© Courtesy Hawkins International PR
© Jen Murphy
Apple tart at Castello di Vicarello
Earlier in the year I had a chance to spend a weekend cooking with the amazing Aurora Baccheschi Berti at her dreamy 12th-century castle-turned-hotel, Castello di Vicarello, in Maremma, Tuscany. Staying at Vicarello is like staying at fabulous friend’s home with nonstop food, wine and adventure (Aurora’s husband, Carlo, takes groups wild-boar hunting at his nearby lodge, Valle di Buriano. Aurora and Carlo spent years in the textile business and have quite an eye for design. The seven rooms and villas of Vicarello are outfitted with unique antiques, old issues of Art Forum, oversize bathtubs and quirky touches like a zebra-skin rug. But it’s the kitchen that’s truly the heart of the house, and that’s where guests gravitate. Carlo and Aurora, and often their three charming sons, are the perfect hosts, offering up glasses of Brunello and slices of wild-boar prosciutto. Aurora hosts impromptu cooking lessons, and dinners are a two-hour-plus affair. I got a taste of the Tuscan winter on my visit, but Aurora’s just-released cookbook, Tuscany My Way, gives me a chance to recreate recipes from all four seasons at Vicarello. Inspired by the castle’s gardens, the book has more than 100 recipes organized by season, like carbonara withfava beans and apple tart. It’s one of the most transporting cookbooks I’ve seen and the next best thing to a trip back to Tuscany.
© Jen Murphy
Food and hoops in Houston.
When I visited Houston last weekend to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships, I knew I’d be running into some hoops stars. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be hanging with so many rock stars and chefs. Here, some highlights:
*The city of Houston organized an unbelievable line-up of free concerts in Discovery Park to coincide with the Final Four. The Kings of Leon put on a rockin' show Saturday night. Afterward, we shared a bottle of 2007 Dominus Estate Napanook with the band and reminisced about the first time we heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Nathan Followill, an F&W subscriber, also told me about his special infused-butter recipe.
*F&W Best New Chef Bryan Caswell took us to what may be the greatest Texas dive bar, the Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club, for some live music and Texas-two-step lessons. Late-night, we feasted on enchiladas and margaritas at El Real Tex-Mex Café, which Caswell just opened with Robb Walsh.
* Houston chefs Chris Shepherd of Catalan Food and Wine, Monica Pope of T’afia and Randy Evans of Haven took us on a five-hour ethnic-food crawl. Highlights included charcoal-roasted cabrito (goat) at El Hidalguense, a no-frills Mexican spot; soup dumplings at Fu Fu Café in Chinatown; and goat biryani and stir-fried okra from the great British-Indian restaurant London Sizzler.
*Fort Worth, Texas–based chef Tim Love of the Lonesome Dove and Love Shack was in town to judge the Coach’s Cook-off. He invited us to hang backstage with his friend, country musician Pat Green. Post-show, we had a nose-to-tail dinner at Feast that ended with a stellar dish of crispy roasted pork belly with red cabbage and potato cakes.
© Jen Murphy
Houston's new locavore market, Revival.
I made my first-ever trip to Houston last weekend to watch the Final Four. The final match-up between U Conn and Butler turned out to be one of the most disappointing performances in college basketball history, but my trip still turned out to be stellar, thanks to some seriously awesome eating and music experiences (more on that tomorrow). One of my best finds of the weekend was the new Revival Market in the Heights neighborhood. Opened at the end of March, Revival was originally planned as a butcher shop but ended up being so much more. In addition to an in-house butcher and the city’s first retail dry-cure room for charcuterie, there’s a coffee bar, manned by baristas making perfect lattes with beans from local roasters like Katz, Amaya and Fusion. The grocery section is like a mini farmers' market, selling local eggs, produce, artisanal bread, cheeses sourced by Houston Dairymaids, honey from the Heights and milled grains from outside Waco, Texas. Then there’s the deli where chef-owner Ryan Pera has created a menu of delicious sides (Asian duck slaw) and sandwiches (a turkey club garnished with chicken skins) to-go, or to stay and eat at one of the few tables. Sandwich to try: Revival Dog, a Mangalitsa hot dog served on a pretzel bun and topped with green tomato relish.
© Lonesome Dove
Chef Tim Love will be judging the NCAA Coach's Cook-Off.
I’m headed down to Houston this weekend for the Final Four. The main attraction is watching Kentucky, VCU, Butler and UConn battle it out for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship title. But I'm just as excited about the Coaches’ Cook-Off in the LG Electronic Kitchen at Reliant Stadium where NCAA basketball coaches Jay Wright of Villanova, Steve Lavin of St. John’s University, Roy Williams of the University of North Carolina, and Seth Greenberg of Virginia Tech will go head to head behind the stove. Star chef Tim Love, who’ll be opening his third Love Shack next week in his hometown of Denton, Texas, will be refereeing the competition. “I’ll be calling fouls and keeping score throughout,” says chef Love. “I’m thinking of challenging them to make grilled NY strip steaks and grilled artichokes with a mustard puree.” LG will make a donation in the names of the coaches to Coaches vs. Cancer.
Chef Love isn’t playing favorites for the cook-off, but says he’s cheering for Kentucky to take home the NCAA title.
© Jen Murphy
Full-moon water at Little Otik, Berlin.
On a recent trip to Berlin, Food & Wine's plugged-in European correspondent Gisela Williams took me and some of the crew from Tasting Table to one of her favorite new restaurants, Little Otik. The bearded servers, hipster crowd, craft cocktails and seriously awesome, locavore-minded cooking instantly transported me to Williamsburg. I later discovered that the owners, Kevin Avery and Jeffrey Sfire, are Manhattan transplants: Sfire is a DJ and Avery is a former chef at Williamsburg's beloved Diner and Greenpoint's now-closed Queen's Hideaway. When they moved to Berlin two years ago, they caused a buzz with once-a-month dinners for 10 at their Palisaden Supper Club. Last August, they opened Little Otik (named after the Czech surrealist film by Jan and Eva Svankmajerová) in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. Only open Wednesday to Saturday, here are five good reasons even Brooklynites would be happy to make the trip:
1) Little Otik works with a resident hunter who brings in wild game like venison, wild goat, rabbit and the boar Avery uses to make a fantastic ragù with eryngii mushrooms and polenta.
2) Vegetables carry equal weight on the menu, with mains like a chick pea, farro and rapini stew and nearly a half-dozen vegetarian sides like cauliflower with tahini and a killer pickle plate.
3) Avery is a dessert master. Alice Waters might weep over his prune-and-Armagnac ice cream topped with a hazelnut cookie.
4) Its self-published, quarterly fanzine is brilliant and hysterical, sharing Little Otik recipes as well as oddball humor, like food quotes from the '90s sitcom Roseanne.
5) The humor extends to the menu, which offers "full-moon water" (water bottled during the full moon).
The Adria Brothers Fantastical Tapas Bar Tickets
Tickets is attached to 41° through a yellow-painted corridor (that might make you think of The Wizard of Oz’s yellow-brick road). Its circus-like decor is, at first, surprising: It’s hard to believe that such a childish-looking restaurant comes from the world’s most futuristic and groundbreaking culinary team.
I figured out that, while a lot of the dishes at Tickets are the same as those at 41°, the Tickets dishes are made with 100 percent Spanish ingredients. So Tickets' spherical olives are made from Spanish Verdial olives, and the fantastic liquid cheese ravioli of cheese is made with Spanish Payoyo goat cheese.
Slow-roasted pork jowl sandwich—good enough to make you cry.
Terry Zarikian with Albert Adria, left, is living my dream at 41°.
I had strict orders: Arrive promptly at 41° at 7 p.m.
I did. I was met by a doorman (in a ringmaster costume, just like the circus) with a short list of names. Once inside, I checked out the mostly classic drinks, from Manhattans to margaritas and, believe it or not, Cosmos. All were meticulously mixed. Even the gin-and-tonics section was detail-oriented: There were more than two dozen gins, and a separate section of tonics, all served over little icebergs carved from a block of ice.
The food at 41° includes their version of traditional bar snacks: oysters with topping like soy tapioca “caviar” or “Schrencki” osetra, a special caviar from the Amour river on the Siberian border.
Pistachios wrapped in sour yogurt "skin" at 41°.
41° Iberian pancetta wrapped around baguette-like crackers.
Michel Richard is Coming to Caesars Palace in Vegas.
Michael and Bryan Voltaggio get schooled on Memphis's Rendezvous ribs.
Here are two of their highlights. If you want to make yourselves hungry, you should follow both Michael and Bryan on Twitter.
Michael and Bryan Voltaggio with a Barbecue Hangover.
Michael says: "Kansas City is like the barbecue melting pot. In Texas, it's all about beef, and in North Carolina, there's a lot of pulled pork. But Kansas City is famous for everything. At Oklahoma Joe's, it's all about the Z-man sandwich: slow-smoked brisket piled high on a toasted kaiser bun, with a few onion rings, toasted provolone and a couple drops of sauce. This place is on Tony Bourdain's list of 13 things to eat before you die."
Smitty's Market; Lockhart, TX
Bryan says: "I'm more into traditional brisket than my brother; I go for the kind served with white bread. I had the most amazing brisket I’ve ever had at Smitty's. It’s smoked old pit-style; the walls are covered with smoke. I had it with Big Red, a soda from the area, and Blue Bell ice cream. And p.s., Lockhart Texas was named barbecue capital of Texas by the state's legislation.”