Verjus – Paris 2016

When you visit Paris, patient the restaurant choices are overwhelming. There are literally thousands of restaurants and they are all good. Or at least as a traveller to the city you think they are all good. Everyone you know who has visited the city will have a different list of about ten restaurants “you HAVE to try” and of course, they are in neighbourhoods that are not remotely close to you or anything you want to see. Then you foolishly think, “Ok. Let me look up restaurants with Michelin stars.” Don’t do that. It is the most futile Google search you will ever perform and you will depress yourself as you don’t have hundreds of euros to spend on lunch to go to somewhere with 1-Michelin star let alone something with 3-stars which the official definition is “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” It is overwhelming, daunting and borderline annoying to plan meals in Paris.

However, one meal that was easy to plan was our dinner at Verjus. I learned about Verjus while watching The Getaway, a show by ESPN that features B-list actors and their favourite weekend getaways. Paris is the city of choice for Aisha Tyler. In the episode she eats at a few wine bars (Frenchie which was unfortunately missed on this trip) but Verjus really stood out for me. It is run by an American couple who are part of a change that is happening in Paris about how people view food and restaurants. It began as a wine bar with tasting plates or petits plats (which sounds so much daintier than tapas or sharing plates) and has expanded into a full-on restaurant with a tasting menu and a second restaurant called Ellsworth.

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To get to Verjus we entered through an alleyway called Passage de Beaujolais. We were early for our reservation so we wandered through the short alley and down the stairs that took us street level to a whole other world. From there we could see that Verjus is located in an old, 3-storey, very typically Parisian building that is across the street from the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. We felt like we were transported back in time to the 18th century. We meandered through the archways of the théâtre and discovered the beautiful gardens of the Palais-Royal with its wild rose bushes and fountains. As dusk began to fall we headed back to the restaurant to enjoy our dinner.

The tasting menu was 10 courses for 76€ with wine pairings for an addition 55€. We decided to go for it with the wine pairing because who knows when you will be back in Paris eating a tasting menu at an amazing restaurant because you won a free trip? And yes, for those of you doing the math, this meal was almost $400 Canadian, making it one of the most expensive meals I have ever had.

We were seated at a small table close to the entrance and the stairway leading upstairs. I was more than ok with this because it allowed us to be surrounded by windows offering views of the streets below and an opportunity to take a peek at upcoming courses as they whipped their way upstairs.

We started with a course featuring three different appetizers that were all served with a sparkling white wine, Catherine & Pierre Breton’s Vouvray Pétillant “La Dilettante”

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Violet asparagus, with sorrel mayo and wood sorrel.

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Fava bean fritter with herb tahini.

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Trout roe, with house yogurt, on a flatbread topped with arugula.

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Paris 2016

I won a trip to Paris. Yes, nurse you read that correctly. In fall 2016 I was entering contests every day, a result of the fact that one of my friends won a trip to Jamaica. I thought to myself: “If she can win a trip (something which is completely up to chance), I can win a trip too!” Although this was poor logic, I won. Of course, since winning this trip, I have continued to enter contests when I see them, hoping for a similar result.

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The trip was offered though Grand Marnier and was a simple series of information boxes to be completed online. A random draw, a simple math question and I officially had won a trip worth $10,000. The prize was a trip for two and included airfare (business class, oh la la) and four nights accommodations, three in Paris and one in the Grand Marnier Chateaux in Cognac. GC and I extended the trip three extra nights to really enjoy Paris and we were off.

Business class is amazing, ridiculous and indulgent and everyone should experience it: they check your coat, provide you with proper table settings and tablecloths, a glass of champagne before people in economy have even boarded and you are essentially in your own pod, able to fully recline and sleep during the flight. The luxury, food and service established the tone of the entire trip.

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Our first days in Paris were filled with strolls through historic streets, visits to see priceless pieces of art and of course, food.

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I had a few struggles with Paris:

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1. As someone who lives in a major city, you don’t expect to be completely shocked by how expensive everything is. The galleries and museums were very reasonably priced but the food was ridiculous. Paris is easily the most expensive place I have visited and made me realise why people think Spain and Portugal are reasonably priced.

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2. There are so, so many people in the city. And so, so many tourists! Paris is the busiest place I have visited, beating out Rome and London,and we were told that tourism is down 20% since the attacks! We left the Louvre in the early afternoon and the galleries were filling with people who only care about Mona Lisa and when we were at Versailles, the actual palace was filled with people throwing elbows, trying to take photos of every bust in the place. I cannot imagine visiting or being able to enjoy Paris at the height of tourist season.

3. Things are either very posh or very not. This of course happens in every city: in Toronto there is a difference between Yorkville and St. Jamestown but in Paris this disparity seemed even more apparent. Right now there is a huge number of Syrian refugees in the city and it is absolutely heartbreaking seeing young mothers huddling their infants in the streets while people just walk by not caring. And pee. It smells like pee EVERYWHERE. I get it. It’s a city, men can pee standing up but I have never experienced this in any other city. Maybe it has something to do with all the parks?

1134394. The food. French food is obviously delicious, no one is denying that but when you live in a city where you can get almost every type of food whenever you want it makes the lack of variety a little difficult. My next visit to France would include more visits to markets (both for price and variety) and seeking out more of the variety France does have to offer: Middle Eastern and North African food.

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5. I just didn’t love it. Paris is beautiful and filled with history, art, culture, wine, food and so many things I love but I just didn’t connect to the city like I thought I would. Paris is a city of neighbourhoods (or arrondissements) and this made it difficult for me to feel really connected to the city. Our hotel for the first half of the trip was in the first arrondissement which is primarily a business and administration area. I started to enjoy the city and its neighbourhoods more once we moved to our AirBnB in the sixth arrondissement; a neighbourhood known for being expensive but with a bohemian and intellectual vibe. This was a neighbourhood I could see myself living in with my local bakery and flower shop on the corner, the metro less than a 10 minute walk away and historic sites literally being across the street (our apartment was across the street from a building that Gauguin and Modigliani had lived in).

But there were things I absolutely loved about Paris and France in general:

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1. Cognac. If you visit France, you must visit the south/wine country/outside of Paris. The train ride alone was gorgeous, passing fields of farmland, vineyards and thousands of wild poppies. Once we arrived in Cognac we learned so much about the history, the process of making cognac, the barrels and importance of wood and soil, and the difference between Grand Marnier and other cognac. I am officially a huge fan of Grand Marnier, having switched from my token gin and tonic to GM and tonic and cannot say enough food things about this company and the people who met who work for this company.

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2. The seafood. I loved walking past restaurants and smelling the ocean. The seafood in Paris is fresh, salty and brining from the ocean because it was literally in the ocean that morning. We visited Restaurant La Coupole and both ordered ridiculous platters of seafood. It was some of the best seafood I have ever eaten.

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3. The parks. I love the public parks and amount of green space in Paris. It makes you feel like you aren’t even in the city. Our apartment was about a five minute walk from the Luxemburg gardens which were expansive and beautiful. My favourite thing about the parks in Paris is they have hundreds of green steel chairs set-up in every park and no one steals or defaces them. They remain in the park for everyone’s common enjoyment.

4 10 18 19 24 26 44 474. The food. French food is delicious and I ate the most amount of cheese in a week that I’ve probably ever eaten. And probably should ever eat. We enjoyed French cuisine the way the French do, rich food over long meals with good wine and better conversation. Our best meals were in Cognac but I loved the atmosphere and energy in the French bistros and cafes, perfect for people watching.

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5. The art. I saw Mona Lisa in person for the first time and I absolutely feel in love with her. I likened seeing this painting to seeing pandas in person for the first time: you want to hate it, you want to think it is overrated but in reality, it is worth the fuss. Mona Lisa is beautiful, so vibrant in colour and energy and not as small as you think she is. You can get close enough to have your 30 second moment of her and then you are off to see the thousands of other priceless works in the Louvre. The highlight of the trip for me was the Musee de l’Orangerie which houses 8 massive paintings of Monet’s waterlilies. It left me breathless and in awe.

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6. The Queen’s Hamlet at Versailles. Yes, Versailles is epic, overwhelming and the embodiment of the ridiculousness/amazingness that was Louis XIV. The palace itself is beautiful and ornate but GC and I were both more impressed with the palace in Madrid. The garden at Versailles are incomparable but unfortunately, the fountains were all off when we visited. The Queen’s Hamlet is the most perfect picturesque place I have ever seen, looking like the town right out of Beauty and the Beast. I was so in love and at peace in the hamlet, able to actually stop for a minute without getting elbowed by an eager tourist and take in the history and beauty around me.

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I would visit Paris again, for a few days between cities or on an extended layover. Several people I have talked to have said they didn’t fall in love with Paris until their second visit. Maybe Paris is like a stinky, strong, French cheese: at first you are overwhelmed and confused by what you are tasting but then the taste grows and builds on your palate, revealing layers of flavor, passion and history.

Grignotant heureux! Or happy munching!

Uno Mustachio

One of my favourite parts of my new job is the proximity to St. Lawrence Market. Before I worked at Yonge and King, discount I was forced to visit the market on Saturdays due to the less than convenient hours. The market on Saturdays is an unbearable event. It is crowded, ambulance people are violently shoving you out of their way as they try and sample their 18th pretzel with Kozlik’s mustard and you can’t spend time looking at the bounty in front of you. Because I was visiting on the busiest days of the week, I would try and make my visits to the market as short as possible: a quick dart, in and out, to pick up a fancy cookie cutter, a bagel with lox and cream cheese or a tube of cured meat. I had no idea about the amazingness of the prepared foods in the basement of the market.

Until now. The basement of St. Lawrence is truly what makes the market amazing and contributes to its title from National Geographic as the world’s best food market. The basement houses all sorts of food stalls where you can buy prepared menu items to enjoy in the food court downstairs or one of the many picnic tables surrounding the building outside. My first visit to the basement of the market left me with an order of pierogis from European Delight ($4.25/dozen) and I was hooked. I knew I slowly had to discover the halls of the basement and see what other deliciousness it had in store for me.

Last week I visited Uno Mustachio in search of a sandwich.

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It should be noted that I am fairly loyal to California Sandwiches and have eaten dozens, if not hundreds of sandwiches from them. I even had to delete the Uber Eats app from my phone at one time because I was ordering too many chicken parm sandwiches. Yes, I have re-downloaded the app and have since ordered more sandwiches.

But when I saw something called the Godfather on Uno Mastachio’s menu I knew it had to be good. Uno Mustachio doesn’t limit you to just a chicken/veal parmigiana or an eggplant parmigiana sandwich. They allow you to get BOTH and have a name for it so you don’t feel like a ridiculous, glutinous human being! I ordered my Godfather sandwich with veal and all the fixings (roasted red peppers, sautéed onions, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted jalapeno peppers) and this garnered me much respect from the older Italian gentleman who rang through my order.

This sandwich is unreal. The pieces of veal are generously massive, spilling g over the sides of the Kaiser bun. The veal is crispy but the breading is a light coating, it is not overly greasy or too heavy to stick to the meat. The veal itself is thin and moist. The meat is tender and easily bites off intact with its coating. The eggplant is thinly sliced, avoiding any of the fibrous starchiness that is common with eggplant parmigiana.
The toppings are the right mix of flavours and textures. The combination of both sweet and hot peppers adds a kick and sweetness with each bite, playing on the same flavours found in the sauce. There is a generous smear of sauce on the bun but not in excess that will result in sauce flying everywhere. You could wear a white shirt while eating this sandwich.

This sandwich blew me away and was incredibly filling. I obviously finished the whole thing even though it was the size of my head and then I felt like a whale immediately after. I will definitely be having another one of these sandwiches (not with much frequency as I am trying not to have a heart attack before 30) and I think my California Sandwiches days are over.

Happy munching!

Maker Pizza… again.

Yes, I went to Maker Pizza two weekends in a row and yes, I had the Bodega sandwich both times. But this time, we split the Bodega and ordered a small pizza to share. I don’t think that is an argument in my favour for health and fitness but it is definitely an argument in my favour for good life choices in delicious food.

We ordered the Porkys but this is what came out to us.IMG_5869No, that is not pork, it is mushrooms and lots of them. Although I love mushrooms and mushroom pizzas, not everyone in attendance that afternoon loves them. When I returned to the counter to clarify my order, the woman behind the counter said, “Oh, ok. Sorry about that. Just keep it. I’ll bring out your order shortly.” HELLS YES. I already was in love with Maker Pizza but now I am completely sold on them.

The pizza that was brought to us was the So Mushroom: honey mushrooms, mascarpone, chopped garlic, grana padano, sea salt and pepper.

Oh. My. God. This is the best mushroom pizza I have ever had and one of the best pizzas I have ever had. Unlike other Neapolitan pizzas, this crust is slightly thicker and completely cooked through to the middle of the pizza. There is none of that your toppings will slide off the centre and burn your face nonsense that can often happen with this style of pizza. The crust itself is salty, doughy and has subtle yeasty flavour to it. It is the best pizza dough I have tasted. The dough is all made by a guy named Kevin who’s name adorns every box of pizza. At first I thought this was a play on Home Alone and Kevin McCallister’s love of cheese pizza but quickly learned that Kevin is Maker Pizza’s pizza maker and he knows what he is doing.

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I loved the mushrooms on this pizza. The honey mushrooms are thin and papery, melting as soon as they touch your tongue. I love any mushroom that looks like a toadstool; they have a whimsical quality about them which almost makes them taste more woody and earthy. The cheese was creamy, milky and thick and was wrapped up in flavours of pepper and garlic.

I want to eat this pizza again and again and again.

Once I was almost too full on pizza, the Porkys came out and I obviously had to have a slice of that too.

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The Porkys with pork shoulder sugo, stracciatella, basil, garlic, chili peppers, grand Padano, sea salt and pepper.

Again, another delicious pizza. The pork shoulder had a pulled-pork consistency, wrapped up in delicious tomato sauce rather than barbecue. It added a slightly fruity acidity to the richness of the white pizza, which you don’t often find; most white pizzas feature more veggies than meat.

Yes, for those of you keeping track, as this point I had enjoyed half a Bodega sandwich, a slice of So Mushroom pizza and a slice of Porkys pizza. I was obviously stuffed but took my leftovers home and waited anxiously to eat the next bites of this pizza. Even now, I am thinking about my next bite. Maybe this weekend, make it three in a row?

Happy munching!

Niagara-on-the-Lake 2016

A few weeks ago we had a belated one-year anniversary brunch with my parents in Niagara. The reason we were about 6 months behind was because in the fall JDL had his knee replaced and then who wants to go to Niagara in the winter?

The day started with a visit to Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s first bio-dynamic winery. We tasted a flight of four different wines, two whites and two reds, each highlighting the unique growing conditions and techniques at Southbrook. Our server was incredibly knowledgeable, having studied cuisine and wine at Niagara College. He was well spoken on the interplay between wine and food, something I completely lack and admire in other people.

After a few tastes of wine, we headed over to Trius Winery for our celebratory brunch. The brunch at Trius is a three-course tasting menu with the option to pair each course with wine as selected by the restaurant. Mom, being the classy and knowledgeable person she is, made her choices based on the wine; everyone else made their choices based on the food.

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The dining room at Trius has been recently redone, featuring bold furniture in yellows and reds. The main dining room features huge spherical light fixtures that resemble fireworks exploding in a night sky. The dining rooms open out onto a patio which overlooks the vineyards. In early April this is not quiet the focal point that it is in the summer. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, which was a little more private and with a view of the courtyard and vineyards.

After we were seated, we were immediately greeted with glasses of Trius Brut Rosé – all brunches should start with pink bubbly. It should be noted that this is apparently supposed to serve as a palate cleanser between courses and should last the length of your meal, not gulped down shortly after the first course like mine was. Oops. It was just too tasty to not enjoy that quickly.

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Maker Pizza – The Bodega

I’m currently on a huge sandwich kick: I’ve been eating various iterations of Cubano sandwiches, I recently munched a lobster roll from Buster’s Sea Cove in St. Lawrence Market, I’m planning a burger date in the next week or so with my pal Lynsey and I’ve been eating copious amounts of breaded chicken sandwiches from California Sandwiches thanks to Uber Eats.

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While the excessive eating of Uber Eats has to stop (or I at least have to walk to California Sandwiches location that is 10 minutes away from my house), the sandwich eating does not. Sandwiches are the most convenient way to eat meat and cheese. On the weekend GC and I put this theory to the test and headed down to Maker Pizza to try their sandwiches. Yes, we went to a pizza joint to eat sandwiches but I suggest you do too. We both ordered the Bodega which is arguably one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten.

IMG_5815The Bodega with mortadella, ham, turkey, salami, mozzarella, provolone, tomato, white onion, iceberg lettuce, roasted red pepper, roasted jalapeno, pepperoncini, sub sauce and served on a sesame bun.

This sandwich is as intimidating, epic and ridiculous as it looks. Despite having four types of deli meat (which I now think all sandwiches should), the sandwich is not greasy or heavy. This is because the veggie portion of the sandwich is made into a slaw with a vinegary tartness to it, which lightens the sandwich. By making the vegetables into a slaw, you do not have any of that wet, sliminess that can sometimes happen with having lettuce on a sandwich – which is why GC does not put lettuce on his sandwiches. The lettuce doesn’t shift and pull with each bite, leaving your sandwich intact until the very last bite. The jalapeño and pepperoncini add a nice level of heat to the sandwich which also helps break up the greasiness of the deli meat. The heat doesn’t overpower the sandwich or your palate, simply highlights the peppery tastes of the mortadella and salami. The cheese combination is perfect. Provolone and mozzarella play together to create a smoky and creamy cheese duet that can stand up against the strong flavours of the meat quartet.

I fell in love with this sandwich and Maker Pizza. I am already planning my next date with this sandwich (hopefully this Saturday) and future picnics that will happen in Alexandra Park with various pizzas from this restaurant.

Happy munching!

The Pressed Cubano from La Cubana

When you are in school the easiest lunch is a sandwich. It is quick, and easy and portable. But sandwiches can become routine and boring, pill topped with the same meats, generic cheeses and condiments. There is typically one type of meat, one type of cheese and maybe mayo and mustard. In elementary school it was a turkey breast or ham sandwich with Havarti and mayo. No mustard. I hate mustard. In university, it was an everything bagel, topped with herb and garlic cream cheese, spinach, tomato and sometimes ham. Now lunches consist of soup or leftovers but rarely sandwiches unless they are bought out.

A few weeks ago I was walking down Ossington Avenue with Giancarlo looking for a spot to grab a coffee. We decided to pop into the La Cubana expecting to be greeted with the brunch menu familiar to us from the Ronscevalles location. This location is very different. It is a long, narrow restaurant with a counter for ordering. The menu consists of sandwiches with some plates but no brunch. The only thing resembling brunch is the breakfast sandwiches on weekends made on weekends.

Disappointed, but still hungry, we both opted to order the Pressed Cubano.

IMG_5603The Pressed Cubano with ham, pork, gruyere, red onion, cornichon, grainy mustard and mayo.

This killed my coffee craving. The sandwich was buttery and cheesy. The pickle and mustard added complimentary tang that worked with the sweet tartness of the onion. The gruyere added a nutty taste and the ham and pork were fatty and delicious. This sandwich is the perfect snack while wandering this neighbourhood. However, if I am craving a Cubano/cubana sandwich I will be visiting San Cosme in Kengsinton Market and I am craving La Cubana I will be visiting the Ronscevalles location for brunch.

Happy munching!

Easter 2016

It is Easter Monday and seemingly everyone else is off from work except me. The subway was empty this morning; I didn’t have to do my typical wait on the train for 10 minutes in the tunnel north of St. Clair West while empty trains are sent through for more important people. The offices at work are empty and it is a slow, rainy day.

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Easter weekend was relaxing, spent outside with beautiful weather and with amazing people. On Friday we made our traditional Italian pasta appetizers, calascioni. This is something that Ninni remembers making as a young girl in Italy, when these types of expensive meats and cheese could only be bought at Easter. This tradition has been passed on to me and Giancarlo and we now share this tradition with his best friend Nick and his wife, Rachel. The day is spent rolling out homemade pasta dough, cutting out perfect circles, filling each ravioli-like pocket with the meat and cheese mixture and baking in the oven until they are golden and oozing cheese. After a few hours of hard work, we enjoyed dinner, wine and Yahtzee.

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Plank Diet

I have a joke that everything tastes better on a plank and that the only diet I believe in is a plank diet.

Last weekend GC and I ventured down to Cheese Boutique. If you have not been to this store, you must go. Now. It has the most magical assortment of cheeses, spreads, meats, crackers, breads, olives and everything that makes a perfect charcuterie board. There is also a cheese vault (which you can look at and tour in a google-map style on their website). Literally a vault that houses and ferments some of the greatest cheese in the world. When you walk in to this walk-in closet sized room you are hit with the most intense, pungent and amazing smell. I could spend hours in this room.

We spent too much money and picked up four types of cheese, three types of crackers, a bruschetta mix and chili okazu (a sesame, miso pasta that omigosh is so delicious on EVERYTHING).

Cheese Boutique provides brief descriptions of each cheese on the packaging. These are the four types of cheese we had:

Cantal: a raw cow’s milk cheese from around the French Alps. AOC controlled and aged in-house 18 months.

Super Manchego: the only sheep’s raw milk producer of Manchego. Aged in mountain caves in La Mancha. Brought in at 18 months and aged another 6 months to produce a drier, more crystalline texture.

Ontario Goat Cheddar: produced in Lindsay, Ontario with 100% local goat’s milk.

Blackout: Made in Holland exclusively for Cheese Boutique and aged 3 years in-house. This cheese has been released from our vault in honour of the blackout in the summer of 2013. Big, nutty flavour.

My favourite was the Blackout. It was deep in flavour, and had a caramelized, nutty flavour to it; it was a richer gouda.

I am making it a personal rule that I am not allowed to return until after my trip to Paris. Because after all, if you are going to the cheese capital of the world, you should maybe just wait.

Happy munching!

A3 Napoli

If you are contemplating getting a new job and you are unsure whether or not you should take the plunge, hospital you only need one reason: food and drink. The number of dinners and drinks people have wanted to share with me since the announcement of my new job is ridiculously amazing. There are drinks to celebrating getting the job, order then drinks to celebrate leaving the job, drinks to celebrate the new job and then drinks to celebrate how the new job is going.

Last night Cynthia and I caught up about my new job over beers and food at A3 Napoli. A3 Napoli is a joint venture between the people behind Pizzeria Libretto and Porchetta & Co., two of my favourite Italian spots in the city. It is a little restaurant located in Little Italy, a neighbourhood I seldom venture to; when you live with an 85-year old Italian woman why would you bother?

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