Back to the Motherland, and La Cucina di Clemenza

You guys, I’m back in New Jersey!  I know I haven’t written in a little while.  Wrapping up work in Spain was a little hectic, but after a much-needed vacation through Mallorca and Paris, I got to come back home.  While I was incredibly fortunate to get to work and live in Europe, I love home, and my home state.  To ease back into blogging, I thought a nice food review would be great.  I’d been dreaming about the first meal I’d eat on Jersey soil for at least a month – a Swiss cheese burger from a local burger bar – and it didn’t disappoint.  I’m not willing to divulge the name of my burger connection just yet, but I do have another delicious place to share.

Not my first meal back, but equally as good, I got to try a new (for me) Italian restaurant, and I think it’s a new favorite.  What better way to get back into the swing of things than with an Italian restaurant review in New Jersey?  Any Godfather fans out there?  I know I am.  Little did I know that a few miles from my hometown is a restaurant owned by the family of the late Richard Castellano, the man who played the role of Peter Clemenza in The Godfather.  The place is called, of course, La Cucina di Clemenza, and it was really good.  For you people in Northern NJ, it’s right around the corner from the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, which makes it great for a pre or post-show meal.  {We saw Ever After, which was fantastic.  Charles Shaughnessy has been one of my favorite actors since he was on the Nanny, and he did not disappoint on stage.  The rest of the cast was also really great!}

La Cucina di Clemenza is a really fun place.  You know you’re in an Italian restaurant when you walk in.  Above the doorway is a mural of the New York City skyline, circa 1945.  The menu was filled with Godfather quotes, and the staff was really friendly and helpful.  I’m not entirely sure that our waiter’s real name was the very Italian name he told us it was, but it added to the ambiance.  For the wine people out there, the restaurant is BYOB, but they also have a liquor license that I think allows them to sell Jersey-made wines by the bottle.  I’m a little fuzzy on the details, since we brought our own, but just know it’s there and you can bring your favorite bottle if you’d prefer.

Attached to La Cucina is a pizza place by the same name, which also looks interesting.  I’ve heard they have good garlic knots, but I didn’t order any, so I can’t really say.  My table ordered a salad to start with, and several pasta dishes; Rigatoni Salciccia – with ground sausage in a pink sauce, Penne alla Cinque Cinque – with fresh tomatoes, shrimp, and arugula in garlic and oil, and my favorite, Rigatoni Siciliano – with filet mignon, eggplant, and fresh mozzarella in a red sauce.  Everything was delicious!  There was no time for dessert, since we had to get to the theater, but I know I will be back!

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Slightly fuzzy menu photo, but had to share.

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Misto della casa salad. Mixed greens, tomatoes, and topped with pecorino romano cheese.

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Rigatoni Salciccia

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Penne alla Cinque Cinque

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Rigatoni Siciliano

What’s the best new restaurant you’ve discovered lately?  What did you order?

*I wasn’t endorsed or compensated in any way for my review, I just thought it might make an interesting post.  If you want to check out the online menu for yourself, the link to the restaurant is La Cucina di Clemenza.

La Cantina de Frida Taquería: Restaurant Review

Hi you guys!  Sorry, again, for being out of touch for awhile.  These past few weeks have been truly hectic, and on Friday I ended up moving apartments.  I’ve spent a lot of this long weekend unpacking, which isn’t the most fun, but I’ve also made it to the beach yesterday and today, and it is gorgeous.  To help redeem myself, I thought I’d review the Mexican restaurant I went to on Friday night.  I went with a friend to celebrate our move.  We were going to just stop in for drinks, but drinks turned into dinner, and it was so good.  It’s been so long since I’ve had Mexican food, and this was especially timely with Cinco de Mayo coming up! 

We’d both heard mixed reviews about this place, namely that it was impossible to get in without a reservation, and that it was crazy expensive.  We walked right in and they sat us at the bar, which was perfect.  And honestly, the place never got that full.  There’s no set menu, instead you pick your courses off of a blackboard.  When we went it was 18/person.  I’m not sure if that drinks were included or not, which I know is something I should know, but it was that kind of night.  Basic margaritas were 5 on the drink menu, so at most, it was 23 total, plus any extra margaritas you might want, which I thought was reasonable.  They also had a lot of beer and tequila to try, but I was happy with my frozen margarita.

The ceviche I had was really good, and so were the nachos, and my burrito.  My friend enjoyed her quesadilla, but the best part of the meal was undoubtedly the tequilamisu – a homemade tiramisu with tequila instead of rum.  If you have the chance to try it, you have to.

All in all it was a very successful Mexican food adventure.  When I googled it today, I learned the place is not actually called Frida Kahlo, but Frida’s vibe is certainly there.  I spotted her picture in a few places, and I read somewhere that the restaurant was designed to look like her home, but honestly, I don’t know how much I believe that part.  Either way, it’s a worthwhile pit stop in Palma.

Do you have plans to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?  What’s your favorite Mexican restaurant?

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View from the bar – can you see Frida?

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My ceviche and the nachos in the background. Sorry it’s a little blurry.

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Quesadilla in the distance.

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My burrito! I went with vegetarian, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything! So good!

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Frozen margarita with a flower petal.

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The star of the show. Tequilamisu.

Italy Part 2: Rome

Rome!  I don’t know where to begin.  I spent most of my Italy trip in Rome, and absolutely loved it!  I stayed in Trastevere, a part of the city that I know a lot of people will say is touristy.  Trastevere is touristy – it definitely had its fair share of American and British students studying abroad.  But beyond that, it felt like a community.  Something was always open, there were always places to grab pizza or gelato, and I fell in love with a particular cafe around the corner from my AirBnB.  The water in Rome is all drinkable, and there are natural fountains everywhere.  A big upgrade from schlepping 6L of water home from the grocery store every other day in Mallorca.

Rome is an amazing city, filled with amazing food, and history.  I walked everywhere, even though I bought a week long transit pass, which in retrospect, I’m not sure is really worth it.  Italy is also notorious for not checking that you bought a ticket – you’re supposed to buy one before you get on the bus and validate it, but it’s really on the honor system.  If you get caught, there are hefty fines, but, if an official gets on the bus you could just as easily get off.  I’m not the kind of person that operates under that kind of pressure though, so I wanted to make sure I could get anywhere easily and not worry about having to find a point of purchase.

In Rome I got to meet up with a friend I haven’t seen from high school, and that was the best.  Aside from the comfort of having a little piece of home all the way across the ocean, it was nice to reconnect, and also not wander around the city like a completely blind tourist.

The woman whose apartment I stayed at was delightful.  She introduced me to the Rome free walking tour, which I totally recommend.  It was a lot of walking, but I got to see a lot more, and with better direction than I would have with just my tour guide book.  If you’re interested, here’s a link to their website.  The same day, I also had the most amazing pasta caccio e pepe, at a restaurant I found based on a friend’s recommendation.  Even better than that was the mascarpone and chocolate-laden coffee I had for dessert.  The restaurant is called Il Brillo Parlante.

In Rome I fell in love with pizza  by the slice, where they have pizza waiting, and they chop off as much as  you want, and charge you by weight, with gelato, and with the cafe near my AirBnB.  It’s called Checco er Carretiere.  I just found their website, and I didn’t know they also are an actual restaurant, but the cafe part was amazing.  The men who worked there were the sweetest, and drew flowers on my cappuccinos.

I could go on and on.  Rome was fantastic.  I would return to Rome, and Trastevere, in a heartbeat!  I think anything I write about it at this point is redundant, and I really want to share my photos, so I’m going to post as is.  The moral of the story is I had an amazing time with amazing people and amazing food, and if you get the chance, you should visit.

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My first gelato in Rome.  In Rome they put panna, whipped cream, on top of the gelato.

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At the entrance to Trastevere.

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Most creative garbage can award goes to this gelato place.

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So many flavors, and I didn’t even capture all of them.

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Here the gelato guy was cranky and didn’t offer me panna.

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Piazza Navona

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Breakfast of champions… a chocolate thing, cappuccino, and a side of whipped cream which I did not ask for but happily ate.

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Inside the Pantheon.

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“Tonnarelli Cacio e pepe con fiori di zucca” – Tonnarelli with pecorino cheese, black pepper, and squash flowers – at a restaurant called Il Brillo Parlante. I went at the advice of a friend. So good!

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Cafe Il Brillo Parlante.  Possibly the best thing I’ve eaten ever.  It’s a shot of espresso covered in mascarpone cheese and chocolate chunks, dusted with powdered sugar.  Stay tuned for my recreation of this recipe.

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Outside of the Colosseum. I didn’t make it in, but, there it is.

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An amazing Sicilian bakery.

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A cannolo {singular of cannoli}, pistachio almond cookies, and a chocolate lobster tail. All amazing.

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The best cannolo I’ve ever eaten. Absolutely amazing.

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We talked a lot about the great architecture of the desserts. All of them were easily cut in half, with minimal crumbling, no smushing, and no collapsing. A+ to these guys.

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Pizza by the slice!! At La Renella in Trastevere.

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Some flavors.

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From my friends at Checco er Carettiere.

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Pretty sure this was Easter dessert. “Cookies” flavored gelato with panna.

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Breakfast from my favorite place. A chocolate filled donut, I think called a bomba, with a beautiful cappuccino.

Italy Part 1: Naples

I’ve had a half-started post about Naples open for over a week.  Clearly I’m not doing a great job of telling the story of my trip, so I’m going to let the pictures do that.  It was the last part of my Italy trip, but one of the most exciting.  I was really looking forward to eating pizza where it all began!  Naples is safe enough.  There are sketchy people, but friendly people too!  I traveled alone and pretty much always felt fine.  Pompeii was boring.  The gelato was good, not as good as in Rome.  You should go and eat the pizza.  Or better yet, the pizza fritta.  The pizza was delicious, but nothing you couldn’t get at a good Neapolitan pizza place in New York or New Jersey.  Still worth the trip.

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Capri in the distance.

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Supposedly Oscar Wilde lived there.

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Islands from a cave.

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I thought it was pretty.

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More views.

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The pizza!! From L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. Sorbillo was closed for Pasquetta, so I can’t compare, but it was good!

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A different view.

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Cheesy close-up.

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Look at that bubble-age! So good!

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Ruins at Pompeii. I think this was the forum.

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Necessary gelato. From this place called Gay-Odum that the tour guide recommended. Decent gelato, really cranky lady working there.

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Naples shoreline.

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Pizza Fritta!!  From Zia Esterina Sorbillo.  Next door to the famous Gino Sorbillo.

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Inside. Ricotta and some kind of delicious pork.

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Again. Delicious.

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Naples panorama. Pop up fair, gorgeous red clay tennis courts, a cruise ship and mountain (volcano?) in the distance.

What’s the craziest trip you’ve taken just to eat the regional food?

Semana Santa

Happy Sunday!  For those of you in Europe, I hope you’re adjusting to the time change.  It’s never easy springing forward, even when you know you “gain” an hour.  Here on Mallorca, this weekend marked the beginning of Semana Santa, the Holy Week before Easter.  The week is filled with lots of processions leading up to the main event {Easter}.  I don’t know a lot about the processions, but, from umpteen years of Spanish class, and Wikipedia {actually about.com}, they were designed in the 16th century by the Catholic Church to present the story of the Passion of Christ so everyone could understand.  If you ask me, from what I saw, it was super confusing and I understand less now.  There were lots of images of Christ and crosses, a lot of drummers and people in costume, but nothing very coherent for me.  However, I am a bystander, this is my first Semana Santa, and just because I didn’t take anything away from it doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be taken away.  Also the horses at the beginning were beautiful!

I’ll let my pictures tell the story.

*These are from two different processions – Friday night, when I was just trying to get across the center of town to buy water at the supermarket before it closed, and this evening.  I didn’t stay until the end of either, but I was there for a solid hour this afternoon.

*Just because I didn’t understand what was going on doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful.

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What’s the most impressive Holy Week demonstration you’ve seen?  How does your community celebrate it?

Update:  I was informed by a very reliable source that what I saw wasn’t an actual procession, just practice for the procession that will happen later in the week.  The actual procession, when it takes place, will be 5+ hours long.