years old, generating nothing but praise and a steady young local crowd. But at some point, due to the location you move on and forget all about it. Its easy to get lost in the shuffle in this town that produces at least 20 new good ones every month it seems. The menu reads Spanish tapas-like, but once you take a closer look, its tapas meets New American. And while there’s always a risk attached to a tasting menu as such, the $55 chefs tasting at Traif is build to impress.
We started with a glorious welcome, a cup of creamy chickpea soup. Then came perfectly seared scallops on a bed of mushroom risotto. The intense mushroom perfume especially elevated those scallops nicely. Its an odd one to start a tasting menu, but the heck with rules. Simpler but tasty combinations followed like King Salmon with avocado, and Squash with cheese toasts. Spicy tuna tartare over eggplant tempura was one of the more memorable early on. If you are not a fan of Sweetbread, the riff on General Tso’s here may convert you. Another hit was a gorgeously seared duck sporting a nice outer crisp.
Perhaps the most impressive dish of the night however was a seared foie gras with yukon potatoes, bacon, and sunny side up egg. A tangy sauce and proper spices tying everything together and its Siman Tov ve Mazel Tov in your mouth. Would love to come back to this.. alone. On the other hand, the worst dish was the orange ribs. Its tender! Thats the only thing I can say about it. Gnocchi with mushrooms and shaved black truffles – cant go wrong with that. Finishing, in your face style, with bacon donuts with coffee ice cream beating the weak Panna Cotta. All in all this is another GO folks!
229 S 4th (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Tasting Menu
Its been a fun ride to 100. I met so many cool people from all over the world. From the Maori family from New Zealand who decided to buy a Durian and eat it in a parking lot in Brooklyn’s Chinatown. To the Italian barber from England who keeps sending me clients. Needless to say first full year has been a story filled blast. Thanks to everyone who took the time to review me on Tripadvisor, and to the extensive Tripadvisor forum community. Your support means a lot and keeps me
from losing weight going. Special thanks to the nation of Australia! Good luck in the next Eurovision thing
The Brooklyn, East Village, and Hell’s Kitchen tours took a life of their own. They are like my children and therefore very difficult for me to choose. There’s not a day that goes by without me thinking on how to improve them. And sometimes, on occasion I even do something about it ;). Like adding Green-Wood Cemetery to the Brooklyn tour, or the city’s best Almond Croissants to the East Village tour. Thanks to all the awesome vendors that make this possible.
Here’s to the next 900!
And a little glimpse of Murano and Torcello
Anticipating a famous Pizzaiolo grand opening in NYC is like anticipating flu season. You hear about it in the media long before it arrives. You wonder if you should do something about it this time, because you kinda like this life thing. Then you end up forgetting all about it and doing nothing. I dont recall ever standing in line for pizza, and I dont recall ever taking a flu shot. Perhaps you can get the flu while standing in line in this brutal cold? Not really sure, and not about to take any chances in what seems like the worst flu season in recent memory. My family needs me. I think.
If I could fit a longer title it would have said something like this, “Gino Sorbillo – love at first bite, hate at last”. Ok, that sounded much longer in my head. But it was really a tale of two visits for me at this highly anticipating pizza opening. I should really do a third visit, but my wallet has other ideas in mind these days (Uncle Boons Sister, Madame Vo, Martina, etc etc). More about the wallet thing later. But we are talking about a pizza legend from Napoli opening his third location after Napoli and Milan. NYC is certainly the right place to flaunt this kind of skill. But we are talking about New York Pizza city after all.
If you read this blog longer than a few months or took my East Village tour, you know that New Yorkers live and breath pizza. We have Neapolitan, Roman, NY style pie and slice joints, Detroit, Chicago, Staten Island, State Island bar, grandma, grandpa, and baby pizza at our finger tips. Ok, I made the last one up but you get the idea. New Yorkers are surrounded by pizza, and many of them are really really good. That includes Neapolitans like Keste, Don Antonio, Eataly, and even some obscure places like Brunetti and Pasquale Jones dishing out well crafted awesomeness. Opening a pizza place in NYC, and especially East Village requires some major chaloopas, but we New Yorkers welcome any such thing with open mouths. Perhaps if the place was a little more unique like offer free flu shots with the pizza, New Yorkers would pay more attention
On both visits the place was almost empty. Granted it was on my after touring hour of 3pm, but I still expected bigger crowds considering the hype. The first thing I noticed is how large the pizzas are. At around 13-14 inch they seem to be an inch or two larger than your average city Neapolitan. That makes it even more of a challenge to fold these babies as the Neapolitans are naturally soggy in the middle. We should be lucky that these imports are even cutting them for us. Curious if they cut it for mayor De Blasio who visited both NY and Naples locations.
The first pizza I tried, Margherita with Buffalo mozzarella was outstanding. Ingredients really popping, with a soft, airy crust that was folded almost like a calzone due to the size of the slices. Even though the slices didnt hold their own, the flavors were there. By my second visit I was ready for the Nduja which is becoming one of the more popular pies here. The first few bites were promising but I got bored fairly quickly with this one. The spicy salami spread (Nduja) was alright, but couldnt save the rest of the pie that includes uneven crust with Roman-like crunchiness at times. This time each slice was totally falling apart when you lifted them to the point of (chills) fork and knife consideration. And at almost $30 after tip/tax the cost/flavor ratio really took off for my liking. A few blocks out at Martina, that ratio comes back to earth with individual pies costing a third of this, while still filling.
So while not a strong recommendation, I do encourage you to try this pizza legend and form your own opinion. At the very least, you may get a Ratatouille moment reminiscing about your time in Napoli where you wanted to try the famous Sorbillo pizza, but just couldnt cross the street!
It was a timely cue to a timely nap. Mrs Z could not contain her excitement and ordered her favorite drink (Spritz) the first chance she got. Then she quickly rediscovered the old formula. Long flight + drugs incurred during long flight + Spritz = Fall asleep during lunch at Al Portego, almost on top of the couple sitting next to us, sporting a strange looking smirk. I dont think I’ve seen this expression before in the 20 plus years or so. Like Robert de Niro smelling Durian. But the good news was that we were 5 minutes away from our comfortable new bed at the exceptional Ca’ Amadi. And I needed both of us well rested for the first highly anticipated meal of the trip. Even though I havent had a successful nap since I was 0.
You need to understand the complexity of making reservations for this 8 table room in order to see the humor in this scenario. A group of 4 walked in, noticed an empty table to the right, and decided to grab it, only to be asked politely to leave. Helga, we are not in Nuremberg any more. I had to grab the 9 pm slot (7 or 9) weeks in advance, and call from the airport in Frankfurt to confirm. One of the more difficult tables to get, though nothing compared to the big tables of the big apple. Reason being: Ask any Joe and Schmo that knows anything about the Venice Seafood dining scene and Osteria alle Testiere will be mentioned in every conversation.
They are running out of room to display accolades on their door front. Real accolades, not “Rated on Trip Advisor”. Why would anyone put this on their window at this day and age is a mystery to me. It’s essentially the equivalent of “We exist”. Osteria alle Testiere also understandably running out of room between tables. So before you get to to your seat, you need to quickly determine whether its more polite to showcase the couple next to you your front or behind, while they are chewing on their razor clams.
We started with one of the many seemingly timeless specialties. Scallops with orange and leeks in a light tasty broth that made the table bread to great use. Grilled razor clams were simple yet so addictive. I watched the owner carrying them to every table with envy, even though we just had them. The only place we’ve seen them in Venice. Unlike the outstanding Spaghetti with clams which we’ve seen everywhere. Another popular dish here.
But surprisingly, the little Gnochetti may have stolen the show. Tiny firm, succulent potato pillows beautifully absorbing the delicate white wine sauce with fresher than fresh shrimp. Tuna steak with a sweet aged balsamic was good but forgettable compared to the rest of the delicacies. Semifredo-like Zabaione with just enough hazelnut liquor to give Mrs Z that look again, was a solid finisher to another outstanding meal at Osteria alle Testiere. Washed it all down with a young but potent Soave.
“Dont wait another 7 years, I’m getting old” The owner told us as we were leaving with a very satisfied looking smug. I dont believe him. Nothing has changed. Things change in a much slower pace in Italy. I will see you in 7 my friend!
January 18th, 2018 Update:
Michelin season came and went, generating the usual fanfare and excitement, essential preventing most from noticing the more important stars being distributed. Around the same time, Momofuku Ssam Bar received 3 New Your Times Stars from Pete Wells, and only those in the restaurant industry got the memo. In fact I was told about it a few months ago by another chef when we talked about the all important subject of Skate (fish). The conversation led to Ssam Bar whose Skate helped earn the coveted stars.
The Skate is perhaps the biggest addition to the menu by Singapore born Max Ng who took over the helm last year. Its essentially a revolving door of Momofukus graduating from Ko to run the babies, Ssam, Nishi, Ma Peche, before moving on to other ventures around the world. You also get a sense of maturation these days, as the chief…
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I started this blog in 2012, about 2 years after Pure Thai Shophouse opened on 9th ave. Yes, it was called Shophouse back then, until two lawyers from Chipotle walked inside demanding a name change. Little Pure Thai was apparently a threat to Chipotle’s brand spanking new Asian Kitchen Shophouse brand. And what do you know, the threat was apparently real. Long time readers of this blog know the story. The initial idea was to create a sense of a Thai street Shophouse-like environment inside. The place is after-all “if you sneeze you may miss it” tiny, cramped, slightly uncomfortable, and sometimes even smells a little. My type of place. But if not your type, this post may help.
It feels like Pure has been open a while longer considering how many times I’ve been there (somewhere between 50-100). I used to go there with co-workers whenever I felt like it, until it got so popular that we would need to leave the office at 11:45, 15 minutes before opening. We would sometimes even have practice drills and those who’d fail would be on a three month lunch probation. Over the years, I’ve seen it become a lot more popular with tourists. When I get emails from visitors (tour inquiries, hate mail, marriage proposals, etc), Pure is mentioned more than any other place. But not only I’m glad its successful, I couldnt keep it a secret if I wanted to. In the great sea of 9th ave Thai, there’s really nothing like it. And while establishments next door are adjusting to mass tourism with increased prices and smaller portions, Pure continues to do it the only way they know how
There’s a reason why Pure has been on the Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide from day one. If you are simply after rainbow colored curries, and the basic Pad, Pure may not be the right place. But as I will mention again soon, if there’s a curry dish on that board in the back, it instantly becomes the best curry on 9th. Pure’s specialty is noodles, soups and old family, and regional recipes from all over Thailand. Here’s a little noob guide to help you take advantage of this little gem
When to come: As I mentioned this place has gotten very popular over the years. If I’m solo I come whenever I want. Two people can try as well with a solid backup option in mind (Danji). They will call you when your table is ready if theres a long wait (plenty of bars on 9th). But most convenient time is right when they open (noon), or 2:30 to 4:30 pm
What to expect: You can look at the pictures to get a sense of the type of space. Some of the friendliest people you will ever meet in NYC. The staff functions like a family, some of which have been there for a while. Sometimes they close for a few days for a retreat in a house they own upstate NY. While I never felt totally uncomfortable there, this is as far as it gets from Michelin comfort. You may sit on tiny stools, sharing a tiny table, staring at your partner or an old Thai action movie poster. And then there’s the 80’s Thai disco to complete the mood
What to order: The reason for this post….
Green Papaya Salad – This is a classic Thai dish that you can get everywhere including all over 9th ave. But Pure’s version is… well, pure, loaded with addictive heat and dried shrimp. If you never had a Papaya Salad before, you came to the right place.
Roasted Baby Back Ribs – These ribs wont win the coveted Crazy Roscoe BBQ championship any time soon (Ok, I totally made that up), but this is finger licking magic, loaded with bean paste, oyster sauce, sesame, sitting on top of the luckiest lettuce on the planet
Jungle Curry Fried Rice With Chicken – Some of the best simple looking fried rice dishes you’ll find in the city. Fragrant, and spicy (notice a trend? It ends soon). Serves as a great side dish or main.
Ratchaburi Crab & Pork Dry Noodles – This is the Oprah Winfrey of the Pure dishes. A dish liked by everyone. A specialty of Ratchaburi region, where one of the owners (wife) hails from. Its very mild and so a safe dish for the heat challenged, but satisfying enough for those seeking bolder flavors. Scoop up the broth to the top and mix this baby well.
Wok Curry Paste With Pork (second from top)- More delicious heat. Loaded with the best of Thai… string beans, Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots, green peppercorn, basil, and kaffir lime curry sauce. One of my favorite Wok dishes here, along with the Chili Turmeric With Beef, and Roasted Chili With Shrimp
Sukhothai Pork Noodles Soup – One of my favorite soups in Hell’s Kitchen. It got the depth, the aroma and all kinds of pork action. Three different textures of pork in fact including craklings.
Special – When you come in, treasure awaits on the board in the back. The mains are more exciting. Often beef or shrimp sauteed with some kind of spicy paste, market fresh veggies, Jasmine rice, and a fried egg. And as I mentioned before, if its curry, it instantly becomes the best curry on 9th.
Mango or Pumpkin Sticky Rice – Possibly the most important tip here since you can easily miss it. Its the lone dessert, always on the board as a special. Sometimes its Mango, Pumpkin and sometimes both. Served on top of sticky rice, with sesame and coconut milk on banana leaf. Its warm, with just enough sweetness, and simply heavenly.
Thai Iced Tea – Goes without saying. This is a good one
Warning: Some of these are tips you will see just about everywhere else. I figured if I issue the warning I can easily get away with it. But at the same time let some of this serve as a strong emphasis.
Stay for a while
I’ll start with the obvious, but perhaps the most important tip. There are many tourist cities that merit staying longer, but this place demands it even more. Venice is mostly enjoyed by day trippers and cruisers who spend the entire time in San Marco area, and then complain that Venice is way too crowded. And while they marvel at the San Marco area sights, they often miss Venice’s most important attraction, Venice. Venice’s main appeal is being one of the most unique places on earth. Being there in the morning, and at night helps, but staying at least 4 days with a day trips to Murano/Burano and perhaps Padua is key to give this place any justice.
No, its not a mistake. I’m listing half of the usual “Location, Location, Location” you see everywhere else because that is exactly what it deserves, half. Venice is compact. The only time we used the Vaporetto last time is when we had no choice but cross the canal to San Giorgio Maggiore, and to the islands. Granted we stayed in a very central location this time, but it was more coincidental, and not that important to us. You can walk from the train station to St Marks, which looks quite far on the map, in 30 minutes. While location can be important, half of Venice as the title suggests can be considered in a good location, maybe more. And going back to the previous point, you are walking in Venice after all, not Cleveland. But you need to stay in Venice and not Mestre or Cleveland
This one is very specific, but a tip nonetheless. Ca’ Amadi is a gem. Its the most central middle of nowhere place you will ever find. Its tucked inside the kind of courtyard that as a stranger you want to immediately turn around when you reach it, but as a guest, its a very welcoming and convenient retreat. Risking hypocrisy after the previous tip, this is really as central as it gets in Venice. You are within 20 minutes from just about anywhere. The rooms are roomy, modern, comfortable and mostly quiet (Yes, canal rooms are indeed romantic, but remember, their canals is the roads). And its also believed that Marco Polo himself used to live there as his family owned a few homes in the area. So dont be surprised if your food exploration sense gets a sudden shock, and you find yourself one day Cicchettiing like a maniac
There are countless of food blogs out there including I suppose the one you reading right now. But there’s only one blogger as of this writing that actually lives in Venice and understands the Venice food scene and dynamics better than anyone. And yes, some of the tips you’ll find in my blog came from the talented Nicoletta Fornaro of Naturally Epicurean.
This may be obvious to some but not all. Some may even elect to take it slow and skip it or visit just one of the islands like Murano, since its usually mentioned in the same breath. But the island of Burano is not only one of Venice’s best gems, its one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. There are very few places in Europe that I describe as “Movie Sets”. Sintra, Dubrovnik, Cesky Krumlov are some. A smack in the face as soon as you get off the boat, and you dont stop smacking until you get off the island or restrained. Have lunch at Trattoria alla Maddalena in the serene island of Mazzorbo just over the bridge. And then head to Torcello
Dont Get Lost
Its understandable what everyone means by “Get Lost”, and so I’m not exactly opposing that. Getting lost in the narrow callis of Venice can be fun and rewarding, but that magic can quickly disappear if you cant eventually find your way, risking that all too familiar look from the wife. Venice can be tricky to navigate. And if you havent made Google Maps your best travel companion by now, its not too late. You can download the map of Venice back at home and use it off-line. Its easy to use and it works. And its also effective with your water transportation needs in Venice. I could have made a beautiful collage of bridges with people standing on top struggling with their paper maps.
Explore Via Garibaldi
At some point these calles and bridges may start to all look familiar, until you get to eye popping Via Garibaldi. There’s nothing like it in Venice. A wide, very wide for Venice standards, street filled with local life and old charm. Like you suddenly stepped inside another UNESCO heritage site. This is that “Laundry Hanging” moment you’ve been looking for. But dont stop there. Go all the way and cross the bridge to the island of San Pietro where you may really be the only tourist there.
Do the Cicchetti thing
No, its not a special dance, but more of a way of life. Its the Venetian answer to the aperitivo, or Spanish tapas, but quite more than that. Its an important part of Venice that you can easily miss when you give Venice one or two days.
Do your food homework kids
Although plenty have done it successfully, this is not the place to explore and stumble on the first thing that looks good. Its an incredibly touristy town with a bad food reputation, perhaps for good reason. But the lagoon is rich with wonderful seafood, producing some of the best array of seafood restaurants we encountered anywhere. If you or your spouse is not a seafood lover, you have my condolences. But if any town can convert you, its this one. Its the only place where we eat non stop and never gain any weight. So, you can find hidden gems on your own, or take the safe route and let uncle Ziggy guide you. Here’s a good starting point….
Osteria alle Testiere
Osteria Alla Frasca
Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti
Trattoria alla Maddalena in Mazzorbo (Burano)
L’Osteria di Santa Marina
Trattoria Da Jonny
Plan Sensibly, follow your instincts.
You dont have to follow the masses anywhere, but it especially rings true for Venice. Venice is loaded with hidden gems and mesmerizing monuments, and simply following the herd risks missing much of that. Doge’s Palace is stunning indeed, but that means you’ll be spending a lot of time indoors in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Instead, something like Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the nearby Frari may fit your plan better. Many flock to the Peggy Guggenheim museum just because it is very highly rated. But after two visit, I find the collection and building rather dull and just not for me (Let the comments commence…). Come up with a sensible plan that includes exploring some or most of the neighborhoods, and experiences like music in a church, or a food tour. See Venice from above from San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower, and Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store terrace. Visit Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the hospital next door.
Wear comfortable shoes, and remember to Enjoy!
Seriously Ziggy? Not really. This is the 11th tip that is not really a tip. The type of tip that normally makes me throw up a little in my mouth every time I see it. Can someone explain what exactly “Remember to Enjoy” mean? If I can somehow click on a magical enjoy button, why do I need any other tip. Do you go to sleep sometimes on vacation thinking, “damn it, I forgot to enjoy”. And besides maybe aunt Betty’s house is there a place on this planet where you dont need to wear comfortable shoes? Two of the most overused travel cliches out there