Restaurant Review: Sagra

Thank goodness I have a family who can eat Italian food any day of the week.
Tonight, we decided to try out a brand new restaurant tht’s just opened up in my town (Dedham, Mass): Sagra.
[For anyone who lives farther away in Mass, there is another one in Somerville!]
Now, not gonna lie, part of the reason we went was so I could look into job opportunities – I want so badly to work in an Italian restaurant! If nothing else, to talk to patrons and use all my food-talk to explain the wonderful dishes. And wonderful they are!
No good Italian restaurant lets a table be without bread.
This was goooood. Garlic bread, light on the garlic. I actually liked that – it makes it more versatile, so anyone opposed to having garlic-breath (or just someone on a date) won’t have to worry. It was very much like focaccia, although the texture seemed a little denser to me than usual. Maybe it’s just their way of preparing though. The beauty of bread is that the same 4 ingredients can make SO many different things!
Oh, and also, that it goes with cheese.
This is not just any cheese. This is ricotta spiked with parsley and orange zest in a ring of olive oil. The olive oil was very light in flavor, which I didn’t totally dig, but this ricotta was pretty incredible. The orange and parlsey combo gave it such a wonderful, fresh flavor! It meshed really well with the creaminess of the cheese. Forget cream cheese – I will have this on a bagel, please!
To start, we ordered my absolute favorite – bruschetta tradizionale. I have been craving it lately – honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t made it sooner myself! Bread + olive oil + fresh veggies. Hard to go wrong.
And Sagra’s was no exception. I loved the grilled bread, and the added arugula underneath (I always eat the garnish!). Could have used a little basil, but that’s my only issue. I love the funky-shaped plate it came on, too! At this point, I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t have any room for my dinner…
But I can generally make room. Especially when goat cheese is involved.
I was feeling some greens, so I ordered the Spinaci Caprino salad – spinach, radicchio, goat cheese, Turkish apricots in a raspberry vinaigrette. I added grilled shrimp to it, because…well, it’s shrimp. That’s just a given.
This made so happy. Unlike SO many restaurants, the amount of dressing was perfect – enough to taste it and, well, dress the salad, but not so much that it was overwhelming [or caused soggy spinach….serious pet peeve of mine.]. The goat cheese was good goat cheese, and the sweetness of the apricots and raspberry complemented the bitter radicchio very well. It was massive, but I ate most of it 🙂

My mom ordered a verdi misti (mixed greens salad) to start [she needs her greens too]:
A truly excellent simple salad. The dressing was just a balsamic + oil, also very well proportioned. And the best part was the addition of fennel! LOVED it. Really added a nice crunch and fresh flavor (yup, I stole several bites ;).
Her entree was too pretty not to show off:
The special risotto: Golden Beet risotto
The risotto was very well done, with a very strong parmesan flavor – very much like mac & cheese with rice instead of pasta. You couldn’t really taste the regular beets – but you sure can see them! That yellow thing would be a bog ole roasted golden beet – and it was de-LISH. We’ve already decided to look for it at the Farmer’s Market (which opens next week – I’m.SO.excited.). It was a little sweet, with a nice smokey flavor from the roasting, and went so well with the strong cheese flavor and rich creaminess. On top are “hen of the woods” mushrooms – I’d never heard of that type of mushroom before, but they sure were tasty! I just love that deep, earthy tasty of mushrooms. Again, a perfect addition to this dish. A little fresh parsley and black pepper, and my mom was quite content. As was I to steal a bite or three.
My brother got a rigatoni pasta dish with broccoli rabe (which I always forget how much I like, but I do!), red peppers, and sausage. He was unimpressed, but I loved it – took my right back to Florence. AND, our waitress studied abroad in Rome when she was an undergrad and, well, I get really excited when I meet someone who’s had a similarly amazing experience in Italy. We bonded over mutual loves of Nutella.
Speaking of Nutella….
Nutella Bread Pudding. Boom.
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t as hazelnutty as just straight chocolatey, but that did not stop me from helping my brother polish the plate clean. This was lick-the-plate good (I refrained…but it wasn’t easy.). Although I have one teeny tiny criticism – that white scoop was supposedly “hazelnut semifreddo,” but it was really gelato/ice cream. Semifreddo is much more mousse-like, light and airy. It was definitely hazelnit though – it had big chunks of what tasted like caramelized hazelnuts in it and was heaven on a spoon. As was most of this. Cakey, chocolate, melty, moist…if you go and just get this, that would be acceptable. My cooking professor always told us that you judge a restaurant by its desserts – and in this case, Sagra gets a big fat 4 stars.
Why have I never made bread pudding before? Hell if I know, but I think it’s high time that changed. Mission: Bread Pudding is ON.

A Wonderful World

Pick a day of the week, any day, and I’ll give an example of why I’d rather spend it in Florence. Wednesday, for instance:

Lunch at Sergio’s. I think we are official regulars.
I got their ribollita for the second time because I wanted to re-try it after I had it at Mario’s. For comparison’s sake, of course. Sergio’s version is chunkier, you can see the pieces of vegetables and soaked bread, whereas Mario’s was smoother, almost like it was pureed. Sergio’s uses better olive oil, but also tastes a bit more cabbage-y than Mario’s (I’m not much for cabbage)…I think it’s a toss-up. They are each amazingly delicious and soul-satisfying in their own right. This is one love triangle I hope is never resolved 😉
Unfortunately, a large part of my day was spent sleeping. One nap after Italian in the morning, and another in the late afternoon. Sleep and I have a very interesting, ever-changing relationship, and right now we are having some schedule difficulties. It will work itself out eventually; right now, I’m just taking it when I can get it and focusing on getting work done and erasing stress.
I started to get antsy after an all-too sedentary day last night while working and decided that a walk was just the medicine I needed. It was nice to just get out and get some air and do some thinking. And get gelato.
I walked by Carabe, one of the places nearby which seems to have mysterious opening hours that are always ‘just wrong’, and when I saw it open, I took it as a sign. Who am I to mess with fate?
I have gone once before and got the almond, but was a bit underwhelmed by it. My roommate went recently and raved about the tiramisu, so obviously I had to give them another chance! There was also kiwi on that cone – not because it’s the perfect compliment to tiramisu, but really because it looked good and I wanted to try it. I gobbled it down before Frida came out, but it looked like what you might imagine kiwi gelato does – pale green with little black seeds. It was deeelicious. The tiramisu was a semifreddo, not gelato, which basically means it’s a kind of cold mousse instead of frozen. It was heavy on the coffee flavor–but that’s a good thing! It was good. Tiramisu gelato is one of the funnest flavors to try because you never know what it’s going to be like; some are more coffee-y, some are more rum-y, some are blended smooth and others have actual pieces of tiramisu in them. It’s a wonderful world.
The sky looked so cool, I couldn’t resist taking Frida out again. She was in one of her moods and it’s a little blurry, but doesn’t this picture make it look like the bell tower is fake? Like one of those little models architects use. I swear it’s real!
I didn’t really sleep and have a neck/head ache that would stagger a horse, but I’m doing just fine because it’s Thursday, and that means one thing…
Not until I’ve had my oats, of course:
Doesn’t it look like the vanilla is giving the cocoats a big hug? …Well, I thought so. I swear I’m not crazy…just, um, creative.

But back to the show.
Today’s class was focused on cooking with FRUIT! Quite possibly my favorite food category. I don’t take pictures of everything I eat, mostly because it’s just not all that interesting or photogenic, but if I did – you would be very sick of apples and pears. I think I eat at least one of each a day. Can’t wait for summer berries!!
NEEDless to say, I was quite excited about today. We started with a salad:

Spinach, artichoke hearts, chickpeas, red onion, pears, fresh buffalo mozzarella, dressed with lemon juice + olive oil + few drops of good aged balsamic vin.
Now, I grew up with the reigning queen of salads. My mother makes wonderful and creative salads not unlike this one, and I’m actually pretty envious of her ability to whip up the right dressing that complements the salad ingredients. That said, this salad blew my tastebuds away! The pears just made it. Although I would recommend using a more pungent cheese like a goat or bleu, would have been even better with the sweetness of the pear.
We also made some fresh rosemary focaccia to go with it (and by made, I mean actually hand-made it from ingredients-up, not just took it out of some plastic and threw it in the oven):

Oooh, this made me so happy. 
I’ve found I’m not such a fan of the oily, airy focaccia found in the bakeries here, but the focaccia we make in class (see our first here) is amazing. Dense and doughy but thin and chewy, with juuust the right saltiness. I had 4 small palm-sized pieces…I have no ability to resist when it comes to fresh bread. And yes, I know how to make it. Expect to see a lot of this rolling out of my kitchen when I’m home.
My 1st portion of salad + focaccia:
I had a large second helping of this stuff! I can’t wait to make it again!
Next up was my team’s dish:
Risotto alle fragole (strawberry risotto)!
Sounds weird, right? Well, it was. I have had it before, at a restaurant, and liked it a lot, but my tastebuds remained a bit confuzzled. It’s something like mac & cheese in its creaminess, but then there is the surprising sweetness of the strawberry. We made parmesan crisps to top it and finished it with a drizzle of balsamic. The crisps could not be easier – literally take a palm-ful (or however much you like) of grated parmesan cheese, put it in little circular piles on a baking sheet, and bake it for 5-10 (just watch it, it will turn golden-brown when done). Easy and quite pretty! Added a nice extra kick of cheesy flavor, too. I enjoyed the dish as a whole, but I’m not hankering to have it again. To be honest though, I think that has a lot more to do with the fact that I really just don’t like rice very much; it just does absolutely nothing for me. Perhaps I should try this with pasta? Hmm, experiment time…
Next dish:
Chicken with porcini mushrooms and green apple
This dish was fine. Acceptable. Perfectly edible. But I was unimpressed. We took a chicken breast and fried it in olive oil (about 5 minutes on each side), then covered it with the simmered porcini mushrooms and apples with some parsley and baked it for about 10 minutes covered with tin foil. It’s not that it was bad, it just didn’t appeal to me. I’m not a big meat eater anyway (fish, however, is a horse of a different color!), and the texture of the chicken was quite nice (not to chewy and slightly crispy), but overall…meh. Could have done without it happily. The mushroom-apple combo was not as striking as I expected, even with the saffron added (which I love!). Good, but not more than that.
I can’t say the same for the dessert…

Chocolate souffle.
This is, I believe, my first-ever experience with a souffle…and now I am wondering why. This. was. so. good. It had the light, fluffy texture of mousse that I adore but was warm and moist like cake fresh out of the oven. The chocolate was dark but not too heavy and all in all, this was a little ramekin of heaven. We did not alter this recipe, and the only fruit added was that raspberry that you seeon top, but I think it makes an important statement nutrition-wise: it’s perfectly healthy to eat indulgent foods! It’s all about the portion size. And what better an end to a meal than chocolate? Especially in carb-form. I left perfectly satisfied.
This class was the first that I didn’t go ga-ga over every single dish we made, but the salad, focaccia and dessert more than make up for the other two (which weren’t even bad, just not something I personally enjoyed as much as the others).

The rest of the day was spent in a nearby piazza with a nap in the sun and bit of dog-watching. Lovely.

I am not sure that I have formally discussed this other than maybe some lines here or there, but I am as of now looking into culinary school after next year’s graduation (aaah! senior year…how did this happen???). I have no idea what exact career I want–and by no idea, I mean I have about 30 different ones–but I do know that my passion for and fascination with food only seems to increase, and I’m following what I love. I would go for Baking/Pastry because that’s really what I love and where I feel I’m more creative, and, well, I’d much rather deal with finicky pate a choux than learn how to de-bone a duck. It’s something I’ve been putting off announcing mostly because whenever I ‘announce’ something like this, I end up going in a completely different direction. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, as long as I love it, but right now I’m so into the food world that the thought of me suddenly not going into it is too scary and sad for me to think of.
Just throwing it out there.

The British weekend is coming!


One girl’s food is another girl’s shoes

I apologize for the lack of postage yesterday; there was a good reason, which you will shortly see!
Sleeping in on Wednesday was a very good decision, because I woke up yesterday feeling considerably less hatred towards my alarm clock, and was actually alert throughout class. Listen to your body before it screams at you! (That was written on some post-its my mom got from her massage therapist. Post-its don’t lie!)
Then of course, it was OAT time. I had a particular experiment on my mind this morning involving this:
Pineapple yogurt
And this:
Succo tropicale! (mango-pineapple-papaya-passion fruit-apple-orange juice)
Now, ok, before you go running around shouting “This girl is putting JUICE in her oatmeal?? What kind of crazy Italian crack is she on??????” – let me ‘splain. No, there is no time – let me sum up. (Princess Bride? Anyone?) In all reality, how different is putting the juice of fruit in oats versus the actual fruit? Um, not very different at all. Same flavor, without the texture variety. It’s like making a smoothie and throwing some oats in. Which, if I had a blender, I would try – I’ve heard it’s yummmy!
Thus, TropicOats was born…
It’s a…girl?
It was quite tasty. I think it would be better cold, as overnight oats perhaps. Tropical fruity flavors call for colder treatment, I think. Would have been amazing with some fresh mango! I probably wouldn’t jump to make it again, but that’s more because I am berry/applesauce oat addict.
I then proceeded to take a nap on the couch. Thrilling, I know.
Instead of having class today, my cooking class was going to a restaurant with several other of our teacher’s cooking classes to have a typical vegetarian Italian dinner (hence the lack of posting yesterday), so I was trying to stay extra-balanced (oxymoron?) with eating today. I didn’t want to get there bottomed-out starving and eat so fast I wouldn’t even taste it, but I obviously wanted to be good and hungry for it! Ah, the complex politics of eating!
All that to say, I had a salad for lunch.
Skillet-grilled zucchini, cannellini, arugula. Good stuff.
I was desperately seeking somewhere to venture, and I hit the jackpot! I was on, which is a website with recommendations/tips/recipes/etc for vegan and vegetarian food, and it’s international! They have a list of veg/vegan restaurants and health food stores in Florence, and on it I found….the Italian Whole Foods. Much smaller, no food bars or anything, but a small market chain dedicated to natural/organic foods. A.k.a, my mecca. Cha-CHING!
I dragged my roommate out with me, got lost a time or two, but eventually we found it. It’s farther than it looked on the map, but that’s probably a good thing, because I’m pretty sure I actually heard my wallet crying when I walked out. I was fully expecting tear stains on my euro bills. Some girls buy designer shoes, others expensive jewelry…I buy organic food.
It was SO exciting – don’t worry, you will see my loot as it is consumed 😉 
Marissa and I were feeling like it was cappuccino time, so capps it was:
I swear, it’s like medicine.
Not gonna lie, it was a struggle to not eat dinner at my usual 6. I do ok if we’re out and about, walking around, but at home it’s like a dinner bell goes off in my head. 8 AM classes are NOT conducive to the Italian late dinner, let me tell you. But I managed with a pb & j and a little cereal.
I was, of course, the first person to arrive at Dino. My professor was there and I love him, so I enjoyed just listening to him. I asked him about how this dinner fit into our class’s emphasis on nutrition, and this restaurant is apparently known to cook with a lighter touch. He also gave me a tip that I will share with you: If you want to check the quality of a restaurant, look at the waiters’ shoes. If they take the time to take care of themselves, they will do the same for the customers. Shiny shoes=good food.
We had the WHOLE restaurant to ourselves – there were about 70 hungry American students in total. After we were all seated and our professor gave the “yes, the wine is free, but please don’t get hammered” speech (unfortunately very necessary – and I’m quite doubtful it was observed by the majority), the meal began.
(Please excuse the less-than-brilliant pics; I was hungry and not very patient with the camera.)
For the anitpasti, there was bruschetta:
My fave! Still not as good as the kind we made in class, though.
FRESH pecorino (my true cheese love):
Have I mentioned you need to try this? Because you do.
And fagioli all’uccelletto, which is a dish if white beans in a sauce of tomato, garlic, and sage:
The beans were amazing, akin to what I would consider Italy’s version of baked beans.
For primi piatti, we had garganelli alle verdure di stagione (a tube-shaped fresh pasta with sauce of seasonal vegetables) and risotto al taleggio:
I adored the pasta shape! The pasta was very interesting; I tasted some spice that was reminiscent of India, curry or turmeric maybe? I liked it MOLTO.
Taleggio is essentially the Italian brie. Less stinky, quite mild, but I like it a lot. I found this risottto a little underwhelming, probably because I was expecting…well, I don’t know, something insanely flavorful, I suppose. It was pleasantly simple, and smelled great; the flavor itself was just rice and creamy cheese, neither of which do much for me. It was a big hit with others, though, so it’s very much a matter of opinion.
This restaurant is known for 2 things: their eggplant parm, and their tiramisu. So, quite clearly, secondo piatti was melanzane alla parmigiana:
This was pretty amazing, I will say. I do like eggplant parm but have only had it once or twice because I can’t stand how most restaurants serve it: breaded, fried in crappy hydrogenated oil, and piled with cheap provolone cheese and mediocre tomato sauce. This was…not. The eggplant was so soft and tender, the only way to know that it was in fact eggplant was its flavor, kept very much in tact. The tomato sauce was super fresh. My only complaint was that the cheese had made a kind of stale crust and felt too much like it had been sitting out for a while (which, considering there were 70 of us, is entirely possible) – but there wasn’t an abundance of it, which I was very grateful for, and the flavor it added was good.
Dessert. The course I had been waiting for. On our first day of class, my professor explained that he really didn’t approve of typical tiramisu because it calls for raw eggs. (I’m thinking he’s not so much a fan of cookie dough then either…probably the single point upon which we completely disagree.) There is away to serve tiramisu, however, by using a double-boiler method to make the cream. This restaurant is known to use that method, and I was very excited to see how different it was.
(One picture was too yellow, the other too blurry – I figured between the two, you could get the gist.)
The entire night the waiters had come around asking if we wanted more, except for dessert. Cruelty at its finest.
This was some damn fine tiramisu. There was come kind of spice added that I couldn’t quite put my finger on – a cinnamon/nutmeg/clove flavor that was just subtle enough that I couldn’t figure it out. Hmm, experiment time? I think so.
The wine served was a classic chianti; I probably had about 3 oz over the whole night. I only like wine in teeny tiny sips throughout the meal. It was quite tasty though! I still feel like a dunce about wine though, and I think I’m going to start reading up on it a bit. If I’m going to be a wine snob connoisseur, I’m going whole hog – go big or go home, people.
All in all, it was a lovely meal. Not mind-blowing amazing, perhaps a bit underwhelming, but a wonderful experience as a whole.
I was not at all paying attention to the clock last night. I started a crossword puzzle online, made some tea and put on some Michael Buble and BAM! it was 2 AM. Whoops. Three cheers for sleeping late! 
I’ll be back soon with more food commentary and general ranting – ciao ciao!