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.)

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.

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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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.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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Classic Italian, well worth a drive

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Customs House Restaurant & Bar, 57-59 Brougham Street, Geelong. Phone: 5246 6500

Dinner in Geelong?

Sure, why not!

Truth is, since departing the Geelong Advertiser, Consider The Sauce has been in that city just once – on the way to and from a nice winery lunch.

Since then that city has been pretty much out of sight and out of mind.

Oddly enough, places that were whizzed by countless commuting times – such as Werribee – have since become the locations of numerous CTS visitations.

But Geelong?

No.

 

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But … as it happens, one of our cherished and now regular dining companions and her other half have Geelong ties, and are only too happy to make up a table when an invitation arrives from Customs House (see full disclosure below).

And – again, as it happens – both my friends happen to be in Geelong on the day/night in question.

So I make the journey happily alone, eschewing the temptation of firing up the chopper and departing plenty early instead by car.

The traffic is heavy but flowing steadily, and I enjoy a nice drive fuelled by Haiatian rhythms.

I arrive with about an hour to spare before dinner time, which allows me to indulge in casual stroll around the CBD and waterfront.

There’s some sad-looking boarded-up shops on the main drag but elsewhere – on Malop Street and the waterfront – there’s been some attractive and cool eats additions so I bide my time menu grazing.

NOW it’s dinner time.

 

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The first surprises, for me, are both the location and the building itself – for some reason I had in my mind’s eye that Customs House was another historic building, one closer to the train station.

This actual Customs House is almost on the waterfront and very striking at night with it expanse of lawn leading down to the bay.

Inside, the low ceiling lends the place a clubbish feel and whole feels very nice and welcoming.

For all the swishness of the surroundings, the vibe is casual and friendly.

Another surprise is the menu (see below).

For some inexplicable reason all three of us had been expecting bistro or “modern Australian” – what we find is classic, straight-up Italian.

And the just fine by us as we’re all partial to just that!

Everything we have is good or better – even, in the cases of one of our mains and a couple of the desserts, ranging into outstanding territory.

It all compares very favourably with the fare of any of the several western suburbs Italian places we like.

 

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Fresh asparagus spears wrapped and grilled in proscuitto, served with a lemon mascarpone ($16) finds us each tucking into a lovely bundle, with the pig salty and chewy and the mascarpone a delicious touch.

 

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Arancini della nonna are rice balls stuffed with talleggio, crumbed, fried and served with a napoli sauce ($16). They’re fine, with green peas providing extra texture.

 

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Focaccia with roasted garlic oil and rosemary salt ($8) is agreeably on the dry side, crumbly and enjoyable. We mop up the last of the rice ball napoli sauce with it, as well.

 

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House gnocchi with parmesan cream, pork and fennel sausage and mushrooms ($34) appears to be almost overly rich but is enjoyed by its recipient.

 

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My zuppa de pesce ($42) boasts a broth that is rich, deep and flavoursome with seafood stock.

The seafood is good, though the mussels are tiny and the whole is weighted heavily towards baby octopus – no matter, I scoff the lot with glee.

 

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The simple, rustic pollo alla cacciatora ($38) is big hit, its hefty chook chunk tender, juicy and oh-so-fine despite the depth of the meat.

I try it, thanks to my companion.

I wish it was mine.

Now it’s on to desserts – we’re excited as the three featured are faves all round.

 

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Chocolate panna cotta with hazelnut praline ($16) is fine and enjoyable but the least of our three sweeties.

It’s with the …

 

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… traditonal tiramisu ($15) and the …

 

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… the white chocolate creme brulee with blueberries ($16.50) that our lovely evening ends with giddy highs that have us sighing with pleasure.

This is Italian dessert making of a very high order!

With that it’s back up the road for me, a familiar drive to the strains of Benin Afro-funk made all the easier and even enjoyable thanks to a fine meal enjoyed with good friends.

Check out the Customs House website here.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Customs House 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. Customs House management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

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