Friday, December 15, 2017

Sardinia in Sarasota: Italian Regional Sardo Cuisine

The Mediterranean island of Sardinia has a wealth of traditions and extraordinary features, one of which is gastronomy. Sardinian-born chef Dino Carta began his love affair with food and its preparation in the Sardo kitchen of his mother and father. To this day food is a passion and evokes happy memories of family, so it came as no surprise that he opened his own a restaurant, bearing the name and featuring the specialties of his native island. The menu is focused on farm fresh locally grown produce, local seafood, house-made pastas made fresh every day with char-grilled meats and locally caught fish cooked in a wood fired brick oven as it is in Sardinia. A traditional Sardinian flatbread known as pane carasau, which harks back to the island’s shepherding roots, is baked fresh daily and arrives at the table to welcome guests as they arrive. Of the chef's signature dishes, the Sardinian-style mixed seafood paella with bottarga seems to tell the story of this island’s tortured history in a single dish: its essence is Spanish, but has North African influences since he replaces the usual rice with fregola, toasted round pasta that likely came to Sardinia from the Maghreb. Culurgiones, the traditional Sardinian moon-shaped ravioli whose name means 'little bundles', accurately describes these parcels of joy which are stuffed with Pecorino cheese and orange zest served in a vibrant pomodoro sauce. The hallmark of Sardinian hospitality is welcoming people to the table, and chef Carta's simple, fresh and authentic dishes, gracious personality and superb culinary expertise provide an absolutely delicious introduction to the island’s cuisine without ever leaving Sarasota.

We started with a Cantina Colli del Soligo Prosecco di Treviso Brut from Veneto

Chef Dino Carta's menu of superb Italian dishes

Jankara Colli di Limbara Lu Nieddu wine from Sardinia, a delicious blend of Cannonau, Caricaggiola, Pascale di Cagliari, Dolcetto, Barbera and Cabernet Franc

Chef Dino's pane carasau, a lovely crisp and delicious traditional Sardinian flatbread

Carpaccio di polpo con rucola e bottarga: Octopus carpaccio with arugula and bottarga

La zuppa di fagioli: Italian bean soup

Costoleta di maiale al forno con funghi e asparagi: Brick-oven roasted pork chop with shiitake mushrooms and sliced asparagus

Culurgiones con ripieno di formaggio e arancia al pomodoro: Pecorino and orange zest Culurgiones in tomato sauce

A glass of delicious sweet Sicilain Passito courtesy of the chef 

Roasted Aged Sardinian Pecorino on pane carasau with drizzle of organic local honey

Gelato Affogato

Chef Dino Carta graciously invited us into his kitchen for a chat about Italian cuisine and to admire his wood-fired oven from Modena

Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Chef Dino Carta

1 lb semolina flour
1 cup warm water
3 pinches salt
1 pinch pepper
1 1/2 oz ricotta cheese
1 1/2 oz fresh Pecorino cheese
2 oz aged Pecorino cheese
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp orange zest
2 oz butter
4 sage leaves
2 round dough cutters or 1 standard water glass

For the ravioli dough, pour flour on the cooking table. Progressively pour a mix of 2 pinches of salt and 1 cup of warm water over the flour. Mix with hands until the dough is soft, and let it rest for 2 hours. For the filling, combine the ricotta and Pecorino cheese in a blender. Pour the blended cheeses into a bowl with 1 egg yolk, 1 teaspoon of orange zest, salt and pepper, and mix with hands.

When the dough is ready, flatten it with a roller and cut it into 36 circles with the dough cutter or water glass. Spoon the filling onto the dough and fold it closed, in a moon shape. For the sauce, place 2 ounces of butter, 1 tablespoon of water from the pasta, 4 sage leaves and 1 teaspoon of orange zest in a pan and mix until the butter melts. Boil the water, add the ravioli and allow to cook for 4 minutes. To serve, combine the ravioli with the sauce and grate aged Pecorino cheese on top.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art & Muse

The Ringling Museum of Art was established in 1927 as the legacy of Mable and John Ringling for the people of Florida, and includes the art museum, circus museum, and Ca' d'Zan, the Ringlings' mansion, which has been restored, along with the historic Asolo Theater, is one of the Gulf Coast’s premier attractions and incorporates their personal collection of art in what is now Florida’s state art museum. Nearby, Ringling’s Circus Museum documents his theatrical successes, while their lavish Venetian Gothic home, Cà d’Zan, reveals the impresario’s extravagant tastes. The Ringlings aspired to become serious art connoisseurs, and they amassed an impressive collection of 14th to 18th-century European tapestries and paintings. 

Opened in 2016, the newest wing contains historical and contemporary Asian art including diverse objects from a broad range of Asian cultures, such as stone Buddhist sculpture from Gandhara, crossroads of the ancient world’s Silk Road; Chinese ceramics from all periods of China’s history; Japanese woodblock prints, both traditional ukiyo-e as well as twentieth century prints; Vietnamese, Thai and Korean ceramics; and objects representing Turkomen tribes and various periods in Indian culture. The beautifully crafted wing façade features an extraordinary overlay of jade green glazed terra cotta panels, designed by boston-based architects Machado Silvetti. 

Helga Wall-Apelt, whose multimillion dollar gift spurred the creation of The Ringling Museum's new Asian wing, has had a lifelong passion for Asian culture and collection. The new wing houses not only Wall-Apelt’s collection of jades, furniture and sculpture but the museum’s Koger collection as well, which consists of about 1,000 Chinese ceramic pieces dating from more than four millennia and assembled over 40 years by Ira and Nancy Koger, with a strong emphasis on blanc-de-chine white china. Overlooking the outdoor ponds and gardens beside the new wing are Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads, twelve bronze animal heads which represent the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing.

Entrance to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

The beautiful new Asian Art wing of the Ringling with glazed terracotta tile exterior

The William and Marie Selby Foundation Grand Hall in the Asian Wing

The Chinese Gallery

Qing Dynasty 'Blanc de Chine' fine porcelain lion from the 17th century

Tang Dynasty Guardian Warrior from the 8th century

Head of a Bodhisattva from China during the Northern Wei dynasty, around 4th-5th century

Chinese Qing Dynasty porcelain vase with dragon handles

Tang Dynasty glazed earthenware Saddled Horse from the 8th century

Edo Period lacquered wood Noh Mask from the 17th century

Japanese ink on paper - Ginsa Geishas by Kunichika Toyoharas from 1871

Japanese Edo Period ivory Netsuke, a small carved toggle that attaches to the sash of a kimono

Turkish Iznik plate with grape leaves from the 16th century

Persian-style panel from one of the surviving garden wall tiles of the demolished Ringling Towers  of El Vernona, from the 19th century

Chromogenic colour print by Chinese born Li Wei entitled 'Mirror: The Ringling'

Ai Weiwei installation of twelve bronze animal heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac, as viewed from the Asian Wing

Ai Weiwei Dragon

The Ringling garden pond beside the Asian wing

Florida Great Blue Heron on the bank of the pond

White Egret

The entrance to Muse at the Ringling

Overlooking the pond by the Circus Museum from the outdoor terrace of Muse 

A glass of Mionetto Prosecco before lunch

Seared Faroe Island Salmon Salad with artisan greens, broccolini, shaved cauliflower and organic tomato vinaigrette

Crab Cakes with raw rainbow vegetable slaw and lemon aioli

Caesar’s Deviled Eggs
Makes 12 eggs
Recipe courtesy of Chef Francis Casciato, Muse

6 large whole eggs, hard cooked, peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp brown anchovy
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
6 cloves roasted garlic
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 head of romaine lettuce, sliced into thin ribbons, for garnish
Garlic croutons, crushed, for garnish

Trim a very small slice off of the tips of the egg, cut the egg in half in a north and south direction. They should stand flat on the trimmed ends, like little cups. Remove the yellow yolks, then gently grate them on a microplane into the mixing bowl. Combine the garlic, anchovy, vinegar, lemon juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire, Dijon mustard and Parmesan cheese in a food processor, then puree till smooth.  Gently fold the mayonnaise into the shaved yolks and mix just to combine. Fold in the anchovy puree, then set mixture aside to refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Reserve a half-cup of the filling that will be used for the presentation.

To assemble, scoop a 1 tablespoon of the yolk mix into each egg white. Spread a thin line of the leftover filling across a serving platter from one end to the other. Place the eggs on the line about half an inch apart. Top each egg with a pinch of the romaine ribbons. Sprinkle the eggs and the plate with crushed croutons. Serve and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Drunken Poet: Superb Authentic Thai Cuisine

Originally from Bangkok, owner-chef Aporni Punyhotra has made the Drunken Poet Café a downtown Sarasota institution since opening in 2006. The Thai restaurateur is known for her sinful sushi with names like the Sexy Man Roll and Sexy Woman Roll, as well as her outstanding Thai curries and sticky rice desserts. A former pharmacist and world traveler who hails from Thailand, Punyahotra seduces Sarasota locals and unsuspecting newbies with her genuine warmth, beguiling charm and culinary mastery, an intoxicating mix that is hard to resist. Everything is made to order, with highly sophisticated dishes that include Thai Crispy Duck with Panang Curry Sauce, Kang Kiew Wan Green Curry with Thai Eggplant, classic Pad Thai and her phenomenal signature Seafood Homok with jumbo scallops, shrimp, calamari and New Zealand Mussels in red curry which are all steamed in a young Thai coconut, plus a host of outstanding stir-fry creations, tempura, fried rice and noodle dishes as well as an absolutely spellbounding sushi menu. There's also a selection of Thai and international beers plus boutique wines and wonderful sake. The burning question is how did this extraordinary restaurant escape my culinary radar for so many years? I have no idea, but no matter, I have seen the Thai and sushi 'light' and have become a Drunken Poet devoté forever more. Resistance is futile.

Aporni “Oy” Punyahotra has made the Drunken Poet Café a downtown Sarasota mainstay 
since opening in 2006

Open until 2am, The Drunken Poet is one of our more delicious discoveries in Sarasota

A vintage typewriter greets guests as they enter The Drunken Poet

Sushi Bar beautifully designed with stone tile walls and traditional Thai paper lanterns

Chalkboard with special Thai dishes

Sitting area with traditional Thai cushions and mattes with paintings and photographs of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who recently died at the age of 88 in October 2016

The Drunken Poet menu of fabulous Thai dishes

Floral centrepiece on each table

Creative wall mural of poem by Thai King Rama, speaks of his love of food, and of women 

Glass of cold Thai Singha beer served in an Asahi Japanese beer glass

'Pinky in the Blanket': Fried shrimp in spring roll wrap and served with homemade plum sauce

Full flavoured Miso Soup with tofu, seaweed and spring onion

House Salad with sliced carrot, cabbage, tomato and cucumber with a sweet and sour ginger dressing

Kang Gari with Chicken and Potato in homemade yellow chili coconut milk curry served with Thai sticky rice

Shrimp and Lobster Pad Thai

Seafood Homok with jumbo scallops, shrimp, calamari and New Zealand mussels in red curry steamed in whole young Thai coconut with sticky rice

Closeup of the outstanding Thai Seafood Homok with Thai basil in young coconut

Drunken Poet Pork Satay
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Aporni Punyhotra

1 lb pork butt
1 14 oz can coconut milk
1 tbsp curry powder
3 tbsp sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice the pork into 1-inch strips and set aside. Mix the other ingredients together, the add the sliced pork and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Place the pork slices on skewers and grill over medium high heat until cooked through and golden brown. Serve with coconut rice.