Archive for the 'Italian' Category

Trattoria Marcella

January 5, 2007
Cuisine: Italian

3600 Watson
St. Louis, MO 63109

Phone: 314-352-7706

Appetizer I: Fresh baked bread served with hummus (complimentary)

Appetizer II: Home-Made Toasted Ravioli – Slow Braised Seasoned Beef filled Ravioli, made the old fashioned way, by hand, lightly breaded and toasted, served with Tomato Sauce ($8.99)

Entree: Grilled duck breast served with sauteed wild mushrooms and farro risotto with butternut squash ($17.50)

Contorni I: Freshly made whole wheat pasta with white sauce ($5.99)

Contorni II: Baby greens, candied pecans, goat cheese, and beets with a balsamic dressing ($7.50)

The Astronomer: Growing up in St. Louis, my love of pasta and Italian food in general had not yet fully developed, so I failed to take advantage of many of the city’s wonderful Italian restaurants. Upon returning to visit, I was therefore excited to try some of the best that St. Louis had to offer. The heart of the city’s Italian community lives in a neighborhood called The Hill, but we finally chose a restaurant called Trattoria Marcella located several blocks away. It was an excellent decision–the Gastronomer is a genius at finding good restaurant advice on the message boards. The food was subtly flavored and ridiculously delicious, comparable to meals we’ve had in Philadelphia for twice the price. We’re still trying to figure out how St. Louis restaurants manage to make such classy food so affordable. Alabama should take notes. Anyway, we enjoyed it thoroughly while we were there.

While we waited for our food at Trattoria Marcella, we snacked on fresh bread with hummus. I’m normally not a big fan of hummus, but Trattoria Marcella’s was spectacular. The Gastronomer and I quickly consumed all of our bread and asked for more.

As a child in St. Louis, my favorite food was toasted ravioli. Legend has it that this local delicacy was invented when a cook at a restaurant on The Hill accidentally dropped some normal beef ravioli into a pile of bread crumbs. Inspiration struck, and instead of discarding the sullied ravioli he decided to deep-fry it, thereby initiating one of the great breakthroughs in culinary history. Trattoria Marcella had homemade toasted ravioli on the menu as an appetizer, so of course we had to order some. They were larger and more delicately constructed than the standard store-bought variety, but I couldn’t decide for sure whether I liked them better. In any case, it was an ideal start to the meal.

Things only got better from there. The Gastronomer and I spent quite a while deciding what to order; we felt we ought to try one of the special homemade pasta offerings, but the Gastronomer was having difficulty finding the perfect dish. Fortunately, the pasta side dishes came to the rescue. Every restaurant should offer this menu option–I believe that a good meat dish could almost always be improved by the addition of pasta. We ordered the homemade whole wheat fettucine with white sauce. It was excellent; the pasta tasted quite wheaty (in a good way), and I always appreciate a creamy white sauce. To supplement the pasta, the Gastronomer ordered a salad with beets, pecans, and goat cheese, thus initiating a beet-eating streak that would continue for three consecutive days. I passed on the beets, as I disagree with her assessment that they are “pleasant.” However, I did find the candied pecans, greens, and goat cheese to be delicious.

For my entree, I chose the grilled duck breast served on farro risotto with butternut squash. The dish came with a generous helping of mushrooms that I cheerfully handed over to the Gastronomer. The duck itself was awesome. It was incredibly tender and wonderfully flavored, and the risotto complemented it well. I loved the sweetness of the squash mixed in with the other flavors. It all came together to create one of my favorite meals in recent memory. Both of us were stuffed from gorging on bread, so we didn’t order desert.

In summary, Trattoria Marcella lived up to its billing as one of the top restaurants in St. Louis, offering possibly the most bang-for-buck that we have ever experienced at a restaurant. We enthusiastically recommended it to my family when they came to visit St. Louis the following weekend, and they had a similarly delightful experience.


Cunetto House of Pasta

January 4, 2007
Cuisine: Italian

5453 Magnolia
St. Louis, MO

Phone: 314-781-1135

Appetizer: Toasted Ravioli ($6.10)

Entree I: Melanzane Parmigiano – Sliced Eggplant baked with Tomato Sauce, Provel and Parmigiano Cheese ($5.35)

Entree II: Ditalini con Piselli – Small cut pasta with Creamy White Butter Sauce, Fresh Green Onions and Peas ($7.95)

Cunneto House of Pasta was highly recommended by David Chaplin AKA the Astronomer’s dad. Cunneto is located on The Hill, which is a predominantly Italian neighborhood in St. Louis with a large number of Italian eateries.

We started off our meal with an order of Toasted Ravioli because they are unique to St. Louis and it’s not very often that we find ourselves here. I have tried T-Ravs on a number of occasions while visiting the Astronomer at his home. As far as deep-fried food goes, T-Ravs are pretty good, but nothing spectacular. On the other hand, the Astronomer grew up eating T-Ravs, so they hold a very special place in his heart.

I tasted little difference between Cunneto’s T-Rav and the frozen Louisa brand the Astronomer’s family mail orders. However, the Astronomer thought the restaurant’s T-Ravs were more delicate and softer than the frozen variety. I thought the marinara sauce was quite tasty.

For my entree I ordered the Melanzane Parmigiano, which was an appetizer selection. Two layers of sautéed eggplants were topped with plenty of cheese and tomato sauce and baked to perfection. The eggplant was soft and sweet, the cheese was creamy and rich, and the marinara’s tartness balanced out the entire dish. Needless to say, the eggplant parmesan was excellent and more than reasonably priced!

The Astronomer could not pass up the opportunity to order pasta at a restaurant that proclaimed to be the “House of Pasta” and settled on the Ditalini con Piselli because he loves cream sauces. The Astronomer enjoyed the combination of flavors brought about by the peas, cream, and onions. I helped the Astronomer with his pasta and thought the green onions were an especially great touch because most Italian cooking uses white onions. Also, fresh green onions have spectacular flavor! The pasta portion was very generous, so we took a doggie bag to go.


December 13, 2006
Cuisine: Italian, Steakhouses

111 S 17th St, Philadelphia 19103
2nd Floor of the Provident National Bank

Phone: 215-563-4810

Hors D’oeuvres
Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls, Spicy Ketchup
Mini Crab Cakes, Caper Aioli
Tomato & Mozzarella Bruschetta
Smoked Salmon, Lemon Mascarpone, Potato Chip

Antipasta Station
Marinated Vegetables, Cured Italian Meats, Imported Cheeses, Mixed Olives, Roasted Peppers, Focaccia Bread

Salad Station
Mixed Field Greens, Cucumber, Balsamic Vinaigrette
Davio’s Classic Caesar Salad, Homemade Croutons

Pasta Station
Penne, Applewood Smoked Chicken, Spinach, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Walnut Cream Sauce
Ricotta Stuffed Rigatoni, Rose Basil Sauce

Carving Station
Roasted Filet Mignon
Roast Pork Tenderloin Seasonal Accompaniments and Sauces (gargonzola, mushroom, red wine)

Roasted Asparagus
Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Dessert Station
Assortment of Davio’s Italian Desserts – Cheesecake, Lemon Tartlet, Praline Hazelnut Mousse cake, Pumpkin Cake, Chocolate Raspberry Cake, Chocolate Dipped Biscotti

P/PV had our annual holiday gathering yesterday afternoon at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse. As far as office parties go, this one was one of the best. The food was phenomenal, the band was festive, the room was gorgeous, and the company was good too.

The party began at noon, but I didn’t arrive until 12:30 because being fashionably late never goes out of style. When I arrived, the three-piece band was in full swing playing peppy holiday music, waiters were walking around with Hors D’oeuvres, an antipasta station was set up in the back of the room, and the bar was open with wine and top shelf liquors. I passed on the booze because I don’t drink my calories.

Appetizers: I was quickly offered a mini crab cake; the first of three or four. The crab cake was placed atop a crustless round of white bread and dabbed with a Caper Aioli on the bottom to adhere it to the bread. The crab cake was excellent – slightly crisp on the outside, large chunks of crab on the inside, and its natural flavors brought out by the aioli. Another appetizer standout was the Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls; I had two of those. A better name would have been the Philly Cheesesteak Taquito because it was deep fried. I liked everything about it – the meat was salty, the wrap was crisp, and the ketchup was spicy. Well done. I had one of the Smoked Salmon appetizers, which was pretty good. However, the potato chip had a very strong taste so it sadly outshined the more delicate Lemon Mascarpone and fish.

The antipasta station had a good selection of meats and cheeses, as well as fruits (berries and figs) and vegetables to complement the flavors. My favorite cheese was the smoked Gouda. The smoky flavor was divine. There were stronger cheese offerings as well, including two types of goat cheese. However, they were a bit too intense for lunchtime. I also really enjoyed the prepared mushrooms. My favorite cured meats were the salami and prosciutto.

Main Course: The salad, pasta, side dishes, and meat were served buffet-style. I passed on the salad because greens are a waste of precious space. I went with a piece of roasted filet mignon drizzled with the gargonzola sauce, a side of asparagus, and both types of pasta. The filet mignon was delicious; it made me appreciate cows all over again. I received an end piece of the roast, so it wasn’t as rare as I would have liked but tasty nevertheless. The gargonzola sauce was good, but not needed because the meat itself was fantastic. The asparagus was simply prepared. The pastas were excellent as well. Even though I hate penne as a pasta shape, I couldn’t complain about the accompaniments. I loved the sun dried tomatoes. The rigatoni was stuffed with ricotta cheese, which was creamy and mild. The rose basil sauce was the perfect sauce choice. I tried to go back for some polenta, but they were fresh out. So I moved on to dessert!

Dessert: The dessert offerings were AMAZING! I tried the pumpkin cake, cheesecake, lemon tartlet, and the praline hazelnut mousse cake. The cheesecake was decent, but nothing uber special. The lemon tartlet was very lemony which I loved, but the tart shell was a bit too tough. So I ate the filling and tossed the crust. My favorites were the pumpkin cake and the praline hazelnut mousse cake. The pumpkin cake had a lite, airy, pudding-like consistency. It tasted like whipped pumpkin pie filling. Mmm! The praline hazelnut mousse cake rocked my world. It consisted of three layers – the base layer was a flaky and crunchy praline cookie of sorts, the middle layer was a hazelnut mousse, and the top layer was a hazelnut gel. OMG. The three different textures worked incredibly well together and put Nutella to shame. What a wonderful note to end a spectacular feast!

Escarole and Little Meatball Soup


The soup is delicate but filling at the same time, with its pasta and baby meatballs. Unless you have Soprano-size appetites, this is a main-dish soup. We’ve cut the recipe in half so it will fit in your soup pot.

  • 1/2 head escarole (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 1/2 large carrots, chopped
  • 12 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 4 ounces ditalini or tubetti, or spaghetti broken into bite-size pieces
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  • 1/2 pound ground veal or beef
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup very finely minced onion
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Trim the escarole and discard any bruised leaves. Cut off the stem ends. Separate the leaves and wash well in cool water, especially the center of the leaves where soil collects. Stack the leaves and cut them crosswise into 1-inch strips. You should have about 4 cups.

Combine the escarole, carrots, and stock in a large pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until the escarole is almost tender, about 30 minutes.

To make the meatballs: Meanwhile, combine the ground meat, bread crumbs, cheese, onion, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Shape the mixture into tiny balls, less than 1 inch in diameter.

To assemble: When the escarole is almost tender, stir in the pasta and return the soup to the simmer. Drop the meatballs into the soup. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until the meatballs and pasta are cooked, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Serves 6
From The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker and Michele Scicolone

Substitutions: Broth – used 1 lb. of escarole and 7 carrots to up the nutritional ante. Only used 8 oz. of broth to make room for extra veggies. Used maccaroni. Meatballs – doubled the entire recipe. Used lean ground turkey, quick oats in place of bread crumbs, shallots in place of onions, and pre-grated Parmesan cheese.

Fellini Cafe Trattoria

December 7, 2006
Cuisine: Italian

2216 Walnut St, Philadelphia 19103
Btwn S 22nd St & S 23rd St

Phone: 215-972-0860

French bread, marinara sauce, pickled red peppers, Parmesan cheese (complimentary)

Entree I: Panino Fellini – Grilled homemade bread with olive oil, vinaigrette, salad, tomato & Parma ham ($5.95)

Entree II: Panino al Pollo – Grilled Chicken, Provolone, Lettuce and Tomato Sauce ($4.95)

Fellini Cafe Trattoria is a local chain in the Philadelphia region. There are six locations (mostly located in the ‘burbs) and all are independently run by each franchisee. The menu is consistent across all the locations where I have dined. I tried Fellini for the first time my sophomore year of college for a Cross Country team dinner and have loved it ever since. I even had my 22nd birthday party there! Sadly, since my Swarthmore days, the Baltimore Pike location has shut its doors. Luckily, a Fellini opened up one block from my apartment in Center City. Woot.

I usually go to Fellini for dinner, but have always wanted to go for lunch because they only serve paninis at lunch. During our visit, Wes and I both ordered paninis. I had the Panino Fellini, while Wes had the Panino al Pollo. The complimentary bread was very good, it would’ve been better if it were warm.

While Fellini makes a mean pasta, their paninis are mediocre. Our paninis were a let down because they didn’t meet our expectations of grill marks and melted cheese. However, after this experience I am starting to question my expectations because my panino from Paninoteca back in October also lacked grill marks and melted cheese.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines “panino”: “A panino is a sandwich made from a small loaf of bread, typically a ciabatta. The loaf is often cut horizontally and filled with salami, ham, meat, cheese or other food, and sometimes served hot.” I think my definition may be a off.

Expectations aside, my panino had both high and low points. The “homemade bread” was a definite high. It was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and held the contents well. The mixed green salad was also delicious. I requested provolone cheese for my sandwich, which was good but pricy ($1.50). The panino’s lows were pretty low. The Parma ham was most definitely deli counter ham and skimpily applied. And the tomato sauce on the bread made it soggy and cold.

I did not try Wes’ al pollo, but it seemed similar to mine (minus the ham, plus chicken). The chicken was grilled and cut into strips and seemed a bit more robust than my ham. Wes said that his grilled chicken had a “burnt” taste in spots, but other than that it was good. The panini portions were ridiculous. I could only finish half of mine and Wes only ate a quarter of his.

Next time, I’ll stick to the pasta!