Friday, March 22, 2013

Quick restaurant review - Vino, Harrisburg, PA

It's not often Sara and I get a chance to eat out together.  With our busy travel schedule, plus the fact we like to entertain and I love to cook for our friends, it's not often we get out for a nice meal.  Last weekend we had a few kid free hours and decided we needed to get out and enjoy a nice adult meal together.  Italian was in order, and on the suggestion of a friend of a friend we decided to try Vino, located in Harrisburg PA.

I'll start off by saying it was an excellent choice.  Service was great, as was the food, and the prices were quite reasonable.

The food was top notch all around.  I had the fried calamari for an appetizer.  Some of the best I have ever had.  We both got the tomato basil soup.  Sara loved hers.  I'm not a huge tomato soup fan but wanted to try it.  Salads were good, I had the Caesar, Sara had the house salad that was nice mix of greens.  She loved her salad.  I thought the Caesar had too many hearts and not enough leafs of Romaine, but hey, I'm not a big salad guy so no big deal.  For the main entree Sara had Chicken Parm with pasta on the side.  Very healthy portion and she loved it.  I had a small taste and would have to agree.  For my entree I gave it the litmus test - Linguine with Clam Sauce.  White of course.  Linguine with clam sauce is my favorite dish in the world.  It's a very simple dish to make.  If a restaurant can't nail this dish there is simply no use even thinking about going back.  The dish I got was very good.  They did it justice.  The pasta was very al dente.  I prefer my pasta cooked softer so when we go back I'll have to specify that.  Desert was great.  I had Tiramisu that was served in a martini glass.  Sara had some sort of chocolate cake thing.  Both were excellent, as was the coffee.  A nice dark roast.  As a coffee fiend I had no complaints.

Both our waiter and the owner were very friendly and attentive.  The restaurant itself is very small.  I counted the tables and chairs and came up with forty diners max that could eat at any one time.  That being said, the bar, which takes up a rather large portion of the room, could seat at least twelve, maybe more.  I don't know about you but I kind of like when the bar has a significant place in any establishment.  I'd much rather have too much bar and not enough dining room than vice versa.

All told, two meals (salads included, plus one soup), two deserts (with coffee), one appetizer, one extra soup, two beers, a Kettle One martini plus a glass of Sauvignon Blanc came to $70.   A most excellent deal for a great meal with great service.

Will I be going back?  For sure.  Maybe next time I'll just sit at the expansive bar.

Ciao for now,


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Eataly, NYC

I had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago to visit a truly amazing place - Eataly in New York City    It is the only Eataly location in the USA.  There are currently eight locations in Italy, the first of which opened in Torino in 2007, as well as four in Japan.  There is a second US location scheduled to open in Chicago this year as well as several more in Italy.  If you are a foodie, love Italian food, love food shopping, appreciate the finest and freshest products or just enjoy a great atmosphere you have to visit this place if you ever find yourself in NYC.  

I remembered reading about when it opened in 2010.  Of course having Mario Batali along with Lydia Bastianich and her son Joe  as partners in the NY location helped the place get a lot of press.  I thought at the time that this would be a cool place to check out the next time I had some free time in NYC.  A busy schedule the last few years meant I hadn’t had the chance yet.   Fortunately, Grace’s hockey team had their district playoffs in Hackensack, NJ and a game schedule favorable for a jaunt in the city - Saturday morning game and then nothing until early Sunday morning, meaning a whole afternoon and evening free to head into Manhattan.  Piling Grace, two of her teammates (Sarah and Paige) and their mom’s (Dana and Amy) into the Camry we headed into the city.  After lunch and the obligatory Times Square/midtown shopping excursion Dana suggested we check out Eataly.  I am grateful she did because I hadn’t really thought of it.  So we headed downtown to 5th Ave and 23rd St. to check it out.  

Walking in and around Eataly I felt like a kid in a candy store, or maybe like a kid walking into FAO Schwarz the week before Christmas.  50,000 square feet of Italian foodie heaven.  Besides seven restaurants where you can sit down and eat (which we didn’t do) there is just the most amazing shopping.  You can find the freshest meats, cheese, fish, produce, pasta and bread as well as an amazing variety of oils, vinegars, spices, and dry pasta, much of it from Gragnano, home to the best pasta makers in Italy.  Oh, and wine too.  While we didn’t drink I saw numerous people shopping with glasses of wine in their hand.  There is a kitchenware section, where I found some great little 3oz martini glasses, and a whole section of cookbooks.  My only regret was not being able to buy any fresh products (as I had not way to keep them refrigerated until we got home on Sunday).  I did splurge, however, and came home with lots of incredible dried pasta, which I’ve been eating since, as my waist line can attest.  Oh, I can’t forget to mention the gelato, which the girls wanted to get on the way out.  I wasn’t going to get any until I saw they had tiramisu gelato.  I’d never seen that before so I just had to try some.  It was sooooo good.  

For someone living in Central PA having all these top quality products available in one place was mind boggling.  I’m not a huge on-line shopper.  I actually enjoy food shopping and find it relaxing.  I can tell you one thing, though.  This excursion to Eataly and enjoying all the amazing pasta these last couple of weeks has made me realize that I will be ordering all of my dry pasta online from now on.   Barilla just don’t cut it anymore (though they did sell Barilla at Eataly).  Also, it reinforced for me that when cooking, or eating, always start with the freshest, best ingredients you can get your hands on.  You can’t go wrong if you start with the best.    

The bottom line?  If you find yourself in NYC and have an hour or two follow 5th Ave or Broadway until they intersect and stop into Eataly, you won’t regret it. 

Ciao for now,


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Don't Screw Up The Beef

Things haven’t been too crazy here the last month at La Cucina Castano.  Well, things have been crazy, just not in the eating and drinking way.  Hockey, hockey, hockey  (the coolest game on earth) was keeping us busy and didn’t allow us a lot of time for indulging in food and drink with friends here at la cucina.  However, I did have time for a small birthday dinner with some friends.  Nothing too fancy and of course I did the cooking (wouldn’t have it any other way!).  

The menu was beef and pasta.  Beef mainly for everyone else, pasta mainly for me, not that everyone else doesn’t love it too, at least it seems that way when I cook it.   

The meat portion of the meal was a whole beef tenderloin.  I was a little worried, to be honest.  Here’s the thing - I am totally not a carnivore.  If you told me I could never eat steak again for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be all that upset.  I’m all about seafood and pasta.  However, whenever I cooked steak, be it NY strips, filet mignon, flat iron, you name it, I could pretty much nail it.  On the grill, in the oven, whatever.  No special tricks or methods.  Just instinct I guess.   And then we moved here and redesigned the kitchen from scratch and got a nice new grill for the deck and I couldn’t seem to cook a steak right to save my life.  It’s like I lost my touch.  I certainly didn’t want to screw up a prime cut of beef like tenderloin, especially for guests.  Fortunately it came out great.  Just some seasoning, seared the outside in a pan with olive oil then finished in the oven.  I did use a meat thermometer, which I never do, which probably helped.  Often it’s best to just keep it simple, which is easy t do when the ingredients are top quality.  

I kept the pasta simple too.  Just some olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, a little butter and fresh basil.  Oh, and some shrimp (of course).  I cooked it using a method where you finish the pasta in the pan you are using to cook your sauce.  You don’t cook the pasta all the way in the water, you let it finish cooking in the sauce you are making.  The sauce is very simple and uses some of the water you cooked your pasta in.  Simple and delicious.  Of course use good pasta as this type of sauce really let’s it shine.  As I’ve stated before I’m not really that good at giving recipes since I tend to wing it most of the time in the kitchen but this article gives a good idea of what I’m talking about -

Of course martini’s for chef and some good dry wine to wash it all down.  Good crusty bread, don’t forget that.  All in all a great way to spend a birthday, cooking for friends.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.