Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Is That Arugula I Smell?"

[Note: Due to a defect in the film chip, we do not have the photos that would accompany this entry. We hope that you will enjoy the photos of our visit to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve that we could not fit into our earlier entry describing our visit to this park.]

Chuck asked. Or did he say “Smell that arugula!” More on that later.

Here we are in Paso Robles, CA, one of the grape-growing and wine-making regions of the state. And we are lucky to be joined by Chuck’s cousin Tom Miller and his wife Betty who drove in from Ridgecrest to spend the weekend with us. Tom and Betty are knowledgeable about the wineries in the area and are going to share their expertise with us. And they are going to introduce us to some of their favorite area restaurants.

The first of these restaurants is Buona Tavola, an upscale Italian bistro.
“After ten years at the San Luis Obispo location, Buona Tavola has expanded with a new location in Paso Robles. ...For well over a decade, Antonio Varia has been delighting the discerning palates of Central Coast residents with an inventive Northern Italian cuisine. Working as an apprentice in the restaurants of his native Northern Italy, Antonio continued his training in Europe's finest hotels. He honed his skills on the Princess Cruise lines, and as executive chef in several award-winning Los Angeles eateries. ...Opened in 1992, Buona Tavola (meaning "good table") is the realization of a dream“ (from the restaurant’s web site).

The restaurant’s interior is sleek and modern. The chairs were what I describe as Italian modern, but were still comfortable. Lighting was soft and restrained.

As we were reviewing the menu, I could also perceive the distinctive and peppery aroma of arugula. Did someone seated near us order the Insalata di Parma—a salad of fresh arugula, red apple, crushed walnut, and diced roma tomato tossed with homemade balsamic dressing, served over imported Parma prosciutto and garnished by petals of parmesan? When Chuck asked our server for the answer, she pointed to the couple sitting behind us who were sharing one of the evening’s special salads. I don’t remember what it included other than arugula and goat cheese. Since Chuck is no fan of most goat cheeses, that was out. So we decided that we would share the Insalata di Parma instead.

I wasn’t sure how the apple and walnut would work with the other ingredients, but they worked beautifully. The sweet-tart apple comple-mented the salty Italian ham and even saltier parmesan and the walnuts harmonized with the nutty arugula. And, let’s face it; anything made with prosciutto has to be good. (The kitchen was also happy to split the salad for us.)

While we were sharing our salad, Tom and Betty shared the Insalata al cuore di Cesare (Caesar salad) with fresh hearts of romaine lettuce served with rosemary garlic croutons, and shaved parmesan cheese in a homemade Caesar dressing.

Now for the rest of our meal. First we looked under the Primi Piatti listing and found: gnocchi – potato dumplings in creamy pesto sauce; ravioli stuffed with scampi and imported prosciutto in a light saffron sauce; linguine with farm-raised Manila clams, sea scallops, small black mussels, and shrimp in a white wine garlic and leek sauce; penna all’arrabbiata with garlic and Italian parsley in a spicy tomato sauce (and always one of my favorites); angel hair pasta with organic tomato fillets, garlic, basil, and extra virgin olive oil; and tortelloni stuffed with fresh mozzarella and finished in a light tomato sauce. And listed as secondi piatti were a rib-eye steak, a tenderloin steak, veal scaloppiine, free-range chicken breast, and the fresh fish of the day. All of this sounded like too much food.

So back to the antipasti we went. Here I found just want I wanted—Molluschi al tegamino or Manila clams and black mussels in a light spiced tomato sauce. Perfect. Juicy steamed clams and mussels were lightly bathed in a sauce that tasted of the clam and mussel juices and that had been lightly flavored with Italian seasonings. Completely satisfying, and now I have room for dessert.

Chuck must have been adhering to the maxim that one can’t have too much arugula. From the antipasti menu he chose the Carpaccio del Tiziano—thin slices of seared black pepper beef fillet topped with arugula and shaved parmesan cheese in a horseradish dressing. I must admit that I didn’t get a taste of this. I was so busy with my clams and mussels that I forgot to pay attention to how quickly he was finishing his dish.

For dessert, Tom and Betty shared Buona Tavola’s version of tiramisu, while Chuck and I enjoyed the vanilla gelato with chocolate sauce. I was also intrigued by the Tartufo Italiano Al Cioccolato - dark chocolate gelato filled with a zabaglione cream center covered with cocoa powder, and finely ground hazelnuts, and topped with espresso. But Chuck is not a coffee man and is especially not an espresso man. But I think that the chocolate sauce on our vanilla gelato had a hint of coffee flavor, so I was happy.

I was so happy with dinner that I am awarding Buona Tavola the ultimate 5.0 Addies.

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