Restaurant review: Osteria Simon Boccanegra, Firenze, Italy

October 31, 2010

Ponte vecchio, Florence

For our first family visit to Florence my good friend Giuseppe Sepe had put together a selection of six “must do or must see if in Florence”.

These six locations were carefully marked on a little map Giuseppe had drawn for us. His suggestions did not disappoint. In fact we felt utterly privileged to have this little treasure map in our hands.

One of the suggestions was Osteria Simon Boccanegra. We went there for dinner. As instructed, we asked for Tommaso, a good friend of Giuseppe, who as Giuseppe said “would treat us like royalty” (which in fact he did – thank you Tommaso for this memorable evening).

There are actually (at least) three Boccanegras: the ristorante, the osteria and the pizzeria (there is an enoteca as well), all of which offer quite distinct and different menus to their customers. We were drawn by the allure of the food of rural Florence, manifesting itself in the Osteria Boccanegra menu.

Furthermore, Tommaso spoilt us from the outset with a couple of glasses of spumante (bubbly) first, and some selected delicacies later. Then we moved on to a selection of traditional Florentine “primi piatti”, dishes to get started with. They reflected the charm of a truly rustic Florence.

We had raw vegetables, some white bread with liver pate, and a selection of local cheeses with kumquat and other jams all of which were super delicious.

Raw vegetables

Liver on bread

Various cheeses with marmalades

After that we moves on to pasta. I ordered gnocchi al ragu, one of my favourites. Margit had papardelle with rabbit, and the girls chose spinach ravioli with ricotta cheese.

Spinich ravioli with ricotta

Papardelle with rabbit

Gnocchi al ragu

Then came the absolute highlight of the evening, the “bistecca Fiorentina”. Goodness me, we had almost no space left for more food but this beef was heavenly. Look at the picture of the steak below with its mouth watering faculties.

Bistecca Fiorentina

As regards the choice of wine, we were constrained or shall I say conditioned by a wine tasting with Giuseppe in Bangkok. He served us a bottle of Tignanello some time ago which we had not forgotten (how can you forget a Super Tuscan like this?). Of course Boccanegra listed Tignanello on their (extensive and very interesting) wine list.

So the choice was made quickly and a bottle of ‘2006 Tignanello’ by Villa Antinori was ordered.

The waitress opening the bottle

Wine decantered

2006 Tignanello by Antinori

Tignanello, bottle with the cork

I was amazed how skilful one could open such a bottle of wine. The cork would remain “encapsulated” so to say. The waitress decantered our Super Tuscan, and then we were ready. Great job. I have never seen such art elsewhere.

The wine is just beautiful, consisting of 85% Sangiovese, 10 % Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc grapes. Tignanello was the first Super Tuscan which was made that way. Traditionally all grapes are Sangiovese. No white grapes are used for the blend.

All the fruit is estate grown and comes from a vineyard also named Tignanello covering 47 ha. The vines grow on 350-400 meter altitude on limestone and red tuffaceous soil.

2006 was a great vintage, quality and quantity wise. After the normal fermentation, the wine is put in barriques where the malolactic fermentation takes place. After the blending the wine can age in oak barrels for about 12 months.

The wine is dark red with aromas of red fruit and berries. It has fine tannins and is elegant with a good structure and length. I just love the finish with is smooth and round like good chocolate. This was only my second bottle of Tignanello but the lust for more is lying in wait.

Tommaso with the Adam family

Occasionally we review our family holiday experience by rating the places we have visited. Boccanegra (the Osteria to be precise) came out on top of our Italy visit which did not come as a surprise. There was only one other restaurant which came close to it. But more about this another time.

If you visit Florence please feel free to use Giuseppe’s map. It is worth it to explore “his” Florence in 48 hours. And if you happen to bump into Tommaso, say hello to him. By the way, he loves Thailand, Bangkok and Thai cuisine.

Simon Boccanegra
Ristorante, Osteria, Pizzeria
Via Verdi 27/r and Via Ghibellina 124/r
50122 Firenze/Florence, Italy
Tel.: +39-55-2001090
Fax: +39-55-2263038
Closed on Sundays!!!!

Mosel Riesling: Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein

October 30, 2010

2008 Slate Terraces Riesling Heymann-Löwenstein

The website of Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein starts with a poem of Ingeborg Bachmann, a famous Austrian poet and writer (1926-1973). The first line reads as follows:

»One should be able to pick up the stone
and hold it in wild hope
until it begins to bloom«

That’s in fact what Heymann-Löwenstein does. The earth or better the rocks (slate in this case) in which the vines grow is at the centre of his attention.

I know the sound of slate from my youth growing up in Trier, Mosel. Slate was all around us. The roofs of the houses were in slate, covers of walls, and walls themselves, all in grey slate. We liked to break individual thin pieces into smaller ones and the grey slate dust trickled through our fingers.

Reinhard Löwenstein, who founded the winery in 1980, was carefully searching for the best locations (terroir) before starting his venture in Winningen, a small hamlet along the lower Mosel (south of Koblenz). He is an innovator whose wine styles differ from the Mosel tradition, an inspiration to many young wine-makers at the Mosel river.

Yields are kept low, harvest is late and the steep slopes of the slate stone reflect the days heat during the night. Moreover, the juice is allowed to stay with the skin for up to two days. Some Botrytis infected fruit is sometimes also added giving complexity to the wine. Rheinhard Löwenstein’s wine making philosophy is non interventionist. He intends to bring out the terroir.

The ‘2008 Slate Terraces Riesling’ by Heymann-Löwenstein has an intense golden colour in the glass. It’s alcohol is 12.5%. The wine is full and round, with a balanced acidity. It is dry, displaying a fine minerality and beautiful aromas of citrus fruit. The wine has a good structure and a stunning finish.

Timo Mayer had brought the above bottle with him when he came on a stop-over to Bangkok. We enjoyed it together with some food during a night which saw many exquisite bottles of the fine wines being opened and consumed with great delight.

The winery Heymann-Löwenstein is ranked by as one of the top ten Riesling producers in Germany. The area under cultivation is about 16 ha with an annual production of 100,000 bottles.

And the good news for residence in the Healesville area in Victoria is that Barrique, the wine store in this lovely little town, has some bottles of Heymann-Löwenstein Riesling on offer. Two years ago I have bought a few there. Delicious.

Winery (Weingut) Heymann-Löwenstein
Bahnhofstrasse 10
56333 Winningen
Tel.: +49-2606-1919
Fax: +49-2606-1909

Food blogs: The culinary world acknowledges bloggers!

October 28, 2010

A rather Spartan breakfast

I was very pleased today when I read in the Wall Street Journal that food blogs have come of age and that the culinary world acknowledges food bloggers. Great news indeed. Finally, one could say.

Bruce Palling is writing that food bloggers knowledge of haute cuisine is quite remarkable and that the impact of food blogs is significant. For the first time the New York based James Beard Foundation includes in its food writing awards (Bruce calls it: the “Oscars of the Food World”) not only mainstream print media but also blogs.

Bruce cites a couple of outstanding food blogs. For instance Ms. Aiste Miseviciute, a 28 year old fashion model from Lithuania. She writes about what models eat (Who said models don’t eat?). Moreover, Bruce brings example of bloggers eating regularly at Michelin star restaurants such as Felix Hirsch (from Luxembourg, a neighbour so to say for us people from Trier) and Andy Hayler. Their blogs receive 400 respective 2,000 unique visitors a day! Amazing.

Nowadays, food bloggers are even invited by restaurants to eat free of charge and then write about the food and the eating experience as a marketing strategy. This reflects the fact that bloggers are trusted sources of information and as such a valuable avenue for advertisements.

Bruce Palling ends his essay with the following words:
“We should all be grateful that there has never been such a profusion of fascinating accounts of fine dining so available – and provided free of charge”.

Although I cannot claim to have as many visitors as the two gentlemen above, it somehow fill me with pride to be one of the club. I guess motivation to continue blogging should not be a problem for a while.

PS: I have learned to appreciate the Wall Street Journal as a newspaper, although I never played in my life at any stock exchange. I am somehow averse to gambling.

I Due Fratellini – Best Tuscan sandwiches and wine

October 27, 2010

The roofs of Florence

Another “must see” on our map of Florence was “I Due Fratellini” where the best Tuscan sandwiches and wines are on offer. Indeed the sandwiches were awesome, fresh and tasty with ample choice for meat and cheese lovers as well as for vegetarians.

We had a couple of glasses of very decent Pinot Griggio with the food.

I Due Fratellini – long queues

The crowds are manageable at lunchtime but be prepared to queue for a while. It is advisable to get there early, let’s say 11:30 h or so. We sat on the pavement on the other side of the small lane in which I Due Fratellini is located.

I Due Fratellini

The prices are very reasonable. The service is great, fast and friendly. What I liked that we could drink the wine from real wine glasses and not some kind of plastic etc. cup. You just return the wine glasses when you have finished you drink. Very nice indeed.

The place is easy to find. Check it our when in Florence next time.

I Due Fratellini
Via dei Cimatori 38/r
50122 Firenze, Italy
Opening hours:Mon.-Sat. 09-20h

Enoteca Baldovino, Florence, Italy

October 24, 2010

Basilica di S. Croce, Firenze

Welcome to Firenze. The photo above shows the Basilica di S. Croce in the side street to the left of which you will bump into a wine bar and restaurant called “Baldovino”.

The counter of Enoteca Baldovino

The inside of Enoteca Baldovino

Food and wine sideboard

The No. 5 “must see place” on Giuseppe’s Firenze map was Baldovino, a ristorante/pizzeria with a wine bar (an enoteca) next to it. We patronized the “enoteca” to have a glass of wine. It was a late afternoon with a blue sky and beautiful sunshine.

The waiter was very friendly and made us feel at home immediately. We ordered a bottle of white. It was hot and white wine seemed the right stuff to get ready for another splendid evening in Florence.

Enoteca Baldovino is a very lovely place to hang out on a warm evening. If you are hungry you can just walk over to the restaurant Baldovino next door. One can also sit outside in the piazza and watch the passers by on their evening “passagiata”.

An interesting wine cooler

‘2009 La Segreta Bianco’ by Planeta, Sicilia

We ordered a bottle of ‘2009 La Segreta Bianco’ by Planeta, Sicilia. This is an easy drinking blend of various grape varieties but with the bulk coming from the Grecianico grape.

The back label

Happy customers

Enoteca Baldovino
Via S. Giuseppe 22 e
Florence, Italy

Giuseppe’s map of Firenze – God must have been a Florentine

October 23, 2010

The map of Firenze according to Giuseppe Seppe

When we announced to our Italian friend Giuseppe who lived for a long time in Florence, that we intended to visit his town, he was ecstatic. There are many things to see in Florence but we had only a weekend. How to make informed choices about the places to visit?

Here comes Giuseppe. He drew us a map, on it six places he considers a “must see”. In my subsequent blog entries I will introduce some of these places, especially the “foody” ones.

Of the six entries, four were related to food and drink, two were historic (Palazzo Medici Riccardi and Museo Nazionale del Bargello). They were:

1. I Due Fratellini: Tuscan sandwiches and wine shop
2. Boccanegra: restaurant with Tuscan specialities
3. Baldovino: Antipasti, pizza and fine wines
4. Pasticceria Artigianale Cobi: Florentine cakes and other local sweets

We did not have sufficient time to check out the “pasticceria” but patronized the other three places. I tell you that they were all worth the visit.

Thank you Giuseppe for these insider tips. We just loved your recommendations.

German Riesling: Weingut Robert Weil

October 21, 2010

2008 Robert Weil Estate Riesling dry

A friend of mine made me taste this wine some time ago in Berlin. I brought a bottle of the 2008 vintage back to Bangkok. During the visit of a wine-maker friend from Australia, I opened my treasure trove, and the Robert Weil Riesling, from Rheingau, Germany was one of the many bottles of fine wine which we sampled.

The winery Robert Weil is a well known household name among Riesling producers and wine connoisseurs in Germany. As many of the German wineries, Robert Weil goes back a fair bit. The winery was founded in 1875. Although vineyards were among the family properties in the village of Kiedrich, Rheingau for some time.

The founder of the winery, Dr. Robert Weil, was a professor of German language at the Sorbonne University in Paris. The change in career turned out to be very beneficial for the professor and his descendants as well as the wine fraternity.

With about 3,100 ha under vines, the Rheingau is one of the smaller German wine regions. Robert Weil bought some of the best locations (terroir) and vineyards in the vicinity of Kiedrich and thereby consolidated his winery. Today, the total area under vines is about 75 ha. This is more than just a small family vintner.

Many of the vines are 50 and more years old. Plant density is between 5,000 and 6,000 vines per hectare (quite dense in comparison with the 2,700 vines on my own vineyard). The operation is characterized by the use of organic fertilizers and the minimization of the use of industrial pesticides.

The wines of Robert Weil are regular award winners. The winery is among the top 10 of the German Riesling Forum.

Beautiful colour of the Robert Weil Estate Riesling

The colour of the wine is pale straw (12% alcohol). The 2008 vintage is still a young wine; it is fresh and spritzy with lemon and lime aromas and some mineral notes. The residual sugar is about 8 grams. The wine is fruity with a well balanced acidity; it has a good structure and a long finish.

The pity was: I had only one bottle. Wine is just not suitable for air travel.

The Rheingau is a beautiful place and just a stone throw away from Frankfurt airport. if you have the chance just go and check it out yourself. Cheers mate

Weingut Robert Weil
Mühlberg 5
D-65399 Kiedrich / Rheingau

Tel.: +49-6123 2308 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +49-6123 2308      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +49-6123 2308      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +49-6123 2308      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +49-6123 2308      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Fax: +49-6123 1546

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday 8.00 – 17.30 h
Saturday 10.00 – 17.00 h
Sunday 11.00 – 17.00 h

Viña Tondonia White Reserva 1987, Rioja, Spain

October 18, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, we drank a very special type of wine, a white Rioja, vintage 1987, called Viña Tondonia White Reserva! Our wine-making friend, Timo Mayer from the Yarra Valley had brought the bottle all the way from Europe to Bangkok.

The winery is owned and managed by the third generation of the López de Heredia family. For a hundred and thirty one years this enterprise is producing exceptional and unique wines. The founder of the company, Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, defined in the late nineteenth century what a “Supreme Rioja” wine could be. Viña Tondonia White Reserva 1987 bears witness to this philosophy.

Timo Mayer opening the bottle in our kitchen

The wine is made from Viura (about 70%, also called Macabeu in France) and Malvasia grapes. It was kept for 10 years on the yeast in old, large oak barrels and for 13 years in the bottle before the wine is finally released.

1987 is the current vintage! Who can afford to leave wine for 23 years in the cellar?

The wine is a unique experience. It is completely dry, has a fine bouquet with a hint of dried fruit. First, we did not know what to make of it but with each sip it dawned on us that we held something very special in our glasses. Awesome stuff, indeed. One can taste the passion which went into this wine.

Cheers mate

The wine can be bought in Germany from “Weinhalle“. It is not cheap but worth to be explored if you long for a unique and amazing wine experience.

The best Mongolian hotpot ever

October 15, 2010

The Bull Brauhaus, Mongolian Hotpot restaurant in Ulaan Bataar

I was invited by my Mongolian friends to dine at “The Bull Brauhaus”, a Mongolian Hotpot restaurant in Ulaan Bataar, the capital city of Mongolia. The restaurant was packed with customers when we arrived, among them a large group of young Tibetan monks. The time of my visit coincided with an international conference on Mongolian Buddhism; even Richard Geere was in town.

I had hotpot before, in places as diverse as Japan, Korea, Thailand, China and Indonesia. However, the hotpot experience at “The Bull Brauhaus” was another matter. I guess it was the best hotpot ever. The quality of the meat was outstanding. A great variety of condiments was on offer. Each of us had its own little hotpot stove. Unfortunately, I did not take a photo of them.

Look at the condiments

Look at the meat

We drank ‘Mongol’ beer with the food which was a good choice.

Mongol beer

The Mongolian quality vodka: Chenggis Khan

At the end of the meal the obligatory vodka was served. Chenggis Khan vodka seemed to be the preferred brand by my host. In the following day s of my visit I should have more of it. Needless to say that we had a jolly good time. If in Mongolia do as the Mongolian do, is a famous saying. The Bull Brauhaus in Ulaan Bataar is definitely worth a visit.

Wine from Franconia: Weingut Juliusspital, Würzburg

October 12, 2010

During a recent visit to Berlin, I bought also some bottles of fine wine. I treated myself to a ‘grand cru’ or ‘Grosses Gewaechs’ as the Germans call it. The ‘2006 Juliusspital GG dry Silvaner’ was just the stuff which makes my wine lovers heart jump. The winery is one of the best in Franconia and ever since my late grand father took me there as a 16 year old boy I am in love with its wines. Franconian Silvaner is one of my favorites. The wine comes in the ‘Bocksbeutel’ bottle typical for Franconia.

2006 GG Silvaner Juliusspital dry

Nothing is better suited to wine enjoyment than the presence of a wine expert. When Timo Mayer, owner and wine maker of The Mayer Vineyard from the Yarra Valley, Victoria visited us recently in Bangkok, I could not resist to open this treasure of a wine from Franconia.

It has a golden colour, and is quite oily with a beautiful bouquet. The structure is good and it finishes with a tender bitter note due to the fine tannins. In short: a wonderful wine.

The wine is ready for tasting

Weingut Juliusspital
Klinikstr. 1
97070 Würzburg

Tel.: +49-931393-1400 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +49-931393-1400      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +49-931393-1400      end_of_the_skype_highlighting 
Fax: +49-931393-1414