Il Buco Alimentari

Yes, it’s been a long time. So long, in fact, that we forgot to take a picture of the outside of the restaurant.

That’s okay. For Il Buco Alimentari, it is really the inside and the amazing food that counts!

This was a bad day for Fork. One of those days where words cannot be spoken until alcohol is consumed. Quickly, a cocktail menu. So  many choices, so much alcohol needed. Wait! What’s this? A Timo. Prosecco, Vergano Moscato Vermouth and fresh grapefruit. It was perfect. SLightly sweet, slightly tart, and bubbly.

As the badness of the day emptied while Fork emptied the Timo glass, our lovely waitress Christi brought us bread, olive oil and salt. Really, does life get any better than that?

Fork: “I am in a really bad mood. I don’t care what you order. Just do all the ordering please.”

Spoon: “Okay. I thought the cured meats looked good.”

Fork: “Okay. But, the artichokes. We have to have the artichokes. Oh, and the porchetta. And if we’re having porchetta then we should have the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe and not Gricia.”

Spoon: “well, since you don’t want to order …”

Amazing what a drink and bread can do for one’s mood!

Since our adventure to Rome last spring, Fork and Spoon have been in search of wonderful Roman style restaurants in the City. Il Buco Alimentari is one of these places.

We started with Fried Artichokes. Who can resist fried artichokes? These were small and delicate and crispy. The insides were still tender. The preserved lemon  gave them just the right hit of acidity. A little salt and you were good to go. It’s amazing we were able to snap a photo of these before they were inhaled.

We asked Christi which of the Salumi della Casa she would recommend. She suggested the assorted plate for two. Perfect. A little bit of everything! Some of the meats are made and cured in house and some are from outside sources. They were all amazing. Each unique, but each delicious.

You simply cannot eat in a Roman restaurant without having Pasta Cacio e Pepe. So simple. So delicious. Cheese and pepper. Perfect. We thought the portion a little on the skimpy side, but we still had a long way to go, so it was really okay – this time! Fork and Spoon were reaching for a little bit of bread to soak up the cheese and pepper on the bottom of the bowl when this manager-type person swooped in from NOWHERE and snatched the bowl off the table. WITH. OUT. ASKING if we were done. Sigh.

Next up – and one of the dishes we can never resist – Porchetta alla Romana. The meat was tender and very flavorful. It was served with shaved fennel, blood orange and mustard greens. We could have lived without the mustard greens. They really don’t add anything here. There were two teeny tiny slices of blood orange on the plate. The shaved fennel was perfect with the porchetta. The cracklings on top. Oh, the cracklings. Does anything really need to be said about cracklings? Nope. And over the shattering of the cracklings you couldn’t have heard us anyway!

When we ordered the Porchetta, Christi mentioned that the dish came without any sort of side and would we like to order something. One quick glance at the menu and we were done. Crispy Polenta. WHat this meant we had no idea, but it was crispy and it was polenta. What arrived were small abstract cubes of polenta, deep fried with shavings of parmigiano on the top. Not necessarily a great side to the delicate Porchetta, but a great side just the same! This would be great as an appetizer with some wine or prosecco.

You would think we would have been stuffed by now, but meal does not go by without dessert. It must be done. The roasted pear with semolina crumble and creme fraiche gelato was just too intriguing to pass up. The pear was amazing. Tender, sweet and gooey. Perfect with the tang from the creme fraiche gelato.

It’s a little crowded, the tables a little toooooo close together (and no one moves them for you), and VERY noisy, but once you start eating, all of this melts away and you are just being treated to fabulous cuisine.

With the exception of the thievery of our pasta bowl, this meal was amazing. And definite must try and for us a definite must go back to!

Il Buco Alimentari ~ 52 Great Jones Street ~ New York, NY ~ 212.837.2622
Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria on Urbanspoon

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Gusto

Gusto, you had me at Burrata!

Every Thursday, Gusto (pronounced goose-toe) receives a shipment of burrata from Italy. We may need to be at Gusto every Thursday from now until – well, forever!

Fork and Spoon fell in love with Roman cuisine and burrata this past summer while in Roma with our wonderful friend Mauro. Since returning from our vacation we had been aching for true Roman cuisine – Gusto certainly does not disappoint.

The restaurant is on busy Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich Village. The atmosphere is welcoming and comfortable. Dark tables, comfy seating, not too noisy, fabulous staff!

In the kitchen of Gusto is the fabulous Saul Montiel. What a vision. What a fabulous menu. He isn’t one of those stay in the kitchen and hide chefs. That being said, he isn’t one of those always out of the kitchen chefs that make you stop to wonder who is actually doing the cooking!

The menu is wonderful. So wonderful it is really hard to decide what to order. We wanted everything!

We decided to go with a few appetizers and a pasta – oh, and dessert, but we didn’t really need to say that, did we?!

First up, Carciofi alla Giudea. SMall artichokes, deeply fried. Crispy crunchy on the outside, tender and moist on the inside. Slightly different than one would be served in Rome where you see gigantic artichokes completely flattened. These were hearts, which had advantages – not as many tough outer leaves. A squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of salt, and life is beautiful!

 Then, Raviolo con Uovo e Pancetta. Made in house and fabulous. One big, beautiful raviolo stuffed with buffalo ricotta (also flown in) and an egg. Sitting on top a piece of crispy pancetta and fried scallions. What a flavor combination. Tender pasta, creamy ricotta, rich egg yolk, salty pancetta – heaven on your fork! Did I mention it swims in sage butter? No? Well, ‘nuf said …

And the special antipasti this night, stuffed zucchini flowers. Ugly to photograph, delicious on your tongue! Cheesy and gooey inside, lightly battered and fried. Crispy and tender and so summery and wonderful!

Let’s not forget our reason for coming to Gusto! BURRATA! FLown in every Thursday, diners come just to have a fix taste of this creamy delicious cheese. firmer on the outside (like mozzarella) and soft on the inside – well, if you haven’t tried it you absolutely must. It is amazing! Served simply with fresh tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. We could have had just this, twice, maybe three times and called it a night.

We shared Tonnarelli con Cacio e Pepe. To die for. Tonnarelli is a fresh, square-ish pasta, the perfect foil for the pepper and pecorino romano cheese. Oodles of salty, sharp cheese against the peppery bite of freshly ground black pepper. So simple and so perfect. What else is there to say – except jump in!

And for the first time in the history of our friendship Fork refused to share a dessert with Spoon. I told Spoon, ‘get your own. I will not share.’ Fork had tasted this dessert before and knew this was not something to share, not even with your best friend. Fresh peaches roasted, amaretto added in and simmering until it begins to thicken, brown sugar for a bit of sweetness, to gild the lily mascarpone cheese, really cold mascarpone cheese. Sweet peaches, drowning in an almondy syrup. It is enough to make you soon!

Go, taste, enjoy, relax, no one rushes you. Try everything. Go back, try it again. When you’re at Gusto, you’re with family. Enjoy!

Gusto ~ 60 Greenwich Avenue ~ New York, NY ~ 646.502.9901
Gusto Ristorante E Bar Americano on Urbanspoon

Hostaria Isidoro

Nestled betwen the Colosseum and San Giovanni in Laterano in the heart of historic Rome is the wonderful Hostaria Isidoro.  After a morning of scaling the Santa Scala on your knees and visiting San Giovanni in Laterano, San Clemente and Santo Stefano Rotondo, you need sustenance to steel yourself for the upcoming trip to the Colosseum. By the way, all three churches are completely amazing and need to be visited. 

The staff is wonderful and friendly. The decor cozy. The menu outstanding. The worst part of this restaurant is trying to narrow down what to eat – everything looks and sounds amazing. They do have a pasta tasting on the menu. You can choose to taste 3, 4 or 5 pasta dishes – the downside? You cannot choose the pasta dishes. You can let them know if you are allergic to something or do not care for a particular ingredient, but it’s chef’s choice. A group at a table nearby ordered this special and they had red sauce, red sauce and squid ink sauce. We decided to go a la carte.

As an appetizer, Fork and Spoon chose a simple Garden Salad. Beautiful greens top with shaved carrots, tomatoes, olives, corn and walnuts. Cruets of wonderful olive oil and balsamic vinegar were on the table. And bread, let’s not forget the bread. The bread was wonderful. Warm, fresh, rustic, perfect.

As Spoon did with almost every meal in Rome involving pasta, Amatriciana was a necessity and was ordered as one of our mains. An Amatriciana overload was called for on this trip.  Fresh tomato sauce, perfectly cooked pasta, nice hint of heat. Really, really good.

Our second asta dish was Pasta with Artichokes. Tagliatelle with artichoke hearts in a wonderful thick cream sauce. Again, everything super fresh, seasonal, and delicious.

There wasn’t much of a choice for dessert. Spoon adores Tiramisu, Fork not so much. We knew we could only manage one dessert. Tiramisu it was. It wa an amazing choice. Like no tiramisu Fork has had outside someone’s home. It was creamy, yet not gloppy. the strawberries added a nice texture and flavor. THe espresso soaked savoiardi were not mushy. It was a perfect ending to a perfect lunch!

Another great suggestion, Dad!

Hostaria Isidoro ~ via S. Giovanni in Laterano, 59/a ~ Rome, Italy

Sostanza

This is, by far, my favorite restaurant in Florence. Fabulous food, friendly staff, fabulous food, unpretentious … did I mention the fabulous food?

Sostanza is located Santa Maria Novella. Fork and Spoon took the train from Rome to Florence, visited Santa Maria Novella and Farmaceutica de Santa Maria and realized we were starving. We could have walked to our wonderful B&B Casa dei Tintori (wonderful B&B, by the way, if you’re looking for a great place to stay), but – and this should be NO shocker to our readers – we were hungry!

You know, as we planned this trip, restaurants and places to eat were as important as sites to see, museums to visit, fountains to throw coins into, etc.

Sostanza has been one of Fork’s absolute MUST GO places for years and years, so when Fork convinced the Spoon to run away from home for 2 weeks, this place was definitely going to be on the short list.

Trattoria Sostanza was in 1869 as a tavern, wine and food store. Sostanza is also known as “i’ Troia”, which is the nickname of Guido Campolmi – one of the early owners and a very famous chef who would greet his customers with a hearty slap on the back. His hands were always greasy and sticky from working in the kitchen and his clients would say “ma tu sei un troiao” – “what a slob you are”.  And the nickname was born!

In 1977 the original owners leased the restaurant to their employees. The second generation now manages the restaurant and it has stayed pretty much unchanged.

Sostanza is not a large restaurant by any means, it’s down a windy street, with a very plain front, small interior, and a simple menu. The inside is very much a simple trattoria – wooden table and chairs, tables covered in paper, large marble counter in the front. The kitchen is open and you can watch the chefs going to town.

It’s not a large menu. It’s handwritten and slipped inside a plastic sleeve. Fork and Spoon are pretty sure the menu has not changed much in the 100+ years Sostanza has been in business.  And, as simple as the menu may be, the food is over the moon good.

We asked our wonderful waiter what the most popular dishes were in Sostanza and he said that while Sostanza is widely known for their bistecca, the Pollo al Burro is as popular. We already knew this was a dish we needed to try. When I tell you, that this dish could make you weep, I am not exaggerating. Butter is browned in a skillet, the chicken is floured and then egged and then put into the butter. The chicken is bathed in the butter as it cooks. A hit of salt, more butter at the end and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice as it is being served. The nuttiness from the browned butter, the freshness from the lemon and that salty hit – mama mia this was like nothing We had ever had before.

We were invited to come back and watch the chef make this dish, but sadly only had 48 hours in Florence and wanted to fit as many different places to eat in as possible. I would go to Florence just for Sostanza and just to eat this dish! Dad, really, 20 something years and you have never tried this? I have tried to recreate this dish at home and have come pretty darn close! Dad, next time you go order it, you’ll thank us!

Most people know for their Bistecca alla Fiorentina. When you peek into the kitchen, there is a GIGANTIC piece of beef standing there. You could see that this beautiful slab of Chianina beef was recently slaughtered. Pretty daunting, actually. We couldn’t come to Sostanza and pass up the Bistecca. The steak is perfectly charred on the outside. The meat fresh and flavorful, seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper. It didn’t need it – it was spectacular. By the way, you can see the beef and the wood burning stove and the cooking going on while on your way to the rest room – you have to walk through the kitchen to get there!

As we were relaxing and smelling and oogling everyone else’s plates go by, we eyed what you see above walk by. We showed a huge amount of restraint by not running over to the table next to ours, forks in hand and begging for a taste. We did, however, ask our waiter and he told us it was a Tortino di Carciofi. Couldn’t resist ordering this dish. What arrived was a delicate egg dish – not quite an omlette and not quite a souffle, certainly not as simple as scrambled eggs. Nestled inside this egg nest were quarters of tender artichoke hearts. Totally amazing.

We were stuffed. Totally and completely stuffed. But, we had to have dessert. After all of that rich food we needed something sweet (at least that’s how we convince ourselves!) These lovely little strawberries were the perfect choice. Sweet, light, spring-like, tiny. Spoon ordered them in cream, Fork in red wine. The perfect ending to the perfect welcome to Florence meal!

If you visit Florence Sostanza is an absolute must!

CASH ONLY!  Dinner has 2 seatings – 7:30 and 9:30 – and you MUST make reservations. Lunch easier than dinner, no reservations are required. Sostanza is open Monday through Friday.

Sostanza ~ Via delle Porcellana, 25 ~ Firenze (Florence), Italy

Procacci

Procacci opened its doors in 1885 on the prestigious via Tornabuoni. The interior is all original workmanship and has a very Art Noveau feeling throughout. These days, Procacci is part of the Antinori  group (Fork’s absolute favorite vineyard. If you have not had an Antinori wine, you must).

From the beginning, Procacci was known for their truffled sandwiches. How were we to resist the lovely art noveau interior, truffled sandwiches, Antinori wines, and a recommendation by dear friends?

Simple answer? We could not possibly pass up the opportunity to stop into Procacci.

When you walk through the doors you are instantly transported to a quieter more gentile time. Small tables for 2 line the left side of Procacci, a counter to the right and a wine bar across the back. Procacci may be very small but everything packs a huge flavor. Procacci is permeated with the small of truffles. The entire experience was amazing.

We ordered 2 of the truffled sandwiches – truffle pieces and butter spread on a small, delicate roll. We also ordered 2 prosciutto cotto and olive spread sandwiches. Prosciutto cotto is the cooked version of prosciutto crudo – which is what we in the USA just call prosciutto.  

The truffle and butter was amazing. The truffle was earthy and rich. The butter sweet. The 2 worked in perfect harmony to make your taste buds stand at attention.

The ham was salty and sweet at the same time, the olive paste salty and briny. Again, a perfect combination.

The bread used for both was fresh and soft. Very delicate and subdued in flavor so as to be an understudy to the starring role of the fillings, especially the truffled butter.

Spoon has become addicted to apricot juice and chose that to go along with our feast. Fork on the other hand could not pass up an opportunity to have a glass of Antinori wine – or, more precisely, prosecco. Delightful.

A perfect oasis in the insane sea of sightseeing! If you’re in Florence and need a little ‘somethin somethin’ in the middle of the afternoon, Procacci will surely help you to understand the meaning of la dolce vita!

If you folks are travelling anywhere, Knopf makes wonderful guidebooks called Knopf MapGuides. They break down whatever city you are travelling to by sections. With each section there are recommendations for restaurants, bars, shopping and when you open the map page it highlights sights not to miss in each section. Totally fabulous! Procacci was listed in there.

Also, we would have been lost going through sites and streets without Rick Steves! His books are wonderful. Self guided tours through most major attractions with not to miss things inside each. He is funny insightful and keeps any trip full of fun and information!

Procacci ~ Via de’ Tornabuoni, 64 ~ 50123 Firenze, Italy

Sora Margherita

Tucked deep inside Rome’s Jewish Ghetto is a wonderful hidden gem of a restaurant.  So hidden, in fact, if you didn’t know what to look for, you would not know where to find it! Off the Via del Portico d’Ottavia is the Piazza delle Cinque Scole. If you approach the Piazza from Portico d’Ottavia make a hard right at the Piazza and there is a doorway. In the summer it has red chenille streamers hanging in the doorway – the kind to keep out the flies. In the winter a plain old doorway – perhaps a chair in front, and what may have been a neon flower above the door to the left and the number 30 above the door to the right.

Wait! Let’s start again! Sora Margherita is not a restaurant. It is a cultural association. You must join the association when you arrive to have member benefits, which include eating at the ‘club’. Apparently, a number of years ago the restaurant was shut down as being too small and cramped. The solution? Become a cultural association and feed your members! Makes perfect sense to me!

 The no-frills Sora Margherita started as a cheap kitchen for hungry locals, but word spread – and compared to the other restaurants in the ghetto is still a place for an inexpensive – but fantastic – meal. There can be very long lines here, but you will find hearty pasta, Roman-Jewish dishes such as the Torta di Ricotta and Carciofi alla Giudea, and a rowdy Roman atmosphere.  Sora Margherita is closed weekends in summer. The reason? According to the sign ‘ tutti al mare ’ (everyone is at the beach).

The tables are nailed-together unfinished wooden tables with plain paper tablecloths. You may not expect much when you sit down, cramped quarters, plainly decorated, the menu written on a piece of brown butcher’s paper. But the carefully prepared and beautifully plated food is a surprise and culinary delight.

Our quest in eating in the Jewish Ghetto was to try Carciofi alla Giudea. Artichokes prepared in the Jewish style. We had been hoping to try both the alla Giudea and alla Romana at the same time for a comparison but Sora Margherita only had the alla Giudea when we were there.  What arrives is a beautiful fired artichoke, served on a square of paper for the oil to drain. There is nothing fancy needed in this presentation, the artichoke is the star. The outer leaves are crispy like potato chips. The inside still tender and moist. Fork, watching around the room, followed suit and ate the entire thing, choke, stem and all. Spoon on the other hand, was far more demure and skipped the choke and the stem!

Next, Spoon ordered the Fettucine Cacio e Pepe e Ricotta. The Fettucine was fresh, made that morning. A giant tumble of beautiful hand made pasta.  The pasta was simply dressed with pecorino romano cheese (cacio) and fresh cracked black pepper (pepe). As if this simple, but delicious, dish needed help, it was then topped with fresh ricotta. A huge portion. The flavors all melded together for an amazing pasta dish.

Fork and our lovely tour guide for the day, Antonella, had the Baccala Fritti. I don’t normally like baccala. Might have to do with the manky way Nonna prepared it for Christmas Eve dinner. Antonella said it was delicious and if I liked fish to try it. Glad I listened. The baccala (dried cod) was plump and crisply fried. The squeeze of lemon over the top gave it a fresh flavor. The down side were a few little bones, but certainly worth it. I do have to admit, though, I have never understood baccala. Catch a fresh fish, dry it out, and before cooking, reconstitute it. Huh? But this was very good.

Antonella also ordered the Aliciotti. Fresh anchovy dressed with lemon juice and olive oil with a simple salad of finochio (fennel) and olives. Fork does not like anchovies. You know, those horribly salty, hairy, brown little beasts they put on pizza? Yuck. But these were small, delicate and fresh. A very mild flavor that balanced well with the lemon, olives and finochio. Fork was pleasantly surprised by these wonderful little fish.

Dessert posed its usual problem. What to get, do we share. Those of you who follow along know the drill! Antonella, with the sweet tooth, insisted, we must have both the Torta di Ricotta e Cioccolato and the Torta di Ricotta e Ciliege and split them!   One was studded with chocolate chips, the other had pieces of cherry throughout. Light, delicate, not overly sweet, the perfect ending to a perfect lunch.

Sora Margherita, Associazione Culturale ~ Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30 ~ Tel:06 6874216

Er Buchetto

Literally translated – hole in the wall – and it is. But is the best hole in the wall you will ever come across.

Er Buchetto is located minutes walking from Termini Station in Rome and down the street from the National Museum of Rome Palazzo Massimo (some of the most beautiful mosaics and frescos and statues you will come across. And, if you are a numismatist, this is absolutely the place for you!)

Er Buchetto is small and unassuming. Only 3 tables that will hold up to 4 people each. One person working. A hairy boar stands guard at the back left corner. In the back right corner is a large fridge, the top part filled with meats and cheeses the bottom simply has two spigots “rosso” and ‘bianco’.

There is a menu hanging on the wall, but there is only one true reason to come to Er Buchetto – PORCHETTA. This was an absolute must for Fork and Spoon. You would expect that a region that has the reputation of creating porchetta, of advancing it, would have more porchetta around. NOPE!

This is fabulous, cheap eats at its best. This is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination. It is clean. The service is friendly. Most importantly, the porchetta is fabulous! You can have a panino to go (2.50€) or to stay (3.20€). You can also have a porchetta plate (4.00€).

Spoon and Fork walked in and the first thing we saw was the porchetta.

No need to ask or pretend to think of anything else – porchetta panini, please, and white wine.

One bite and you swooned. The meat was tender and delicious. Slightly salty, lots of herbs, fall apart tender. The bread was crispy on the outside and very tender inside, soaking up anything that dripped onto it. To top the sandwich off were little bits of the porchetta skin. If you could put perfection between bread, this would be what it looked and tasted like.

They are cut fresh. As they are sold, more panino are assembled.

While we sat and ate, happily munching, we watched passerbys stopping and grabbing a panino. Before we left, all the seats but one in this very busy place were full. Not much talking – this was too delicious to interrupt with a lot of small talk. Spoon and I were content with ‘YUMMMMM!’.

So much so that we asked for 2 more of these delights to take with us on the plane the next day! Beats the heck out of Continental’s ‘cuisine’

So 4 panini, 1 wine, 1 water all for under 20.00€ ~ can’t beat that with a stick! They are open from Noon to 3:00pm and then again from 5:00pm to 9:00pm. If you’re in Rome and need a quick lunch, we beg you, go here!

Er Buchetto ~ Via del Viminale, 2F ~ Rome Italy