Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bertolli's Into the Heart of LA {Part Two}

We've moved to - you'll be redirected to this post in a moment.

If you are jumping in to part 2, this past weekend I was part of an amazing culinary tour of Los Angeles put on by Bertolli.  We tasted all kinds of authentic Italian cuisine and met the most amazing restaurant owners and chefs.  This was really a once in a lifetime experience.  And I am extremely grateful to have been a part of it. 

Click here for {part 1}  

{stop 4}

We left off in part 1 with a visit to a fresh pasta restaurant.  Our next stop was right across the way, Il Norcino Salumeria, still in The Market at Santa Monica Place.  To my delight, we were now going to get to taste some Italian cheeses.  Also owned by Piero Selvaggio, this cheese bar offers a crazy assortment of cheeses, cured meats and accompaniments like olives and this kick ass chutney made from red pepper and vanilla beans.  Seriously, look in to it.  We met Jhems (pretty sure he is the only non-Italian in this operation.  His real name has to be James, but when said with a charming Italian accent it becomes Jhems.) the cheese monger and he told us a little bit about what the store has to offer and what we were sampling.  What?  More prosecco?  I thought you'd never ask.  We tasted a selection of meats, my fave being the Speck.  Stacie introduced us to Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine.  I've had it before but this time I learned something new.  Once thought to be a laughable by wine aficionados, the bubbles serve a purpose when paired with food.  When eating oily meats (when I read that back it sounds really unappetizing but we all know that salamis and prosciuttos are the sh*t) Lambrusco cleans the pallet and removes any left over residue.  We did a little test of our own and it was rad.  Totally worked.  I am thinking about brushing with it instead of the usual paste going forward.  They have a counter, similar to what you might find at a sushi bar and you can do tastings guided by the knowledgeable staffers.  I 100% plan on coming back to do a wine and cheese pairing in the very near future.  With a driver.  Have I mentioned how much I liked being driven around?   

This was such a great group of people.  I'm so lucky to have been apart of this group.  I learned from each of these amazing people and can't wait until our paths cross again.  From the back row, left to right:

Romy, me, chef Nico, Kristina, Chef Fernando, Andrea, Piero Selvaggio, Stacie {back row, left to right}
Adam, Melanie, Amir, Chrystal {front row, left to right}

Jhems mentioned that they have a cheese there that was eaten by Marie Antoinette...I'm putting it on my list of things to do. 

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My college internship and first job out of school were right off 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica mere steps from our next stop, Cafe Bellagio.  I have passed this cafe tons of times (okay, well not that many because I could only handle the commute for 4 months before I gave up my show business dreams) but never been in.  Marco, the owner, was so warm and happy to have us.  He explained the difference between ice cream and gelato (ice cream uses cream,  gelato uses more milk and is more airy) and also that they are served at different temperatures.  Chef Minutz made us vanilla and strawberry to try.  We were told that he had perused the local farmer's market that morning and decided to make it for us.  Yeah, especially for us.  I am not a vanilla girl.  Nor am I a strawberry girl for that matter.  With both of these, though, I wanted to sing-talk a cheesey, deep voiced boy-band interlude; something like: "Strawberry.  You so sweet.  You make my knees weak.  Forget about all that whack stuff I said about you.  Let's do this."  My visit was wrapped up pretty quick with a true LA moment.  I can only describe it as a habitat-challenged woman descending on the vats of fresh gelato like a moth to a flame.  Who can blame her?  But! I never saw her eat it.  I only saw her make some sort of gelato soup with a Styrofoam cup she had and some leftover water on the table.  Marco, God bless him, was as gracious with her as with us.  And we all left on our next adventures.  Us, to our last stop on the Bertolli LA tour, the women??? 

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I'm just going to start this off by saying Mamma, of Osteria Mamma, is HOT!  A total looker.  But it doesn't stop there, because Mamma also kicks ass in the kitchen.  As we had been eating our way through Los Angeles all day, many of those on the tour were showing signs of full stomachs.  I was good.  I had leggings on, I was ready to go.  And the deal was that we were going to wrap up with a few small plates here and then head on home.  Mamma had other ideas.  We met Mamma and her son Phillipo and they told us a about their neighborhood restaurant. It is a family run operation with Mamma at the helm in the kitchen and Phillipo handling the rest.  There was so much pride about their business and love for the family members that we immediately felt welcome and well taken care of.  We started off with -GET OUT!- more prosecco and an appetizer plate of sweet, fresh figs and crostini with prosciutto nestled on a bed of unicorn horns and rainbows.  Ok, not really.  I'm not sure if I ever got the whole story but the spread on the bread was something to do with butter and herbs and marscapone.  It was divine!  Mamma was having fun with us and sent out several more dishes than were expected.  Next we had a frisse salad with the sweetest oranges I have ever had (and I live in Orange County, people) and scallops with just the lightest touch of balsamic vinegar.  WORD. TO. YOUR. MOTHER.  Yum.  The next course freaked me out a little bit.  Fried sardines.  I have fond memories of sardines.  My grandpa used to order them on his pizza so no one would share with him.  But I have never had one.  Until now.  I had no idea what to do with it so I watched one of the more seasoned foodies at the table to see how she handled it.  Turns out, you just eat it, bones and all.  While the flavor was much more pleasing than expected, those bones through me for a loop.  But this was not a miss for the restaurant, I blame that all on my mouth.  

And then it happened.  When asked, "what is the best dish you've ever eaten?" I can confidently answer Gnocchi al Porcini from Osteria Mamma.  I wish I knew more about what was in it but it put me in such a stupor that I couldn't even ask any questions.  This is how I remember the dish:  succulent ground chicken in a silky cream sauce mixed with the most delicate, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi in all the land lightly flecked with fresh herb.  Blessed be the gnocchi.  Served with a risotto of figs and gorganzola! and tender asparagus tips.  Why are you so far from me, Mamma?! The hour drive would be well worth it for this meal.  We wrapped up with more tiramisu - Yum, yum, double yum.  As I mentioned before I am interested in wines, although at this point, I'm still very much a novice.  When Phillipo (who incidentally went to sommalier school wtih Stacie) brought out a sparkling Moscato for us to try with dessert, I thought I had left this world.  The smell alone was intoxicating.  It was very sweet and had this amazing orange flavor that is like nothing I have ever tasted.  If that is the only thing I had sampled the whole day, it would have been enough.  Sucks to find out that it is very hard to come by.  But I will prevail! 

Mamma jumped out of the busy kitchen to take a picture with us.  It was the perfect end to a very delicious meal and day.    

The very generous folks at Bertolli sent us home with some product.  Even though everyone in the van was stuffed, we couldn't wait to use our new goodies.  When I woke up the next morning, wishing for a cornetti or 4, I came across Anthony Bourdain.  It was an episode on Italian cooking.  It echoed everything I heard from each of the chefs from the day before.  Although I was pissed that I was going to have to cook for myself again, I knew that with my new products I could continue the experience at home. 

While the "quality" of the rest of my ingredients was questionable, I knew Bertolli wouldn't disappoint.  I had not had any of their frozen meals for quite some time due to my son's food allergies (I only cook a meal that all of us can eat and the ones I remember had dairy)  But this Tuscan Braised Beef was safe for him!  I can't think of an easier meal to put together.  In the 12 minutes it took to cook the main course, I was also able to slice a rosemary loaf and toss a quick caprese salad.  Boom. 

I may not have the fancy dinner ware from some of the places we encountered on our culinary tour, but I had my family and a good meal.  That is truly all that matters. 

I know that the last party really sounds like a corny commercial, but seriously,  these meals are crazy good.  Before learning how to cook for my son's allergies, I was the queen of the quick meal.  Bertolli's frozen dinners were a staple of mine.  While I was given a coupon for the frozen meal and the olive oil, these opinions are all mine.

all photos are mine. 

1 comment:

the actor's diet said...

i'm so jealous you met momma!!! i eat there all the time.


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