Saturday, 25 August 2012

Volle Nolle - something wonderful in Boston's North End

We found oursleves in Boston last week, and more specifically in the North End three days in a row, because of my older son's (and, candidly, my own) current fascination with Paul Revere. As a disciple of Little Italys - to the point of having lived on New York's Mulberry Street a decade ago - I was encouraged to see that the North End appears to be not to what most American Little Italys have devolved: a strip of mediocre red sauce joints with no other identifiable component of an Italian American enclave. Instead, the North End is bustling with side street businesses catering to the multi-generations of Italian-Americans who still inhabit the beautiful, if crowded, brick residences therein. I also was interested by the unusual volume of high Zagat food ratings that popped up when I did my iphone search of restaurants within a half mile.

Over three trips back to the North End, I kept trying to get us there during a mealtime. A place called Sareceno had caught my eye promising cucina Napoletana. That was not to be, as we instead found ourselves there at lunch time. After a quick scan of Zagat, what beckoned was Volle Nolle at 351 Hanover Street, with its 26 foox rating for "unforgettable sandwiches and addictive chocolate chip cookies" served by a woman who apparently is "the nicest."

I am happy to report that all of those characterizations are understatements.

For starters, that "woman" is co-owner Torri Crowell, who greets you into the archetypal EDSW spot that she has created with a warmth and knowing familiarity akin to the greatest I know in the business, like Julio Pena and Bea Tosti of il Bagatto, or Frank Pellegrino at Rao's.

The small shop is elegantly decorated, and the daily menu emblazoned on the chalkboard on the right wall. It is comprised of simple salads and sandwiches made with fresh and delicious components.

We had three sanwiches: a pressed cubano, a chicken milanesa, and a grilled chicken breast sandwich with mozzarella, roasted peppers and carmelized onions. Each one was wonderful. This meal was accompanied by glasses of great italian wine from their excellent selection. For dessert, the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies are the only option they serve, and with good reason. Anything else would seem absurdly inadequate bycomparison Truly, they might be the best I've ever had, even surpassing Levain bakery of New York's Upper West Side. They are crunchy, packed densely with bitter dark chocolate, and accented with a palpable amount of salt. They are the chocolate-covered pretzel of chocolate chip cookies. Truly spectacular.

As I was on vacation, dessert also allowed me to indulge my interest in their impressive array of amari. The Amaro Nonnino I ordered arrived in a remarkably cool and appropriate short glass.

When I complimented Torri on the glass, she went unprompted into the back and emerged with a case of them, urging that I photograph the model label so I could buy my own.

While we enjoyed our meal, countless regulars came and went. One dropping off a small gift, another group descending en masse to occupy most of the restaurant on that sarurday afternoon. As I sat, enjoying my complimentary top-off of amaro, I realized that I wished I could do the same every Saturday. Thank you, Torri, for having built such a special place. For the rest of you, go visit her before the word gets out even more.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

13th and Wolf's Florence week

I suspect many of you have found me through my brother's blog 13th & Wolf. For those of you who don't know 13th & Wolf yet, it is a superlative vision of men's style. This week, he branches out a bit with a very thoughtful series of posts regarding eating and art in Florence, Italy in honor of the fact that so many of his friends are making their first visit to our shared favorite city fr Pitti Uomo. His choices will be familliar to readers of this page, as tastes run very similar is our family. However, his choice of images and prose is worth a look if you long for a brief virtual holiday, or you happen to be in Florence right now. If you're in the latter category, I am supremely jealous.

In a related vein, today would've been my Dad's 69th birthday. In honor of that, and of the focus on Florence, I want to sing the praises of Trattoria Cammillo, 57R Borgo San Jacopo in the Oltrarno, just a quick right turn and a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio.

I raise it both because it is an excellent example of a true Trattoria frequented by fiorentini, and because it's where I had the last meal my Dad and I ever ate in Italy. I was in Florence for work (rough life) and he was similarly at a Board meeting in Rome, but -- true to form -- took the train up to spend the day with me. It was a Sunday, which meant finding a restaurant open for lunch was tough. After a couple of strikeouts, we walked past Cammillo. I had eaten there once before about ten years earlier, and remembered it as very good, if a bit pricey.

After scanning the menu, we both settled on the questionably named tagliatelle fresca con sugo di castrato. It turned out it was a ragu made from a neutered lamb, and hence much sweeter than traditional lamb ragu. It was absolutely delicious. Man, did my dad love his pasta. So guys, if you're stuck for lunch this Sunday, try Camillo.

Happy birthday, pop.