The Heights of baking excellence

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Impasto Forno Antico, 157 Military Road, Avondale Heights. Phone: 9331 1111

Here’s a quirk of the western suburbs …

It’s possible for a resident of Sunshine North to stand on one side of the Maribyrnong River and hold a conversation with a friend or neighbour standing on the other side in Avondale Heights – without either of them having to raise their voices.

But if one of them wants to drive to the other’s home, well the quickest route is pretty much via Highpoint!

Avondale Heights seems sort of stranded.

It’s bisected by its only main road, the arterial thoroughfare known as Military Road.

I’m told much of the suburb’s population derives from post-war immigration of the Italian variety.

 

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Certainly, at one of Military Road’s shopping precincts there is an emporium of things most excellently Italian.

Recently, this bakery being on one of my routes to work, I picked up a panini for in-office lunch purposes that was a $7.50 just right – fresh roll filled on the spot with mortadella, roasted capsicum and artichoke.

Yum!

Today, I go the strictly sweet route.

 

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The pear and almond tart ($4.50) and a slice ($3) that is a full-on flat version of a Christmas-style mince pie are wonderful and classy – and a lot more filling than they appear at first blush.

I rather wish I’d gone for one of the lighter things – such as the cannoli.

My $3.50 cafe latte is excellent.

Before my sugary lunch I’d felt all spruced up and looking good after a superb “hot-towel shave” and mo’ trim thanks to Matt at Matt’s Men’s Room.

Excellent, professional and friendly, he did me this fine service for a charge of $15.

How good is that?

 

Impasto Forno Antico on Urbanspoon

 

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CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo – the wrap

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Maria (La Morenita) meets Maria (Vicolo).

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CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500. Tuesday, June 17, from 7pm.

It’s something to marvel at – that what started as a simple gathering at Hyderabad Inn in Footscray for about 10 people almost a year has seen the Consider The Sauce Feast concept progress to an eighth outing.

This time we were the guests of Maria at Vicolo in Moonee Ponds.

Of course, a fine time was had by all.

And once more, it seemed like about at least half of the guests had been attendees at one or more previous Feasts.

Thank you!

The Vicolo turn-out was a particularly gregarious crew, all of whom seemed happy and eager to make happy conversation with their immediate table neighbours.

That made my task as host very relaxing – a big thank you for that, too!

I thought the food was super.

 

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Conchiglioni ripienne di ricotta e spinache al forno (giant pasta shells filled with ricotta and spinach, oven-baked in our delicious Napoli sauce) was a light and simple starter with a fine tomato sauce.

 

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Those who chose risotto paesana di vegetale verde e pesto Genoese (risotto with zucchini, asparagus, leek, and green peas and our home-made basil pesto) as their main course were happy.

The sample I tried was flavoursome with pesto and beautifully, slightly al dente vegetables.

The serves were huge!

 

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If anything, those who opted for osso buco cacciatore-style con polenta (tender beef osso buco oven-braised with rosemary, red wine and winter vegetables over soft polenta) were even happier.

It was rich, sticky and wonderful.

This was Bennie’s first experience with this dish – he loved it, but drew the line at sucking up the marrow.

 

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Panna cotta della casa di mandola (homemade almond cream dessert) was divine, the wafting flavour of marzipan being all the more effective for its subtlety.

 

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The lemon tart was equally luscious.

Plenty of people managed to have a good taste of both desserts by doing deals with their neighbours!

Thanks again to everyone, particularly to Maria and her staff.

 

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Consider The Sauce Feast No.8: Vicolo

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CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500. Tuesday, June 17, from 7pm.

After an initial visit to Vicolo and then being a privileged guest at the joint’s 10th birthday party … it’s Feast Time!

I’ve had a ball getting to know Maria from Vicolo, who has lined up a dynamite night for us.

To secure your ticket for CTS Feast No.8 at Vicolo, click here.

This time out, the number of guests we’re inviting is 40.

The price is $25 per person.

Yes, that’s a little more than previous CTS Feasts – but there’s a very good reason for that.

And that reason is the night’s menu … check it out:

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CTS FEAST NO.8: VICOLO

ENTREE

Conchiglioni ripienne di ricotta e spinache al forno (giant pasta shells filled with ricotta and spinach, oven-baked in our delicious Napoli sauce).

MAIN

Osso buco cacciatore-style con polenta (tender beef osso buco oven-braised with rosemary, red wine and winter vegetables over soft polenta)

OR

Risotto paesana di vegetale verde e pesto Genoese (risotto with zucchini, asparagus, leek, and green peas and our home made basil pesto).

DESSERT

(Desserts will be allocated on a 50/50 basis to guests, but feel free to swap with your neighbours!)

Cassata di limone (homemade lemon tart).

OR

Panna cotta della casa di mandola (homemade almond cream dessert)

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That’s right – a classy three-course Italian meal for $25!

If you need any further convincing of just what an exceptional opportunity this is, check out Vicolo’s regular menu here.

Guests will be responsible for paying for their own choices of drinks and/or coffee.

As with other recent CTS Feasts, the ticket monies will be split between the restaurant, in order to help cover some of the costs, and CTS, for our work in setting the night up.

To secure your ticket for CTS Feast No.8 at Vicolo, click here.

Thanks to Anna and Yvette from X2 Marketing for helping facilitate this event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vicolo turns 10

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Maria, Nonna Nella and Bianca.

 

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Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500

Since Consider The Sauce’s first visit to Vicolo, yours truly has returned a couple of times.

That’s been to take advantage of the joint’s $15 lunch special of risotto and a glass of wine.

One time I had a zesty, lighter number with vegetables and lemon rind.

On another and by contrast, I went with a robust ragu and sausage number.

They were both brilliant.

Maria has done what she said she would – turned this long-time risotto hater into a convert!

I mention this to make the point that Vicolo is rapidly becoming part of our routine and that this time out I am not merely fronting for another snout-in-trough freebie at a place I would otherwise not frequent.

Though – let’s make no bones about it, and yes food blogging is sometimes the best gig in the world – I leap at the chance to attend the restaurant’s special 10th anniversary dinner as an extremely privileged non-paying guest.

And why wouldn’t I?

Specially when it’s not just Maria in the kitchen – in there she’s been joined by her mum, Nonna Nella, and daughter Bianca.

Three generations of Italian cooking – how wonderful!

 

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Once again I am joined by Yvette and Anna from X2 Marketing – by now, this has gone way beyond work and I genuinely like hanging with this crew – and this time, too, by their respective partners, Michael and Rob.

I suspect there are more extra hands at hand in the kitchen, and there certainly is on the floor.

It’s a full house, the vibe is upbeat and happy, and the guests seem evenly split between Maria’s extended friends-and-family and regular customers – with us lot in the middle.

It’s busy, busy, busy, but we find the service and food arrival times to be good.

Some of our party choose to eat from the regular menu, but I will highlight here dishes from the special birthday list (see below).

 

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We get a couple of sets of Nonna Nella’s antipasto ($22) to share.

It’s all fine in a wonderful old-school way. I specially like the rich fishiness of the sardine involtini and the zipoli (fried long doughnuts stuffed with anchovies), both bottom right.

 

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My brodo di pollo (chicken broth with polpette and home-made pastina, $15) is my night’s highlight.

Describing this as chicken noodle soup would do it a gross injustice.

Nor does the above photograph in any way convey the depth of simple, soupy flavour or the hidden presence of masses of noodles and marble-sized meatballs.

 

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I had goat, in casserole form, on our previous visit, so somewhat regretfully pass on the capretto in crostata (traditional cacciatore-style goat pie with verdura, $38).

But I’m glad Michael gets it and he enjoys the rich heartiness of it.

 

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My pesce spada (swordfish bagnara on grilled potatoes with orange and fennel salad, $38) is, for fish these days, quite well done.

That’s an appropriate term, as eating this IS like eating a steak – one, though, that is juicy, tasty and in no way dry. The salad and rather smoky roast spuds are the perfect foils.

Bangara?

Maria says: “Bagnara was the lemon, olives, capers, parley and olive oil dressing that garnished the fish!”

 

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Our table mostly goes without dessert, but Michael and I both plunge right on ahead with the pannetone pudding ($12).

This, of course, is a bread and butter pudding – and a fantastic one. Instead of the listed figs, our puds are topped with the most luscious berries.

For dessert, Yvette has … lasagne (in joke …).

 

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Finally, Maria sends us – unbidden – a plate of “dolcette – Nonna Nella’s little sweet things”. They, too, are lovely … but by this time we are all uniformly sated.

Thanks, Maria!

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This is the second in what will be a trilogy of stories about Vicolo.

The third will likely be published in a few weeks – regular readers will guess, I’m sure, where we’re headed with this … and it’s going to be brilliant!

Consider The Sauce’s meal at Vicolo was provided without payment being required. Management had no prior knowledge of what would be ordered, and neither sought nor was granted any editorial input into this story.

Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar on Urbanspoon

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Check your spam daily

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Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500

Just like everyone else these days, I am always looking for where the next opportunity or possibility may arise.

So I have developed a daily routine of always checking the spam file of my email account.

What I find there is almost always … spam.

But, just very occasionally, there is something more interesting.

Through that routine I find an interesting approach from publiicst Yvette and her company X2 Marketing.

Her firm represents, so she tells me, a small number of western suburbs restaurants. Would I be interested in some sort of collaboration with her company and the restaurants involved?

A very, very good half-hour phone conversation ensues.

I like it that Yvette and her partner, Anna, have no set ideas how food bloggers and their clients may interact and they seem to be open to ideas. Even better, the Consider The Sauce Feast concept spark a good deal of enthusiasm.

Both women come from a corporate background, yet have ended up in the same place as CTS, preferring the personal touch and a general embracing of the “small is beautiful” ethos.

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Two of the eateries they represent hold no interest to Consider The Sauce at all, but one of them most certainly does.

So it is that all three of us meet at Vicolo, in Young Street, Moonee Ponds. (CTS did not pay for its meal – full disclosure below.)

I am very familiar with Young Street in Moonee Ponds – indeed, Fresh On Young was the subject the very first CTS story.

But I have always been deterred by the somewhat forbidding glass facade of Vicolo, despite a good review from Lauren at Footscray Food Blog.

So I am delighted and happy to find that behind the glass is a classy Italian joint.

I really dig meeting and talking with Yvette and Anna. Despite our different backgrounds, I’d like to think we are on the same page.

On this Thursday night, there is a happy vibe in the place, which is crowded with what I presume are regulars.

Even better, I adore the boss lady, Maria, and the way she sparkles and genuinely seems to care about every table of guests.

Yvette, Anna  and I star with a trio of spuntini.

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Whitebait ($11) are warm verging on cold, but I’m guessing that in the antipasto swing of things this is perfectly acceptable. They’re crisp and unoily, with the fried richness being cut beautifully by the excellent tangy salad.

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Arancini ($10) are a big step up from the tough, unappetising footballs found in generic eateries across the land. These are delicate and variously flavoured with goat, pumpkin and cheese.

Similarly light of flavour and weight is the gorgeous salt and pepper calamari ($11).

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As we await our main, Maria is only too happy to give me a brief tour of the kitchen, expressing the hope that I’ll be comfortable with the fact her two cooks are Korean folks trained by herself pretty much from the ground up.

As if I would care!

One of them, Naggie, is happy to be photographed. The other, not so much …

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Maria explains how she prepares her renowned risottos in a restaurant context – by mostly pre-cooking the rice and keeping all the flavour packages separate, with the end product being as genuine and delicious as you could wish.

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The house red sauce, Maria explains, is made from only the best tomatoes – tinned and puree both.

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I get lucky with my choice of main – it’s a casserole-style goat number ($36) that isn’t even on the specials list. It’s sticky, rich and in every way excellent, the tender meat falling easily from the bone in a way that only comes from long, slow cooking.

My companions enjoy their pasta choices – linguini marinara with fish, mussels, pipis, scallops and calamari ($26.50); and lasagne ($23.50).

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Desserts all come with a $12 price tag, with the lemon tart and tiramisu going down a treat.

On the basis of our combined meal, I’m happy to conclude that Vicolo does classic Italian very well.

As for possible future collaborations between Vicolo and/or X2 Marketing, stay tuned …

Consider The Sauce’s meal at Vicolo was provided without payment being required. Management had no prior knowledge of what would be ordered, and neither sought nor was granted any editorial input into this story.

Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar on Urbanspoon

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Mediterranean Keilor

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Rose Creek Estate open day, 2 Craig St, East Keilor. Phone: 9337 5471

At 2 Craig St, East Keilor, there’s a large, two-storey but otherwise unremarkable suburban home.

There’s also 300 olive trees surrounding a vineyard and much more besides.

Including, but in no way restricted to, a fabulous garden, all sorts of fruit trees and a superb chook family.

The whole set-up is so magnificent, we’re surprised we haven’t heard about it before – or the annual open days.

Then again, it’s situated in a suburb that seems part of the west but through which we travel only on occasion but rarely (never) have a reason to stop.

Regardless, we so enjoy our visit that even if it’s a long time until we return – perhaps for the next available open day – we feel a good deal better about the world just knowing this place is where it is and as it is.

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When we arrive, there seems to be a couple of hundred folks enjoying the day, with as many coming and going as we take it all in.

Indoors, there are wine and oilve oil tastings going on, and a long table replete with samples of olives, cheese and simple bruschetta of bread, parsley and oilve oil.

Before Bennie gets carried away by gorging himself on fare that is, after all, meant to be considered of the sample variety, we seek out more serious tucker.

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I’d been informed somewhere along the way that pizza is often the Rose Creek open-day go.

No pizza today – instead, there’s good-looking sausages being given the heat treatment over coals and served in bread rolls with leaves and brushed with a thyme branch dipped in herby oilive oil.

Yes please!

We’re a little taken aback at the asking price of $10 – the two apiece we have been contemplating could set us back $40.

But the proof is in the eating, and on that count we have no complaints at all, and one serve each is plenty.

The bread is fresh and wonderful, the snags even better.

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They’re made, I’m told, to order by a butcher to the estate’s specifications and using its pepper sauce and semillon. They’re rustically stuffed with gorgeously meaty, high-quality pork the like of which we never see in our usual pork sausages at home, regardless of where we source them.

From there, and before we score a very fine cafe latte and a hot chocolate, it’s a case of us city boys ambling all over, and up and down, sucking up what seems to us like a miraculous Mediterranean vibe in the midst of Melbourne suburbia.

Check out the Rose Creek website here.

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Consider The Sauce goes ape … but the monkey doesn’t sing

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Crazy Wings, 177 Russell Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 6555

Brunetti, 214 Flinders Lane, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 8085

Career has become a very relative term in our household.

Plain old work is probably a better way of putting it.

And, financial imperatives aside, lack of work presents its own joys, space and opportunities to further pursue what I now see as my “real career”, that being principally father and blogger.

Still, a work situation that has very suddenly gone to three and now four days a week is cause for relief and celebration; it’s a situation that could last for a month or maybe the rest of the year.

But it means the “real career” pursuits can continue.

It means a multi-hundreds electricity bill will not cause an anxiety meltdown.

It means the car will be serviced.

And, yes, it’s worthy of celebration.

Truth is, though, we wouldn’t be heading for this Friday night’s King Kong at the Regent had I not snagged a couple of very excellent but full-price stalls seats.

So off we go … heavy traffic negotiated with ease, $7 parking sorted, we have plenty of time to wander further into the CBD than we expected.

We pass many eating places as we amble without feeling inclined to rise to their various baits.

And then we’re in Russell Street and there it is, the famous – perhaps notorious is a better word – Crazy Wings.

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It seems like a typical, busy low-price Chinatown joint except the air is headily perfumed with barbecue aromas, cumin to the fore.

We are pointed to a table and proceed to familiarise ourselves with the ordering process, which entails ticking off items on a long list resembling a yum cha sheet that is then taken for processing/cooking by the staff.

We play a straight bat to the many items of an exotic (for us) or weird nature, and studiously avoid the eponymous crazy wings.

And then the fun begins.

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A double serve of the standard original taste wing ($2 per skewer) turns into a double double serve as it’s the Friday special, and we’re really happy about that.

They’re marvellous, tender and redolent with – yes – cumin.

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Likewise for the lamb meat skewers ($1.50 each) … but then things start getting a little screwy.

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Ox tongue ($2 each) has the sort of silky tenderness I’ve been expecting but there’s something almost, um, petrochemical about the seasoning.

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As we move into our vegetable selections, including BBQ eggplant ($2.50, above), we are starting to weary some of the sameness in the seasonings.

And as with all our subsequent non-meat skewers – cucumber ($2.50), enoki mushrooms ($4.50) and even honey BBQ steamed bread $1.50) – there seems, to us, to be a disconnect between what’s threaded on the skewers and what’s been used for seasoning.

There doesn’t seem to be any cohesion and not much point. We’d prefer a salad.

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The same holds true for chewy and enjoyable BBQ squid ($1.50).

Still we ARE having a ball.

We love the vibe.

We love the way the many orders are hustled by the staff from kitchen to tables not on platters but as fistfuls of smoking skewers. At the tables, they are placed on wooden trays and right on top of already discarded skewers.

As with every other table, our wooden tray starts to resemble a greasy, charred game of pickup sticks or a mini-bonfire in the making.

We’re having such a good time, we get a bit reckless and order more – including a serve of the crazy wings.

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Whatever our issues or bemusement with our food up to this point, they are instantly rendered small fry, for this is where we part company with the Crazy Wings’ ethos completely and forever.

Bennie and I eat no more than the equivalent of a teaspoon each.

In more than three decades of eating spicy food, this is the hottest food I’ve ever tried – by a very, very wide margin.

And there’s no slow burn here – the heat is virtually instant, as is the unpleasant burning of lips and mouth.

Worse, the little we do eat is not just spicy but tastes plain bad – metallic, nasty, industrial.

Hard as we find it to figure, we suppose there may be people who may enjoy such ridiculously seasoned food.

But for us, there seems nothing macho or admirable about doing so.

It just seems a waste – of food, effort, money and appetite.

As well, I wonder about the health aspects of such insanity – for older and younger people in particular. Could there be allergy issues at play here as well?

Should we return to Crazy Wings, we’ll play it even straighter, stick with the plain meats and seafood, and maybe go for some of the handful of rice or noodle dishes.

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So well organised are we that we have ample time for lovely, leisurely coffee, hot chocolate, pistachio biscotti and chocolate panzarotti at Brunetti’s in the city square.

The CBD branch seems to divide opinions just the way the Lygon Street HQ does, but we like it.

We feel relaxed and comfortable – and even warm on a cold night, thanks to the outdoor heaters.

And King Kong?

Well musical theatre is never going to be my fave thing, but there’s a brilliant light show, loud music, lots of dancing, generous nods to Broadway tradition … but not, to my mind, much by way of genuine emotion or soul.

Still, as Bennie’s first such experience, and as part of a swell boys’ night out in the CBD, it could hardly be bettered.

Crazy Wings on Urbanspoon

Brunetti on Urbanspoon

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