Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas

Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas
at The Gallery at Westbury Plaza
1002 Old Country Rd
Westbury NY 11590
(516) 228-5400
Official Site

The fare in most US malls mainly consist of the usual suspects of the food court, which is predominantly led by the essential food chains of the world. In Garden City, Long Island, The Gallery at Westbury Plaza mall offers shoppers a different take on mall food with a spunky restaurant called, Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas.

An offshoot of the Clifton NJ location, (which, oddly enough is also located in the mall), Spuntino opened in the ground floor of The Gallery at Westbury Plaza in 2014.  Occupying a large space, the restaurant has a bar area with communal tables in the middle, and a lengthy marble top bar that are often filled with locals. The industrial designed dining room has an open kitchen and walls of enclosed wine racks. It has semi-circle booth seats and plenty of uncovered tables to go along with metal dining chairs. Light bulbs hanging from the ceilings lit up the whole room.

Spuntino practices the “locavore” movement. Many of its ingredients come from the surrounding area of Long Island. The menu has a variety of choices at a very reasonable price.

A good way to start a meal here is having the bruschetta of SEARED TUNA -Topped with arugula, chili peppers, olives and lemon zest Bruschetta. Two pieces of grilled bread topped with superbly seared tuna bursting in spiciness and acidity. Another good starter is theInsalata” of BURRATA –Maple roasted butternut squash, garlic chili oil, balsamic glaze.

For pasta, the CASARECCE ALLA NORMA- Casarecce, Italian cherry tomato, grilled eggplant and smoked mozzarella was a joy to have.  Its sauce had a nice hint of sweetness and charred smokiness. The RISOTTO AI FUNGHI- Vialone nano rice, wild mushroom ragu, fontina and mascarpone cheese finished with rosemary and truffle oil had a rich consistency and a strong earthiness. Their LAMB CHOPS Gluten Free – Herb-marinated lamb chop was cooked in the simplest form and has beautiful herbal flavors.

Seafood dishes like the CALAMARI-Hand-cut, breaded to order, calamari served with house-made tomato sauce was fried to have a nice clean crispiness. OCTOPUS- Farro, olives, celery and cherry tomatoes with lemon vinaigrette and parsley oil were tender chunks of grilled octopus meat resting on top of bed of farro. Enhancing this dish was the citrus elements from lemon vinaigrette. SEARED SALMON – Roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine, fresh wild herb vinaigrette was nicely done. The salmon’s outer layer has a beautiful seared texture while having a sumptuous inner part. The dish was server with a sprig of sweet and sour that blended harmoniously with the salmon.

At Spuntino the kitchen emphasizes on taste that are both pleasant and satisfying. The cooking is simple and uncomplicated. To pair with the food is the restaurant vast’s wine list. Though the list is predominantly Italian they also offer wines from other countries, as well as from local Long Island wineries.

Spuntino is not your typical place to dine at a mall outside of New York City. It is a Manhattan quality restaurant that offers delicious food at a decent price with good wine in a relaxed environment. To have an enjoyable meal at Spuntino is almost a guarantee.



2016 Dining Recap


Having visited a handful of Michelin starred, World’s 50 Best and other top restaurants in Asia and Europe, 2016 was great dining year. My journey began at Hong Kong where I dined at Lung King Heen, the very first three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the world. Needless to say, it had an extremely high quality Cantonese food. The restaurants location on the fourth floor of the Four Season hotel boasts a panoramic view of Victoria Harbor. The two Michelin-starred Amber at Landmark Mandarin Oriental offers a terrific weekend wine lunch which consists of five courses paired with four glasses of wine. This was one of the best deals out there at 928 HKD for a restaurant at this caliber. Dinner at the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (the only of the L’Ateliers with three Michelin stars) was also quite superb.

I waited in queue for hours at Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po, which at that time was the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world (until that distinction was awarded to Singapore’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken in the summer of last year). The dim sum was tasty and I enjoyed every single dish that I had. Frog legs and chicken congee at Tasty Congee & Wuntun Noodle Shop in the IFC was nothing short of delicious. Even better was the chicken and fish congee at the concierge recommended Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan. 208 Ducento Otto serves up wonderful cocktails while Angel Share Whisky Bar & Restaurant and its expansive list of whisky is a must-visit for enthusiast while in Hong Kong.

That same journey through Asia led me to Tokyo, Japan. I had my very first meal in this sprawling metropolis at RyuGin, Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s flagship restaurant which has three Michelin stars and ranked number 31 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant. The modern kaiseki that it serves is a reflection of the agricultural bounty of Japan. With each dish skillfully prepared, this was one of the best meals I’ve had. In Ginza, the Omakase at the three Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshitake did not disappoint. The fish and other seafood used in every single piece of Nagiris were extremely fresh. Sushi might be star of the show at this restaurant, but the cooked dishes were equally sublime. It was highlighted by the abalone liver sauce mixed with sushi rice which was a mind-blowing dish that still resonates in my memory.

Hideki Ishikawa is Japan’s most decorated chef/restaurateur with three restaurants under his belt totaling eight Michelin stars. He also has the distinction shared by the likes of the Robuchon’s , the Keller’s and the Ducasse’s to have two restaurants at the same with the maximum rating from the Michelin guide. At his eponymous Ishikawa, I was served a wonderful contemporary style kaiseki that shows simplicity with plenty of subtle flavors. I also visited Kohaku the other three star restaurant of Chef Ishikawa, which is located in the same area and within walking distance from each other. The kitchen is under Koji Koizumi a disciple of Chef Ishikawa. There are many of similarities between them, but the two are distinctly different at the same time. Kohaku is a more modern prepared kaiseki that incorporate foreign ingredients, which are not usually use in Japanese cuisine.

Japan is surprisingly home to one of the finest French restaurant outside of France. Others can argue that it might better than its home country due to the high quality of ingredients it uses produced by Japan. Many of the top French chefs has an outpost sprinkled throughout country, but a large number of them are concentrated in Tokyo. I had a superb tasting menu at Chef Pierre Gaganaire, Two restaurant Peirre Gagnaire Au Tokyo on the 35floor of the ANA Intercontinental, which was awarded two Michelin stars. Each plate were carefully crafted, using only the finest local ingredients. As a bonus, guests enjoyed the scenic view of the whole city as the backdrop while dining. In Roppongi Hills, I dined at Chef of the Century Joel Robochon L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Along with Paris, the Tokyo branch is one of the first L’Ateliers. Having previously gone to the Hong Kong location, these two Michelin starred restaurant are a lot more casual, yet the quality of food is equally top-notched.

Inside the train station in Ginza, resides a minuscule ramen shop called Kagari Echika, which has garnered a lot of following. They served me tasty bowl of ramen, with a broth that has a certain delightful creaminess. In Shinjuku, high above the mall of the train station is Tenichi, where I had some delicate fried tempura accompanied with fresh sashimi. While at Sushi Mamire, I was served with affordable yet enjoyable pieces of sushi and rolls. Pagliaccio Due in Shiba, is an Italian restaurant that serves pleasant dishes like the Seafood Rissotto, and the spaghetti with fish. Night caps in the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, were made lively with tunes from a funky jazz show. Soon after I feasted with the hotel famous weekend brunch. Finally, visiting Japan is not complete without trying the world famous Kobe beef. At Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511, I had a magical experience without breaking the bank. The beef was as good as advertised, and every bite was heavenly like cotton candy that melts in the mouth.

From Izakaya’s, to noodle shops, to high end kaiseki, sushi (as well as low end), and to fine French restaurants, I had the greatest time dining in Tokyo. The uncompromising use of quality ingredients in this city restaurant makes Tokyo the gastronomic capital of the world. The two weeks I spent there was simply not enough.

The next stop in my search and passion for fine dining was a short trip to Basel, Switzerland. I had the opportunity to dine at the three Michelin star, Cheval Blanc. The restaurant is located in one of Europe’s oldest hotel Le Trois Rois. Bavarian chef Pete Knogl, is in charge of the kitchen and under his leadership Cheval Blanc was elevated to culinary stardom. The tasting menu has global influences and shows the precision cooking technique of Chef Knogl. Each dish was light and has a fantastic complex combination of flavors and textures.

I couldn’t end 2016 without grazing the home front for some great eats. After all, no one can beat New York City in anything, (at least to a New Yorker that is). I had very good meals at the Upper East Side’s, The NUAA. This beautifully decorated restaurant serves refined Thai fare that’s geared towards the Western palate. Last year, I saw an onslaught of new eateries opening up in the Financial District improving the neighborhood’s restaurants scene. Among them is Eataly Downtown which opened to the public last summer. Much smaller than its older siblings in the Flatiron, this mega food market brought a slew of dining options that includes another outlet of the seafood haven, Il Pesce. The restaurant offers appetizing sustainable seafood prepared in the simplest form. As the last stop of my 2016 journey, West Village Carma Asian Tapas, served an unmatchable creative Far Eastern fare in small plate format. I enjoyed the way the kitchen recreated classic Chinese dishes, as well as using other Western ingredients that aren’t usually found in Asian cooking.

Though 2016 didn’t boast much of my hometown’s variety of eateries, it was a star studded year of dining in the international level. Overall, I would say it was great and successful year of eating. I’m looking forward to an even better 2017 where I plan to focus on New York City, its outer boroughs and state side. Hopefully, I can sprinkle few international trips here and there.

Il Pesce

Il Pesce Il Pesce
@ Eataly Downtown
101 Liberty St
New York, NY 10006
Official Site

In less than ten years mega food market Eataly has taken the world by storm, opening branches in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Currently Eataly has set up shop in New York City and Chicago, but soon, it will be expanding its reach in Los Angeles and Boston. The summer of 2016 has marked its continuous expansion by opening a second location in downtown Manhattan’s Financial District. Though not as big as the original one in the Flatiron, it occupies a sizable square footage on the third floor of the brand new skyscrapers, 4 World Trade Center. Along with the market, it boasts a wine bar, a coffee shop, a gelateria, and four restaurants that include another outlet of the sea food haven, Il Pesce.

Dining Room

Designed with counter seating in front of an open kitchen, Il Pesce also has a spacious dining area that is frequented by tourist, finance industry workers and Battery Park City residence. The space is filled with marble top tables paired with white washed wooden chairs, and floor-to-ceiling windows that look down on the World Trade Center Memorial.


A single menu covers both lunch and dinner consisting of antipasti, pasta and entrees, as well as raw items. For appetizers, the POLPO-seared octopus with gigante beans, chicory, and pickled onion was a joy to eat. The dense octopus meat was easily chewed and flavorsome. The SALMONE MARINATO-House cured salmon with pickled peppers, radish, and cucumbers had a clean and distinctive cured taste.


Excellent al den te pasta dishes like the TAGLIATELLA AL NERO DI SEPPIA CON COZZE –house made squid ink tagliatelle with mussels, garlic, white wine, chili flakes, and parsley had a very good mild saltiness, and a strong deep sea presence. The CASARECCE CON GRANCHIO – Afeltra gragnano Casarecce pasta with lump crab meat, braised leeks purée, chili flake, chives, and bread crumbs on the other hand, had hints of spiciness blended nicely with lumps of delicious crab meat.



The main course of CAPESANTE ALLA PIASTRA-Seared scallops with purple potato, grapefruit, celery salad, and pancetta vinaigrette was terrific. The scallops were beautifully complemented with strong sour acidity. The RAZZA-seared skate wing with roasted baby carrots, lemon, capers, and brown butter, where the skate was cooked in brown butter gave it a pleasant nuttiness. Enhancing the fish was sour elements on the plate. TONNO- seared yellow fin tuna with peperonata was a beautiful piece of tuna. It had wonderful seared texture and a tender reddish inner section. The tuna scrumptious flavor was fittingly accompanied by the peperonata’s sweetness. The FRITTO MISTO ALLA LIGURE-ASSORTED FRIED SEAFOOD LIGUR-IAN STYLE was extremely fresh and delicately crispy. This was an oceanic delight to have.



Il Pesce’s uncomplicated cooking produces dishes that are both appetizing and satisfying. The freshness of the seafood brightened with layers of acidity, sourness and hints of spiciness can be tasted in every plate.
The casual atmosphere of the restaurant were matched with informal and friendly service. The staff has very good knowledge of the food and wine that it serves.

In the last five years, New York City has witnessed the rise of gourmet food market with quality places to eat in them, and there’s no signs of slowing down as more openings are stated in the future. Eataly was at the forefront of this movement when it opened in 2010. It’s newer and smaller downtown location have restaurants such as Il Pesce that are capable of delivering well-made food.

Osteria Francescana ***

Dining Room

Osteria Francescana
Via Stella 22
41121 Modena, Italy
+39 059 223912
Official Site

The nation of Italy is one of the greatest places on earth to eat. People come from all over the globe for a gastronomic pilgrimage. From Piedmont to Sicily each region has its own distinct types of cuisine. One can eat very well up and down the Italian peninsula. But one region outshines them all, Emillia-Romagna in the north central of Italy. Believed to be the gastronomic capital of the country, it is blessed with fertile agricultural lands that produce some of the best ingredients.

There are many well know small cities in Emillia-Romagna like Parma, Bologna and Reggio Emilia but my main focus in coming to the region is the wealthy city of Modena, where Italy’s most famous chef and global icon, Massimo Bottura can be found at his restaurant the critically acclaimed Osteria Francescana. Considered to be one of the top dining venues in the world, both Chef Bottura and the restaurant are mentioned in the same sentence as Luciano Pavarotti, balsamic vinegar and Ferrari.

The Restaurant Dining Room

Situated in the center of the oldest part of Modena on an unassuming street it is easy to bypass the restaurant. There are no signs, the façade is simple with just a grey door and metallic plate and the name of the restaurant engraved on it. Osteria Francescana only have twelve tables separated in three different rooms, one serves only for private functions. I was seated in one of the two main rooms where both locals and tourists occupy. The tables are evenly spaced and were immaculately draped in white table cloth with arco lamps hovering above. Large windows with thin curtains allowed the natural light into the room. Thick carpets cover the floor and light turquoise blue walls had contemporary paintings throughout showing the chef’s love for the arts.

Dining Room

In addition to a la carte, Osteria Francescana offers two types of tasting menus for both lunch and dinner, the EUR 195 “Sensations” and the “Tradition In Evolution” for EUR 170. The latter of the two was the choice on my visit. Having the restriction for pork, I was informed that it would diminish the dining experience so I made a slight exception here.

Tradition In Evolution:

To start, freshly baked bread with local virgin olive oil was served. Then came the snacks of macaroon with rabbit stuffing and crisp with shaved parmesan and black truffles that were both very appetizing. The first course was “Memory of a mortadella sandwich” where the mortadella was turned into foam but still retained the actual taste. Served with crushed pistachio and garlic puree (ingredients that were used to create the sausage) alongside an evenly cut bread. This dish was a wonderful combination of familiar flavors and appealing textures. I was then served a basket of fresh bread that included a warm croissant and some of the best Grissini or bread stick that I’ve ever had. Next was “An eel swimming up the River Po”, a beautiful piece of eel coated in a sweet sauce served on a large white plate. The graininess and the sweetness of the eel was balanced out by the accompaniment of apple extract and cream of polenta.

The third course followed, called “From Modena to Mirandola” a tribute to Modena’s famous balsamic vinegar and cotechino, as well as the version from Marindola. Served on top of a pastry made with almonds and butter with a biscuit like texture and covered in thick zabaglione. A combination of sweet and savory with a level of creaminess and fattiness in this dish that was explosive to the taste buds. Then the “Caesar Salad in Emilia” arrived after. A homage to a classic Italian dish, Chef Bottura’s version contains twenty plus ingredients coming from the bounty of the land hidden inside a fresh baby romaine lettuce. Difficult to name them all, but the essence of a Caesar salad that we are familiar with is there and the quality ingredients that were used can be profoundly tasted.

Next was the “Five ages of Parmiggiano Reggiano in different temperature and texture”. A dish made with one ingredient, the cheese texture was manipulated into different temperature and forms. Various aging processes provided multiple layers of intense flavors that wasn’t perplexing to the palate. Chef Bottura’s creation of only using Parmiggiano Reggiano (one of the region’s most popular food) and its flexibility was a stroke of genius. Afterwards, the pasta course of “Tagliatelli a Ragu” was served. A mountain of freshly made tagliatelli showered in veal ragu sauce with evenly chopped veal meat. This was a straight forward approach, a step away from all the previous thought provoking courses. Although seemingly deceiving, by the way that it looks, this dish had an tremendous rich meaty flavor.

Beautiful, Psychedelic, Spin-Painted Veal, Not Flame Grilled
Beautiful, Psychedelic, Spin-Painted Veal, Not Flame Grilled

For the main course, Chef Bottura was inspired by the artist Damien Hirst called “Beautiful, psychedelic, spin-painted veal, not flame grilled”. A culinary work of art where the plate is splattered with colorful sauces made with mashed potato with extra virgin olive oil, red meat extract, balsamic vinegar and chlorophyll then garnished with horse radish. Even though it’s called veal it was actually beef that was replicated to have both the texture and taste of veal. From all the sauces on this plate, where each was a calculated amount as to not overpower one another as they mixed, but compliment the perfectly cooked flavorful beef.

Foie Gras Lollipop
Foie Gras Lollipop

Prior to dessert I was served a buttery “Foie Gras lollipop” coated in almonds and hazelnut with balsamic vinegar filling. Though small, it comes with a beautiful combination of sweet yet savory richness.


Oops I dropped the Lemon tart
Oops I dropped the Lemon tart

The dessert course was one of the most famous creations in Osteria Francescana, created by accident “Oops I dropped the Lemon tart” was dropped by one of the chef’s in the kitchen and when they put it back on the plate Chef Bottura liked how it looked and decided to keep it. Made with lemon juice and limocello zabaione then covered in broken crust with star anise and plated with cinnamon, juniper, black pepper and cardamom, this was an enjoyable dessert. It had the right amount of sweetness that accompanied the creamy citrus flavoring.

To finish was the “Vignola” named after a town next to Modena and where some of the finest cherries in the country grows. This was a chilled chocolate formed like a cherry with a liquid filling of cherry liqueur and coffee flavors. Then the petit-four of more chocolate and other sweet stuff topped off the “Tradition In Evolution”.

The “Tradition In Evolution” was a culinary journey of Italy and the Emillia-Romagna region through the minds of Chef Bottura. His radical, innovative and playful reinventions of classic Italian fare while still maintaining the flavor profile was a display of brilliance. His food was a work of art plated gorgeously. Being born and raised in Modena, Chef Bottura is familiar with the region and is able to utilize what it offers. To add to this excellent meal was the EUR 110 wine pairing that I opted for. It was a terrific pairing that consisted of Italian wines, a French wine, and a locally brewed beer. Each glass was in tune with each course adding an additional layer after every bite.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing Wine Pairing

In a great restaurant like Osteria Francescana the staff are often over looked as most of the guests are focused on the chef and the food. They were phenomenal and echoed the same passion as Chef Bottura with their service. Each dish was explained clearly and was genuinely engaging but never went away from the professionalism. Their warm Italian hospitality starting from the time that I walked in the restaurant provided the relaxed atmosphere throughout the meal.

Food plays a big role in Italian culture as it has been part of their way of life for hundreds of years. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation. So when Massimo Bottura opened Osteria Francescana back in 1995 he received backlash with his way of cooking. In one of his interviews he said” changing grandma’s recipes to the slightest is considered sacrilegious”. His reinvention of classic Italian cuisine was slowly being recognized in the gastronomic world that locals began to accept him. In 2002 the first Michelin star came, four years later in 2006, it received the second star. Then, in 2012 it was awarded a prestigious third star. The awards did not stop there, San Pelligrino “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” listed Osteria Francescana as the highest new entry at 13 back in 2009 and from 2010 to present it’s been on the top 10 list. There are many more accolades to mention, but in the end Osteria Francescana is an exceptional restaurant led by a great chef. This gastronomic temple in the heart of Modena is definitely worth the special journey.

Ristorante Sadler **

Dining Room

Ristorante Sadler
Via Cardinale Ascanio Sforza, 77
Milano, Italy
+39 02 5810 4451
Official Site

Give or take a few restaurants that didn’t quite hit the mark during my great Italian adventure, the overall dining experience in the three cities that I’ve visited were wonderful. So to put an end to and amazing trip, I had my last meal at Ristorante Sadler. A two Michelin star restaurant and considered to be one of Milan’s very best. Chef and owner Claudio Sadler is one of the most notable person in Milan’s gastronomy. He was one of the founders of the Jeunes Restuarateurs of d’Europe and a mentor to some of Italy’s notable chef like Thomas Aragonni the other half of the Michelin star restaurant Innocenti Evasioni.

Ristorante Sadler

Ristorante Sadler is located along the canals, about 20 minutes outside of Milan’s city center. Unlike New York City, Milan’s public transportation is a bit complicated especially for first time visitors. Dishing out 20 euros for a cab ride (each way) was the best way to get to the restaurant—an extra expense that I didn’t mind spending since the ride also doubled as a sight-seeing tour of the city.

Dining Room

To enter the restaurant you are required to ring the doorbell where the sliding doors are opened. Inside, the Maître‘d was waiting to welcome me. He led me to a series of chambers packed by Milanese diners until I reached my table. In one of the room the kitchen can be seen through its windows.

Dining Room

The setting is intimate, dim lights that drops serenely on covered tables, partnered with comfortable leather seats. The warm vibrant brown walls complimented the abstract paintings carefully placed to complete the contemporary interior of Ristorante Sadler.

There were several choices for the set menu but since this was my last day in Italy, I decided to celebrate and opted for the seven courses 160 euros (with wine pairing included) tasting menu called the “The Creative Menu”. The price was actually a very good deal, especially in Europe.

The Creative Menu:


The meal started with a fabulous bite size snacks to tantalize the taste buds. That was followed by a canapé of cod fish that was salty but in a good way. Their bread offering was the best I’ve had so far in this trip. It was creative and there was a lot of thoughts were put in their bread program. They were freshly made and so soft, served in room temperature.



Raw tuna wrapped around grilled asparagus with crushed nuts and cheese that was somewhat freeze dried was the first course. The tuna was very clean and fatty, the asparagus was fresh and vibrant.


The second course was an Asian inspired tiger shrimp rolls on the skewers that was so meaty and is complimented nicely with artichoke and tarragon mouse. That was followed by a big piece of scallop that has a mild sweetness. While the chard leaves that covers the scallops gives a little bit of bitterness, and the foie gras sauce provides the buttery taste. All three together create a well-balanced dish.

Tiger Shrimp Rolls


For the fourth course, a mozzarella bubble placed on top of zucchini flowers, brown rice and anchovies. Saltiness from the anchovies is just another additional layer of flavor to an already tasty dish. The fifth course was a pasta dish with an earthy flavor and aroma. It was a Tortelli with the mushroom Porcinni stuffing garnished with black truffles and thinly sliced mushrooms.

Mozzarella Bubble


Shredded ox tail braised immaculately in Nebbiolo grapes, with mushroom tempura and black truffles for the sixth and the meat course. There were flavors and textures in this dish that did not disappoint my palate.

Ox Tail

When it was time for the dessert course, I found myself already missing the next time I could try this menu all over again. To bring this Creative Tasting menu to a wonderful finish, dessert was a tantalizing orange strudel with chocolate sauce and fennel salad, a perfect cleanser to all the savory dishes.


Little did I know that the strudel was just the beginning tease to an abundance of sweets that were placed in front of me. I wasn’t disappointed that I couldn’t bring myself to finish the full dessert, this time I raised the white flag and surrendered. I did however, taste each of them and would have gladly traded the strudel at that point just to consume them all.

Post Dessert

The sommelier pairing of Italian wines was on point. The pairing with wines from Italy’s Northern region elevated the taste of each dishes, starting with the appretivo all the way to the end with dessert.

Service at Ristorante Sadler is what is expected for a top restaurant—professional and refined. The staff is willing to engage in a timely manner that is non intrusive. As a lone foreign diner that night they made sure that I was provided the best service and dining experience. During that time Chef Sadler is in attendance and throughout the evening he made numerous appearances in the dining room, stopping by each tables and chatting with the guests.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing

As the night went on and guest departed, Chef Sadler is at the front to greet them goodbye. Before I left, I chatted with him for a good 20 minutes and he offered me a tour of his kitchen, an offer that I would have been stupid to refuse.

Ristorante Sadler lived up to its reputation as Milan’s top restaurant. The whole dining experienced was top notch and well deserved the two Michelin stars that were bestowed upon. Having my last dinner here was an excellent ending to an already terrific trip in Italy.

Ora D’Aria *


Ora D’Aria
Via dei Georgofili 11R
50122 FLorence, Italy
39 055 200 1699
Official Site

On my way back to Milan from Rome I stopped at Florence. It’s truly a beautiful city, rich in history and arts. The artistry of the Renaissance is seen at every corner of the city. After a long day walking around sightseeing, when it was time for dinner, Ora D’Aria was the restaurant of choice. The location couldn’t be better, a block away from Ponte Vecchio and walking distance from the town center.

Considered among the top dining establishments in Florence, it was first awarded a Michelin star in the guide’s 2012 edition and held on to it ever since. This was the one of only three Michelin starred restaurant in Florence, a surprisingly small numbers of stars awarded in my opinion especially for such a distinguished city.

The kitchen operates under a young chef and owner, Marco Stabile—a home grown talent from the region of Tuscany. Chef Stabile worked in some of Italy’s finest restaurants and is a member of the prestigious Jeunes Restaurateur D’Europe.

Ora D’Aria offers two types of tasting menu, “The Tuscan”, inspired by regional produced and the seafood centric Il Pesce, Il Marea , Il Bosco . A la carte options are available as well. The tasting menus consist of six courses valued at 70 and 75 euros respectively and since I dined with a companion, I was able to sample both.

Dinner started out with a beef tare-tare, accompanied with an Italian beer, freshly diced beef that melts in your mouth and is a sizeable portion for an amouse-bouche.

In the Tuscan menu, the first course called The Hen, the egg and the egg, were all of the components of the dish stemming from a chicken cooked in different ways and in different flavor profiles. Pieces of chicken were soft, the egg was poached flawless and the broth made out of chicken was added flavoring.

The next two courses were the risotto and the game filled tortellini. Freshly made and al dente, the risotto rice was cooked just right. The tortellini and its stuffing were simply delicious

Tuscan Menu:

The following course was supposed to be the suckling pig, but since my dining companion and I were non-pork eaters, the restaurant more than gladly substituted a roasted pigeon dish. This was the first time, I was having pigeon and it tasted like the dark meat of the chicken. The way that it was roasted has a beautiful crunchy outside and the meat was tender. The pigeon was seasoned rightfully.

This was followed with an assortment of Tuscan cheeses with sliced bread. Each cheese has a distinct taste that is only known to this region.

On to the predominantly sea food tasting menu, the first course was Sea Bass sashimi that was marinated with citrus and fruits. The sashimi was fresh and clean, the orange and the persimmon added a lovely touch of acidity and the chestnut crumble provides an additional texture.

Il Pesce,Il Marea,Il Bosco Menu:

That was followed by roasted scallops. This was an appetizing dish. The caramelized onion went well with these fresh scallops that were roasted to perfection.

Next course was the cream of yellow pumpkin soup. The buttery soup with a touch of sweetness was cleverly inserted in between courses to balance the different flavor from each dish. It was also a dish on a cold night, which made it even more fitting.

My pasta dish was the pappardelle with cod fish and black truffles. The sublime combination of saltiness and earthiness with the texture of the fresh pasta made this my favorite dish.

I learned my lesson from previous dinner at Rome’s Pipero Al Rex, that by the time the fourth course came, I was helping my dining companion with the food. The staff asked us if we were ready for the dessert. This time I requested for remaining course: the fish of the day, which happens to be the branzino. The fish is fillet and roasted with proper seasoning. Served with black truffle puree, it adds flavor to this mouth watering fillet.

To finish up the tasting, we had the sorbet with chocolate and coffee powder and the sweetened pears for dessert. Guests can also choose the desserts a la carte. Desserts were good, unfortunately I’m not too fond of sweets. My companion on the other hand, who has sweet tooth, enjoyed both dessert.

Both tasting menus were terrific and there was not a single dish that I was displeased with. The food is simple, uncomplicated and only uses the freshest seasonal ingredients from the region. Each course were served with correct timing that allows the right progression of flavors. While the combination and the balancing of flavors are also well put together.

The wines are predominately from Tuscany. I requested a wine pairing with the tasting menu, but there was a miscommunication with the sommelier. I ended up with a wonderful regional white wine anyway. It has a similarity with Sauvignon Blanc and its fruitiness and acidity that helps enhanced the taste of each dishes. I also had lovely Chianti that Tuscany is known for.

Just like its food, Ora D’ Aria interior is simple and clean. The main dining room is airy, with high ceilings, wall of mirrors opposite the sliding glass door that leads to kitchen where guest can see the chef and his brigade in action. The night that I visited, there were a mixture of locals and tourists occupying the cloth covered two tops tables that is paired with stylish Saarinen designed arm less tulip chairs. The downstairs section with its exposed bricks, low ceiling and dimmer lighting is designed for a more intimate setting. There you also find the wine cellar.

There was an issue with the language with the staff, but it was nothing serious that would diminish the dining experience. The staff seemed a little uptight at first, but warmed up as the night went on. Each and every one of servers were attentive and very courteous, they were there to provide the service at the utmost.

By this time I was already spoiled by the hospitality that I’ve been receiving from the restaurants that I’ve visited on this trip that it came to no surprised to me when Chef Stabile served some of our dishes and introduced himself to us. As guest departs, Chef Stabile was waiting in the front bidding each and every guest farewell and thanking them for their patronage. When he found out that we were visiting from New York he gave us a parting gift, a bottle of Tuscan olive oil.

Many rank this restaurant behind the three Michelin star Enoteca Pinchiorri which is a valid statement. But after dining at this restaurant I can agree why Ora D’Aria is one of the top restaurants in Florence.

Pipero Al Rex *


Pipero Al Rex
at The Rex Hotel
via Torino 149 I
00184 Rome, Italy
39 06 481 5702
Official Site

Before I left for Rome, I spent much of my fall New York nights doing a lot of research of where to dine. One of the gems that I came across is a popular local called Pipero Al Rex. Finding out it was indeed a gem came much later after experiencing the real deal. Its home page offers no detailed information about the place, but a lot of the online reviews were favorable. In addition, Rome’s food community has been talking about how good this restaurant is and how it was a “must-try”. So, I had to try it.

The dual ownership of Alessandro Pipero and a young chef named Luciano Moncelino is behind this hidden restaurant in the lobby of Hotel Rex. Its location is in a heavy populated tourist area, within walking distance from Roma Termini station. Much like a restaurant close to public transportation, I expected the place to be littered with tourists—and yet it seemed like I was the only out-of-towner during my visit.

From the get go, Alessandro himself was there to greet me with his big smile when I walked in to the restaurant. He continued the warm welcome by ushering me to my table, and we even talked a little about Rome and how I liked the city so far.

The dining room is diminutive; there are only six tables for twelve covers a night. The space is elegant with minimalist designed. It has high ceilings which had two Taraxcum chandaliers hanging above. To add to the motif, there were half circled red leather seats, wood floorings, and an artisanal crafted fire place that display luxurious bottle of liquors. There’s also a painting of Alessandro on the wall that was very reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock.

Alessandro’s presence in the dining room allowed his guests to have a more personal experience with the restaurant. He visits every table numerous times to reassure guests are well taken care off. The staff mimics his quality of hospitality. They were attentive but unobtrusive.

There was a slight misunderstanding on what I wanted from the menu when I first made the reservation, so Alessandro, like the good host that he is, made me an offer on the tasting menu that I just couldn’t refuse.

Before dinner began, Alessandro made sure that I didn’t have any food restrictions. When I nearly scoffed at the idea, the dishes started to come out of the kitchen. First up is a fried chip with mayonnaise and yogurt, a palate awakener for more to come. Then came the small bites like Marshmallow with Parmesan cheese and orange; Waffles with chicken liver pate and sweet wine jelly; Blue cheese balls (should have ask why it was green) with fried potato, all hit the taste buds with a burst of flavor. Each dish was complimented with an Austrian sweet wine Cuvée Auslese 2010 Weingut Kracher.



The Mushroom porcini with turnips and shrimp were so fresh that when combined with the vegetables broth served in a lab test tube container, it gives a veggie and earthy taste. Scallops ravioli with anchovies was my favorite dish. Mixing anchovies with cheese was a cleaver technique to neutralize the saltiness and enough flavor to blend in with the ravioli. The al dente Linguini pasta with oyster sauce and fish roe was lovely and with the artisan genius of Alessandro’s excellent bread I was able to drain the sauce from the plate. The small plates were paired with an excellent Il Guardiano 2010 Montecucco Sangiovese red wine.

They fed me until I was stuffed. My gluttonous desire caught up to me that I had to raise the white flag early and agreed to an early offering of dessert. I complied even though the meat dish was not served yet. White chocolate cream with sorbet was the dessert. It serves as a period to end of an excellent dinner that night.





The only regret that I had with this place was that I never had a chance to sample their daunted Spaghetti Carbonara. I was lost in the moment of Chef Moncelino dishes that it totally slipped out of my mind as one of the key dishes to try.

Chef Moncelino’s contemporary approach to Roman cuisine combined with his technique and creativity earned Pipero Al Rex a Michelin star after a year it opened and held on to it this year. In just almost three years of existence this restaurant has become one of the Eternal City’s top restaurants.

The combination of Alessandro’s personality and Chef Moncelino culinary magic makes dining at Pipero Al Rex an experience that I will never forget. It is truly an excellent restaurant that needs to be visited when in Rome.

Innocenti Evasioni *

Dining Room

Innconeti Evasioni
Via Privata della Bindellina
20155 Milan, Italy
02 33001882
Official Website

Innocenti Evasioni in Milan was the first Michelin starred restaurant I visited on my week long trip in Italy last month. Located about 15 minutes taxi ride from the city center, this restaurant is situated in a quiet and small residential street.

Two chefs Tommaso Arrigoni and Eros Picco took over Innocenti Evasionin back in 1998, and turned it to a Michelin starred dining establishment. The menu changes monthly and the chefs take on Italian cuisine is an incorporation of their own modern twist. It’s best described as “playful cooking” (in a 2011 article High End Dining in Italy.) by former NY Times food critic Frank Bruni.

Once my dining companion and I arrived for our 8 pm reservation, we were the only ones in the dining room along with sommelier and the two servers. Unlike in the U.S., dinner in Europe usually starts at 9 pm, so for the first hour we had the place all to ourselves.

The dining room is quiet and serene. It overlooks a Japanese garden that serves as back drop. The space is full of round tables covered in white table cloth and red-cushioned old wooden chairs. The walls looked like they needed to be repainted, and red tiled flooring seemed like it was there on their opening night. Though outdated, the décor added to charm of Innocenti Evasioni.




Our dinner started well with an amuse-bouche of fried pasta, with vegetable puree and thinly sliced raw fish. We were both eager to savor our very first meal in Italy, that we decided to forgo the bread basket despite of the aroma and appeal it exuded.

For starters, we had the Octopus and the Cardi or Cardoon, the only vegetarian dish in the menu.Cardoon’s similar texture to a half boiled potato is seasoned accordingly. The octopus meat on the other hand was firm and tender, breaks easily using minimal force. The dish is plated with tomatoes, cheese and powdered dehydrated olives sprinkled throughout the plate. It’s one messy plate of goodness. Both dishes were quite palatable.

Our pasta dishes were the freshly made Ravioli and Gnocchi. I liked the ravioli and it stuffing of mushroom, which was topped with cream sauce and beans. But the gnocchi, with its fish cheek confit and shell fish sauce, also packed a lot flavor.

The Fillet of Beef for the main course is a lovely piece of flavorful beef. The beef’s outer layer was gloriously roasted, creating a crusty texture while the inside is soft and juicy. The sauce added a touch of sweetness to the meat. The other main course was The Swordfish. Presented with pieces of thinly sliced mushroom, it blankets a nice cut of sword fish meat that is moist and clean. In addition, this was drizzled with puree’s of spinach and nutmeg, which provided another level to its multiple layers of flavor.



We let the sommelier pick a bottle of white. We gave her our budget and wanted something fruity with some acidity. She came through with an excellent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that paired well with our meal.

To cap off an excellent meal, we had the dessert sampler which was more than enough for two. It consisted of four dessert items from the dessert menu that the kitchen handpicks for the table. My dining companion, who is a devout dessert enthusiast, enjoyed the sampler very much.

We were tempted to go for the tasting menu priced at 68 Euro’s. but instead decided to go a la carte. Tasting menu is usually more economical way to go when dining in Europe, but at Innocenti Evasioni, a la carte prices are reasonable. Between the two of us, we both had three courses each and shared a dessert sampler and a bottle of wine for 157 euros (212 US dollars).

The service was top notch, attentive and polite. Language barrier was never an issue and that night, one of the chefs, Eros Piccos, was present. He introduced himself to us, explained the menu and took our orders. He even brought some dishes to our table. A gesture in which I was unaccustomed to back in the US since I have never had a chef introduce himself/herself before the start of the dinner in my years of dining out. It’s usually during or at the end of the meal, the chef decides to show up in the dining room.



My visit at Innocenti Evasioni gave me an idea what the dining culture is like in Italy. It’s a slow paced where diners can take their time and not be rushed unlike in places such as New York. In between courses takes a little longer than what I’m used to. The restaurant allows you to digest your previous dish before the next one arrives.

Innocenti Evasioni delivers high quality food with hospitality to match at a reasonable price. A top notched restaurant that is worth the cab ride outside the city center.

Before I went on this trip, I did my homework on the best places to dine in Milan, and yet I was still undecided up until that morning. I guess some things are just better left to the last minute because my experience at this restaurant was nothing short of phenomenal. I was glad that I had my first dinner ever in Milan at the Innocenti Evasioni.

Marea **


Famous for his Italian fare and homemade pasta, Chef Michael White has created a restaurant empire in New York City that has been welcomed whole heartedly by this city’s serious diners. Marea, the flagship of his Altamarea restaurant group, on Central Park West is one of the top seafood and Italian restaurants in New York City. It has been a recipient of two Michelin stars for the past four years, a Three Star review from the NY Times, and one of the only few Relais & Châteaux certified dining establishments in the world. The praises in the culinary universe for Marea is immeasurable.

Opening in 2009 during the height of the recession when fine dining is said to be on respirators, it was the most ambitious and riskiest project of Chef White’s career. Fast forward to today, Marea is a busy restaurant and frequented by the New York City elite, moguls, and celebrities. On the weekend, the lounge in the front of the restaurant and its gold onyx bar is congested with patrons while more people are being ushered to the dining room way after 10 pm.

Housed in the old San Demonico space, this pescatarian haven is accessible through revolving doors where hostesses greet each guest with a friendly smile. After the welcoming festivities are over, guests are led to an elegant dining room where the tables are covered in white table cloths surrounded by lush chocolate leather seats and glossy rosewood flooring and walls. Sea shells are on display in the dining area and windows large enough to provide a back drop of Central Park. I couldn’t help but notice when I last visited Marea for dinner that hip-hop music was the choice of tunes in the restaurant. I never expected that.

The restaurant’s menu is significant and derived from the coast of Italy. A $99 four-course pri-fixe during dinner, where guests can design their own courses, is a brilliant way to get a taste of Chef White’s cooking. Between two people you can sample up to eight dishes.

All the dishes that I’ve had here were remarkable, beginning with the raw plates like the Tuna Tartare made with Blue Fin tuna, it was so fresh that it taste of the ocean was apparent. On the other hand The Dentice, or Pacific snapper, was cut thinly and given a citrusy touch. The seafood is fresh, as if it were caught from their natural habitat a few hours ago.

The antipasti dishes like the Polipo, octopus grilled to a nice texture and worked well with the pickled red onions. The Goberra Rosso is a large sautéed Mediterranean red prawn which was meaty and delicious. Next, I enjoyed the Nova Scotia lobster with Buratta cheese also known as Astice. A rule of thumb in the culinary world is to never mix seafood with cheese, but here, the Burratta and lobster were a perfect marriage making this an amazing dish.

Chef Michael White’s fresh pasta is just as advertised which is handmade daily in the restaurant. The Garganelli with crabs and sea urchin in a light sauce blended rightfully. Of course, you can’t come to this restaurant without having the Fusili pasta with braised octopus and bone marrow. This signature dish is raved about in the online community, along with the Astice, and I must say that I’m in agreement with what’s being said.

A variety of fish dishes, or main plates, are available to choose from. Ippogloso, or halibut, is a tender dish served with a salsa verde sauce which added moisture and additional flavor to the fish. Rombo, a dish highlighting a hearty fish called turbot. Turbot, similar to cod with its big flaky meat, holds together well but is very mild in flavor. It could easily get lost among strong herbs. The turbot was pan seared and accompanied by market green beans on a tangy lentil bean sauce. It seemed to get better and better as you continued to eat. The large sea scallops, Capesante, was also pan seared until just done and arranged on peaches, Chanterelle mushrooms, and garlic. These unique flavors added an additional layer of sweetness to the already tender, sweet scallops. Amazing!

The desserts are handled by Executive Pastry Chef Robert Truitt who was previously at Corton in Tribeca, also a two Michelin star restaurant. His desserts, like the Semifreddo Di Nocciola with hazelnut, chocolate, and mascarpone cheese and the Strati Di Cioccolato made with dark chocolate crema, salted caramel, and coffee crumble with gelato, as well as the Bamboloni , bite-sized round donuts with a side of dipping chocolate and spiced honey leaves a lasting impression after a fantastic meal at Marea.

Their wine list is massive and can become overwhelming as you flip through the many pages. Dominated by different regions of Italy, there are bottles that are priced as low as thirty dollars to as high as five figures. If opting for the dinner pri-fixe, have it paired with wine for a manageable $55 as a recommendation.

The service is professional and relaxed, engaging and not overly intrusive. Exactly what’s expected in a restaurant of this caliber.

Not only did Marea survive the worst recession to ever hit the globe, it also collected numerous accolades along the way. The consistency in providing New York City diners with the freshest seafood available and properly executing every plate that is put in front of their guests has made Marea one of the top restaurants in New York City.

240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10019
(212) 582-5100
Official Website

Aria Wine Bar

Aria Wine Bar
117 Perry St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-4233

Tapas or small plates have been a staple of Spanish cuisine for ages. I consider this concept an ala carte version of the tasting menu. It is an excellent way to experience multiple dishes a restaurant has to offer without being committed to an entrée that may be lack luster. In New York City, Spanish restaurants are not the only ones who specialize in this concept. In the case of Aria Wine Bar, it has perfected the small plate offering in Italian style.

I know what you’re thinking… wine bar… soft relaxing music… sipping a glass of wine… maybe nibbling on a Panini… WRONG! Aria Wine Bar is far from your typical wine bar. It is loud… it is cramped! You are literally elbow to elbow with strangers and you are enjoying your food and wine right next to the bartender as he mixes cocktails. You are so close to your neighbors that in addition to your own conversation don’t be surprised if you also hear from one ear the angst of a young adult struggling for independence from overbearing parents and out of the other ear band mates planning their next session. Aria Wine Bar is always packed with beautiful West Villagers on a nightly basis. It nixed the loungey piano music for hip hop and pop music. This is truly an enjoyable atmosphere.

The wine bar is a replica of a cellar in a 19th century home. There are wooden beams that run from end to end of the ceiling, exposed brick walls and worn out wooden flooring for a rustic, chic interior. A wooden communal table next to steel pylon in the middle and a white tiled bar where people can sit in front of each other are paired with industrial metal high chairs. Hanging cured meats and wine bottles that are neatly placed behind each other are visible throughout the place. There is also a weathered wood counter that runs along the windows where diners can choose to sit and do some people watching along Perry Street.

The menu is affordable and extensive. It also includes a selection of cheese plates and cured meats that are available throughout the day staring at 12 PM daily. There are no dishes that are priced over $12 which is a bargain by New York City standards, especially for the quality of the ingredients that are used.

The non-encyclopedic wine lists at this place are mainly consisting of Italian wines with a few from other parts of the globe. The wines are served in an unorthodox style: stem less wine glasses that are priced at an average of $8 per serving. The last time I had this was at Macao Trading Co. in TriBeCa a few years back.

I love going to Aria Wine Bar and trying multiple combinations of small plates so that each experience there is unique. Starting off with Aragosta e Avocado, lobster salad with avocado and arugula. In this multiple protein dish, the lobster was tender while the avocado gave a nice flavor combination. The Insalata De Mare or seafood salad was a pescetarian delight. The plate was packed with fresh sea foods that were perfectly combined. It was so fresh that I had to peak into the kitchen to see if there was an aquarium of edible sea creatures in it!

Pasta plates like The Linguine Vongole or linguine with clams was delicious. The clams were soaked in the sauce which added a sea food taste with a bit of citrus zest. Both the Macheronni al Tartufo or mac and cheese with truffle Carpaccio and the Fettuccini Ai Fungi, fettuccini with wild mushroom and truffle oil, has an earthy flavor that the truffles give to both dishes. Then there is the Raviolli Ricotta, ravioli with ricotta cheese, spinach and asparagus along with creamy sauce was very good as well and the cheese had a nice thick texture.

Next there are the small plates that are very good, like the Vongole a Originate, baked clams with oregano and lemon sauce and the Tortino di Granchio e Funghi or crab cake with mushroom. The crab cake is moist in texture while the citrus infused baked clam sauce was acidic and complimented the baked clams and its stuffing. The Calamari in Umido was another enjoyable dish as well as the Polpette al Pomodoro, meatballs and the Carciofi e Olive, sautéed artichokes and olives.

The non existence of chicken dish in the wine bar is not a deal breaker, but it would have been a nice option in the already outstanding menu. The seafood and pasta dishes more than make up for this loss.

Aria Wine Bar is a quaint and essential New York City food and drink establishment. It has the downtown atmosphere, West Village crowd and great food and drinks. Every person that I brought here agreed on one thing, they all liked this place and vowed to come back.

I was once asked for recommendation for a nice restaurant with reasonable price, tasty food, nice vibe and non-encyclopedia wine list. I answered without hesitation, Aria Wine Bar in the West Village.