Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Earn an MBA in Food & Wine in Bologna, Italy

Spaghetti all Chitarra at Manzo in Eataly

The Business School of the University of Bologna is offering 10 full scholarships for the inaugural year of an MBA in Food & Wine.  The full cost of the 12-month program is funded entirely by Ferrarelle, leading Italian bottled water brand.

Conducted entirely in English, the program specifically prepares American graduates for careers marketing Italian cuisine in the United States.

The world's oldest institution of higher learning, the University of Bologna has been training students for over twelve centuries.

For more information, click here.

Or click on the flyer below for info on how to RSVP for an informational session at Eataly on Monday, June 6th.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eco Table Officially Open

Eco Table (33-20 31st Ave., Astoria)
(718) 777-5557

Eat Green. Live Well. Drink Wine. Be Happy.  The website for Astoria's newest arrival flashes this slogan, along with several trendy phrases in the restaurant world.  Terms like eco-friendly, artisanal, locally-sourced, & sustainable.  As the name implies, it seems Eco-Table doesn't merely practice these concepts; it was developed around them.  Even the table water served is filtered with the Natura purification system.  But on a street like 31st Avenue where hot restaurants are springing up like dandelions, a trendy concept is not enough to make a successful business alone.

Well, if the first few hours of business are any indicator, Eco Table is not only delivering on its promises, it's fantastically surpassing them.  If the quality of service and food sustain beyond today's opening, this place will be bursting at the seams in practically no time at all.  Service was genuine and attentive.  The owner, Jimmy, even stopped by the table a few times to insure our experience was pleasant.

To begin, we shared the mac & cheese with 'shrooms.  Miniature shells are blanketed in a cheesy bechamel, studded with tender, earthy, wild mushrooms.  The dish arrived bubbling, and a golden gruyere crust broke way to an exceptional take on a comfort favorite.

The bowl of beets was outrageously delicious, and more than enough to share.  The photo shows merely the top layer of a bowl that stood nearly a full foot tall, like an enormous overturned porcelain lampshade piled with gargantuan tangy, tender red beets, sweet candied pecans, plump orange segments that exploded with juice at the bite, a drizzle of white balsamic vinaigrette, and what must have equalled an entire loaf of goat cheese crumbled on top.

The grilled free range chicken sandwich arrived juicy and tender on crunchy toasted rustic bread, with a drizzle of honey-balsamic, and baby organic greens.

French fries are hand cut, and rival any competition in the neighborhood.  At our server's suggestion, we enjoyed them with a ramekin of spicy chipotle sauce.  Nothing spells comfort like crisp fresh potato strings dipped in southwestern mayo.

The buffalo chicken flatbread was a true "wow dish" that will keep me coming back.  The misshapen pita is made fresh on the premises, and grilled, giving a crunchy bottom and fluffy, delicious tenderness inside.  The paisley shaped bread is then drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, and topped with julienned strips of buffalo spiced chicken, gruyere cheese, a sprinkling of herbs, and sweet fire-roasted tomatoes.  Delicious.

A shout-out to the Greek neighborhood, roasted lemon potatoes are actually sliced fingerlings with meyer lemon, which we quite easily devoured.

Presently, Eco Table is only open from lunch until midnight, as well as brunch on weekends.  Eventually, they plan on remaining open 24 hours on the weekends, and opening for breakfast within the next few weeks.  Breakfast items include frittatas, berry-stuffed french toast, a poblano benedict with serrano ham and cilantro hollandaise, as well as pecan apple cakes and parisian waffles.  Other dinner items that jumped off the page included a panko-crusted spinach-feta-sundried tomato veggie burger, seasonal ravioli (today's selection was lobster alla vodka), mint chimichurri lamb chops, and line-caught pan-roasted halibut with smoked paprika.

While they await their liquor license, a complimentary glass of wine is being served with dinner this evening.  Soon, they will also be offering fresh smoothies, homemade sodas, and fruit-infused lemonades. 

Eco Table seems extremely promising, to say the very least...  Please weigh in below with a comment about your first impressions/experiences.

Eco Table on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 22, 2011

$10 Bubbly Brunch & Pig-in-a-Blanket Pizza

Giuseppe Viterale is continually perfecting his craft.  Though the steady menu maintains many of the favorites that have drawn devout regulars back to Ornella Trattoria over and over again, the chef-owner (along with his effervescent wife, Ornella) is almost daily trying new recipes that remind him of the dinner table of his childhood home in Italy.  And the best part of his tedious trial-and-error process to hone the most delicious recipes for his customers?  I fortunately get to play guinea pig and sample the final products before he introduces them to the public.  Past experiments have resulted in some of my favorite items that never made it to the printed menu, such as his pistachio cream sauce, the sanguinaccio (blood pudding), seafood carbonara, and pasta latte (homemade noodles boiled in milk, sprinkled with cheese).  But my recent taste tests have actually now arrived for everyone to enjoy.  Two gourmet specialty pizzas, and an entirely reworked brunch menu with unlimited champagne drinks.

New omelettes arrive in every color of the Italian flag, exquisitely thin, and loaded with such flavors as spinach and goat cheese or the sweet hint of red beets.

Ornella's pancakes are miraculously thick, and light as air due to a secret preparation process that involves a combination of baking in a deep pan, and just a little bit of flipping.  While these breakfast cakes are ideal for soaking maple syrup, you can also opt for a dish of Nutella instead for a more decadent twist.

Benedicts are served with either pancetta, or florentine style with spinach.  But the traditional brunch items are also now served alongside some exciting new lunch fare, including a fettucine bolognese (the meat sauce requires hours of preparation, and is the best version I have ever tasted), a fried mozzarella sandwich topped with an egg, as well as several grilled sandwiches (mortadella & mozzarella) and even a farfalle with smoked salmon and vodka sauce.  For a $10 supplement, diners can enjoy a bottomless champagne flute of mimosas and bellinis.  Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3:30.

Giuseppe will also be introducing a few new gourmet pizzas, executed to insanely delicious effect.  Though you may not yet see them on the menu, just ask.  Pies are prepared in an individual size (or perfect for sharing along with a pasta dish).  The margherita pie (pictured at the top of this post) is blanketed with a robust tomato sauce, and a bubbling golden layer of mozzarella, speckled with basil confetti.  The crust is buttery and flaky, creating a standard pizza difficult to beat.  But the Pig-In-A-Blanket demonstrates Giuseppe's unique way of taking an Italian favorite, and serving it with finesse.  Here, the buttery crust is delicately sliced creating two thinner crusts, filled with arugula, prosciutto, and a house-aged cream cheese, the whole pie drizzled with truffle oil.

You may think you have already experienced Ornella Trattoria, but the culinary scene here is always-evolving.  The bottom line is this: whether you stop by for brunch or dinner (or both), be sure to ask Giuseppe what's new in his test kitchen.  Not only will he be more than happy to share, you might even get lucky enough to sample one of his off-menu works-in-progress.

Don't forget Monday is Italian Steak Night, with a selection of 16 oz. steaks for just $14.95 (try the sirloin au poivre or topped with gorgonzola cheese).  And Thursday is pasta night, where any pasta on the menu is just $10.  I highly recommend the buckwheat pasta tossed with fontina cheese, potatoes, and braised cabbage or the chickpea pasta with artichokes, garlic, and olives. You really can't go wrong. Reservations are accepted and highly recommended.  Click the link at the top for more information.

Friday, May 6, 2011

First Look: 2 New Burgers on the Block...

In a neighborhood where burgers come in virtually every shape and size, two new contenders throw their versions into the mix this week, offering even more options in the ever-expanding gamut of variations that include ostrich or bison (Bareburger), west-coast-style fast food (Petey's), $2 happy hour sliders to $18 monsters for two (Five Napkin Burger).

Just Burgers officially opened its doors this week at the corner of 33rd & Ditmars.  Community message boards are buzzing about the opening lines extending outside the door, but at lunchtime yesterday we were able to snag one of the few tables in the small dining room at this fast-food style burger joint.

The menu features a BYOB section (Build Your Own Burger) starting at $4.15, a selection of $7.25 specialty burgers, as well as hot dogs, fries (sea salt, cajun, or sweet potato), onion rings, and shakes.  Pictured above is the "regular" cheeseburger, simply meaning that it comes with two patties--extremely thin, and unavailable at any temperature lower than medium well.  The "mini" burger is not a slider, but rather a single patty sandwich--which is particularly unclear on the menu board...

The free topping options are extensive, as well, with cheese available for $0.90 and premium toppings for $1.  Pictured at the top of this post is the "Caramel Burger" with applewood smoked bacon, maple caramelized onions, blue cheese, lettuce, tomato, and horseradish aioli.

We also sampled the regular dog with basil pesto aioli... they were not yet serving the 1/4-lb angus beef dog.

The fries and onion rings were surprisingly served in styrofoam containers, quite the opposite extreme of the more eco-friendly competitors (Bareburger even features paperless ordering with touch screen handheld server pads).  While I absolutely hope Just Burgers finds success, it would be nice to see recyclable baskets for those who dine in (every burger is wrapped in foil) and greener packaging options for carryout and (soon-to-come) delivery.

I will refrain from evaluation until Just Burgers has been open more than just a few days and finally settled into its rhythm.  In the meanwhile, I'd love to hear your feedback/experiences in the comments at the end of this post!  How do you think Just Burgers stacks up?

Just Burgers on Urbanspoon

A burger that is already 100% crave-worthy and a serious contender for top burger is the new Queens Classic that arrived on the menu this week at Queens Comfort.  Last weekend, the comfort food hot spot transformed into a burger and shake joint, showcasing several variations on the American classic.  Fortunately, this champion survived the weekend and made it to the weekday menu.  This extremely flavorsome and juicy patty consists of ground beef, andouille sausage, and bacon.  On a buttery roll, it is stacked with leafy green lettuce, melted cheddar, and a savory "special sauce".  Served with fries, be sure to ask for a side of their homemade ketchup for addictive delicious dunking.  Wash it all down with a mason jar of homemade pink lemonade... 

And though they now feature Robicelli's cupcakes on the dessert menu (blueberry port wine & caramel machiato, to name a few), the homemade treats are some tempting sweet endings, like the strawberry shortcake biscuit and this ice cream sandwich that sent me spiraling back to childhood.  What better simple pleasure than two chewy oatmeal cookies with vanilla ice cream rolled in rainbow sprinkles?
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