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Drinking the Eastern Block away… Part 1 Ljubljana

10 Sep

Hi there fellas, this post will be a little different from all the others, in fact this time I will not bore you with some obscure recipes of mine, nor I will yap about some strange and complicated syrups or shrubs. No, this time I will keep your eyes glued to the screen with a fantastic slideshow of my most recent trip around Eastern Europe.. yes just like in the eighties, it will take just a couple of hours to go through the hundreds of pictures I took..

I am only kidding of course: these posts will cover my six days spent between Ljubljana and Bratislava, focusing on bars and restaurants, to give  advice to fellow travelers, since the net is lacking on food blogs for these two beautiful cities.

First up, Ljubljana wpid-20130801_121804.jpg

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, a country that was spared the atrocities of the Balkan war, but that had to endure 40 plus years of Socialism and Totalitarian regime. Nowadays Ljubljana is a wonderful city,described by many as the Venice of the Balkans, one of the greenest capitals in Europe, with a very young and very welcoming population.
We stayed in an apartment just outside the old town, booked on Airbnb . Ljubljana is so small and so well serviced that you don’t need to stay right in downtown,so we chose a small two bedroom apartment in a socialist-era residential area, very quiet and suggestive, and I would recommend to anyone such an arrangement.
The old town is of course the main attraction, with its canals and the castle overlooking this miniature Prague (the architect that designed the majority of the buildings is the same that created Prague’s beautiful streets). You can find bars and restaurants on either side of the canals, there’s literally dozens of them, and also a wonderful open-air market, just in front of the Gondola that brings visitors up to Ljubljana Castle.
Prices are generally cheap, one pint of beer goes from 90 cents to 2,50 euros, depending on the establishment, and cocktails are around 5 Euros, so not that bad. Food prices are also quite low, but the quality is definitely high.
There’s a great choice of quality restaurants, ranging from traditional and local to more modern Italian and French inspired cuisine. Local delicacies and specialties are game, patès ,fresh seafood and of course wine.
The first place we visited, once we parked the car and unloaded the luggage, is Hot Horse,a burger joint that specializes in horsemeat burgers.. simply awesomewpid-20130731_170641.jpg
You order your item from a touch screen device, then wait for the massive guy at the grill to be done cooking your order. You can choose different dishes and you can also opt for a regular beef burger , but you would be insane to do so.. their horse burger is massive and delicious.. 10 euros buys 2 burgers and beers.
The place can be found on the western tip of Tivoli Park, a huge green area completed with trails, fountains and benches, and I must admit, this is one of the best metropolitan park I have ever seen.
Another gourmet fast-food place is Klobasarna, located at the foot of the Castle Hill, by the Town Hall. This place is rather small, they have two tables outside and no chairs; their menu is quite spartan as well: you can have either a full portion of traditional sausage, served sliced up on a plate, with bread and horseradish, or a half portion of said sausage, served the same way. Needless to say, these sausages are to die for, and a good snack to give your liver a “rest” while bar-hopping.
Ljubljana doesn’t offer a great cocktail scene, don’t expect mixologists with suspenders and newsboy hats, nor dark, speakeasy style watering holes. A good place to have a drink is the bar at Vander Hotel, located in an alley that leads to the main canal. It’s a rather small place, very well stocked and elegant. we had a couple of Dark n’ Stormys, paid 6 euros each for them and left happy.
There are plenty of places to have a drink in Ljubljana, most of them are very similar, fairly touristic, all of them quite cheap; in our stay, we came across a couple that are really worth mentioning: Druga Violina is an excellent place for a glass of wine or a late night snack (they call it light snack, but in reality we got a bowl of goulash and polenta that was more than enough for two people). the night we went there, they were playing live jazz music on a stage just next to their outside patio… I strongly recommend this place. Other nice spots are Movia, and the bar at Hostel Celica. Actually all the area around the hostel has been reclaimed and it’s now a beautiful open air center for street artists
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Now for the restaurant bit: if you visit Ljubljana you must stop by Gujzina. They have one of the best menus in town, many daily specials, a wonderful location and great wine. We had a game goulash and pork medallions, after tasting a smoked goose carpaccio and some liver patè. Simply amazing. They are also open in the morning for breakfast
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Another great place to stop by for lunch or dinner is Valentin Restavracija. They specialize in fresh seafood, you can walk to the counter and choose any item from the window, decide wether you want it grilled or fried or you can order from one of their two menus: we had grilled trout and “fritto misto”. The quality of the seafood was outstanding, the price incredibly cheap. this place is located just next to the Gondola for the castle, in the same square that hosts the open air market.
A third really good option for food is the restaurant Gostilna Na Gradu, right in the castle overlooking the whole city. This place is run by three of the best chefs in town, and they offer their modern twist on traditional Slovenian cuisine.
As you can see, there are plenty of places in this beautiful European capital. We unfortunately didn’t have time to review many other great spots, but we had a lovely stay, tasted great food and sipped delicious wines. Given that it’s only three hours away from my house, I am pretty sure I will be writing another post about it in the near future…

p.s. Make sure you visit the countryside as well, especially Bohinj Park and Savica Fall.. if you are into nature, it doesn’t get much better than that. Stay tuned for my review of Bratislava, in the next few days!!

Redemption Cup, for MxMo LXXI

13 Mar

mxmologoIt’s time for a new Mixology Monday recipe! For the month of March this online community is guided by Scott Diaz of Shake, Strain & Sip , and this “From Crass to Craft” theme is very intriguing to say the least. After reading the announcement post I found myself agreeing with Scott on all fronts: we are becoming snobs.
I work in a bar where the majority of my guests are women and their drinks of choice are either some incredibly sweet mocktails or, before dinner, Aperol spritzers (in Italy Aperol is unfortunately taking over any other spirit and/or liqueur in the predinner segment). After dinner they usually move toward ” fruity, sweet with vodka please”. We do mix our fair share of craft cocktails, but that happens only after dinner, and very few ladies accept to try something out of the ordinary. Italy’s cocktail culture is indeed very poor, we are still paying for the lack of professionalism of the 90’s, and many guests are still very unsure about drinking something made with more than two ingredients, let alone if it includes house-made tinctures or revived ingredients from a bygone era (you should see the disgusted look of my guests when I tell them that I use egg whites). Things are slowly getting better, and younger customers are become more educated about cocktails, thanks to some great bartenders around my country, and in a few years we might be able to compare our cocktail scene with the ones from other countries.
But what do I have to do in the meantime? Look at my guests straight in the eye and tell them they don’t understand a thing, upon ordering a mint flavored vodka and Red Bull? Of course not. Everyone is entitled to have his poison of choice and I am in no position to judge, I can only serve and let the guest have a good time.
This month theme was a perfect way to think about something that could of course satisfy the palate of my customers, while retaining a bit of quality and craftsmanship.

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P.B.J. Alejandro

5 Mar

I hate peanut butter. I love peanut butter. I  just can’t decide. As most Italians do, I cringe at  the sight of a spoonful of  jam spread over an healthy dollop of peanut butter. This two flavors are just too different to blend together in my mouth. Or are they? My opinion on this quintessential North-American spreadable snack has always been set in stone, until a couple of weeks ago, at a burger party chez moi, a friend brought some peanut butter cupcakes. They were delicious and I couldn’t have enough of them. Somehow those little desserts must have flicked  a switch in my brain because I am craving what I was despising before. Very recently I also learned that peanut butter is served on the breakfast buffet at the hotel where I work, and since then I became obsessed with creating an after-dinner drink able to satisfy this new craving of mine.

After scouring the net for valid recipes, including an interesting concoction by Drinking In America, I was left unsatisfied because most of the drinks out there tend to be on the sweet side. My idea was more toward something savory, something that could showcase that typical saltiness of p.b.; I started off by mixing it with some cream and vodka, but that didn’t work at all. After few other failed attempts at mixing one ounce of butter with any spirit I could think of, I opted to turn to infusions, and Lo and behold, something interesting came out.

2013-03-05 16.32.26

P.B.J. Alejandro

Ingredients:

1 oz. Peanut Butter infused Tequila Blanco*
1 oz. Galliano L’autentico
0.5 oz. Thick cream
0.75 oz. Blackcurrant organic jam
2 dashes of Fernet Branca

Prep:

Dissolve the jam with the spirits in a Boston shaker, add cream and ice and shake hard for few seconds. Double strain on a chilled coupe and complete with two healthy dashes of Fernet Branca.

After many attempts I decided to stick with the Alexander template, therefore concocting a no-nonsense, fairly simple creamy after-dinner. This drink definitely showcases that savory aspect of p.b., in fact that nutty salty sensation lingers in your mouth for quite a while, but the sip at first is all about herbal notes from Galliano and Fernet. I tried this drink without jam and it has no meaning whatsoever. The blackcurrant provides that necessary sweet and sour backbone on which you can balance herbal and savory accents. The aroma is a mix between peanut butter and Fernet, and I must admit it puzzled me a little bit although I found myself drinking it all, which is very unusual, especially when I am on shift
In the end, this is a very unusual riff on an Alexander, different from the more common sweet and chocolaty versions out there, and hopefully the right one to stop my craving for this new spreadable obsession.

* This infusions is made by blending 15 grams of peanut butter with 4 ounces of tequila. Let settle for 1 hour and then filter through cheesecloth or coffee filters.

A drink for my lady

23 Dec

Here we are, all alive and still working after this fictitious Mayan end of the world. After the 21st of December my daily routine was exactly the same, I had an easy night shift last night as well and overall I gotta say this new Mayan era is shaping out pretty good.
Two nights ago, while bar-hopping around town with my colleague and patiently waiting for our doomed destiny, I decided to create a drink for my girlfriend, who’s spending Xmas with her family in beautiful Vancouver. The idea was to concoct a beer cocktail, as my girlfriend drinks none of it, and it would pose quite a challenge to come up with something potable for her hop-hating palate.
Also, I must say that I was inspired by this clever project posted on Measure and Stir
So without further ado, here’s the drink!

“Redhead in Poco”

Ingredients:
0.75 oz. Calvados
1.25 oz Tequila anejo
0.5 oz. fresh strained lime juice
0.5 oz. honey syrup
0.25 oz. Campari

Garnish:
Apple peel flower and apple skewer.

Prep:
Combine all the ingredients except Campari in a mixing glass and stir with ice until the honey syrup is entirely diluted, strain in a Collins glass full with cracked ice and top with wheatbeer (I used Hoegaarden white). Pour Campari, mix gently, top with more ice and spray abundant Angostura bitters to give color and aroma. Garnish with apple peel rose and few pieces of apple on a skewer.

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So for this drink I chose to go for transitive property, as in: tequila and beer love each other, tequila and apple go great together therefore apple and beer must be perfect. I decided to use Campari for its cinnamon like quality, to give a bit of holiday season touch, and of course Angostura to impart more depth to the whole thing. The Belgian white wheatbeer, very floral and citrusy, played perfectly with the spirit base and the resulting sip is fairly complex with a lingering apple finish. Campari really does his job too. I would love to try this with some Mezcal but unfortunately we don’t stock any at the moment.
My only regret is that my girl will have to wait another 2 weeks before trying this out, although I am sure she’ll love it.

Ps. the name of the drink was supposed to be in honor of my girlfriend’s new hair color.. unfortunately in the first pics I saw the hair seemed almost red, hence the title. In reality it is a beautiful brunette with purple shades but I saw it too late..

The rise of the “Silver Stirrer”

22 Nov


Few months ago I had the crazy idea to create something that I absolutely could not find here in Italy: a Japanese bar spoon, you know, one of those oversize fancy bar spoons that mixology masters like Jamie Boudreau or Simone Caporale use. I felt like I was missing something in my bar without one of these long beautiful stirrer and unfortunately it’s too difficult to find a quality one here in Italy, let alone a sterling silver one, so I decided to talk to my dad, Tiziano Bellomi. He is not only a visual artist but also a goldsmith, creating gold or silver jewelry. It took a while but I managed eventually to talk him into designing a 45 cm silver Japanese bar spoon for me and after few months of modeling ans sketching, I have today the utmost pleasure to present my new bar spoon!!!

Here’s few specs as well: 45 cm long, 90 grams of silver, absolutely handmade, hammered for maximum strength.
After trying it with ice in a mixing glass and realizing it was balanced to perfection, we decided to start a little business with this. We are not sure about the price yet, firstly because there is no other object like this around, second because this is definitely a collector’s item. Each piece will be numbered and will show the initials of the customer on the back of the plate and of course it will come with its modular box made of recycled wood.
The spoon will be available for sale on Flairshop in the coming weeks.
This should be a must-have for every professional bartender, but the sheer beauty of the object makes it perfect also for home bars and anyone who sees bar tools as a guilty pleasure.

detail of the spoon plate: each surface is hand hammered to create better light reflection.


We decided to go for a two pointed fork instead of the classic trident.


Anyone who might be interested in this item please leave a reply, even just to give me some feedback on the idea or to drop a suggestion or two. Make sure you visit my dad’s page as well, if you are into arts you’ll love it http://www.facebook.com/tiziano.bellomi?fref=ts

Let’s do this!!!!

13 Oct

Allright people, the time has come to put words into writing… All those times you heard me yapping about this cocktail, and that spirit that we can’t find in Italy, and that vintage cup that costs way too much and my boss won’t buy it… blah blah blah.. well starting today I am going to write all of this right here, along with all the recipes I come up with and hopefully, in time, this will become a nice place where i can share thoughts with my fellow professionals and not. So, the first post is dedicated to MxMo, a fantastic online monthly event. More will come of course, bear with me, i tend to get lazy at times….
PS, i know i live in Italy, but since i got good friends all around the world.. well the chosen language will be English…

Hello world!

13 Oct

Welcome to WordPress.com! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!

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