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Quick Bites: Rome

Buongiorno! Welcome to Molto MissGinsu week. (After all, why should Mario have all the fun?)

Molto MissGinsu!

Arriving back in the states after a recent quest to the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, I realized there was just far too much in the way of tasty sites and flavors to sequester the lot into just one post.

So for this week, a special multi-part Italy feature splashes across missginsu.com like a paper sack filled with sun-ripe tomatoes.

Tomorrow we visit the goats and sheep in the mountains, but today we'll check out a few of the varied glories of Rome.

Emperor Constantine's Toes
Emperor Constantine's toes at the Roman Capitoline Museums

Hail, Scooter!
Hail, Scooter!

Vine-on tomatoes
Vine-on tomatoes from the market. So sweet! So rich!

A ripening pomegranate
A pomegranate ripens in a random park.

Market-fresh melons
Market-fresh cantaloupe at the Mercato Esquilino.

The Big View

In Rome, the ever-present tourist season reaches its teeming height in the summertime. I honestly can't imagine why. I hit town on the first of July because J had a conference to attend, but given the choice, I think most any other month would've been preferable.

Simply put, Rome in July is hot and crowded. Think Times Square in July with fewer LEDs and better architecture.

But it's really true what they say... there's something special about the light in Italy.

Buttery mornings. Toasty yellow afternoons. Peachy-pinks every evening.

For the traveler, Rome is expensive, chaotic and occasionally frustrating (transit strike, anyone?), but it's also beautiful, multilayered and quite often, delightful.

While in the city, we stayed at The Beehive, a conveniently located spot that offers friendly, affordable lodging as well as a vegetarian cafe with really tasty cappuccinos, yoga classes, wifi, a quiet garden for reading and Ingmar, the very purr-y resident cat.

The 'hive is situated close to the centrally located Termini Station, a hub for trains, trams, the city's two subway lines and enough shops that you might mistake the place for a shopping mall.

The Bites

From Termini, it's just a short walk to Nuovo Mercato Esquilino (Via Principe Amadeo between the Termini and Piazza Vittorio metro stations) a well-stocked covered market that vends cheap threads in one building, and in the other, all manner of inexpensive fish, veggies, antipasti, cheese, meats, fruits and grocery dry goods. It's great option for fresh fruits or for self-catering, if you happen to have a kitchen on hand. (Go in the morning. They close in the afternoons.)

There's good (and not-so good) eats across the city, of course, but our very favorite Roman meals consisted of:

* The luscious multi-course flavor bonanza at Il Posto Accanto... After, You Sing at Via del Boschetto 36/a. Vegetables are kings here, but they also serve excellent pasta and a meltingly luscious steak with mushrooms.

* The good, simple fare and gorgeous wines at Via Cavour 313, at 313 Via Cavor (naturally). Made with love and located conveniently just 'round the corner from the Colosseum.

* The light, cracker-crisp, artisanal, by-the-slice delights at Come Manna dal Cielo... Like Manna from Heaven at Via del Latini 68/70 (Tel: 06-44362242) in Rome's hip student neighborhood, San Lorenzo. (We stopped here on three separate occasions, so I'll swoon over this spot yet again in my upcoming Roman pizza post.)

* And just down the way, Da Franco ar Vicoletto, San Lorenzo's very no-nonsense, prix-fixe, working-class seafood resto at Via dei Falisci 1/b. They'll offer you clams and mussels in butter sauce, whole fish on platters, the house white wine (ideal with fish!) and dozens of boisterous Italian families enjoying dinner together.

The Takeaway

A lot of the beauty of Italian food is based in its good, locally available ingredients. While there, I couldn't help but notice that many of the vegetable sides were simply (deliciously) done up with a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon.

So the takeaway for this trip is a supremely simple recipe for Romi-inspired sautéed zucchini (which happens to be in season at the markets right now)... but gosh, you could use this easy, tasty olive oil/lemon juice trick to accent just about any green vegetable, whether sautéed, roasted, grilled, broiled or boiled.

Just use good, fresh olive oil with good, fresh veggies and maybe add an herb like chopped parsley, mint or basil. Molto fast, molto easy, molto mouthwatering.
Zucchini Di'Lazio

1 tsp olive oil for cooking (+ a little extra for drizzling)
1/2 clove olive oil, minced (optional)
1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 fresh lemon
A few fresh basil leaves/flowers (optional, to garnish)

1. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic, if using. Cook for 1 minute before adding the zucchini or squash.

2. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, stirring up the slices frequently to prevent over-coloring.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste before transferring to a serving plate. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a garnish of basil leaves/flowers, if using. Serve immediately.

And, of course, I took a bunch of lovely photos (mostly food, of course) that reside here in the full Italy photoset at Flickr.

Ciao for now!

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7.15.2008

All-American Road Trips: Denver

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

The Big View

Flanked by mountains and ringed with highways, it's easy to get lost in Denver's strip malls, chain restaurants and outer-ring developments, but once you find your way to Colfax Avenue, you're on the road to dining with the locals.

I was suffering from a dreadful cold on the trip, so we didn't get out to the bars at all, but there were a couple of spots that came highly recommended by my buddy Alex (a former Denverite):

My Brother's Bar: "A classy spot with fantastic burgers (try a JCB burger)."

The Cruise Room: "If you're staying right downtown this is a good bet for cocktails, though the crowd can be a bit obnoxious on the weekend."

The Bites

Jack Daniels Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Just blocks from the Botanical Garden, Liks Ice Cream is a friendly neighborhood joint that features homemade ice creams and sorbets alongside umbrella-shaded outdoor seating. If you're not up for ice cream, the iced coffees and chai seem like a good bet. I had the Jack Daniel's Chocolate Chip, which tastes lightly alcoholic and quite creamy... very much like an iced Bailey's.

Though it's not exactly a cafe, I'm a book junkie, so the Tattered Cover gets a happy mention. Good coffee, tasty-looking pastries and, of course, books! They have several locations, but why not go to the historic LoDo locale? It's huge, comfy, welcoming and chock-full of high-quality staff picks to help you snag a winner or two among the hundreds of selections on the shelves.

Pete's Kitchen

Serving 24 hours daily in a slightly seedy stretch of Colfax Ave, Pete's Kitchen is a classic greasy spoon. My friend Alex recommended it for the chicken-fried steak. The "how ya doin' hon?" staff all seem sweet and genial, if harried. Pete's has been an institution since 1942, so you're here as much for the history as for the gyros platter with fries.

Side Dishes at Domo

If you don't make a reservation, you're going to endure a long wait at Domo's country-style Japanese restaurant. But the lobby is large, the decor is warm and engaging, and you can spend a few minutes walking through the various rooms and gardens. I didn't get a good sense of their fish craftsmanship, but their Wankosushi(TM) combo helps to offer sushi newbies an easy way to navigate various classics by offering a pick-three (or pick-five) small-plate option that arrives with miso soup and an array of kitchen-selected side dishes. It's filling, fun and approachable.

Tacos Platter

El Taco De Mexico strikes me as the kind of place that once featured great food at fantastic prices, but now that it's been listed in a few national publications, they've raised the rates a bit. That said, it's still a good lunch spot. The neighborhood seems like one that's recently been reclaimed by a handful of small, arty businesses, so it's nice for a little post-taco stroll. Order in Spanish or English. The staff is fluent in both. You'll sit with the locals, sip horchata and chew your burrito or tacos in a busy, but tidy, diner booth.

The Takeaway

Denver, Denver everywhere, but I never once saw a Denver Sandwich. The classic Denver Sandwich is essentially a western-style omelette on bread. If you're going low-carb, just skip the bread and eat the omelette. This would also be nice with a slice of cheddar or a spicy pepper jack melted across it. Mmmm...

Denver Sandwiches (Serves 2)

4 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp butter, melted
Dash of salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup ham, diced
1 green onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 slices good-quality bread

1. Beat the eggs, milk, melted butter, salt and pepper together until blended. Add the ham, green onion and green pepper.
2. In a heavy frying pan or skillet over a medium flame, heat the olive oil.
3. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, creating an even layer.
4. Cook about 3-5 minutes, lifting the edges to allow excess egg run underneath.
5. Run a spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the eggs. Turn the omelette carefully, and cook another minute or two on the other side. Slide onto a plate and cut in half.
6. Toast and butter the bread, using half of the omelette for each sandwich.


Tattered Cover Book Store
1628 16th St
303.436.1070

Liks Ice Cream
Liks Ice Cream Parlor on Urbanspoon
2039 E 13th Ave
303.321.2370

Domo
Domo on Urbanspoon
1365 Osage St
(Just off W Colfax Ave)
303.595.8256

Pete's Kitchen
Pete's Kitchen on Urbanspoon
1962 E Colfax Ave
303.321.3139

El Taco de Mexico
El Taco de Mexico on Urbanspoon
714 Santa Fe Dr
303.623.3926

Cheers,

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4.30.2008

Quick Bites: Barcelona

A friend of mine recently journeyed to Barcelona. Having loved the place so much when I went, I was somehow certain she would encounter wonders on every corner.

Sadly, she returned with an appreciation for the architecture and the climate, but little love for the food.

Though aghast, I blame myself. I didn't offer up any advice at all on the favorite spots I'd visited... and it's so easy to go astray when a traveler doesn't know the territory.

In an effort to help friends and random readers avoid similar fates, I'm starting up a new series: Quick Bites. Each edition will feature a few city highlights, a few beautiful photographs, and a recipe inspired by the locale. By no means an exhaustive list (these are nibbles, after all) my hope is that web travelers and world travelers can both encounter something enjoyable.

In this first edition: Barcelona, Spain

Contemplative Bull
Shall I go to the beach, or visit Sagrada Familia?

The Big View

The art! The beach! The sunshine! The wine! The cheese! Oh, lovely Barcelona! We were lucky enough to be in an apartment, so I was able to take full advantage of the enormous Boqueria market (see below).

I'd made up my mind beforehand to try every paella I could get my hands on. I now believe that was a mistake. The paellas were fine, but even the best seemed to pale in comparison to the very simplest dishes we ate... the tapas (locally referred to as pintxos, in the Basque tongue), the fresh-squeezed orange juice, the rich hit of a cortado (an espresso with a splash of hot milk), the toasty delight of double-baked brioche and the creamy wonder of cheese gelatos.

The Bites

Cabra in the Cave
Cabra in the cheese cave

As you stroll through the Gothic Quarter, walk into this tidy cheese shop, gawk at the tasty cheese cave and speak with the friendly cheese mongress, a charming Scot, who vends wonderful local cheeses, delightful small plates and flights of her delicious, inventive cheese gelatos (formatgelats).

Formatgeria La Seu
Carrer Dagueria 16
Barcelona
Tel: 93 412 65 48)

Fried Chilies
Simple, tasty fried chili tapas.

Supremely simple tapas in a no-nonsense old-school wine tavern. They're all about the basics here. Glasses of wine with ungarnished platters of cheese, sausage, serrano, pa amb tomaquet (tomato-rubbed bread) and tasty classics like the fried chilies pictured above. I found the place to be a refreshing oasis of homeyness in an overdeveloped 'hood.

La Bodegueta
Rambla de Catalunya 100
(L'Eixample)
Barcelona
93.215.48.94

Twice-Baked Brioche
Twice-baked brioche

I've already covered this bakery more exhaustively in a previous post, but for the moment I'll just say... yum. And there's more than one location, so you can go twice in a day without looking like a swine.

Forn de Pa Mistral
Ronda Sant Antoni 96
(or Torres i Amat 7)
Barcelona
93.301.80.37
Tel/Fax: 93.302.41.39

The Boqueria Mercado
Roasted vegetable salad at the Boqueria

On visiting Barcelona, I'm sure every food writer is required by law to mention the Mercat de la Boqueria. There's good reason for the hype. The place has been around since time immemorial, forever featuring great food and lots of it. I think I went there every day... Sometimes twice a day. Fresh tapas at this counter, gorgeous local fruit over there, fascinating mushrooms or nuts or cured meats or fresh fish or... or... or... I'm still thinking about this delicious roasted vegetable and hummus salad I got at a little shop right next to the back entrance. Go exploring there and uncover your own new favorite thing.

Mercat de la Boqueria
Pla├ža de la Boqueria,
Barcelona
Tel: 93.318.25.84

Thick Chocolate at Origen 99.9
Pudding-like chocolate at Origen 99.9%

The ultimate in of-the-moment travel, Origen 99.9% sources its ingredients and recipes locally, basing its cuisine in Catalan classics. Going heavy on lunch (and lighter on dinner) in Barcelona makes this town a better bargain, and Origen 99.9% provides a delicious (and satisfying) three-course prix fixe to get you through siesta and into tapas-time. Don't miss their in-house food magazine and the line of ready-made delights they sell.

Origen 99.9%
Several Locations
Tel: 932 411 600
Fax: 932 411 786

Cortado and Fresh Orange Juice
Barcelona addictions: the cortado and fresh-squeezed local orange juice

This isn't a place recommendation, per se, but a couple of directives.

The cortado (espresso and a splash of hot milk) is a wonderful drink, so if you're into coffee, order one. They're ubiquitous and addictively drinkable.

Also: If you ever come across (and you will... they're everywhere) a Zummo or Frucasol machine — crazy contraptions that squeeze oranges into wonder juice, order juice immediately. Fresh-squeezed Spanish oranges are so lively and delicious you'll never be happy with a carton of Tropicana again.

The Takeaway

I ate Pan Tomaquet (Pa amb Tomaquet in Catalan) daily while I visited Barcelona. The tomatoes were luscious, good olive oil was plentiful, the bread was nearly always decent and the resulting dish was a simple delight. I wouldn't attempt it without garden-fresh tomatoes, good bread and good olive oil. The most simple dishes invariably require the best ingredients.

Pa Amb Tomaquet
Pa Amb Tomaquet Tomato-Rubbed Bread (Serves 2-3)

1 baguette, cut into 5"-6" portions and halved (toasted, if you wish)
1-2 large, ripe, in-season tomatoes, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Rub cut-side of tomato across top of baguette.
2. Drizzle with olive oil.
3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Serve with glasses of rioja and some nice Spanish olives or anchovies.


Salud!

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4.10.2008