La Dolce Italia – giveaway!

Disclaimer: La Dolce Italia are giving me some free tickets to attend the festival.

I must admit, I was a little surprised when I got an email from La Dolce Italia festival. I mean I love Italian food, and I studied Italian for about 8 years throughout primary and secondary school – Dario e sempre in ritardo – but I wouldn’t have thought my blog was particularly Italiano. Maybe it’s because my ex is Italian, or my old housemate comes from Tuscany, or because I ride a Vespa. They certainly do their homework!

In any case, I’m pretty happy that they found me, because upon looking at program, I’m pretty excited about it. It’s billed as the ‘first and only authentic Italian lifestyle event’ in Australia. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m guessing it’s more about the food, fashion and fabulousness than a skyrocketing unemployment rate and floundering national economy.

At La Dolce Italia, there’s going to be a bunch of masterclasses about truffles, pastry, wine and well, more wine; there will also be an Italian fashion show or two, and for those of you bringing your mothers, there’s a decoupage exhibit. Oh, and even better, they’ve got a ‘bambini world’, so the kids can be sequestered in an orderly fashion (though organisers have asked me to add that their parents will still have to supervise them – it’s not a boozing creche) while adults eat, drink, and generally sample la vita bella.

Food and wine Fashionable legs Motorcycle

The Festival will be on at the Royal Exhibition Centre – one of my favourite venue spaces in Melbourne – on the weekend of August 10 – 12. In previous years, the festival has happened across various separate venues around Melbourne, but the organisers have pulled it all together to make things more convenient for punters. Che buono!

So anyway, you know you want to go, if only to sample the pizza and ogle the pretty Italian girls and guys. Let’s get to the giveaway bit.

In order to win yourself a double pass to La Dolce Italia, you’ll need to:

1. Like the Half-Eaten facebook page (if you haven’t already).

2. Tell me why you want to win the tickets, in a comment below, or on the facebook timeline.

There are 10 double passes up for grabs! Entries close at 5pm, Friday 3 August.

Oh, and if you don’t win, you can buy tickets and go in the draw to win a trip to Italy.

Apri la finestra e scappiamo a citta!




Arrivederci, il mio coinquilino!

I’m losing my housemate this week. He’s going back to Italy for a stint, and it’s not certain when he’ll be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

In any case, last night il coinquilino (that’s the housemate in Italian, for those of you who haven’t cottoned on yet) cooked up a farewell dinner for some close friends. A little unfair to have him cook his own farewell dinner? Perhaps, but he loves to cook – part of why we get along so well – and he’s also been gainfully unemployed for a few weeks, so he welcomed the distraction from online gaming and daytime television.

The dinner started off with some bruschetta. From the top, we had tomato and mint – with the interesting addition of Vietnamese mint – and some plain garlic-rubbed bread, which we enjoyed with good olive oil and salt, some mussels, and then below there’s a bruschetta topped with salsiccia and cream cheese. image


imageFor primi, il coinquilino had made ravioli, filled with goat’s cheese and walnuts, with a sage butter.imageFor secondi, we had cozze – mussels – crumbed and stuffed with salsiccia and mortadella, with a side of crispy potatoes and tomato-braised silverbeet.imageFor dessert, @eatnik had made a chocolate mousse with a pedro ximinez gelee. imageIt was all so delicious, and washed down with some great wine, this was a wonderful dinner to remember. Hopefully il coinquilino comes back to Melbourne soon, so we can have more dinners like this! Also, because I haven’t just lost a great housemate, but a good friend.

Al Albero

354 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy
Phone: 9486 3233

You know, when people say ‘good pizza’ to me these days, I immediately think of a thin crust, minimalist toppings, and hopefully there’s goat’s cheese somewhere in the mix. Al Albero is pretty much the antithesis of that (except for the goat’s cheese bit) and yet there’s no denying it’s good pizza. If not great pizza.

I was first taken there by @essjayeff for a quick dinner with half of the Phat Preston trivia team before heading to the Gastronomica quiz a few weeks ago. On that visit, I thought I’d abstain from documenting, because, well, sometimes it’s nice to take the night off. And also my spidey-senses warned me that fellow foodbloggers might get a little judgey judgey about my iPhoneography.

On my return visit, unfortunately the duck pizza – yep, you read correctly, DUCK PIZZA – had been taken off the menu. I was told that the removal was temporary, and a new menu should probably be in place by now. This return visit was another pizza date, and was very much the antithesis of the Papa Gino’s excursion. The pizza was good, and so was the conversation. And the fella. But again, digress much?

We ordered two pizzas – a medium lamb pizza, and a small of the Albero. We really should have ordered two smalls.

The lamb pizza is topped with meat that’s been stripped off slow-roasted lamb shanks, big hunks of tomato, goat’s cheese and fresh herbs. The base is much more doughy, like a foccacia, so expect to fill up quite quickly. Though the duck pizza is more exciting on paper, I think the lamb pizza is definitely my favourite here.

The Albero is a vegetarian option, with pumpkin, goat’s cheese, capsicum and a whole lot of fresh basil to top it off. It’s good, but I probably would’ve added lamb to it, if I had my way.

There are a lot of reviews on urbanspoon about this place, saying the service is slow and sucks, and the pizza is thick and soggy, but I personally haven’t had any bad experiences there. Both nights I went were quite quiet, but I imagine there would be quite a wait if the place were busy, as it’s only a one or two person operation, in a tiny kitchen, where everything is made from scratch. So you should factor that in, if you’re planning to go.

Al Albero on Urbanspoon

Papa Gino’s

221 Lygon St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 5758

There’s a time and a place for everything in life, so they saying goes. I’m not sure who said it, but they’re a very forgiving soul. Because conversely, life’s too short to [insert something negative here]. My insert negative is [go on bad dates].

Recently single again, I’ve started picking up the pieces of my life and going through that strange process known as ‘moving on’. It’s strangely coincidental, but every time in my life that has marked the end of a significant relationship, has also been marked by my moving house. But I digress. I recently went on a date, which life was too short to have really happened. I won’t go into details, because you’re reading to find out about Papa Gino’s, not the travails of my dating adventures. That’s another blog entirely!

After a couple of beers, which impaired my judgment somewhat, I agreed to move on for dinner. Since I was a bit inebriated, I was quite happy when he suggested pizza. I’m a patient guy, so I thought I’d give the conversation a chance to improve. I also thought it might still be early enough for us to get a table at D.O.C.. Alas, I was wrong on both counts. So given my relative inexperience and lack of knowledge about pizza on Lygon St, we ended up going to Papa Gino’s.

I won’t lie and say I’ve never been there before – I used to go there very occasionally for work lunches – but I’ve never really liked the place. It’s a bit too bustle-y, the chairs are uncomfortable, the lighting is strangely bright, and well, the pizza is mediocre. The only saving grace is that when the place isn’t too busy, the waitstaff are charming. But in the evening, it’s usually busy.

This night, he ordered the quattro gustri. Out of these, I think the margherita was probably the best corner. I’m really not a fan of shredded ham on my pizza. It makes me think of McCain’s frozen pizza, and let me just say, as far as pizzas go, McCain never did it once, let alone again. The other mushroomy and olivey corners weren’t terrible, but weren’t much to write about either, so I won’t.

Always one for carb-on-carb action, I ordered the campania, which was topped with diced tomato, mozzarella cheese, potato, onion, prosciutto. It wasn’t a bad combination of ingredients, but the quality and the execution let it down, I think. The tomatoes, which while obviously fresh, were under-ripe, and therefore a bit bland and watery. The potato was sliced too thickly, and this made the pizza feel a lot heavier than it needed to be. Similarly, the onion was a bit too chunky, and could have been cooked a little longer, too. The prosciutto was fine, but it’s hard to stuff up prosciutto, right? I’m going to try to be positive here and say the herbs were a nice blend of oregano and rosemary.
I wouldn’t recommend Papa Gino’s – at least not for pizza, and not for a date. Perhaps if you’re wanting somewhere for a group of colleagues to go for lunch? Perhaps. Even then, I’d stay away from the pizza.

Papa Gino's on Urbanspoon

I Carusi

46 Holmes St, Brunswick
Phone: 9386 5522

For the best part of a decade, I lived in Brunswick. As a suburb, it will alwys hold a special place in my heart, even though it’s already very different from the place I once knew. I remember when I Carusi became the place to go for pizza, back in the early to mid-2000s. There was so much hype, and it being in my neighbourhood, of course I ignored it and never got around to going.  One of the paradoxes my foodblogging activities produces is that I actually hate crowds, and I loathe the idea that a place is ‘completely packed’ or that I’ll need to queue for a table; yet trying out the new ‘cool’ places often means I end up throwing myself in just such situations.

It’s been a good half a decade since I Carusi was the ‘it’ place to go. But when I stopped in on a Sunday night with Mr R and his friends Mr S and Ms C, it was still full. This might explain why we waited about fifteen minutes for our wine to be brought, only to be presented with the wrong bottle, which I had to take back to the kitchen personally to have exchanged, after the waitress disappeared for another five minutes. We got there in the end, I suppose.

I ordered the ‘pizza for a friend’. Pumpkin, pine nuts, rocket and goat’s cheese. If there’s ever goat’s cheese on a menu, you can be pretty sure that I’ll order it, at least 75% of the time.

The pizza was good, if a little oily. I thought it was also lacking a little in the salt department, but perhaps that’s just the style.

Mr R and Ms C both ordered the pizza with the prosciutto and the porcini mushroom. Which they both promptly finished. The wait had made us all a little hungry!

I can’t quite remember what was on Mr S’s pizza, but there looks to be some rocket and a whole lot of Parmesan cheese on top!
We were all tempted by the dessert menu, because, well, it’s dessert. And on a chalk board. I suspect desserts seem more special and seasonal on a chalk board. Even when they’re not.

Mr S and I both saw the words chocolate pizza and got excited. So we decided to share the dark chocolate pizza with pear. It came with a vanilla ice cream that was pretty awesome, and it was a bit messy to eat.

It was a bit of a shame that the pear was blandsville, because that was the only problem with it, but it was also the most lingering memory of the dish.

Mr R and Ms C had more refined tastes (or less chocolatey ones)and opted for the vanilla ice cream with fresh berries.

I’m not sure I’d go back to I Carusi in a hurry. There are places around which are putting up better pizza for comparable prices. Though that being said, I probably wouldn’t avoid the place. You know what they say, pizza is like sex: bad pizza is still pizza.

I Carusi on Urbanspoon

Grossi Florentino (Cellar Bar)

80 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: 9662 1811

Sometimes writing a food blog is a great thing. You get to try lots of new places, occasionally you get invited to events and get stuff for free, and you get to meet lots of other like-minded people. But sometimes it’s also a curse. You can fall into the trap of constantly seeking out the next experience, trying the brand new place, and you sometimes instinctively opt for the unknown purely because you haven’t blogged about it yet.

But then some days, you think, “Forget it. I’m just going to eat at this place because I like the food there. I know it, and it’s comforting.” I met up with Alex of the MSG for dinner the other night, and funnily, as two food bloggers, we were a little unsure where to go. The last time this happened, we ended up at Ca de Vin, which was underwhelming. So this time, I suggested we go to the Cellar Bar at Grossi Florentino, as I’ve been there in the past, and had always enjoyed myself there.

The Cellar Bar is the cosy little annex which hangs off the main Grill and Upstairs parts of the Grossi Florentino restaurant. It’s by far the most casual of the three – I don’t believe they take bookings, and tables are small and close together – and they serve up what I think is pretty traditional trattoria fare. The atmosphere is warm and convivial, and the seasoned waiters treat you with a relaxed familiarity which I find charming. Even though the unspoken assumption that we both wanted Parmesan on our dishes was a little bit unexpected.

This visit, I finally tried a dish on the menu that I’d been eyeballing for years – the Trippa alla Fiorentina, or Florentine Tripe.

The tripe almost acts as a pasta in this dish. A delicious, soft-yet-springy, decidedly meaty pasta. It should come to no surprise to the reader that I am a fan of most things offal, and I’m not sure I would recommend this dish to those who don’t like the idea of eating parts of the animal other than the flesh. The tripe was beautifully cooked, and worked well with a bright and fresh tomato sauce. Carrots and some raisins brought some sweetness to the dish, which offset the acid of the tomato brilliantly.

Alex had the parpadelle, with duck livers and mushroom.

The pasta was cooked to perfection – just al dente – and there was a good amount of mushroom there, but Alex felt that it was a little lacking in the duck liver department. And the sauce seemed a little on the runny side. I felt a little bad, because I had mistakenly recommended the dish. I think last time I was there, it was parpadelle with a duck ragu.

Oh, and I promised Alex I’d mention the lack of cracked pepper at Cellar Bar, which I too thought was a little odd.

All in all, Cellar Bar is a nice informal place, probably a good second or third date venue, but have a fall-back, because it gets very busy on weekends! I haven’t been to the Grill or the famous Upstairs Fine Dining, but I hope to soon. Well, the Grill part, at least. Not sure my budget will be ready for the Upstairs any time soon.

Grossi Florentino on Urbanspoon

Ca de Vin

Melbourne GPO, Postal Lane (off Bourke St Mall)
Phone: 9654 3639

Meeting up with Alex from the MSG for dinner on Friday night, both of us were (surprisingly) at a bit of a loss for where we should eat. That shouldn’t happen to foodbloggers, right? I blame a long and busy week at work. When Alex suggested we go to Grill’d, I knew we were in trouble.So I countered with Ca de Vin. I’ve walked past, and indeed through, Ca de Vin numerous times – on my way to Ramen Ya, you see – and always thought it looked quite appealing. Though the incongruous French name and Italian menu is a little strange.

Set inside a covered laneway, the warm lighting and candles give it a charming, romantic atmosphere. Not that I’m suggesting anything was going on between Alex and I! I like the fact that there’s pretty much an open kitchen, with an informal bar area where you can perch and watch the chefs cook if you’re just having a drink.

It was a busy Friday night – they were turning people without reservations away not long after we were seated – and I’m hoping this was the reason the service was so brusque. It wasn’t offensive, just coolly efficient. I would have expected a little more character and personality, given the decor.

I ordered the marinated lamb backstrap, which came served on a spinach and wild mushroom risotto with crispy sweet potato chips and a red wine jus.

The waitress took the trouble to ask me how I would like my lamb. I, of course, replied, “Rare.” It came out exceedingly well done. Alex suggested I should send it back, but I was hungry and didn’t want to wait, so ate it anyway. The flavour wasn’t bad, but nothing amazing. The risotto was cooked well, but lacked any real mushroom flavour, which was a disappointment.

Being a sucker for a risotto, Alex ordered the oxtail risotto with slow roasted tomatoes and crispy cauliflower florets finished with spring onions and fresh parmesan.

I had a taste, and while it was alright, it was far from spectacular. He said it tasted like tomatoes. For the price (it was $26) the serving was rather small, but its saving grace was that there was a good amount of oxtail.

When talking to friends later, I was told that the pizza is the way to go if you dine at Ca de Vin. Oh well, I guess I know now, for next time.

Ca de Vin on Urbanspoon

Mario’s Cafe

303 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9417 3343

About a decade ago – and I can’t believe I just wrote that – I used to go to Melbourne Uni, so naturally, I spent a fair amount of time in and around Carlton and Fitzroy. While time marches on, and many things change, some stay the same. Like Mario’s.

Famous for the career waiters with an attitude which, depending on who you ask, is either surly, no-nonsense, or charming, Mario’s has been dishing up reliably good Italian food since well before I first went there in the late ’90s. So when meeting up for dinner with a group of Mr N’s friends and a little unsure of where to go, we went for the safe and familiar option. The fact it was across the road from Black Pearl, where we were knocking back aperitifs helped its cause, too.

My attention was caught by the specials board, and I ordered the lamb rump with eggplant mash, beans, red capsicum and goat’s cheese.

It was alright, but the eggplant mash needed seasoning, and was a little on the lukewarm side. The lamb was well cooked, but again, under-seasoned. Perhaps this was just some sort of Italian restraint thing I don’t get, but I thought the dish could have done with a sauce.
Mr N’s friend Mr N (confusing when you shorten people’s names to a single letter!) ordered the lasagne, which looked of quite a decent size, but having just come from the gym, he was left a little unsatisfied. Note to bodybuilders: order two serves of pasta at Mario’s.

Mr C had the baked gnocchi with bacon and ricotta (or fetta, I can’t remember – which do you think it is?). It looked like a smallish dish, but being gnocchi, it doesn’t take a lot to fill you up. He was very happy with his choice. I think I would have been too.

Mr N and Miss K both chose to have the braised lamb shank, which looked and smelled great. A super hearty meal, which was what the drizzly Winter night called for.
Mr J went for the classic steak, which came out with homely looking vegetables and potato rosti. Again, looks like it could have dealt with a little saucing, or some mustard?
Mario’s doesn’t really do sophisticated food. But if you’re after somewhere ‘safe’ to take a group of people you don’t know very well, it’s a pretty good option.

Marios Cafe on Urbanspoon

+39 Pizzeria

362 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9642 0440

I had been invited to go along to one of the pizza battle heats being organised by Alex of the MSG blog. I rushed off early from the Moortangi Estate tasting to meet @alexlobov and @jillianjtl for some pizza battle tasting, around the corner at +39. It was jammed full of people, with quite a few milling around the entrance as I stumbled in. These people looked a little peeved at me when I walked right past them and found Alex and Jillian already seated at a table up the back.

+39 is the creation of the people behind D.O.C., and style of pizza is pretty much the same. The vibe, however, is much more urbane, with exposed concrete everywhere, and moodier lighting. And yes, it was a very busy Thursday night, but the service was patchy at best. We had to ask twice for our drinks, were presented with menus after we had already ordered, and waited about half an hour before even receiving our drinks. Thankfully, the pizza came not too long after.

Alex ordered something off the specials board, involving Italian sausage, some fancy mozzarella (scamorza?) and silverbeet. It was pretty good – I liked the sausage, but we’ll not go into my history with Italian sausage, because this is a family blog.

I have a soft spot for broccoli on pizzas (I’d like to think it’s because it creates the illusion of nutrition, but it’s actually I just like broccoli a lot) and when I saw that +39 had paired it with anchovies (see my D.O.C. post about the quality of their produce) my decision was made for me. This pizza was pretty great, though after about two slices, I found myself following Jillian’s lead and adding some of the pickled chillies to it for a bit more of a kick.

Jillian ordered a pizza with another fancy cheese – taleggio? fontina? – truffle oil and rocket. It’s hard to go wrong with the heady earthiness of truffle, so keeping it simple here was a good idea.

I liked +39, despite the lacklustre service. I’d say wait for the hype to die down somewhat, and hopefully it’ll be a better experience for you.

+39 Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Paisano lunch with Adriano Matteoni

OK, I said that Bourke Street Bakery would be my last Sydney post for a while, but I lied. I couldn’t not share with you all the wonderful lunch prepared by Adriano Matteoni (of Clipper and Clover fame). It’s almost unnecessary to say that the food was all amazing – of course! – and we were all completely sated.

L & R: The green of beans with roast garlic and mashed peas with basil and lemon zest.
L: Beef “almost-carpaccio”, the makings of a panzanella salad. R: A vinaigrette.
L: The mashed peas were added to elbow macaroni and a hefty amount of parmesan – so smple, yet so delicious! R: The panzanella salad takes shape.
Dressed carpaccio; lunch is served!
Adriano made me a latte on his little home-sized Giotto. The consummate professional even at home, check out the fern action!

Thanks to Adriano and Kana for a wonderful afternoon!