Archive for the 'Italian' Category


January 11, 2008
Cuisine: Italian

2 Lam Son Square
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 824-1234
Website: none

White bread with creamy pesto and olive oil (complimentary)

Duck Carpaccio ($12)

Bucatinni, Sardines, Dill, Pine Nuts, Raisins ($9)

Rigatoni, Basil, Mint, Eggplant, Swordfish ($10)

Banana Tart with Caramel ($8)

As part of my holiday present from The Astronomer, I was treated to an Italian dinner at Opera. The restaurant is located inside the Park Hyatt Saigon, which is the swankiest hotel in town. How swanky? When Brad and Angelina are in the adopting mood, they always stay at the Hyatt.

We had reservations at 6 PM last Friday night and were seated immediately upon our arrival. Our table was covered in a white tablecloth and had a nice view of the open kitchen, which featured a wood-fired oven.

The best part of the open kitchen experience was hearing the cooks Vietnamese-ize Italian words like arugula (“a roo goo la”—four words) and bucatini (“boo ca ti ni”—four words). It reminded me of how my family Vietnamese-izes American words like apartment (“a pag toe mang”—four words). It’s good to know that mono-syllabic languages can adapt to multi-syllabic ones!

Our waitress didn’t hover over our shoulders as we perused the menu, which was a novel experience for The Astronomer who hasn’t been back stateside since last September.

After we placed our orders, we were served bread with a pesto and olive oil dip. The bread, which was warmed-up in the wood-fired oven, was toasty on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Unlike Vietnamese baguettes, this bread had plenty of soft innards for me to dig into. It had been forever since The Astronomer experienced pre-dinner bread and pesto; he was totally in heaven.

For our appetizer, we shared the Duck Carpaccio, which was served with a mesclun mix dressed in olive oil and vinegar, black pepper and goat cheese. The salad was, you know, a salad. The carpaccio, on the other hand, was fabulously executed and melt-in-your mouth tender. The strong essence of duck really rocked our taste buds.

For our entrees, we shared two pastas. My favorite of the evening was the rigatoni with basil, eggplant and swordfish. The menu claimed there was mint in this dish, but neither The Astronomer or I could taste it. I was thrilled that the pasta (DeCecco) was prepared al dente. The hunks of eggplant and swordfish went perfectly well with the rigatoni. I usually find swordfish dry and steak-like, but these cuts were quite moist.

The Astronomer’s favorite was the bucatinni with sardines, dill, pine nuts and raisins. The dill and sardines were the stars of this dish, while the nuts and raisins played second and third fiddle. The Astronomer liked the unique combination of flavors, and found the dish light, yet satisfying. I thought that the dill was overwhelming, but the chunky sardine and tomato sauce was excellent.

For dessert, I chose a “banana tart.” What arrived was a cheesecake topped with sliced bananas and a nutty ice cream. Candied hazelnuts and a caramel-y sauce garnished the plate. The cheesecake was mild and creamy and had a killer graham crust, but not what I was in the mood for. I wanted a buttery tart filled with caramelized bananas and topped with an extra-rich caramel sauce.

Dinner at Opera was a wonderful escape from the Saigon grind and I hope to return again to try their wood-fired pizzas and more of their pastas.


Antica Trattoria


December 28, 2007
Cuisine: Italian

5654 Lake Murray Blvd.
La Mesa, CA 91942

Phone: 619-463-9919


White bread with oil and vinegar (complimentary)


Peperoni In Bella Vista – Roasted yellow and red bell peppers served with capers, anchovies, shaved parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil ($7.95)


Fettuccine Al Gorgonzola E Noci – Fettuccine with diced pears, walnuts and mascarpone cheese in a gorgonzola sauce ($14.95)


Creme Brulee ($6)

My mom and I have a really sweet tradition that we’ve been doing since forever. We shop like mad men at Fashion Valley and then go out to dinner at either the Cheesecake Factory or California Pizza Kitchen. Even though I usually shun chain restaurants, these two have a special place in my heart.

Last Friday night, my mom and I relived our glory days and swung by CPK for a bite. Unfortunately, the powers that be at CPK headquarters have decided to remove the single best pizza from their menu – Pear and Gorgonzola:

Caramelized pears, Gorgonzola, Fontina and Mozzarella cheeses, sweet caramelized onions, topped with chopped hazelnuts and served field greens tossed in our garden-herb ranch dressing

Rather than settle for a lesser pizza, my mom suggested that we head back to La Mesa for some Italian fare at Antica Trattoria. I think I ate here maybe five years ago with my friend’s family, but am not totally certain. It’s a good thing I keep track of everything I eat on gas•tron•o•my these days!

The cozy restaurant was packed when we arrived, so we waited 15 minutes for a table to open up. We were served some warm bread with oil and vinegar after we placed our order. I couldn’t taste much of the vinegar because it was super-thick and sunk to the bottom of the dish. It had been months since I had American-style bread; I loved how toasty the crust was and how fluffy the insides were.

Our meal officially kicked off with the Peperoni In Bella Vista – roasted yellow and red bell peppers served with capers, anchovies, shaved Parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil. Both my mom and I were pleased with this dish. The yellow peppers did not make an appearance, but the red ones were beautifully roasted and flavorful. The intense saltiness from the anchovies and Parmesan cheese was my favorite element.

Still yearning for pears and Gorgonzola, my mom and I shared the Fettuccine Al Gorgonzola E Noci for our pasta course. By the way, we were charged a $2 split fee. WTF?* The pasta was very creamy and the Gorgonzola dominated the other flavors. The pears were a little scarce and slightly mushy. I’m thinking green apples would be a better choice texture and flavor-wise. I did not embrace the walnuts, but my mom really dug ’em.

We finished off our meal with a decent creme brulee. I thought that the powdered sugar dusted on top was a bit much and the “brulee” was overly charred in some spots, but it was good enough for La Mesa standards.

*What’s up with restaurants making portions too large for one person and charging a split fee? Wickity whack, I say.

Upstairs at DiBruno’s


June 21, 2007
Cuisine: Italian, Delis

1730 Chestnut St, Philadelphia 19103
Btwn S 17th St & S 18th St

Phone: 215-665-9220


Prosciutto Fig Pie ($8)

DiBruno Brothers is the perfect marriage between fashion and function. Not only is the store gorgeously laid-out, but it also sells some of the best artisanal products in town—including foie gras. The shop’s first floor is dedicated to specialty foods, baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pastas, and cheeses. The second floor is a casual café offering a variety of gourmet sandwiches, prepared foods, and pizzas. DiBruno Brothers has been dubbed the Dean and Deluca of Philadelphia and I think that’s an accurate comparison.

While I have always loved browsing DiBruno’s aisles and tasting their many delicious samples, I didn’t try the café until recently with Wes. The Upstairs space is painted a vibrant yellow and blasts hits from the 90’s, which I really liked but made conversation difficult. Even in the midst of the lunch hour rush, Wes and I were able to locate a suitable table with ease.  

Wes picked up a sandwich from the deli counter, while I headed to the pizza section. The pie that caught my eye was the Prosciutto Fig. After placing my order, the pizza was briefly reheated in the oven, and brought to my table. A half order consisted of four generous slices, which was more than enough to satisfy my hearty appetite. In fact, I had to pack up half to-go.

The Prosciutto Fig Pie was really outstanding! The crust was slightly sweet and the ideal thickness. The cheese, a mix of ricotta and mozzarella, hit the all the right notes and didn’t over power the other ingredients. The thinly sliced prosciutto crisped up nicely in the oven, while the delicate figs caramelized beautifully. The entire pizza was drizzled with thick balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with fresh rosemary, which took an already delectable pie to a whole new level. The Prosciutto Fig Pie seriously blew my mind! If I were still in Philly, I’d definitely be eating one right now…

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April 7, 2007
Cuisine: Sandwiches, Italian

Reading Terminal Market, 12th & Filbert
Philadelphia, PA

Phone: 215-923-6175
Website: none

Roast Pork Sandwich with Greens and Provolone ($6.75)

The Astronomer and I woke up extra early on Saturday morning (before noon!) to guarantee a Roast Pork Sandwich at DiNic’s. The last time we were here they ran out of their most popular sandwich, so we had to take special precautions this time around.

A plain sandwich is priced at $5.50, but we requested provolone cheese and “greens” for $1.25 extra. The bread was as good as I remembered; sturdy yet giving, like all good Italian bread. The cheese was intensely fragrant and flavorful. I love DiNic’s provolone because it tastes nothing like the supermarket provolone commonly dished out. The garlicky sautéed greens added some much needed color and meshed well with the other contents in the sandwich. The Astronomer was hesitant about the greens at first, but found them surprisingly appealing. Everything about the sandwich was top-notch except for the roast pork. I found the meat bland and kind of dry, which was such a let down after great experiences with DiNic’s roast beef and brisket sandwiches. Even the drippings drizzled atop the sandwich didn’t save the day.

However, in The Astronomer’s opinion, the day did not need to be saved. Despite being noticeably inferior to the roast beef sandwich enjoyed earlier, he still found the roast pork sandwich to be delicious, and would order it again if they happened to be out of roast beef.




March 27-31, 2007
Cuisine: Gelato

119 S 13th St, Philadelphia 19107
117 S 20th St, Philadelphia 19103

Phone: 215-351-0900, 215-636-9250


I went nearly two years living in Philadelphia without trying Capogiro and now I’m kicking myself as I type for not going sooner. I have made it my personal mission to encourage everyone I know to try this place immediately. To misquote Jack Handy, “When you die, if you get a choice between going to regular heaven or Capogiro heaven, choose Capogiro heaven. It might be a trick, but if it’s not, mmm, boy.”

To make up for lost time, Luscious and I went to Capogiro everyday from March 27-31, sometimes we went twice a day, and once, we visited four times in one day! I may be a good eater, but Lush is far and away the best eater I’ve ever known.

On my first trip to Capogiro, I tried a sample of the Pineapple Mint sorbet and was completely blown away. The mint actually tasted like it was derived from an herb! I can’t believe I’ve put up with faux mint/artificiality for so long. In addition to being ridiculously tasty, the sorbets are completely fat free.

On another visit I ordered a piccolo (small) gelato with Kiwi and Mojito ($4.25). The flavors were wholesome and refreshing. It’s truly incredible how the pure essence of each ingredient is creamily captured in the gelato.

On yet another visit, I tried the Gelato con Brioche with Nocciola Piemontese ($4). A scoop of gelato was sandwiched between a freshly toasted brioche roll. The warm bread and cold gelato was amazingly decadent.

Over the course of five days, Luscious, The Astronomer and I tried a plethora of flavors. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Arancia con Cardamomon—Sweet oranges with spicy cardamom
  • Cassada—Dark chocolate with candied orange peels
  • Dark and StormyLemon and Ginger with Sailor Jerry Rum. Don’t get lost in the Bermuda Triangle.
  • Mojito—tart lime, cool Overbrook Herb Farm mint and rum
  • Pepino Melon—Originally from Peru, this thin skinned melon is as sweet as a cucumber, but taste like a cantaloupe. You have to love winter melons!
  • Nocciola Piemontese—Hazelnut gelato made with nuts from the Piedmont region of Italy. When this is your first choice, you have your Italian Citizenship
  • Uva Rossa—Tart red grapes
  • Thai Coconut Milk—Sweet smooth coconut gelato made with coconut milk from Thailand and a hint of coconut rum
  • Moro—Sicilian Blood Orange
  • Rosemary Honey Goat’s Milk—Local goat’s milk infused with local rosemary and honey

Now that Luscious is back in Hawaii, I think she misses Capogiro more than me ;-).