Simplify, slow down, savor… Lunch at Ristorante Nicolao

Park Hotel Ai Cappuccini - GubbioRistorante Nicolao
Park Hotel ai Cappuccini
Via Tifernate
06024 Gubbio (PG)
39-075-9234
http://www.parkhotelaicappuccini.it
info@parkhotelaicappuccini.it

Our inner wisdom (and life coaches too) remind us of our need to simplify, slow down, savor… Sunday is the perfect day to put this into practice and lunch at Ristorante Nicolao in Gubbio offers the perfect venue for doing just that. The interior of this restaurant belonging to Park Hotel ai Cappuccini is simple in its décor, nothing to distract from the experience of dining. We allow our waiter to suggest our luncheon menu, never a regrettable decision when in Italy. We linger after our antipasto of scrambled eggs with summer truffles. We are in no hurry as we await our first course. Freshly made lasagne and a plate of handmade tagliatelle al ragù arrive filling the air with the scents of an Italian kitchen, a bouquet of tomatoes, basil, garlic and aged pecorino. Simple ingredients transformed into something sacred…

 

My granddaughter and I slow down even more and spend our time in quiet conversation. Our waiter brings us the main course which he has chosen for us – tagliata of beef, rosemary-infused medium rare slices fan out on our plate, paired with perfectly grilled zucchini and potato slices. The restaurant has filled up with couples and families savoring moments together as well as the flavorful offerings of an extensive menu.

 

It is time to choose a sweet ending from a very tempting dessert menu and our waiter leaves the difficult decision to us. A sour cherry topped cheese cake for my granddaughter and a trio of made-to-order fresh fruit sorbets for me. We have chosen wisely by having lunch here, we have slowed down and savored the chef’s cuisine. Thank you, Ristorante Nicolao, for providing all the ingredients for a perfect Sunday afternoon.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.menus-and-memories.com

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Park Hotel ai Cappuccini – immersed in tranquility

2018c Park Hotel ai CappucciniPark Hotel ai Cappuccini
Via Tifernate
06024 Gubbio (PG)
39-075-9234
http://www.parkhotelaicappuccini.it
info@parkhotelaicappuccini.it

Perched on the side of Mount Foce in a wooded park-like setting, the building of this monastery was begun in 1631 to accommodate the Capuchin monks who had settled in this region for its splendid views and the isolation it provided for a contemplative life. It remained an active monastery until 1866, was then secularized and eventually left to deteriorate. A century later it was converted into a hotel and in 1990 was meticulously restored to become the Park Hotel ai Cappuccini. Great care was taken to preserve its original architecture and its frescoes.

First and foremost, what remain are the splendid views, the tranquility of its setting, and a chance to retreat into a world of quiet contemplation. What enhances the experience is the addition of every modern amenity, an indoor pool that opens to a sun-drenched terrace, a spa, a fitness center, an award-winning restaurant, and a caring, attentive staff. The rooms are quiet and comfortable, the furnishings throughout the hotel are sophisticated and outstanding artwork is present everywhere. The public spaces offer an eclectic mix of ancient paintings, religious art, traditional pottery and contemporary ceramics and sculptures, representing the best of the region’s artistic achievements, both past and present. If a guest were to never leave the grounds, a stay here satisfies in every way.

But within a short distance, there is much to enjoy in Gubbio, a medieval town with roots that stretch back to ancient Rome and beyond. Begin your visit with a stroll around the ancient Roman Theater, take a cable car to the Church of Sant’Ubaldo, sample the local flat bread called crescia with a wedge of pecorino, admire artisan wares in the many shops, then return home to your hotel and enjoy a fabulous meal at Ristorante Nicolao.

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com


Osteria dei Re – Farm to Table dining in Gubbio

Osteria dei Re - signOsteria dei Re
Via Cavour, 15/B
06024 Gubbio (PG)
39-075-922-2504
http://www.osteriadeire.com
info@osteriadeire.com
Owner: Moreno Brunelli

Osteria dei Re is on the only true osteria in Gubbio, so it is important to owner Moreno Brunelli, that it maintain its authenticity. What is an osteria? In the past, it was a simple tavern where the townsfolk would come mostly to drink wine together, enjoying whatever simple fare was offered on the side. It was never a restaurant, and therefore, the offerings were few – simple, local, and freshly prepared. Moreno adheres to this, offering a limited menu that celebrates a tradition his grandmother enjoyed in this very same osteria nearly eighty years ago.  It is like a step back in time to be having lunch in this rustic tavern.  There is also outdoor dining in the piazza.

This is truly a farm to table experience, with ALL the products carefully selected from local farmers who do not engage in raising factory-fed animals, but rather on a small scale, practice sustainable, organic farming. From the olive oil to the wine, from the pork to the poultry, Moreno personally knows the source or he would not be serving it. He even barters wine and bread with a local peasant who brings him fresh rosemary, sage, and other herbs from the mountainside. No elaborate recipes are needed to show off this cuisine.

Osteria dei Re - Piattone del Re

So what better way to experience what this osteria has perfected than to indulge in the Piattone del Re – otherwise known as the King’s Platter? Serving two persons, but enough for four, the platter is about 18 inches in diameter and is a feast of flavors. Starting with the warm crescia, the traditional flat bread of Gubbio, we first sample the two small bowls of cottiche e fagioli, an immensely flavorful bowl of borlotti beans in a tomato sauce with pork rind. Going clockwise around the platter, there is bruschetta with crispy thin slices of quanciale, polenta with lard, puréed zucchini, roasted potatoes, fried sage, prosciutto and caciotta cheese with truffles. How we had room to share a decadent chocolate dessert is a mystery.

Osteria dei Re - birthday board

The Osteria dei Re recently celebrated 18 years in business. Moreno does it right and his grandmother would be proud!  Congratulations!

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.menus-and-memories.com

5eCinque – To our health!

5eCinque5eCinque
Pza.della Passera, 1
50125 Firenze
39-055-248-0582
http://www.5ecinque.it
info@5ecinque.it
Owners: Silvio Varando & Mariolina Garau

We set out in the neighborhood of Oltrarno,  on the “other side” of the river, our favorite part of Florence. We are in search of something different for today’s lunch, something light and healthy and we find it at 5eCinque, a small family-owned vegetarian restaurant, where we are smart to arrive early as it fills up rapidly. With our early arrival we have the pleasure of meeting the owner, Silvio, who shares some time with us explaining their unique cuisine. Mariolina, his wife and chef, is Sardinian, and Silvio is Ligurian and together they have created a unique vegetarian cuisine that celebrates both regions of Italy.

Silvio loves people and makes us and every other diner feel welcome at 5eCinque, but I get to hear the story of how the restaurant got its name. As a child, Silvio would often go to market and order a five lire wheat bun in which was sandwiched a five lire farinata, a typical Ligurian flatbread made with chickpea flour. The fondness with which he holds this memory inspired his restaurant’s name.

5eCinque - Silvio Varando

It is a treat to explore and sample Ligurian and Sardinian-inspired vegetarian cooking. The flaky foccaccia topped with Ligurian cheese looks almost too good to eat. And of course, an introduction to Liguria would have been lacking without a taste of the famed farinata. Our main dish is Polpettone di fagiolini, a “cake” of chickpeas, potatoes and blended green beans, made savory with a perfect mix of fresh herbs. Because the cuisine is light, we manage to leave room for dessert, an almond milk flan with sweet toppings, one of chocolate and the other a sweet sauce made with peaches.

The tables are few here, so we do not linger. A small group waits outside its door. Not at all surprising.

copyright Ginda Simpson   http://www.rooms-withaview.com   http://www.munus-and-memories.com

A “Star” Hotel in the heart of Florence

2018c Helvetia & Bristol

original watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

Helvetia & Bristol
Via dei Pescioni,
50123 Firenze
39-055-26651
http://www.starhotels.com
reservationshelvetia@starhotels.it

They say location is everything, and it certainly is true for the elegant Helvetia & Bristol in the heart of Florence, steps from Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza della Republica, the Duomo and the Uffizi. But a stay at this renowned hotel gives you so much more. Built in the early 1800’s, it opened its doors on June 28, 1885 by Giacomo Mosca, as the first hotel in Florence. It quickly attracted artists and writers, with its Winter Garden becoming the place for society to meet. It did not take long for it to become a much sought-after hotel during the days of the Grand Tour.

Restored and updated over the decades, it has maintained and even celebrated its original Art Deco features. Upon entering its lobby, guests are enveloped in an atmosphere that whispers of its aristocratic past. Period antiques, fine woods, graceful fabrics all add to its elegance, providing a warm and cozy welcome. A chilled pitcher of lemon-ginger spiced water awaits the hot and weary tourist upon his or return each day. In our room, we discover a pretty dish of sweets to add to our welcome while the décor and amenities add to our comfort. From our private balcony, we can look over the terracotta rooftops of the city, or close the shutters and retreat into a darkened stillness, a relief at the end of the day.

The Winter Garden serves as our breakfast room. Beneath its Art Deco pastel-colored stained-glass roof and wrought-iron chandeliers, a sumptuous buffet tempts us at every turn – from the savory selections of salami and cheeses, to hot servings of eggs, bacon, and vegetables. There are enough sweet choices to move a saint into sinful indulgence. Yes, the Helvetia & Bristol offers more than location. It delights, it soothes, it pampers…

copyright Ginda Simpson   http://www.rooms-withaview.com   http://www.gindasimpson.com

 

La Terrazza del Principe – an unforgettable view

La Terrazza del PrincipeLa Terrazza del Principe
Viale Niccolò Macchiavelli, 10
50125 Firenze
39-055-224-104
http://www.laterrazzadelprincipe.com
info@laterrazzadelprincipe.com
Owners: Sabina Stiehl & Nicolo Reina

I had meant to ask why the name The Terrace of the Prince, but with the intake of every breath I know that it is a princely view. We are lone diners at the moment and therefore have the entire terrace to ourselves as if we are private guests. It is a purely Tuscan scene that includes olives and vineyards, tall cypresses, medieval stone walls, and the elegant villas of the Boboli Gardens. Wow!

We have brought our appetites for this sun-blessed al fresco lunch. The cuisine interweaves the traditions of both Tuscany and Sicily, reflecting the marriage of the owners, Sabina and Nicolo. Vine-ripened tomatoes burst with flavor in a Caprese salad, an antipasto to be savored slowly, like the aging of the wine we drink. Our first course sings of Sicily with a sampling of Pasta alla Norma, made with tomatoes and eggplant, and Rigatoni al pistacchio in a cream sauce. A shared secondo of polpette alla nonna, grandmother’s meatballs is simple and satisfying, transporting me back to my own grandmother’s kitchen.

We have left no room for dessert, except for the sweet memories and a longing to come back before we even leave. An aperitif with a friend at sunset? Or a romantic meal for two just because…

copyright Ginda Simpson  –  http://www.rooms-withaview.com  –  http://www.gindasimpson.com

Caffe Desiderio – Cooking as Art

cdc1Caffe Desiderio
Piazza Niccolò Tommaseo, 5r
Settignano (FI)
39-055-697687
http://www.caffedesiderio.com
info@caffedesiderio.com
Owners: Michele Busanero & Francesca de Gasperi

What a pleasure it is to sit with Michele, chef and owner of Caffe Desiderio, an unpretentious yet inviting wine bar/restaurant in the center of Settignano outside of Florence. Caffe Desiderio indeed was a locale as far back as the end of the 18th century when artist Desiderio da Settignano opened it as a tea room and exhibit space for his paintings.

cdd1Today the art that is offered is of the culinary variety, attractive to look at, and most satisfying to consume. Seasonally fresh ingredients and innovative recipes make Michele’s cuisine a special treat on this summer evening. And Michele shares a moment with us expressing his knowledge and passion for his Tuscan cuisine, inspired by his childhood in Florence and his travels to other parts of Italy.

Take for example, traditional prosciutto of Tuscany served with milky fresh stracciatella cde1and fritters made with grano arso, or burnt grain, a tradition that has its modest beginnings in the southern region of Puglia. In the 18th century villagers would harvest the scorched grains that remained after the farmers had burnt the fields in preparation for the next planting. For the poor, nothing went to waste not even burnt grain, and Michele’s efforts to introduce burnt grain to his customers are not wasted either. His liver paté, on the other hand, is as rich as fois gras, made so with lots of butter and an extra amount of vin santo, making a superbly rich spread for his fried polenta wedges.

cdf1The menu at Caffe Desiderio changes often, according to the season, and sometimes daily depending on what is offered at the market that day. We got to try fagottini (little egg pasta knapsacks) stuffed with lampredotto, or tripe. Lampredotto is a Florentine specialty that shows up as popular street food when stuffed into a crusty panino. Tonight’s pasta dish is topped with delicately sweet red onions and a spritz of green sauce. I would not have known any of this, nor had the courage to try it, if it hadn’t been for our chef introducing us to this unusual, yet totally delicious specialty. I love being cdg1introduced to the local cuisine in this way.

Our wine is local too, a Chianti Ruffina from the Frascole estates. Grazie, Michele and Francesca, for a delightful meal.

copyright Ginda Simpson   http://www.rooms-withaview.com    http://www.gindasimpson.com