On The Menu In Print

Tantalizing turmeric is getting some fresh buzz
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

If you've got ancient ground turmeric in a dusty jar in your spice cabinet, toss it.  Instead, join the rage over fresh turmeric root. It's a hot spice — hot as in buzz-worthy, though subtle rather than searing on the palate. With a warm peppery flavor profile, it perks up dishes without the underlying bitterness of the powdered form.  Turmeric delivers legendary health benefits — high in anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory rich and a stimulant. Even more, proponents claim its medicinal properties include everything from an anti-bacterial and a cardiovascular aid to a cure for acne and wrinkles.


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Grape Expectations for Fall Snacks
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Just the name — table grapes — evokes a group of friends clustered comfortably around a postprandial table nibbling fruit. But for growers, getting these iconic clusters onto your plate is a less relaxed, more Herculean process.  Just ask Grapery's Jack Pandal and Jim Beagle, professional grape breeders....
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Summer Fancy Food Show celebrates craft, care and joy
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

North America's largest celebration of specialty food — now a $109 billion business — just got bigger. What was at one time a simple trade show burst through its Javits Center walls to create the first-ever New York City-wide Specialty Food Week. Five days were filled chock-a-block with activities embracing the Specialty Food Association's brand: Craft, Care and Joy. Colorful promotional materials wrapped city buses. Giant billboards showcased larger-than-life industry innovators. Shuttles scooted showgoers to and from other food events in town — namely, The Good Food Mercantile and the Cheesemonger Invitational. Professional guides led tours of Manhattan and Brooklyn's specialty-food shops.

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Summer Fancy Food Show celebrates craft, care and joy
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

North America's largest celebration of specialty food — now a $109 billion business — just got bigger. What was at one time a simple trade show burst through its Javits Center walls to create the first-ever New York City-wide Specialty Food Week. Five days were filled chock-a-block with activities embracing the Specialty Food Association's brand: Craft, Care and Joy. Colorful promotional materials wrapped city buses. Giant billboards showcased larger-than-life industry innovators. Shuttles scooted showgoers to and from other food events in town — namely, The Good Food Mercantile and the Cheesemonger Invitational. Professional guides led tours of Manhattan and Brooklyn's specialty-food shops.

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An idiosyncratic gift guide for the food- and drink-obsessed
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Inventive ideas churn up amazing, food-related items on this year's holiday wish lists. If you imagine it, it can be yours. If you can't even dream it, it's still out there, waiting for a taker. So harness those reindeer and jingle some bells. Tra-la-la.


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Correcting URL for Pork Dust
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Ann must have hit a wrong key...........  The URL for this interesting ingredient is www.theporkdust.com; try some soon!!!


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Correcting Picture-Caption
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

A Photograph of Stubbs Hatch Chile Cooking Sauce was inadvertently captioned Gracious Gourmet  Hatch Chile Pesto.  Both are fine products that are in OTM's Larder.  We apologize for any inconvenience or confusion.  To find out more about these companies go to http://www.stubbsbbq.com/ and http://www.thegraciousgourmet.com/

 


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Grazing, guzzling and tracking trends at Summer Fancy Food Show
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The curtain rose with much applause on the 60th iteration of the Summer Fancy Food Show.  Sponsored by the Specialty Food Association, 2014's trade-only event was the largest since its 1995 inaugural — 2,730 exhibitors, from 49 countries, with 28,000 buyers and 900 journalists from here and abroad. The sold-out event crammed more than 180,000 products into 361,000 square feet of exhibition space in New York City's Javits Center. It was especially busy.

Correcting picture – Stubbs Hatch Chile Cooking Sauce

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Better Butter? Get Cultured!
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

What makes that breakfast brioche or croissant at your Paris boutique hotel so memorable?  Of course, the pastry may be special, possibly freshly baked. But it's the nutty, tangy richness of the butter that excites the palate.  The creamy complexity of European-style cultured butter startles in contrast to the meek flavor profile of common U.S. sweet-cream butter. Cultured butter tastes better, more nuanced and a bit funky. No way can an ordinary supermarket stick of fat compare.

 


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Eleven Turns 10
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would still be plugging away at Eleven today, I would not have believed it,” says Derek Stevens, executive chef of Eleven Contemporary Kitchen. “In chef years, 10 is a lifetime…”  Actually, in this most precarious of businesses, 10 is an admirable milestone for a restaurant, especially one of Eleven's ambition.In 2004, when Big Burrito Restaurant Group opened this elegant, stylishly casual space, it dramatically raised the bar on Pittsburgh dining. Now, 10 years along, it continues as a pace-setter in standards of excellence — an amazing feat in an exploding field of restaurant competition, where newness is the magical attraction.


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Loving Lima - Lima claims a galaxy of star-quality restaurants
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Peru gives us quinoa, Pisco and Leche de Tigre — Tiger's Milk, the citrus-based ceviche marinade that cures seafood, hangovers and love lives. Consider visiting this intriguing South American country: Its capital, Lima, has been winner for the past two years of World Travel Awards' Best Culinary Destination. Visitors have long flocked here as a jumping-off point for Machu Picchu and the glories of the Andes. But Lima, today, also draws masses of culinary tourists. It's Peru's gastronomic epicenter.  Peru gives us quinoa, Pisco and Leche de Tigre — Tiger's Milk, the citrus-based ceviche marinade that cures seafood, hangovers and love lives.  Consider visiting this intriguing South American country: Its capital, Lima, has been winner for the past two years of World Travel Awards' Best Culinary Destination.  Visitors have long flocked here as a jumping-off point for Machu Picchu and the glories of the Andes. But Lima, today, also draws masses of culinary tourists. It's Peru's gastronomic epicenter.


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Sold Out & Buzzworthy: The greatest food show ON EARTH
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

From hemp seed yogurt to salumi, pumpkin pesto to kale popsicles, hibiscus tea to Hello Kitty marshmallows — not to mention a replica of the Mona Lisa composed of 14,212 jelly beans: every conceivable specialty food and beverage popped up at the 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show. After a two-year hiatus in Washington, D.C., the 59th iteration of this gastronomic extravaganza returned to its long-standing home of New York City — bigger and better than ever, a smash hit.
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Specialty Food
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Just when talking jelly beans, dancing waffles and people zipped into banana suits slipped to oh, so yesterday, food trucks rolled onto the 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show floor. Dispensing goodies, these on-trend vehicles spiked the already Disneyworld atmosphere of the National Association of Specialty Food Trade’s annual event.

Since 1951, NASFT has been staging what might be the world’s greatest smorgasbord. 2012’s summer show played out in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. (It will return to its usual home, New York City, next year.) Grasp the show’s scope in the numbers: Thousands of buyers, vendors, importers, distributors, producers, media and trend spotters, 2,250 exhibitors, from 80 countries and regions, showcasing 180,000 specialty foods and beverages — including an almost inconceivably huge array of cheeses, chocolates, meats, condiments, sauces, grains and more.


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Olympic Dining - London Restaurants go for the Gold
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Those heading to the Olympics can expect sparkling quality and amazing variety in the London restaurant scene.  Culinary vitality now defines a city once held to ridicule for its paucity of fine dining and the dullness of menus. Choices are huge, but here are some recent — and not so recent — favorites. Check the websites: Many restaurants take reservations online, most run updated menus and note the nearest station on the London Underground.  Transport for London provides an indispensable website — www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/london2012/24401.aspx/ — to get you from where you are to where you want to go. Competition is tough, but there are only winners on this list.
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Daunting but delicious munching at the 2011 Fancy Food Show
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Some vendors mutter that the switched venue — the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., instead of New York City's under-renovation Javits Center — mutes the energy of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade's 57th annual Summer Fancy Food Show.  Certainly, attendance is down. Still, the event, playing out over three super-sultry days, draws 2,400 exhibitors from 80 countries to showcase 180,000 specialty foods and beverages.



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Summer's sweetheart fruit: Cherries are in season
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Birds love cherries. Humans lust after them, too.  So huge is our passion for this colorful fruit that it's used to flavor everything from Coca-Cola and yogurt to chewing gum, cough syrup and vodka.  Cherry production dates to at least prehistoric Asia. The Greeks cultivated cherries, as did the Romans. The loquacious Pliny the Elder raves about their popularity in Roman times: How appropriate that Russian River Brewing named a cherry-flavor beer after him.
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A Delicious Harvest
Ann Haigh
For Fanfare Magazine

As cooler winds push away the humid heat of summer, cravings shift to a different palette of ingredients, flavors and cooking methods. Here some tuned-in local chefs bring fall's bountiful best to your table. Welcome their recipes as expressions of nature's rhythms and enjoy the rich, colorful ingredients of the season.


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Nobody has a beef with this beef — it is grass-fed
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

It's a perfect August day, among rolling hills on Jamison Farm in Latrobe. Jamison is famous for its fabulous lamb, but use of its processing plant recently expanded to include other meat farmers. And today, beef rules. Not just any beef, of course, but carefully, naturally nurtured animals fed 100-percent grass, from birth to slaughter.


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Valencia - Spain's Newest Buzz
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Travelers Journal

Founded in 138 B.C. by a small band of Roman soldiers, Valencia has been sacked by the Visigoths, conquered by the Moors and re-conquered, in 1238, by Spanish King Jaime. It was forged as a prosperous trading center in the 15th century, expanded by returning Spanish Colonials in the late 19th early 20th , then again redefined by modern hydrology and architecture. This charming city, a study in contrasts, is fine-tuned to high-wire transformations and multiple reinventions! Valencianos, friendly and welcoming, are fiercely proud of their city and ancestry. A trip here offers engaging explorations of past treasures, current innovations and ambitious plans for the future.
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Valencia-Spain's Newest Buzz in Spain
Ann & Peter Haigh
Our Blog - http://onthemenuradio.wordpress.com

See April 5, 2010 post

Founded in 138 B.C. by a small band of Roman soldiers, Valencia has been sacked by the Visigoths, conquered by the Moors and re-conquered, in 1238, by Spanish King Jaime. It was forged as a prosperous trading center in the 15th century, expanded by returning Spanish Colonials in the late 19th/early 20th , then again redefined by modern hydrology and architecture. This charming city, a study in contrasts, is fine-tuned to high-wire transformations and multiple reinventions!  

Valencianos, friendly and welcoming, are fiercely proud of their city and ancestry. A trip here offers engaging explorations of past treasures, current innovations and ambitious plans for the future.

The River doesn’t flow there anymore.

Torrential rains in the fall of 1957 caused the river Turia to overflow its man-made channel. Disastrous floods swamped much of the city. To prevent a nasty repeat, the municipal administration came up with a totally remarkable idea: don’t move the city, move the river! 

In 1963 this hydrological master-stroke diverted the Turia to a new channel outside the city, leaving behind a dry river bed. En route from the airport, the dry channel is candidly ugly, bedecked with graffiti. But approaching city center, the scarred terrain takes on new life–emerging as a crescent shaped park with gardens, ornamental pools (some with synchronized sound-and-light fountains) and venues for baseball, soccer and rugby. Locals flock here in the evenings to exercise – jog, bicycle, roller-blade, dog walk. Elegantly dressed concert goers from the Palace de Musica add polish to the bustle.

Heading towards the coast, the startling uber-contemporary architecture of world- renowned native son, Santiago Calatrava, makes a dynamic futuristic statement. Several kilometers of river bed between this complex and the Port of Valencia await a final plan and financing, but tall office buildings are envisaged.

The riverbed can be crossed at level in various places or via bridges both old and new. Rather than dividing the city, this spine of activity now unites it.

Blending Old and New

Traces of Valencia’s history dot the very walkable old city, merging ancient roots with the today’s sunny, modern town.

Roman remains mark Sagunto, north of the city. Two of the massive gates of the old Moorish city wall still stand. Narrow cobblestone streets meander maze-like through the Medieval Old Town. The Cathedral, built on the site of an old mosque, dates essentially from the 13th century, with later additions introducing Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical.

The Mercado Central, one of the world’s largest and most magnificent covered markets, is where Valencianos shop. Graceful Art Nouveau wrought iron supports the soaring space. Colorful local tiles enliven the walls, and white tiles lay an impeccably clean, litter-free floor. The Estacion Del Norte train station provides another wonderful example of Modernism, the Spanish term for Art Nouveau.

Heralding the new is Santiago Calatrava’s massive City of Arts and Sciences–the Palau de les Arts (Opera House), with a roof that appears suspended in air; the eye-shaped Planetarium and Omnimax theatre; the Science Museum; the Aquarium; and the newly completed Agora, a Sports and Performance Center that opens like a giant clam. This highly personal work bridges architecture, structural engineering and sculpture. It also bridges today’s achievements and tomorrow’s possibilities.

The Color Orange

Orange trees were introduced to Valencia during Moorish rule, but as a purely decorative landscape feature. It is not entirely clear when Valencianos turned to cultivating oranges as food and beverage, but the fruit is now synonymous with the region. The city has also flourished in trading silk, rice, olives and ceramics.

Across from the Mercado Central, a complex of well-preserved late Gothic civil buildings clusters around a walled courtyard. Reflecting Valencia’s golden age of trade, this splendid La Lonja de la Seda, or Silk Exchange, is where trades were made and commerce monitored. Lavish Gothic stone work adorns the interior and exterior of the impressive Main Hall. Playfully emerging from the carvings are some surprisingly bawdy scenes—including figures “mooning” the nearby church. There’s also a famous gargoyle: a woman of ill repute, bearing accoutrements of a dissolute life.

The Port of Valencia is still very active–though its most important recent development came with the 2007 America’s Cup and the accompanying effort to spruce up the city.  In its wake are the large warehouse-style buildings constructed for each of the competing teams. This year, in February, the race returned, and the port area will also host a Grand Prix motor racing event. 

Urban Mosaic

Richly diverse neighborhoods shape the city.

The landmark octagonal bell tower, El Micalet, marks the pretty Plaza de la Reine and the spectacular Valencia Cathedral. Built on the site of a major mosque and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the imposing church references many different architectural styles– though it is essentially Gothic. The interior houses important art including Renaissance frescoes and works by El Greco and Goya. The big draw, though, is the Holy Grail, claimed to be the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper.

Valencia night-life centers on the adjacent El Carmen quarter, where many bars and small restaurants flourish. The area also hosts daytime social hubs–particularly Horchaterias, shops serving Horchata, a specialty sweet beverage made from local Tiger Nuts. One of the most famous, Santa Caterina has a tiled wall in the entry depicting King Jaime’s re-conquest of the city.

The quirky Plaza Redondo is a round square–two concentric rings of wooden multi-story dwellings, with shop fronts at ground level. The market, especially lively on Sundays, sells local Valencian goods, cloth, sewing supplies, religious artifacts and household items.

Outside the old walled city is Valencia’s Eixample—“expansion”– the area where wealthy colonialists, returning from Spain’s lost empire in Latin America, built magnificent homes, rivaling the palaces of the established nobility. The Eixample has many splendid Modernist buildings–including the dramatic Mercado Colon, with its preserved original exterior and carefully renovated interior of stylish shops and bars. 

Adjacent to the Port, narrow streets of small houses, once home to seafarers and Port workers, mingle with newer, generally unattractive apartment buildings.

Allow time to roam the Modern Museum District. From the glittering Opera House and Planetarium to the Agora, the Calatrava-designed structures amaze with their creativity and monumental scale. While costly and aggressively futuristic, Valencianos are proud of this development, recognizing it as a bold lure to world attention and tourism. Stroll the entire length, going one way at street level and back along the lower level of reflecting pools. The Science Museum has excellent interactive exhibits for children, as well as instructive displays about such subjects as earth science and global warming.  The Aquarium, claimed to be the largest in Europe, has both underground and above ground sections dedicated to marine life from several of the world’s seas and oceans.

Splendid Tables

Riso, rice, in Valencia refers to Paella, a rice and saffron-seasoned dish invented here, or to a variation–rice cooked with something else, taken as a main course or the second of three courses. Rice incarnations appear on most menus. But seek the ultimate paella experience at La Matandeta, located outside the city among the rice fields of the Turia river estuary and nearby lagoons. Chef-owner Rafael Galvez cooks it authentically—outdoors on a wood-fired grill, using ground water from local wells and combining traditional ingredients–either meat or seafood, not in combination. Meat-based Paella generally includes chicken, duck, rabbit and possibly snails. Seafood-based combines assorted fish and shellfish. Perfectly cooked paella delivers barely moist—not soupy–rice, with each golden grain intact. The dish is presented at table in its large cooking vessel.

There’s delicious variety in Valencia’s restaurant scene, where wonderful products highlight menus.

Near the port, behind a Modernist façade stands iconic Casa Montana. Originally a wine bar, with huge barrels of bulk wine and a few tapas offered to patrons, it now features several small rooms with restaurant seating behind the original shop, plus a large tasting room. The menu remains traditional tapas but of notably high quality. Diners frequently combined small plates into a multi-course repast, matched to amazing wines by the glass. Alexandro Garcia, son of the founder is an extraordinarily knowledgeable tasting guide. The rustic, congenial ambience attracts local regulars. Pricing is modest. The place is packed at peak time, 10-11 p.m. 

Valencianos and tourists flock to the city’s broad, sandy beaches, especially on Sundays.  On the Playa de la Malvarrosa, a row of restaurants serves terrific traditional fare. Most famous is La Pepica, founded in 1898. Here specialties span riso and seafood, especially shellfish, emanating from the busy kitchen. An energetic waitstaff flies through service. The spirits of Ernest Hemingway, a Pepica habitué, and numerous other luminaries preside over the boisterous scene. The founder’s grandson now runs the restaurant that began as a beachfront dining shack, a “chiringuito.” Sunday lunchtime is Pepica’s most popular meal. Outdoor tables go quickly, so make reservations well in advance.

The modern wave of Spanish cuisine, spawned by famed Catalan molecular gastronomist, Ferran Adria, also has outposts in Valencia—though flavors are rarely sacrificed to kitchen science.

Audacious Chef Raul Alexandre, an El Bulli alum, has transformed Ca Sento, the seafood restaurant founded by his mother, into a temple of modern gastronomy—cod doughnut, hot and cold oyster, anchovy in foam. The small dining room, with arresting décor, frequently sells out for dinner. Try lunch, starting at 1.30 p.m.

While the original Arrop still operates in nearby Gandia, Chef Ricard Camerana and his wife just opened a second venture: aRC  (Arrop Richard Camerana), Valencia’s newest and smartest restaurant. The rough stonework of ancient foundations, unearthed during the building’s construction, contrasts stunningly with the otherwise sleek, contemporary interior. Camerana aims to revitalize the traditional kitchen with intensified creativity. One curious signature: snail rice without snails.

Inside the Institut Valencia d’Art Modern (IVAM), La Sucursal boasts stylishly minimalist décor and innovative food. The kitchen executes a menu of modern but not whacky dishes. The chef’s known for “soupy” rice—especially a lobster-embellished one. Presentations are artful as befits the setting.

Visionary Chef Quique Dacosta is widely recognized as a genius, one of the great chefs of Spain. Going to his namesake restaurant—formerly called El Poblet–in Denia, 100 kilometers south of Valencia—is akin to making the El Bulli pilgrimage. Dining here is an adventurous experience. The perfectionist chef, guided by a brilliant intellect, fearlessly fuses abstract concepts, concrete flavors and futuristic technique.

Unusual and Up-coming Wines

Two Denomination of Origin (DO) regions locate here.

Despite an inland hilly area, the Valencia DO has a Mediterranean Sea-facing aspect that provides favorable microclimates. Many varieties of grapes flourish—especially Garnacha and Monastrell, aka the southern Rhone’s Grenache and Mouvedre. Popularly-priced, these wines are mostly red, alongside some light, fresh, low-alcohol whites. Bodegas Los Frailes, a property owned by the Velasquez family since the 17th century, demonstrates rapidly increasing quality. Serious, all-organic wine making began 10 years ago, though 80% of these wines are exported.

The Utiel-Rquena DO, named after the two largest villages, lies west of Valencia at higher elevation. The dominant grape variety, Bobal, is native to the region. Production consists of bold, dark reds, some roses and creditable sparkling Cava.

Las Fallas!

In a country known for its unique fiestas, Las Fallas stands out as the craziest.

To mark the arrival of spring each year, from March 15th to 19th, Valencia really lets down its hair.

During the year, local communities, called fallas, construct colorful wood and papier-mache figures and symbols, called ninots (puppets or dolls), some as high as 25 meters. Satirical in content, the figures frequently represent unpopular individuals, politicians, even US presidents.

At festival time, over 700 ninots parade the city, accompanied by fireworks, carnivals, traditional dress, music and nightlife. The festivities attract enough visitors to swell Valencia’s population three-fold.

Fireworks are planted inside the figures, and all goes up in flames on the last evening—except for one, selected by vote, which survives to enter the Falleros Museum.

If you go

No airline flies direct from the US to Valencia. But major European airports–London, Paris, Madrid–have connections on Iberia and Spanair.  Also, various low-cost European airlines offer service from smaller airports. 

A taxi to city center, usually a 30-45 minute ride, costs about 25 Euros.

With heavy traffic, confusing road patterns and narrow streets, don’t rent a car unless necessary for excursions.

The Valencia Tourist Card, available for 24, 48 and 72 hours–10, 16 and 20 Euros respectively–buys use of an Audio guide, free public transport and discounts at some museums, shops and restaurants.

The old city center harbors many small hotels, but the better large hotels locate just across the river bed. One good choice: The Melia Palace couples outstanding service with  convenient access to the parks and buildings along the river bed. (There’s another Melia Hotel in the center, so clarify your destination to the taxi driver.)  Other hotel possibilities: Westin, Hilton, the Spanish chains NH and Tryp and the highly rated  Hospes Palau De La Mar. 

 


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Valencia - photographs
Ann & Peter Haigh
Our Blog - http://onthemenuradio.wordpress.com

Great pictures of our October 2009 visit to Valencia, Spain.  See April 4, 2010 post.
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A Seasonal Feast
Ann Haigh
For Fanfare Magazine

Winter holiday-makers, start your stoves! Four talented Pittsburgh chefs steer you, course by course, to a joyful dinner celebrating family and friends. Here are their recipesand the inspirations behind them. All recipes serve 8 to 10.
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Taste of Pittsburgh: Discover worldly menu of dining options
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Like the city itself, Pittsburgh's restaurant scene models reinvention, diversity and a "green" attitude. Today's array of quality dining amazes visitors, and even locals marvel at such rapid expansion of their foodscape.

Gastronomic diversity roots deeply in Pittsburgh's urban fabric. Historically, waves of immigrants settled here, tossing their native cuisines into our great melting pot of tastes. The presence of international corporations and the multicultural populations of large hospital and university campuses also abet a global-centric food environment.  Match the mood of the moment, plug in some geography and scroll through possibilities — from casual to fine dining, cutting-edge cuisine to seafood and steak, Italian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Pan-Asian, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Brazilian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Ethiopian, Mexican, German, Eastern European, Middle Eastern.


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How to relax and putter around in Southern Tuscany
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Tuscany's always ready for its close-up -- glorious landscapes, enchanting cities, matchless history, superlative art and great food and wine. Connoisseurs view Siena as the area's most beautiful city, Florence as its cultural Mecca and Pisa as a powerful tourist magnet attracting the entire world to its curious leaning tower. While these and other famous centers are spectacular, there's also a quieter side of Tuscany to explore. Dot some spots in the region's southern part, add brilliant bits of Etruscan Lazio and quintessential Umbria, then meander to connect the dots: You've got a travel plan!


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Eat your heart out: Tuscany tastes delicious
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Superior local ingredients and a strong culinary culture make traveling in this region of Italy a memorable gastronomic adventure.  The kitchens at La Posta Vecchia, Il Pelicano, the Convento di San Francesco and Hotel Terme di Saturnia are world-class.
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Countryside Dining
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Getting Gidleigh

Turn down the narrow, muddy, high-walled road from the village square in Chagford, Devon. Go deeply into a valley on the edge of the brooding Dartmoor National Park. Most of the road is wide enough for only one car, so drive slowly and be prepared to back up to a passing place should a vehicle come in the opposite direction. A handsome half-timber, stone fronted mansion, set on 45 acres of gardens and woodlands, looms up from the mist. This is Gidleigh Park, a Relais & Chateaux property and a special place.

Gidleigh Park's restaurant is one of the finest in England. Ten years ago, chef Michael Caines took over the Michelin one-star kitchen, earned a second star and is targeting the third. This remarkable man executes an opulent tasting menu, utilizing the fine local products of his southwest England "larder" millefeuille of pan-fried foie gras, with turnip, apple, boudin noir and sherry vinegar sauce; a quail egg tartlet with onion confit, smoked bacon and black truffle; the freshest sea scallops accented with celeriac puree, soy sauce and truffle vinaigrette; luscious filet of locally raised Red Ruby beef with wild mushroom puree and Madeira sauce.


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Rain or shine, Amsterdam is a city of substance
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Pack your galoshes and wind-resistant umbrellas. Amsterdam is a delightful destination, except for its frequently wet and blustery weather. Always historic, aesthetic and scenic, variously trendy, quirky, boisterous and serene, this European city appeals to diverse interests. It's easy to get to, frequently offered at bargain E-Saver prices, and compact - hence a good choice for an extended weekend.
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Exciting U.K. properties combine fine dining and luxurious lodging
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The concept of the "city or country house with fine dining" or "a fine-dining restaurant with rooms" is not entirely new. But the British are rapidly expanding this niche, updating it while adding considerable flair. Travelers and gourmets alike flock to compelling settings -- in cities, towns, villages or the countryside -- to find lavish hospitality, memorable experiences and fabulous flavors. Here are some destinations to target.
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Chicago: Stepping up to the plate
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

A banal gray-brick building belies the dramatic interior, edgy food and sophisticated service of Alinea. That's the recently debuted stage for wunderkind chef Grant Achatz -- and one in a new wave of dining establishments making Chicago way more than just a blip on the gourmet radar screen. Historically, Chicago's food scene focused on steak, stiff French, small ethnics and such casual specialties as deep-dish pizza and hot dogs. That was then. Now, visitors are spoiled for choices in brilliant dining -- especially contemporary American. And the city is also fast becoming an epicenter of experimental cuisine.
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Cupid's pantry: Gift ideas for the food-obsessed lover
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

David Kamp's gossipy dish of a book, "The United States of Arugula," traces the great food revolution that moved America from '50s wiggly gelatin salads to today's micro-sprouts and sushi. The result: a gourmet nation populated by highly-evolved eaters, cooks, kitchen shoppers and Food Network junkies. Plotting that "day of love" just got simpler. Try some of these tasteful gifts to please your special foodie Valentine.
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Food fancy
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Wylie Dufresne looms large in today's food media. He's the award-winning chef behind such sensations as warm ice cream, pretzel consomme and a much-publicized pirated -- from him -- "egg" dish. But way beyond the news-grabbing, wacky-sounding -- though highly sophisticated -- dishes, this young chef is achieving international recognition for his future-forward cuisine. A philosophy graduate turned culinarian, he was one of five James Beard Foundation finalists for 2007 Best Chef New York City, a fiercely competitive award.
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Local chef takes a bite out of the Big Apple
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The media spotlight is shining on Portugal-born Toni Pais' native cuisine. "I guess they're running out of countries," he jokes."The (Iberian) peninsula's big right now. Spain's huge, and everything Portuguese, especially the food, is in fashion." A natural charmer, Pais is one of the city's most popular chefs. On daily shopping trips to the Strip District, he sports a trademark ear-to-ear smile, vibrant brown eyes and precise, close-cropped jet-black hair, frequently topped by a baseball cap. In and out of shops, he greets people, conversing animatedly, with a lingering lilt of accent.
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Public notice: Chef draws attention with personal style
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Roaming the globe, Chef Brad Farmerie plucks flavors, culinary techniques and experiences from diverse cultures. He then filters these references through his personal, contemporary vision to realize a unique brand of fusion cuisine. The former Pittsburgher says his eclectic cooking style focuses on "richness, acidity and texture." But a restless curiosity and an adventurous palate bolster bold explorations. This is not your '90s fusion.
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Sotiris Kitrilakis: From nuclear to nurturer
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Charisma describes attributes of personal magnetism, charm and leadership. It's a Greek word befitting a gorgeous Greek, Sotiris Kitrilakis, a man of warmth, sensibility and intelligence. An internationally renowned Greek food expert, Kitrilakis will visit Pittsburgh this week to create an authentic Greek feast in celebration of Slow Food PittsburghHis life reads like a textbook of super-achievement. Born in Athens, Greece, the son of a Greek army general, he ventured to the United States at age 14 on an exchange student scholarship via the American Field Service. He attended high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., then went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in chemical engineering.
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A tale of three cities
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Italy's far northeast corner invites discovery.  Beyond the bustle of Venice and the social cachet of Lake Garda, three fascinating destinations -- Verona, Padua and Gorizia -- anchor the exploration of a region frequently missed out by both American and European travelers. Although linked by common control during the eras of the Roman Empire and the Venetian City State, the region otherwise has had a checkered political history. Today, Verona and Padua are in the province of Veneto; Gorizia situates in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The two provinces differ strikingly in scenery, culture and cuisine, but their proximity tucks them neatly into a 10-day excursion
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Extraordinary, diverse restaurants dot northeast Italy
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Food is serious in this part of Italy. Extraordinary restaurants rate easily on a par with better-known regions such as Tuscany and Emilia-Romano -- and they're more diverse. In Verona, a modest yellow awning, on a tiny side street, announces Il Desco, one of the best restaurants in northern Italy. The simple entrance belies the gorgeous interior. Sumptuous furnishings and superb service herald wonderful food. For more than 20 years, chef-owner Elia Rizzo has adapted traditional cuisine, bringing innovative touches to seasonal, indigenous ingredients, constructing bold flavors: Guinea fowl, with a sauce of chocolate and balsamic, atop mashed Jerusalem artichokes; sea bass, with veal sweetbreads, oyster sauce and black truffle; beef cheeks, in a sauce of cinnamon and cloves; risotto with celeriac and sweetbread ragout. Ask the sommelier to select wines from the best small local producers.
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Fresh Fare
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Just 15 years ago, San Diego was a sleepy Navy town distinguished mostly for its beautiful climate and proximity to Tijuana, Mexico. Fine-dining options were few, and mostly steeped in older European traditions. But today, the region's growth -- in population, convention/tourist traffic and sophistication -- is igniting a vibrant restaurant scene. Drawing upon a bounty of local ingredients, young, inventive chefs and managers address new market opportunities by opening their own, way edgier restaurants.
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Bewitching Barcelona
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Last June, banners on every Catalonian highway overpass and numerous billboards urged citizens to vote "Catalunya Si!" They did -- approving a new constitution that gives greater autonomy to this Spanish region. Now travelers should opt in for this area's attractions. Regional pride is everywhere in Spain, but in this northeast corner of the country, citizens identify first as Catalan, then as Spanish. The local lingua references French, reflecting close historical ties between the two regions. Road signs and restaurant menus are distinctly bilingual: Catalan and Spanish.  For most of its history, the region struggled through ping-pong politics, imposing external domination. In between strife, though, came periods of prosperity that shaped a rich cultural identity. Today, Catalonia and its vibrant capital, Barcelona, are hot!
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Balsamico can cost as much as century-old cognac
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Distillers of spirituous liquors have long referred to the reduction in volume, through evaporation, of their maturing beverages as "the angels' share." Years spent in the barrel improve and concentrate flavor, but diminishing quantity clearly is an offsetting economic loss. Bottling, of course, cuts short the angels' take. But Balsamico can barrel-age for 50 years or more. That should give angels much cause to smile.  A traditional product of Modena, Italy, this precious elixir, drop for drop, can cost as much as century-old cognac or whiskey. Like wine, it starts out as grapes. But in the vinegar-making process, the grape "must," including skins and juice, are boiled for many hours rather than being crushed and fermented as they would be for wine.


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Sophisticated International cuisine spices up London diners' palettes
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Did Julius Caesar introduce Italian cuisine when he invaded Brittania in 55 BC? It's an unlikely speculation but not totally preposterous. Perhaps the locals welcomed him because they were fed up with overcooked and under-seasoned meals. Centuries of dominance in world commerce shaped London into a cosmopolitan city. But until recently, the food scene remained notoriously a culinary wasteland. The exception was non-native cuisines -- especially French, Indian and Chinese. But these foods came from small ethnic eateries and served only as a footnote to tourism. Not so today: The British dining market hungers for global cuisine and world-class local fare. Offering a cornucopia of modern, sophisticated restaurants, London now attracts destination diners.
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Finding freshness at London's Borough Market
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Napoleon Bonaparte once described England as "a nation of shopkeepers." Nowhere does this British characteristic reveal itself more vibrantly than at London's historic Borough Market. While boasting ancient roots -- records suggest that a market in this vicinity existed as early as 43 A.D. -- this unique emporium recently faced demolition. But tenacious traders and enlightened trustees saved it from demise and rebuilt its glory. Today the popular market bustles with more than 100 vendors and lively, munching crowds of local and visiting shoppers.


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High Times in the Lowcountry
Ann & Peter Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Bob Carter and Bob Waggoner share the same first name and culinary passion. And their establishments -- respectively, the Peninsula Grill and the Charleston Grill -- sit across the street from each other in South Carolina's timeless, charming city of Charleston. Both chefs cultivate the heady fare of "Lowcountry" cooking, yet each presents distinctive innovations and sophisticated variations on this regional Southern cuisine.
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Basque in the glory of the modern Spanish kitchen
Ann Haigh
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Culinary stars — and Michelin stars — shine brightly in the Basque region of northeastern Spain. Here, where the language to the uninitiated seems a difficult-to-pronounce alphabet soup of K's, X's and Z's, world-class restaurants and their passionate chef-owners cluster in and around the beautiful town of San Sebastian -- Donostia to the natives. This city beside the shell-shaped bay called La Concha -- with its broad avenues, sandy beaches and Belle Epoque ambience -- holds more Michelin stars per capita than Paris. More, in fact, than any other place on the planet.
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