Wonderful impromptu Italian

Leave a comment



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.




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.




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!




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.




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.




Lovely Italian, great fun

Leave a comment


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.




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.




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 …




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




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.




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.





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.




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.







Fine sweeties, wholesale prices

Leave a comment



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.




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.



Nelson Place, top stuff




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.




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.




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.




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.





Classy Italian in Essendon

Leave a comment



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!




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.




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.




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.




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.




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.




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.)



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




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.




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.




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.




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.




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.




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?

1 Comment



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.




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.




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.




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




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

Oh, yeah – and pizza slices.




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.




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.