Category Archives: Restaurant

Senza Gluten, Senza Worry

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In Italian, the word “senza” means without. Senza Gluten is an Italian restaurant in the Village that is completely gluten free. This restaurant is a great concept because Italian food, with its myriad of pasta dishes, is often hard to find gluten free.  It is nice for people with celiac disease and those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance to have a night out senza worry.

For starters, we had cauliflower parmesan, cauliflower breaded with cheese and tomato sauce. A nice way to eat cauliflower.

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My friend ordered a Cesare, or Caesar salad.

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My entree was a vegetable lasagna, so the restaurant is vegetarian friendly as well.

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My friend got the risotto ai funghi, risotto with mushroom, parmesan and truffle oil.

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Finally, one is lucky to find a gluten-free entree at the average restaurant, let alone a dessert. Here, there are a number to choose from of Italian classics like tiramisu and panna cotta as well as a chocolate torte and biscotti.

One good thing to keep in mind while dining here is that Senza Gluten is cash and American Express only, so come prepared.

Upper West Side Brunch

I recently had brunch at two very nice spots on the Upper West Side, an area of the city where I usually do not spend much time.

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One is Machiavelli on Columbus & 85th.  A gorgeous restaurant with lush decor, the menu is decidedly Italian, including brunch with dishes like polenta with parmesan and truffle oil, nutella crepes, and lemon and ricotta pancakes.  I had the frittata salsiccia with Italian sausage, goat cheese, spinach and tomato.  It was wonderful.

Another spot is Ella Kitchen & Bar on Columbus & 72nd.  Here, the brunch consists of appetizing Latin & Mediterranean variations of classic dishes like baked eggs with Argentine sausage; eggs Benedict with grass-fed skirt steak and sauteed spinach; or avocado toast with edamame, black sesame seed, scallions, radishes, and hard-boiled egg.  I got the classic baked eggs with heavy cream and parmesan.

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San Gennaro Festival 2016

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New Yorkers are a resilient bunch with much pride in their city.  The bombing in Chelsea on September 17 would not deter them from carrying on.  The bombing occurred only two days into the ten-day San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, but it didn’t keep the crowds from coming.  That’s good because it’s an important year for the festival–its 90th anniversary.

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September 19 is the feast day of San Gennaro and that is the day organizers celebrated with a mass and procession from the doors of the Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter Street around Canal Street and up through Mulberry Street.

Most Precious Blood Church

Most Precious Blood Church

This year’s grand marshal was Joe Causi.  A Bronx Tale‘s Chazz Palminteri also made an appearance at the festival.  (Tony Danza was the grand marshal of the parade last year, but this year,  I had my second run-in with the actor.  I was shopping in Alleva Dairy, the country’s oldest Italian cheese store, when a man said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and brushed past me.  It was Tony.  Years ago, I ran into him on Bleecker Street and I asked for a photo to which he rudely said no.)

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Before Mass, I pinned a dollar on the statue of San Gennaro and got a pamphlet about him as well as a pin and prayer card.  Inside the church, there is a large presepio (Nativity scene) from Naples on display.

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Street vendors sell everything from American food to fair festival food like roasted corn,

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to pizza and cannoli

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to Italian tchotchkes

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to traditional Italian foods like these Italian cookies, taralli, mostaccioli and biscotti.

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I ate at Sal’s Pizza on Broome near Mulberry for pizza, sausage and broccoli rape.  At Sal’s, you get a side order of pasta with your entree, the traditional way.

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For dessert, some cassata and coffee at Caffe Palermo.

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10 Foods to Try When Visiting Naples

If you are visiting Napoli, these are the 10 must-try foods that I recommend.  There are so many wonderful dishes, foods, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, seafood, etc that come from Naples or the Campania region.   It’s hard to narrow it down to ten.  But the average travelers don’t have an Italian nonna to cook local dishes for them nor do they have access to a refrigerator to buy groceries for themselves.  So I compiled this list with the vacationer in mind.  I think these foods are the best for visitors to try.

  1. Pizza–In the birthplace of pizza, there are many places to try the city’s favorite dish.  Neapolitan pizza is different from American-style and New York-style pizza.  If you prefer the crispy crust of a New York-style pizza, you may not like Neapolitan pizza.  However, the ingredients on Neapolitan pies are usually top notch.  A trendy place to try is Sorbillo.  My favorite was Vesi, although I liked Da Michele too.

    Da Michele

    Da Michele pizza

  2. Sfogliatelle–A Neapolitan pastry that can be eaten for breakfast or dessert.  It’s a popular one in Italian-American bakeries.  The sfogliatelle is a difficult pastry to tackle and master–not one for the home cook.  You must try one from Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio, a bakery not far from the main train station.  It is by far the best I’ve ever had.  It comes hot from the oven.  The thin layers are crisped to perfection for a wonderfully crunchy bite.  The custard and cherry ones are a special treat too.

    sfogliatelle

    sfogliatelle

  3. Pizza portafoglio–This pizza is the perfect fast food.  It is sold from carts outside pizzerias.  It’s a personal-sized pizza folded in quarters.  Unlike most Neapolitan pizza, this pizza is crispier and doesn’t have the “soggy” center.  It also doesn’t have much cheese. But the taste is divine.

    portafoglio

    portafoglio

  4. Taralli–A crunchy ring of dough, taralli is Neapolitan snack food.  It comes in sweet and savory varieties. IMG_2938
  5. Pizza fritta–Pizza fritta is a popular Italian-American snack too.  It’s a fried calzone with a cheesy filling in the center.  It is also sold from carts outside fry shops.

    pizza fritta

    pizza fritta

  6. Rum baba–This pastry can be seen all over Naples.  It is also a popular pastry found at Italian-American bakeries in the United States.  IMG_2870
  7. Neapolitan ragu–aka Sunday gravy in the United States.  Ragu is a slow-simmered tomato-based meat sauce for pasta. IMG_2660
  8. Frolla–The frolla is the easier version of the sfogliatelle that can be baked by home cooks.  Or just as easily bought at numerous cafes in the city.

    pasta frolla

    frolla

  9. Gelato–There are many gelateria in Napoli. One of my favorites with multiple locations is Fantasi Gelati.  There are many flavors to choose from.  I liked the cioccolato–so rich–and fior di panna. IMG_2755
  10. Mozzarella–Try some mozzarella di bufala made from buffalo milk.  Yes, this is available in the United States, but it loses something on its refrigerated trip here.  It is absolutely creamy and wonderful fresh. You can order it as antipasto or in a Caprese salad. IMG_2630

Di Matteo, Pizza in Naples

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The owner of Di Matteo, Salvatore Di Matteo, comes from a long line of pizza makers.  His pizzeria is a VPN member pizzeria and is touted by guidebooks and locals alike.  Besides its pizza, the restaurant’s claim to fame is a visit from President Clinton.  And in fact, a neighboring pizzeria owned by Di Matteo’s brother is named Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente in honor of Clinton.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try Salvatore Di Matteo’s pizza.  He is also known for his fried snacks like pizza fritta, what we would call a fried calzone, that you can buy from the cart in front of the shop.  According to Phaidon’s Where to Eat Pizza, Di Matteo assembles the pizza fritta himself.  I love fried dough and fried calzones are my favorite (they shouldn’t be baked!).  Of course, it was delicious.

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Vesi, Pizza in Naples

My research on Neapolitan pizza in Naples led me to Da Michele and Sorbillo.  Most of the guidebooks and online reviews and articles talk about these as well as a few others.  My local cousins, however, took to me to their favorite spots.  One is Vesi that I saw mentioned only in the Lonely Planet guidebook.  It recommends going here only if Sorbillo is closed.  My cousins said Vesi has been in business for about 100 years.  Its website says since 1921.  Vesi is a VPN member pizzeria.  When we visited, it was busy, but there was no wait.  While they have a menu with a lot of choices, I wanted to try the Margherita.

Vesi

I would say this pizza closely resembles a New York-style pizza.  While it was still a little wet in the middle, it wasn’t as much as the others.  It could be lifted and eaten with the hands.  There was more cheese than the other pizzas we sampled.  The crust, cheese and sauce all had a good flavor.

I also tried a piece of my cousin’s calzone and it was delicious.  Unlike Lonely Planet, I think Vesi pizza is better than a Plan B pizza–it clearly stands on its own and is worth a visit.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is the destination for pizza in Naples.  It’s the Pepe’s of New Haven or the Di Fara of Brooklyn.  Expect similar wait times too.

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The Condurro family started making pizza in 1870.  Michele Condurro opened his pizzeria in 1906 and it has been at its current location since 1930.

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There are only two types of pizza served here, the Neapolitan classics, marinara and Margherita.  The pizzeria’s website says it doesn’t use “junk” to make its pizza, only “natural” ingredients.  Ed Levine, in his Pizza:  A Slice of Heaven, says that the pizzeria uses “cheap oil.”  This article from Vesuvio Live includes an interview with Francesco and Fabrizio Condurro who say they use a blend of vegetable, peanut and sunflower oils before they cook the pizza and then use olive oil on the pizza once it is cooked.  They say they do this because, at high temperatures, the olive oil leaves a burned taste to the dough.  In addition, they use fior di latte (cow’s milk) mozzarella.  Fior di latte is cheaper than mozzarella di bufala, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s “cheap” or “bad” to use it.  It is different and not as creamy or flavorful as bufala mozzarella, but it is still good.

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Da Michele is highly recommended by locals.  On my visit, there were a number of American tourists as well as Spanish-speaking tourists and locals as well.  It is an experience similar to eating pizza in New Haven.  When we arrived, there was already a crowd at the door.  If you go inside the doorway, there is an attendant who gives out numbered tickets.  Then you wait for your number to be called.  It was a bit daunting to get a 42, but the line moves quickly.  We waited for only 30 minutes.  The numbers are called in Italian, of course, so it’s helpful to know your numbers.  I was able to help some non-Italian-speaking Americans with their number.  The attendant assigns tables as they become available, so we sat at our assigned table.  Tables can be communal here due to the lines, so there was one older gentleman at our table who was a local.

history written in Neapolitan dialect

history written in Neapolitan dialect

We ordered one of each pie.  The marinara:

Da Michele

The Margherita:

Da Michele

You can order the Margherita with extra cheese (doppio mozzarella) too.  From these photos, you can see the nice bubbly char on the crust.  Both pies had the proverbial wetness in the center, so we did have to use forks and knives.  But the sauce, cheese and crust tasted good.