Monday, January 16, 2012

My New York: Meg Cohen Design Shop

Tucked away on Thompson Street, one block west of that psuedo-bohemian clothing and home store your girlfriend loves so much is a tiny vintage and accessories shop with a whole lot of soul.

Meg Cohen Design is one of those places that's hard to take in the first time you go because you don't know where to look first. The store is an even mix of her own collection of knitted accessories and vintage finds, all ingeniously merchandised in a series of quirky, vignette-like displays that make you feel like you're walking around inside a work of art.

Meg is a designer's designer. Each color, quality and stitch is carefully considered but not fussed over, yielding product that is bright, thoughtful, fun and effortlessly wearable.

This wonderful sensibility also spills over into her selection of unique vintage and home decor. The level of humor, comfort and creativity is a reflection of the genuine passion Meg has for what she does. I suggest you come and experience it for yourself, you'll be happier for it. I promise.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Week with Paolo - Day 4.

Not your average blue blazer/gray flannel/brown shoe look. Everything is elevated by color, texture and hand craftsmanship. Paolo and his restaurant will always be on my inspiration board. Thank you Signore!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Week with Paolo - Day 3.

Cordovan and orange creamsicle.

SekretPolice's Picks - Alla Vecchia Bettola & Pontormo's Deposition

Today's post comes from my big brother. I asked him if he'd like to contribute because he's a veteran of Florence and I trust his opinion on most things, especially food (although he has questionable taste in shirt collars).

Readers of EatDrinkSleepWell will know that I am a longtime fan and prior resident of Florence - in no small part because my parents met there, hence to the city I owe my existence. I've been eating there with significant frequency for over two decades and having tried literally dozens of its restaurants, I have now developed a standard routine of old reliables (two of which my brother has chronicled in the last couple of days). These are so standard in fact, that for short visits, the itinerary is invariable - Acqua al2, Cibreo, Quattri Leoni, and my old neighborhood place that I keep secret to hide from tourists.

That said, I surprised myself by actually trying something new when I was there for Fourth of July weekend in 2009. I had run across Alla Vecchia Bettola (loosely translated as "the old dump") numerous times and had driven past it on many occasions while looking for a gas station to refuel rental cars. This time I decided to break routine and check it out. I reserved for 9:15pm, thinking it would be quieter, and arrived promptly to a substantial line spilling out into the tiny piazza in front. After about 20 minutes we were seated at a long, marble topped communal table amongst a crowd that was overwhelmingly Italian (always a good sign).

We ordered an antipasto a la Bettola con funghi (afettati - prosciutto, salame, finochianna; crostini di fegato; and marinated porcini) but our primi came first. The waiter, who appeared to be handling the entire interior himself, had forgotten, so we decided to have it after our primi. I had paccheri a rottanculo (not a particularly appetizing name) - a meat sauce with beef, pork and chicken livers - that was delicious. My friend had penne a la Bettola - a spicy, incredibly rich penne a la vodka that was similarly fantastic. The antipasto arrived, without the funghi, and was fairly standard (I'd probably try something else next time). For secondi, I had braciole con caperi e acciughe - a breaded, thin veal cutlet sauced with a wonderful tomato sauce made with capers and anchovies - which was incredible. My friend had Coniglio Arrosto Morto - rabbit roasted to death - which was very moist and flavorful, but far too bony. Red wine della casa came in a large, straw-wrapped jug and cost 4 euro per person no matter how much you drank. It was remarkably potable. Desserts, particularly the fresh fruit, looked great but we were far too full. It was just far enough out of the town center to provide a proper passeggiata to aid digestion. The place is great, try not to tell too many people...

And while we're on the subject of secret Florentine treasures, one of my favorite works of art is hidden right under everyone's nose in Santa Felicita - the oldest church in the Oltrarno. It sits in a tiny eponymous piazza off of the Via de' Guicciardini, about a block up from the Ponte Vecchio. The church is concealed, in part, because much of the facade is obscured by the Vasari corridor, an elevated Renaissance tunnel that joins the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti. If you know the right people, or pay enough, tours of the corridor are possible but it is otherwise closed to the public.

In any event, if you enter Santa Felicita under the corridor's portico you will find an unlit chapel immediately to the right with two paintings by Jacopo Pontormo. For a small fee, you can turn on timed lights to view his Annunciation and, more importantly, his Deposition. The latter is a treasure: a breathtaking composition of oil on wood that is nothing short of ethereal. Considered to be his master work completed in 1528, the composition, color and implied movement struck me speechless when I first saw it in situ during the last day of an art history class on a semester abroad In 1988. It leaves me similarly silent every time I go back, which is every trip I make to Florence.

The mannerist palette verges on pastels, and lends to the overall surreal quality of the painting. Christ is being taken down from an invisible cross by a group of mourners who appear engaged in a whirling ballet freed from the laws of gravity. What I love most about the painting is that it's astounding visceral impact is amplified by its surprise location. It is like a shrouded portal into the heavens. I delight in taking first time visitors to Florence to see it, without telling them what we're going to see - Exactly as my art history professor did to me. Go, and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A City of Substance: Quattro Leoni & the Museo Bargello

Florence is a city teeming with substance. As you walk down the street, it’s impossible not to notice the turrets of its medieval fortress-like palazzos cutting into the sky, throwing shadows onto the rough-hewn cobblestone streets or the endless marble statues adorning fountains and piazzas. This can be explained by the city’s close proximity to some of Italy’s most renowned quarries as well as their need for defense throughout their tumultuous history feuding with their neighbors.

The Museo Bargello is a fantastic example of this. Originally built as a fortified palace, then converted to a jail, it now houses that largest collection of Renaissance sculpture in Italy. The Bargello’s real strength comes from is lucid demonstration of the evolution in Italian sculptural style from the quattrocento period of Lucca Della Robbia, Donatello and Verrochio, through the high Renaissance with seminal works of Michelangelo and concluding with Ammannati, Cellini and Giambologna’s mannerist masterpieces. The collection’s compositions move from a single vantage point to 360 degrees - from a secure contropposto to chaotic, surreal instability.

Donatello’s St. George epitomizes this earlier style: inset in a gothic niche, he stares forward with strength and determination towards the viewer, his weight shifted to his right.

This is in stark contrast to Giambologna’s cast bronze Mercury, who inexplicably balances on a single toe atop a small orb. His seemingly inevitable, imminent fall can be observed from all angles.

Michelangelo’s Bacchus bridges the gap between these two works. Bacchus appears to be anchored in his stance, but is beginning to teeter in his drunkenness. The inclusion of the small satyr at his left also demonstrates his increasing interest in working in the round.

I remember being the most drawn to Bartolomeo Ammannati’s funerary monument of Mario Nari. Depicted as a Roman legionnaire in slumber, every detail was so life-like that I half expected him to open his eyes, arise and walk out the massive, spiked wooden doors.

If Nari did wake up, he’d no doubt be hungry - chances are he’d be on the lookout for Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The colossal and mouth-watering Florentine porterhouse can be had at many places throughout the city but few are better than at Trattoria Quattro Leoni (Via de dé Vellutini 1R in the Piazza della Passera).

Situated in a small, off-the-grid piazza on the Otrarno, this fantastic eatery offers elevated renditions of staple Tuscan fare. I recall their bruschetta having the ideal balance of sweetness and acidic bite.

The homemade pasta stuffed with pear and taleggio cheese was equally divine, though nothing tops the Bistecca. Deceptively simple, it’s charred and seasoned to perfection. Fair warning though – its substantial, just like the city it comes from, so you might want to share it.

all images from flickr hive.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A week with Paolo - Day 1.

For the New York residents that are longing for a trip to Florence but are stuck stateside this week, I suggest paying Paolo Alavian a visit at Savore. I eat at there about once a week and I do so for a few reasons:

The first is that its everything from their door girls to their Tuscan-focused menu reminds me of my time living in Italy.

Secondly, its hard to beat the food there. In a neighborhood that is full of touristy, bland Italian restaurants (Mezzogiorno, Il Corrallo, Barolo, Bella Dona), the fare here is rock solid. The fresh, brick-oven baked focaccia that they offer along with their white bean puree and regular crusty bread is the perfect start if you are interested in making your own white bean bruschetta. I'm always excited to hear the specials - particularly the pastas, which are all homemade. The flavors to be tasted here are intense - the sweet and spicy sausages with butternut squash, lentils and broccoli rabe starter is one of the most robust, interesting and hearty dishes I've had since I moved back to the U.S. and don't get me started on their mouth-waterng tiramisu.

Third, Its a great place to come for a drink. Their wine menu is diverse, deep and reasonable and they are the only place I've found in NYC that serves Forst, my favorite Italian beer.

Finally, Savore's service is really second to none. The waiters and waitresses are incredibly friendly, helpful and accommodating. The same can be said for Paolo, the restaurant's owner, who seems to spend time getting to know every single patron of his restaurant. With this in mind, I'd like to allow my readers some time to get to know Paolo. For the next week, he'll be featured on this site as a reminder that personal style doesn't reside solely in Italy. Enjoy.

Florentine Legends: Cibreo e Davide

Nearly ten years have passed since my last day trip to Florence. I’ve since returned for more extended visits, but when I lived in Rome I used to board the Saturday morning train northbound from Termini frequently. For a young man with a recently developed obsession in Renaissance art history and healthy appetite for great food , there was no better destination for a weekend afternoon. While each visit brought new and incredible discoveries, my first remains the most impactful. It was on that day that I met two of Florence’s most lengandary giants: Michelangelo’s David and Fabio Picchi’s Trattoria Cibreo.

When I was putting together my recommendations for Jon, Jeremy, Lawrence and Agyesh I knew where I had to begin. “If you see anything, other than Tie Your Tie, it must be the David and if you are going to eat in one place, make it Cibreo.” These suggestions aren’t unique. Cibreo is widely held by many as Florence’s finest eatery and Il Gigante has long been touted as one of the greatest pieces of sculpture of the last 500 years. I’ve often found that legends rarely live to their hype. Occasionally they meet it. The David and Cibreo both transcend it.

Photographs of Michelangelo’s masterpiece fail to do its magnitude and presence justice. Its difficult to believe that the 17 ft tall image of the ideal male form was cut from a block of marble so oddly proportioned that it was passed over by more than one great Florentine sculptor as unusable before the artist began work on it at age 26. When the work was completed four years later, the Florentine government thought it was such a powerful symbol of the strength and determination of their state that it was placed directly in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (The Florentine statehouse) pointing towards Rome, their then aggressor and “Goliath.”

In the late 19th century it was moved to the Accademia where it still resides, along with many other of Michelangelo’s uncompleted marble sculptures created for the ill-fated tomb of Pope Julius II. The Accedemia is a little out of the way from the town’s center and lines can be long at times but, as Machiavelli so famously suggested, the ends certainly justify the means.

Not unlike the David, you’ll most likely find lines outside of Trattoria Cibreo (Via de' Macci 122r). Again, I ask that you listen to Machiavelli and wait. Chef Fabio Picchi has innovated traditional Tuscan cuisine to create a menu full of unfamiliar (no pastas) but mind-blowing dishes with bold, unforgettable flavors. When my brother first told me about the place he issued me specific instructions: Start with the pomodoro in gelatina – an unbelievable tomato jello-like spread with fiery hot pepper, raw garlic and fresh basil. Next move on to the sformato di ricotta e patate (a sort of quiche of sheeps ricotta and potato), calamari inzimino (a sublimely spicy squid and black cabbage) and a half bottle of chianti to wash it all down. I’ve never ordered anything else and I still dream of the pomodoro in gelatina to this day.

all images found through flickr hive.