Friday, September 4, 2009

Fabio Piccolo Fiore New York Restaurant Review

Fabio Piccolo Fiore

230 East 44th Street New York, NY 10007

(212) 922-0581 Reservations accepted

Executive Chef: Fabio Hakill

My Rating: *****

Check out this review in a New York Food Publication: 

I flew into New York this past week for some press on my new record and I invited several of the crew to go with me to have a nice dinner on our day off.  I'd heard about a relatively new place on the East side that served authentic Italian Cuisine and decided to try it out.  The restaurant has several tables outside on the sidewalk for a nice New York evening, which is nice because East 44th street is not very busy with car or foot traffic.  But the atmosphere inside is worth checking out too. About 10 steps below street level, the restaurant has a modern feel but with definite Italian elements and great artwork.

When I arrived Scott and Josh were at the bar having a drink and carrying on a lively conversation with Eddie the bartender. I decided to join them for a drink and after a bit more gabbing with Eddie, we finished our beverages and Bobby, the Maitre d' led us to our table.  He listed off the specials for the evening and explained that Chef Fabio is always willing to accommodate the guests if they don’t see what they like on the menu - all we had to do was ask. A very cool option: to have the chef make your favorite Italian dish or a combine a few things on the menu.

On the way to our table we passed a piano player playing jazz tunes an old upright piano. During our meal he had asked where we were from so he could play us a tune from our hometown. His selection: "Take Me Home Country Roads" and "Georgia On My Mind" for Georgia (for me) and Virginia (for Josh). (Later that night another song caught my attention. I tired to place it. Jazz standard? Something more contemporary, perhaps? Ah no - it was "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Green Day. Apparently the pianto player likes to have tunes so that his younger audiences can relate.)

On To The Food

After being seated, I took care of the libations ordered a bottle of Chianti Classico. It has been said by many people that Chianti is the Italians version of the French Bordeaux for 2 reasons. First every Chianti is from a specific region in Italy with Classico being the Northern area of Florence and every chianti has specific guidelines to the grape blends. Chianti must have at least 75% - 100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo, up to 20 % of any other approved red grape such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot or Syrah. This wine tasted very good with a berry and floral smell and taste to it. It was very smooth. The 3 of us finished 2 bottles of it over dinner - needless to say, it was pretty darn good.

Amuse Bouches

Bruschetta - The chef sent out a crouton bruchetta amuse bouche to start. This hit the spot and worked perfectly well with the Chianti we ordered.  The toasted crouton was amazing and the fresh tomatoes, herbs and cheese worked well to give it a bright, fresh flavor. I am glad he only sent 1 for each of us because I could have ruined my dinner eating a ton of those.


Crab Cake - Possibly the best crab cake I have ever tasted  – not a pinch of breadcrumbs in this crab cake.There was not a pinch of bread crumbs in this crab cake. Perfectly seasoned and cooked. I think the chef knows he has a winner here because there is no superfluous sauce to cover up a bad crab cake.

Misto di Nettuno (shrimp, octopus and squid) - This dish was excellent. The octopus and squid were like butter and the shrimp was delicious. It was slightly reminiscent of a ceviche salad. Everything was mixed up in a olive oil, basil, garlic and salt mixture. It was so good that when I finished the fish, I committed the worst of etiquette faux pas: I used my bread to clean up the rest of the olive oil mixture. It was that good. Growing up as a kid in New York I ate calamari that was cooked only in olive oil and garlic or marinara sauce. I can honestly say I don't think I ever had fried calamari in New York. I have missed it greatly and this dish brought back some many great memories.

Cocktail Fabio (shrimp crabmeat and oysters) - Wow this was awesome. I am a sucker for a raw bar spread. Some lemon and cocktail sauce with the right amount of horseradish and I'm sold. Again everything tasted fresh and you could have fed me this plate all night. It was the perfect portion with 3 oysters and some shrimp with a pile of fresh crabmeat.


Classic Caesar Salad - A very good caesar salad. The one thing that I really liked about their caesar salad is that the dressing was not that typical heavy cream dressing. It was more of a oil based dressing that also did not have a strong anchovy taste. It had big pieces of shaved parmesan cheese and had awesome croutons like those from the bruschetta amuse bouche.

Arugula Salad - This was a nice salad. It had arugula, pears, walnuts with a orange vinaigrette. I think if this salad had some goat cheese or crumbled blue cheese it would have taken it over the top. I am a sucker for cheese of all kinds though some people may have liked it as is.


Gnocchi alla Genovese - This might have been my favorite dish all night. I love fresh pasta dishes and this one is special. It was fresh gnocchi tossed in fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and a light pesto sauce. The sauce was so light that you could probably take a gnocchi and put it on your napkin and you would not see much of anything there which to me is awesome. I want to taste the potato and flour and not a sauce. The gnocchi were light and very moist and the tomatoes and mozzarella complimented them without overpowering the dish.

Veal Chop - I actually took the maitre d's advise and combined a few menu items. While the gnocchi is an entree, I asked for a small portion and had the veal chop as my entree. What a treat - perfectly cooked to medium rare and seasoned just right with a moderate dose of salt and pepper. It was garnished with broccoli and carrots but for me it was all about the chop. I don't get to have veal chops too often because not many restaurants serve them. I love to cook myself but veal chops and rack of lamb are so hard to cook right that I don't even try anymore I just wait to order them out. If you have not had a veal chop I would compare it to combining a great ribeye with a thick pork chop. You get all that flavor from the bone being on the meat and you have that taste and texture that melt in your mouth.

Shrimp & Lobster Risotto alla Fabio - This was a huge dish that will definitely fill you up. The lobster was cooked to perfection and like all the shrimp dishes that we had earlier these were seasoned well and tasted great. Risotto is very hard to make especially a good one and it takes a while to cook because you have to keep it on a low burner and slow cook it. It was a beautiful orange color - I suspect the result of shellfish broth, a touch of saffron or a combination of the two.

Seafood Special - This was one of the 2 entree specials. It had clams, crabmeat, lobster and calamari in a light spicy red sauce over linguini. Again the sauce was not thick over heavy and it was more incorporated into the dish for flavoring. Everything worked well with this dish and pasta was very fresh.


Tiramisu - I have to put this desert in with my all time favorite tiramisus. I had one in Rome that blew me away so much so that, even after stuffing ourselves silly, I had to order seconds - Fabio Piccolo Fiore's was a close match to my Rome experience. I loved the plating - an individual round tiramisu and the ingredients were well balanced. I hate when there is either to much mascarpone cheese or too much liquor. Were I not so stuffed I would have ordered a second piece.

Italian Gellato - 2 huge scoops of home made vanilla ice cream. Tasted great and I don't think we left a drop in the bowl.

Creme Caramel - This was the lightest of all 3 deserts but it still packed huge taste on your palette. It reminded of a cross between a creme brulee and a flan. The custard was delicious and it just melted in your mouth. The plate was garnished with strings of whip cream that perfectly complemented the dish.

Final Thoughts

The food at Fabio Piccolo Fiore reminds of my trip to Rome. Everything is so authentic and the recipes have probably been passed down from generations. Fabio is an amazing chef and he knows how to allow the main item of a dish to stand out. All of the ingredients in his recipes are to enhance the pasta, fish, and meat without clouding what you are eating. His dishes are very refined, plated beautifully and the portions will have you leaving very full.

All of the fish and pasta are extremely fresh. The chef wants you to taste the freshness of the pasta and not some heavy sauce that was thrown on it. The shellfish, clams and squid are all great and it is such a treat to have them prepared in a authentic Italian way: less is more.

The wait staff was impeccable and the atmosphere was lively, modern and classy. I would highly recommended this restaurant for a dinner date.

The menu is very diverse and offers something for everyone - especially given the chef's willingness to combine items and cook items that aren't on the menu.

If you are looking for great authentic Italian food that has not been Americanized and a nice quaint place to have dinner then I would highly recommend going to Fabio Piccolo Fiore.

Mark Trojanowski

Friday, August 21, 2009

Richard Petty Driving Experience

I had one of the coolest life experiences yesterday. We had just finished morning radio on the Bob and Sheri show in Charlotte and we jumped into a car with our manager. All day we were hearing mentions of this secret lunch that we needed to wear pants and closed toe shoes. I was also told that I needed to bring the flip cam so I knew something was up. I had my suspicions with all these hints and they were 100% right on.

We drove for about 45 minutes and then all of sudden we see the massive Lowe's Motor Speedway in front of us. So we were going to get to go in a NASCAR stock car as part of the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Our management had set it up for all of us to get a ride in a stock car for 3 laps. If we had more time we could have took the driving school and actually learned how to drive the stock car. I definitely want to go back to the Richard Petty Driving Experience and learn how to drive solo. I don't think I will be going 180 mph like I did as a passenger but it would be fun to drive on the track and shift gears.

The whole experience was just amazing. We got their got signed in and were given little USB key chains that were going to video our 3 lap experience. Every one at the Richard Petty Driving Experience in Charlotte were just so hospitable to us and went the extra mile. They got us fitted into our fire retardant jumps suits and our safety helmets and helped get us into the cars. They hooked us up to a neck brace that connects to the helmet and then strapped us in tight to the 3 point harness inside the racing car.

Getting into a stock car is nothing like jumping into the General Lee especially with that huge helmet on my head (there are no door handles just in case you are wondering) and it takes some wiggling to get your head and body down into the car. I had a second to say hello to driver and thank him for this amazing opportunity and then it was show time.

The driver dropped the hammer down and I felt I was like Cole Trickle in "Days Of Thunder". We started at a dead standstill in the pits and the driver just floored it and started shifting gears as we headed into turn 1. I could not believe that we were accelerating into this massive 24 degree turn. I just held on and took it all in. We hit the back straight away and we were probably a foot off the wall and the driver had it wide open or as fast as he was going to take me which was somewhere between 160-180 mph. Going into the next turn I could see him down shifting but halfway through the the turn he was shifting up again and accelerating. We hit the grandstand straight away and we were probably at top speed racing by the pits. We did this for 3 more laps and then we down shifted into the pits to end this ride.

Oh my god!! You cannot comprehend what those race car drivers go through on a average race. I thought after attending a race in person I had a good perspective but no way. Not until you get in a stock car and go over 150 mph and feel what it is like to hit those high embanked walls and go down the straight ways inches of the walls will you know. I could not do that for 250 laps by myself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Java Talk - Espresso, Latte And Cappuccino (Part 2)

Starbucks and Caribou cannot compete with the small coffee shop

Ever since Starbucks and Caribou switched all their espresso machines over to fully automatics their drinks have never tasted the same. Both establishments used to use machines where the barista actually needed to know how to make an espresso. The people making the drinks knew how to pull shots of espresso and make the perfect cappuccino. As both companies focused on expansion they made the decision to change all their quality manual machines to automatic ones.

What does this mean?

It means now you put the beans into a hopper and press a button and voila you have an espresso. No more grinding the beans putting them into a portafilter and tamping. Never used an espresso machine and want to work at Starbucks? No big deal because you don't really need to know how to.

What does it mean to you the consumer?

It means you don't get that rich foamy crema on top of your espresso. The drinks also are not as robust as they used to be.

I can guarantee you that if you put a espresso, latte or cappuccino side by side from a small coffee house and one from Starbucks or Caribou there will be a dramatic difference. First the small coffee house will use beans that have been freshly roasted and they will be a lot more oily. All of this will give you a more robust thicker crema. Secondly they are going to pull the perfect shot out of their commercial portafilter machine. Espresso will be strong but smooth and, as for the other drinks - you'll be will wanting seconds and thirds.

I have a lot of coffee friend junkies who now order 4-5 shot drinks at Starbucks because they feel that their lattes are not robust anymore.

Stay tuned my final part of this series will be a video presentation of me making espresso and lattes on my own machine.

Sister Hazel Release Tour Begins - Orlando

We had a good first day on the new record tour.  Our day began at 6:00 am in Orlando Florida.  We had an acoustic performance on the Daily Buzz Television Show.  We have played on the show before and the hosts and staff have always been great to the band.  It was then on to the Mix 105.1 radio station for a webcast performance.  Mixed in between the songs we took questions about the new record and all things Hazel. 

The day finished off with an acoustic performance at Blue Martini hosted by the Mix 105.1.  The place was packed with familiar faces and I think people were excited to hear new music.  We played 3 songs off the new record and it was good to be playing live again.

iTunes Blast

Our new record has been received very well from the online community.  On the first day of its release we have been #1 at Rock and have been up to #8 overall album.  Thanks to everyone who has purchased the new record.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sushi In The ATL (That would be Atlanta)

Just went out tonight and have some great sushi and I thought I would write a post about it.

Atlanta has some good sushi restaurants but to be considered great it has to come down to the fish and how it is served.  In my opinion if you want the best in Atlanta there are only 2 places to go.  

They would be Circle Sushi in Roswell and MF (Magic Fingers) in Midtown.  These 2 places have the best fish in town and their menu is spot on with anything you would see in Japan.  There aren't a bunch of crazy ass fried rolls with gobs of eels sauce in these establishments.  What you will find are California Rolls with real crab meat.  It blows my mind how many sushi restaurants in Atlanta serve California Rolls with imitation crab.  You can't win any awards when you are serving imitation crab.  You will also find Chu Toro which is a mid fatty tuna that is almost impossible to find in the states.  I first got introduce to while I was in Japan and it is my favorite kind of Tuna.  Both of these restaurants get the freshest fish and serve only the best cuts.

I will break them down for you.

Circle Sushi 

It is a little ways outside of town but the drive is worth every minute.  It is located in a strip mall in Roswell but don't let that fool you because this sushi restaurant has the best fish in town.  The atmosphere and decor are very casual and the staff and owner are great people.  They are not trying to wow you over with Pagodas and Dragons but just serve awesome sushi.  The portions of all there fish are the largest that I have experienced in Atlanta.  When you order sashimi a lot of sushi restaurants will make the fish cuts very small but that is not the case at Circle Sushi.  Sometimes you even end up with an extra piece or 2 courtesy of the chef.  They are also very accommodating if you want a roll that is not on the menu they will make it for you.  For all this great sushi the prices are reasonable.

MF (Magic Finger) Sushi

It is located in Midtown Atlanta on Ponce de Leon street.  This is Atlanta's high end sushi restaurant that would be compared to Sushi Roku in LA.  Lots of decor and vibe going on in this restaurant.  They have a solid menu with everything you would expect.  The quality of the fish is superb but the portions are not that large.  This restaurant is probably the most expensive sushi restaurant in Atlanta but you are getting great fish and a very good date place.

Check them out.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Benziger "Tribute" Wine

I opened a 2003 Benziger "Tribute" estate wine this weekend.

I was living in Nashville back in 2001 when a local wine store turned me on to Benziger Wines. Then in 2003 I took my first Napa Valley trip (while I'd say more about that, it could be 10 blog posts so I will save that for another time). On that trip I made a point to visit the Benziger Winery and from that point on it has been one of my favorite places to visit. I have found several wines from Benziger that I just love.

The whole winery is done as an organic operation without the use of pesticides and other chemicals. It is family owned and you can really get a sense that the people who work their truly appreciate wine and the Benziger Family. On the tour you get taken by tractor through the vineyards and get explanations of how they grow the grapes and harvest them. They take you through their large cave and show you how they have all there barrels stored. Outside the caves are their crushing and fermentation tanks as well as their bottling center.

We ended up in the reserve room after the tour and drank several of their wines for about an hour. The reserve rooms of any winery are their hidden gems. You must go and seek these rooms out because this is where you are going to find the wines that you will be drinking for many years to come.

On our next trip to Benziger is when we discovered their "Tribute" estate wine. I personally like very bold red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Bordeaux. The "Tribute" is in the Bordeaux style blend without the Petit Verdot added. It has the 4 other grapes in it and it is a perfect blend. I usually do not like blended Cabernet Sauvignon wines which use 2-3 grapes varieties but there's something about addin the 4th or 5th grape variety that makes it truly special. All the grapes from their "Tribute" are harvested from the same region and vineyard. I love that the "Tribute" is very bold without any tannins.

If you go out to Napa or Sonoma you must go to Benziger, tour their property and indulge in the reserve tasting room. I am a member of their wine club so I get shipments sent to me every other month - a good portion of my wine cellar is now filled with their wine.

Here is a link to the Benziger Winery

Here is a link to the 2006 "Tribute"

Unfortunately I think "Tribute" can only be purchased at the winery or if you happen to live in one of the lucky states to which you can have wine shipped to you directly. Georgia finally can get wine shipped now but we still can't buy wine or beer on Sunday. We will not open that can of worms now because it's a sore spot with me.

Java Talk - Espresso, Latte And Cappuccino (Part 1)

After going to Europe on my honeymoon in 2002 I fully became a java connoisseur and hated the dreaded coffee that I drank for so many years. It was a life turning experience for me because I truly never new what I was missing until I was having cappuccinos and latte's for breakfast and a double espressos after dinner. From France to Rome the java flowed 24/7.

I'd wake up and have like 2 cappuccinos with my croissants and beignets every morning. I could have stayed at the bistro all day long and drank those drinks. In the evening we would have amazing 2-3 hour dinners that we thought would never end. The French and Italians love their multi course dinner extravaganzas. In order to have energy left after these feasts my wife and I would order either 1 or 2 double espressos after dinner. I would usually jack it up another notch with the fancy sugar cubes that they provided with the drinks.

When I arrived home to the States I was done with crappy automatic drip coffee. We had some money left from our wedding gifts and we bought a basic Saeco Espresso machine. It was a good machine that lasted me for several years until it finally needed one to many repairs. It was a good starter machine but as I got more into making coffee drinks I found it had some drawbacks: you could not brew coffee and steam milk at the same time because the boiler could not hold enough hot water. You would also have to wait after brewing coffee for the boiler to heat up again to steam your milk. The portafiler (the piece that attaches to the machine in which you put the coffee) was not a commercial handle but rather a pressurized one. This was good for the beginner because it allowed some leniency when it came to how much coffee and how hard you tamp it down but the downside to the pressurized portafilter handle was that it could not produce the same type of crema (a thick golden brown layer of foam at the top of an espresso) as a manual commercial portafilter.

When the Saeco finally was put to rest I needed to step up my barista and I went with a Expobar Office from Spain which is has a commercial portafilter and a huge boiler that can brew espresso and steam milk at the same time. The Expobar also lets you set brew 4 brew times so your machine will run for a set time then shut off. (I will discuss to this more in a later post on the process of making the perfect espresso.) At the same time I got the Expobar Machine I also purchased a Mazzer Mini Grinder. It allows me to adjust the grind for whatever type of bean I am using.

The Process

Lets talk about how to make the perfect shot of espresso. Espresso is produced by pushing hot water, around 195 degrees F, at 135 pounds per square inch, through a bed of finely ground compacted coffee.

You want to grind up your favorite espresso beans but I would start with grinding only a little bit at first because you might have to alter the fineness of your grind as you will read later.

A single shot is made with about 7 grams of coffee and it should produce around 1- 1.5 ounces of liquid.
A double shot is made with about 14 grams of coffee and it should produce around 1-1.5 ounces of liquid.

First you want to run some hot water through your portafilter to get it nice and hot before you you put the coffee in it.

You want to put your 7 or 14 grams of coffee into your portafilter and then taking your tamper and press down with a good amount of force and give a little turn.

Typically there are guidelines for how long it should take to extract the liquid. These are the typical extraction times.

Single shot of espresso: 1-1.5 ounces: 18-20 seconds
Double shot of espresso: 2-2.5 ounces: 20-25 seconds

The nice thing about my Expobar Office is that once I perfect the grind fineness I can set 4 different brew times. So I can use one for a single shot and one for a double shot. I can program the machine for custom brew times and it will run for either 20 or 25 seconds. So basically I can be on the other side of the kitchen cooking my omelette and not have to run over to shut the espresso machine off after 20 or 25 seconds. Nice feature.

The only way on a commercial portafilter machine to effect the extraction time is to change the pressure that the water exerts on the coffee grounds. The only way to change the pressure is to change the fineness of the coffee grinds or change the tamp pressure on the grinds. This is where you might have to play with the fineness of your grind and how hard you tamp. To further complicate things, as I learned, every bean is quite different and the settings on my grinder for one bean do not work for others. I began sampling many beans and then finally landed on a few I liked and I wrote down my grinder settings for each.

Types Of Coffee Drinks

1. Espress0 - 1 or 2 shots containing 7 or 14 grams of freshly ground coffee. This is brewed to 1-1.5 ounces and 2-2.5 ounces of liquid and extracted within 18-25 seconds. It must have a little crema foam at the top.

2. Macchiato - It is an espresso that has a dash of milk or dense froth added.

3. Cappuccino - It is an espresso that contains steamed milk and foam. The espresso should sit at the bottom then a layer of steamed milk and the top should have a layer of foam from the steam milk.

4. Cafe Latte - It is an espresso that contains steam milk.

5. Cafe Mocha - It is an espresso that has chocolate syrup added to the bottom and then steam milk.

6. American - It is an espresso with hot water added

Be sure to check back later for Part 2 - Starbuck's It Ain't What It Used To Be

And, Part 3 - Video Demonstration of how to make the perfect espresso by me.