That’s my gel

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Gelati by d’Asporto, 3/11d Murray Street, Yarraville.

As if we aren’t spoiled enough in the inner west for ice-cream and gelati … along comes Gelati by d’Asporto.

Under the auspices, of course, of the namesake pizza/pasta/Italian joy restaurant just around the corner and – also very much part of the same family business – another eatery at Rifle Range shopping centre and the fabulous kiosk at Williamstown Beach.

The new gelati shop is all smiling business and no fuss – just ice delights and a couple of standing/leaning tables to enjoy them.

Given the plethora of eating – and coffee – options in Yarraville village, this streamlined approach makes all sorts of sense.

I make my first visit, as a guest (see full disclosure below), with high expectations that are easily met and even surpassed.

Prices range from $4.80 for a single scoop and upwards – pretty much regulation gelati prices, in other words, but on the excellently cheap side given the quality at hand.

My twin scoop deal for $6.80 strikes me as a fine deal.

The flavour line-up (see below) is agreeably concise.

My first-up selections …
Mascarpone and fig – creamy, heavenly.

And mildly flavoured, as is usual with this ingredient combo.

Bacio – really, really superb.

Largely thanks to the inclusion of wonderfully crunchy hazelnuts.

I pay another visit the next day and go for the choc mint – and it, too, is lovely.

Will we be back?

Yes.

Over and over and over …

Opening times are 2-10pm Mondays-Thursdays and 11am-10pm Fridays-Sundays.

(Consider The Sauce enjoyed Gelati by d’Asporto as a guest of the management and we did not pay for our sweet treat.)

Much more than cannoli

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Cannoli Bar, 23 Riviera Road, Avondale Heights. Phone: 93377049

In the months since CTS first wrote about Cannoli Bar, the place has become wildly famous.

A great big bunch of media coverage has ensued, but I’d like to think it’s the sheer outstanding quality of what is on offer that is the main driver of all this feverish fandom.

Since then, too, Cannoli Bar has expanded its fare.

There’s a much longer range of cannoli available, many of them of a colourful and creative bent.

And that expansion means lunch.

 

 

Lunch options include really good-looking pizza slices.

And a couple of daily pasta selections.

I decide against the cannelloni with beef, opting instead for the eggplant parmigiana ($18, top photo).

Oh my, my, my – this is heaven.

It arrives in a very hot bowl, its contents still bubbling.

It’s a glorious mix of eggplant, the top bits nicely crunchy, tomato and cheese.

Perfect.

My lunch is wonderfully enhanced by a parade of hardcore blues classics – Albert King’s Born Under A Bad Sign, Bobby Bland’s Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City, Sonny Boy William’s Help Me and more.

Thank you very, very much.

 

 

My wonderful lunch is completed by biscotto cherry ($2) and cafe latte – both equally fine.

I had originally intended this outing to be the basis of a story about panettone – more precisely the merits of the cheap, mass-produced ones we get from the supermarket compared to more rustic renditions.

 

 

But all that seems a bit redundant in light of the fact that I grab the very last of Cannoili Bar’s pistachio amaretto panettone ($25) and that the eight remaining choc chip versions will likely be gone by the time you read this.

 

 

Back home, Bennie and I soon discover that all panettones are most definitely not the same.

Yes, the pistachio crust is super.

But it’s the “cake” itself that truly wows us.

It’s chewy, much more fibrous than the cheapo versions we’re familiar with, delicious.

We won’t be casual about this one.

No hacking off a slice at a mere whim.

This is something to be savoured.

Cannoli Bar is open Wednesdays through Saturdays.

If you can make it, I suggest week-day visits, as I suspect this place gets crazy busy at the weekends.

There is something ridiculously fine about tootling down a rather ordinary suburban street, headed for this very cool Italian establishment.

 

Nice in Kensington

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Melba Social, 524 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 2982

Melba Social lives in the premises formerly occupied by Mr Griffiths Alibis & Libations, which closed some time ago.

We don’t know what happened there – its beer, burgers and poutine routine seemed to be going pretty well judging by the people bustle we observed there on numerous occasions.

But … onwards!

Melba Social is up and running just as two other new/newish places – Kensington Food Hall and the revamped Hardimans Hotel – are offering similar offerings, all three joints within a few street numbers of each other.

Of course, we are interested to see what Melba Social tastes like so are happy to accept an invitation taken up by a CTS Team of three (see full disclosure below).

We find the food and service to be lovely, with much of the latter crossing over to very good.

It is mostly straight-up Italian fare here.

Notably, the portion sizes and pricing both serve to generate an impression of good value, that impression given heft by the busy Thursday night of which we are part.

 

 

Three entrees for us (see menu below) …

A trio of arincini ($13) – plump, generous and gooey with mozzarella and mushroom, topped by parmesan and rocket, all residing upon a superb, basilised tomato sugo.

“Freaking hot” buffalo wings ($15) are only mildly spicy and look rather drab.

But the proof is in the eating – they taste very fine and the serve is plenty big enough for all of us to have a hearty go.

Oddly enough, it is the entree with the plainest visuals – “smokey” mushrooms ($12, above) – that most impresses.

The panko-crumbed mushies are quite delicate and so, so juicy and tasty.

The queso sauce is very rich.

 

 

Thursday night is steak night at Melba Social, though one of the three costs exactly that anyway.

Whatever – my 200-gram porterhouse ($22) is top stuff, delivered just right at medium rare.

I’m normally no fan of mashed spuds that render the lead vegetable into a rich puree with only the faintest tuber vibe.

But here the mash goes not that far and is a fine steak friend.

The “cafe de Paris” butter is somewhat excess to my richness requirements.

The coleslaw is finely chopped and a little wilted – that is, just how I like it.

But I find myself wanting more acid or bite. Or salt.

 

 

Julian loves his three cheese gnocchi ($24) with gorgonzola, grana padano and vintage cheddar.

It, too, is a big serve – Bennie and I get a good sample, so fully understand his enthusiasm.

The pasta pillows really are like the proverbial clouds and very wonderful.

Based on his regular experience with this dish at another establishment, Julian wistfully mentions that he would’ve liked to experience some actual bits of cheese in the otherwise entirely smooth sauce.

But even he admits that’s a case of being very, very picky.

 

 

I am trying to wean Bennie off chicken burgers – both for his own good and for purposes of CTS diversity.

But he enjoys the Melba Social rendition ($18), noting with thumbs-up approval that he considers his twin chook chunks to be “expertly fried”.

The shoestring chips are $6 extra, just OK and place the package up there into the restaurant burger combo category. 

 

 

Our minor quibbles about our meal thus far are put behind us as we gleefully devour both desserts on the menu.

They are superb.

Stone fruit and raspberry almond crumble ($10) immediately elicits from me the comment: “This is just like My Mum Makes!”

And that’s all that needs to be said.

 

 

A good deal richer and more decadent is “sizzling” brownie ($15).

The brownie square is bigger than it appears and swims in a sticky sauce studded with blueberries.

The vanilla bean ice-cream that accompanies both desserts is excellent.

Melba Social strikes us the sort of place that will become a cherished “local”.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Melba Social as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were free to order whatever we wished. Melba Social management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

Ripper pasta place

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Pentolina, 2/377 Little Collins Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9606 0642

The place, the space, the back story, the food and the company …

Consider The Sauce’s supremely enjoyable visit to Pentolina evokes many memories.

For starters, so to speak, I recall imbibing a bowl of pasta at the same address many years ago – about 20, I think.

That, too, was a specialist pasta house.

These days, under the guidance of husband-and-wife team Matt and Julia Picone, old-school pasta is still very much the go, though the place certainly looks very different.

 

 

It’s classy and stylish, without being overbearingly so.

Matt was a barista at Pellegrini’s for the best part of two decades, and it is that sort spirit and vibe they are trying to foster at Pentolina.

And succeeding.

Justin is my CTS companion for this adventure.

We figure out rough timelines that strongly suggest that not only had we both enjoyed several – and maybe many – coffees made by Matt, but that we were also quite possibly sitting side by side while doing so on occasion.

Are we happy to be here as guests?

Yes.

(Full disclosure below.)

 

 

Taking up pews at the window bench – good for watching the passing parade outside and for the taking of photographs – we are happy, too, to leave our leisurely lunch in the hands of the staff in the form of the $60 a head “feed me” menu.

 

 

We start with cured swordfish, fennel, grapefruit and pomegranate ($21) and …

 

 

… beef carpaccio with truffle cream and parmesan ($19).

There’s little for me to say about these – except that they are wonderful, simple, fresh and prepared with superb ingredients.

And they’re just the sort of thing we feel like.

 

 

We discover that we both have  something of an aversion to the oft-leaden arancini.

So we love these smaller cousins – Alessandra’s suppli (rice croquettes) with saffron and grana padano ($9).

They’re light and fluffy and beautifully fried.

 

 

Then it’s on to the pasta – all house-made.

Squid ink spaghetti with vongole ($28) is lovely, though the simple sauce of white wine and garlic (I think) is quite dry.

 

 

Matt’s spaghetti bolognese (ragu with beef, eggplant, zucchini, vermouth, $21) is good, too, though I think – nostalgic for the lusty gusto of the Pelligrini’s version – we both find it muted in both texture and flavour.

 

 

In that regard, the simple, righteous rigatoni amatriciana ($23) of pancetta, napoli, fresh chili and olives is a dead-set bullseye – and the pasta hit of the day.

The pasta, however, is just a tad too al dente for my tastes.

But let’s not quibble – this is ace.

 

 

Cannoli with ricotta, citrus and raisin ($3 each) are light and champions of their kind, with quite an unusual flavour and very crusty casings.

 

 

Justin confesses to not being much of a fan of panna cotta.

But even he is impressed by the Pentolina version with fresh berries ($13).

I love it to bits – so delicious.

I’ll use Justin’s pithy message to me later in the day as a summation: “Ripper lunch and ripper company!”

To which I’ll add: “Ripper place!”

(Consider The Sauce dined at Pentolina as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We enjoyed a range of dishes chosen by the staff as part of the $60pp “Feed Me” deal. Pentolina management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

Grand Italian

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Ciao Mamma, 3-5 Union Street, Brunswick. Phone: 8528 7091

CTS still gets the occasional non-plussed online comment about our random coverage of non-western suburbs eateries.

You know, as if we should stay forever and only in our self-appointed place!

But, no, we ramble, too.

And as regular readers will know, when we ramble it is often to Brunswick and Coburg we head.

This has not gone unnoticed by Tina and Nic Persano of Ciao Mamma.

So much so – and liking the CTS style and stories a lot – they invite us over for a feed (see full disclosure below).

This is a grand thing, as given the restaurant’s location just off Sydney Road, we are unlikely to have discovered it on our own.

It takes several weeks for Nic and I to arrange a suitable night, and for me to rope in some eating partners.

While all that is going on, I have a good look at the photos and comments on the Ciao Mamma FB page and scope out the menu and more at the joint’s website.

In doing so I become as certain as can be we are in for a super swell time.

And, yes, that’s how our evening goes.

The dining areas here surround the central kitchen, with the vibe in general being chic, comfortable, welcoming and cheerful.

There’s a pride and determination to provide great Italian food here.

Yet there is no veal, seafood, steaks and the like.

Ciao Mamma is mostly a pasta place.

The fervent aim of Nica and Tina is to make guests feel like they’ve had an old-school family meal, nonna-style.

We reckon they do just that.

We start with focaccia ($9).

Fresh out of the oven and so good it could be a meal all on its own.

The salumi and friends offering ($24) is the best of its kind I’ve ever enjoyed.

It’s not that there’s so much of it or so many different ingredients – it’s just that it’s all so wonderful, tasty and beautifully matched.

Prosciutto from Parma and hot salami from Mondo soro in Western Australia – both thinly sliced, fresh and yum.

Roasted red capsicum.

Superb cheeses from Azzuri in Bolinda – pecorino cheese in thin wedges; and burratina, shredded fresh mozzarella and cream encased in fresh mozzarella served with Maldon salt flakes, cracked pepper and virgin olive oil.

Olives – Sicilian green olives and Ligurian small black, both baked in-house with garlic, chilli and herbs.

Then it’s pasta time!

The drill here is that guests choose their variety of fresh house-made pasta and match it with a sauce, with extra customising options available.

This photo of Josh’s rigatoni with ragu ($24) is something of a lie, as there’s a heap of meaty slow-cooked beef in there and it’s an excellent selection.

Eliza’s spaghetti with amatriciana ($20) is just as sexy, with heaps of pancetta.

My own tagliatelle with the ortolana sauce of tomato and roast vegetables ($19) is good, though I find it a bit in the realms of plain and worthy – and rather end up envying my friends’ choices.

Desserts?

Oh, yes – this particular configuration of Team CTS was always going to explore the sweet options with gusto!

Pana cotta ($10), topped with a Ciao swirl of salted caramel, is unlike any we’ve before tried.

Less of the wobble and more of the buttery firmness – but still excellent.

By contrast, the “Tina-mi-su” ($12) is a light and fluffy fantasia with just a delectable whiff of booze.

Finally comes the choc-blast that is flourless torta caprese with chocolate and almond ($12).

Decadent and rich, it’s good thing this – and the other desserts – are shared between three of us.

Ciao Mamma was recently announced as the first Italian eatery to obtain Coeliac Australia accreditation for its gluten-free options.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Ciao Mamma as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We ordered from the menu. Ciao mamma management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

One word – cannoli

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Cannoli Bar, 23 Riviera Road, Avondale Heights.

Down an otherwise unremarkable Avondale Heights residential street a wonderful surprise awaits.

A once-was-a-corner shop has been turned into a chic, cheerful – and already very popular – cafe of the Italian variety.

 

 

Savoury offerings appear to be down to these good-looking pizza slices.

 

 

There are a plethora of sweet treats on hand – all, we are informed, baked and/or assembled on the premises.

But the place’s focus is a bit more singular than even that – as its name attests.

 

 

Yes, cannoli – fresh-filled after being ordered.

We try two at $4.50 each – one each of nutella and pistacchio.

I reckon they are beyond awesome.

Though Bennie is less impressed.

The fillings are creamy and a way less solid than, for instance, the cannoli offered at T. Cavallaro & Sons in Footscray.

I love the whole experience – including the fact that they are fragile and more or less explode upon being handled.

Who cares?

Goes with the territory!

Our cafe lattes are every bit as good, with just the right amount of bitterness.

Canoli Bar is open Wednesday to Friday 8am-3pm and Saturday and Sunday 8am-4pm.

 

 

Fine pizza @ Edgewater

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Terminal 45 Woodfire Pizzeria, 41-45 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 0123

The western suburbs are quite well endowed with classy pizza places.

One that appears to have flown under the pizza pie radar is Terminal 45 Woodfire Pizzeria, which is located down the hill from the Edgewater shops and pretty much right next door to St Burgs.

Last time Bennie and I spied this joint, it was a sunny summer Sunday early evening and it was packed and firing.

This time – urged on by a successful home pizza delivery and a friend’s hearty recommendation – we are back early in the week on a cold night and the scene is quite different.

We are the only customers, though deliveries continue apace.

Terminal 45 lists almost a couple of dozen pizzas, with what seems less on the menu by way of pasta and starters than most such places.

No matter – we are here for pizza.

And they’re excellent.

Caprese ($16) is like a salad on a pizza base, and thus an instant hit with my salad-loving son.

It’s simple, tasty and rather magnificent – just uncooked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil.

Piccante $16) has hot salami, roasted red capsicum, mozzarella and fresh chilli.

It, too, hits our pizza spots right nicely.

And not only do our pizzas please us, we note happily that the prices are a good dollar or two less than we regularly pay elsewhere.

A classy joy in WeFo

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Harley & Rose, 572 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8320 0325

The Harley & Rose dining room has a cosy, almost clubbish, vibe about it.

The tables are many, but there’s no sense of overcrowding.

A long bar runs down most of one side of the room.

The place is all a-bustle earlyish on a Friday night, but about half those bar stools remain untaken.

Though the outside tables are chockers.

 

 

Despite the happening vibe and happy restaurant theatre in full cry, one of our fears – based on many experiences in similar places – stays wonderfully mute: The noise levels are fine.

Even though there’s a happy hubbub going on all around us, we are able to converse pretty much normally.

Though you wouldn’t want to be in whisper mode.

 

 

Most excellently, the place appears to have already earned places in the hearts of many, including West Footscray’s young family demographic.

And, yes, there is a kids menu.

 

 

Tables are adorned with real-deal serviettes.

The Team CTS of four on hand can rise to the occasion of three-hour-plus meals.

But mostly we’re very much of the “bring us food and make it snappy” school.

So we really appreciate the terrific service and the beautifully paced arrival of our various choices.

By no means are we in any way rushed, but our dishes arrive in a steady stream.

It could be said that Harley & Rose serves mostly orthodox Italian – but that would be misleading.

For instead of bolognese or veal scaloppine or minestrone, there are wonderful surprises at almost every turn.

 

 

We share four starters.

Salami ($12), with caper berries on the side, has just the right perfume level of fennel.

Our other choices mostly display exactly the same levels of light and right.

 

 

They include Noix de Jambon with fresh fig ($15) …

 

 

… and smoked ocean trout, Grand Marnier and horseradish ($16).

 

 

Though the crunchy/gooey gorgonzola dolce croquettes with quince ketchup ($9) certainly up the richness factor quite a bit.

For mains, for us, two pasta offerings and two pizzas.

 

 

Spaghetti cacio e pepe ($19) is profoundly simple, sinfully rich perfection – just pasta, cheese, pepper and not much else.

 

 

From the short specials line-up, Bennie chooses rigatoni with a sticky tomato sauce including fermented chilli and pancetta ($18).

Loves it, he does, though its consumption concludes with a familiar refrain from him: “Wow – that was bigger than it looked!”

 

 

If anything, perhaps our sooper dooper pizzas are the real high points of our eating evening.

Neapolitan ($20) with sweet pepper, tomato, anchovy, olives and oregano and …

 

 

… and house sausage ($22) with pork sausage, fennel, tomato, eggplant and pecorino both exhibit great flavours coming from perfectly matched ingredients.

 

 

Desserts?

Oh, yes, we’re definitely in that sort of mood.

Tiramisu ($14) is a straight-up top-shelf rendition of a classic.

 

 

Meringue with pink pepper melon and apple granita ($12) is amazing.

The blending of the poached meringue (a bit like a gooey marshmallow) with the cool pink cubes, crunchy granita and the all-important mint equals a taste explosion.

We’ve ordered, eaten and spent without restraint.

Our four-way meal, with a full round of drinks, clocks in at $207.

But give the starters a miss, and stick with the terrific pasta/pizza options, and Harley & Rose invitingly presents as both a night-out deal and as a regular, weekly destination.

And if I lived around here, I’d be eyeing that bar up for the odd, quick, solo meal-with-book-in-hand.

Check out the Harley & Rose website – including menu – here.

Pizza d’Asporto Yarraville – opening today!

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Pizza d’Asporto Yarraville, 2-6 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9689 6807

The first day of public trading is on the Thursday, but in the meantime the newly assembled team at Pizza d’Asporto Yarraville is under the pump on the Wednesday night.

 

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There could not be a better trial run for all of them than the opening celebration currently in full swing.

 

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A happy crowd of family and friends have gathered for the event.

 

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The old post office premises has been fitted-out beautifully.

 

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I have a negroni and couple of Pieronis; Bennie is hammering the Chinotto.

 

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It may be a new experience in a new kitchen for these guys, but the Pizza d’Asporto quality is there all the way.

 

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This pizza finally pushes Bennie beyond tipping point in terms of zucchini fandom.

 

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Yet even this simple number of just cheese, chilli, olive oil and salt is amazeballs.

 

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But the biggest flavour hit, for us, comes from this perfect-in-every-way traditional pasta pesto with beans and potato.

OMG so good!

 

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We have a ball; meet some interesting people; just generally enjoy hanging out.

 

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What a joy it is that we have a Pizza d’Asporto right in our very own neighbourhood.

 

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Mind you, we’ll doubtless still hit the Williamstown mothership on occasion – just because, you know, we dig it.

 

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Congratulations to Claude, Antoinetta, Anthony and their team.

 

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Pasta with ricotta and asparagus

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Consider The Sauce is relatively familiar with reading and eating pasta recipes involving fresh ricotta.

But in them, the ricotta has always been used in a tomato-based sauce.

I have never seen an Italian recipe using ricotta like this.

But I would in no way be surprised to find there are Italian recipes that are the same or similar – it just seems so very Italian!

This has become a weekly staple for Bennie and I.

We sometimes use green beans, in which case we throw them in with the boiling pasta a few minutes before it is done.

But we prefer asparagus – and with asparagus, timing is everything.

The aim is quickly flash fry the asparagus so it gets a nice charred flavour before it wilts.

It’s a fine line and takes just a few minutes – so best to complete cooking the pasta before throwing the asparagus in the pan.

Depending on what’s at hand, we also sometimes throw in a few chilli slices or parsley.

But in this dish, the seasoning are simple so need to be freely used – very freshly cracked pepper, salt and extra virgin olive oil.

INGREDIENTS

Short pasta

Fresh ricotta

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Finely grated lemon rind or lemon juice to taste.

METHOD

1. Cook pasta, drain.

2. Heat a good dollop of EVOO to high heat, flash fry aspargus so it retians its structure but has started to colour.

3. Turn heat to very low and throw in the pasta, separating any pieces that have stuck together.

4. Add salt and heaps of black pepper.

5. Roughly chop the ricotta and add to pan, mashing to fine crumbs with wooden spoon.

6. Add lemon rind or juice and another splash of EVOO, mix.

7. Serve.

 

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Cup Day lunch

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Heart Attack and Vine, 329 Lygon Street, Carlton. Phone: 9005 8624

Cup Day and no work?

In some ways a mixed blessing, but an opportunity for fun nonetheless.

So off we tootle to Carlton for some book work.

Within minutes of arriving at Alice’s Bookshop on Rathdowne Street we have scored big time – a first taste of Elmore Leonard for Bennie, the hefty bio of J Edgar Hoover I had been on the very verge of ordering much more expensively just a few days previous.

Then it’s off to Lygon Street to survey the lunch options.

Down one side and up the other, I opine to Bennie that in terms of mediocrity, a Lygon wander is quite similar to doing likewise Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

But there are good places – Heart Attack and Vine is one such, it’s specialty a range of simple Italian-style sandwiches (see menu below).

The staff are in the midst of the breakfast/lunch switch as we arrive, so it takes a little while to get our lunch – but when it arrives we are happy.

 

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The day’s special involves a minted pork snag, onion jam and lightly pickled cucumber, all on a fine, fresh roll.

At $15, it’s fine – but we find the sausage a bit dull.

We are so used to old-school Italian pork sausages of much more radical texture and flavour!

 

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The porchetta number ($15) is significantly better.

There’s a heap of flavour from the finely chopped pork, largely due to the fat and some crackling.

The meat is handily abetted by a zingy salsa verde.

We are a bit bemused by the mustard and “sweet spicy sambal” on the side as they seem largely superfluous.

 

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A shared side of coleslaw appears at first blush as if it may be a tad tired and dry, but that proves not to be the case.

It’s fine and crunchy, though quite heavy on the capers.

 

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Wonderful impromptu Italian

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Pier 71 Bar e Cucina, 71 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8598

Bennie and I have an engagement in Altona – the launch party for a new place.

In truth, we’re not sure how – or if – this will work for us.

It’s a week night with school and work the next day, and it remains to be seen whether CTS will get enough of a look-see at the food to generate a story.

We get through the security cordon, stride up the stairs and find that, nope, this isn’t for us – it’s all about people standing around drinking, Bennie’s in his school uniform and we just don’t feel comfortable.

This place will have to wait for another day.

So around the corner we go, still chasing a dinner feed, to throw our lot in with Pier 71 Bar e Cucina.

This turns out to be an ace move on our part, as this very cool Italian has until now escaped our notice, even though it’s been around for a couple of years.

It’s all about casual Italian – something along the lines of Ovest in West Footscray or Mascalzone in Williamstown: Big on pizzas, pasta and salads, not so gung-ho about steaks and pricey seafood.

 

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The place is roughly split into three areas – a communal table at front, what amounts to a long hallway of both booth and table seating adjacent the kitchen/serving areas, and a flexible alfresco area out back.

We eat very well and find the service and timing fine for a busy mid-week night.

 

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Pizza Napoletana ($17.90) is as good as we could hope for – simple, very fine and expertly done.

There’s stacks of anchovies – good for me, not so good for Bennie!

 

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The chips that accompany our “hamburger (Italian style)” ($18.90) are superb – hot, crisp, plentiful.

The fried discs of chorizo atop seem something of an affectation to us, though, and our first conclusion is that we’d be happier if that effort had been put into putting more heft into our burger, which seems rather smallish for the price.

Bennie makes rude comparisons with the burgers we get elsewhere, but after eating I conclude he’s being unfair – because, as is so often the case, this eats bigger than it looks.

 

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And it is indeed in the “Italian style” – the meat is much more finely minced than is the case with burgers generally, be they old-school Aussie or the American style.

It’s a delight with its capsicum, onion, mozzarella and sauce.

We go for it in terms of indulgence by sharing the tiramisu ($10.90, top photograph).

It’s a dreamy, rich fantasy – much stiffer in terms of consistency than we’re used to, the booze-tinged cream a thing of grinning decadence.

Check out the Pier 71 Bar e Cucina website, including menu, here.

 

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Lovely Italian, great fun

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

The long-awaited – by us anyway – spuntini bar and gelateria extension of Impasto Forno Antico in Avondale Heights is up and running and we have a ball getting acquainted.

It’s all done out in sleek greys and wood; very Italian and cheerful.

And, as is only to be expected, things are a little chaotic for this Saturday lunchtime.

 

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In these ways – general vibe, style, food, people – it reminds us a bit of places such as Brunetti’s; except this is more personable.

The menu (see below) is split into sections – antipasto, paninoteca, soups, insalati and semi-freddo.

 

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We by-pass the good-looking panini – even though, as a pal points out, the bread and rolls here are a main event all by themselves.

And when I see a fellow punter at our communal table getting into the beef brodo, I somewhat regret not going the soup route.

But we end up being very happy with our selections …

 

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For Bennie, polpette al sugo – a good number of lovely meatballs in a rich tomato sauce.

 

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For me, a simple vegetable fritatta – lovely and light and just what I desire.

Both our meals are served with salad – a tomato/cucumber number for him, a fennel/orange for him, and we order a side of roasted spuds just because … they look like the could do with some more colour but taste like a dream.

 

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Because of the combos we’ve ordered, I am not sure of the specific pricing of our lunch – suffice to say, it’s all very affordable.

This is not flash restaurant Italian food – it’s just simple fare done well.

We could, mind you, live without the old-school squirts of reduced balsamic that adorn all our plates.

 

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Gelati?

In winter?

Of course!

Our small tubs (top photo, $4.50) of prickly pear for him and pistachio for me are superb, capping off a cool lunch at what is sure to become a regular haunt for us.

 

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On the way out, we grab some of that fine bread and a pizza for that night’s dinner from the extended shop next door.

 

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Fine sweeties, wholesale prices

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Mediterranean Wholesalers, 482 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Phone: 9380 4777

After we moved to the western suburbs, we maintained regular visits to Mediterranean Wholesalers – that repository of just about everything Italian on Sydney Road – for several years.

Maybe it was because there was then less available in the west of what we were seeking – oil, great cheese and sausages, pasta, pulses and much more.

And maybe, too, it was simply a matter of not then, yet knowing where to source such goodies in the west.

That pleasurable habit fell by the wayside many years ago now … but very recently Bennie and I had some to kill before a hospital visit and it gave us a great deal of pleasure to re-visit Mediterranean Wholesalers.

We had lunched elsewhere – at our new fave non-westie joint – so were thinking only of coffee and some sweet treats.

It was a great fun to be in the place again – all appeared to be the same: The smells, the stock, the aisles of wonderful.

 

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Smiles aglow, we had a slice of lovely flourless chocolate cake ($3) and a baby ricotta canoli ($1.50).

My very good cafe latte clocked in at $2.50 and Bennie’s San Pelligrino chinotto cost a fabulously cheap $1.50.

If only all cafes sold San Pelligrino soft drinks at such prices we’d be regular chuggers.

Incredibly, our brief and enjoyable visit cost us less than $10.

 

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Nelson Place, top stuff

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Mascalzone Pizzeria Osteria Artigiana, 217-219 Nelson Plavce, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 7269

Mascalzone has been open about three weeks, replacing one of the nondescript venues for which Nelson Place is mostly known, that one replacing another before it.

Mascalzone is sure step in a good direction.

It’s done out brightly with an accent on Italian in decor, ambience and food.

There’s a big brick oven at the rear and a display cabinet of fine-looking antipasto goodies at the front.

We find the service for Saturday lunch is terrific and our food is brought to us in a timely fashion.

Mascalzone’s menu (see below) is a smartly tight line-up of modern-classic Italiana that extends from starters through pizzas, pasta and salads to dolci.

 

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When checking out such joints as this for the first time, we routinely choose one of the basic pizzas just to see how they shape up.

In this case that means the napoletana ($18) picked from a list of nine red pizzas and five of the white kind.

Our pizza is very nice with simplicity being the thing and the toppings all of good quality and in the right proportions.

The crusts are have a wonderful charred thing going on.

 

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From the list of five pastas, we select the pappardelle al ragu di agnello with roasted asparagus ($22).

At first, the lamb shoulder sauce and the white pasta present as so pale as to be pallid.

But there’s do doubting the home-style depth of flavours in the meat, the attendant juices and the excellent cheese gratings.

All this rests upon and about truly wonderful house-made pasta that is al dente perfection.

 

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Tiramisu ($10) is a dream of cream and not much else – but we love it anyway.

Next time we’ll be up for sharing one of the two antipasti platters.

And there will be a next time.

Nelson Place, food destination.

 

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Classy Italian in Essendon

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400 Gradi, 110 Keilor Road, Essendon. Phone: 9351 6690

Keilor Road has always appeared to us to hold much food promise – promise that largely goes unfulfilled.

The Mount Alexander Road end, especially, seems to be perennially drab.

So we’re happy and excited to accept an invite to dine at the swish, new 400 Gradi, an invite that came to us through a media colleague for whom it was not a good fit (see full disclosure below).

It’s entirely possible we may have gotten around to trying the Gradi Brunswick sibling.

The one at Crown?

Very probably not.

But a sexy new place in Essendon?

Oh, yes!

 

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The Essendon Gradi, on the ground floor of a newish apartment building, has high ceilings and two main dining spaces as well as stools at the bar.

Much is black and/or shiny.

 

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We find the service to be spot on, while our table in the main dining area affords us the wait-time pleasure of watching the open kitchen and its inhabitants in overdrive.

We’re in two days before Christmas and the place is VERY busy.

 

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Having watched the cured meats being sliced off in a neverending stream, that’s how we start – with 18-month prosciutto crudo di Parma Mornello ($15) with cornichons and caperberries.

It’s a delight to which some very good fresh bread is presented on the side.

We’re not paying so there are no financial factors stopping us from going for secondi such as slow-cooked capretto with lemon, paprika, white wine, tomato and olive oil ($30); or the Gradi porchetta with apple balsamic, cipollini and white cabbage ($35).

But it’s a hot day, we’re not much in the mood for meat – and we have our eyes on dessert.

So pasta it is for us.

 

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In the past year or so, Bennie has developed an interest in gnocchi.

I tell him the gnocchi di patate with 20-year-old balsamic, black garlic and sage butter ($24) he is about to eat here will likely be the best he has tasted.

And so it is, the gnocchi being delectably fluffy pillows caressed by simple, high-quality accessories.

 

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My seafood linguini with fish (salmon and white fish I’m told is snapper), prawns, clams, scallops, garlic, chilli, napoli sauce and herbs ($34) at first blush appears to be a standard offering.

But it’s a much superior outing, thanks not only to the quantity of seafood but also to its startling freshness.

Aside from needing – for my purposes – a bit more zing in the chilli department, its perfect.

 

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And so to dessert …

We have a cone apiece of the house specialty gelati – margherita.

Its sweet, sophisticated and very Italian.

But its no match for the tiramisu (top photograph).

This is a stupendous masterpiece.

All the expected flavours and textures are in place but there simply seems to be more heft and substance and all-round yumminess than has been the case with most of the other, many versions we’ve tried.

The only downside to what has been a very enjoyable experience?

During a busy, silly-season, pre-Christmas lunch session, the noise levels have been very high.

I’m told some soundproofing is on the way.

Next time, we’ll take those pizzas for a spin.

400 Gradi is open for dinner seven days a week and lunch Thursdays to Sundays.

(Consider The Sauce dined at 400 Gradi as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meal. We chose from regular menu and had no restrictions placed upon us in doing so. 400 Gradi management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

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Meal of the week No.25: Kiosk by d’Asporto

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Getting all excited about the impending opening of Kiosk by d’Asporto at Williamstown Beach – including doing a story for The Age and then doing a blog story about doing a story for The Age – is all good and well.

But it’s not in the realms of proof-is-in-the-eating.

 

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So lunch it is for us.

We choose a beaut day for it – sunny but not hot, precious little wind and not too many people around.

There’s two tables adjacent the kiosk but we grab two of the stools right up close.

 

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Bennie has one the gorgeous-looking panini on display – pulled pork with Italian coleslaw ($10).

It’s fabulous!

The bread is fresh, the pork has great flavour and the slaw has nuts and dried fruit.

 

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I’m not sure how Italian the fish and chips ($10) are but I love them anyway.

It’s easy to do so as they’re hot and crisp and delicious.

The chunk of flake is of modest proportions but is all meaty perfection.

 

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Also freshly fried are the arancini – the larger ones of potato and cheese ($3 each), the smaller of a sort of rice-y bolognese with cheese ($1.80 or four or $6).

They are totally yummy taste balls.

 

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The fine display of sweet, baked goodies – and the coffee and the gelati – will have to wait for another day.

It’s only one meal – but Kiosk by d’Asporto really does feel like a game-changer for westside beachside eating.

Newport brunch alternative?

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It’s about 10am at the Newport athletics tracks and the kids are jumping.

They’re also running, leaping, panting and generally having a ball.

 

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It’s the regular little aths meeting.

But as pleasing as this spectacle is, I’m here to check out the catering situation.

It’s great!

Is there better food – or coffee – at a Saturday morning kids sport gathering anywhere else in Melbourne?

I doubt it.

 

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It’s no surprise at all – the food, drinks and coffee here are being happily dispensed by Claudio, Antoinetta and their family – the same crew that runs Pizza d’Asporto and will soon be unveiling Kiosk by d’Asporto at Williamstown.

 

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There’s appropriately healthy little aths tuckers such as Italian “donuts” and bombolone but as well there’s …

 

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… more decadent stuff like fresh fruit salad and freshly squeezed orange juice.

Oh, yeah – and pizza slices.

 

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Best of all are really good-looking panini for $4 and stuffed with the likes of egg and pancetta, ham and cheese, and tuna tomato.

 

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Sadly, I’ve already breakfasted so make do with a lovely apple turnover and an excellent cafe latte – yes, Team Pizza d’Asporto has installed a very good coffee machine.

After strolling around a bit, I decide that (yep) one those paninis and another coffee would go down very nicely.

But by then it’s rush hour as competitors and their parents besiege the kiosk.

Darn.

 

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Meal of the week No.21: Tre Bicchieri

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A sizable chunk of my working life was spent working on a metropolitan Sunday newspaper.

That meant 12-hour slogs on Saturdays and perpetual irregular weekends of Sundays and Mondays.

So my current working regime – hard yakka with Star Weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays, two days “off”, Fridays back at Keilor Park, then the weekend – seems like a miracle.

Perfect!

 

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Not, mind you, that I am idle on those mid-week days.

Far from it – I get out and about, usually cramming so much living and blogging and food stuff into two days that it always seems a surprise when I return to my regular gig.

It can be a bit disconcerting but I do love it all.

This week’s Wednesday, for example, involved a morning blog post followed by a journey to Camberwell to meet and talk with a cafe owner disgruntled and dismayed by approaches being made to him by Zomato (and by the nature of those approaches), followed by a haul to Royal Melbourne Hospital for a blood test and then a visit to Williamstown for more food business.

 

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Post-Camberwell and pre-test, I pull into Rathdowne Street looking for somewhere to have a quick lunch.

Upon stepping in Tre Bicchieri (623 Rathdowne Street), I grin with delight as the memories flood in.

This was a frequent lunch spot for me when a regular part of another weekly routine involved a weekly radio show on PBS.

Gosh, it’s a sweet place.

The staff are happy and fully into their work.

Even better, it manages to be oh-so-classy yet at the same time relaxed, welcoming and absolutely non-hipster.

I wish it was in the west.

The general vibe – and much of the produce stocked on the shelves – seems to be Italian.

But the menu (see below) is broader than that.

 

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From the specials board, I choose corn fritters with spinach, avocado, poached egg and zaatar ($18.50).

As with most such constructions, it eats bigger than it suggests upon visual appraisal.

It’s all top quality, though I’m not persuaded that the zaatar – denoting, in this case, the Middle Eastern seasoning mix of  sesame seeds, oregano and more, rather than pita bread baked with the mix on top – is a good match for the salmon.

But the smoked fish does go beaut with the wilted spinach underneath the extremely corny fritters.

I’m eager to be back on the road and taking care of business so don’t linger over a coffee.

But the cafe latte roadie I depart with is perfect.

 

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Ovest revisited

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Ovest, 572 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7766

It’s been a while since Consider The Sauce’s inaugural visit to Ovest so I’m very happy to be taking Bennie for his first visit for Sunday lunch.

The place has quickly established itself as a popular fixture for West Footscray and beyond.

But as it has done so, Ovest has been evolving and growing.

 

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For starters, and no doubt to the grateful hurrahs of many, the boss has “caved in” – according the place’s Facebook page – and now has a “shiny new Wega machine”.

Espresso coffee at Ovest – oh yes!

As well, while Ovest has been open on Sundays for a while, starting this coming week it will be open as well for lunch from Tuesdays through Saturdays, with those days offering a streamlined menu of nine-inch pizzas and a few other goodies (see menu below).

For our Sunday lunch, Bennie and I have no problem with choosing from the regular menu, going pizzas all the way.

 

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The spicy pork on a tomato base with fennel sausage, ham, baby tomatoes, fior di latte, wonderfully crisp pancetta and chillies ($22.50) and …

 

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… the napolitana with olives, fat anchovies, baby tomatoes, mozzarella and basil ($19.50) are brilliant.

Really, these two are – in our experience – as good as pizzas can be.

My cafe latte is pretty good, too!

 

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