Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Pleasant Italian-Style Dinner

For dinner tonight, I made three easy Italian-type dishes:
- A fig, prosciutto, salami, and greens salad
- A vegetable and pasta soup
- Orecchiette pasta with prosciutto and bread crumbs.

The salad and orecchiette dishes were really good. The soup was nice. All three were easy.

The orecchiette dish was from page 89 of Giada de Laurentiis cookbook, "everyday italian."
The fig salad was from page 16 of the "frame>by>frame italian" cookbook.
The soup was from page 24 of the "frame>by>frame italian" cookbook.

The first cookbook was a Christmas gift from our daughter, the second from our son and daughter-in-law.

The fig salad had figs, prosciutto, salami, basil, mint, and arugula with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. It called for fresh figs, which were unavailable, so I used preserved figs calimyrna from Fresh Market. I also forgot to buy the mint. Nonetheless, the salad was very tasty. It would have been fantastic with the fresh figs, and even better with the mint.

The soup was a filtered puree of onion, plum tomatoes, celery, and garlic, to which chicken stock and soup pasta are added.

The pasta was very tasty and easy to make. One browns Italian-style bread crumbs in olive oil, then adds the cooked orechiette pasta. After adding the pasta, one adds prosciutto and parmesan.

With the meal, we had an inexpensive Santa Cristina Sangiovese by Antinori. Since we once stayed at the Antinori Fonte de Medici property in Chianti Classico next to where this wine is produced, it always brings back fond memories.

A Sarasota New York-Style Deli

Had a delicious lunch today with my friends "I" & "J" at Pastrami's NY Deli in Sarasota. My friend "I" had eaten there before and highly recommended it. Since he knows a lot about deli food (and lots of other food), I knew it would be good.

I had a delicious pastrami reuben on rye with seeds and a side of potato salad for $9.59. The sandwich had a generous portion of pastrami and included sauerkraut, russian dressing, and swiss cheese. It was mouth-wateringly delicious. There were three choices of sides - cucumber salad, potato salad, or cole slaw.

There were 18 types of sandwiches as well as the 50-50 sandwich in which one could combine any two meats, and choose the bread and topping - for $8.49.

There were three soups - chicken matzo ball, sweet and sour cabbage with beef, and broccoli and cheese. There were also several types of hot dogs and six salads. There were four desserts, including NY cheese cake with strawberry or blueberry topping.

The place doesn't have much atmosphere.

It's located in a Publix Shopping Plaza at 5170 Clark, one block west of Honore and on the south side of Clark. Phone 941-925-3100. They also do orders to go.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Olive Tree Cafe and Bar, Sarasota - Once Is Enough

I was excited to read about The Olive Tree Cafe and Bar (, a new Sarasota restaurant serving Middle Eastern cuisine, so I suggested to a friend that we have lunch there today. I'm sorry I suggested it.

We were given both a lunch menu and a dinner menu.

We each started with soup. My friend had lentil soup. It was good. I started with a cold cucumber and yoghurt soup. That was also good.

We were served pita bread with olive oil and zaatar, a mixture of spices like oregano and thyme. That was tasty as well. However, the meal went downhill from there.

My friend had the Felafel Platter from the lunch menu. The platter had felafel, green beans, and rice. The felafel was rock hard on the outside and difficult to eat. The taste was terrible. The green beans appeared to be out of a can, and the rice was blah. My friend has had felafel many times and knows how it should be cooked. When he mentioned to the waitress how bad it was, she explained that it was cooked the way it was supposed to be prepared.

I decided to order stuffed grape leaves, one of my favorite dishes, from the dinner menu. There were two types of stuffed grape leaves on the dinner menu - one type with ground beef and one type without. Both types had rice, onion, tomato, and dill. I ordered the type with meat. This was an appetizer plate with three small grape leaves and five olives for $6.25. When I ate the first stuffed grape leaf, I could not find any meat. I discussed the issue with a waiter. He showed me some microscopic dark specks, and said that was meat. If they had been much smaller, they would have been subatomic particles. I have had stuffed grape leaves with meat hundreds of times at home (made by my mother, my wife, and my sister), at the homes of relatives, and in many, many restaurants. I have never seen such small particles of meat. The waiter explained that they were prepared as normal. The taste of the rice mixture in the grape leaves was decent.

I had baklava bits for dessert. They were decent, but seemed expensive for what they were.

I had a glass of Italian red wine, and it was nice.

Several of the menu items I tried to order were unavailable. The waitress explained that the menu was in the process of being changed.

The man who appeared to be the owner seemed to spend much of his time talking on a cell phone. He might have been better served getting feedback from his customers in order to improve the quality of his offerings.

The waitress was very efficient and friendly, but she was very poorly informed about the ingredients in the various dishes.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Il Pizzico, An Italian Gem in Maryland

The night before last, I had a great meal at il Pizzico (, a real Italian restaurant in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. The meal was terrific.

I started with an appetizer of Arancine Rivisitate for $9.95. Arancine are Sicilian rice croquettes. These were filled with veal and mozzarella cheese, with a taleggio cheese sauce. They were fantastic.

My second course was a half-serving of a pasta dish, Maltagliati al Ragu di Vitello - maltagliati pasta in a veal ragu - $8.95. (They do half-servings of their pasta dishes.) This dish was incredibly delicious. The pasta was home-made, as are all their pasta. Maltagliati pasta is flat pasta made from scraps of other pastas. The name means something like "bad cuts" or "badly cut."

For a second course, I chose Tagliata di Manzo Boscaiola - grilled Hereford steak with wild mushrooms in a Barolo wine reduction sauce - for $25. This dish was very tasty, but not incredible like the first two.

For dessert, I had Torta di Mele, an apple torte, for $7.25. It was very tasty.

After dessert, I had a nice espresso for $2.75.

The wine I had was a half bottle of Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico for $19. It was very nice. The wine list was excellent, and included wines by the glass and half bottles.

The ambience was very warm and friendly. The dining room was full of patrons who were clearly enjoying their meals.

The Maitre d', who is from Palermo, was the perfect maitre d' - constantly overseeing every aspect of the dining room operations.

The service was terrific. Although my server was from Latin America, he spoke excellent Italian, which he had learned on the job. He was very professional.

Il Pizzico is located in a small strip mall at 15209 Frederick Rd. (Rockville Pike). It is one the east side of the road just below Gude Dr.

Mamma Lucia in Maryland - Not Worth the Bother

During a recent trip to Maryland, I was looking for a restaurant close to my hotel. I saw Mamma Lucia Restaurant, a restaurant and pizzeria. I had read mixed reviews on the Internet, but thought I'd give it a try. I knew better than to expect real Italian at a place like this. All I hoped for was good food. My entree was decent, but not worth a return trip. The garlic bread was pathetic. After three weeks of incredible Italian food in Italy two months earlier, this was a poor comparison.

Mamma Lucia's ( is a local Washington, D.C.-area chain with eight restaurants. They advertise "down-home cooking."

I had Penne Norcina, penne pasta with sausage in a cream sauce for $14. It was decent, but nothing to tweet home about. The garlic bread that came with it was pathetic. I took two bites and gave up.

They had no wine list, just three reds that the waitress mentioned by type. Only one was an Italian type - chianti, and one was a Malbec - from South America. How hard is it for an Italian restaurant to carry a few Italian reds. They also had a couple of whites. I had a glass of the Chianti for $7. It was ok.

One sign of attention to deal in an Italian restaurant is the use of correct Italian names for its dishes. It's very easy to get this right. Mamma Lucia's menu is full of errors. A couple of examples are:
- "Penne Norcina" instead of "Penne alla Norcina"
- "Pollo alla Florentina" instead of "Pollo alla Fiorentina"
- "Ravioli Romana" instead of "Ravioli alla Romana"
- "Spaghetti Carbonara" instead of "Spaghetti alla Carbonara"
- "Spaghetti al Funghi" instead of "Spaghetti ai Funghi"
- etc., etc., etc.

One curious menu item was the "Pollo Brunello." Pollo is chicken, and the only Brunello I know is the famous red wine type from Montalcino, Italy. The menu describes this dish as being cooked in Marsala wine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Maryland Crab Cake Mecca

There are many restaurants that claim to have great Maryland-style crab cakes. However, few if any can hold a candle to G & M RRestaurant & Lounge (

On a recent trip to Maryland, I had to have a crab cake fix. The first thing I did after arriving at BWI Airport and picking up my rental car was to head to G &  M.

G & M did not disappoint. It was fantastic. I had a single crab cake sandwich for $13.75. The sandwich was very large. You can have it served on a roll or crackers. The sandwich comes with a choice of cole slaw, chips, or fries.

I also had a cup of cream of crab soup. It was very tasty, but I've had better. My friend Bill B., who grew up in Baltimore, considers cream of crab soup a yuppy abomination. For him, the only real crab soup is the traditional tomato-based version. However, cream of crab is a favorite of mine. The soup was $4,95.

G & M has 10 draft beers - domestic and imported - ranging in price from $2.75 to $5.50.

They have 29 wines ranging in price from $26 to $46 and one for $58. They also have several Beringer wines for $4.50 a glass and $22 a bottle.

My waitress was Amanda, and she was excellent.

It's very easy to get there. From the airport, head north on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. You take the Nursery Rd. exit which is the first exit north of the expressway to the airport. At the traffic light at the top of the exit, you turn left onto Nursery Rd. You take the Nursery Rd. west to Hammonds Ferry Rd. G&M is located at that intersection - at 804 Hammonds Ferry Rd.

The restaurant is large, but it is very popular and can be crowded. I was there at abot 2 p.m. on a Sunday, and it was almost full.

It has an extensive menu, which you can see on its web site. However, I only go for the crab cakes.