Author Archives: Ziggy

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

 

 

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

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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Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa

IMG_E0441Caterina Campodonico was a peasant that worked hard selling necklaces made of nuts and loafs of breads.  Before she died in 1882, she was determined to show her legacy by hiring the most expensive sculptor around, Lorenzo Orengo, and a poet to build her monument.  In order to do that she had to sell a lot of nut necklaces and save all her profits.  So its easy to see why the “Peanut Seller” in the magnificent Staglieno cemetery in Genoa, became a symbol for the hard working people of Genoa.  In the pictures below you can see her proudly wearing one of her necklaces.

Caterina is one of many stories in this outdoor museum.  I’ve seen plenty of interesting cemeteries, but not with so much expression and emotion.  Its worth checking it out just for a handful of angels, like the one we called the William H Macy angel (below), and possibly the sexiest angel in the world.  Around the same time Caterina Campodonico died in 1882, Giulio Monteverde designed this most sensual angel (top picture and one more below) to guard the tomb of of the Oneto family.  No wonder Macy looks grumpy.  He’s nowhere near her.

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There’s also the grave of the Genoa born Giuseppe Mazzini who helped free and unify Italy.  His life and efforts read like a binge worthy Netflix series.  He’s so important to Genoa, that they celebrate him twice, June 22 when he was born, and March 10 when he died.  And then there’s the grave of the estranged wife of Oscar Wilde’s, Constance Lloyd, which I couldnt find.  Not sure how she would feel knowing that her descendants added “Wife of Oscar Wilde” on her stone.  All the info out there suggests she did not want that association.

Genoa gets often shortchanged and overlooked by Italy tourists. The striking Staglieno is perhaps the #1 reason why you should not only visit this city, but stay a while.  And there’s a lot More Than This (the Genoa slogan you see everywhere these days).  I didnt know they were such big fans of Brian Ferry.  Click on the pictures below for a closer look

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Hell’s Kitchen Update – Addition by Subtraction

Dell'anima Carbonara

A well overdue update to the Hell’s Kitchen guide.

We say bye bye to Azuri, the lovable Falafel Nazi (lovable now), Basera my go to Indian for so many years (I miss the Chettinad chicken already), and Georgio’s Country grill that I cant… ok I confess I wont miss this one that much.  All three sadly shuttered in the past few months.

Say hello to Dell’anima, which I mentioned here before.  Probably the most important Italian addition in years, and the most thrilling Gotham West Market addition since they opened pretty much.

And we have a very important burger replacement.  Out goes the HKSG veteran Island Burger, in comes Farm to Burger offering craftier and better quality meat for the same price.  Albeit without much atmosphere at lunch time at least inside the Aliz hotel.

Click here to see the guide

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Antiche Sere (Bevagna) – Sons of Anarchy

Antiche Sere chickpea soupIf you walk around the village of Bevagna in Umbria looking for a place to eat, Antiche Sere might be the last place you’ll pick.  Sort of like picking Thai food in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.  I think my group was hoping I made a mistake when we finally reached it.  “Are you positive this is it?  From the parking lot we passed more inviting places.  Like, all of them.  And there are about 10 spots higher on Trip Advisor in a town with 11 restaurants”.  They said none of this out loud of course.  They trust me and learned to follow me like the sheep in the anarchist logo surrounding the “A” in Antiche.

The software engineer in me looks at it with the following logic.  The people of Umbria (Umbri? Umbrianos?  I like Umbrianos) I’m told rarely go out to eat.  Holidays, special occasions, thats just about it.  Thats because most of the restaurants mostly serve the same traditional dishes that that residents make at home.  So the restaurants in little villages like Bevagna have to rely on us tourists to a large extent.  And like in a Las Vegas bunny ranch, they need to look attractive, and positioned properly to attract customers.  And then you have places like Antiche Sere that just dont give a hoot.  The type that know what they are and gained a following.  They type you target, and not bump into by accident.

Antiche Sere

Antiche Sere LogoThis being my first Umbria post means the end result was quite positive.  One of the most complete meals of a two week trip in fact.  As soon as you walk in, you feel more at ease once you see the funky space.  You walk by a small kitchen where you see the proud anarchist owner washing dishes, so at least you know the dishes will be clean.  And while the anarchist doesnt speak much English it seams, there’s a young friendly Indian waiter that does.

The menu is small.  The first sign that this is gonna be good.  The second sign was that the Porchetta Rabbit I heard about from Wendy from Antonelli winery is on it.  I now have a very warm and fuzzy feeling about this.  The young Anarchist in training told us the specials and we pretty much ordered all of them along with the all important rabbit.

Antiche Sere mushroomStarted with a delicious Chickpeas and clams soup.  Clams from Ancora and local  chickpeas much sturdier and more flavorful than what we are used to (Goya).  This is one of the lone places we encountered in Umbria that gets fresh seafood on occasion.  Panzanella salad with soaked bread, tomato, celery and some very good vinegar was refreshing on a hot day.  Simply grilled beefy local mushrooms.  Eggplant parmigiana was another winner.  And an exceptional oversized cappelletti pasta with cheese and tomato sauce.

But the shining star and best dish of the trip nominee was the rabbit rolled Porchetta style – aka “I cant believe its not Porchetta”.  A dish more common in pricey French joints.  Its incredibly tender and packed with flavor.  One of those signature dishes that may not come up from researching, but from a local.  All washed down with delicious local beer.

Antiche Sere RavioliAntiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Val d’Orcia – Blame it on Her Juice

IMG_0943One of the joys of road tripping in Italy’s countryside for us is listening to the local radio.  While we try to catch some Italian tunes that match the mood, we often find catchy American songs that we either never get at our local stations for some reason, or  they sound a little different (ie explicit to us).  It started years ago when we discovered that Bruno Mars actually wanted to be a Billionaire “So fuckin bad”.  Who knew?

And so during each trip there’s a point where a particular song emerges as the theme song of the trip.  Unlike the previous clear winner (LP – Lost on You) in Sicily, this one required some growing.  But by the time we got to our last leg in Umbria, we were all going “Gotta blame it on the Goose (the Grey kind), Gotta blame it on my juice, baby”, until we almost ran into a ditch when I (driver) got carried away a little.

Driving the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany can be dangerous.  Its shockingly beautiful.  The colors change seasonally, but the gentle rolling hills are fixed and unlike anywhere else in the world.  Driving between Pienza and San Quirico especially feels like a National Park, Cypress-Land if you will.  Baby Fiats stopping in the middle of the road, wedding shoots, drones flying everywhere.  For the landscape freaks, there’s plenty of “Juice”.  Pictures below taken with iphone, shaking hands, and deteriorating eyesight.  Heck, you can see the difference from 6 years ago.  I just dont feel like carrying the big boy camera with me anymore.  Click on any of the pictures to enlarge

 

 

 

 

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Eating in Istria

We are off for a few weeks so not much blogging will be happening. But I leave you with a blast from the not so old past. Istria (Croatia) one of the most underrated foodie destinations in Europe. For more on Croatia click here…
https://eatingwithziggy.com/category/croatia/
See you soon. Ciao!

Eating With Ziggy

IMG_3785“What, no Seafood?!?  No problem, I give you Octopus!”  No, I didnt crash a Greek wedding, nor have I actually heard this said before.  It was simply the pre-trip imagination at work, anticipating yet another seafood heavy leg.  I imagined after 10 fishfull days, we stumble onto a small family Konoba somewhere on the Istrian coast, begging an English speaking baka (a Croatian Babushka) for some meat.  But luckily for us, not only we never really got tired of those Adriatic crustaceans, we wanted more.  And just like its big sister to the north and across the pond, inland here means meat.  Wonderful glorious meat! 

Istria was the one.  The most highly anticipated leg.  But what I didnt anticipate was that we would have plenty of exceptional meals going in (In this case quite literally).  Places like Amfora in Dubrovnik, Nostromo in Split, and the brilliant Konoba Pece…

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