Thursday, June 23, 2011

San Giovanni Caffe

Directly across the street from St John's Co-Cathedral In Valletta, Malta, you can find a decent meal and some shade. Prices looked a bit high but main courses come with a salad and fries, so it turns out to be a good value. Don’t let the people hawking the restaurants put you off, it seems to be the custom here, and with four or more restaurants in the same small square, a necessary evil employed by the restaurant owners to keep ahead of the competition.
DSC08665 DSC08668 DSC08671                               I couldn't resist trying the traditional Maltese dish of Beef Olive, what I had assumed was beef involtini stuffed with olives. Wrong, there were no olives to be seen or tasted but there was ground beef, ham, eggs and onions wrapped by sliced beef in a curiously round shape. Did they think it looked like an olive? It was braised in a tomato sauce with carrots and peas, all overcooked but tasty. I guess the overcooked peas are part of the British influence; you see quite a few steaks and mixed grills being offered in Maltese restaurants.
DSC08744 DSC08745                          You also see quite a few pizze and hamburgers, but when tourism is so much a part of the economy, you see them, no matter where you are. It still surprises me that people want something familiar in a foreign country, when they could be trying local dishes and immersing themselves into the local culture. Isn’t that what travel is all about?
I cannot recall the exact name of this pasta dish, but the little purses, as they were described on the menu, were stuffed with Gorgonzola and covered in a Gorgonzola cream sauce. You could tell by this dish that Malta has been closely associated with Italy and Sicily.
DSC08753 DSC08667 DSC08751DSC08748                          For lunch the following day I tried their rabbit, since it appeared to be the national dish. It was braised in a wine sauce that included garlic and black pepper. Very nice and it came with the "chips" (French fries) and salad just as my other entree had.
DSC08673                         The chocolate and walnut torte was decadent enough to finish the meal, but not sweet enough to spoil it.
San Giovanni Caffe
St John Square
Valletta, Malta

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cafe Caravaggio in Valletta Malta

Spending five nights in one city affords one the luxury of possibly finding an exceptional restaurant. Cafe Caravaggio may not be that restaurant, but I assure you the salads were excellent. Sitting across the piazza from St. John's Co-Cathedral gives this restaurant a chance for stiff competition and Cafe Caravaggio aims to please. Caffe Giovanni next door does not come close in terms of salad preparation.
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When ordering the Insalate di Tonno I was prepared for a Nicoise type salad with all the ingredients piled high in the center. As you can see by the photo, it was divided into two sections, one of crisp greens and tomato, the other of tuna looking like tartar but fully cooked and mixed with green olives and capers. This was fresh and exciting after iceberg lettuce and tomatoes from other restaurants.
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The Chicken Cesar ordered by my dining companion could compete favorably with any Irish Cesar Salad, none of which were the same nor similar in the slightest. No anchovies, no egg dressing, but a generous amount of prosciutto was added to the mix, just to make it Mediterranean we presumed. Regardless, it had shaved parmigiano and an interesting mix of vegetables and was so satisfying, my companion said he would have easily liked it as well even if it didn't come with chicken.
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We asked to be seated in no man's land where the waiter forgot us more than a few times. The owner was very gracious and wanted to comp us a cup of coffee or dessert, but we were satisfied with what we had eaten. Make it a point to sit outside at a restaurant where most of the tables are not inside, or you may find yourselves with little if any service too. Still that was no deterrent, because we went back a second time on a very warm evening when a large salad would make a perfect dinner. We tried the “Cesar” salad without chicken and as suspected, the loss of chicken was no loss to the taste and success of the salad.
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Even though the evening was warm, I didn’t want to miss my chance to try swordfish in Malta, so I ordered it and was very pleased to eat it. The dinner came with fries and a salad of no particular merit, but still easy enough to eat. The preparation of the swordfish itself was quite good as it had been cooked in a tomato sauce made from fresh, vine ripened and sweet tomatoes with savory green olives and capers. It was colorful, full of great eye appeal and had the plate decorated with a syrupy balsamic for good measure, with fresh parsley confetti.
9 St John Square, Valletta, Malta
(+356) 2123 6257

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Poggio in Sausalito

For authenticity, an Italian restaurant can't go wrong with an Italian chef and development by Italian partners, but this is not the case for Poggio, one of Northern California's best Italian restaurants. With a love for Italian cuisine and culture, managing partner Larry Mindel, no stranger to fine Italian restaurants in California, and Peter McNee, the executive chef who forages in Italy for his own white truffles, Poggio has managed to surpass many fine Italian restaurants with better credentials and bloodlines. Their passion for the food shows in just about every dish they present for our dining pleasure. Peter has even brought over an authentic meat cart from Italy for serving Bollito Misto, the Piemonte boiled meat dinner, consisting of 7 kinds of meat and sausage, vegetables and condiments.

One notable dinner at Poggio was on a very cold evening and we were delighted to discover that although they did not serve hot buttered rum, they did serve hot brandy with a twist of lemon. Perfetto. The bread basket is always full of the freshest, house made rolls and it has been our experience that it always has a rosemary roll and a sesame roll. They are generous with the refills too.

For starters we selected lamb meatballs and a crab topped sformato di parmigiano. The meatballs were served in a spicy tomato sauce, covered with thin layers of ricotta salata and served with bruschetta. The meatballs were wood fired, which would make them "great balls from fire" in my opinion. Perfectly cooked and tender, they soaked up the tomato sauce and were enhanced by the salty ricotta. This starter was very filling and satisfying.

The sformata, a souffle of sorts, was rich with the taste of parmigiano, but delicate and light in texture. The crab was dressed like a salad which made the combined dish refreshing. I recall lingering over this appetizer, only taking small bites so it would last longer. That doesn't happen often, so it is a testament to the exceptional taste of this particular menu item.

On another occasion we decided on lighter starters. The salad of arugula, strawberries and goat cheese tasted better than it looked. I thought it would have looked mmore appealing with red onions, but the intrusion of purple would have destroyed the composition that must have been put together in honor of the Italian flag, in all its red, white and green glory. The bruschetta being offered on this particular afternoon happened to be made with our favorite Italian sausage, Nduja, a Calabrese, very spicy, spreadable sausage. For all I know it's raw too, but we love it, so order it we did.


Agnolotti is by any other name a ravioli, but in Tuscany they are now and will always be called agnolotti. These delicate little pillows of pasta covered a veal filling and were smothered in a veal and mushroom sauce. Delectable is the word that comes to mind to describe them. Perfectly al dente, they just begged to be chewed slowly and savored and it was my privilege to oblige.

Porchetta, the slow roasted Tuscan pork dish was well worth making a special trip to Poggio. While porchetta appears on the menu occasionally, it isn't offered for more than a few days and always in Winter. Very slow roasting is responsible for the success of this menu item. Herb laden, this pork roast is delicious and very tender, accompanied by slow simmered fagioli.

The pasta in the photo above was outstanding, but I have yet to try an unsuccessful pasta offering from Poggio. All hand made, the tubular pasta, just soaked up the rabbit ragu like a sponge, but there was still sauce on the plate, so they must have been cooked together before plating. Mushrooms punctuated the sauce with their earthy taste and completed the subtle flavor profile. Pasta this good didn't need cheese.

I am usually so satisfied with my meals at Poggio that I don't order dessert, but when I heard that they were serving rosemary gelato, I opted to try it. Very sweet, but with an obvious, yet delicate rosemary taste, it came as an unexpected pleasurable end to a meal of very high standards. Poggio is a small treasure and we hope to support it for many years to come.

Poggio's Website

777 Bridgeway
Sausalito CA
(415) 332-7771