Saturday, October 06, 2001
naturally, when travelling to naples, ya gotta go eat the pizza. i know, i know, real naples food buffs will scream that the city is a treasure trove of undiscovered authentic cooking and why would anyone waste time at a pizza place?
and it's true, real neapolitan food is nothing like the sweet red sauces we americans associate with southern italian cooking. in fact, neapolitans seem to live on the most delicious fried fish you've ever dreamed of. . . but pizza was on my agenda; long time readers know it's a favorite topic here! i did have the chance to go to the famous brandi's. i also wanted to go to da michele and see the beautiful wood burning tile stove at trianon, but didn't get the chance. . .
at brandi the pizza was well, strange. i went with tradition and ordered the margherita: sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil. nothing more. it should be the classic perfect food.
the crust: amazing. thin all the way to the edge of the crust, but soft & chewy, not like a roman pizza, which is thin and rather like a large cracker. a delicious wheaty taste in every bite; and the italian 00 grade flour seems to have a natural sweetness american flours lack. so the crust was perfection.
it was the toppings that struck me as odd. with the exception of the tomatoes, they aren't fresh. order mushrooms, and you'll get canned mushrooms on your pizza! this is so at odds with the normal italian food practice. . .the sauce seemed bland to me. it was clearly just crushed tomatoes and salt, no herbs or garlic. the mozzarella was fresh and delicious and spread thinly across the surface. finally, the basil was scarce. maybe one leaf.
all in all, a disappointment, i must reluctantly confess. however, the crust was magical, and it does strengthen my resolve to take a class at the italian cooking school to improve my pizza shaping skills.
doubtless all you old neapolitan hands will be writing me saying, "stupida! da michele was the right place to go!" next time, next time. . .
Friday, October 05, 2001
the italians are famous for their chocolate, and while in italy, i had the chance to pick up three kinds. . .barrati, domori, and popular local naples producer gay odin. gay odin may not belong on the temples of italian chocolate list, but i had to try them.
i bought a large bar of the gay odin "extra fondante" dark chocolate with cocoa nibs, which did not state a chocolate percentage on its label. but after tasting it, i'd say it's easily a 70% chocolate object. while gay odin is highly regarded in southern italy, i have to say i was slightly disappointed in the bar. first of all, although this is relatively small production chocolate, made only in naples for three stores and sold only in naples, i didn't think it had all the quality i expected in artisan chocolate.
the bar lacked finish, a shiny surface, and a clean snap in the break. it seemed strangely soft. i didn't think this was due to a temperature problem, as i bought the bar on a cool evening from an air-conditioned store. i wasn't thrilled with the mouth-feel either, although this could perhaps be due to the chocolate nib bits. the actual taste of the bar reminded me strongly of scharffen-berger, so i won't say the chocolate is bad. not at all. scharffen-berger fans would love it. i had the chance to taste one of their small candies, which seemed bland to me, but did have a creamier mouth-feel. and the whole concept of a vesuvius modeled in chocolate was a hoot.
the packaging is charmingly art nouveau, especially the boxed candies, with a hilarious illustration of vesuvius erupting. the gay odin stores themselves resemble old-fashioned ice cream parlors, but are more elegant.
turin is known as a chocolate center. not only does it sponsor a famous chocolate festival but it has many renowned artisanal makers. baratti is not an artisan chocolate; you might think of it as an italian lindt. it's made by baratti & milano, which began and continues as a famous pastry and candy store.
i bought a bar of both the 30% milk chocolate and the 55% bittersweet chocolate "extra fondante." i normally dislike milk chocolate, but i was surprised at this one. it was good, although strangely pale in color, nearly caramel. mr. right was instantly addicted to it.
the 55% was heavenly. unwrap it and you'll find a nice shiny bar, with a clean break and good finish. and the mouth-feel: heavenly. it tastes as if it has a larger amount of cocoa butter than many other commercial chocolates. it's just delicious; although not the most intense chocolate taste, you can't stop eating it. it melts in your mouth immediately . . .yummm. those fond of very bitter or intense dark chocolates might not like this "semi-sweet" chocolate taste. i was again surprised at how good it was.
i wouldn't rank it with the el reys or valrhonas of the world, but it is a nice alternative to lindt, if you can find it.
finally, i also got to taste the cult chocolate, domori, made with criolla beans. sad to say, i was a tad disappointed. maybe it just had a too-high expectation from what i had heard about it.
the bars are beautifully finished and crisp, with a sensous dark gleam. however in the tasting it seemed very much like lindt to me (which isn't a bad thing really!) but with a flatish flavor. not quite as good as valrhona and certainly not as good as the el rey. i think the el rey bucare is still the best commercial eating chocolate out there. of course, gentle readers, you may write to disagree. . .
Thursday, October 04, 2001
let me take this moment to thank all of you for stopping by even during this period of sporadic posting, and also thank yoga teacher and vaidya (ayurvedic practitioner) frank jude for posting on the traditional ayurvedic thinking about bread, coffee, chocolate. it was so great of him to fill in for me.
however, judging from my email, his posts haven't always been popular with you, gentle readers. in particular, yoga teacher nancy la nasa begs to differ on the coffee question. she quotes the venerable swami in her funny, charming, and forthright way:
"And who cares what those nasty ayurvedists say about coffee, the Nectar of the Gods? Swami Sivananda advises in "Divine Bliss"...before asana practice "take some tea, take some coffee, little milk and sugar." If it's good enough for him, it's way good for me. "
a comment that i know will prove popular with many in the audience! you go, girlfriend! let me hasten to say however that i have seen frank jude himself enjoy a double espresso and i know he was only speaking on the traditional ayurvedic view, which is, after all, pertinent and interesting to many yoga students.
on the coffee front, i must confess that i thought carefully about my planned vacation in italy and then took it anyway, although mr. right had to rearrange everything at the last moment. thus i had the opportunity to visit rome, the amalfi coast, and naples. and being in italy for two weeks was quite refreshing at this time.
more importantly, i had the privilege to drink the coffee in naples, which is widely regarded as the best in the world. i was able to visit mexico, the bar generally said to have the best coffee in naples. so it was a best of the best experience.
(i also did have the coffee at the tazza d'oro in rome; the mexico serves better, i think. however, in a side note to richard reynolds, with whom i am slightly acquainted, i must say that i had an excellent, truly excellent cup of espresso kimbo at a hotel in capri; the villa brunella, besides having the most welcoming and accommodating staff in all italy serves what must be called a heavenly cappucino, even after a heavy discount for the location and view! vincenzo knows his way around a three-group gaggia.)
but now i'm back here in brooklyn, hoping to make my personal coffee even better. while in italy, i also had the ability to sample some specialty chocolates. and that will be tomorrow's subject. . .chocolate. . .