Look at this parking lot in front of a Starbucks—empty. Evidence of about a half dozen cars that have come and gone in the last 20 minutes after stopping to “grab some Starbucks”. This makes me think… and want to share some thoughts to simmer on. I love to walk into Starbucks and grab a tall Pike or Veranda blend and sit for a moment. During one of those moments, I contemplated why some people stop at a cafe—Starbucks or otherwise—grab a drink and go. Sure, they may be in a hurry, or need their daily caffeine fix.
If people are in that much in a hurry, then why not stop at a gas station or through a fast food drive-thru to “grab” a coffee or beverage? Whether it’s for an espresso, cafe au lait, or cafe Cubano, or a drip—stop and savor it.
Why bother to stop at a cafe, get out of your car, wait in line and then leave again? Is it the taste these people crave? the quality? the status of a brand like Starbucks or other inter/national chain? If you grab-and-go no one is going to see it anyway. Furthermore, by rushing off, you’re not going to fully enjoy your beverage. Imagine this: you will probably sit in traffic, rush through a store or forget your drink in the car to melt away… so why not save some money and even some time by by-passing cafes all together?
Traditional cafes are for sitting. Have people simply forgotten that Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and other American coffee establishments fall into this category? That’s part of the reason they, and all other cafes, are pricier than the average gas station or drive-thru offerings. People are not paying extra for convenience either (what’s convenient about waiting in line?), they’re paying for the atmosphere, but are not using it like it’s intended to be enjoyed (unless they’re camped out inside to work).
5 more people have come and gone since I started this note. In all of the other countries that I can think of that I have visited, the cafe is a beautiful place were people get their coffee or beverage, sit down and then take in or establish some quality of life: A chat with a friend perhaps, a cigarette, or just to watch the day in motion.
I know that here in America, our popular culture is oftentimes a fast-paced- want-it-now-not-in-five-minutes kind of society, but there is so much more to be enjoyed when you stop and smell the coffee sometimes.
From France to San Francisco, you’ll find coffee enthusiasts enjoying numerous varieties of coffee beans prepared in every way imaginable, but in Paris, for example, you may find patrons sipping their coffee just a bit slower than their American counterparts. Sure, in a quality-conscious society the traits of the bean and its extraction are important to us, but let’s not forget the character behind coffee consumption.
When taking in these 4 European coffees at coffee shops across America, don’t rush. Consider the character of the European social experience, which includes an expertly prepared coffee that’s typically enjoyed while lingering at a cafe and taking in a bit of quality life.
Café con Leche / Origin, Spain
This coffee treat, meaning “coffee with milk” in Spanish, is a popular breakfast stable in communities around the world, such as the Philippines, but most common in Spain and Latin American countries, such as Cuba. Cafe con leche is traditionally made with strong or bold coffee, usually espresso beans, that is then mixed with scalded milk.
Lattes / Origin, Italy
A latte, the shortened form of the Italian caffè latte, consists of espresso and steamed milk. The method of producing latte art is created by expertly pouring the steamed milk’s foam into the shot of espresso to produce a design on the surface of the latte. It’s a difficult art that depends on the quality of the espresso machine, the temperature of steamed milk and the experience of the barista.
Irish Coffee / Origin, Ireland
This coffee treat, meaning “caife Gaelach” in Irish, is served hot and is made with either espresso or brewed coffee poured over with whiskey, sugar and (not whipped) cream floated on top. Usually enjoyed in the evening, it’s become popular in communities around the world, such as Spain (where the whiskey, coffee and cream are poured in layers), Irish coffee as it’s known today was invented by an Irish chef in the 1940s.
Espresso / Origin, Italy
This coffee treat is a popular stable in communities around the world, and originated in Italy, where it’s consumption. Espresso is both a brewing method and a beverage, and although any bean or roast level can be used in it’s preparation, it’s extraction requires specialized skill and equipment. Served as either a single (solo) or double shot (dopio), espresso is enjoyed prepared across a variety of the world’s most popular espresso beans today.
Stretching along the western Sicilian coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the ancient salt flats are reminders of Phoenician salt-making practices, explained Bernardo Nolfo, proprietor of Austin’s Numero 28 Pizzeria & Vineria. He was speaking of the distinct 2,700-year-old heritage etched in the history of Trapani, a coastal fishing village and his mother’s hometown. It’s this kind of attention to culture and character that you’ll find mirrored in the authentic Osteria he opened last November in Austin’s Second Street District, an eatery steeped in true, authentic Italian tradition.
Like salt, fresh, simple ingredients have stood the test of time in Italian regions like western Sicily, and in much the same way are attributed to the old world charm and authentic flavors guests find at Numero 28. “At an Osteria, you’ll find genuine, original flavors delivered simply across 15 or 20 dishes, but with same attentive service that you would expect at the finest places offering more,” Nolfo said. “Our approach is to deliver the kind of Italian quality characteristic of eateries in small towns, whether set in Sicily or larger regions like Bari or Florence,” he explained. The warm and pleasant atmosphere of Numero 28 is apparent the moment you walk through it’s inviting front patio and into its doors.
For Nolfo, who was born to a Sicilian mother and southern Italian father, the cuisines of Italy carry their own regional specialties, but the quality of preparation comes down to demeanor not just intention. “When someone cooks with love, with joy, and is attentive to preparation you can taste it in the food,” he explained, remembering his own childhood meals. “When my mother’s food was rushed, I tasted it and I would say, ‘mom, what’s wrong today?’,” he laughed.
Characteristic of Italian culture, when you’ve been invited to someone’s home for pizza it means they’re going to roll out fresh dough, and use fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, which is the same attentive quality guests will find at Numero 28. “To successfully work in hospitality, to serve good food, you have to enjoy delighting your guests,” he explained, “Attention to the quality of your ingredients in making even the simplest things is half of the secret to making people happy.”
From the row of seats found under brightly colored umbrellas in a gorgeous patio, to the complements of Italian décor and Mediterranean music playing inside, it’s no doubt that guests to Numero 28 are treated to attentive, authentic Italian dining that brings smiles—one that the local Italian community in Austin comes often to enjoy, a kind of compliment that doesn’t even speak for the delicious food.
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“It’s the places that you know use fresh ingredients daily, that are known to be essential for good cooking, that’s where you’ll find the locals in Italy and Sicily go and eat,” Bernardo explained. Specializing in regional southern Italian and Sicilian dishes, as well as southern Italian-style pizza, the eatery uses a mix of flours and lets its dough rest for at least 36 hours to create its light consistency—the same delicate recipe used in the panino used for its Italian sandwiches. Even something as simple as espresso is served with care—servers are instructed to deliver only a couple at a time because the crema loses its consistency if it sits out too long.
Beginning his restaurant journey in New York City, Nolfo opened his first restaurant in his mid-20s before selling it, and soon after traveling to open Italian restaurants from Miami and Beirut for the Bice Group, a fine dining group from Milan. Over a decade of travel, his favorite part of it all was creating warm gathering places, an affability that eventually led him to want to open something meaningful on his own.
In November 2014, as both a veteran and connoisseur of fine Italian food culture, he and his business partner opened Numero 28 in Austin—a ‘cousin,’ as he described, of a family-owned establishment born in New York City. After having worked with so many people around the world over the years, Bernardo prefers to refer to the establishment of Numero 28 in Austin as a team effort, a family.
Having recently celebrated the first anniversary of Numero 28 in Austin, he smiles when he says, “Everyone here, from Marco to Rudy, Marchino, and Andres, for example, we’re a big family.” Open 7 days a week, walk in one day for lunch or dinner, and you’ll know it’s all true because happiness is at the heart of this little Italian Osteria that will know its way to yours.
Here are our picks for the best Austin restaurant destinations for authentic Italian food this side of Italy. These eight spots are on our list not just because of great reviews from the community or our personal opinion, but most importantly because of their authentic cultural attributes.
These eight Italian restaurants made our list because they are either owned and operated by Italian-Americans or by folks who value the history, culture and genuine preparation of Italian cuisine. Here you’ll find real-deal Italian food and drink for what can truly be the best Italian experience you can have in Austin.
It may have been fate that kept Daniela Marcone in Austin when she worked her way up from hostess to the owner of Andiamo Ristorante after contemplating whether to stay in Austin or return to her native city of Naples, Italy. Known for it’s fine authentic and classic Italian cuisine, the restaurant uses locally-sourced pasta in its plates and serves salads, fish and meat dishes that pair beautifully with Italian wines. Marcone’s restaurant is one that makes no compromise when it comes to authenticity—every dish is served as it would be in Italy, making the eatery a beacon of true Italian culture.
As both a veteran and connoisseur of fine Italian food culture, Bernardo Nolfo and his business partner opened Numero 28 in Austin in 2014—a ‘cousin,’ as he described of a family-owned establishment born in New York City. The restaurant offers a warm gathering place and specializes in southern Italian dishes and wood-fired southern-Italian style pizza, and especially prides itself on the use of fresh ingredients daily because it’s essential in authentic Italian cooking. The team that runs the eatery are more like an Italian family than coworkers. “Everyone here, from Marco to Rudy, Marchino, and Andres, for example, we’re a big family,” Nolfo said in our previous article about the eatery. The team also recently opened an Italian food market and cafe next door called Alimentari 28.
When Italian breadmaster Lucky Sibilla started his wood-fired Italian sandwich food trailer when he came to Austin in 2007, he brought with him the art of the puccia (pronounced poo-chah). He learned the art of making these rustic sandwiches which use old Italian recipes past down through the generations while in the city of Taranto in southern Italy. Recently, he opened a brick and mortar eatery offering his fresh sandwiches as well as wood-fired pizza all made to order. His deep passion for authentic Italian flavors and food is sure to bring you a true taste of these beloved Italian street foods in Austin.
Italian food and wine expert Al Fini is a native of the Piedmont region of Italy and grew up on a vineyard before coming to Austin and offering the city several ways to experience the culture of northern Italy over the last twenty plus years. We wrote about his authentic Florentine-style panino sandwiches in this article a few months back. It’s Italian Cucina is his newest restaurant which will open in early September to feature the northern Italian cuisine Fini has been known for over the years, plus a wine bar, and it will serve South Austin patrons lunch, brunch, and dinner.
If you want to dine somewhere reminiscent of a romantic Tuscan honeymoon destination then this is the place to go in Austin. Dubed “The most romantic restaurant in Austin,” Siena Ristorante is known for its upscale, seasonal and classic Tuscan cuisine from executive chef Harvey Harris, including Tuscan wild game plates like wild boar bruschetta. Before opening the restaurant over 10 years ago, he immersed himself in Italian culture while at a restaurant called Il Pino in the medieval Tuscan city of San Gimignano, six days a week and eleven hours a day perfecting the craft he studied in culinary school.
Address: 6203 N Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78731
When you walk into Gino Reale’s Italian eatery, even the door that greets you into this Italian family-run neighborhood restaurant reads “Your Home Away from Rome!” The first-generation Italian-American owner of Reale’s Pizza & Cafe got his start in hospitality working in his father’s family-run Italian pizzeria in New York City over 30 years ago, and today with fond memories of working with his brothers, sister, mother, and uncle, he started his own NYC-style pizzeria and cafe serving classic dishes in north Austin. Typically Italian, his brother, mother and father still work with him. As he writes on the restaurant’s website, “My mom always says, we got a lot of love, and love is what we put into everything we do.” We believe you’ll be a part of the family at this local Trattoria.
For second-generation Italian-Americans Matt and Nic Patrizi, their family’s legacy in Italian cooking started in the 1940s when their grandfather and his brothers opened Patrizi’s Restaurant in Beaumont, Texas. His grandmothers made meatballs by hand, and other family members worked the line and bused tables back then. They write on the eatery’s website that they feel lucky to be born into this family—one of loud Italians and handmade pasta sauces. “Food is an expression of cultural and personal history,” they also share on the site. The food truck with the same name sake today stands outside the Vortex theatre in Austin, as a way to pay hommage to the old family restaurant, old-school family recipes, and housemade pasta.
Second generation Italian-American’s Andrew and his brother Matt Botticelli opened the south Austin Italian restaurant together with their longtime friend Timmy Brown as a way to bring the Italian comfort foods that Andrew remembers growing up with in Chicago between his mother and his grandmother’s home cooking. Featuring both indoor and airy outdoor dining, the restaurant serves fresh Italian food even featuring handmade pasta, combining old family recipes with new, innovative ones. With both an intimate Trattoria in the front of the house, and a large beer garden in the back that features live, local music some days, the eatery bring Austinites into the fold of Italian tradition.
When Chef Giuseppe Marrone opened his restaurant on the South Street Seaport neighborhood at the cobblestone corner of Peck Slip and Water Street, he wanted his patrons to feel like they were in southern Italy. ACQUA at Peck Slip is an authentic Italian restaurant, and its roots run deep not just because of its location among moored sailing ships near the 17 Pier, but because of chef Giuseppe’s desire to share the story of Naples through every family recipe and dish.
Born and raised in Naples, growing up he was inspired to become a chef by his home, family values, and the cooking of his mother and grandmother. He learned the mastery of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine while training at the renowned Hotel Institute of Angelo Celitti in Formia, a Mediterranean coastal city between Rome and Naples. All the dishes at the restaurant are from his hometown of Naples and have a heavy coastal influence.
“[The food at ACQUA] is based on my roots always, because I think it’s more authentic when you cook the same way as your grandmother used to cook,” he tells us. In fact, you’ll find Chef Giuseppe at the local fish markets 3-4 times a week to bring in the freshest catch to serve daily to his guests. Seafood is significant to the city of Naples, where seafood from the Mediterranean Sea is considered by many, like Chef Giuseppe, to be the best in the world and he takes his fish seriously. “When we’re out then that’s it—I don’t like to put dish in the freezer because it tastes different the next day. When the portion is finished then it’s done.”
Lobster and clam lovers, for example, can even enjoy the actual taste of the Mediterranean Sea itself—Chef imports these fresh Langoustines to give his patrons a different and truer taste of Italian seafood than is offered in the U.S. “We give our customers a little touch of the Mediterranean, offering lots of seafood as you’d get in the coastal restaurants and fish bars in Italy,” he says. Using his local suppliers in the New York City area, he shops by what’s available.
“Maybe one day it’s a nice branzino or grouper, and sometimes we fight at the fish market, so I go early to be one of the first to get the fish. If you go after 6 or 7 A.M., you’ll only get what’s left. I go at 4 A.M. in the morning to the fish market in the Bronx, sometimes once or twice a day,” he tells us. Since the restaurant does not use tjr courseness of a freezer to store left over fish, patrons can be assured that their catch is fresh and delicately refrigerated. Most people understand when he’s out of something. If you go to a restaurant that serves the same fish day in and day out, Chef’s advice is that it’s probably not fresh because it’s extremely difficult to do and acquire from the markets.
Among favorite dishes include spaghetti with clams, crab cakes—spaghetti with any seafood really, he says. Even the popular seafood tartar uses a fresh catch he gets daily. Chef tells us sometimes it’s yellow tune, sometimes salmon, and sometimes grouper, but it’s always fresh. “Yesterday, I wanted to make tuna tartar and I went to the market but didn’t like the selection, so I didn’t buy it.”
Branzino is also a popular item on the menu, but if it’s not fresh when Chef heads to pick it up he won’t serve it simply because he values his customers. “I want my customers always happy, and my point of view is I want them to always come back. I just want them to enjoy the experience and receive good service. They need to feel like they’re in Italy, and on the Mediterranean where they can trust real Italian authenticity,” he explains. Most of his customers have never been to Italy, so he feels that being particular about what he serves is just part of the responsibility of truly representing what is culturally expected in Naples.
Mediterranean Sea Bass at Acqua at Peck Slip | FacebookChef doesn’t just carefully peruse the fish market, even his produce is fresh. In fact, take a visit to ACQUA for lunch or dinner, and you’ll find much more than seafood, including Neapolitan-style pizzas, panini’s, and several pasta dishes served with chicken and beef, as well as an extensive dessert and wine list. The pasta is hand-crafted by the restaurant’s professional pasta master, Bernardo. Tagliatelle, papardelle, ravioli, gnocchi and spaghettoni are just some of the pasta shapes ACQUA makes from scratch every day.
He heads to farmer’s markets on Long Island or in New Jersey or Connecticut because they offer smaller batches, and higher quality and taste he says. “I like to the go the product markets and touch and see what they offer, because when you order from a distributor you don’t know what they’re going to send you. The quality of the product makes a huge difference in the dish, even if you’re the best chef in the world.” A customer favorite though—tomatoes imported from Vesuvio—the Mount Vesuvius Volcano. Stop in for a meal one day and ask him about it.
It’s obvious that owning a restaurant means to Chef Giuseppe that it’s more important to be authentic—not just by offering good food, but food that tells the real story of Naples. He values talking with his guests and taking care of them, and so does his staff. “If someone remembers what I like to eat, what I drink, and all these things, that’s customary in Naples, in Italy. Our customers will come in and ask if particular servers are in because they trust them and they also know them. They feel comfortable. They feel at home.”
A trip to Italy is at the very top of my bucket list. The wine, the food, the ancient architecture – it all beckons to me on a regular basis. Until I make it there, I’ll be spending a lot of time at Via Umbria in Georgetown.
This new cafe and market brings the best of Italy to DC by offering cooking classes, authentic Italian products and luxurious Italian dinners in a beautiful and welcoming space.
Via Umbria also offers an extensive selection of Italian wines, many from lesser known regions. I was surprised by how affordable many of the bottles were.
I was invited to try one of Via Umbria’s Italian dinners highlighting cuisine from Liguria, a small coastal region in the Northeast part of the country near the border of France.
Dinner started out with a brief wine tasting of Ligurian wines for purchase to pair with dinner. I had never tried these varietals before, but enjoyed them both very much. We chose a bottle of the Pigato, which was light, crisp and refreshing.
We were also excited to find a very affordable bottle of Sciava that my friend Diane had recently recommended. This wine is beautiful, and if you ever see it you should definitely grab a bottle or five. It goes with practically anything, and is also pretty delicious on its own.
After choosing our wine, we went upstairs for dinner. The beautiful, bright space and gorgeous table piled with Ligurian antipasti was a true delight.
I loved the communal seating, which gave us the opportunity to chat with the other diners at the table. We sat next to a lovely couple from Denmark and across from the dinner’s host Alessandro Anfosso. Sharing food, wine and stories with fellow food lovers always makes me positively giddy.
Via Umbria’s head chef Johanna Hellrigl outdid herself with the night’s spread. The antipasti course consisted of baked mussels with pomodoro and Parmigiano Reggiano, tuna stuffed peppers, calamari and crostini with an assortment of spreads from Alessandro’s family company based out of Liguria.
The primo course offered a paste duo of traditional Pansotti ravioli in walnut sauce and Ligurian trofie pasta with sage pesto. The pesto was out of this world. We picked up a jar to recreate this dish at home.
For secondo, an involtini of salmon with olives and sun-dried tomatoes, served over spinach.
This may have been the first salmon dish I’ve ever eaten in its entirety, the sun-dried tomatoes and salty olives wooing me past my distaste for salmon.
After a dessert course of Italian cookies, we returned to the shop to shop some of the flavors we’d tasted at dinner and spent the entire ride home talking about everything we want to buy next time and events we want to try out.
If you’re looking to learn more about Italian cuisine or purchase hard-to-find Italian products, meats and cheeses you cannot go wrong with Via Umbria. Check out their upcoming eventspage for a list of upcoming wine tastings, cooking classes and special dinners.
About the Author Kacy Kish writes for Mezze Weekly in Washington, D.C. and with our readers she shares her own international culture experiences through food, drink, while highlighting cultural events and more to check out around the DC area. Kacy also writes for her blog, Bad Sentences where you can follow her own journey through food, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
The whole idea is ambitious and indicative of heart, but when Al Fini opened his It’s Italian market & cafe last year in east Austin his desire was for his customers to taste all of Italy when they stepped into his shop. Hallmarks of Italy you’ll find are Florentine style sandwiches like those from street markets in Tuscany, imported Italian coffees, specialty foods and cheeses, craft beers, and even hand-selected wine served and even bottled on the premises.
An entire wall of the market is covered in a large, curated collection of over 250 labels of hand-picked sparking, white and red wines from across Italy and Sicily. Everyone who walks in is greeted with café offerings such as draft beer on tap from Rome, a popular Italian espresso from Venice that makes up authentic coffee drinks, but it’s the sandwiches that really put the market experience over the top—authentic, intentionally-crafted Tuscan style panino Italiano.
“The whole idea of the menu is unique in that it’s something no one has done [in Austin]. Our panino is made in Italy by Italians, and we simply put it together,” Al explained, of his Antica style sandwiches that cities like Florence are known for. “You slice the tomatoes fresh, you slice your cheese fresh and don’t sacrifice the quality by pre-slicing. The handcrafting of the sandwich elements is very sensual, true to the Tuscan style of making panino.”
Like the panino makers of Florence which inspired Al when he opened his shop, a lot of time is taken to prepare each sandwich with precision—Florentine style panino is always sliced fresh, its ingredients layered methodically and hand-delivered with a sense of pride by its creator. At the cafe customers get cheese, vegetables and a spread of choice inside of fresh ciabatta in any of 7 sandwiches offered, using traditional Italian recipes and ingredients you won’t find at a regular shop, Al shared.
Panino sandwiches at It’s Italian include Prosciutto, Formaggi (3 Cheese), Salami, Caponata (Sicilian eggplant stew), choice Coppa, Tutti Carni (made with Prosciutto, Coppa, and Salami), and Bresaola, an Italian specialty air dried beef. Each sandwich is topped with real Italian extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, Sicilian herbs, and freshly ground sea salt.
Everything used in the market’s panino sandwiches can be found sold at the market. “We source the vegetables locally, but the prosciutto, for example, is sliced and packed in Parma, Italy where all prosciutto in Italy comes from, and we use a spicy calabresa [hot cherry pepper and oil] spread which is also imported and on the shelf. It’s quite amazing that people walk in and say ‘Oh wow, I haven’t seen this product anywhere.’”
On the menu at the market, customers can also find all kinds of appetizers and traditional Italian market salads served with fresh Italian bread, as well as aperitif and cocktails, wine by the glass, and authentic Italian coffee drinks like cappuccino and espresso. “It’s heaven to me. On the shelves, customers turn around and they find products from Sicily, and from every region of Italy. It’s very inviting and warm, not a huge place.”
In addition to a large selection of popular Italian coffees like Illy and Lavazza, on the shelves of the shop you’ll find a great selection of hand-picked Italian imports like olives, mushrooms, various cheeses and meats, pastas, soups, spices, as well as tomato, sauces and condiments, all essential ingredients to incorporating Italian cuisine at home as they are part of everyday life across Italy and Sicily.
Italian hospitality, whether it’s in Italy or Austin he says is about una passione grande—a great passion for food, wine, cooking, and coffee even at home. To Al, raised in Piedmont, a region in northwestern Italy bordering the Alps and known for its wine, food isn’t just a necessity but an art that wine beautifully complements, like it was for his family.
After growing up on a family farm and winery in Italy Al came to Austin in 1979, put himself through school and developed an acumen for the American way of business. After working in restaurants and opening his own (among them Austin’s former Café Roma and Uno 360 Trattoria before selling it in 2015), his Italian market and café is another labor of love.
“You’ll find just a few tables so you always feel welcome, like in Italy not just another store,” Al tells us of his hope for customers. “Everyone is valued, we take customer service to heart more than anything else. The staff, they call people by their first names, they know them and they’re always going to be a part of the family.”
It’s Italian hosts a free wine tasting every Friday at 6 pm. To learn more about the market visit its website.
When it comes to dining in Washington, DC, you’ll find a city filled with history and culture among a wide range of international options. In a city that’s the seat of embassies from around the world, it should be no surprise that these 6 prix-fixe options can offer a small taste of Europe, including Belgium, France, Italy and Russia. Here’s your chance to opt for a unique meal and enjoyable lunch or dinner in the The District, where you can take a European tour through these multi-course meals.
Belgium / Chef Bart Vandaele makes Tuesday’s fun with steaming hot pot of moules frites for just $16.95 at lunch or dinner. Or for $20 add a beer and truly enjoy your experience at DC’s original Belgian restaurant, Belga Cafe.
Italy / Grab a friend or date to join the family table of Chef Fabio Trabocchi’s restaurarant Casa Luca for a 3-course Italian dinner on Sundays from 5:00-6:30pm. Be a part of the familia for just $75 for two and dine on caesar salad and lasagna along with a bottle of wine and bomboloni (italian donut) for dessert.
Italy / In the continued spirit of ‘Sundays are for family,’ Fiola’s hosts a 4 Course dinner at their tables on Sunday’s, as well. From 5:00pm to 6:30pm you and your loved ones can enjoy four plates of Italian food along with a wine, while listening to live jazz music for $95 per person.
Italy / While you might also witness one of Ristorante Piccolo’s famous first dates and proposals, you’ll love to dine on its $13 prix fixe lunch menu. Its Pappa Al Pomodoro, a Tuscan tomato soup is a featured first course. The restaurant also offers a 3-course dinner special on Mondays through Thursdays from 4:30pm to 6:30pm, which includes a choice of three appetizers, seven entrees, with dessert for $22 per person.
Russia / Gourmet diners can join Russian restaurant Mari Vannafor its unlimited caviar bar on Thursdays starting at 5pm. For $29 per guest, you can enjoy a buffet of red caviar, assorted salads, stuffed and plain Blinis (thin buckwheat pancake-like cakes), as well as condiments and preserves. The restaurant is also famous for its infused vodkas and treats every buffet guest to a complementary shot. Plus, all black caviar is $10 off for those who want to upgrade their palate.
France / Thinking of catching a dinner and movie tonight? With the Angelica Theatre nearby to French-Mediterranean restaurant Requin helmed by Chef’s Mike Isabella and Jen Caroll, be sure to check out the restaurant’s $28 3-course prix fixe dinner menu available from 5:00pm to 6:30pm on Mondays through Thursdays. You’re dinner includes for each guest the choice of one spread or dip, a small plate as second course, and then one dessert. Note that the special requires full table participation.
Forget the popularity of latte art for a moment, and let’s explore the famed art of espresso. It’s considered the real coffee art in many parts of the world, especially in European countries, but to a degree seldom known or knowingly experienced by the everyday Joe—or cup thereof in the US. For American coffee aficionados in-the-know however, the difference of taste in filtered home brewed coffee versus the delicate intricacies of perfectly prepared espresso is like comparing hurried pencil scribbles with the distinction of a Monet—for the discerning eye, nose, and taste buds, the senses beholding espresso should be as discerning.
For those who don’t know espresso beyond its place on a shelf or a menu, the first difference is in the extraction: espresso coffee is extracted by forcing steam through a basket of tightly-packed, finely-ground coffee. To be consumed properly, espresso coffee is also served in small demitasse-style cupsand most popularly as single or double shot dosages.
Unlike its filter-brewed counterpart, drinking espresso coffee shouldn’t be about snuffing out a bad night’s rest, getting a caffeine fix or maintaining a kind of coffee high, but rather about maximizing flavor.
Here are seven things your taste buds should know when ordering or making your next espresso shot. Peer over your barista’s shoulder, or ask questions, but don’t settle for a bad espresso.
The origin of the coffee bean.
Find out how long your beans been roasted for in order to get the best flavor tones. If you like complex flavors like chocolate or caramel, then dark beans are for you, but if your palette prefers floral or fruit, then go for light roast espresso.
The age of the roast.
Who loves a day-old brew? You know, the kind you make and put in the fridge for later. Yeah, no one really. The same goes for weeks- or day-old roasted beans. Make sure you’re using freshly roasted coffee beans or capsules, whether you do it yourself, or trust your favorite local coffee spot to use quality beans.
The age of the grind.
If the beans can’t be roasted fresh, then the grind should be. Whether you’re making espresso at home or ordering somewhere local, it’s always best to grind the beans just before pulling the shot to get the freshest flavor. If you’re using espresso capsules at home, then the grind has been pretty much perfected for you.
The texture of the grind.
No one likes weak, watery anything so mind the grind. A grind that’s too coarse can result in a badly extracted espresso with sour aftertaste. Likewise, a shot that’s pulled from a grind that’s too fine can become over-extracted and result in a burnt and pretty bitter flavor. If you’re preparing a shot at home, then just make sure to check your settings on your own machine.
The ratio of espresso to water.
Illy, for example, holds x gram dose of espresso. You’ll need X ml to make a double—or dopio, as the Italians say—shot of espresso. For a home brew machine, make sure to fill the water reservoir as instructed. Make sure the filter has warmed up and a cup is preheated to ensure the best flavor.
The cleanliness of the basket.
Nothing taints the flavor of an espresso like an oily spout. If you’re watching your espresso come out like water in a kinked hose, then the portafilter basket probably needs cleaning. A well-kept local espresso spot will know to clean their baskets frequently to maintain a high-quality product. When it comes to your own machine, take note that your basket is clean and dry.
The cherry crema on top.
When pouring an espresso, you’ll want the crema, the peace crème de la resistance, the foamy grand finale of a perfectly brewed espresso to taste smooth and sweet. It’s recommended to keep your brewing time to about 30 seconds to achieve the best result.
Lastly, don’t forget a glass of water to cleanse your palette. When considering a place to have an espresso, whether at your table or in the neighborhood, proper technique is as much part of reputation as it is taste. Most people would accept a refund for a bad espresso, because hey, some places promise to ‘make it right’ or it’s F-R-E-E. But, if you really want an authentically prepared espresso shot, then you may not want to go to those places. Here’s a hint: if the espresso machine is displayed like a work of art rather than hidden behind a counter, then you’re probably in the right place.
Surely I’m not the only one that loves to live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain’s worldwide travels and culinary adventures, especially through his recent stories on the CNN Show, “Parts Unknown,” which airs Sunday’s at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
This last episode really excited me though because he traveled to his native state of New Jersey for a taste of its hometown cultural experiences. The story included a stop for Italian-American fare at the landmark Baltimore Grill in Atlantic City, which has been serving spaghetti and pizza for over 70 years.
“I’m here to feed my soul, the cultural wellspring that is New Jersey,” Bourdain said in his newest episode, and this is what really got me excited—references to local cultural experiences that can ignite curiosity, appreciation, value and hopefully love for what’s in our own backyard. And most importantly, for the unique people behind them so eager to share their heritage from abroad.
In one of his recent Tumblr posts, Bourdain references ‘Jersey Italian’ as being eternal to New Jersey culture. I had to Tweet back to the show about it when they featured the post—I’m not sure if it was seen, but that short reference to Italian heritage as part of the fabric of NJ culture spoke volumes to me.
His brother Chris Bourdain said in this recent article in the New York Post “I remember we were trying Japanese food and Indian food long before anybody had ever thought of such things,” he recalled. “It’s just what our parents were. They appreciated those kinds of things.”
How cool is that? That before Tony traveled the world so that travelers could feel like locals, he grew up exploring the world locally in his own city. Can’t wait to learn more when Bourdain comes to Austin in July. I’ve already got my ticket to see his show on July 9th. Check out his 2015 Tour Anthony Bourdain: Close to the Bone.
Personally, I’m hoping to learn more about how I can encourage more Americans to become cultural enthusiasts—to encourage them to get to know the world through the genuine international people and places around them.
In a CNN article supporting the episode, “Don’t trash Jersey until you’ve traveled it,” Cindy Y. Rodriguez, Special to CNN, wrote of six places to check out in New Jersey for a taste of local culture—among them, where Jersey City for a diverse food tour, and West New York for what she dubs “some of the best Hispanic food in the tri-state area.”
This episode was raw and real, which I love about every episode. Thank you, Mr. Bourdain. A first-generation American myself, I truly believe that inspiring people to view their own backyard as a ‘cultural wellspring,’ could do wonders for enabling people to bridge cultural divides, span cultural distances, and even overcome common travel barriers (half of Americans don’t have passports).
That’s what the idea behind MezzeCulture was in 2015 and now what Mezze Weekly represents as a travel magazine—inspiring new cultural and international experiences to love locally, and beyond the pages of lovely guide books and the media, but by stepping outside your front door. By exploring authentic local destinations for international culture expressed through food, drink, music and more.
One day, I hope to add New Jersey and other US cities to the list, as well as their wonderfully authentic destinations, and the stories of the people behind them. But, for now we’re working on building that community of cultural enthusiasts and destinations in 6 other cities—what are your favorite local cultural activities near you?
(image is courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)