Archive for July, 2011

Vin Bar

As I have stated numerous times before, we prefer dining in the casual part of Valentino, mainly because we have an opportunity to chat with Piero. The food is sensational and you are not dining from a casual/bar food menu but rather exquisitely prepared food from Valentino’s menu that just happens to be served in a casual environment. Per usual, we leave all decisions regarding wine to Piero and Paul Sherman and all food choices to Chef Nico and Chef Fabio. Our only responsibility is to enjoy and savor each and every choice.

Champagne to start from their list

Calamari Salad, lemon dressing, beet sauce, celery, carrots – calamari can be a disaster if not executed properly – these were perfect.

Australian Crab Cake, Orange Soup, Drops of Olive Oil, Fried Sage – the crab was delicious and the orange soup was a revelation. Chef Nico explained that it was just oranges ground in the blender and then strained – no cream, no bindings – just orange! This is an idea I intend to steal – it would make a tremendous sauce and as a cool soup it was spectacular.

White wine from Valentino’s list – this is the one place we never BYO – there is no need to as Valentino has one of the best wine cellars in the city.

Breast of Quail wrapped with Speck and stuffed with Raschera cheese on a bed of lentils with small dice of carrots, braised fennel on the side. Another A+ dish – the combination of the quail, the speck and the Raschera was a perfect marriage of ingredients.

“Raschera is a semi-hard pressed cheese from the Piemonte region. Raschera is a table cheese made from raw cow’s milk, but some sheep or goat’s milk is sometimes added. Aged anywhere from one to six months, Raschera is ivory in color, rich in mouth feel, with a buttery and mild taste that gets sharper with age.”

Red Wine from Valentino’s list

Chef Fabio called this “My Italian Flag Pasta.” It was composed of 3 different pastas — the white was gnocchi, the green was spinach pappardelle and the red was beet pasta. The saucing was a lobster ragu topped with slivers of ricotta salata cheese – this pasta is made in house – perfectly made and perfectly cooked. My question is why go anywhere else for the best pasta in the city?

Spinach semolina dough, porcini tortellini (tortellini pasta filled with porcini mushrooms), foie gras, tomato confit, summer black truffles – another winning pasta dish

La Quercia Organic Pancetta, Amatriciani with sausage pearls and an array of fresh farmer’s market vegetables – corn, carrots, spring onions, sweet peas, green onions. The sausage pearls had been sauteed in their own fat. Again each element of the dish complemented the whole making for a stunning array of taste and texture.

Amatriciani is a traditional Italian pasta sauce based on guanciale (dried pork cheek), pecorino cheese and tomato. Originating from the town of Amatrice (in the mountainous Province of Rieti of Lazio region), the Amatriciana is one of the most well-known pasta sauces in Italian cuisine.

Cheese course served with spoons of honey and pear salsa and a dried salad of apricot, salami, walnuts and fresh pear

There is only one word to describe this meal – perfect.


Don Pepe – Newark, New Jersey

The roving reporter found himself in Newark last Tuesday.  Not a great place to be at dinner time on a 90+ degree 90+ humidity day.  Scorching and we had spent an hour on the roof of a huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere.   We were inspecting the largest solar project in NJ—over 40 acres, 160,000 panels—amazing.

Fortunately, my friend travels the territory and suggested Portuguese food at Don Pepe, a local stand out.

Well it turned out to be a treat.

The place was very busy.  It is very traditional Eastern USA family style restaurant, wooden chairs, old time waiters, nice atmosphere and very clean.

The Super Bock beer was icy cold and really hit the spot.   So of course I had to have 2.   No wine tonight.

Starter of fresh gazpacho…it tasted like they put a whole herb garden in there.   Cold and delicious.  Not overpowered by tomato.

The combo of sausage and octopus appetizers was superb.  Only problem, too much!

We kept the plates to add to our paella.

The paella—what a treat!   But again too much and very reasonable at $27.00.  The little shrimp and the lobster were absolute spectacular.  The rice was wonderful.  None of that over saffron taste you some times get with paella not made by experts.

Paella we couldn’t finish.

I don’t know how or why we had the carrot cake because as you can see above we did not put a dent in the paella, but it sounded [and tasted] good at the time.

Not totally over stuffed, but definitely filled up with delicious food.

So if you find yourself in Newark with no where better to be, definitely go to Don Pepe Restaurant


With the help of Chef Pippa and our wonderful waiter Francisco, we were able to devise a menu of the freshest ingredients. We also managed the pacing of each course by ordering one dish at a time. The evening was balmy and beautiful so sitting on the patio was just perfect.

BYO Champagne to start and then one of our most favorite white wines from Didier Dagueneaux, “Pur Sang” Pouilly-Fume

Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup with Dungeness Crab – the essence of summer with pristine crab meat

Pizza – Heirloom tomatoes, Romanesco, Red Onion, Sausage, Sliced Zucchini and a wonderful “gooey” “melt in your mouth” cheese

Asparagus and trufffled fonduta ravioli with peas, pea shoots and white truffle butter – all pasta is made in house and it shows. Again the seasonality of this dish was paramount to the success of this dish.

Polleto al mattone with toasted ciabatta “panzanella” with green apples, fresh goat’s milk cheese, toasted walnuts and cider vinaigrette – Pollo al mattone translates to chicken under a brick. “Pollo al Mattone is a classic Tuscan recipe in which a whole chicken is cooked between two pieces of heated terra-cotta.  The bottom of the dish remains over the burner and the heavier top piece is used as a weight to flatten the chicken.  The cooked chicken emerges from this unique cooking vessel not only flattened but crusty on the outside and juicy and delicious on the inside.” This was an A+ dish – the chicken was just perfect.

Bottom line – a lovely leisurely dinner with wonderful service, delicious food with a relaxed and beautiful ambiance.


It has been quite a while since we have been to Spago for lunch. As usual the place was hopping and every table on the patio was full. We didn’t look at menus and just requested a tasting menu.

BYO Champagne to start

The next 4 dishes are the typical and signature starters on the tasting menu.

Spicy Tuna Tartar in a sesame tuile

Hamachi ceviche, plums, toasted soy (the fish and preparation changes with the season)

House smoked Salmon with dill creme fraiche, salmon eggs on a corn blini

Bacon Confit en Croute

BYO White Wine

Heirloom Tomato Salad, olive tapenade, basil aioli, diced red onions, microgreens, Humboldt Goat Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar – a wonderful combination highlighting the beginning of summer’s freshest tomatoes


Pan roasted loup de mer, sweet corn puree, ragout of corn and Maine lobster, sauce Americaine, fried parsley – this was an A dish – exquisite fish, grilled to perfection with a delicious ragout reminiscent of my summers in Maine with lobster and corn.

Sweet corn Agnolotti, summer white truffles, beurre blanc sauce with marjoram – I am just not a fan of summer white truffles although the pasta was delicious

Slow roasted rack of lamb, cumin-scented carrot puree, fava beans, artichokes, natural jus with black olives – another excellent combination of ingredients with a focus on seasonal ingredients.

Cheese Course – Goat, Cow and Sheep – didn’t get the exact names

Bread for the cheese

Peach Cobbler presented then served with

Buttermilk Ice Cream and yellow berries, raspberries, blackberries and red currants

From left to right  — Jeremy , floor manager, Chef Jorge Martinez, Laurent , AGM – what a team!

Lunch on the patio at Spago remains a very special experience.

Bar Bouchon

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and sitting on the patio at Bar Bouchon was lovely. We were meeting someone who I had corresponded with for quite some time, but never met in person. He was better in person than through the written word – witty, charming and utterly delightful. My faithful photographer fell down on the job and forgot to take numerous pictures – too engrossed in conversation was his excuse.

To start NV Krug – no photo.

First Order of Misty Point and Umami Oysters – we ordered a second round.

Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard served with toasted baguette

Pate de Campagne – country style pate with watercress, cornichons and radishes

Sancerre from their list – no photo

Scrambled Eggs with summer white truffles

Moules au Saffran – Maine bouchot mussels steamed with white wine, mustard and saffron

Up to now we had shared all the various plates, but then decided to each order a main.

BYO Red Wine

Croque Madame – toasted ham and cheese sandwich on brioche, fried eggs and mornay sauce served with French fries

(This photo was taken at Bouchon in Yountville as our photographer forgot to snap a picture)

Poulet Roti – Roast Chicken with a corn succotash and chicken jus

Again the photographer forgot to snap a picture – this is a picture of take home and tonight’s dinner


BLT Sandwich

Then for our friend – take home sweet “goodies”

Bottom Line: a solid bistro meal with good service, a lovely ambiance and terrific company.


After talking with Pippa during our last time at Villetta and learning that Pippa loved white and red burgundy, our BYO wine selections were a given.

Of course, starting with Krug isn’t too shabby.

Calamari fritto misto (Pippa learned to make this in Italy) and Santa Barbara Spot Prawns

BYO White Wine

Vitello Tonnato, pickled jalapeno, blue fin tuna mayonnaise, lightly dressed mustard greens

The next 2 courses were our pasta course. Unfortunately they were served way too soon and both at the same time. Our next time at Villetta, we will slow down the progression of courses; we like a leisurely dining experience and hate the feeling of a rushed, one after the other course meal.

Tagliolini with Santa Barbara Uni, parma butter and Meyer Lemon

Gnudi ravioli, spinach and ricotta, brown butter, sage, hazelnuts. The gnudi is made with the ricotta and the spinach; it is not the filling. In essence it is a “nude” ravioli. This was the dish of the evening.

Grilled Sea Bass with marinated artichokes, artichoke puree with pine nuts, olive oil, sea salt, artichoke pesto, capers with mizuna lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon – the second dish of the evening. Again, the pacing was “off” and it just came too fast after the pasta dishes.

BYO Red Wine

Osso Buco on Risotto Milanese with saffron, Demi-Glace, Parsley on top

Berkshire Pork Chop (brined for 2 days), broccoli rabe, barbecued sweet potatoes, ginger pluot glace, habenero gastric

Blood Orange and Peach Ice

I have no complaints with the food. Chef Pippa is an excellent chef whose understanding of ingredients and flavors are always “spot on.” Next time, as I mentioned above, we will pace our meals at Villetta in a much more leisurely manner.


At the last minute, we decided to have a quickie lunch at Takao. The best way to order is to just have the chef choose the freshest best fish of the day. Pictures were taken with an i-phone so picture quality is somewhat iffy.

Tuna sampler to be eaten from right to left – Blue Fin, Big Eye, Toro, “Light” tuna chopped topped with caviar

On the right Red Snapper, salt, yuzu paste and on the left Halibut, green onion, spicy daikon radish

Soft Shell Crab with green, yellow and red bell pepper, fried won ton strips

Kohada and Spanish Mackerel

Salmon Skin Roll

Salmon Eggs, quail egg and Uni, quail egg

This was a delicious last minute decision. A definite must if you are in the neighborhood.