Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Florence Restaurant Review : Trattoria Antontio

After our exhausting and exciting day at the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens we got all dressed up and wandered the city looking for the best hole-in-the-wall restaurant we could find. The search brought us to the "other side" of the Arno river (the side across the river from the Duomo) where, in my opinion, the best restaurants in all of Florence are located.

We are pickier than the average eaters, I suppose going to culinary school in Italy gives me a certain license to be selective, so we checked out several menus before giving up out of hunger and exhaustion and following a pair of retiree tourists to the restaurant we overheard them asking directions to. We figured, if it was in their guidebook it couldn' t be that bad. We couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised by what we found.

This little restaurant looks like nothing special from the outside, in fact the only sign visible is an old stained glass facade that states: TRATTORIA. However, we knew we were in the right place when we saw a big group of Italians waiting outside and four people in line for a table inside. We decided to try it out and got in line. We immediately realized we weren't in a place that particularly cared about what was on trend. We waited for fifteen minutes in the doorway while the owner sliced bread and assembled boring looking salads at the front service counter. For two foodies, we were both worried and enthralled. Was this guy really just throwing tomatoes and crappy looking mozzarella onto undressed greens and calling that a caprese salad? Who were we to judge, he was the boss man and we were just hungry tourists waiting for a coveted table. So we continued to wait, encouraged by the flow of happy looking people making their way out of the restaurant next to us.

When we finally got a table we were two very happy campers. The menu was all in Italian, the waiters were all hunched over old men who were capable of speaking English to the tourists but far preferred their native language. We took the advise of our waiter and ordered a housemade pasta with meat sauce and pasta fagioli soup to start and then the veal osso bucco and a bistecca (steak) with mushrooms for our entrees. The meal was delicious, homey, rustic and unpretentious.

All around us however were people getting the bistecca Fiorentina. A local specialty of a large T-bone steak of Chianina beef (the best beef in Europe) served crusted in salt and pepper and seared rare. The boss man from up front had a permanent carving table set up and dismembered these great T-bones with the agility of an Olympic athlete. We decided right then that we had to come back, and we HAD to get the Bistecca Fiorentina.

And we did.

Two nights later we walked back to Trattoria Antonio and partook in a festival of steak. This steak was a gargantuan hunk of perfectly maroon meat, barely cooked and juicy as hell. If you are a steak and potatoes kind of person, this is Mecca. Forget all that American nonsense about grass-fed American beef...these cows are happy, beautiful, milky-white Italian grazers that taste like they fell from heaven and feasted on golf before they dropped down to our table.

If you are in Florence, plan to go or have ever wanted the worlds best steak, I highly reccomend Trattoria Antonio...if you can find it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Italy Day 3 (Second Full Day) Boboli Gardens

Our third day (second full day) we decided to check out the Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace.This was a big deal because it is something I have never done in Florence before. We picked a beautiful day for it, the sun was shining and the air was cool. We got there early in the morning in order to avoid crowds and obviously, to get to lunch faster.

We walked into the palace and it really was like we were all alone. We walked up several staircases before we ran into the first person who worked there. It was eerie, almost like we were trespassing but I guess that's just how laid back the Italians are about their palaces.

The palace was gorgeous but the real highlight for us were the gardens. I don't know what I was expecting but the Boboli gardens overtook my expectations by a lot. They were huge! Vast green landscapes jutted off in every direction. Hills and topiary forms, sculptures and rose bushes. It was hard to imagine that this used to be someones home. Matt, being the avid gardener he is found inspiration in each little part we saw.

Hopefully as we grow older together we will find our own piece of land somewhere and spend our days making it into our own Boboli Gardens. At least that's the plan. Lots of land, rustic cottage with enough room for kids and dogs, a large garden and fruit trees all over, space to raise chickens and goats, and a little barn with a large farm table to do fancy Italian dinners for friends, family and clients.That's our American dream...the rustic, country, dolce vita way of life American dream.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Florence Day 2

Our first full day in Florence wasn't actually spent in the city. We had pre-paid for a full day wine tour of the Chianti region so all we had to do was show up at our appointed meeting spot to meet our tour guide and our fellow wine tasters.

I really reccomend pre-planning and pre-paying for day trips before you go anywhere on vacation. We researched the best trips for what we wanted to do and paid for them so far in advance that by the time we got to Italy, we didn't have to worry about a thing. The tour we ended up booking was with a company called Tuscan Wine Tours and was worth every penny!

We started bright and early at 10am and took a van to our first location. Our tour guide Piere was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and really funny which made being in a van with five strangers very comfortable from the get go.

At the first winery we not only got to try four delicious wines but they paired it with some pecorino cheeses that they also make on premise. The wine was incredible and after we tasted the wine we had the opportunity to buy some from their little store. We left with a steady buzz, some lardo and a jar of black truffle honey. Next stop was lunch!

We drove up some steep winding dirt roads to a hilltop town where we were having lunch at the local butcher shop. The butcher is pretty famous, having been on shows like Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on multiple occasions and as such, wasn't there to meet us when we arrived. Ironically, he was in the States at a Slow Food convention in Los Angeles so we toured the butcher shop without meeting the "crazy butcher" Dario Cecchini. After about five minutes there we no loner cared that were weren't meeting the famous butcher and instead focused on the delectible food being set before us. The meal was comprised of, what else? Meat! Tender, juicy, fresh, grass-fed, happy cow meat.

At the end of the meal we all had grappa and coffee which just increased our buzz level to drunk and left us warm, boozed up and ready to drink more!

Our third and stop for the day was to a small independent winery run by a lovely woman who inherited the property from her father. Another flight of Chianti Classico was served outside under a pergola overlooking all her growing grape vines.

The last stop of the day was some free time in the town of Greve in Chianti. A small town full of shops, butchers, and cafes, Greve gave us a chance to walk around and explore a little bit. Matt and I wandered into a butcher shop and explored the walls of charcuterie for sale as well as their cheese cave!

By the time we had to head back onto the bus I was exhausted! I slept the entire way home. It was such a magical day that even writing this I can't believe it all actually happened. Just another day in paradise.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Florence Day 1

I haven't posted in quite some time, about 2 weeks I think, but for a pretty great reason. My husband and I have been off in Italy! Well, actually first we went to my girlfriend Katie's wedding up in Maryland. Her wedding was so stunning, so elegant and such a great roaring party the whole weekend that by the time Sunday rolled around we could barely believe we were heading to the airport for a week-long vacation to Florence.

We arrived Monday afternoon and after locating our hotel the Boscolo Astoria Firenze we spent the rest of the daylight hours strolling the streets of Florence, getting acclimated to our new surroundings. The weather was just perfect, and I could tell Matt was in heaven. For me, it was like I had stepped back into a dream that I had forgotten about. Florence was the same as it always was, but being there with Matt made it feel new and exciting and familiar all at the same time.

Our first meal in Florence was at this tiny trattoria that we found by accident. The Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco (the white boar ) was everything you envision an Italian restaurant to be. Small, rustic and loud. Packed with tourists and locals alike the menu was strictly written in Italian and offered some of the more famous Florentine specialties. 
 We started our meal with two shared plates:

beef carpaccio with arugula and pecorino

and Crostini Toscana (crusty bread topped with chicken liver mousse)

We then moved onto a shared plate of Papardelle con ragu di cinghiale (wide pasta with a wild boar ragout). Unfortunately we ate that so quickly that I don't have a picture of it. It was that good. But the real star of the meal was the burrata. For those that aren't familiar, burrata is a type of mozzarella cheese that comes from Puglia in the south of Italy. It is a ball of pulled mozzarella that is stretched around a creamy center of curd and cream, so what you end up with is the creamiest, most decadent ball of cheese you've ever had. It is served in a variety of ways but we happen to have been visiting during truffle season and ours was presented with shaved black truffle, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

The simplicity of this dish was what made it so spectacular. As you can see, it doesn't look extraordinary but it was one of those perfect bites of food that had we been in private, we would have been screaming in ecstasy over each mouthful.

Our first night was absolutely perfect and it really set the tone for the rest of the trip. I will keep posting pictures and stories from our trip this week so keep an eye out for more great pictures from our bucket list trip to Florence!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

5-Course Italian Tasty Dinner

Last night I had a wonderful night. I was hired to provide a 5-course tasting dinner for four self-proclaimed "foodies". I was excited to provide a creative meal for a small group, it allows me to really take care in my plating and presentation which is one of my favorite parts of small dinner parties. I truly love making my food look as beautiful as it tastes, a skill I have been told is an offshoot of my artsy abilities. The dinner was a birthday celebration and the group couldn't have been more laid back and appreciative of their special night in. They were truly a pleasure to work for and I hope I will see them again in the future.

So here are a few photos of the event last night. They will shortly be up on my website.
Making Risotto

Creamy Mushroom and Pecorino Risotto

Plating the fish course

Pan Seared Halibut, Purple Potato Puree, Local Vegetable Succotash

Lamb Chops, Eggplant Caponata, Whipped Feta, Fried Shallots

Dark Chocolate and Orange Filled Bignets, Chocolate Sauce

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dinner Party Prep

Our air conditioner broke yesterday. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if we didn't live in South Carolina. It is now 88 degrees inside and mounting, because I also happen to cook all day for a living. Even our dogs have fled to bathroom tiles to get cool....can you say, domesticated?!

I've been prepping all day for a dinner party I have booked for tonight. Here's the menu:

Mini Charcuterie Plate: 
warm mozzarella, tartufo salumi, EVOO and crusty baguette
Creamy Mushroom Pecorino Risotto
Pan Seared Mahi Mahi, Farmers market Succotash, Purple Cauliflower Puree
Herb Crusted Lamb Chops, Eggplant Capponata, Whipped Feta
Dark Chocolate and Orange Bignets

Sounds fabulous right?! I think so...although I am biased because I am the chef. The dinner isn't until 8:30pm so I have all day to prep and enjoy this lovely fall heat wave I have brewing in the house. Matt is coming with me tonight to be my sous chef and server, which will make it a lot of fun. I am so glad he enjoys doing things like that with me because it means we don't have to spend our Saturday night apart. Hope it goes well!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Broccoli Pesto


This recipe came to me after trying out and successfully making a Lemon Kale Pesto. I started thinking about different veggies I could hide in a delicious sauce. This sauce came out so good that I just had to share it. You would never guess that this pesto is packing with nutritious broccoli. I don't have kids, but I bet this would be a perfect way to get them to eat their veggies!

Broccoli Pesto
3 heads of broccoli, blanched and cooled in an ice bath, then drained
1 clove garlic
2 bunched of fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup parmiggiano reggiano
1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Blend all ingredients together in a food processor, slowly add the olive oil until the sauce comes together. Serve tossed with pasta

End of Summer Chopped Salad

For lunch today I made an end of summer salad for my husband and I. This salad is perfect for these hot afternoons, packing a lot of flavor and freshness into every bite.It is super simple. Anyone can throw this together in 10 minutes and really impress your roommate, significant other, or dinner guest.
serves 2
1 grilled chicken breast, cubed
1 avocado, cubed
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 small red or orange bell pepper, diced
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
6 starberries, chopped
1/2 cucumber, chopped
 juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Toss everything together and enjoy!