Saturday, September 8, 2007

a lavender mineral bath soak

Is what I look forward to on Saturday evenings. Tired, sweaty, and swollen after my once-a-week shift at FM, a nice braise in the tub is relaxing. For the past few weeks, I had only been working a partial shift. You can say I've been getting spoiled. If Chef asks me if I want to go home, I don't say no. Today, I was getting my butt kicked. I was assigned dicing duties for the first couple of hours which left me with a fresh blister on the side of my index finger. I'm working my way to a permanent chef's callus. (Strange thing, my fingers started getting numb after two hours of knife work. ) While I did my best to keep up, I burnt myself several times with the occasional hot oil treatment to the face. But all in all, it was a good productive day; though my fingers are still burning from chopping jalapenos.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

cafe du parc

After finishing up the cocktail, the librarian and I headed across the lobby to Cafe Du Parc. We pass the empty bar to the hostess table where we are greeted and shown to our table in the dining area upstairs. The open kitchen is the first thing you see with a minimal seating area to the left and right. It was DC restaurant week, so we opted to order off the "limited" menu. Crab and leek salad and pate as appetizers; crispy pork as the entree; and apricot panna cotta and strawberry tart with frommage de blanc for dessert. A thick toast-size slab of pate with globs of aspic on the side arrived in front of me. Oh how appetizing it looked! I barely got through a quarter of it before I passed it along to the librarian who polished it off. The half of the crab salad helped rid of the lingering livery taste in my mouth. Sipping on Cote du Rhone and listening to Chris Sarandon in the next booth flirting with the hostess, our entrees arrived. The best part of the main was the buttery haricot verts that came in individual mini oven casserole tins. If you're looking for a pork fat fix, head over to Restaurant Eve and have their famous house-cured pork belly.

The most memorable part of the evening was seeing the awesome view of DC from Hotel Washington's Sky Terrace and watching a midnight-runner in biker shorts playing catch me if you can with the park sprinklers and daintily running off into the night. Apparently this made the librarian uncomfortable; but I sure had a good laugh.

willard's mint julep

So the mint julep tastes nothing like a mojito even with its deceptive look-a-like facade. I was searching for the sweet when it was pointed out a dust of granulated sugar on the gingerly placed mint sprig atop the frozen glass of bourbon slushy. Then something else was brought to my attention, the price of the thirst quencher. Let's just say I made sure to drink the last drop. I probably should have eaten the mint and lemon twist too.

Monday, July 30, 2007

habla espanol?

Hola, gracias, bien, and caliente is pretty much the extent of my Spanish vocabulary. I knew if I wanted to work in a professional kitchen, learning the "second official" language of America would be to my benefit. I have yet to take a class and the five years of French in high school and college have not been much help. On one occasion, I was "talking" to Marilou, the new salad girl, and she offered me a salad which I replied by shaking my head and putting my hands over my belly trying to tell her that I had already eaten. I think I may have inadvertently told her that I was pregnant because she started talking about her nino. Ay, caramba! Maybe in 20 years I can say that I learned Spanish by working in restaurants; but in the meantime, all I can do is smile, nod, and say thank you. (And keep my hand gestures to a minimum, who knows what I might "say" next time.)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

peruvian independence day

Ceviche, antichuchos (beef, chicken, and beef heart), blue potatoes with cheese sauce, pollo al ajo, among other Peruvian dishes graced FM's menu tonight in celebration of their Independence Day. The chef, being short of cooks these days, asked me if I wanted to be on grill or the oven side. I told him I would do either, but something told me I would be at the grill station for tonight's service. My first time there (no time better than the present, right?) and let me tell you, I think I fared quite well. I only had one entree come back when a customer complained about the "extra char" on the hamburger bun. It was great fun. I get goosebumps thinking about doing it all over again tomorrow night. The only "downside" about it is that I've never been that hot since I was in Cambodia. The A/C being broken didn't help, but the pisco sour and two glasses of sauvignon blanc sure did cool me off.

Friday, July 27, 2007

the swell season

A couple of months ago, as I was perusing through the Express (like I always do every morning to catch up on yesterday's news and to get my daily sudoku and crossword fix), I came across a review for a movie called Once. A so-called modern-day musical love story. Being a sucker for heart breaking lyrics and gut wrenching melodies, I had to go watch it. Starring the frontman of The Frames, Glen Hansard, and Czech musician Marketa Irglova, I fell in love with the movie, music, and the curly-haired Irishman.

Tonight, the duo performed at the 9:30 Club and you guessed, yours truly was there fifth row and center. Peering through waves of heads and shoulders, I shifted from side to side to get a better view. I eagerly looked on, mouthing the words to each song, as The Swell Season put on an unforgettable concert. It was worth standing in the packed venue for three hours. I can't wait to see them again live. I drove home singing along to the soundtrack, belting out karaoke-style.

Check them out on NPR Friday @ Noon or listen to the live concert.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

peach shortcakes

I had agreed to help Vickie, a co-worker at FM, to volunteer for Les Dames d'Escoffier with their Green Kids at the Market Day booth at the Arlington Farmer's Market. An annual event to introduce children to seasonal foods and local farmers. Ice cream and butter making activities were available for kids along with design-you-own toque to building bugs out of fruits and vegetables. I had the privilege of assisting Pastry Chef Kate Jansen of Willow in assembling the delectable mini peach shortcakes. My culinary expertise and keen knife skills were showcased as I sliced the shortcakes in half, plated, and scooped on the macerated peaches finishing them off with a swirl of whipped cream from a can. I enjoyed basking in the morning sun and chatting up with kids and adults alike at the market before I had to make my way down the interstate to FM for my weekly fix of BOH grunt work; which I find completely satisfying. This week's highlights: mutilated thumb from peeling 10lbs of potatoes, making 10 quarts of cocktail sauce, cleaning hanger steak, and assembling the world's most beautiful cheese plate; ok, maybe not, but I got to be on the line for about 2 hours during dinner service. Yeepee!

Peach Shortcake from Willow Restaurant
Serves 6

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream

Pre-heat over to 425 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder just to combine. Place the cold butter pieces over and pulse until the mixture is mealy in texture. Transfer to a bowl. Mix the egg and heavy cream together. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients. Combine with a spoon until large clumps form. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead until mixture comes together. Gently roll the dough with a rolling pin to an inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter into 6 rounds. Place the shortcakes 1 inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake the shortcakes until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Cool the cakes, split in half, and top bottom half with peaches. Serve with whipped cream.

Peach Topping

Wash, peel, and cut 4 large peaches into small pieces. Sweeten with 2-4 tbsp of sugar. Macerate slightly to release the juices. Refrigerate 1 hour before serving.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

italian vs. greek

A quiet day at work: other than the 30 minute rush at the salad station , which included an embarrassing moment when a little boy asked what the difference was between creamy Italian and creamy Greek. Whatever it was that I said to him seemed to satisfy his curiosity. So what is the difference you ask? Let me get back to you on that.

I got to work around noon, put on my chef's coat, apron, FM ball cap and hung two kitchen towels off either side of my waist. I blanched some bokchoy and grilled some portobellos for the dinner menu. I was about to grill off some chicken when our sous chef, Russ, told me we were in dire need of some strawberries. It's Strawberry Festival at the restaurant this weekend. Strawberry drinks, desserts, and homemade jam. So for the next 2 hours, I halved several hundred strawberries. Not only were my hands bloodied from the syrup, but my apron, coat, and both forearms were streaked with red. It looked as if I worked at a butcher's shop or was in a horrible cat fight.

Alas, the day was over. I came home and soaked the day away as I sipped a glass of viognier. The battle wounds are all gone, but my hands still smell like strawberries.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

white chocolate cranberry cookies

Makes 36 cookies
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar (Natural Cane Sugar)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp rum
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients, flour, baking soda, and sal, in a medium size bowl. Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until light. Add the eggs, vanilla, and rum into the butter and mix until everything is incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture, beating on low speed. Once all of the flour is mixed in, stir in the white chocolate chips and cransberries until evenly distributed. Drop an ice cream scoop sized dough on an ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes on upper third rack, until the edges are golden brown. The center of the cookie should still look a bit doughie when it comes out of the oven. Let it cool on the sheet for about 10 minutes and transfer onto a cooling rack.

Monday, April 2, 2007

the windy city

And I'm not talking about Chicago: that's one thing I won't miss about San Francisco.

The weather has been quite generous, but there was a moment this morning I thought our luck had run out. The sky was overcast and I was sure it was going to rain. The temperature gauge in the car read 54 degrees as we made our way to the Golden Gate Park. It was colder than what we had become accustomed to on this trip. Regardless, we braved the cold and walked through the park, passing on the $4 entrance fee into the Japanese Tea Garden, and never making it to the flower conservatory.

Our tummies were telling us it was lunch time so we drove across town to Chinatown for some dim sum. The sky had cleared up and the sun was out as we searched for the Grant Place Restarant: a small eatery serving a handful of dim sum fares. No servers carting around bamboo and tin steamers here. Esther thoroughly enjoyed the shrimp dumplings while I ate my through some chicken feet. I was in the mood for some Chinese pastry when I spotted the Golden Gate Bakery on Grant Street. As we crossed the street, I realized there was a line out the door. It must be good, I thought. As we got to the end of the line, a gentleman selling sunglasses next door kindly told us the end of the line was further down the street. There must have been about 30 people in front of us, but we got in line anyway. The man behind us, a born and raised San Franciscan, told us they made the best custard tart and the owner's brother made the best moon cake (not a big fan) in town at his own bakery up the street. As we got closer to ordering our dessert, the young lady in front of me frowned at the idea that I was only going to order one tart. "You might as well get half a dozen for waiting this long." So I ordered two and one coconut tart. The egg custard is slightly sweet and the thin, buttery, flaky crust is just firm enough to hold the warm custard. It was definitely worth the wait.

As we finished our dessert, we strolled into North Beach and took a browse through its famous independent bookstore City Lights. Three floors of books specializing in world literature, arts, and progressive politics. Like any other bookstore, I didn't leave empty handed. We stopped at Cafe Puccini, they had a jukebox of Puccini albums, for a cup of joe, then it was off to Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. A nice hike up to a decent view of the city. Not sure I understood the whole purpose of this tower other than it was built after a bridesmaid who left her wedding party to chase a firetruck down the street. I didn't get that either.

It was back to Union Square for dinner at Colibri, a Mexican Bistro. Serving in traditional tapas style, we had the quesadillas, the tamals de Pescado: seared fish with plantains and vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf served with rice and beans, and a side of mojito. I munched on the coconut tart for dessert as we walked back to Chinatown. The city was quiet, shops were closing one by one, and the wind was still blowing as we said good-bye to San Francisco.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

the naked truth

Day 4: I like people-watching; and today was the perfect day to do so. I got in my morning run around the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve; the gravel trail made it a bit of a challenging run. Along the trail, families, couples, people on bikes, and with their pets were getting in their daily exercise.

Our trip being pretty packed thus far, we decided for an easy, relaxing day so we headed down south towards Santa Cruz to check out the beaches. Today was the first day the rides and attractions opened on the boardwalk so it was bustling with people: teenagers on spring break and families with their children among tourists like us. Gyros from a wrap stand took care of lunch as we headed out onto the beach. We just sat there soaking up the sun, the warm sand between our toes. A family in front of us was setting up a tent and a guy behind us was being buried neck deep in sand by his girlfriend and some random kids. But this was nothing compared to what I was to encounter later on.

I wanted to drive along California Hwy 1, so we instructed Ms. GPS to take us to Half Moon Bay. Along the drive we stopped twice on the side of the road to marvel at the breath-taking panorama of the Pacific Ocean. Out on the horizon, waves of clouds seemed to tumble their way towards the shore.The beaches and cliffs reminded me much of Ireland and I had thought the same when driving up Napa Valley through the rolling green hills. On the tiny, secluded beaches, the wind was so strong, it would blow the pebbled sand against my legs that felt like hundreds of needles prickling my skin.

Unfortunately, amidst the beauty, came the beast. I made it down to a small beach cove; as I was taking in the view, a man popped out from the other side of the cliff wearing nothing but a tee-shirt. The same thing happened in Ireland but I was lucky enough to be without my glasses or contacts so everything was one big blur. I wasn't so lucky today. I quickly turn around and start walking the other way. I head up over some rocks to take a few more pictures and as soon as I turn around, the man, now completely naked is making his way towards my direction. I didn't know this was a nude beach; is there a hotline I can call to report this kind of behavior? All I'm thinking is getting the heck out of there. When I get to the path that leads back up the hill, Esther, who was waiting for me at the top, decides to make her way down. As I wait for her, I see from my peripheral, the naked man is coming back this way. You've got to be kidding me! At this point, I just laugh it off and tell Esther that there is a naked man down here so as not to be alarmed. I know what I said earlier, but I'd prefer not to people-watch in such circumstances.

We finally reached our destination; the small town of Half Moon Bay. The sun was beginning to set and the temperature was dropping but I made Esther walk the whole five blocks of the town. After getting some hot chocolate and the self-titled album by Amos Lee, which I bought from a cute little music shop on Main Street, we came home for an early night. It's back into the city tomorrow for our last full day in the Bay area. I just hope nudists aren't roaming around San Francisco.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

san francisco treat

Day 3: I got an hour run in this morning through the streets of sunny California. I needed it badly from the way I have been chowing down on this holiday. After running some errands, we finally made it into the city by three in the afternoon. We started off at Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf; much like the Navy Pier in Chicago, a tourist friendly hodgepodge of restaurants, souvenir shops, and rides and juggling acts. We were starving by then, so we settled for an outdoor table at Pier Market. The menu stated their clam chowder was voted the best in Fisherman's Wharf so we both ordered a cup each with our meal. I had the Crab Cakes and Esther ordered the Fried Platter. I would have to agree that the clam chowder was excellent; the best I've had by far. The rest of the meal was just OK. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, the beer was quite tasty too: a local San Francisco beer called Anchor Steam.

We walked along the peer, bearing the cold wind and unbelievably steep hills, up to Lombard Street. The world famous, most windy road. I couldn't get any good photos from below because the sun was setting right at the top of the hill. We walked up the steps to the top, watching tourists and locals driving down the street. Some out-of-towners would roll down their windows and wave at the people walking by or scream like little girls as they tried not to hit the car in front of them. I wonder how annoying it would be to live in one of the row houses along the street. From there we headed to the Ghirardelli Market. They were under construction so was a bit disappointing, but I got to eat free chocolate. Not a great big fan of their chocolate but they do have a great chocolate chip cookie recipe I use all the time.

I wanted to get over to the Palace of Fine Arts before dawn so we caught one of those electric buses and headed over to the Marina/Persidio area. If you remember from the movie The Rock this was where Sean Connery's character meets his daughter, played by Claire Forlani. What gorgeous architecture; just for a moment while I was standing among the tall columns of the rotunda, I felt like I was in another world, somewhere far from California. I would have to say say this neighborhood is my favorite. The row houses are beautiful with one looking like non-other. If I were to live in San Francisco one day, I'd like to be here.

My feet started to blister from wearing new sandels so we cabbed back over to the parking garage. (Our cabby was kind enough to drive us down Lombard Street, what fun!) We headed downtown to Union Square to hit up the nightlife. The streets were bustling with tourists, locals, and panhandlers. I picked a place from the guide book that had a star next to it and read somewhat appealing: Harry Denton's Starlight Room. We snacked on an Italian anti-pasti and salad before heading over to the lounge. Located on the top floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, the Starlight Room is a swanky lounge with a great view of the city. A jazzy cover band did a good job getting people on the dance floor; something for a slightly older crowd but we had fun anyway. And yes, I did a little booty shaking before we called it a night.

Friday, March 30, 2007

uni beurre blanc

Day 2 started off with an open house/tour of The Culinary Institute of America Greystone Campus. Located in the town of St. Helena, this school is the Napa Valley campus of the premier culinary school in America with its main campus in Hyde Park, New York. The tour consisted of a presentation and Q&A with an administration rep., followed by a chef's demonstration (Chef Thomas Wong formerly of the Pink Palance in Hawaii), and brief tour of the school. Greystone is very small with an enrollment of 130 students compared to the 2700 students at Hyde Park, but beautiful in its own right nonetheless: Perfect weather, abundance of fresh produce, and situated in the middle of Napa Valley; what more could you ask for?

After the tour, we headed over to the campus restaurant, Wine Spectator, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch.

Olive oil from Greece and olives.

Mandarin Orange Blossom.

Steamed Clams in Romesco sauce.

French Onion soup with a Gruyere souffle on top.

Black Cod with a kelp (I don't remember what they called it in Japanese) reduction sauce.

After lunch, we headed down St. Helena Hwy to hit a few wineries before heading down to San Jose. The first winery we visited was the Beringer Winery. It reminded of the times in college when we used to drink the white zinfandel. Oh, the good ol' days. We shared a tasting of three wines for $5, not bad.

Further down the highway close to Yountville, we stopped at the Robert Mondavi Winery. The last To Kalon tour of the day had just left so we quickly paid our $25 and joined the group as our guide was showing us the different wine regions of California. We headed out to the demonstration vineyard where the chardonnays and and zins were beginning to burst their buds. Since it was the bud burst season, there was no activity in the cellar but the smell of yeast permeated the room. On the lower level of the cellar was where the aging took place. Rows and rows of french oak barrels full of Cabernet sauvignon. You could definitely smell the wine. Finally the wine tasting: 2002 Stags Leap Sauvignon Blanc, Robert Mondavi Winery 2004 Chardonnay, 1996 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2005 Moscato d'Oro dessert wine. I really enjoyed the cab and the Chardonnay was an easy every day. Of course I couldn't leave empty handed so I bought a bottle of the PNX Pinot Noir, Carneros. The sales guy, Robert?, said you couldn't go wrong with it.

We finally made it down to Mountain View around 8pm where we will stay with Kristle until Monday.

The highlight of the day:

Mr. Information Desk: So are you enjoying your stay in Napa Valley:
Me: Yes, very much so.
Mr. Info Desk: Could I just tell you, I did a double take when I saw you walk by.
Me: Oh.
Mr. Info Desk: You look like that actress Margaret Ho.
Me: Who? (I knew who he was talking about.)
Mr. Info Desk: That actress from Sideways.Me:
You mean Sandra Oh.
Mr. Info Desk: Is that her name? Isn't there an actress name Margaret?
Me: You're thinking of Margaret Cho, the comedienne.
Mr. Info Desk: You're right.

I just can't seem to get away from it!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

the leaning golden gate bridge and mustards grill

Day 1: It took a total of 12 hours from Springfield to Santa Rosa. After a two hour delay at Dulles, another delay in Phoenix, which was actually a welcome or we would have missed our flight, getting lost in the San Francisco Airport, getting used to a GPS system (I don't like it when she says she's recalculating.), and experiencing rush hour again in about two years; Esther and I finally made it to the Quality Inn in Santa Rosa.

Dinner was at Mustards Grill for that evening so we headed back out as soon as we freshened up. We drove down Sonoma Hwy, passing the Blackstone and Kenwood wineries among others, and made our way up and over the hills on winding roads to Yountville. I had just read about the restaurant in the latest issue of Gourmet where Andrew Coleman wrote of one of his favorite places to dine in Napa Valley.

Right off of Hwy 29, nestled among wineries sits the Mustards Grill; a quaint, elegant eatery serving modern American dishes. We started off with a Vietnamese lettuce wrap (wait, did I just say American cuisine?) of grilled pork, rice noodles, shredded carrots with a fish sauce. The pork was tender and juicy but nothing exciting; it was good, mind you, but something I could easily make at home. I actually thought it didn't fit in with the other dishes on the menu. On the other hand, the roasted garlic with croutons were wonderful. My only complaint was that it would have been better served hot right out of the oven. As for wine, I opted for the "Reds" flight while Esther had the sparkling pink drink.

I debated whether to get the quail or rabbit but because of my soft spot for polenta, I chose the rabbit. Served with baby leeks and baby carrots, the little hare was exquisite.

Esther had the blackened duck with pineapple salsa and sticky rice. The meat was quite dense and delicious, almost like the other white meat.

Of course we couldn't forget dessert; although we were busting out at the seams. The apple, almond, cherry crisp served with vanilla ice cream was the perfect way to end our first meal in Napa Valley.

Monday, March 26, 2007



1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, room temperature
8 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate (I used dark chocolate)
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie (double boiler), set aside. Mix the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture and combine. Mix in the dry ingredients a little at a time until all is incorporated. Grease a sheet pan and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Pour in the mixture and bake at a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes for soft fudge brownies. For a more cake-like brownie, leave in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Let it cool in the pan and invert onto a cutting board and cut into squares, rectangles, triangles whatever your heart desires. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

spaghetti alla carbonara and spring salad

A nice spring weather pasta with a fruit spinach salad tossed in a orange-sherry vinaigrette paired with Laurent Miquel's Nord Sud Viognier (2005).

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Serves 2

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6 oz pancetta, cut into strips
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
1/4 cup pecorino romano, grated
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 egg
1/2 lb spaghetti, 5 tbsp pasta water reserved
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Add crushed garlic and cook until golden. Remove and discard garlic. Add the pancetta and cook until the edges are crisp. Add the white wine and simmer for about 1-2 minutes. Set aside. In the meantime, cook the spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving some pasta water. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg, parsley, and grated cheeses together. While whisking, drizzle in the reserved pasta water slowly into the mixture. Toss in the spaghetti and pancetta mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spinach Fruit Salad
Serves 2

10 seedless green or red grapes, halved
3 strawberries, halved and sliced
1 quarter of an apple (gala, granny smith), cubed
1 orange
1 blood orange
2 handfuls of baby spinach, rinsed and dried


1 tbsp mustard
2 tbsp orange marmalade
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

To prep the oranges, slice the ends off so it stands on the cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut away the peel including the membrane to expose the flesh. You will see the membrane between each section of the orange; cut as close to the membrane as you can while only cutting out the flesh of the oranges.

Mix all the vinaigrette ingredients in a mixing bowl, except the olive oil. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly as you whisk constantly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

filomena: health, wealth, and happiness

RS # 3: Filomena
Eaters: Doug, Nat, Michael, Brian, and me

Snow in mid-March? We must be in D.C. Amidst the freezing rain and sleet, the five of us crammed into a vee-dub chauffeured by Doug and made our way up to Georgetown. Walking into Filomena's was like stepping into Alice's wonderland. To the right, a pasta mamma was rolling out ravioli welcoming us into the rabbit hole. Literally. Down the steps, we check in at the front and wait by the dessert case. Delicious looking cakes were surrounded by Easter deco. On one side, a basket of eggs were flanked by rabbit guards and on the other, a basket full of babies wearing rabbit costumes riding on the back of a burro. It gets even creepier. The dining area is dark and cramped. (I got hit on the head by a waiter.) Hundreds of rabbit dolls hang from the ceiling by fishing string. We didn't know what to make of it other than the Italian Big Mamma must be into Easter decorations. I'm tempted to visit them again during Christmas.

But all was well as food was brought to the table. We got a carafe of Chianti Reserva and warm white, honey wheat, and ciabatta breads were served with a medley of fresh herbs and olive oil. I started off with mozzarella in carrozza; triangle-shaped fried mozzarella accompanied by the sweetest and most savory roasted cherry tomatoes. I opted for the ravioli di funghi for my entree. Mushroom and cheese stuffed ravioli with a light cream sauce of shiitake, tomatoes, and spinach. Dinner became family style with everyone sharing their dishes. The calamari was excellent; one of the best I've had yet. Slices of buffalo mozzarella and tomato topped with basil and olive oil, always a winner. Doug had the Festivale in Venezia: a seafood pasta with black fettuccine (I think they colored it with squid ink); Michael ordered the Lasagna alla Bolognese: served in the smallest dish on the table but good nonetheless; Brian was talking about roasted babies the entire car ride up so fittingly, he ordered the Vitello alla Filomena: veal scallopini with a marsala sauce, quite tasty; and Nat had the Gnocchi della Mamma: fluffy pillows of potatoes that melted in your mouth. The portions were huge so everyone took a doggie bag home. Complementary amaretto and sambuca arrived at our table in communal decanters as we finished up our meals. Anyone have room for dessert?

Raspberry Marquis

Macadamia Nut White Chocolate Mousse

Dark Chocolate Mousse