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Rome: the complete food guide
This month at foodvacation.com: Epicurean Guide to Rome
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We were a bit surprised
that the taxi driver didn't know where Checchino was. “Testaccio,” we said. For us, the restaurant was among the
culinary certainties of Rome, and the taxi driver should surely know where to go.
After giving him the exact civic address, he had to go to the extent of plugging
it into a talking GPS unit that told him how to wind his way there, in the old meat packing district just outside the centre.
We had gone there before; always arriving in taxi, we had left once on foot, trekking our way across sedate residential neighborhoods
and strange open spaces until we reached the Tiber and hoofed it rapidly back to the more familiar and strangely comfortable
zone of Spanish Steps, fountains, and Rotundas.
gives lessons, every day, in how to become a destination, a landmark that weathers the storms of trendy times. It's Checchino
dal 1887, wearing its hundred and more years of continuous food service as a badge of honour. We went back not exactly because
we remembered the food as being the absolute best in Rome, or the ambiance and service as so transporting that this vaulted
single room of a restaurant would be a must go on every trip to Rome.
No, Checchino was and is not our favourite restaurant in the Eternal City. But, it's there, nearly
timeless, and always present with its somewhat quirky and very Roman emphasis on offal, its cheese cart under the cheesy glass
dome, stained glass false skylight, and walnut veneer wainscoting.
We recognized the owners—they must be the owners—ever present and attending with an
air of dignified and professional interest in the guests, not aloof, not bored, nor overly excited by their position as purveyors
of culinary information and hospitality. Always friendly. We recognized at least one of the white-jacketed waiters from prior
visits. The décor had not changed, since 1887 at the earliest.
From the street, one enters a single, very high-ceilinged, vaulted room with a large fireplace
at the very rear. There's not a single window, which makes the room peculiar. There is a mysterious staircase to the upstairs,
and a supposedly cavernous wine cellar downstairs, a little bar, a reception desk, the cheese cart, and lots of exactly uniform,
white table-clothed square tables, some nestled together as 4-tops. We have heard that the restaurant is actually dug into
Monte Testaccio, itself a gigantic pottery midden from ancient Rome—a dumping ground for hundred of thousands of amphorae
used to carry wine, oil, and garum. So, the culinary heritage here is immense.
We called a few hours before to reserve for 8:30 and arrived just about on time,
despite the talking GPS and nervous taxi driver. Overcoats were taken. Good evenings exchanged. We sit and receive our Pelegrino
water. The dog-eared and somewhat stained heavy paper menus must be designed to slightly disorient the patrons, with their
set menu promotions—with a take-away souvenir plate—in Italian and English, their somewhat non-standard divisions
between courses written only in Italian, and the additional, smaller menu, which seems to repeat some of the larger menu,
but not everything. In addition, one can order the dishes on the set menus separately, but only some make an appearance on
the main listings.
(probably deserved) fame for its vast wine list, most diners receive a 2-page roster of suggestions included with the main
None of the above is a complaint—just some observations on the quirky side of the place.
In fact, Checchino clearly belongs
in the upper echelons of the ristorante category. Though family run and attended, this is not your casual trattoria.
The Maitre D's dress in suits. All wine by the bottle receives a full opening ceremony—side table, tasting glass, smelling
the cork, checking the label, ritualized pours to rinse the glasses, observation of the wine's color—all before the
patron is given his or her taste.
place has its well-established and comfortable routines for both itself and its guests. The menu is stable, the décor
indelibly fixed, the staff amiable and not stuffy, but deft in their professional habits, though one over officious, non-Italian
waiter did spill the wine all over hand and glass in a failing attempt to be helpful.
The food at Checchino strays from the typical Roman in its emphasis on old-style
cucina romana, rustic, tasty, and meaty. With its heritage in the old butchery district, the kitchen feature lots
of organs, trotters, hearts, and the house dish, ox tail in a concentrated tomato sauce.
The pastas rank good to very good: classic spaghetti alla carbonara, spaghetti with bavette di tonno, tonarelle
a la griciaas well as arrabiata and amatriciana, etc. The rabbit with sweet black
olives and white wine sauce was the best we've had anywhere in Italy, and was served completely bone free. The famed coda alla vaccinara
arrived well cooked and flavorful on a too-small oval plate with literally no meat on the bones; a bit more flesh would have
gone a long way. The origins
of this dish dates back to the customary payment to a vaccinaro (cattle butcher) with the entrails, hide,
and tail of the animals being butchered. As the butchers branched out to eateries such as Checchino, the name gained widespread
The recommended wine, from the local region of Lazio, was superb and well priced at 23 euros:
Casale di Giglio'sMadreselva, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
Granada Cooking School, Spain
Recommended by the London Guardian, New York Times, & Miami Herald!
While in Granada marvelling at the wonders of the Alhambra Palace, take a break for cooking classes
with renowned food experts at the Granada Cooking School. Located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the historic Albaycin,
the School offers hourly classes on a flexible schedule. With a combination of detailed cooking demonstrations and hands-on
culinary instruction, the School will also customize programs for small groups.
culinary instruction include:
Food & wine appreciation
Spanish Wines &
Spanish language instruction focusing on culinary topics
hikes into Parque San Miguel, just behind the Cooking School
Food market tours
Participants can also arrange gourmet lunches and dinners that will add extra spice and interest to your time in
wonderful Granada, a jewel of the Spanish Mediterranean! The School boasts a brand-new marble & granite teaching kitchen
including a traditional cave cellar and pastry area, numerous terraces including the vine-covered front terrace, all with
views of the Alhambra Palace, a rooftop herb garden, and walking access to the wonderful ingredients of the markets at Plaza
Larga and San Augustin.
Accommodations recommended by the School include boutique hotels
and vacation rentals inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site, within walking distance or a short bus ride.
Granada, though home to the most visited historic monument in Spain, is often overlooked in favor of
the Alhambra. This picturesque metropolisis at the center of the most geographically diverse province in Spain, and you can
sun bathe at the Costa Tropical or ski at the Sierra Nevada all in one day. Granada city hosts of wealth of music venues,
architecture from various era and style, gypsy cave dwellings, and the winding streets of the spellbinding Albaycin. Stay
in the Parador--though book well in advance--on the palace grounds or the AC Santa Paula, or for small hotel charm: Ladron del Agua, Hotel Zaguan, or the Hesperia Granada.
The foodvacation.com 5 favorite destination hotel experiences for 2018!
San Sebastian, Spain Hotel
Hotel de Londres y Inglaterra
foodvacation.com has selected the 5 best hotel experiences
for the new year. Selection is based on actual hotel visits or stays, and includes a consideration of overall service quality,
comfort, and character as well as access to unique and high-quality gastronomy either in the hotel or nearby. The selection
has emphasized "hotels de charme" more than full-service hotels, accommodations that truly express a sense of place.
Each hotel has its own character and provides an authentic travel experience combined with the opportunity for a unique food-oriented
Here are the Top 5 Hotels for 2016:
The Merrion Hotel, Dublin, Ireland, including Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud: Superlative 5-star service, elegance, and comfort at the Merrion
combined with a superbly orchestrated gustatory experience under the attentive eye of Mr. Guilbaud; stay in one of 3 Georgian
townhouses in the heart of Dublin
Hotel de Londres y Inglaterra, San Sebastian, Spain : The beachside location makes this grande-dame
hotel stately without being dated and stuffy, located in one the world's great food cities, you can walk to world-class restaurants
and lively tapas bars in minutes
La Casa de la Marquesa, Queretaro, Mexico : refinement, elegance and to-notch service in
an under-appreciated historic center with superlative culinary opportunities, both in the hotel and out; the Marquesa oozes
Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling, India : Victorian charm overlooking the tea plantations,
harking back to the time of the Raj; food that is comforting and nourishing; no TVs or telephones in the Ada Villa
Coffee simply tastes better in Europe. Based on frequent travel and living abroad in Italy,
Spain, Turkey, & France as well as Canada and the coffee-producing countries of Panama, and Costa Rica, the only conclusion
we can draw is that the western European way with coffee wins out for robust flavor and drinking pleasure.
Even in France,
Spain, and Italy finding the appropriate brand or kind proves difficult, involving day after day of trying new coffees, new
grinds, new roasts. Any coffee afficianado will tell you that the water is important: the purer and better tasting the water,
the better the coffee. In Costa Rica and Panama, we sample reputedly some of the world's best coffess, locally grown, processed,
roasted, and ground. The results vary considerably, and with the best, a subtle, superior complexity of flavor shines through.
But the Central American coffees are lightweights when compared with that flavorful, transporting experience of just-made
cafe au lait, espresso, or cafe con leche.
In Europe, the espresso machine has won out as the only way to make epicurean-level coffee. Drip machines
are tolerated for home use, but precise heat, pressure, and water combined and forced through a densely packed puck of finely
ground, freshly ground coffee beans produces the quintessential coffee flavor.
As restaurateurs we have long wanted to reproduce this experience for our guests. In 2001, we had
purchased what at the time was one of the best small commercial machines readily available in North America: the Pasquini
Livia 90. This compact espresso machine has held up admirably and remains in use in the Dining Room at Trout Point Lodge of
However, new plans for a small guest
cafe have steered us back into the market for a light commercial or serious home use espresso machine, something that will
truly reproduce the European coffee experience we know so well.
say that the world of small espresso machines in North America has changed in seven years puts it mildly.
Here's a rundown of several of the best choices we came up with after several weeks of
research, and based on our eight years of experience with the Pasquini machine:
First, there is a basic tri-partite division of these machines. 1. There are inexpensive home machines
that function without boilers or pressure—just direct steam creation. 2. There are single boiler machines that use one
boiler to produce steam for both brewing and for steaming milk or providing hot water. 3. There are double boiler machines
that have one boiler for brewing at one specific temperature, and a second boiler, usually at a higher temperature, for producing
steam and hot water. Further variables can include the voltage (i.e. 110 versus 220), the power of the heating element(s)
(i.e. 1500 watts), the size of the boiler(s), and the type of “brewing group,” the place where the steam comes
into contact with the ground coffee.
All of the machines
we have chosen are commercial quality and carry a fairly hefty price tag.
The Elektra A3
The Marzocco GS3
The LaSpaziale Vivaldi II
The Vibiemme Domobar
The Carmen: A Unique Representation of Granada's Food Culture
For centuries, the most traditional type of habitation in Granada was the "Carmen," though
now this unique union of house & garden is on the cusp of disappearing. A carmen consists of a freestanding house with
a tower, a garden-nursery, and a high wall that separates it from the street. Originally, it was a suburban smallholding with
a dual use of the land: one part pleasure or ornamental garden and one part vegetable garden with fruit trees and, very importantly,
The house remained
a relatively small and modest, with the important part of the ensemble being the orchard / garden, where most of the time
was spent outdoors enjoying the plants, the shade, the pools & fountains. Granadinos used mundane materials in house construction:
brick, mortar, limestone and mosaics, in short, simple and inexpensive materials, although in modern times the carmen has
come to have an aura of being a rich & luxurious mansion.
In the 14th century, the polymath Ibn al-Khatib in al-Badriyya Lamhat gave a description of the surroundings
of Granada and said that outside the city walls, there was not a free place since everything was occupied by orchards and
Farms and gardens were in such number that
Granada resembled a mother surrounded by children, with luxuriant herbiage adorning her sides as if she had donned a necklace
covering the upper part of her breasts, whilst winds embalmed her with zephyrs. Villas and royal properties encompassed the
city like bracelets. Nuptial thrones [i.e. beds] were set up for the brides of the gardens [i.e. the flowers]. The Sultan
of the Spring [i.e.the rose] took his seat to review the rebels [i.e. the other flowers]. The nightingale of the trees preached
a sermon, whereupon [all] listeners fell attentive. [Acres of] vines waved like billows, and the [whole] neighbourhood overflowed
with their juice. Like the sky of the world beautified with innumerable stars so lay [the plain] with towers of intricate
construction and equipped withstaircases. The winds exhaled perfumes, bringing Paradise to mind for whoso hopes for what God
has in store for him by way of requital.
The sustainability of the carmens as agricultural enterprises
related intimately to the sophisticated Arab-era water system. The channelling and distribution of potable water through internal
channels and cisterns (Ajibe, from the Arabic al-Andalus Gubb, and the classical Arabic Gubb), tanks for storing
drinking water brought by the major water channel (acequia) named Aynadamar from the village of Alfacar, led to the
buildings in the Albaicin, their environs, and the numerous carmens. Each Carmen had an alberca (water pool or pond)
and a system of irrigation for the terraced lands.
It was in the early 17th century when the Spanish term carmen was applied to houses that did not necessarily have
all the characteristics of the earlier settlements, as a version of the Arabic term "karm:" the typical green space
carmen of the Albaicin was popularized and exported to the slopes of the neighbourhoods of La Antequeruela, Realejo and La
Although they had
their origin in the Muslim-Andalusian era, it is from the fall of Granada and primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries that
this important type of habitation came to fore in Granada, born from the carmen after the expulsion of the Moors. In
just two years, from 1568 to 1570, the Albaicín went from being a heavily populated neighbourhood to one in ruins and
the Spanish moved into spaces previously occupied by the Moriscos.
After the conquest of Granada, and due to the rise of the likes of the Habsburgs and concept of the
Baroque garden among the Spanish, the Muslim al-Andalus gardens quickly disappeared from the horizon. Palaces and gardens
were Italianized following the influence of the Renaissance, altering the carmen's style forever.
In the Baroque era, there was a boom in the number of carmens,
and in the 19th century during the bourgeois explosion in Granada, influenced by the 18th century Orientalists, the Albaicin
was revitalized, rebuilding the green spaces of the old carmens but decorated with false oriental details. They also lost
all connection to agriculture and food production, becoming purely pleasure gardens.
In this era, having a carmen in Albayzin was synonymous with wealth, with its identity
and name tied to a particular ownership, each possessing a unique bourgeois identity.The traditional, pre-romantic carmen
in Granada is a product of its hillside development, organized in paratas (terraced plots for cultivation), a rather
small living space, tied to the ability for food production. In general, it was not an estate of luxury, but a small house
with a utilitarian garden, a smallholding with a series of terraces or paratas to ascend or descend, often shaded with vines,
creepers and trees to mitigate the rigors the sun, having its access zone to the side of the plot, never in the center.
There are no true carmens surrounded by an iron gate, as
is the style in the rest of Spain; rather a Carmen is enclosed by high walls, a productive smallholding that has trees, fruit
trees and ornamental shade trees, and under them roses, lilies, carnations, honeysuckle, valet mixed with lettuce, chard,
tomatoes and spinach, with wide box hedges or myrtle.
The carmens occupy the hillsides nestled between the channels of the Rivers Darro and Genil, and those
in the Albaicin opposite the Alhambra, are considered the most valued for their views.Today it remains a tradition jealously
kept by the owners of the carmens: although the ornamental garden (versus the agricultural aspect) has gained space in time,
there is always a corner with a pergola with good grapes, and many fruit trees. Inherited from the time of Moorish legends,
the true carmen has the sensual refinement and sense of intimacy of ancient times. Modest mortar walls hide the richness of
the interior, an aesthetic and non-economic wealth.
Forget about your grandmother’s tipple. True Spanish
Sherries are serious wines . . . Or so we discovered a few years ago on an unsuspecting tour of Andalusia.
We landed in Madrid, really on our way to Corsica, France. A cheap
Internet fare lured us to crisscross through Spain on our way to the Mediterranean isle, and we settled on spending a few
days in transit. Having no reservations for anything anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula, we rented a car and headed unsuspectingly
south through the blazing sun, the moonscapes, and the olive groves until after a few hours we stopped in Cordoba, ancient
city of learning and culture. It soon became obvious
that somewhere between Despeñaperros, the mountainous frontier of the Junta of Andalusia, and the last olive
tree, we had entered Sherryland (though not yet the snooty stuff they produce in Jerez further south,
and which every Brit worth his or her instinctive salt knows to order by name).
In Cordoba, the waiter of each bar, cafe, and restaurant we entered took it as an insult if we failed to
quaff a Fino or perhaps an Amontillado right off, little matter the time of day. Served very cold and produced
very dry, it took no more than a few glasses to really love the stuff. We learned that Cordoba province has its own Sherry production from the region called Montilla-Morilles,
and Sherry here, as in the areas surrounding Cadiz further south, is bred in the bone. You must drink it, using little flute-like
glasses, there's simply no choice. The history of
Sherry, like that of Port in Portugal, intertwines in an almost baroque way with British merchant interests and worldwide
trade, starting centuries ago.
That's why you
have traditional Spanish Sherry bodegaswith names like "Harvey," "Osborne," and "Garvey"
in the middle of Andalusia. "Sherry" itself is an English mongrelization of the word for Jerez, while the
Spanish themselves simply order a "fino" or an "olorosso." The English also used to call this high-alcohol
wine "sack" and transported it in "butts," but we needn't get too intimate. Let's just say that Shakespeare
depicts everyone from swarthy Fallstaff to various kings drinking copious amounts of it. The production of Cordoba finds its way more into Spanish bocas than foreigners,
while Jerez wines travel the globe satisfying the Sherry habits of aficionados worldwide. Unlike the stuff your aunt used to serve from gaudy cut glass decanters, Spanish sherries
have a sophistication, complexity, and culture of consumption worthy of appreciation.
If you don't want to get into the messy vocabulary to follow, then stick with Fino,
it sounds nice, is easy to remember, and has enough distinction to go for miles (or kilometers, in our case). The Andalusian
bodegas make Fino primarily from palomino grapes grown on extremely chalky soils that occur only in two areas. It can be "dry"
(seco) and "very dry" (muy seco), and has a very light to light straw color. The stuff from Jerez, which many consider
the best, is generally a bit darker in color than finos from Montilla-Morilles, and those are the only two places it's made.
When in Cordoba--an amazing city, home to the Great Mosque--you drink Montilla-Morilles, and when in Seville--home to the
Alcazar and La Giralda Cathedral--you imbibe Jerez. In Granada, you drink whatever's available.
quite cold, is extremely dry--vanish thoughts about Australian Chardonnay; in fact, remove normal wine parameters from your
mind. It has bunches of very subtle flavors and smells, all in the dry format. "Like toasted almonds" is a good
phraseology here, though there's much more dwelling inside a glass of Fino. It is, in our opinion, the quintessential aperitif.
The Spanish work their butts off (no pun intended) making each bottle, in a production method known as solera involving
multiple American oak casks and plenty of special yeasts, called flor, all housed in huge buildings, the bodegas,
near to the coast for easy transshipment around the world.
The flor grows atop the wine in partially filled large barriques and prevents the wine's total oxidation. Flor
adds tremendously to the flavor profile of Finos, as does the solera system of blending wines of different vintages to produce
a consistent and wonderful production each year. The oak of the New World adds its own character, and a bit of historical
continuity, for Andalusia populated most of Latin America. Each glass of Fino, in fact, contains the history of Sherry, with parts of the wine and the flor going back
decades and perhaps centuries. The best known Fino houses include Gonzalez Byass with their "Tio Pepe" and the various
sherries made by Lustau--not bad but try some from Montilla-Morilles too, if you can find them.
What the Heck, Give Me an Oloroso
Moving beyond Fino in Sherryland brings you to the sub-classification of Manzanilla,
and then on to Almontillado and Oloroso--wonderfully sonorous names, aren't they? There's
also "Cream" Sherry, but forget about it--that's the sweet stuff from your grandma's decanter. All Manzanillacomes from a town on the sea called Sanlucar de Barrameda; very
similar to Fino, it has a slightly different color, and a saltier perhaps slightly nuttier, and smoother taste. Like Fino,
it's perfect served very cold with seafood. Amontillado possesses a light amber cast, and has greater dry fruit flavors,
like raisins and hazelnuts. It compliments more savory and complex dishes, including Spain's wonderful cheeses. Oloroso leans much more strongly to the thick, sweet side of things, and is a component of Cream sherry. Dark in
color, it can have deep, almost molasses-like flavors, and may take some getting used to. The Spaniards drink it with full-flavored
meat and game dishes.
Some Sherry Suggestions
Anything from Lustau, Cadiz Province: they produce excellent Finos, Olorosos, and Amontillados. Tio Pepe from Gonzalez Byass, pure palomino Jerez fino muy
seco flavors. Also excellent for fino and others,
and widely available: the products of Pedro Domecq, including "La Ina." From Cordoba Province, try any fino or amontillado you can get; production is very consistent amongst the
different bodegas, butthe style is quite distinct from Jerez. Consumption is mostly local, and little is
THE WINE CORNER
a regularly updated feature of recently tasted wines
Vina Pedrosa Crianza 2005
Ribera del Duero, Spain
balanced wine that displays the attractive qualities of Tempranillo at a relatively young age.
Book Review: The Heart of Bordeaux:
The Greatest Wines from Graves Chateaux
This handsome, hardbound volume will delight all
lovers of Bordeaux wines, and especially its most emblematic region: Graves. Each of the 16 cru classe chateaux are profiled
in depth, and foodies will find excellent recipes from chefs like Eric Ripert matched to each chateau. The history of each
wine estate, the types of wines produced, and high quality photography fill the 215 + pages.
Hugh Johnson provide an eloquent Preface, noting that in Graves, over time a certain recipe, as it
were, applied to a certain parcel of land, gave a consistent and distinct result: a cru with a life, both economic and gastronomic,
of its own."
Such famous houses as Haut Brion and Carbonnieux
receive detailed treatments that really bring them alive for the reader
Bettane's Introduction will make a Graves expert out of even those learning about this wonderful wine region for the first
time. After chapter-length profiles of each chateau, there is a handy reference table at the back summarizing their production
stewart, tabori, & chang, 2009
"Numerous hotels have chosen to price themselves above the recession in the belief that the real luxury
customer shares their immunity to the crisis. But I’m not sure it’s just a question of price; what has happened
in the global economy has also brought about a change of style. Not everyone wants to be seen spending in the way they were
before: the small, owner-run hotel somehow fits better with the quieter spirit of the times." Sophy Roberts, Financial Times
"“If I was 20 today and I was a truly creative person, I wouldn’t do
molecular cuisine. Everybody is doing it." Hervé This, inventor of molecular gastronomy, Financial Times
interview, February 16, 2008.