Feast your eyes & your appetite: Toronto 

Anticipation is an emotion I have always associated with traveling. My imagination runs wild when I begin to fantasize of adventures that may come about while exploring new city streets. My appetite grows when I wonder how other communities offer and enjoy hospitality. After all, good food, good wine and pleasant company is what unites all cultures and civilizations! With an additional dash of architectural design and style, we are ready for a weekend well spent! 

Toronto is a culturally rich city, as one would expect. It is full of youth and beauty and clearly evokes a certain standard of living. Not only is this prominent by the amount of Audi’s and Porsche’s on the roads; but the restaurants and rooftop bars have an attention to detail which tailors to Toronto’s vibrant millennial culture. For the first time in my career I have been more delighted by the atmosphere and design of Toronto eateries than I was impressed by the food. I experienced no terrible meal of course, but I found myself more in awe at color schemes and fabric choices than at flavor combinations. I am looking forward to returning and experiencing the internationally acclaimed Canoe and Aloe, but for an introdutory visit, feast your eyes and your appetite on the following:                                                                                                                                              

Make it a point to visit Colette, a more than French Bistro located on Wellington St. The interior is designed by Gianpiero Pugliese and boasts of full Parisian-style throughout the bakery, café, bar and library. The dining room and wrap around terrace decorated with topiaries and scalloped valances are beyond regal. The chandeliers which hang from a high ceiling will have you question if you are dining at Versailles. Join for Saturday brunch and begin your Toronto adventures at Colette. Savor French favorites such as a croque monsieur or madame and sip your coffee with pinkies up. 

Art Deco meets Italian Renaissance at Oretta. Located on the see and be seen King St., Oretta’s clashy pastel, jewel toned interior paired with stiking accents of gold inspire pure dolce vita. Their menu is designed for anytime of day (oretta translates into any hour) and offers seasonal Italian favorites that will please anyone. Pizzas are thin crusted and delicious, their pastas are flavorful and plentiful. Their mostly all Italian wine list is impressive. Though, nothing is more impressive than Oretta’s airy sophistication. 

For Soigné ingredients and a direct view of the CN Tower, visit Lavelle. This rooftop bar also located on King St. may give off Jersey Shore nightclub vibes at first, but those vibes will quickly turn into luxe sophistication. Chef Romain Avril helms the kitchen, and though Michelin has yet to arrive in Canada, Chef Avril is serving up Michelin quality. Cocktails are inventive and certainly pack a punch for your buck. Spend your day at Lavelle and enjoy the Canadian breeze with a view! 
 

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Villanelle 

There are a handful of restaurants in New York City that I refer to as hidden gems. These hidden gems you all learn about through various ways. What you are unaware of are the city’s precious gems. Some restaurants I enjoy so much, I tend to keep them as little secrets for myself to enjoy. Such is the case with Villanelle

Yes, the name sounds exotic, but this restaurant is much more than a clever name. Chef Nick Licata creates his own Villanelle at the namesake Greenwich Village restaurant and truly represents the meaning of word. Like the 19 lined poem depicting pastoral scenes of Italy, Chef Licata has a 19 item menu that highlights the freshest ingredients from the neighboring Union Square Farmers Market. 
My first visit to Villanelle was during the opening week in early March. Of course I was warmly welcomed by eager staff with gleaming smiles. I made myself comfortable at the bar, and the bartenders made sure I was comfortable too. Hospitable and absolutely delicious, my immediate impression was ‘I must return’! 

A few weeks later, I did return and sat at a table. Once again warmly welcomed. The difference this visit, though, was my sense of familiarity. I couldn’t help having repeat dishes from my first visit like Chef Licata’s crispy octopus. Known as his signature dish, the octopus is steamed for two hours before gently fried; served with a mouth watering pomme purée and coveted spring favorite, nettles. The house made cavatelli with black pepper is served with fresh market asparagus and a hen egg. Similar to a carbonara, the cavatelli has a subtilty that contributes to its appeal. The silky slow poached Arctic Char with sorrel, dill oil and plenty of roe is a dish I hope will be on the menu for some time. 

On my most recent visit, I once again opted for the bar. Just missing their newly launched oyster happy hour which is from 5:30pm to 7pm, I instead enjoyed the Cured Thai Snapper. This tartare style dish is accompanied by radishes from the farmers market, though that may change based on availability. The snapper is cured in a curry pulp, which is made from banana, kaffir lime leaves, kombu, thai chilies, and offers a refreshing kick! 

Desserts at Villanelle are some of the most delicious I’ve had. Chef Licata and Chef de Partie Christian Grindrod have collaboratively exposed a broad range of flavors from ingredients found at the farmers market. They bake parsnip root then butter-braise it, and serve it with white chocolate. It’s skin, thinly shaved, turns into a delicious crisp that encases the vegetable. It makes for a creamy, buttery dessert that is rich, uniquely flavored and utterly satisfying. A watermelon sorbet is served under a baked meringue crisp with fresh shelled peas which is served with a soft meringue, mint oil and fresh mint. Think pavlova, but with components more interesting than fruit. 

One of my new favorites, Villanelle is a restaurant I look forward to visiting again and again! 
Villanelle is located at 15 E. 12th Street between University Place and 5th Avenue, 212-989-2474, http://www.villanellenyc.com @villanellenyc. The restaurants serves dinner Monday – Thursday 5:30pm – 10:30pm; Friday & Saturday 5:30pm – 11:30pm; Lunch Monday – Friday 12:00pm – 2:30pm Closed Sunday. Happy Hour Monday – Friday 5:30pm – 7pm offers six East Coast oysters and a glass of wine, beer, sherry or cider for $15. 
Original publish date, May, 2017 

Chapel Down

If I had offered you a glass of English Sparkling five years ago, I’m sure you would have laughed at me, and I’m sure most New York Sommeliers still will. While Champagne and Spumante are considered the Pièce de Rèsistance in France and Italy, the English expertise of Chapel Down’s Chief Executive Officer Frazer Thompson is quickly proving that English Sparkling is capable of giving Grande Marques Champagnes a run for their money. I had the pleasure of sitting with Mr. Thompson and understanding his very simple philosophy. In order to compete with the globe’s best, you must be prepared to offer the best to the globe. 

Located in Tenterden in the Kent countryside, south east England is synonymous with the white cliffs of Dover. “It’s all about the Chalk.” Mr. Thompson says. The vineyards of Chapel Down are heavily influenced by the iconic chalk soil which is identical to the soil in Champagne only a mere 90 miles to the south across the English Channel. 

Chapel Down’s sparkling wines are produced using the intricate traditional method which means the bubbles are naturally created in the bottle you take home. When producing sparkling wine, this method is arguably the most appreciated in terms of quality, but in return, it is also very costly. 

      “As a winemaker, I want people to simply say “this is delicious.”  

With Mr. Frazer Thompson

For last last 15 years Mr. Thompson has been aiming to produce a genuine and consistent English sparkling. Three Graces made its debut in New York last fall and I was honored to attend the launching hosted by then newly appointed Consul General Antonia Romeo.
The cases of English Sparkling arrived late 2016, and after much anticipation became available on February, 1st 2017 in New York! You will be able to find Three Graces 2010 on the lists of Indochine, Quality Meats, Buddakan, and Grand Central Oyster Bar. Pinkies Up! 

Savoring Sardinia

Tucked between Spain and Tunisia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean. An individualistic region of the Italian Republic, Sardinia is home to spectacular beauty, ancient history, and of course, mouth watering sips and savors for the food enthusiast. The Sardinians have defended themselves from the Phoenicians, Romans, Egyptians, and the Byzantines. With its jagged cliffs and mountain formed walls, Sardinia has even survived a horrific volcanic past. The outcome of such characteristics has resulted in a present day paradise for the jetset, the overly stressed American, and even the wine lover.

On the northwest coast, protected by ancient walls and cannons is the Catalan- influenced city of Alghero. Regarded as one of the finest wine regions in Sardinia, Alghero offers a promising terroir that is heavily influenced by its coastline where significant pride is taken in the vines of Cantina Santa Maria La Palma. Since 1959, Cantina Santa Maria La Palma has allocated and preserved the characteristics of Sardinian tradition. In a cooperative setting utilizing modern technology, Cantina Santa Maria La Palma offers a harmonious fusion of old world mentality with new world method. 

The Vines of Santa Maria La Palma

Mostly known for their delicious Vermentino and Cannonau (a grape derived from Grenache); Cantina Santa Maria La Palma has also rediscovered and revived two equally prestigious grape varieties unique to Sardinia: Monica and Cagnulari. Both varieties are remnants of Spanish antiquity and date back to the 11th century. These varieties require care and attention to cultivate, but not in vain. Monica and Cagnulari provide beautiful wine that may be considered to have more qualities in common with Spanish than Italian wine. The limited quantities produced offer a sense of exotic refinement which one will only receive in Sardinia. 

At of glance, the traditional cuisine of Sardinia reveals the intriguing fact that the people not only eat what is available, but also eat what is considered to be edible. With an abundance of artichokes, seafood, figs, nuts, wines and cheeses at their fingertips; it is no wonder the people of Sardinia are considered to have one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Casu Marzu, a Sardinian delicacy has been enjoyed for centuries. The rotten sheep milk cheese is literally alive containing larvae. Don’t worry, they are barely noticeable – unless they jump at you! Derived from Pecorino, casu marzu goes beyond usual fermentation and is served for enjoyment decomposed. The acid from the larvae breaks down the cheese’s fat making the texture of the cheese soft, spreadable and becomingly sour. Though it is now illegal, Sardinian’s still produce casu marzu, and are eager to share this local tradition with a crisp glass of Passito, though, Cannonau is another likely accompaniment. 

Casu Marzu

Meat, as one would imagine is not too sparingly consumed. However, su porcheddu, in the local dialect, or suckling pig, is reserved for feasts and celebrations. The dish is associated with agro pastoral cuisine, but has become quite the fine dining delicacy. Suckling pig, a babe between 20 to 40 days old is so buttery and so delicate because it has contained a diet of only its mother’s milk. The method of roasting directly above lit coals and ash causes a spectacle, but more importantly contributes to the crackling being crunchy and absolutely mouth watering. I guarantee, suckling pig will never taste the same again after leaving Sardinia. Savor with a glass of the local Cagnulari, as a true Sardinian. 

Food and wine is only one aspect of a country, yet it is one of the most persistent in growing awareness. Being able to understand food traditions helps us to understand a culture, which is an indispensable component to any human communication. Though food is a necessity to life, when carefully crafted, and accompanied by a beautiful glass of wine, cuisine does turn into an everyday art form that will evoke taste, smell, and a panging nostalgia to anyone who chooses to embrace it.
Savoring Traditions original publish date, September 2016

Seared Foie Gras

Foie Gras is without a doubt one of my favorite foods. The first time I had Foie Gras was at this little French Bistro in Chicago called The Red Rooster. Located on the corner of Halsted and Armitage in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, The Red Rooster was steps away from legendary Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea. The quaint bistro has since closed, but I have fond memories that my taste buds thank me for! 

Perfectly seared Foie Gras should be crisp and well brown, and seared to a medium well. The texture is smooth and almost custard like. A common pairing for Foie Gras are figs. Their sweet jammy quality cuts through the richness, and provides a mouthwatering sensation. Any fruit compote is delicious. I used my homemade strawberry vanilla jam. 

Foie gras is grown on only three farms in the United States. American Foie Gras ducks are amongst the most well-treated farm animals in the country. Choose grade “A” lobes from Bella Bella Gourmet, who sells Foie produced by La Belle Farms, a small-scale poultry farm in Ferndale, New York. 

There is no technical reason to score your Foie Gras. Unlike Duck skin, Foie Gras will not curl when heated up. Most Chefs score their Foie Gras for appearance. 

Make sure your pan is sizzling before you add your piece of Foie. It is normal for smoke to appear as soon as you add your Foie to the pan. Each side of Foie Gras should take no more than 30 seconds to cook. 

Don’t forget to let it rest! 

#athomesoigne 

Fideuà! 

Friday’s during Lent have always been a challenge for me. I’m a huge meat eater, and my days blur together so much, it’s often hard for me to remember when Friday even is. 

For a culinary and hospitality professional this should be a delightful challenge! Well, Lent 2017 is when I decided to embrace my faith (even more) and indulge in Lenten Friday’s. After all, fasting is all about sacrifice. Lent is precisely the time when we should not let go of ourselves or our standards. 

Truly one of the over looked glories of Catalan cuisine is the poor cousin of paella. Assembled from noodles and seafood, Fideuà has been sustaining Valencian fishermen, (and upper east side enthusiasts) for generations! 

At Home Soigné Sample Menu 

At Home Soigné is accommodating to all allergies and dietary restrictions. The menu below is an example. We are willing and able to customize a menu to fit your appetite, your budget, and your at home occasion. 

Warm & Cold appetizers 

Vegetable Frito Misto with a Sweet Pea Ricotta ~ crispy cauliflower, broccoli rabe, artichoke and asparagus tossed with an herb salt, and dill. 

Or

Warm Ceci Bean Salad with Castelvetrano Olives ~ roasted ceci beans with shallots, pea tendrils, and castelvetrano olives.

Warm & Cold salads 

Beet salad ~ roasted and pickled beets, cara cara oranges, almonds, duck prosciutto. 
Or

Fiseé and Mache salad ~ pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, warm oyster mushrooms with a red wine vinaigrette. 

Entrees 

Salmon or Arctic Char ~ spring onion soubise. Soubise is a spring onion purée that consists of green olive oil.

Or 
Lamb Trio ~ marguez sausage, confit lamb ribs, roasted lamb loin with baby carrots, fava bean and parsley jus.

Or 

Herb Roasted Chicken ~ olive oil crushed potatoes, mushrooms and jus.

Desserts

Olive Oil Cake ~ candied hazelnuts, passion fruit coulis. 

Or

Chocolate panna cotta ~ candied hazelnuts, passion fruit coulis.