domenica 21 settembre 2014

Michelin stars restaurant: would you eat lamb liver? There YES

It's not very easy that a tourist has the chance to visit this small village of the Belluno province, a partly - mountainous corner, located exactly in the centre of the lush Alpago hollow, between the righth bank of the Tesa brook on one side and the S.Pietro hills on the other side. It's close to the Santa Croce lake and the mild flow of air which origantes from the Dolada mountain make it really a paradise for nature lovers. It's also a great place for those who love air sports, like #paragliding: one day I'll have to try.
A long introduction to invite you to go there, have a nice walk (especially in summer) and then stop for lunch at the #Locanda San Lorenzo restaurant.
"It was the mid-Eighties when we decided to bring the old San Lorenzo Locanda back to life.  Our grandfather had built the Locanda at the beginning of the last century, as the last stop at which the horses and carriages headed for the Cansiglio forest could rest.  We wanted to recreate the atmosphere and intimate warmth of the early twentieth-century and also to emphasize the importance of traditional dishes creatively complemented by the wholesomeness of local produce, such as lamb from the Alpago valley, fish from the Lake of Santa Croce and the cheeses from the nearby “malghe” or shepherds’ huts".
It's a very warm atmosphere, complemented by the simplicity of the owners and the professionality of the staff. There is the possibility to choose a tasting menù with the chance to try every specialty but for the first time in my life I preferred to ordered some first and main course "À la carte". And one starter to share. The latter was a tartare of venison with mixed berries. Very original and delicate the juxtaposition between the wild fruits and the meat.
As a main I had a very elegante proposition. Small bites of fresh pasta stuffed with the ricotta cheese from the nearby Cansiglio forest and red turnip. The beautiful thing is that every single ingredient is grown and cultivated in the area: here the "zero km" philosophy is purely in place.

 My couple ordered some #bigoli pasta made in the old style ("al torchio" means made with a special press) as our granparents used to do in the rural villages. The lovely thing of bigoli is their tick consistence which got on really well with the #roe deer meat sauce of  the Locanda San Lorenzo receipt. And again, mixed berries from the forest composing a layer on which the bigoli where served.
But the best part of all our lunch was the main course. A tasting experience of the lamb meat, cooked with the #Slow Food Presidium Alpagota Lamb, a native breed, who can provide quality meat, milk and wool. These days Alpagota sheep are raised in wild or semi-wild conditions almost exclusively for their excellent meat! We tried the  lamb fried brain, the liver, the leg, the tripe and the carpaccio: simply sublime


sabato 20 settembre 2014

Sakè in Kyoto

On the 17th of August, during my stay in Kyoto, we wanted to go and visit some sakè brewery. As usual August is the worst month for taking culinary and drinking holidays, because most of the companies are closed and stop their normal activities. It happened the same last year when we went to Champagne region.  But you can manage anyway and be lucky like as I am, having wonderful experiences.
We asked some advice at the Hotel Reception (a very nice girl explained us all we needed) and they suggested to visit the Horino Memorial Museum, quite close to where we were staying. At first I was a little bit skeptical, since I didn't want to visit a museum but a real factory. But due to timing and also confident on the advice received, we finally went there. At the end, I enjoyed really a lot and I met wonderful people.
Some information about it. The Horino Memorial Museum is the home of a famous sakè brewer "Kinshi Masamune". It was born in the late 1700s and in the place where now the museum is located, they had been producing sakè for around 100 years. In the late 1800s they moved it to the Fushimi area of Kyoto but the original establishment has been kept by the Horino family as it was originally, preserving all its charm. It was only in 1995 that they open it to the public (good choice!).
We had been welcome by a very nice man who guided us through the whole house, explaining in English all the story behind it. You can ask him all the questions you have in your mind and he will be happy and proud to answer you. 
We visited the cellar, the place where they used to brew sakè.

While looking at the old equipment still present there, he explained us that the key element in the sakè production process is to maintain a constant temperature, possible there thanks to the tick mortar walls. Then, he went through the different elements which allow to prepare sakè: rice, water, yeats and ... koji. What's the latter? Koji is a micro-organism similar to the mold present in the blue cheese, used for making miso or soy sauce. Sakè is fermented through the use of this Koji which convert the starch, naturally present in the rice, into sugar. Once the yeast is added to this sugar the rise starts fermenting: what makes sakè different from wine and beer is that saccharification and fermentation takes place at the same time in one tub. 
We moved then to the Momonoi well, which is still yelding a great quality water, currently used to brew the local beer in the cellar before mentioned. You can try to drink the water!! We did, but we also then tasted their craft beer :)

The visit continued with the Machiya traditional wooden townhouse, re-built in 1870, through its different rooms (the one where accountancy used to be managed, the one used for business meetings, the one used for important customers where private parties were held and the "Yaneura - beya", an attic just under the roof where workers were sleeping) and the courtyard garden, an inner garden which they say is very rare for Kyoto Machiya houses!).

After that we made the traditional tasting you make in this occasions, with 3 shots of different types of sakè.
And we wanted to try also their craft beer! It was so fresh and pleasant in such a hot afternoon with 90% of humidity in the hair.

But the best part still had to come. We noticed around an agitated (in a good acceptation) atmosphere. We were mainly the only visitors there but the staff (I suppose one of the owners between them), toghether with the photographers were moving around like if they were planning something. After we minutes, when we were asked if could stay longer there to be part of their photo shoot for an advertising campaing promoting sakè tasting, we understood what was going on :)
It was very funny and we enjoyed so much. After an hour more or less, waiting for them to set up everything, we sit down 
flavorful - light - rich - robust
4 cups in different shapes made by Kyoto potter
with 4 different obanzai (Kyoto tapas)
learn which cups and what food goes best with each sakè from a sakè specialist

domenica 14 settembre 2014

The Barbacarlo Rosso Riserva: a guarantee for emotions

I have a lot to write about my foodies adventures in Japan. I have a lot to write about wine tasting since I have written only about the visual part. I have a lot to write about Michelin and non-Michelin stars restaurant experiences... But I am very busy at the moment... even though I want to write down a snapshot of the wonderful experience I had thanks to one of the countless garage-wines I have tried. During a gourmet lunch in the Belluno hills in a very cosy village, Pois d'Alpago, close to the mountain and to the S.Croce lake. There, exactly there, yesterday I have had the joy to try the Oltrepò Pavese Rosso Riserva, the Barbacarlo produced by Lino Maga in the Broni hills of the Oltrepò Pavese area. I have tried the 1996 vintage.

They say that it's not possibile to have guided tours of the cellar. But I understand that, it's in the nature of garage-wine producers. That's why I will knock the door one day to visit him and I am sure I will visit it all. Barbacarlo is a natural wine, given to birth without the use of chemical products. It's made with the three grapes: croatina, vespolina, uva rara (the latter literally means "rare grape"). The re-fermentation takes place in the bottle, generating that natural foam of bubbles which can be more or less persistent based on the vintage! Since I tried the 1996, the sparkling was very delicate. I loved it. I loved it itself, even if the pairing with the different bites and versions of lamb meat was spot-on: not covering the meat taste with its light but indipendent personality. I have read it should reminds porcino (mushroom), musk and wet rock. I felt more the musk notes with a reasonbale persistent salinity. It emanated more perfumes at the end of the lunch after breathing for a while following years of aging. The chef applauded our wine choice. And we applauded him!


lunedì 1 settembre 2014

The Tokyo Tsukiji market adventure!!

The I-Phone alarm rung at around 3.30 A.M. … 3-2-1: ready-steady-go! We wanted to reach the Tsukiji, known as one of the world largest wholesaler fish market. Just to give you an idea, it handles around 2,000 tons of marine products per day. Why were we so eager to go there? Basically to visit the tuna auction, the famous and precious maguro, which can cost up to 10.000 US$!  We thought it was worth to wake up at 3.30 A.M. after three hours rest which were following a long day with 7 hours of jet lag on our shoulders! At the end of the day we own a restaurant so we felt it almost as an obligation, like it's going to church on the Xmas day for Christians. 
To make it even more adventurous, instead of taking a taxi, we decided for a nice walk in the dark, confident of our orientation capabilities after less than 24 hours staying in the city. And we were wrong. We chose the longest way (coming across plenty of diligent men at work) and we arrived at the Tsukiji at around 4.30. 
Once arrived, with our sleepy English accent we started communicating with dozen of guards in order to understand if we could register for the tuna auction. The answer was several times the same. The frustration got double. Firstly because their “not sleepy” English was terribly hard to understand; secondly because once we understood it, it was clear that the answer was “NO, the registration closed at 4.00”.
Ok, here it’s how it works: the number of visitors to the tuna auction per day is limited to a maximum of 120 people. Tourists have to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center at the Kachidoki Gate, starting at 3.00 A.M. on a first-come, first-serve basis. Between 5.25 and 6.15, into two separate turns of 60 people each, it’s possible to assist to the auction on a dedicated visitor area.
If you read the Lonely Planet guide it’s not 100% clear the time you need to be there to register. That’s why we got confused, and we thought that almost an hour earlier was enough. But on busy days, people start to line up long before 5 A.M. to grant themselves a place. So, rule #1: wake up at 3.00 A.M., take a taxi to be there the latest at 3.30 A.M. and wait for your turn (as we did on the last day of our trip)!
So, what we did? It was not dark anymore, the idea to go back to the hotel was not appealing and so we decided to stay and experience the rest of it. It was 5.00 A.M. and the inner market was closed (it’s open to visitors from 9.00 A.M.). But we could walk around the outer market, which is located just adjacent to the inner one and discover the small retail shops and restaurants; there was not only fish but also other types of food and vegetables, knives and other food related items. Interesting but after half an hour we have visited all. So we got closer to the wholesaler part and tried to get into the inner market several times, risking our life between the busy bustle of forklift trucks and workers coming and going into all directions. Not an easy one. Every time we got blocked by the watchmen! Luckily they were quite nice (which doesn’t mean smiling but at least polite and not shouting at us). In another country we would have been expelled.

So, the remaining option was to have breakfast. Yes, you have understood well, sushi (=raw fish) breakfast at 6 A.M. Believe me, when you are there it’s simply natural. The fantastic smell of the fish (I have never smelled something so fresh in my life and especially in a fish market) makes you drool. At the beginning we were captured by the amount of people crowded along a narrow lane out from the most famous sushi bar in Tsukiji: Daiwa Sushi. Daiwa is a traditional sushi counter with room for about a dozen sitting elbow-to-elbow in front of the chef; the omasake (chef’s choice) menu depends on the catch of the day. They say (or better it’s written) that it’s the best one. The best one in Tokyo? The best one inside the market? Who says that?  A woman came out from the restaurant and told to the people queuing that they could have been waiting for hours and hours and specifically to us (arrived between the last ones) that we would have dreamt about our sushi for at least 4/5 hours… Another man (he looked like an unauthorized guy coming from the outside of the market) shouted at us saying that we were crazy to wait all that time and that he could have brought us to whatever other sushi bar with the same quality but not such a long queue. A market watchman stand closed and, a part from discouraging him a tiny bit, he didn’t looked to be too much surprised. Maybe it’s the same scene every day!
During the first 10 minutes we were puzzled. And we met a tall Italian guy from Monza who was as puzzled as us (so the problem was not only ours)! We didn’t know if it was wise to follow that man (but he wanted to bring us outside) or to stay inside the market and choose another place where to have our breakfast. We went for the second option. And, I can say now with more lucidity, it was the better choice. Come on, you are in a fish market for professionals, all the fish MUST be fresh. It’s just a matter of popularity and about who was the luckiest to be firstly mentioned in a guide.
Following Lonely Planet advice we paid attention to the amount of people who were inside the sushi bars and opted for one reasonably crowded, especially if the crowd was made by local people and wholesalers wearing their plastic boots.
So tasty!!!!! Sushi and green tea at 6.00 A.M. in the morning is priceless!

With some healthy calories into our bodies, we decided to make the last attempt to enter into the inner market climbing over the watchmen. And we succeeded, we did it! We entered before 9.00 A.M., the only tourists there, between hundreds of small stands in a large, crowded hall. All kind of fish was exposed in polystyrene boxes and the whole effect was so colorful. Not captured by the guards (it was not an easy one) we succeeded in making thousands of pictures to immortalize those wonderful moments.

By 8.00 AM we were out. We exited the market, satisfied by the overall experience but keeping the promise that we would have come back on our last day to assist the tuna action (with the same pair of sneakers!).

And that was the case! ... If you don't believe me, here are the pictures: