North Beach & Chinatown Mix It Up for Noodle Fest

Italian flag? Maybe the Irish. Oh well.
There will be a video of the day soon, but until then, I just wanted to report what a beautiful day it was, and how much fun.

I enjoyed making pastas the colors of the Italian flag. (OK, I admit, the red bell pepper variety came out a little orange – so it was the Irish flag. Sue me.)

I also met chefs from some of my favorite North Beach restaurants (future dinner event details to come) and tasted some wonderful samples.

This is an annual event, and next year will be the third, so be sure to come out and be reminded of the authentic side of North Beach, and the ways in which it is complemented by Chinatown.

A Taste of Spring in Venice at da Flora Ostaria

Photo by gluckx
Photo by Flickr user: gluckx

da Flora just may be my favorite restaurant. Been going for a dozen years. When I lived up the block I waited tables when they were short-handed and even baked a couple of dolci for them.

Fifteen years ago when I first stumbled in, Flora was at the stove. She’d come out and take the order then disappear into the kitchen to cook our Venetian dinner. She’s shared her Italian food and wine insights with me for a decade or more. I’ve spent many wonderful days with her in Venice enjoying her favorite places and eating in the homes of Venetian friends.

Flora these days is in the dining room but her spirit is everywhere. Her Italian wine selections are phenomenal. She always pairs the right wines for our table. She is joined by Mary Beth (MB) who does the baking, and Jen who is a genius in the kitchen. What an incredible trio!

Jen’s constantly changing menus celebrate each season – the best ingredients simply prepared. She has been nurturing me for a long time. Her sweet potato gnocchi and fegato alla veneziana (Venetian-style liver) are world-renowned. She taught me how to cook fava bean leaves just last week. The pappardelle that night were particularly silky.

MB is an extraordinary baker. Her focaccia is light and airy with a golden crust glistening with olive oil and sea salt. I’ve been watching her make it for a decade and I still can’t come close. Her multiple dolci posed a dilemma resolved by having one of each. Heaven.

Flora lived in Venice, a.k.a. La Serenissima (The Most Serene Republic) for it’s preference for trade over war, for many years and they all spend time there each year. Their deep understanding of Venetian food, wine, and culture shape every dining experience at their ostaria.

Join me at da Flora’s on Sunday afternoon, May 22, 2 to 5 p.m. We’re eating as they do in Italia – il pranzo nel pomerrigio, the main meal of the day, eaten in the afternoon.

The women and I came up with four courses to celebrate spring. Fava beans, red spring onions, asparagus, sweet peas and early lemons are the stars. Flora paired four spectacular wines to accompany each of the courses.

Celebrate spring in Venice without leaving North Beach. There are only 30 places at our table for this very special pranzo.

A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
Venetian cuisine from the women of da Flora. Four courses paired with four wines.

 

The Custom Menu

 

Antipasti Tris

Bacala montecato col polenta. Crispy slices of polenta topped with creamy whipped salt cod and potato, served with spiced black olives.

Crema de fave col pan. Crostini with marinated fava beans, fava puree, lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil and shaved pecorino.

Paleta de risi frita. Fried rice balls (arancini) stuffed with bay shrimp with a spicy aioli (without shrimp for vegetarians).

Vino: Adami Prosecco Valdobbiadone NV (Veneto). Citrus and melon aroma, clean, light and crisp with tiny bubbles.

Primo

Tagliatelle col bisi. Fresh pasta with spring peas, ricotta salata and cracked black pepper.

Vino: La Montechia Piuchebello 2008 (Veneto). From a small producer in the Euganean Hills near Padua a wonderful mellow, yellow wine from Moscato grapes.

Secondo

Lombatino di porseo. Spice rubbed roasted pork tenderloin with sauteed fava leaves, roasted asparagus and pickled red spring onions with a whole grain mustard sauce. (A vegetarian substitute is available.)

Vino: Tezza Campo di Majoli 2006 (Veneto). A blend of indigenous Corvina grape, the dark star of Valpolicella it is an elegant medium bodied red wine with black cherry aroma, spicy verve and the balance of Cabernet.

Dolce

Crostata di limone. A Meyer lemon marmalade/custard pie with a butter crust and a dollop of whipped cream.

Vino: Zibbibo. We reach down to Sicilia for this dessert wine with an Arab name to pair with Meyer lemon. It is a spirited digestive with honey color and flavor.

A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
Venetian cuisine from the women of da Flora. Four courses paired with four wines.

Tale of Two Noodle-Loving Neighborhoods

Sunday, May 1st

Sunday, May 1st, is the 2nd annual Noodle Fest, a joint neighborhood street event that spans Chinatown and North Beach. I’m proud to be presenting the North Beach pasta demonstration at 2:00pm and 4:00pm. I’ll be at Vallejo and Columbus. Noodle Fest is organized by the Chinatown Community Development Center and North Beach Merchants Association.

Price of admission includes food and beverage samples from both sides of Broadway.

Here’s the pasta I’ll be making, in front of your eyes, representing the colors of the Italian flag:

  • Spinach Pasta (Green)
  • Poor Person’s Pasta (White)
  • Beet Pasta (Red)

I’ll be cutting fresh fettucine and tagliatelle, and maybe a couple of other shapes as well. Also I’ll make fresh ricotta and mozzarella ravioli.

From the organizers:

Bring your confirmation printout to receive your passport at the will call tables, which entitles you to three noodle samples from Chinatown, three pasta samples from North Beach and one beverage.

Come out and sample delicious noodle and pasta dishes from over thirty restaurants from Chinatown and North Beach! This year, we are adding drinks to our menu as well! So come ready to mingle, enjoy live entertainment, watch noodle making demonstrations by renowned chefs, and slurp the afternoon away!

Date and Time: Sunday, May 1, 2011 from 1pm to 5pm

Event Location: Grant Avenue (btw Pacific and Vallejo) & Vallejo Street (btw Columbus and Grant)

Should be a great day outside in the Village. Get tickets now because it’ll sell out fast. Details and ticket sales here.

Chicken & Potato Cook-Off

Chicken & Potatoes: Lazio vs. Campania

It was Lazio versus Campania, and it was a blast.

Food author Mark Leslie was in town to promote his book, Beyond the Pasta, about the time he spent living with a family in Viterbo, northwest of Rome. Mornings he was in the kitchen with “Nonna” the grandmother, helping to prepare the family meals each day.

This is an experience I can relate to. So, we decided to both cook chicken cutlets with a potato contorni as a side. Mark’s are Nonna’s Lazio recipes. Mine are my Mom’s chicken cutlet and potato croquette, as they are still served in her birth village of Mirabella Eclano in Campania.

We met up at the Cookhouse (a wonderful new rental loft in North Beach – tell ’em Gianni sent ya!) for a little friendly kitchen battle. Watch the video above to see us cook our dishes side by side. Here are the recipes…

Mark’s Lazio Recipes

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Gianni’s Campania Recipes

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Easter Pies: Pizza Rustica & Pastiera Napoletana

This one’s for the start of the meal – only on Easter!

Easter 2012 Update!

I put together a 4-course Easter dinner menu with wine pairings that your family and friends will love. Pizza Rustica is the opening act and Pastiera Napoletana is the closer. Check out the menu post that includes my video demonstrations and text recipes for each course.

This year for Easter I’ll be in Virginia with my sister Lucia and brother-in-law Carlo, my nieces and nephews, their spouses, and my great nieces and nephews. It’s a three-generation cooking branch of the family. We’ll all be in the kitchen making the pizza rustica and pastiera napoletana, probably on Good Friday. But, we won’t eat them until Easter Sunday.

Serve the pizza rustica as part of the antipasti course and the Pastiera as your dolce (dessert).

The pastry crust recipes are  basically the same for both except I leave out the sugar and lemon rind in the torta rustica crust. These are very versatile pastry crusts that can be used in many applications.

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter! Buona Primavera! Happy Spring!

Pizza Rustica

This savory pie is also called torta rustica, pizza ripiena, pizza chiena or in Neapolitan-English slang, pizza gain.

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Pastiera Napoletana

This is probably the most famous Neapolitan pastry and it is one of my absolute favs. But, I still only make it once a year at Easter. Here in America, Pastiera is sometimes called pizza grano, Easter sweet pie, ricotta cheese cake, pizza or torta dolce.

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Have a Drink With Emperor Norton

Emperor Norton replica at Comstock Saloon on Columbus. Oh yeah, he's the protector of Mexico, too.

Over seventy years ago, Peter Macchiarini made up his mind that San Francisco needed a symbol. This idea wasn’t a modest one — Macchiarini was looking for San Francisco’s Statue of Liberty, its Eiffel Tower. Something to erect and have stand tall and proud atop the City by the Bay, embodying the city’s ethos. The decision soon became obvious: Emperor Norton. In his combination of progressive thinking and quirky demeanor, few people could represent the city of San Francisco so earnestly. And so Peter Macchiarini set out to make it so by designing and making a statue of the self-proclaimed Protector of the US and All Mexico.

Tragically, Macchiarini’s quest seemed to run a habit of getting very close to completion, but then falling apart. In nearly every decade since the idea’s inception, a statue of Emperor Norton has almost made it into the public view of San Francisco, only to be stopped short by some sort of political or social opponent. Most recently was the effort to have Norton stand atop the Peter Macchiarini Steps (Broadway and Kearny). Makes sense, right? But even that project was halted by bureaucracy.

With the passing of Peter Macchiarini in 2001, it seemed like an Emperor Norton statue would be nothing but a nice thought. But if you sit down today at the Comstock Saloon on Columbus Ave, you’ll look up to see a four-and-a-half-foot tall, 350-pound bronze Emperor Norton peering over you. Peter’s son, Dan, who now owns and runs Macchiarini Creative Design, agreed to have the statue put on display at the request of the Comstock owners. And so now there the Emperor is, perched high above the bar, making sure nobody’s taking themselves too seriously.

Bonus video of Dan Macchiarini in his workshop at 1544 Grant Ave. in North Beach:

North Beach Loves Banksy

"If at first you don't succeed - call an airstrike." (Southeast corner of Columbus & Broadway).

You may have seen the Banksy piece donning a rooftop wall in North Beach at Columbus and Broadway, but if you haven’t, I suspect you’ll still have some time – it’s been there for about a year so far. The clout that Banky’s street art carries in San Francisco is notable. Normally, non-commissioned graffiti (also referred to as “vandalism”) is monitored by the city, and cleaned reasonably swiftly. But letting graffiti stand on a wall for over a year is clearly saying something.

Last year, a Banksy piece showed up on a wall in Chinatown. There was some controversy as to whether or not the piece was authentic (part of the point of creating it), but even the owners of the shop that got vandalized realized the possible artistic merit of the graffiti sprayed against their wall (another point of creating it). They made diligent efforts to keep neighbors from trying to remove the piece, and even hung a sign next to the Banksy stencil, “Please help us preserve this piece of art! It’s very hard to get and destroying it means the lost for everybody!”

And it’s more than just your civilian San Franciscans who are recognizing the likability of street art – the San Francisco Art Fund has recently commissioned Blek le Rat to do a stenciled art piece on the wall of Cafe Divis (Oak & Divisadero), and another one at Market and Gough. Blek le Rat is a vaunted, pioneering French street artist who even Banksy recognizes as the creator of the movement (and this respect might very well be reflected in Banksy’s ubiquitous rat-feature pieces, like this one which is currently on an Alcatraz wall, and hell, might even belong to Blek himself – who knows?). Blek le Rat began his work in 1981, and still today his work is making city officials everywhere wonder what constitutes vandalism, and what constitutes art.

Controversial or not, the work of Banksy and like-styled street artists has reached international esteem. And if something falls in your lap, like it has on North Beach’s Columbus & Broadway, you have to recognize it. Let it ride, North Beach. Let it ride.

Sun’s Out and So Are We

It's a sunny day, and the grass is warm.

Just a week ago we were dumping our soaking, wind-beaten umbrellas into storefront buckets, fighting for shelter. But now anybody with a roof over their head is looking out their window lustfully. Yeah, the end of March put us through a bit of hell, but April is off to a start that’s making us city-dwellers – for the moment at least – forgive the recent rain.

With temperatures flirting with 80, San Francisco locals are running to their nearest public park with a book or frisbee, a blanket and a picnic basket … a not-so-secret bottle wrapped in a paper bag. And the picnics can’t help but vary depending on the neighborhood they’re taking place in. If you make a sunny-day-at-the-park errand run in the Mission you might come back with an iced coffee and cut-off jean shorts. In the Marina, maybe a Red Bull and a protein bar. And here in North Beach, residents are hitting up stores fully stocked with prosciutto and Pelligrino. Washington Square Park is in full bloom these days. We’ll take it while we can get it.

Foodbuzz 24×24: North Beach Italian

The Foodbuzz 24x24 crew.

The rain broke long enough on Saturday to enjoy a pleasant 4 hours eating authentic Italian food, drinking Italian wines, and talking about Italian everything. From “Guidos” and Jersey Shore, to the aging process of artisenal balsamic vinegar, the conversation was all over the place and full of laughs.

Your San Francisco players – Gianni, Jeff, Vanessa, Charin, David, Jeff S., Karla, Nick, and JT – talked about how the lasagna was made from “poor man’s” fresh pasta sheets (see how-to here). Even though Vanessa and Nick are engineers, it was Jeff S., the designer, who figured out how to cut the crostada into nine (almost) even slices. Gianni nudged JT to explore his ancestral Italian roots, Charin found a rogue rosemary sprig in her lasagna, and David played Neapolitan music on a ukelele.

Here’s the menu for the day…

Antipasti

  • Carciofi alla Romano. Artichokes with a breadcrumb, minced mint, parsley, garlic, and anchovy stuffing poached in EVOO and water. An authentic treat from la cucina ebraica, straight from the Jewish ghetto in Roma.
  • Prosciutto di Parma
  • Molinari Sopressato Salami
  • Boschetto al Tartufo. Cow and sheep milk semi-soft cheese with white truffle from Toscano.
  • Robiola Bosino. Cow and sheep milk soft cheese from Piemonte.
  • Shallots in agrodolce. Cramelized shallots in a balsamic vinegar and sugar glaze.
  • Olive Calabrese. Olives, roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, Calabrese chili in an EVOO marinade.
  • Vino: Doro Brut Valdobbiandene Prosecco (DOCG), La Vigne di Alice, NV, (Veneto). A great match for the varied antipasti. Apple and bread aroma. Dry, balanced and creamy. Tiny but mighty bubbles.

Primo

  • Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
  • Insalata mista. Baby field greens and arugula dressed with “La Mola” extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamico and fiore di sale (the very top crust of sea salt beds).
  • Vino: Aglianico Campania (IGT), Terredora DiPaolo, 2008 (Campania). Medium-bodied, deep black cherry color with red berries and violets in the nose. Soft, dry berry flavor with a touch of oak. Young and easy to drink and gutsy enough to stand up to the lasagna.

Dolce

  • Crostata di prugne con crema. Free form red plum tart with a dollop of whipped cream on the side.
  • Caffe.

And here are the photos…

Antipasti

Prosciutto di Parma. Molinari Sopressato Salami. Boschetto al Tartufo. Cow and sheep milk semi-soft cheese with white truffle from Toscano. Robiola Bosino. Cow and sheep milk soft cheese from Piemonte.
Shallots in agrodolce. Cramelized shallots in a balsamic vinegar and sugar glaze.
Carciofi alla Romano. Artichokes with a breadcrumb, minced mint, parsley, garlic, and anchovy stuffing poached in EVOO and water. An authentic treat from la cucina ebraica, straight from the Jewish ghetto in Roma.
Olive Calabrese. Olives, roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, Calabrese chili in an EVOO marinade.

Primo

Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.

Dolce

Crostata di prugne con crema. Free form red plum tart with a dollop of whipped cream on the side.

People

Vanessa & Gianni
Jeff S.
David & Charin
Nick, JT & Karla

The Great Tuscan Bread Debate

Filoni (loaves) and ciambelle (rounds)

Don’t miss our private authentic home-cooked dinner at Baonecci on Sunday and help resolve this bread debate.

Every time I’m in Tuscany somebody complains about Tuscan bread. It’s made without salt. The Toscani say it’s so the bread won’t interfere with the taste of the dishes on the table, and I think they know what they’re doing.

They’ve been making bread in the “bread capital of Italia,” Altopascio, since the middle ages. The village was on a main pilgrimage route and the bakers ensured the pilgrims had bread each day. The bread’s fame is due to the local water and the natural yeast in the air – but no salt.

Altopascio is just 20 KM southwest of Lucca (the birthplace of Puccini. Lucca is one of my favorite cities. The historical center is enclosed by medieval walls so wide that you can walk all around the centro storico on a grassy path atop the walls.

Puccini in front of his home in Lucca

Here’s a statue of Lucca’s favorite son the composer Giacomo Puccini. There’s a great bakery on the corner of the street leading into this piazza. I had my first bite of Buccellato Lucchese there. Buccellato is a gently sweet cross between bread and coffee cake, redolent of yeast and anise, studded with raisins and nuts and with a texture at once lightly tender yet seductively substantial. My best find in Lucca!

So, what’s the final verdict on Tuscan bread? Decide for yourself with the Gambaccini family – former Altopascio bakers.

Of course, I’ll be providing some more historical and cultural context for the four courses and four Italian wines we’ll be sharing. Hope to see you there.

A presto!


A Night in Tuscany in North Beach – Regional Food & Wine Pairing

Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan cuisine from the Gambaccini family of Caffé BaoNecci. Four courses paired with four wines.

Food & Wine Pairing Series

Tuscany.

I make an annual pilgrimage to Italy to go on culinary adventures. The trips inevitably turn into a group excursion with yours truly guiding a small herd of friends into markets, kitchens, and caffes.

Great food, great wine, great friends. It’s the highlight of my year. When I can’t be in the Old Country, I find solace here in North Beach. It’s a little piece of Italy in the States, and I love it.

In that spirit, I decided to create a series of private restaurant dinner parties to showcase region-specific Italian cuisines and wines, and the chefs that know those regions so well.

Naturally, I’ve got my favorite North Beach restaurants. I like some of the popular ones, but the real gems are the small, family-owned places with living connections to the Italian villages of their origin. By supporting these restaurants, you can reward their efforts at making the North Beach community the best it can be – through a nuanced mix of tradition and plain old yumminess.

These custom-designed menus are a collaboration between myself and the chefs, and promise to whisk you to Italia via your taste buds.

Introducing the first in the series: Tuscan Cuisine at Caffé BaoNecci
Sunday, March 6th, 6pm

 

The first in the series is this trattoria near Grant and Green. Known for its thin-crust pizza, the restaurant might be small, but the family who own it are larger than life. Walter and Stefania Gambaccini, and sons Elia and Filippo, are recent immigrants to North Beach, moving here from the village of Altopascio near Lucca.

Stefania is cooking a four course meal that she used to make in her home village in Altopascio (she may even share a song or two). Walter is showcasing some hard-to-find wines, including a wonderful Chianti from a friend’s vineyard in Montalbano.

Come join us for a typical Luccese meal and gain new insight into the cooking and culture of northern Tuscany.

There are only 40 seats at the table, so buy your ticket now. Bring some friends, and make some new ones, during this evening of fine Tuscan food and wine.

I’ll even send you a recipe or two after our delightful evening at BaoNecci.

In this video, I introduce most of the family, and they talk about the food, as son Elia translates his parents’ Italian…

 

In part two of the video, Walter talks about the wine…

 

The Menu: 4 courses paired with 4 wines

Antipasti

  • Crostini Toscani. Tuscan chicken liver pate on a thin toast. (I’m not crazy about liver, and I love these.)
  • Bruschetta con pomodoro. Tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, salt and basil.
  • Prosecco Negroni NV. From the Veneto with white peach and pear tones in this bright and light sparkling wine.

Primo

  • Zuppa Ribollita. This classic bean and vegetable soup takes two days to make.
  • Chianti Fattoria Montellori 2007. From Walter’s friends in the Montalbano zone in the Chianti district west of Florance the Nieri family have produced a fine cherry colored medium-bodied wine with soft textured fruit. A reminder of the delicious, haunting Chiantis that flow from the casks of the finest Tuscan trattorie.

Secondo

  • Pollo alla cacciatora con polenta. Chicken in a tomato sauce flavored with garlic and sage and these tiny multi-colored Tuscan olives cured with bay laurel and clove. Served with polenta to help soak up the sauce. Vegetarian option: Sformato. A molded vegetable souffle-like dish with zucchini, eggplant and carrots.
  • Bolgheri Rosso Michele Satta 2008. A Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Merlot from southern Tuscany, the land of Sassicaia. The wine has a bouquet of red and black fruit, leather and tobacco, good fruit balance and dry finish.

Dolci

  • Crostata con marmellata di albicocche. A rustic tart with apricot marmelade.
  • Crema di savoiardi. Layers of liqueur-soaked ladyfingers and pastry cream.
  • Vin Santo Montellori. A favorite Tuscan dessert wine with marmalade and sherry aroma and a full flavor of orange zest and roasted nuts.
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan cuisine from the Gambaccini family of Caffé BaoNecci. Four courses paired with four wines.

Time to Stuff the Cannoli

Worth the wait!

I’ve been bugging Santo, the owner of Cavalli Cafe, to let us film him stuffing his cannoli for a while now. We were finally able to ambush him!

He only puts the filling in the cannoli when you order it. It’s just him in the cafe, so sometimes if it’s busy, you gotta wait a few minutes. But boy is it worth it…

“Basic Italian”

The Bold Italic article page

Local writer Matt Baume penned a fabulous write-up of me for The Bold Italic, a beautifully-designed San Francisco web magazine that bills itself as “an experiment in local discovery.”

Gianni Mola [is] a neighborhood fixture in North Beach who knows his way blindfolded around every corner market, pizza joint, and delicatessen. There isn’t a meal served in North Beach that Gianni isn’t familiar with.

I’d certainly like to believe that! The piece really gets to the heart of what I’m trying to do here in my little Italian village of North Beach – carry on the age-old cooking, eating, and socializing customs of Italia, and advocate for them to others.

Of course, I’m not the only food-loving person on the planet doing that, but I do feel that North Beach as a capital of authentic Italian culture is under-appreciated, and as a neighborhood, often misunderstood.

That seems to come across clearly in this article, and additionally (unlike so many sites our there), it looks good enough to eat.

Thanks, Matt!

Mission District’s Got Nothin’ on North Beach Murals

Have you checked out the fantastic Jeremy Fish mural that’s on the side of Tony’s Napoletana? Well, you should.

It’s a beautiful tribute not only to pizza, but to the history of North Beach and its Italian heritage. From the water buffalo that get milked to make Tony’s mozzarella, to the Leaning Tower of Pisa juxtaposed with Coit Tower, to giant pizza slices in the sky. I like it so much, I’ve added it to the stops in my walking tour.

Eater.com went as far as to suggest that North Beach could overtake The Mission as the city’s street art capital. That’s definitely some hype, but hey, here’s to hoping…

Do you know of any other good ones? Upload pics to the Facebook page.