Archive for January, 2004

Venice

Thursday, January 29th, 2004

Rialto Bridge over The Grand Canal

Rialto Bridge over The Grand Canal

The other day I heard The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour on the radio and thought it perfectly described one of my favorite cities …Venice. It is like traveling back in time; no cars, no Vespas, and no noisy garbage trucks. Venice is a city with old palazzos, narrow streets that weave back and forth, and many bridges that cross over a network of waterways. Although most visitors carry two maps, it doesn’t matter because you’ll get lost anyway. Part of the charm of Venice is too aimlessly walk the streets, explore the neighborhoods and soak up the history.

Venice is broken into six sistieri (districts) with the Grand Canal slicing through the center. The Rialto Bridge is the largest and the best known of Venice’s bridges. It connects the districts of San Marco and San Polo spanning the Grand Canal. Although the shops on the Rialto are touristy, the view down the canal is incredible. It is also near one of my favorite sites in Venice, the Rialto Markets. You will never see a seafood market like it. There are endless tables of fresh clams, squid, crabs, tuna, sole, sardines and dozens of other varieties of fish. It is a spectacle you must see, but visit it early in the morning when the market is at its peak. If you love fresh seafood, then you’ll love eating in Venice.

On Venice’s Magical Tour there are many mysteries, which is what makes it so exciting. The city constantly seems to be shrouded in a veil of clouds. The Palazzos, although grand, seem eerie in that they almost appear boarded up. That’s because many have closed down the bottom floor due to constant flooding. The back canals are so narrow that two boats can barely pass, and the shadows make it feel almost spooky. Even the main festival during the year, “Carnivale” is draped in mystery as guests all wear elaborate masks to disguise their identities.

Venice is often besieged with tourists, yet they all seem to gather in the Piazza San Marco or on the Rialto Bridge. Although I prefer to avoid tourists, the Piazza San Marco is a must. The Basilica San Marco and the Doge’s Palace are the two most important historical sites in the city, and are truly amazing. But after San Marco, I recommend that you explore, and visit the outlying neighborhoods. The Vaporetto (ferry) will whisk you up and down the Grand Canal, making it easier to reach some of the more remote areas. Gondola rides are an interesting way to see the smaller network of canals. Gondolas have been around for centuries, a craft passed down generation to generation. Although gondola rides may appear to be a trap for tourists, they are an important source of revenue. They also continue to be an important part of today’s culture …often used for weddings, funerals, and even races as depicted below.

Many people say that Venice is a city not known for its’ food. I have found the opposite to be true. There are many touristy restaurants here, so avoid the ones with English menus posted outside. Also realize that you are not near Naples, so do not expect pasta with red sauce.

In Venice, it is all about the seafood. One of my favorite meals in Venice was at a small local spot called Da Remigio. We went on a Sunday for lunch, and since it was pouring outside, we were in no rush. We were the only Americans, but we were treated like all the other families. As we looked over the menu, a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano was put on the table. We feasted on razor clams, grilled monkfish, and tiny shrimp in polenta.

Another favorite is Hostaria da Franz. It is in the Castello district, and although a bit hard to find, it is worth the trek. The waiter recites the menu, since it changes daily depending on what’s fresh. I love their spaghetti alla vongole as well as many of their other pastas. The fish is extremely fresh and the scampi is to die for.

So book your tickets for Venice, a truly magical experience, and Buon Appitito!

Wine of the Month: Unti Petit Frere Syrah 2001 ($20)

Wednesday, January 28th, 2004

Unti Vineyards, based in Dry Creek Valley, California is a smaller winery that has produced some excellent Syrah. The Petit Frere Syrah is a blend of 84% Syrah, 6% Mouvedre, 5% Dolcetto, and 5% Sangiovese. This wine is made more in a Rhone style (as opposed to the plummy Australian style), but is a touch lighter and fruitier. It is dark red with round, lush dark berried fruit. The addition of the Dolcetto and Sangiovese softens the Syrah, and adds a touch of acidity to give it a young, fresh taste. This is a delicious medium bodied wine that would be a perfect compliment to your winter meals.

NYC Wine Bars

Tuesday, January 27th, 2004

Wine bars are a fun way to learn about wine. In the early ’80s I remember taking a wine class where the instructor said that the best way to learn was to pull plenty of corks. This makes a lot of sense, but it’s not practical to open 4 bottles of wine just to compare them. Alas, wine bars are the perfect solution because of their broad selection of wines by the glass.

Wine bars have become very chic in NYC, and the selections are far better than the old chardonnay, cab and merlot. One online directory listed over 50 wine bars in NYC; which would be nice, but unfortunately many of these establishments were restaurants with a good wine list. This article will focus on the best true wine bars in NYC. Those places that offer a large selection of wines by the glass with no prerequisite to buy food. I see the wine bars falling into three separate tiers: the large global wine bar, the ethnic wine bar and lastly the amiable wine bar, which may not have nearly as extensive a list as the first two, but is an enjoyable place to have a glass with a friend.

The two wine bars with the most diversified lists are: Morrell and Divine. Both have extraordinarily large lists of wines by the glass, with selections from over 10 countries. But they are also quite different. Morrell has a very high-end list with over 110 wines by the glass, with a large offering of sparking wines and dessert wines. The prices are very steep, and the atmosphere chic. Divine has a more moderately priced list of 75 wines, and stores them all in a cruvinet. A cruvinet looks like a giant tap, but it works because it removes the oxygen from the bottles, thereby improving their shelf-life. In addition to wines by the glass, Divine offers a smaller “sample” size with prices ranging from $2 to $8. If you want to compare wines, this is the place to go.

Another way to taste and enjoy wine is to select a bar that focuses on the wines from one particular region, most typically France or Italy. Although the wines are limited to one region or country, they usually have a much deeper selection from that specific area. Two places have an outstanding selection of Italian wines: I Trulli Enoteca and Otto Enoteca. The Enoteca at I Trulli, attached to a restaurant of the same name, has a broad list of 50 Italian wines by the glass; with an especially large selection from southern Italy. Also interesting, although with not as large a selection, is the Enoteca at Otto, which is also attached to a restaurant. Otto offers about 25 wines by the quartino (1/3 of a bottle), with a strong focus on wines from northern Italy. Although both offer a great opportunity to taste Italian wines, there is the added advantage of excellent food.

For French wine I have two favorites: Le Bateau Ivre and Rhone. Le Bateau Ivre serves over 100 wines by the glass, and uses a vac-u-vin to keep the bottles fresh. Although small, it is a great place to sample French wines. Rhone perhaps has the smallest selection of all the places listed, but I enjoy it because of its specific focus on the wines of the Rhone Valley. After 10 P.M. Rhone becomes quite a scene, but earlier in the evening it is a comfortable spot to enjoy wine.

Sampling wine is fun, and there are many other places to meet friends and just enjoy a few glasses of wine. Here are a few you might enjoy: Bar Veloce, Belly, Etats Unis, In Vino, Paradou, and Punch & Judy.

Wine Bar Locations (all in NYC)

Belly: 155 Rivington St, (212)532-1810

Bar Veloce: 175 Second Ave, (212)260-3200

Bar Veloce: 17 Cleveland Pl, (212)966-7334

Divine East: 244 E. 51St, (212)319-9463

Divine West: 236 W. 54St, (212)265-9463

Etats Unis: 247 E. 81 St, (212)396-9928

I Trulli: 122 E. 51 St, (212)481-7372

In Vino: 215 E. 4 St, (212)539-10011

Le Bateau Ivre: 230 E. 51 St, (212)583-0579

Morrell Wine Bar: 1 Rockefeller Pl, (212)262-7700

Morrell’s Restaurant: 900 Broadway, (212)253-0900

Otto Enoteca: 1 Fifth Ave, (212)995-9559

Paradou: 8 Little W 12St, (212)463-8345

Punch & Judy: 25 Clinton St, (212)982-1116

Rhone: 63 Gansevoot St, (212)367-8440

Worth seeking out…

Monday, January 26th, 2004
  • Although Barilla and De Cecco make good pasta, for a couple dollars more, there are artisinal brands with superior taste and texture. My favorite brand is Benedetto Cavalieri. Available in Italian specialty stores.
  • Donna Hay, the successful cookbook author from Australia, also has an outstanding magazine…donna hay magazine. If you like to cook, and want to try something new, then this is it. The styling of the magazine is so fresh and inviting, and it is jam packed with excellent recipes and wonderful visuals. Website is donnahaymagazine.com.au.
  • Pomegranates were noted for their medicinal qualities dating back hundreds of years. Today POM makes a line of pomegranate juices (some blended with other fruits) that are delicious and filled with antioxidants. Available at most supermarkets.

Soup… Healthy & Hearty

Sunday, January 25th, 2004

The holidays are usually a time of excess; plenty of red meat, heavy cream, rich desserts and alcohol. It’s fun, but by the time January arrives, healthy food sounds like a needed change…even if you are not dieting. I find a thick, chunky vegetable soup hits the spot, especially if it’s a little chilly outside. The basic soup below is very easy to make; and it’s also delicious. Note that several optional ingredients have been listed, so you can modify it to reflect your personal tastes.

Main ingredients:

  • 5 cups Swanson chicken broth (99% fat free)
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups carrot, chopped in ½ in. slices
  • 1 1/4 cups celery, chopped in ½ in. slices
  • ½ head cabbage, cut in ½ in. shreds
  • 1 tbs. fresh thyme
  • 1 tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried dill
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Optional ingredients:

  • 1 boneless chicken breast, cut in bite size pieces
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 zucchini, cut in ½ in. slices
  • 1 parsnip, cut in ½ in. slices
  • 1 cup cooked egg noodles
  • 1 cup bok choy, chopped in 1/2 in. slices
  • small can water chestnuts, drained & rinsed
  1. Add 2 cups of chicken broth to a pot and bring to a simmer.
  2. Add salt and pepper (to taste) every time ingredients are added.
  3. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook on medium for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the rest of the main ingredients, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Add optional parsnip with the carrots
  6. Add optional zucchini and bok choy with the cabbage
  7. Add cooked chicken, egg noodles, beans and water chestnuts 5 minutes before serving.
  8. Serve hot.