February 27, 2007
Italian eats: Maremma and Johnny's Pizzeria
I haven't been in much of a mood to write lately. Maybe it's because it's been so cold in my room that retaining any mental stability requires wrapping oneself with a scarf and a jacket. I'd also wear gloves if I could type with them. No wait—it'd be much more convenient if I could inject thermal energy into my fingers. I suppose this is when one of those little portable heaters would come in handy, right next to my feet. I want my own miniature Sun. Containing the most powerful member of our solar system in my room is my ultimate dream...at the moment.
A week ago I ate at Maremma with Nick, a friend/reader of this blog. Some things you should know before I get into the "review" part of this entry (that's what I do, right?) is that the dinner was Nick's treat (as prices are a bit out of my range) and my food blogger-ness was revealed through the completely conspicuous act of whipping out my Rebel XT and taking a gazillion sub-par photos in the meager lighting. Nick volunteered this information so the restaurant would know that there was a reason behind my snapping away, which possibly annoyed others (I refrained from using flash, at the very least). We think that in response to my (weak!) food blogger title, we received a few complimentary dishes.
I don't intend on using my "status" in the future to see what extras it may incur (it's never happened to me before!), but I just thought you should know the special circumstances of the meal, especially when you find out that Nick and I shared four desserts. Hell, as much as I love desserts even I wouldn't order that many. (I think.) It was very unexpected and generous of Maremma to stuff us silly and we were thankful for it. However, I feel bad because I'm sure my review isn't going to be that special, especially when you're as unfamiliar with Italian food that lies outside the golden categories of "pizza" and "gelato" as I am.
So I'll try to make this fairly quick and painless, but won't succeed in either respect. Now, onto the eleven dishes we ate that night.
We started with strozzapreti—Swiss chard dumplings with guanciale (Italian bacon), onions and tomatoes—which translates to "priest choker". The story that our waiter regaled us with is that these babies were so good that while caught in the throes of deliciousness, the priest packing away the dumplings would forget about the necessity of chewing and choke. It's a heartwarming story for the whole family!!! Nick and I avoided esophagus-blockage by cutting the soft, light, doughy dumplings (not the stuffed type) into smaller pieces with our spoons and making full use of our teeth. I didn't detect much swiss chard flavor, but by now you should be used to my tastebuds not working unless they're hit with a blast of concentrated glucose or something. It's probably supposed to be subtle. Unfortunately, I don't remember much after only eating 1.5 dumplings. I could eat a mountain of this stuff, although that would've kill my appetite for the follow gazillion courses we ate.
We also shared the Pontormo, head chef Cesare Casella's signature salad of pancetta, lettuce and soft, scrambled egg. Have you ever had a warm salad with scrambled egg? Me neither. But how many people make salads with scrambled eggs (as opposed to the standard hard-boiled egg)? NOT ENOUGH. We must defeat this monstrosity of boring salads and add light plops of scrambled egg. Bits of pancetta don't hurt either, but it's more about the egg. CARESS THE GREENS WITH EGG, DAMMIT!
...Wow, I don't like the word "caress". Is that the name of a shampoo brand? Forget I said that.
One of our pasta dishes was piselli, hand-made gnocchi with peas, prosciutto and pecorino cheese. This was only the third time in my life that I've had gnocchi and each time it's been a little bit different. This was the lightest, most potato-y one I've had, kind of like chomping on little mashed potato babies playing in a puddle of chunky chopped peas and chopped proscuitto. You know, just like that! It was good, although I didn't like it as much as our other pasta dish.
No potato babies in the cinghiale—pappardelle with chocolate-wild boar sauce—just flat, wide, long noodles, not too soft with just a bit of bite. I'm starting to think that putting tender, juicy pork chunks in anything I eat will make me love it.
Our first impression of the pollo secondi, free-range chicken cooked under a brick with greens, was...that it was dry. Maybe someone left it under the brick for too long. We ate all of its rosemary-drenched poultry-ness but the word "DRY" pulsated in our minds the whole time. On the upside, the greens underneath the chicken were good; they were the opposite of dry.
Nothing was wrong with the pork. A pile of tender pork. Topped with some crispy pork skin strips, which I ate like candy (Krispy Pork Stix, Now With 100% More Saturated Fat!). The pork wasn't tender in the "fall at the poke of a fork tine" sense, but it was easily cut with a knife and released much pork juice from its porky sponge upon chewing. Mm, pork sponge...full of pork juice. We were lucky (and happy!) to receive the pork compliments of the chef, especially after the overly bricked chicken.
The mountain of crispy Tuscan fries was covered with thyme (I think) and whole roasted garlic. There wasn't a floppy fry in the bunch, just golden, tuberific perfection. There's no reason to pass up on these fries as fries are the perfect accompaniment to every meal (although a meal cannot consist solely of fries...or maybe it can). Eeevery meal. All other starches are sub-par.
And then it was onto the dessert buffet, also known as the best part of the meal.
Ever since I had panna cotta at Tarallucci i Vino, I've been addicted to the ivory blob of unspeakable dairy-based delights. I'm not addicted in the sense that I suffer withdrawal if I don't eat it for a long time (or else I'd be dead by now), but whenever I see panna cotta on a menu, I haaaave to get it. It's like vanilla-flavored jello pudding with the smoothness of of ganache, making it better than either jello, pudding, or ganache on its own. Mate the three textures and KAPOW (don't ask me why it goes "KAPOW", it just does), you have a bouncing baby panna cotta, eager to be demolished by your spoon. Maremma's version was lightly flavored, perhaps with some blood orange but I'm just guessing because it was garnished with little sections of blood orange and after a week I've forgotten what I've eaten. Oops.
It's really good. That's all you need to know.
Nick was more into his tapioca soaked in coconut milk with pomegranate seeds and raspberries. (Unfortunately I don't have the dessert menu descriptions on me, so I'm kind of making stuff up as I go. Haha! Thank god I'm not a professional.) I tried a bite and thought it was good, but not as appealing to me as panna cotta.
We were happilly stuffed by this point (okay, we were happilly stuffed before we even ordered dessert) but then two waiters came out bearing more desserts from the chef. After confirming that the desserts were for us (we wouldn't steal other people's desserts), I felt like I hit the best jackpot ever. The jackpot of sugar.
I willed my stomach into making more room for the semifreddo, which Nick and I deemed the best dessert of the bunch. The light slabs of semi-frozen mousse were enhanced with "omg what's this deliciousness?" bits of candied hazelnut. At least, I think that's what they were. Whatever they were, they propelled the semifreddo into the realm of "tasty magical thing".
We had passed on ordering the tiramisu since we thought it was too standard, but it's nice to try a really good version of a standard dessert. The cream was very...well, creamy, as opposed to fluffy and insubstantial, and complimented the light, just moist enough cake. Lucky for me it wasn't soaked in alcohol or else I wouldn't have enjoyed it.
I left the restaurant in a state of semi-waddlage and slight stomach distension. Totally worth it, of course. I owe a gazillion thanks to Nick and all the gracious people at Maremma—the waiters, the maître d' and Cesare. THANK YOU FOR STUFFING ME SILLY!
Why am I adding Johnny's Pizzeria to an entry that started with Maremma (as opposed to talking about Momofuku Ssam Bar, Australian Homemade, Chickpea, or other places I could talk about but will have to come later)? Because they're both Italian! Ish. Yes. In different ways. Otherwise, they're very different. But at least both times I was treated by someone else. :]
Last Friday while the Serious Eats crew toiled away at their Apple computers with huge-ass flatscreen monitors (if you're gonna sit in front of a computer all day, may as well make it as nice as possible!), Adam and Ed came upon the horrible realization that there was a highly regarded pizzeria not far away in Westchester that neither of them had tried. For the non-pizza obsessed, Adam is the creator of the pizza blog Slice and Ed wrote a book about pizza, Pizza: Slice of Heaven. They're serious about their pizza. Finding a good pizzeria for them is like an astronomer discovering a new star. Or some other important thing in space. (After taking astronomy during freshman year, it became clear that astronomy was not my forte.)
Which is why we piled into a Zipcar and drove up and out of Manhattan to visit a little pizzeria in Mount Vernon that was tucked away in a small shopping center where one could conveniently rid their clothing of filth while munching on pizza or Mexican food.
The small family-run restaurant (our waitress was the niece of the proprietor) was fully decked out in baseball memorabilia. Everywhere. Baseball-phobics are not allowed.
We started with a white pie, aka crust covered with cheese. Why have I never had a white pie before? It's awesome! CHEESE! AND BREAD! SMOOSHED TOGETHER! None of that silly tomato stuff. As I've never had a white pie before I don't know how it compares to others, but Adam and Ed looked very please with it. The chewy, crispy crust was thin without being insubstamtial and it had no problem holding up the even layer of sweet mozzarella cheese. It was a great crust. I still think about it. In my pizza-laden dreams.
We also shared a sausage pie, which was happily (for me, at least) light on the toppings with a thin layer of cheese. I hate it when pizza is heavily loaded with toppings so that you can't pick up a slice without being punished by an avalanche of toppings.
We split two wedges (heros/subs/grinders in Westchester speak), chicken parm and veal parm. I liked the soft, lightly chewy bread. And the fried, breaded meat. And the smothering of cheese and tomato sauce. I guess I liked it all. Am I too easy to please?
Because Ed likes da eatin's, he ordered three desserts for us to share. I think I enjoyed it the most (Adam didn't even eat any!). Maybe too much. God knows how many times I moaned the words, "Mmm...dessert....sugarrr...pudding...chocolate...caaaake..." in various permutations. My personality changes when faced with desserts, especially when there's more than one in front of my face and I can taste them all one after another just by lazily moving my spoon an inch to the left or the right. It's too much, man. But I love it.
Rice pudding is one step above normal pudding. Why does rice make it better? It gives it more substance in the form of carby goodness, making it kind of solid and creamy at the same time. It's even better with a mountain of whipped cream. (Actually, I enjoy all desserts with a mountain of whipped cream.)
The toasted almond cream cake was exactly what the name entailed. Airy cake. Smothered with light cream. Injected with toasted almonds. Altogether, not too heavy or sweet, meaning you could probably eat a lot of it without feeling like death (unlike, say, a slice of coconut cream cake). I want more, more!
I would've liked the caramel pecan fudge cake more if it had been more moist and contained more chocolate and caramel. Of course, I still enjoyed it and ate too much. Why can't I resist desserts? Whyyyyy?
As much as I wanted to finish everything, I was on the verge of exploding and decided to practice a bit of self restraint. "Robyn, put the spoon down. DOWN. PUT. IT. DOWN. Those extra pudding calories won't be worth it! Remember, DIABETEEEES."
Sigh. Man, my life is ridiculously easy if my primary conflict is whether or not to finish a dessert.
Sometimes people ask me what my favorite food blogs are. There are a few, one of which I'll point out now. Although Mike, the original author of Twenty bucks a day has changed locales (er, to Switzerland!), his blog lives on in the hands of his friend Dave. So no panicking. We will still get advice and reviews for awesome cheap eats in NYC. I'd want to visit all the places in this blog (because I can afford it without guilt, weehee!) but have been too lazy to actually like...do it. If anyone wants to go to a TBAD approved place, bring me along!
There's currently a discussion about macarons in NYC in the forum. A hunt is in the future. Yes. We're gonna try to hit everything in one day, if that's possible. Everyone should come bask in our macaron feast.
Coming up soon is a little Paris guide as requested by blog reader, Triphena. I'll do it soon since I want to do it before I go to Paris and...
I AM GOING TO PARIS IN 10 DAYS OMG!!!!!
Still haven't planned out my week of vacation, but it's getting there. I'm gonna be a blob by the time the week is over. Oh dear.
Lastly, my currently favorite site is I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?.
Posted by roboppy at 11:23 PM
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