Monday, April 20, 2009

California Is a Great Place

Okay, here is a digression. My wife and I were in California for the weekend and had such a great time, and great times cannot be had without great meals.


We visited the Monterey Aquarium and had a surprisingly excellent lunch at the aquarium restaurant. I was psyched to see a grass-fed burger on the menu, so I ordered that. It was delicious. That's bacon sticking out the sides, as you might have guessed.

My wife ordered a "Sustainable Seafood Salad", which was also excellent.


We spent Saturday in Big Sur and had one of the best days ever. We kicked it off with an amazing breakfast at Deetjen Big Sur Inn.

This is Egg's Benedict with local cured salmon, avocado, and tomato with home fries.

After relaxing on a state park beach, we headed to Big Sur Bakery.

You can tell from the sign that this place is awesome. We had a nice wood-fired pizza and a salad. The pizza was not made like an Italian pizza, but it was still very good.

We were 3 for 3 on restaurants so far, and I was starting to think that California was a magical place where every restaurant is amazing and completely in tune with my philosophies on food. But then the streak came to an end at dinner Saturday night at Nepenthe. I was hoping to top off the perfect day with a great dinner but we were robbed of that. And robbed of our actual money because the place was overpriced. It had the vibe of a place that used to be good or at least considered good, but has gotten lazy with success and stopped trying. The menu was boring. I couldn't think of anything on it that I wanted to order and I lobbied that we leave. But my wife made me stay. We ordered. We got our salads, and they were proof that the chef didn't care. Several handfuls of not-so-fresh romaine lettuce stuffed, and I mean packed pretty tightly, into cereal bowls. Other than that, there was one grape tomato cut in half. It tasted rotten.

The entrees were not good either. I had duck with Asian BBQ glaze. It was too salty and sour. It was served on a mountain of plain white rice and garnished with a bunch of cilantro thrown all over the top of the duck. I ate most of it, out of respect for the duck. My wife had salmon. Now here's the thing that drove me nuts about this place. Here we are sitting with a magnificent view of the Pacific ocean and the menu has two seafood items: 1) Farm raised salmon from Nova Scotia, which is almost 4,000 miles away on the east coast of Canada and 2) Shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. BOOOO!

Nepenthe is good for a cocktail with a view, but don't eat there.

Disappointing dinner aside, Big Sur is a magical place and the food is mostly local, fresh and organic. I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I made a simple delicious risotto for lunch today. Just olive oil to cook the onions, then the arborio rice and homemade chicken stock. Good stock is key. 

I have always used imported Italian Arborio or Carnaroli rice, but an American grown Arborio rice caught my eye on my last trip to the market. I was skeptical about this rice, but here's the surprising verdict: it is as good as Italian rice. This rice makes a creamy risotto that tastes as if I had put half a stick of butter in it even though I didn't use any at all and is excellent al dente. And so...

Gianmarco recommends Lundberg Eco-Farmed White Arborio rice. According to Lundberg, this is the first Arborio rice grown in the USA and it originates from authentic superfine Italian seeds.  I bought it at Whole Foods Market, but hopefully it's more widely available. Go buy it and enjoy.


Welcome! Here I will discuss what is almost always on my mind and near to my heart: food. Though I love many different cuisines, as an Italian, the food and cooking of Italy is my favorite. Just in my lifetime I have seen a huge improvement in the quality of Italian food in America.

1) Increase in imports: there is a much greater variety of Italian products imported here now than there were 20 years ago, including smaller and superior brands, not just the mass production giants.

2) Restaurants have really upped their game. For a long time, no one in my family would set foot in an Italian restaurant. I think it happened exactly three times in the first 20 years of my life, and I remember each experience distinctly. Two of them were horrible, and the other was excellent. My parents told me there was difference between Italian food and Italian-American food and these three experiences showed me very clearly what those differences were. Now there are many excellent Italian restaurants that make real Italian food, and I enjoy visiting them very much.

3) Perhaps the most exciting change is the new trend of domestic producers and businesses who are producing excellent traditional Italian products in the U.S. In many cases they have spent time in Italy learning the craft firsthand.

It is one of the great pleasures in life for me to discover faithfully-made Italian products produced in the U.S. I love the story of Americans or Italian-Americans going to Italy to study the craft of making gelato or prosciutto, for example, so they can open a business in the U.S. that really does it right. And though I love to support the products of Italy, it's better to buy things domestically if the product is as good. Importing goods across the ocean is the cause of a lot of pollution.

And so it is on this blog that I will write about the discoveries that I make (I call them discoveries even though I will not be the first person to be reviewing or trying these products) and give my recommendations. I hope it will be as fun to read as it will be for me to write.