Il Cortile Ristorante – Paso Robles

Central Coast, Food Adventures

2014-06-22 19.11.22

On our recent trip to Central Coast Wine Country, we were overwhelmed by our dining options in downtown Paso Robles. After all, where there’s good wine, there’s good food, right? But in our search for dinner plans, Il Cortile stood out with its homemade pastas, stunning dishes, and (because first impressions matter) clean and modern website.

Upon our arrival, we were pleased to find that our first impressions were just the beginning of a wonderful experience. It was a warm summer evening so we elected to dine al fresco on the inviting semi-enclosed patio. Our server Andrew was friendly, and somewhere along the way, we learned that a surprising number of Paso residents (including himself and the Chef Santos MacDonal) are LA transplants!

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Even after having partaken in an entire afternoon of wine tasting, we could not resist yet another opportunity to sample the Central Coast, so I had the Rose flight while Martin chose the Italian flight to start our meal.

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We love grilled octopus so despite other tempting offerings such as mozzarella di bufalo, coppa con burrata, and carpaccio di anatra (duck), we went with our first instinct: grilled octopus with fresh vegetables marinati in a spicy vinaigrette. The octopus was charred to perfection and oh so tender. It was served over a hearty bed of cannelini beans and tomato, reminding us that we are indeed in an Italian ristorante.

We mentioned wanting to try two different entrees and sharing so that we could sample two of their famed dishes. But without any indication or request, our server went ahead and asked the kitchen to split the plates so that we could each have our own portions, beautifully plated. So thoughtful!

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Following our antipasti was our primi of pappardelle al aragosta – squid ink pasta with a lobster ragu finished with salmon roe. Remember when we said we love grilled octopus? Well we LOVE squid ink pasta. Guaranteed, at least one of us will order it given the option. The lobster ragu was rich and packed with generous bits of lobster meat, while the roe (which I believe was actually tobiko, or flying fish roe, as it was much smaller than the distinct size of ikura) added a welcomed touch of saltiness. The pasta itself, made in-house, had the distinct texture that only fresh pasta has, and it was cooked just until al dente. Absolute perfection, we enjoyed every bite of this. (Editor’s Note: I noticed this dish is no longer listed on the current menu on the website and has been replaced with a lobster ravioli dish instead.)

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Our secondi was a very special dish, one that everyone will tell you to order if you come here but never seems to make a permanent appearance on the menu: osso buco – overnight-braised pork shank with parmesan risotto. It was customary to serve me easier-to-daintily-eat slices and chunks of braised meat while the gentleman got the rest of the bone-in shank in all its glory. What they didn’t know was that this lady has a strong stomach and ended up devouring some of her date’s portion as well, it was just so good! Quick research on the history of osso buco tells me that this was a more “modern” preparation with its tomatoes and mirepoix, but modern or traditional, it was an impressive dish that felt decadent and yet comforting at the same time. Don’t miss it!

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For dessert, Martin was in the mood for something less sweet and made a special request for an affogato – hot espresso poured table-side over vanilla ice cream. I opted for the vanilla panna cotta which was garnished with fresh strawberries and a berry coulis. I loved being able to actually see the flecks of vanilla bean, and the flavor was delicate. Delicious!

From beginning to end, we had an amazing experience. Be sure to include Il Cortile in your next Central Coast adventure!

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Check out Il Cortile – ilcortileristorante.com

608 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Homemade Squid Ink Pasta (Nero di Seppia)

Main Dishes, Recipes

Martin and I had always wanted to go to the fish markets in Downtown Los Angeles but we never seem to wake up early enough to catch the good stuff. One morning, we made our way over to Los Angeles Fish Co. in the industrial district, ready to be inspired by the bounty of the sea. Razor clams, Santa Barbara uni, PEI mussels, pompano fish, arctic char, fanny bay oysters… the assortment was exciting. One of the more interesting finds was a jar of cuttlefish ink. We love to order squid ink pasta whenever we find it on a menu, and we’ve always wanted to make it at home ourselves, so we opened our wallets and forked over the $35 for the 500 mL jar (as we later discovered, it will last us for a very long time).

Capellini nere alle vongole

Capellini nere alle vongole

The first question I had (and Googled) was “squid ink vs. cuttlefish ink.” The verdict? I learned that most commercial squid ink is actually from cuttlefish, and that cuttlefish ink is superior because of its rounded, smooth flavor. Squid ink could taste strongly of iodine. Both bring the briny essence of the sea and a stunning black hue to a classic Italian dish. My second question was whether I should have purchased the cephalopods whole and extracted my own ink sacs. Another Google search told me that commercially harvested ink, packaged in jars, are generally higher quality and better suited for cooking. And the third and last question — how the heck do I add it to the pasta dough?

Squid Ink Pasta Dough Ball

Squid Ink Pasta Dough Ball

Well, browsing online yielded a lot of recipes for what to do with the store-bought squid ink (don’t do it). But when I finally found some advice on making homemade black pasta, it turned out to be surprisingly easy! Just take our fresh pasta recipe (yields about 1 pound of dough), and whisk in one tablespoon of ink with the egg-oil mixture prior to pouring it into the flour. It’s that simple.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

5 ounces all-purpose flour

5 ounces semolina flour

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon squid ink (or cuttlefish ink)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Measure out the flours and gently mix to combine. Make a well in the center.

Flours and Egg-Ink Mixture

Flours and Egg-Ink Mixture

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, ink, and oil. Pour into the well.

Whisking in the Ink

Whisking in the Ink

3. Using a fork, stir in a circular motion to slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet.

Kneading Time!

Kneading Time!

4. When a dough starts to form, knead on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes.

Resting the Dough

Resting the Dough

5. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes to 1 hour.

Cross-section of Dough

Cross-section of Dough

6. Cut into quarters. Flatten into a disc and roll out to desired thickness.

Beautiful Velvety Jet-Black Pasta

Beautiful Velvety Jet-Black Pasta

7. Cook in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and toss into sauce of choice. Serve immediately.

Cut Pasta

Cut Pasta

So if you’re looking to make a homemade Italian meal to impress a loved one, try making squid ink pasta. Now that’s amore!

Serving Suggestion: Squid Ink Pasta with Clams

Serving Suggestion: Squid Ink Pasta with Clams

The Factory Kitchen – Downtown Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles
fusilli alla amatriciana

fusilli alla amatriciana

Hidden away in the heart of the newly coined “Arts District” that is transforming the grungy old industrial neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles is, believe it or not, a trattoria-style Italian restaurant that just opened in 2013. In a dining room that stays true to its concrete column and exposed ducting “look,” The Factory Kitchen’s menu features a variety of traditional dishes including a selection of handmade pastas.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

Martin had been here for lunch with his coworkers before and he raved about so much that we decided to dine here for a belated Valentine’s Day meal.

focaccina calda di recco al formaggio - pizzata

focaccina calda di recco al formaggio – pizzata

Starter: focaccina calda di recco al formaggio – pizzata – crescenza, san marzano tomato, capers, anchovies, oregano. Martin suggested that we share a focaccina to start and he let me pick one. Lured by the prospect of anchovies and capers, I selected the pizzata. What is a focaccina? It was unlike anything I’d ever had, but I suppose the best way to describe it would be a very thin, very flaky and puffy flat-bread pizza. The pizzata was lightly sauced with a San Marzano tomato puree and decorated simply with a pair of anchovy loins. But the beauty is in its simplicity. It was so amazing I almost didn’t want to share.

gnocchi malfatti

gnocchi malfatti

Entree (M): gnocchi malfatti – ricotta semolina dumpling, lamb sugo. I’m a big fan of ragu-type meaty sauces (and I don’t mean the stuff in the jar), so I had a feeling the lamb sugo would be a good choice. The ricotta gnocchi were very fluffy but also very cheesy. Martin, who is already a huge fan of potato gnocchi, really enjoyed this dish!

fusilli alla amatriciana

fusilli alla amatriciana

Entree (A): fusilli alla amatriciana – long corkscrew pasta, pork jowl, onion, spicy tomato. I needed only to spot the words “pork jowl” and I knew this would be the dish for me. There’s something inherently comforting about the flavor combination of pork fat and tomatoes, and this tender, fatty pork jowl did not disappoint. Also surprising were the long (VERY LONG) corkscrews; they were like rotini on steroids. So delicious I only wish there were more on the plate!

pannacotta

pannacotta

Dessert: pannacotta – meyer lemon curd, feuillitine crunch, candied zest. Another one of my buzzwords is feuillitine. Did I ever tell you about the time Martin and I made our own crepes dentelle? Now that was an adventure, but a story for another time. This dessert was love at first sight. Silky vanilla panna cotta topped by a thick layer of lemon curd… the combinations of tart and sweet, smooth and creamy… it was heaven on a spoon. I’m also a big fan of candied citrus, so I thought the zest was a great touch.

A wonderful meal, fabulously attentive service, and a taste of Italia in the heart of the industrial district… definitely swing by and check out The Factory Kitchen!

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Check out The Factory Kitchen: thefactorykitchen.com

1300 Factory Place, Suite 101
Los Angeles, CA 90013

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA – Piccolo Venice (Winter 2014)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Though this entry is a bit belated, we have not missed a single DineLA Restaurant Week yet, and this winter, we would have had no excuse as restaurant “week” lasted a whopping twelve days! Winter DineLA is always extra special since it coincides with Martin’s birthday. His selection this year? A quaint little Italian place tucked away at the Venice Boardwalk… where we’d probably walked past at least a dozen times without even realizing it was there. We’re so glad we got to stop by and try their menu; in fact, one of the reasons why we chose this restaurant was that their dineLA menu offered a five course tasting of items featured on their regular menu.

Piccolo Venice

Piccolo Venice

The cozy atmosphere and romantic ambiance makes Piccolo perfect for date night. Candles lighting each table, a beautiful chandelier in the center of the room… Immediately after we were seated, our friendly and oh-so-Italian server brought a basket brimming with warm table bread. My favorite was the fluffy cubes of focaccia.

Table Bread

Table Bread

First Course: We both selected the conchiglie – marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin. What it fails to mention is that the crudo-esque dish arrives in the form of mini seafood “dumplings”, with the thinly sliced scallop resembling a clear hargow wrapper encasing a “filling” of uni.

Conchiglie - marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin

Conchiglie – marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin

Second Course: plin – fontina filled, homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings. I love fresh pasta, though this particular dish was drowning a bit in the salty sauce. Still, nothing a few generous flakes of earthy black truffle couldn’t save. (Did I ever mention that I want a truffle pig? Or perhaps to train one of our cats to hunt truffles…)

Plin - fontina filled homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings

Plin – fontina filled homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings

Third Course (M): neri – squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings. Martin is a sucker for squid ink pasta and he seemed very pleased with the long strands of briny goodness flecked with crumbles of cured fish roe. I was a bit jealous.

Neri - squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings

Neri – squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings

Third Course (A): garganelli – homemade, braised wild boar sauce ragu. From appearance alone, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference from the boar sausage and ordinary ground beef, but one bite of gamy, hearty protein and I was hooked. It paired perfectly with the al dente hand-rolled pasta.

Garganelli - homemade braised wild boar sausage ragu

Garganelli – homemade braised wild boar sausage ragu

Fourth Course (M): tagliata – seared natural australian kobe ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt. It arrived rare just the way he likes it, and the pleasant surprise — cubes of crispy fried polenta! How did they know he loved those?! Super tender, juicy steak – this was a great dish.

Tagliata - seared natural australian ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt

Tagliata – seared natural australian ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt

Fourth Course (A): anatra – pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce. I love a good seared rare duck breast and Piccolo did not disappoint. The meat was tender and was complemented well by the currant sauce. My surprise sides? A dollop of purple potato mash (puree?) and crispy roasted brussels sprouts… some of my all-time favorite side dishes. Again, how did they know??

Anatra - pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce

Anatra – pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce

Fifth Course: chef’s selection of homemade desserts. If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, TELL YOUR SERVER. We were surprised that the plate arrived on our table without any mention of what the selections were, nor a particularly thorough description of the items. That’s okay for us though; we have daring palates and resilient stomachs. Just thought I’d warn ya.

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel sauce and profiteroles (or, a la Italia, bignole) filled with fluffy dark chocolate mousse.

Bignole filled with valrhona chocolate mousse

Bignole filled with valrhona chocolate mousse

Both delicious palate cleansers and adorable little bites to end the meal. Molto bene!

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Check out Piccolo Venice: piccolovenice.com

5 Dudley Avenue
Venice, CA 90291

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA Winter 2014 – $$$ ($45/person) dinner

Parking near Venice Beach is notoriously difficult. We swallowed our pride and paid for the valet, which shares a parking lot with On The Waterfront Cafe.

Potato Gnocchi

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

Gnocchi. Nyo-kee. More than just a funny-sounding word for an Italian dumpling, gnocchi are fluffy pillows of potato or ricotta based dough swimming in sauces that vary from a simple brown butter to a rich bolognese. It is one of our favorite dishes to order when we go out for Italian, especially at places notorious for their homemade pasta. Finally one day, Martin had the brilliant idea to try making gnocchi ourselves.

Potato Gnocchi alla Arrabiatta

Potato Gnocchi alla Arrabiatta

As it turned out, making the gnocchi dough was relatively easy – considerably less finicky than semolina pasta dough. It does take some time to bake and cool the potatoes, but I think it’s worth having to plan ahead; baking yields a better dough texture than boiling does.

Ingredients:

2 pounds of russet potatoes

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 egg yolks

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt

(Thank you to Simply Recipes for the ingredient proportions and the crucial tip to bake instead of boil the potatoes!)

Potatoes: ready for the oven

Potatoes: ready for the oven

Scrub the potatoes under running water, leaving the skins on. Stab the potatoes all around with a fork, the way you would when baking sweet potatoes. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, arrange the potatoes equidistant from each other, and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.

Time to cool the potatoes!

Time to cool the potatoes!

When the potatoes are tender and the skins have started to wrinkle and pull away, transfer to a cooling rack and slice them open down the middle to let the steam escape. I waited about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes were still warm but cool enough to handle.

Using a potato ricer

Using a potato ricer

Remove the potatoes from their skins and either mash with a fork or strain through a potato ricer into a large bowl.

The dough ingredients

The dough ingredients

Add the two egg yolks , lightly beaten, and the flour and salt to the potatoes.

Ball of gnocchi dough

Ball of gnocchi dough

Stir to combine but do not overwork the dough or the gnocchi will be tough and dense instead of light and fluffy. The mixture should just start to form a doughy ball.

Rolling out the dough

Rolling out the dough

Lightly dust a cutting board with all purpose flour. Working with a handful of dough at a time, gently roll out a tube about the size of a breadstick.

Cutting the dough

Cutting the dough

Using a sharp paring knife, cut the rolled out dough into small pieces, about 1 inch long.

Rolling the gnocchi on a gnocchi board

Rolling the gnocchi on a gnocchi board

We have a gnocchi board, but you could also use the back of a dinner fork to roll out the gnocchi. Whichever you choose, be sure to flour it so your gnocchi don’t stick. Holding the board (or fork) at a 45 degree angle, start the gnocchi at the top and press down and forward with your thumb. It is hard to describe, but you are essentially smearing the dough so that rolls over on top of itself as demonstrated in this how-to video we found on Youtube.

Our dumpling army

Our dumpling army

Set your finished gnocchi aside on a floured baking sheet and repeat until you use up all of the dough.

Just wait until they float!

Just wait until they float!

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the gnocchi in batches, maybe two handfuls at a time. They will be done when they float. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a serving dish or individual bowls.

The next batches, patiently waiting

The next batches, patiently waiting

Just top with your favorite sauce — we used a simple arrabiatta made with garlic, white wine, canned San Marzano tomatoes, and dried red pepper flakes. The ridges are great for catching the sauce, and each gnocco is a tender, pillowy cloud of potato goodness.

Our gnocchi cooking station

Our gnocchi cooking station

Writing this entry made me crave a warm, hearty bowl of gnocchi again… I think my next experiment will be a sweet potato gnocchi with a sage brown butter sauce. Will report back on how that goes!

nomnomcat print button

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. While Martin and I have made fresh pasta on many occasions, making our own gnocchi had always been just another item on our Bucket List until recently. In retrospect, it is a bit ironic that the small wooden gnocchi board was a more intimidating piece of equipment than our Marcato pasta maker.

This month is hosted by Stacey at The Veggie Mama.

Cheers!