Does it Taste Good Because it Looks Good ?

 

 

Disclaimer: Ok, per my last post, I visited the Emilia Romagna region in Italy (among other cities), just to eat. So you’re going to hear a lot about it, until you can’t stand it anymore, and you’ll have to go for yourself. And it will totally be worth it, especially if you value food as much as I do.

During my time there, I was happy to find some unexpected, yet delicious desserts, particularly when it came to the presentation. Of course, the flavors of the desserts were familiar, but I was often surprised by the presentation. It’s the little things that get me going. Let’s talk about fun plated desserts in Italy, and whether it’s all in the perception (presentation) or reality (taste).

On our first evening, we ordered tiramisu, a very traditional dessert, at Savini in Milan. What wasn’t traditional however, was the the flower bouquet we received.

For starters, the contrast of a brown dessert on a matte black plate was not only atypical but also so exciting. I was expecting the generic hotel white plate. But the plating made the dessert feel exotic, before even tasting it. Next, the cream was applied via pipping, rather than layered, or should I say splattered, as I am accustomed to. The style really highlighted each ingredient so that I could visually appreciate each one, but once I stuck a spoon in it, all of the ingredients married well to the taste.

I particularly liked the thin chocolate topping, shaped like cheese with perfectly round holes punched in. But the cherry on top were the gold flakes at the center, for a true contrast on the dark dessert, and the even darker background. Very chic and appropriate for Milan.

The dessert in of itself would be a 6/10 believe it or not, nothing to write home about (though I am writing), but the visual effects gave it an 8. I think there was too much cocoa powder, which made me feel like I was choking, and I kept reaching for the water. Also, the cream was carefully applied, but it wasn’t so flavorful. Sorry.

But overall, it tasted good because it looked good. Perception is reality.

 

Speaking of flowers, how about gelato flowers? Not only in Milan, but also in Florence and Bologna, I was happy to get gelato, more so for how cute it looked than how good it was.

My most memorable scoop was also, just ok, but the fact that each flavor resembled a petal, made me want to save the ice cream, rather than eat it. Well, only for a quick second. Of course, this was Italy, so it was still delicious, but again, the presentation curved the taste grade from a 5 to a 7.

A good presentation can sometimes sway  my judgement; however,  an overly simple presentation can make me underestimate a good dish. One of my favorite desserts of the trip was in the heart of Emilia Romagna, Bologna to be exact. It was at Osteria Bottega, which was off the beaten path, but the place was packed!

We opted for a wine and cream flavored pear. Sounded totally weird, but that’s exactly what it was: a whole pear, cooked in a wine reduction, with spices, then plated over a generous bed of Italian pastry cream. Overly simple. The cream of the area is full of sugar and egg yolk, so it was of strong yellow tone, to bring out the red of the whole pear, chilling on top. The dish looked rather rustic, yet bold, but it smelled so good, that it was also inviting.

Very simple, but maybe one of the best things I ate on this trip. It was rich, sweet, and spicy, while also playing with a mix of temperatures, as the pear was warm. This time, the fun plating was maybe a 7, but the dessert was a whopping 9. Yet, it was the simplicity of the presentation which also blew me away. So unexpectedly good. I was pleasantly surprised.

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Credit: The Guardian- Tanya Gold

I saved the best for last, with one of our desserts at Osteria Francescana in Modena. It was Bottura’s famous “Oops, I dropped the lemon tart”. That dish is famous because allegedly, the Chef had dropped a tart, and found a creative way to plate a broken dessert.

The plating in this case absolutely blew me away because the plate in of itself looked broken, yet it wasn’t. the bumps were visible and clear to the touch, yet were matte and safe of course. It was so much more than a gastronomic experience.

The lemon in the tart was more yellow in color than I was accustomed to, but it made it fun, especially as the sauce was splattered across the plate. The crust was broken and reassembled carefully, with crumbs sprinkled around the plate.

When I finally built the courage to taste it, I realized that the portion was way too small. It was the right balance of sweet, sour, and crunch. I was scrapping the plate, and had to quickly compose myself due the loud noise my spoon created, against the bumpy plate. But again, the plating was the star at a 10, and the dessert at an 8, for a average score of a 9.

So a fun plated dessert definitely sets the stage in a positive way, but appearances can be deceiving, like in the case of the tiramisu. Perception can also be deceiving when the plating isn’t so special, but don’t be fooled by the flavors hiding behind them. Bottom line, it can taste better because it looks better, but take it with a grain of salt.

 

A Lunch Hideway

I had some friends in town from New York last Monday.  Having enjoyed a cruise, they were only here for the day and spent the afternoon with me before heading back home. They were seeking an elegant and intimate lunch, and cocktails were in order, of course, to sail them back to the Polar Vortex in good spirits. I suggested The Cypress Room.  My last dinner experience was nothing short of breathtaking. Let’s compare with lunch!

Our party of three arrived at 1 pm.  Jazz vocals recalling a distant past flowed through the room, an escape from the commotion of the city.  The atmosphere inside was quiet, yet warm. It was the perfect meeting place.  We all chose the Prix Fixe Menu. $33 for three courses and the option to add a midcourse. It was by far the best lunch I have had in a very long time. Allow me to tell you why.

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Count Basie, courtesy of Hanging with Harris.

I started with a specialty cocktail, the Count Basie with: Redemption Rye, Cocchi Americano, R&W apricot, grapefruit, lemon, egg white and pistachio. I felt so regal just drinking it, in a tall glass, with the foam from the egg white brushing against my lips. A complex mixture of spirits, sure, but the Count Basie was a smooth operator, multi-dimensional and opened my palate for what was to come.

I chose the Triggerfish Crudo for my first course, with cherry peppers and blood orange. Or maybe the Crudo chose me? The tender fish was so fresh it practically leapt from the plate with just enough heat and a perfect balance of acidity.  It awoke every nerve within me.

MarrowI opted for a midcourse, the marrow bones with preserved lemon, celery, garlic toast and topped with parsley. This dish is a classic on the menu since opening and offered both at lunch and dinner.  The buttery marrow is best enjoyed spread on garlic toasts and kissed with a squeeze of lemon.  I’ll stop at that, but I will not refrain from tasting my friends’ food. I reached over for a bite of gnocchi, prepared with calabaza, wild mushroom and herbs. Bold, yet light enough for lunch thanks to a short ingredient list coming together in harmony on the place.

My second course was the most mesmerizing: the short rib with mushroom conserva and lila onions. I added the thrice cooked fries as a side. The contrast of the rich beef, bathing in flavorful broth, shined with just a touch of the potato. With a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir, I enjoyed the decadence of dinner time without feeling overwhelmed.  You’ll just have to trust me on that! Now onto dessert…

I chose another favorite, the brown butter semifreddo with compressed apple and medjool date leather. Its flavors morph as the dish melts from a tableside pour of spiced cider, each bite surpassing the last.  With French macarons begging not to be forgone, we bid The Cypress Room adieu, bellies full and hearts light.  It’s good to know there’s a reasonably priced lunch prix fixe menu ready to satisfy both the simple- or supplemental-minded at heart.

A Sweet Escape in the Heart of Miami

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When I eat well, my pallet and my heart are so joyful that they liberate me from the everyday and allow me to savor the magical moment- the meal in question.  However, great food entails more than taste; it must also be soulful, and earlier this week at The Cypress Room, I was permitted to cherish the pleasures of food well beyond my pallet. The experience was more than just gastronomic, it was emotional.

From the moment I entered the room, the warm lighting and the pink wallpaper welcomed me home, yet took me back in time. I would have loved to experience the roaring ’20s and the chandeliers and intimate environment just about offered that opportunity, while my short hair and my red lipstick fit the scene. Simultaneously, the wall mounts and the pecky cypress panels dare to combine a rustic look with the chic décor. This is what Miami is all about, being daring and escaping; which The Cypress Room embodies through portraits commemorating Florida landmarks and people savoring the indulgences that Miami represents. The Cypress Room found a way to achieve that sort of audacity while remaining composed.

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The evening started off on a romantic note with an aperitif at the bar. I went with the “Go Lightly”, a mix of : cocchi americano, st. germain, sparkling wine and topped with a lemon peel. The beverage was as simple as it was complex. It emitted just the right balance of sweetness with a touch of bitterness, as the flavors developed further and further. Needless to say that I was saddened at the last sip, but my pallet was well prepared for what was to come.

We were welcomed by an amuse-bouche, a creamy celery and potato soup, which both refreshed and set the stage. As the meal had officially begun, I seized the chance to be adventurous by trying the marrow bones as an appetizer. They were topped with parsley, with flavors of preserved lemon and served with garlic toast. I squeezed on some additional lemon and was pleasantly surprised by the dish’s decadence. The filling was rich, yet perfectly acidic, while the garlic toast melted in my mouth. Oooh the parsley…it made me feel as if its true power had been kept secret from me, until that very moment. I shared a topped toast with a friend, but I must admit that I did so reluctantly. I enjoyed the bones with some Jarancon Sec, and knew that this would be no ordinary meal.

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I followed with the duck, served two ways. The succulent breast is presented in chunks, which were so tender; however the roulade took my breath away. Formed using the leg meat, it was shaped as a small cup, with every bite dissolving on my tongue more quickly than I would wish.  At the suggestion of our Maître D’hôtel, I paired it with a glass of Nebbiolo, which perfectly complimented the dark meat. The French techniques were evident, while keeping true to the freshness and authenticity of the ingredients. The sides merely consisted of brussels sprouts and a beet-date purée, but saying merely is blasphemy. I am not ashamed to say that I cleared every ounce of the purée using the duck breast as my weapon, although it may have been a bit rude, now that I remember my table manners. Meanwhile, each layer of the sprouts was peeled which retained its crispiness, offering balance to the dish’s many textures and flavors.

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Although I attempted to focus only on my orders, I could not help myself at the sight of the côte de boeuf. Once prepared, it is presented at the table whole, then taken to the kitchen for carving before serving. I enjoyed the show, but had to taste it for myself. I thus stole a slice, with a touch of béarnaise sauce and was speechless. With just the right amount of fat on the meat and the ideal level of creaminess and acidity, it was perhaps one of most heavenly pieces of beef I have ever enjoyed. That was when I lost touch with reality.

I took part in the conversation of course, but was swept away to another world.  To continue, I chose the maple semifreddo for dessert, with hot bourbon cider and medjool leather. The bourbon cider was poured over the semifreddo, at the table, adding to the anticipation. The beauty in this dish, is its evolution as it melts. The taste develops and the dates at the bottom emerge more and more, crowning the meal overall as the adventure that it was.  However, my gourmand character did not stop there. I ventured into the bay leaf ice cream. Who would have thunk it? It was so delicate, yet creamy and sweet and maybe savory. Each of these characteristics shines through every spoonful, which evidently leaves you to keep digging.

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Just when I thought that my vacation was coming to an end, we were treated with mini espresso macaroons, which were as pleasing to the sight as they were to my lips. I thus skipped out of The Cypress Room, but retained my high spirits, like a girl in love, which I was. With the food. And the drinks. I had gained an incomparable sentiment, one that food alone was not responsible for. The Cypress Room had given me more than a meal, but an escape, in the heart of Miami.

-Kris

Kristina is an employee of The Genuine Hospitality Group and a food blogger at Tasting It Like It is. Follow her on instagram @tastingitlikeitis

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