Archive | June, 2011

Casa Nonna

29 Jun

I had no idea what to expect when the retail space on the ground floor of my building finally got a tenant.  They advertised that “Casa Nonna” and “GoBurger” were coming.  Imagine my surprise when I did some Googling and realized that Casa Nonna was part of the BLT Restaurant Group.


I have been a fan of the BLTs for some time, and especially love the popovers at BLT Steak.  There has been a lot of press recently about Laurent Tourondel leaving the BLT chain amidst much drama, so it’s getting quite confusing about who is affiliated with what. But nonetheless, Casa Nonna was opening in my building. Score! There is one already in DC, and I hear it compared mostly to Carmine’s.

I was surprised at how big this place is. I couldn’t even get the sprawling rooms in one photo.



The actual bar area is smaller than I anticipated (midtown usually fills bars long before it fills eateries).


There is a private room with a large TV.


Some awesome pasta jars.


A cheese case (where a waiter cleverly stood behind me and said “CHEESE!” just as I snapped this shot)


And some very cool tables.


But what about the food?

The first time we went, we started with garlic bread.  This was INSANELY good.  (Strangely, this wasn’t served when we came back for dinner… so not sure what went on there)


We tried a few apps, including these beautiful meatballs (which had chili in the sauce, dammit)


Saffron Parmesan Risotto Balls (creamy inside, crispy outside, delicious tomato sauce)


And Sheep’s Milk Ricotta, Truffled Saba, which was awesome.  I loved the truffle sauce and the ricotta spread so nicely.


For entrees, one order was Tuna and Tuscan Tomato-Bread Salad, Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  When this came out, the person that ordered this immediately said “I made the right choice!”  I look forward to trying this because it looked great.


Since it was lunchtime the first time we went, there were some paninis and piadinis on the table.



The branzino came out and both looked and smelled sensational.  It was head-on but deboned.  Nice.


One person we were with ordered the tortellini, which was described as Little Hats of Ricotta, Tomato Basil Sauce, Parmesan. In the words of the orderer, “they had me at little hats.”


There was also a pollo paillard salad, which was Grilled Herb Chicken Paillard, Arugula Salad, with Lemon Dressing.


My first order was the squash blossom pizza.  I had tasted squash blossoms for the first time at Mozza, Mario Batali’s fantastic restaurant in LA.  The pesto on it was good and I really like the fried egg (though I wished there were a bit more.  The crust was crispy without being a cracker, but I can’t say the flavor was popping.


These blossoms were tasty, but I’m not sure how much they added to the pizza.  I wanted more out of this, though it was very good.


As for dinner entrees, we tried the Chicken parm, which was good and cheesy and with brocoli rabe.  It was a large serving and was juicy inside. The rabe was a bit spicy, and there was a bit of disappointment that it wasn’t served with a side of pasta.


For dinner, I chose to have the gnocchi, which came with Lobster, Chanterelles, Pancetta, and Garlic Greens. It was very tasty. The gnocchi had the right amount of give and flavor, while the lobster, chanterelles, and pancetta really added a great series of flavors to the meal.


For dessert, we had a trio of sorbetti (their flavor selections are Orange Hibiscus ~ Grapefruit ~ Watermelon ~ Red Grape ~ Cantalope ~ Lime Fresh Mint).  I really liked the red grape.


And a trio of gelatti (flavors: Amaretto Crunch ~ Pistachio ~ Sweet Cream ~ Olive Oil ~ White Chocolate ~ Chocolate Hazelnut ~ Blackberry ~ Vanilla).  The olive oil was good, but nowhere near Otto good (you need the salt!) and the pistachio was missing some flavor. It was hard to tell the difference between the Amaretto Crunch and the Pistachio, for instance.


I went with the panna cotta, which came with plums and a darling spiral of sugar.  It was tasty and the right texture, but the panna cotta was a wee bit bland.  I’d say the desserts overall were a bit disappointing.


It was a nice touch that they served a nice ending of chocolate covered meringues.  They were pretty good.


Overall, I think my opinion of Casa Nonna is swayed simply because I was expecting a BLT experience.  Compared to the BLTs, it isn’t nearly as refined nor filled with flavor, but it was good.  Bordering on very good.  It does share some resemblance to Carmine’s (though you can’t count on the portions to be gargantuan in the same way) with that big restaurant, Italian feel.

One thing I do need to say, however, is that the service was impeccable.  I think this had a lot to do with the fact that there were WAY too many waiters on staff for the nearly empty large space, so they had the time to quickly replace every fork and clear every dish.  But it was nice to see such friendly wait staff.

I look forward to seeing how this place develops.  It has definite potential, but I’m not sure if it has reached it yet.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

Breckenridge, CO- Mountain Flying Fish

27 Jun

In June, we took a trip to Colorado where my aunt has set up a beautiful home in the middle of the mountains.  I had been searching around various review sites and had come up pretty short in terms of great restaurant recommendations in Summit County (which includes Frisco, Keystone, and Breckenridge).  Luckily, my aunt knew exactly where to go for her birthday dinner. 

And that is how we found ourselves at Mountain Flying Fish. A sushi restaurant in a land locked state? I was skeptical. But within a few minutes of sitting down, I knew we were in good hands. (I really shouldn’t have questioned it… my aunt lived and worked in Japan for a few years, so I have to trust her when it comes to Japanese food. )


My aunt has known the owners, Tetsuo and Toshimi Shimoda, for years, so when she told them that we were coming for her birthday meal, we went Omakase style and let the chef surprise us with his selected dishes.

My aunt also recommended her favorite sake, Mu, which comes in a beautiful cobalt blue bottle.  It was probably the best sake I ever remember having.  YUM!

We started with burdock, which I have never had. This was delicious in a light sesame sauce and tasted somewhere in between asparagus and green beans.


Then we had spinach with tofu. It was perfectly creamy… like a stiffer creamed spinach with more flavor.


Our next dish was just about the most beautiful (and delicious) things I’ve ever had.  It was a calamari crab salad that included pieces of citrus, fresh yellow and red tomatoes, cucumbers, many types of seaweed, squash seeds, fresh calamari, crab, and a bit of curry (that was mild and delicious) with lettuce “cups” on the corner. The freshness of this was unbelievable.


And it was as beautiful as it was tasty.


We couldn’t get enough of it.


Next was black cod over fried burdock sticks and sweet miso sauce. The salad was black seaweed was tofu.  


Seeing as though it was miso black cod that turned me into a fish eater, I was thrilled to see this and even more thrilled to eat it. It even pleased my uncle’s palate, and he is not a fish person.


Next came shrimp stuffed shitake mushrooms with okra.  This brought about the same reaction from everyone at the table: “Okra?” Turns out it tastes damn good when it’s cooked right.  And the shrimp stuffed mushrooms were bliss.


Our next dish was sockeye salmon sushi and sashimi over a shiso leave with cilantro.  WOW. It is rare to have this amount of fresh flavors explode  in a dish. 


The veggies made it taste so fresh and the sockeye salmon was holycrapgood.  I even developed quite the affinity for shiso leaf and will have to find it back here in NYC.


The  tuna dragon roll came out next and, while I couldn’t have it due to the peppers, it was one of the most beautifully plated rolls I have ever seen. 


Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this roll and I enjoyed looking at it.


At this point in the meal I think we all took a breath and wondered how much more was coming. The table looked like a train wreck and was evident for how much we enjoyed.


And then MORE came… a spider roll.  Mmmm I love spider rolls.  This was barely fried and had all the right flavors.


It was at this point where my aunt said “uncle” and said we probably should stop eating. She made a request for a local Japanese favorite, white rice in green tea.  She said that only Japanese locals enjoy this dish, but she thought we would like it. She was right. It was a great warm end to the meal.


But could it really be a birthday dinner without a cake? Green tea tiramisu soon marched out and was absolutely delicious. Delicate flavors with just the right consistency.  Yum!


The owners were so kind and so warm to us, and served such great food.  They even agreed to pose for a photo-op.


Overall, Mountain Flying Fish made its way into the top 10 meals I have ever had.  It was THAT good.  I was so impressed that this hidden gem was this good.  If you are in Breckenridge, you absolutely must go here.  Put yourself in the chef’s hands and you will not be sorry.  This beat pretty much every single Japanese/Sushi meal I have had even in NYC.  And I have eaten at some of the “best.” 

I can’t wait to go back.

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10

GUEST BLOG: Rosé Season

24 Jun

It seems Rosé Season is upon us.  I have been hearing that a lot this year, and sure enough, each time I go out to a restaurant these last few weeks, I see a lot of pink in people’s wine glasses.  I have to say I am quite a rosé novice, so I was thrilled when Jonas, of Excellent Everyday Wines, decided to make rosé the theme of his next guest post.


My favorite summer wines hands down are rosés. So lonely and so misunderstood are these delicious and diverse wines. People see pink and they say, “oh I don’t like sweet wines”,  because they are undoubtedly thinking of that entry level sweet stuff called white zinfandel. No…these are different. Sometimes delicate, sometimes bold and fruity, but always dry and refreshing (serve chilled). They are very diverse in their uses and go with whatever you want to throw on the grill – from the burgers to the ribs to the chicken to the shrimp to the salmon to the tuna. I’ve even had them with sushi, and when I have a summer party and I want to serve one wine, I go with a rosé. They’re like reds you drink cold. Recently, we tried three different examples from three different countries.

First on the list was a 2010 Pierrevert rosé (pronounced PAIRvair) from Domaine La Blaque. Pierrevert is a tiny French appelation in the foothills of the Provencal alps. This was our favorite of the trio. It’s color is a very light copper pink but it’s aromas are bold with strawberries, flowers and spices. In the mouth it is much bigger than the color would lead you to believe with bright red berry flavors, bright acidity and a smooth, creamy finish. The Pierrevert is a blend of 40% cinsault, 40% grenache, 10% syrah and 10% vermentino – a white grape common to Italy that clearly contributes to the aromatics. It retails for $10.99 or so.

Next up was the 2010 Olivares rosé from the Jumilla DO of Spain. A blend comprised of 70% monastrell and 30% syrah from pre-Phylloxera ungrafted vines (see the pic below) grown at an altitude of 800 meters, the Olivares is a sure crowd pleaser.

Much darker in color than the Domaine La Blaque, it reveals big bold aromas of strawberry, watermelon and a subtle floral note. It’s berry flavors are also large and mouth-filling and it finishes with a note of honey. While perhaps not as complex as the Pierrevert, it is a touch bigger and just as satisfying. It retails for approximately $9.99.

Last and sadly not as good was an Italian 2009 “Vin Ruspo” Carmignano rosé from Fattoria Ambra. Carmignano is a Tuscan DOCG where the wines are made mostly from sangiovese with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and canaiolo permitted in the blend. I decided to include a 2009 because there are still some sitting on retailers shelves and I wanted to see how this one was holding up. I’ve had this wine many times in the past and it was always lovely with similar aromas and flavors as the Domaine La Blaque and the Olivares. Rosés can be somewhat fragile and the Ambra, while showing reduced red berry aromas and flavors, is clearly fading. It’s not really bad yet, just somewhat dull. Most 09’s that are on the shelf, especially the French ones, should still be good as they usually have the acidity necessary to keep them stable. It was after all a great vintage. And I certainly would try the 2010 vintage of the Fattoria Ambra. It retails for around $9.99. The Domaine La Blaque Pierrevert is imported by The MaximumWine Co., the Olvares is imported by The Rare Wine Co. and the Fattoria Ambra is imported by Michael Skurnick – three small and very high quality importers. Seek out their wines. Cheers.


For my Guest Blog of the month, head on over to Excellent Everyday Wines to check out my post about my love affair with The High Line.