Pavel Kolesnikov at Carnegie Hall

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Last night Stanley and I attended the Carnegie Hall debut of the 25 year-old Russian pianist, Pavel Kolesnikov. He is the 2012 Laureate of the Honens International Piano Competition, which is based in Calgary, Alberta. We were there along with some other members and friends of the Council for Canadian American Relations [ See, May 2014 listing: https://robertrems.com/2014/05/01/ccar-gala/ ]. Stanley is the Secretary of CCAR, which has established an endowment with Calgary Foundation to support the Honens Competition. You can read more about the Honens here: http://www.honens.com

We were seated with an excellent center view of the stage in Zankel Hall and surrounded by a rather youthful and enthusiastic audience. The program included works by Mozart, Schumann, Scriabin and Beethoven, all of which were superbly played, but his renderings of the two Scriabin pieces were truly astounding.

A reception followed at The Russian Tea Room, where we have not been in ages, and which brought back memories of the old radio ads by Faith Stewart Gordon. There was champagne and wine and passed hors d’oeuvres and desserts. We got to chat with Pavel, who is living in Hammersmith, London, and enjoying a busy travel schedule of performances and recordings, all of which are part of the three-year career development program that comes with the Honens Laureate (as well as $100,000). We also chatted with the many visiting Calgarians, who were treated to a visit to the Steinway factory as part of their visit. You can learn more about Pavel at his website: http://www.pavelkolesnikov.com

Kolesnikov 1 Kolesnikov 2

Carnitas – Delicious Mexican Pulled Pork recipe

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We had a little dinner party last week, and for the main course I made a favorite of mine, Carnitas, a cheap and easy dish that is always a huge hit with our guests, and I was able to prepare it in advance. It is usually served with tacos or tortillas for rolling, but I prefer to serve it on a plate with rice and a vegetable.

It’s important to use the right cut of pork shoulder, and happily, the cheapest cut, known as a “picnic” is also the most tender and flavorful when cooked a long time. In a supermarket, it will usually be about 10 pounds, and in a cryovac wrapper. You can have the butcher cut it in half for this recipe. Be sure they cut across the bone.

Ingredients:

4.5 to 5 lb. bone-in pork shoulder picnic, cut into 3 to 4 inch chunks (leave some meat on the bone and include the bone when cooking)

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large onions, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

2 jalapeno peppers, cored and chopped

1/2 cup lime juice

1 tbsp. chili powder

1 tbsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. ground cumin

2 quarts chicken broth

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400. Heat the oil in a skillet, preferably cast iron. Pat the pork pieces dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper.  Brown the pieces on all sides and transfer to a Dutch oven.

Add all the remaining ingredients, cover and cook on high until boiling.

Place the Dutch oven in the preheated oven, and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the meat is falling apart. Remove from oven. At this point, you can continue or let the meat cool and refrigerate until a couple of hours before serving, then reheat until meat is tender again.

Remove the meat chunks and place them on a baking sheet. Pull the meat apart with forks and discard the bone. Pour the liquid through a strainer into a bowl and set aside. Sprinkle the solids from the strainer over the meat. Bake the meat for 40 minutes, spooning some of the reserved liquid over it every 10 minutes. When done, serve immediately or transfer back to the Dutch oven and keep warm. Add a bit more liquid if it appears dry. Serve with lime wedges.

Yield:

8 to 10 servings

Puglia Vacation – Part 3 – Bari, Matera, Altamura, Lecce

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Basilica San Nicolas

November 10:

We decided to take a drive into Bari, thinking the traffic would be less daunting on a Sunday morning. We managed to find our way into the old city and began to stroll about. In time we came upon the large basilica church of St. Nicholas which contains the relics of the saint, removed from Turkey. We entered in time for the creed, left to explore an adjoining church on the square, then wandered over to the Cathedral, where we arrived in time for the dismissal. From Bari we drove on to Matera, a very ancient city perched on the edge of a gorge, with pre-historic caves known as Sassi. Matera is actually located in Basilicata, a region which borders on Puglia.

This Sunday’s New York Times has an article about Basilicata, including Matera:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/travel/discovering-the-ruins-of-italys-ionian-coast.html?ref=travel&_r=0

It took a bit of doing to get a map and find our way, but we did get to the restaurant highly recommended by a cousin of our friend August Ventura,  and we found ourselves in a large and amiable cave with many Italian families having their lunch.

Oi Mari, Matera:

Great atmosphere in the center of the old town. Gnocchi with mussels and gorgonzola, topped with arugula, caprese, cotoletta with fries, mixed seafood grill, grilled eggplant and zucchini. Food was very tasty. Total was 65 euros with a bottle of wine.

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After lunch, we hiked up to the heights where the Cathedral was perched, and then descended to the road that wraps around the city, rising again to meet the central piazza. Matera is slated to be a designated cultural center of Europe in 2019, so they have some time yet to scoop up the dog poop and sweep up the rest of the detritus. We had made a day of it, and headed back to Monopoli as darkness fell and the roads began to become virtually unnavigable, due to the faded road markings.

That evening we had hoped to have dinner in Monopoli with Marcello, Marilena and Patrizia, but the restaurant was booked, so we went back to Polignano a Mare and had a truly splendid meal at the Altiche Mura.

Polignano A Mare at night

Antiche Mura, Polignano a Mare:

This is a beautiful restaurant with excellent service and ambience, specializing in seafood, with a great selection of whole fish. Assorted antipasti. Marinated raw tuna, stracciatella, stuffed eggplant, bruschetta, several types of mussel preparations. Raw seafood assortment. Sea bass with zucchini, potatoes, and tomatoes, zuppa di pesce. We wanted a red wine, so our server recommended a Negroamaro that was not too full-bodied, just right with the fish. Total for 5 people was 240 euros.

Marcello would depart in the morning for a factory inspection in Rimini, so we parted expecting to see him again in Paris.

November 11:

We were on our own and decided to head out to Altamura, which is also on the way to Matera. We found what we thought was the approximate location for the Cathedral and old town, but misplaced signs had us walking in a circle until we cut in and found our way to the center. The Cathedral is the only church to have been specifically commissioned by Frederick II, but was suffering from a case of chiesa chiuso.

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We wandered about checking out restaurants, including the highly recommended one by August which seems to have vanished, as restaurants are wont to do. We settled on a well-recommended pizza place and were happy to settle for a simple pizza lunch:

Tre Archi, Altamura:

We checked out the lunch options as we walked around the old town. This one looked appealing, and turned out to be pretty good, and obviously popular with locals. Mixed vegetable antipasti. Pizza with bacon, smoked scamorza and a light tomato sauce. With a half liter of house wine, it came to 23 euros.”

We gave the Cathedral another try after lunch, but no luck. In departing we found that we had, indeed, parked very close to the center. We headed south toward Taranto, encountering some rain as we approached, driving along the old Roman road. We were enticed to stop in the old city, but it was quite abandoned and dull. We then drove into the 19th C. City, with its long esplanade along the Bay of Taranto. It would probably have looked better on a sunny day, but it was overcast and growing dark, so we sped home, following much of the route that took us to Martina Franca.

Marcello had given us the names of some simple osterias in Monopoli. We settled on one not far off the main piazza and entered finding it largely empty, but were met by an announcement that it was completo. We managed to divine that it was a festa that caused this, and we learned that it was St. Martin’s Day – Martinmas – when the new wine was celebrated in Italy. We tried osteria number 2 and found a table and a  very respectable meal:

Trattoria San Domenico, Monopoli:

Photo of San Domenico

This is a lovely small restaurant with subdued lighting (many places tend to be very brightly lit). Maltagliatti with swordfish and tomatoes, spaghetti with eggplant and tomato sauce, frittura mista, scallopine with artichoke and scamorza, grilled vegetables. Almond croccante with crème anglaise and strawberries. 60 euros including a bottle of wine.

November 12:

The day dawned mixed in Monopoli, but there were predictions of heavy rain. Undaunted, we set out in a south easterly direction toward Lecce. It was a very easy city to drive around in – literally – around and around the old city core, until we found a place to park and wander into the larger part of the old city. There were the remains of a Roman amphitheater and a covered pedestrian area where we took refuge from periodic blasts of rain. We walked up the main fancy shopping street, coming to the Cathedral piazza.

Thankfully, the Cathedral was open and we stood in the entranceway while gales of rain whipped about. I was focused on finding a luncheon locale, and the best restaurants were either closed or not there, so we looked into hotel restaurants, none of which looked particularly interesting. This took us in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Cross, where we took more refuge. We settled on Osteria dei Spiriti, which I had identified early on from Michelin, and arrived at about 12:40 only to learn it did not open until one o’clock, so we went to the next corner, which was covered, and waited for the minutes to tick away:

Osteria dei Spiriti:

Very charming restaurant, pleasantly lit. Can’t recall the pastas, but they were good. Meatballs, beef filet with green peppercorn sauce. Assorted grilled vegetables. Cappello di Prete 2008 Salento Rosso Candido. Elegant atmosphere with subdued lighting. 81 euros including wine.

After lunch we headed back and decided to make a stop at Ostuni, which loomed above in the clearing skies and presented a not unattractive large hill town. It was, however, a mantrap for unsuspecting tourists. Copious signage for the Cathedral led innocents such as ourselves up to a certain point or intersection where all the signs for every other destination were prominent, but the signs for the Cathedral vanished without a trace. We parked and trudged, and finally espied it on the opposite side of town. Even then the signs would not allow us to make an approach, so we bagged it and headed home. Dinner that evening in Monopoli was in an even more basic trattoria, complete with TV:

Trattoria al Cavaliere, Monopoli:

Gnocchi with artichokes and monkfish, maltagliati (can’t remember the sauce). Big portion of grilled tuna (cooked rare as it should be), frittura mista, grilled vegetables. Spumoni, chocolate mousse. Simple atmosphere, nice service, tasty food. 67 euros including wine.

November 13:

We packed up and were out of the apartment by seven o’clock to give us enough time to get back to Naples for a 12:45 flight to Paris via Munich. There was rain along the way, but it was sunny in Naples by the time we arrived, dropped off the car and made it to the airport.

Puglia Vacation – Part 2 – Monopoli, Alberobello, Martina Franca, Locorotondo

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Trulli in Alberobello

November 9:

Saturday morning we took a stroll down to the old Castello and the sea wall of Monopoli, The old town is a charming warren of narrow streets, alleys and whitewashed buildings.

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Then we headed off in our car with Marcello to Alberobello, encountering a few hairpin mountain roads on our way up into the lush hills and valleys, heavily endowed with trulli of all shapes and dimensions. These houses are unique to Puglia. Marcello seemed to confirm the tales we had read about the purpose of the conical roofs built without mortar: that they allowed the owners to take down their roofs before the tax collector showed up, thereby escaping tax on what was a non-house without a roof. Strange that the tax collectors never caught on to the ploy. Whatever their origins, the trulli are truly abundant in Alberobello, which is among the most beautiful towns in Italy. We found our way to Pina’s charming one bedroom apartment with a delightful patio and garden area. We had coffee and chatted, in translation. Pina is also a very accomplished amateur artist, the walls being copiously adorned with her works. Pina then took us in her car, since she has access rights to certain restricted areas, and we explored the heart of the trulli district, heavily endowed with t-shirt and ice-cream emporiums, but still quite impressive. As we parked, we spotted an elderly crone sitting in the sun happily knitting, and after Marcello attempted to take her picture, she withdrew in indignation back to her station as the madame des toilettes. In time we met up with Patrizia and Marilena at the small but charming cantina located on the Worth Avenue of Alberobello. The kitchen was open to the few tables, and the staff prepared lunch just like Nonni. I was a bit taken aback by the quick dispatch of dishes and silverware after each course, until Stanley explained, from his perspective looking into the kitchen, that they were furiously washing after each course to make sure there were enough plates and spoons.

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La Cantina, Alberobello:

Charming small restaurant serving regional specialties. Had a very nice lunch. Assorted antipasti. Mixed grill of lamb chops and sausage, unfortunately the lamb was overcooked. Veal stuffed with cheese in tomato sauce. Cabbage with pancetta. Great biscotti. Notarpanaro Taurino 2006 for 16 euros was a bargain. We were treated so I don’t know what the total bill was, but I would guess no more than 25 or 30 euros per person.

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After lunch we returned to Pina’s for coffee and picture taking, then we all headed off to explore the nearby downs of Martina Franca and Locorotondo until the darkness made it impossible to find our way through the streets. We encountered the Church of St. Martin in Martina Franca (naturally), little realizing the impact this saint would have upon us in the days to come.

Martina Franca

Locorotondo

At last it was time for dinner at a splendid restaurant in Alberobello, one of the Ristoranti Del Buon Ricordo (an organization of restaurants that are known for high-quality regional cooking), although we refrained from ordering the special dish which would have entitled us to the commemorative plate we had gotten in other similar establishments on other trips. We were joined by Marilena’s brother Pasquale and his wife.

Il Poeta Contadino, Alberobello:

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Michelin-starred restaurant in a converted stable. Very beautiful atmosphere with soaring ceilings and stone walls. Marinated orata, mixed seafood salad with fennel guinea fowl stuffed with speck, frozen grand marnier soufflé, terrine of 3 chocolates with coffee sauce. Food was exceptional. Salice Salentino 2004, 27 euros (wine prices were high). Total 112 euros for Stanley and me.

The meal was worthy of the setting and concluded our visit with Pina, whom we hope to see again in New York.

Puglia Vacation – A less-travelled part of italy – Part 1 – Caserta to Monopoli

Our trip to Puglia took place in November 2013, but I thought it would be nice to write this post now, as my Spain posts from last year have proven so popular. I hope the information will be useful to those planning a visit, and to others who may not have thought about touring this somewhat remote and mostly unspoiled part of Italy.

If anyone has any questions about Puglia or any other part of Italy (I’ve been to Tuscany, Umbria, Rome, Piemonte, Trentino-Alto Adige, the Riviera, Genoa, Venice, the Veneto, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, etc.) I would be happy to respond. Please leave a comment, or email me at rrems@earthlink.net.

We began with an overnight stop in Caserta, near Naples, and then continued on to Puglia the next day.

November 7:

We landed in Naples and, with some trepidation, found the car rental bus line, and made quick work of getting the car and getting out of Naples and on our way to Caserta. A little confusion finding the Hotel Belvedere, which was in San Leucio outside of Caserta, but we did find it. A very basic place, with odd decor, but perfectly comfortable, and cheap. We ended up parking too far from our luncheon location, but we made it in good time. Before visiting the royal palace, we had lunch at the nearby Le Colonne, which has a Michelin star. We were the only people having lunch as the first couple and their dog left shortly after we arrived. The chef here is deeply into concept cooking, and we were treated to headphones and an English (British) language dissertation on the quality of the bread and water, courtesy of the Ministry of Silly Walks. Her real forte, however, is working with mozzarella in all forms. Our first courses (mozzarella stuffed with peppers, and a pizza like none we’ve seen before, with a crust made of mozzarella) were very good, secondi (meat) were somewhat less successful, though still pretty good. Vitello tonnato was made with breast of veal, and was just a bit dry. We had a nice spumoni for dessert. The place is rather formal, with excellent service. Not bad for just about 100 euros with wine.

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La Reggia, Caserta

After lunch we did La Reggia, the huge palace that was built out of Bourbon cousin-envy for Versailles. It is vast, and not in the best of shape, although the state apartments have the requisite amount of gilt. The Venetian glass chandeliers, however, could have used a good wipe with Windex and paper towels. Caserta is a neat little town, and we had ample opportunity to get lost in it while driving. We returned to the hotel and took the mandatory hour and a half nap. Dinner was at a local restaurant in San Leucio, where it was thoughtful of us to reserve as we were the only customers. It was late in the season, with week-night customers growing fewer and fewer.

Ristorante Leucio has good traditional food for a very reasonable price, though oddly they add a 12% service charge. Baby octopus with tomato and olives was delicious, pasta was a bit heavy but the pistachio pesto on it was great. My orata with tomatoes was superb and a bargain at 15 euros. Filet of maialino was overcooked but flavorful, with a delicious red wine reduction. The wine was excellent, a Cecubo 2007 Villa Matilde for 18 euros. They have an interesting list of local wines. We enjoyed this meal very much. Off the beaten path and totally authentic.

And so to bed after about 40 hours of continuous activity.

November 8:

Off in the morning in a mixture of fog and slight drizzle as we drove across Campania and into Puglia. As we descended into the coastal plain, I was greatly impressed by how lush it all was, with olives, fruit trees, grapes and cactus in profusion. We arrived at Andria with the intention of driving through the town on our way to Castel del Monte, but it turned out to be more of a drive around the town onto the road to Castel del Monte.

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The road to Castel del Monte was lined with very substantial olive plantations and estates, leading to Stanley’s comment that we were surrounded by oil money. Castel del Monte was built by Frederick II of Swabia, the famous “Stupor Mundi” who spent a lot of time in Puglia commissioning churches and castles and the like. This octagonal wonder has been extensively restored by the Italian State and commands a splendid view of the length of the Adriatic coast. It is not, however, extensively furnished, so the visit was not prolonged. The car park had an elderly attendant with a sign around his neck in English exhorting us to tip him. It seemed prudent. We then drove back and around Andria to Barletta, where I had scouted out the restaurant, Baccosteria. Parking near the old town and wandering about, we came upon the Colossus of Barletta, which looked awfully familiar, as I know I have seen it featured on the cover of a book.

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I chose Baccosteria based on reviews in Michelin. A plate of crudités, an assortment of bruschetta, and a bowl of lightly sauteed grapes were brought to the table while we perused the menu. We then had tagliatelle with black truffles and porcini in a sauce made with foie gras, and cavatelli with tiny clams, arugula and pignoli in a broth. The tagliatelle was exceptional. Next we had a filet of beef with a curried cream sauce, cooked perfectly rare, and monkfish , both very good. The atmosphere is very charming. With a bottle of 2011 Amativo, the bill was 79 euros.”

After lunch we got on the coast highway, taking the tangenziale around Bari, and found our way into Monopoli. The next few days would be spent with our friend Marcello, his sister Patrizia, mother Marilena and great-aunt Pina. We stayed in Marilena’s apartment in Monopoli, which made a great base for touring. Dinner that evening was in Polignano a Mare, just up the coast. It is a more scenic and smaller town, with a dramatic viaduct and houses perched on the edge of the Adriatic.
Although we made two visits into it, they were both at night, but it is dramatically lit. We went to a popular seafood place with Marcello, Marilena, her older sister and her husband and were joined by Patrizia, whose train was late in arriving from Bologna. A grand time was had, in translation, by all.

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View of Monopoli from our balcony

Osteria di Chichibio, Polignano a Mare:

This is a favorite of our friends in Monopoli. Started with seafood ravioli in a tomato sauce, then had prawns wrapped in speck and fritto misto. For dessert, tiramisu and Sicilian cannoli. Lively, bustling atmosphere. Total for 7 people was about 175 euros including a few bottles of wine. “

The town square features a statue of the native son and songster whose chief (if not only) claim to fame was his immortal rendering of “Volare.” Move over, Vic Damone.