Monthly Archives: December 2012

Campiello–Naples, FL

Whenever we come to Naples to visit my parents, we always request a trip to our favorite Italian restaurant, Campiello.  Campiello is one of the most popular restaurants in Naples and for good reason.  It has tons of outdoor seating in the form of a front patio and a back courtyard and delicious Italian food.  I have been to Campiello probably 10 times and have always had a great experience.

When my family and I went a few nights back, we sat outside on a semi chilly night, but were warmed up quickly by some warm space heaters!  We were informed by our waiter that the menu had just changed a week ago and we were delighted to see some new and tasty looking appetizers and entrees.

To start, my sisters and I split the tuna tartare and house-cured salmon appetizers.  The tuna tartare was a generous portion of freshly minced tuna, topped with sheep’s milk ricotta cheese, olives and a parmesan cracker.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect with the combination of ricotta cheese and tuna, but to my surprise, it worked really well.  I also enjoyed the olives and fried capers that were served alongside the tartare because they added a nice salty bite to the fresh fish.

The house-cured salmon was also quite tasty. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as the tartare, I would definitely order it again.

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The salmon had a slight smoky flavor, was thinly sliced and topped with a citrus vinaigrette.  Campiello also added some thinly sliced fennel that added nice anise flavor and a contrasting crunchy texture.

My parents split a stuffed pasta as their appetizer and said it was the best pasta they had ever eaten at Campiello.

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I was able to snag a bite of one of these angolotti and would have to agree that it was up there among my favorite pasta dishes at Campiello.  The noodle dough was homemade and extremely tender and the dumplings themselves were stuffed with prosciutto and swiss chard.  If that wasn’t enough, the chef drizzled on a parmigiano fonduta that added creaminess and great flavor to the dish.  While all of that was delicious, my favorite part of the dish was probably the jus that was served alongside the angolotti.  It was a beef jus that had tons of flavor and lots of complexity.  After the pasta was eaten, we all were dipping bread into the sauce to soak up as much flavor as we could.

For our entrees, Sarah and I split a fish dish and a pasta dish.  As good as Campiello is at pasta, they are equally as good at fish.  I think finding a partner to split a fish and pasta dish is the perfect approach to a meal here!  The pasta we ordered was a potato gnocchi served in a saffron cream sauce with rock shrimp, shredded zucchini and burrata cheese.

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The sauce was actually reminiscent of a paella thanks to the saffron and shrimp.  The saffron was also responsible for the beautiful yellow color of the sauce.  We all commented that the gnocchi in this dish was probably the lightest and most fluffy gnocchi that we had ever had.  For the most part I thought that the other elements of the dish worked really well too.  The raw zucchini were a nice addition because they added a crisp little bite.  However, while I love burrata cheese on its own, I didn’t think it added anything to the dish itself.  Perhaps if there was more of it and I could enjoy it with more bites it would have been good with the dish?  Otherwise, it sort of felt like an afterthought (a really delicious afterthought though!). 

For our fish, we opted for the branzino, which is Mediterranean sea bass.  The fish was served with a celery root puree, sliced fingerling potatoes and a rosemary vinaigrette.

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This fish was served with the skin still on, which usually I am not a fan of, but quite enjoyed it in this dish.  Sometimes, I think the skin can add a fishy tasty that I don’t like, but somehow this didn’t have any trace of that.  In addition to the skin being tasty, the fish itself was mild and perfectly cooked.  The celery puree was also quite good and I dipped each bite of fish into it.  My only complaint about this dish was that it felt pretty heavy.  The fish was cooked in butter or olive oil . . the potatoes, while good, were drenched in olive oil . . then there was a creamy puree . . . and finally everything was topped with a rosemary vinaigrette.  While everything was great tasting, by the end of the meal, it felt like my mouth was coated with oil.  I think the simple addition of some acid would go along way in this dish.

For their entrée, my parents also shared the branzino and enjoyed it quite a bit.  Kate was the only one who didn’t share and she went with an old favorite – the homemade fresh tagliatelle with a spicy lamb sausage bolognese.

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Campiello truly shines with its homemade fresh pastas.  I don’t know what is different about it, but it is always some of the best pasta I have ever had.  The sauce on this dish, which Kate was nice enough to left me taste a few times, was spicy and full of lamb.  It struck a nice balance between being spicy, yet not over the top.  Kate couldn’t quite finish her pasta at the restaurant, so opted to bring some home in a doggybag.  About an hour later, she was digging into the leftover because she couldn’t stop thinking about how good it was!  That is a true testament to how good it was!

It was another great meal at Campiello and if you are in the Naples, Florida area, I highly recommend checking this authentic, wonderful Italian restaurant out!

Christmas Eve Scallops in a Buerre Blanc Sauce

I was recently reading an article that discussed what Americans eat on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Some of the most popular dishes included honey baked ham, turkey, lasagna, meatloaf and prime rib.  I think that these foods make a lot of sense if you have large parties with lots of relatives because big roasts and hams are impressive and feed a lot of people.  For example, Tommy has large families on both his mom and dad’s side, so when he celebrates Christmas, I would expect to see a lot of the above mention menu items (plus some pierogi and kielbasa to honor his family’s Polish heritage! Yum!).

My family’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebration is much more low key than this!  While I have a very big extended family, we are all scattered across the country and don’t see each other over the Christmas holiday.  Instead, my immediate family of five celebrates together in Naples, Florida.  While we don’t get to enjoy a whole prime rib, we still enjoy delicious tasting food.

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On Christmas Eve this year, we had our pick – pan seared scallops or grilled ribeye steak.  My mom, dad and Kate all opted for the steak and Sarah and I choose scallops.  While I know the steaks were delicious, as evidence from the three of them eating every last bite, I am so happy that I went with scallops.  In particular these scallops – which I seared in hot butter and served with more butter in the form of a buerre blanc sauce.  Butter on top of butter on top of scallops? You know you can’t go wrong there.

We served our scallops with a baked potato, fresh asparagus and Yorkshire pudding (a requirement for Kate when she eats steak).  These scallops would also be wonderful over a rice pilaf to absorb more of the buerre blanc.

Whatever you did on Christmas Eve, I hope you spent it with people you love!

Seared Scallops in Buerre Blanc Sauce – Serves 4 (Inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs fresh bay scallops (they should smell sweet and like the sea)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 8 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 TB chives, minced
  • 2 TB of olive oil
  • S+P

Directions:

To make the buerre blance sauce, add the white wine, vinegar, shallots thyme and bay leaves to a medium sauce pan.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer.  Reduce by half or until it is approximately 1/2 cup of liquid.  Strain the liquid and return the pan.  Over medium heat, add 3/4 stick of butter or 6 tablespoons.  Stir until combined.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes until it reduces further.  Add the cream and cook everything together for another 8-10 minutes.  You want it to have a thick, sauce-like consistency and coat the back of a wooden spoon. IMG_6890

When the sauce has finished cooking, set aside while you cook the scallops.  The key to cooking scallops is making sure they are very dry before they hit the pan.  Any excess liquid could make the scallops steam while in the pan, and you want them to sear in order to caramelize the sugars in the scallops and get a beautiful crust on the outside.  In order to dry them thoroughly, place them on a paper towel lined plate and blot the tops with another paper towel.  Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, get a large sauté pan over medium heat going.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan.  You want to get the butter and olive oil mixture going so that it is just barely smoking.  At this point add your scallops.  It is important to not overcrowd the pan, because this could result in steaming as well.  I think that for a large pan, you can safely fit about 10-15 scallops depending on the size.  Just make sure they aren’t touching each other.

Cook for 1-2 minutes, depending on their size (mine only needed 1 minute).  Once they have a nice brown crust on the outside, flip them and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

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The scallops are finished cooking when they are brown on the outside and translusent on the inside.

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Serve immediately and top with the pan juices, warmed buerre blanc sauce and chopped chives.

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I also served more buerre blanc sauce at the table.  It went great with the potatoes, on its own while I dipped my finger directly in the serving dish, and with the asparagus.  It may not have been a big honey glazed ham, but this was one of the best Christmas Eve meals in memory!

Dinner at Chez Boet–Naples, FL

Now that my parents are retired, they get to spend about six months of the year in Naples, Florida.  My sisters, Tommy and I are fortunate enough to get to visit them a couple of times a year.  Not only is all the golfing we get to do wonderful, but my parents often treat us to delicious meals out in Naples.

On our most recent visit down to Naples, we checked out a restaurant that was knew-to-me, called Chez Boet.  As the name implies, Chez Boet is French restaurant.  It is actually owned by a French family and has a very authentic feel to it.  We even saw a few dogs eating dinner on the terrace – how Parisian!

The food is classic French bistro cuisine with favorites like escargot, steak frites, bouillabaisse and duck l’orange.  They also had a nice wine list that included both French and worldly reds and whites.  One of the other things that I liked about the wine list is that it listed wines by price range and had about eight whites and eight reds all for under 40 dollars.  My family ordered one red and one white wine.  The red we ordered was a Malbec from Argentina.  It was full bodied and dry and very delicious!

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For the white wine, we took our waiter’s recommendations and ordered a Sauvignon Blanc from France.  It was light, very easy drinking and was the perfect complement to the hot Naples night!

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In addition to getting a recommendation on the wine, the waiter also guided us on what the best items on the menu were.  To start, we ordered some escargot and a salad to split amongst the table.

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The salad was actually a little on the bland side.  It had some interesting ingredients including goat cheese and chickpeas, but needed some salt and I thought that the dressing was on the watery side.  The escargot on the other hand was absolutely delicious and some of the best I have ever had.  I find that sometimes the garlic that comes in the escargot butter sauce can overpower the whole dish.  Chez Boet’s escargot had just the right amount of garlic in its sauce.  The snails were also perfectly cooked and so tasty.

For our entrees, my mom, Kate and I split two dishes – the Yellow Tail Snapper en Papillotte and the Bouillabaisse.  My dad ordered the Moules Frites.

The Yellow Tail Snapper en Papillotte was wonderful.  Cooking fish “en papillotte” means roasting it with seasonings and a little liquid (think stock or citrus juice) in a parchment paper purse.  This gently steams the fish while infusing it with the flavorings of whatever you cook it with!

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The gentle steaming of the fish made this yellow tail so tender and flakey and it was full of flavor.  Chez Boet also served the fish with some roasted vegetables (including bok choy which was both different and delicious!) and saffron rice.  Between my sister, my mom and I, there was not a single bite left on this plate!

We equally enjoyed Chez Boet’s Bouillabaisse which was chock full of fresh local seafood and had incredible depth of flavor in the seafood stock.

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This was a huge portion and although we were able to eat all of the seafood and potatoes in the dish, we regrettably had to leave behind some of the stock! I have no idea how Chez Boet got such a flavorful, mild and well balanced stock.

From the bites that I stole of my dad’s Moules Frites, or mussels with crispy French fries, I can tell you that this is definitely a dish I would order in the future.

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The mussels were fresh and very well cooked.  We think the key to the mussels was that they were cooked just until they opened and were not overcooked.  Overcooking mussels can lead to them being gummy and unappealing, and these mussels were definitely not that!  The French fries were also the perfect texture with a crispy exterior and a soft interior!  They were the perfect accompaniment to the broth that comes with the mussels!

To end the meal, we opted to do as the French would and split a cheese plate.  Chez Boet’s cheese plate included a rich Roquefort cheese, a tangy goat cheese and a creamy brie.  A couple of bites of each cheese was a great way to end the meal!

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I know that there are an abundance of wonderful restaurants in Naples (I hope to do a post on a couple others that I have enjoyed in my time here), but I would highly recommend checking out Chez Boet.  Everything about this restaurant was so authentically French – from the French speaking waiters, to the French couple that owns the restaurant, to the traditional French bistro food offerings!

 

Nightmare at Christmas at iNG

As I wrote about last month, my sisters, Ben and I went went to a Martin Scorsese themed dinner at iNG Restaurant.  We loved it so much that I convinced Tommy that we had to go back for iNG’s interpretation of the movie Nightmare at Christmas.  Our dinner was just as delicious and fun as it was during the Scorsese night and it kicked off the start of the Holiday season.

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When we sat down, we were handed the above menu that featured six savory courses and four sweet courses.  The first course was called Jack’s Lament, which ended up being one of our favorite dishes of the night.

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This dish was served in a big glass bowl (as the first course was during our last trip to iNG) and featured an oyster mushroom bao in a dashi broth.  What you see on top of the bao is some perfectly cooked and flavorful octopus.  For those who don’t know, bao are basically steamed bread-like balls that are filled with meats or vegetables. They are popular in Chinese dim sum.

Next on the list was a dish that iNG called Thanksgiving Town.  Thanksgiving town

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Thanksgiving Town featured three sweet potato “puffs” that were each stuffed with a different filling that included sage, cardamom and caraway.  I loved all the fillings and don’t think I could pick a flavor.  The rest of the dish included marshmallow crackers and caramel crumble that you see on the bottom.  Although there were a lot of sweet elements to this dish, it was definitely savory at the same time.  I thought iNG struck just the right balance.

Up next was our absolute favorite dish of the night which was called Pumpkin King.

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The generous portion of meat that you see on the metal hand is a tender piece of pork belly that iNG marinates for three days then cures.  It was the most tender and flavorful piece of pork belly I have ever had.  Alongside the pork belly, iNG served a pumpkin gastrique with crispy shallots.  The flavor of the gastrique and the texture of the crispy shallots complemented the dish beautifully.

It should be noted that every other dish has a beer/wine/cocktail pairing at iNG (plus we got some welcome prosecco).  Some of the drinks were extra special and I thought that the pork belly dish was paired with one.  iNG’s mixologist prepared a rum and pumpkin cider concoction that they called Toil and Trouble.

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This was sweet, but not over the top, and the pumpkin flavors complemented the pumpkin gastrique that was served with the pork belly.

Next up, iNG served up a dish called Lab of Dr. Frankenstein, which was a soup course.  They say that you can assess the caliber of a chef by the soup they create and I would say that this soup definitely lived up to Hamaru Cantu’s reputation.

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To go with the Lab of Dr. Frankenstein theme, our spicy carrot soup was served in little beakers.  To top off the soup, there was a carrot chip that we used to dip into the soup.

The next course was definitely the most “out there” and was called Frog’s Breath.  iNG served a frog leg as part of this dish and it was the first time Tommy or I had every eaten frog.

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We actually enjoyed the frog a lot. I am not sure if I would order it in a restaurant or go seeking it out again, but it was tasty and worked well in this dish.  The flavor is somewhere between a fish and a gamey meat and the texture is just like dark meat chicken.  The idea behind the rest of this dish is that you are supposed to get all the flavors of a beef bourguignon in one bite.  Some of the best components of this included wine braised short rib and a caramelized peal onion.

The last savory course is what iNG called Holiday Trees and highlighted dishes from some of the major holidays of each year.

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From left to right was a deviled quail egg from NY day, potato hash for St. Patrick’s day, “candy corn” for Halloween, a Thanksgiving bite that featured roasted duck, cranberry sauce and potato and finally a watercress salad for Christmas.  I liked every bite on the plate, especially the deviled eggs and thought this was a nice way to finish the savory part of the meal.

As I mentioned above, the last four courses were of the sweet variety.  To kick things off, iNG served a dish called Jack in Christmas Town.

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The little snowman you see above were made out of a lime sorbet and were surrounded by some lime and gin flavored gel cubes.  This dish served as a nice pallet cleanser and the lime sorbet was especially delicious.  This was also the point of the meal that Tommy and I ate miracle berries and started to “flavor trip.”  As I described in my last post about iNG, flavor tripping is done by eating a spoonful of miracle berry that changes your taste buds and turns sour foods into sweet ones.  We took a bite of the lime sorbet before and after tripping and it made a big difference.  Our first bite, without the miracle berry was almost too tart, but afterwards, it had the perfect amount of sweetness!

Next up was a dish called Roasting on an Open Fire that featured a chestnut bread pudding and chestnut ice cream.

IMG_6723 This dish was extra special, because in addition to being delicious, it also was accompanied by a smell of freshly roasted chestnuts.

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The waiter came over and gently toasted some chestnuts tableside.  The smell was absolutely amazing and I think added to the experience nicely.

Being the chocolate lover that I am, the next dish, which was called Jack’s Return, was a highlight for me.

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The chocolate bar that you see above was flavored with bay leaf and mulberries, which sounds like a bizarre combination, but as with most things at iNG, worked really well.  The bay leaves that flavored the chocolate provided a really nice balance to the super rich chocolate bar.  iNG also served this dish with a drink that they called Making Christmas and it included an egg nog, whiskey and cinnamon mixture.

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I absolutely love egg nog and the almost smoky whiskey worked so well in it.  I could have had a giant glass of this, but had to settle for a few sips (which is probably good for my waistline too!).

The final dish of the night was actually my least favorite.  It was a called Sandy Claws and featured some cinnamon, tangerine and chocolate gelatin cubes.

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While the presentation was lovely, the texture of these were not my favorite.  Perhaps if you were a big Jello fan, you would enjoy this dish, but given that I am not, it was a little too much.  I am thankful that my least favorite dish came at the very end because at this point I was incredibly full.

Overall, it was a fantastic meal with great service and food.  iNG continues to impress me with its inventive and creative food ideas.  Each experience leaves me wanting more and excited to come back for a different themed dinner!

Grape Tomato and Arugula Pasta

During the summer months, I generally like to incorporate fresh produce, that I get at the farmers market, into my nightly meals.  There is nothing that tastes better than a local tomato in August or fresh asparagus in May.  Because the taste of fruits in vegetables are so wonderful when they are in season and in their prime, I find myself craving these foods during that time.

Right now in Chicago there are still vegetables and fruits that you can get locally.  Kale and other dark leafy greens as well as various squashes are still being grown.  I love these foods and use them often in the winter.  They work well in soups, pasta dishes, on their own as sides and in many other dishes.  However, sometimes I also want to cut back on their hearty flavors and enjoy some fresh and light “summer” flavors.

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One way to get pretty decent tomato flavor out of season is by using grape tomatoes.  I think mine came from Mexico.  And while I am sure Mexico, and other climates like it, export all varieties of tomatoes, I find that the ones that hold up the best to a longer travel time are grape tomatoes.  The flavor certainly isn’t equivalent to a local summer tomato, but I think it works well in a fresh tomato pasta sauce, which is how I used it here.

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When combined with high quality olive oil, lightly sautéed garlic, fresh lemon zest and spicy red pepper flakes, the tomatoes help form the base of a really delicious sauce.

And to up the nutritional value of this dish, I added tons of fresh arugula in at the end of the cooking process.  It was slightly wilted but still maintained its peppery flavor.

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It was slightly wilted but still maintained its peppery flavor.  Finally, finish the entire dish with a generous portion of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese.  The cheese binds to the pasta and makes the sauce slightly creamy.

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Grape Tomato and Arugula Pasta – Serves 4-6 (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta of choice (I had this large macaroni on hand, but penne, orecchiette, or rigatoni would work well)
  • 5-6 cups fresh arugula
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup EVOO (good quality is key!)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 TBs fresh lemon zest
  • S+P to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

Directions

Bring a large part of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup water prior to draining the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large sautee pan over medium low heat.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 5-6 minutes on low until the garlic is softened, but not browned.  Add the lemon zest and salt and pepper directly to the oil and cook for another 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes.  Cook for 5 minutes until the tomatoes just about break down, but still maintain their shape.

Turn the heat to medium high and add the cooked pasta to the pan and coat evenly with the oil.  Add the arugula and cook everything together for 1 minute.  Finally add the cheese and mix to combine.  If the sauce looks a little dry, add some or all of the reserved pasta water.

Serve on a large platter with more parmesan cheese.

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When I finally got this delicious dish to my plate, I made sure to get a bit of everything in one bite.  The ingredients work so well together, that you would be well advised to do the same!  Enjoy!!

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