Category Archives: Italian

First Bite at Bacco

Boulder’s restaurant week in high gear.

015The 10th annual First Bite Boulder again presents foodies with the delicious dilemma:  which of 40 or so area restaurants to visit for a prix-fixe dinner. Five of us gathered yesterday evening at Bacco Trattoria & Mozzarella Bar in North Boulder. Wine? Of course. The menu? With a choice of two of four first courses, two of five main courses and two desserts, we just selected two of each course among the five of us. I like Bacco’s food a lot. My one wish is that it were less noisy.

Thick slices of crusty bread with herbed olive oil attractively comes on a wire basket.
Thick slices of crusty bread with herbed olive oil attractively comes on a wire basket.
A generous orb of burrata on a bed of arugula with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers is a generously portioned appetizer.
A generous orb of buratta drizzled with Balsamic reduction and served on a bed of greens with sliced tomatoes, braised zucchini and a wedge of braised eggplant is a generously portioned appetizer.

 

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‘Gala’ Dinner in Dolomite Hotel

Hotel Colfosco pasta- and meat-heavy menu.

Table setting for Saturday dinner
Table setting for Saturday dinner – and every evening thereafter.

When we booked a last-minute RCI timeshare trade to Italy, we knew we wanted to stay in the magnificent Dolomites. Cortina d’Ampezzo and other mainstream resorts were not possible, so we are in the Hotel Colfosco in San Martino di Castrozza that is on the RCI program. Half-board (breakfast and dinner) is mandatory (48€ per person, per day additional — ouch!) Most guests check in/out on Sunday, so the hotel schedules its gala dinner for Saturday evening, which is just when we arrived. The night’s offering is a set menu — take it of leave it. Meat, cheese and pasta predominated. Vegetable matter was minimal. I kept thinking, “Toto, we’re not in Boulder anymore.” But I have to say, it was all very tasty — not haute cuisine, but solid Middle European cooking. On the bright side, I know that there’s a salad bar every evening from here on.

Millefeuille with ham ad cheese. The one-half cherry tomato and parsley sprig we almost the only vegetables on this 5-course menu.
Millefeuille with ham ad cheese and a swoosh of light tomato sauce. It plus one-half of a cherry tomato and a  parsley sprig were almost the only vegetables on this 5-course menu.

 

Two-pronged carb attack. Cannelloni filled with ricotta an spinach (the only other vegetable). Not a US-style pasta  tube to be filled, but the dough and the filling were assembled jellyroll-style. Alongside, toothsome risotto with pearl
Two-pronged carb attack. Cannelloni filled with ricotta and spinach (the only other vegetable). Not a US-style pasta tube that was filled, but rather the dough and the filling were assembled jellyroll-style. Alongside, toothsome risotto with pear. Garnish was the other half of the cherry tomato and another sprig of parsley.

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Caponata for a Summer’s Evening

Southern Italian appetizer a seasonal treat.

Photorealistic vector. Colorful fresh group of vegetables.
Photorealistic vector. Colorful fresh group of vegetables.

Caponata has long been one of my favorite summer appetizers. Eggplant, tomatoes and onions make for a heavenly combination. There are probably as many recipes as there are cooks in southern Italy. Over the years, I’ve made many different variations. Here’s the one I contrived for July 2015. I didn’t measure anything, but caponata is not a dish that requires precision, so have at it.

MIse en place for my latest version of caponata.
MIse en place for my latest version of caponata.

Caponata

1 eggplant
Salt
3/4   cup +/- extra-virgin olive oil
1 half medium red onion, chopped
1 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2-3 celery ribs, chopped
1/3 cup large black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
2-3 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. sugar (or to taste)
1/3 cup red -wine vinegar
1 (14- to 15-oz) can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, drained and chopped

Peel eggplants, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread on half of a kitchen towel in a jellyroll pan. Sprinkle with salt, then cover with other half of the towel and weight with a second baking sheet topped with cast-iron pans for about 30 minutes.

Salting the eggplant and pressing out the moisture is a step in many recipes. Sometimes, it is also necessary to squeeze out any remaining water by hand.
Salting the eggplant and pressing out the moisture is a step in many recipes. Sometimes, it is also necessary to squeeze out any remaining water by hand.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup oil in a heavy  skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, and cook stirring occasionally, until pale golden (6 to 8 minutes). Add celery and garlic, and cook, stirring, occasionally until onion and celery are golden brown and soft (about 10 minutes). Add eggplant cubes and cook about 10 minutes Add olives, capers and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-10  minutes. Stir in vinegar and tomatoes, breaking tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Caponata inrgedients simmering in the pan.
Caponata inrgedients simmering in the pan.

Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. If sauce is very acidic, add  a  bit more sugar (to taste). Transfer to a bowl and keep warm, covered. Cool room temperature and let stand, for at least 3 hours. Stir before serving.

Like many Spanish tapas, caponata can be eaten at various temperatures. I like it at room temperature, served with thinly sliced good-quality Italian or French bread,

The Torch Passes at Barolo Grill

Iconic Italian restaurant changes hands but stays in the family.

BaroloGrill-logoSome restaurants seem immutable, but of course, they aren’t. It seemed as if Blair Taylor would always own the Barolo Grill, and as if Brian Laird would always be the chef in this revered Piemontese restaurant in the Congress Park/Cherry Creek area. First Laird departed to become the opening (and short-lived) chef at Sarto’s, and now Ryan Fletter, Barolo’s longtime general manager, has purchased the celebrated Denver restaurant from founder Blair Taylor.

Fletter is promising to continue the same lofty levels of food, wine and service that have kept the restaurant at the pinnacle of the Denver dining scene for years.  Ryan Fletter recently took control of the restaurant, and Taylor plans to concentrate on his Denver-based wine-importing business. Taylor initially started bringing in certain desired vintages through Enotec Imports, a friend’s importing company and bought it in late 1997.

Ryan Fletter, Barolo Grill's new owner.
Ryan Fletter, Barolo Grill’s new owner.

Fletter began working as a waiter at Barolo just 18 months after the restaurant opened in December 1992. He became bar manager and then general manager, took a hiatus to work at in San Francisco restaurant from 2001 to 2003, and returned 12 years ago to take over day-to-day operations as  general manager and wine director. In the process, Barolo Grill began earning the a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.

Darrel Fluet now captains Barolo Grill’s kitchen, and I have no idea where Brian Laird might be cooking now.

Barolo Grill on Urbanspoon

L’Hostaria’s Bar is Congenial for Solo Dining

Tuscan-style restaurant a good option for lone diners in Aspen.

L'Hostaria's welcome mat.
L’Hostaria’s welcome mat.

I’m in Aspen for just a couple of days, my prime purpose being to write about the recently opened Aspen Art Museum. A side benefit is always eating. When I arrived I was tired and hungry, so I was looking for a quick bite of something tasty and not too pricey. A local friend suggested L’Hostaria Ristorante— coincidentally across from the museum where I will be tomorrow.

The décor is Tuscan. The menu features a range of starters, meats, seafood, pasta, sides and desserts. There was something vaguely familiar about the look of the place (a bar area separated from the dining area) and even the way the menu is written. When I returned to write and looked up the restaurant, it turns out that the owner(s) opened Bacaró in Boulder. Bacaró is closed, but if a Monday evening in low season in a ski town is an indication, L’Hostaria is still doing strong.

I asked the waitress about the cool bicycle hanging over the bar. She said,
I asked the waitress about the cool bicycle hanging over the bar. She said, “The owner likes cycling.”

The bar area seating includes the bar itself, a salume bar and tables — a set-up that provides options for lone diners. Because my companion was author Mark Adams in the form of his book, Turn Right at Machu Picchu, I picked a table with the best lighting. A glass of chianti, a savory and a sweet sufficed. The ambiance was very pleasant, though I’m guessing later in the evening, there was more noise from other patrons, which would have made dining solo less pleasant. Like Bacaró, the food was good — but not great. Still, it was a good choice for me.

Good bread gets any eating experience off on the right chew.
Good bread gets any eating experience off on the right chew.
Even in land-locked Colorado, seafood appeals to me -- as long as the restaurant is good and serves it fresh and well prepared. L'Hostaria's Zuppa di Pesce features salmon, clams, mussels, crab claw and shrimp in a delicious tomato-lobster broth with toasted crostini for dipping.
Even in land-locked Colorado, seafood appeals to me — as long as the restaurant is good and serves it fresh and well prepared. L’Hostaria’s Zuppa di Pesce features salmon, clams, mussels, crab claw and shrimp in a delicious tomato-lobster broth with toasted crostini for dipping.
Tiramisu is composed of mascarpone cheese, ladyfingers soaked in coffee,  cocoa and a heap of whipped cream with  smiley face made of chocolate syrup.
Tiramisu is composed of mascarpone cheese, ladyfingers soaked in coffee, cocoa and a heap of whipped cream with smiley face made of chocolate syrup.

Price check: I can’t give you the usual range, because I didn’t take notes or take a menu, but my food and wine at the bar came to about $30. And the pleasant atmosphere and congenial service? Priceless.

L'Hostaria on Urbanspoon

Frasca On Another “Best” List

Thrillist lists the country’s 21 top Italian restaurant.

Thrillist-logoThere seems to be no end to the honors heaped upon Boulder’ sublimed Frasca Food and Wine. The latest is Thrillist.com’s selection of “The 21 Best Italian Restaurants in America.” It is one of the few restaurants the is not on a coast — in our small college city with no appreciable Italian heritage. Here’s what they wrote:

Frasca

Boulder, CO
What you’re getting: Multicourse dinner & wine pairings at weekly Monday wine dinner If you go to Frasca, you’ll inevitably meet Bobby Stuckey. He roams around the white tablecloth-filled dining room, offering anything from a smile to a wine pairing suggestion pulled from his 20+ years as a sommelier. He and Frasca have won so many James Beard Awards for wine they should rename the category after them. The restaurant stands out as a fine-dining oasis in Boulder, CO, a town where form-fitting bike shorts are a respected sartorial choice. The menu changes seasonally, but always highlights the “flavors and international influences” of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy.

Congratulations to the Frasca folks — once again.

Sarto’s Tailor-Made for Denver Foodies

Brilliant new Jefferson Park restaurant is latest west of I-25.

002As soon as I received the invitation to a food sampling at Sarto’s, I knew I’d like it. Brian Laird, who spent a decade or so at the estimable Barolo Grill, is the man behind the food. And I liked being there as soon as I walked in the door, because the coffered wood ceiling promised (and delivered) a relaxing setting. Sure, the popular loft look of exposed brick and open ductwork has had its visual appeal, but it’s hard to converse without shouting and hard to hear without straining — and it has become a cliché, hasn’t it? By happy contrast, Sarto’s with white walls, gleaming floors and lots of large windows brings the relaxing ambience of a Mediterranean café Denver. The wood absorbs crowd noises, making dining what I think of as a grown-up delight.

Big windows, clean lines, wood floors and sound-absorbing coffered ceilings are simple yet elegant. Note the pinstripe fabric. (Sarto's photo)
Big windows, clean lines, wood floors and sound-absorbing coffered ceilings are simple yet elegant. Note the pinstripe fabric. (Sarto’s photo)
The back bar is pretty in aperol-pink, just one of the clever design touches at Sarto's.
The back bar is pretty in aperol-pink, just one of the clever design touches at Sarto’s.

The backstory: Taylor Swallow started daydreaming about owning a restaurant for long that he had 20 years of notes — many made in Italy. In 2011, he and his then-fiancée, Kajsa Gotlin, kept returning to an osteria in Verona. Across the street was a sarto shop — sarto being Italian for tailor. They returned to Colorado and started looking for the right restaurant space. They found it in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. Sarto’s is the name, and trailoring is the decorative theme, from the door handles that look like sewing needles to the pinstripe upholstery fabric to the collection of antique Italian sewing machines in the private dining room. Sarto’s is divided into several parts: booze bar and cicchetti bar at right angles to each other, dining room, the pantry for grab-and-go items that is opening shortly and the spacious patio for warm weather. BTW, cichetti is Italian for small plates — rather like tapas.

Custom door pulls that look like sewing needles set the tailor tone for Sarto's.
Custom door pulls that look like sewing needles set the tailor tone for Sarto’s.
Brian Laird, commander of Sarto's kitchen.
Brian Laird, commander of Sarto’s kitchen.

While Sarto’s was progressing from dream to reality, Taylor and Kasja got married, and Taylor also connected with Brian Laird “to pick his brain” about Italian fare. Turned out that Brian was itching to captain a kitchen again. It takes someone with Brian’s talent and experience to make a dream like Taylor’s come into being. The dishes that the kitchen sent out were more meat-heavy than I customarily eat, but every single one was fantastic. The anticipation of the neighborhood, local foodies in general and Brian Laird fans in particular seems to have been fulfilled as soon as the doors opened.

Pickled vegetables as a pre-appetizer.
Pickled vegetables as a pre-appetizer.

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