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Entries in Italy (60)


Salumi, Seattle


First of all, I hate waiting in lines. Usually the amount of hype and anticipation of  “the hottest restaurant” doesn’t live up to the end product. “Just another Italian sandwich” was my thought process as I approached the 20 person deep line outside of Salumi in Seattle. I’m glad it wasn’t raining.

After about 20 minutes, I was able to squeeze my body inside the actual deli. As you approach the main counter, the list of salumi on the wall informs you that many of the cured meats are sold out already. Culatello, a favorite of mine since visiting Parma and Modena, Italy was already gone. But I wasn’t wedded to this prime cut. I do have a love affair with finocchiona and porchetta, both of which were available.

The porchetta comes with cooked green peppers and onions, which are fine accompaniments. The finocchiona also is garnished with cooked mild red peppers and onions, but also a loose garlicky pesto oil. I’m a purest when it comes to my salumi. After all the work that is put into fine salumi, it needs no adornment, no spread, nothing to conflict or upset the balance already achieved. A perfectly fresh roll, cheese, finocchiona and a dash of fresh olive oil would have been perfect. I don’t mean to bash the long line of devoted followers and reputation, but it seems a little “American” to slather a garlic pesto on perfect bread and salumi. Next time I’ll order my sandwich without any spreads. Enough of my dogmatic views on salumi purism.

"The porchetta was lovely. Rich, filling, flavorful and moist. A beautiful sandwich. I would take porchetta over some form of roast beef, bbq beef, or tri-tip sandwich any day. The pork takes on a depth of flavor and has a more naturally creamy fat that rounds out the mouth feel with each bite. Since I was just at The People’s Pig in Portland for 2 days of Cliff’s porchetta, it’s fair to ask which one was better.  But this isn’t a matter of better or worse, it comes down to completely different styles of sandwich and therefore not perfectly compariable."

Considering my rant on the garlic pesto sauce, I opened up the finocchiona sandwich to pick out several slices of the salumi itself, untouched by foreign substances. It truly is well crafted salumi. A balance of meat and fat, the spices are subtle hintings of pepper and pronounced fennel. I still believe in allowing this wonderfully made salumi should stand on its own. I did finish my finocchiona sandwich as Salumi prepared it and I can appreciate the flavors and the pop of the pesto, but it’s certainly not my preference.

I’m pleased to have waited in line and tried two different sandwiches at Salumi. I’m afraid that if I lived in Seattle, I would quickly gain 10 pounds from eating far too much of this wonderfully crafted product. Next time, I’ll call ahead so I can score some culatello and ungarnished finocchiona.

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Scopa, Healdsburg

I've eaten at Scopa a couple of times, both for dinner. I have no intention of detailing both meals (sometimes I shut off the critic in me on a Friday) and I don't have pictures because I sat at the bar both times (where the bartender took good care of me). The menu changes often and it's one of the toughest places in town to get into. I will however point out one dish which has a special place in my heart, Tripe.

I love a well made tripe dish. I've often made reference to Diavola in Geyserville as having a superlative tripe when Chef decides to offer it. Of course I can blabber on about the tripe stands in Florence as well. I'm pleased to say that Scopa also has a wonderful tripe dish, although more Southern Italian in preperation than Diavola. The addition of chili peppers adds a wonderful spicy component to the dish. The whole, squatty pepper is presented on top of the dish with a warning, eat at your own peril. The addition of some grilled bread is offered with the steaming bowl of tripe. The tripe itself was tender, incorporated well with the tomato based sauce, and had no 'stink' that lesser tripe dishes are known to have. I really enjoyed my tripe.

Be warned, Scopa is a small restaurant in the Healdsburg town square and can be nearly impossible some days to get a table or one of the less than 8 seats at the bar. They do take reservations. I tend to eat when they open at 5:30. 

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Sportello, Boston

Sportello, the Barbara Lynch incarnation of an Italian ‘diner’ hits high marks for authenticity, but has a singular flaw that needs to be corrected. I visited Sportello on two different occasions for lunch. I would even consider this fast food, considering ticket times were under 6 minutes for a bowl of pasta during a solid but not packed lunch service.

On my first visit, I ordered tagliatelle Bolognese. On my second visit, I ordered trenette with rabbit and picholine olives. Now for the flaw on both days and with two different cooks, clumped noodles. I noticed each time the noodles were dropped into the water still folded rather than loose. The compartmentalized pasta boiling pot seemed small for the volume of pasta being cooked; therefore the pasta doesn’t seem to have room to move, hence the clumping. Flavors were great, simple and authentic Italian preparations and portion sizes. The pasta was masterfully twirled into a white bowl with a long 2 pronged fork. I was quite happy with both lunches. But, with all this skill, all the cooks have to do it unfold the pasta ribbons and the clumping problem would be gone or get a slightly larger compartment for boiling.

And not to be missed, the cookie plate. You could also take the cookies to go.

Just fix the pasta clumps and this restaurant would be close to perfect.

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Rustic at the Coppola Winery

With low expectations and honestly my second choice that night (I really wanted pasta at Diavola, but there were no seats at the bar and a wait that included people outside) how bad could Rustic be with all the money that’s being thrown at this project? The place was packed, with up to 45 minute wait for a table and first come first serve at the bar. The bar itself is somewhat cold, feeling more like a waiting area than a warm bar.

I started with my staple evaluation salad, the Caesar. The Caesar was cold, served in a cold plate and a salad that was well tossed. A wet dressing and flavorful. Two little anchovies were placed on top. Croutons were crunchy. I’d say average or slightly above average salad with extra points going to cold salad bowl and cold crisp greens.

Spaghetti Carbonara is a favorite of mine. As I may have mentioned before, Tarry Lodge in New York is my standard bearer of high quality carbonara preparation. Rustic’s preparation was once again above average. A generous (perhaps too generous) and not quite crispy enough portion of cubed pancetta was the most noticeable item besides the pasta in the bowl. The pasta was cooked an Italian al dente and the egg mixture sauce was well incorporated and without any visible scrambled egg. I’m sure there’s a kitchen technique for making carbonara effortlessly for average kitchen cooks that doesn’t involve cracking and tempering eggs and then tossing the pasta over and over again in the egg and pasta water mixture.

Well, whatever Rustic is doing, they’re doing it well enough for me not to complain. The pasta and salad were both slightly better than average but not brilliant. I could easy bring people from out of town here for both the Coppola excellence in film legacy and a better than average meal for a reasonable price.

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Camille's, Providence

Certainly enjoyed our server and our host. Both were cordial and conversational. The carpet is wild African leopard print and tables have a generous amount of space in between. We started the night with a trio of crudo:

Smoked Scallop Caprese - Seared sea scallop, tomato, micro Italian basil, smoked sea salt and lemon olive oil. I liked the scallop flavor and simple garnish. I could taste the fish and the accents presented.

Ndulgence - Sliced Kobe beef, Sicilian sea salt, organic virgin oil and micro arugula. The beef stands out and certainly needed the salt. It requires a bit more chewing than a piece of fish and perhaps even a stronger flavor to carry through the chewing process.

Sicilian  Blood - Sicilian blood orange and zest, saffron infused caviar, pomegranate balsamic drizzle. More refreshing than anything else, probably from the acid.

Moving on to a huge highlight and huge portion of pasta carbonara. The single order portion was so large, it could easily feed a small Italian village. Classic preparation, perhaps not as creamy as Tarry Lodge (which is my current standard bearer of quality) or as obvious with the raw egg, but a wonderful consistency and flavor. The peas popped. Generous beyond belief, but cooked in an Italian way, not an American way. And I could have stopped their...but I didn't.

My main, the veal porterhouse with broccoli rabe and mashed potato timbale was over the top large and just as delicious. I can’t recall the last time I ordered a porterhouse. Normally, I get the rib-eye at steak houses, but the porterhouse after all that pasta, what was I thinking?! And since we’re in an Italian restaurant rather than a steakhouse, the meal comes with mashed potato and greens. I feel guilty not eating everything that’s in front of me. Clean Plate Club memories from childhood whisper in the back of my head at this Italian institution. I confess, I only finished the porterhouse off.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the wine, the Pio Cesare 2003 Barbaresco was one of the better wines I’ve had in recent memory. I love seeing older wines that have had time to develop. A rarity in popular restaurants in California. Maybe I’m just spoiled.

A grand experience in Providence at one of the hallowed institutions of Italian American cuisine on the East Coast. A memory I won't forget.

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