Posts Tagged Mediterranean
I didn’t have the chance to stay in a palace on my recent trip to Malta. But I had the next best thing: an afternoon in the expansive Baroque gardens of Palazzo Parisio. In the town of Naxxar with its atmospheric narrow lanes, many decorated with potted plants and flowers, the palace dates from the time of the Knights of Malta. In fact, it was their holiday house. (So much for the vows of poverty that they were required to take.) And, though the ultra-ornate rooms lined with Carrera marble and hung with Caravaggio paintings are plenty striking, I was most struck by the serenity and natural beauty of the well-tended gardens. (I am a huge park and garden buff, as you all know.) And, though checking out gardens in the heat of August hardly sounds delightful, it is in Malta and especially in the gardens of the palace where I relished in the sight of colorful oleander, bougainvillea and hibiscus blooms as well as roses and the numerous species of palms — a couple are said to be some 200 years old — as well as citrus trees and many others. (There are also some private side gardens where the restaurant grows herbs and vegetables for items on the menu.)
But even if you’re hardly the garden lover, you’ll enjoy just hanging out pre- or post-lunch on one of the many lounge chairs set on the grassy lawn or in a comfy sofa with a drink in hand in the canopied gazebo. I spent hours just doing this.
My video shows some of the tempting garden lounge possibilities.
Anyone who’s planning a wedding should take note. This is a most romantic venue for the ceremony.
And, because I couldn’t tear myself away from this verdancy, I lunched outdoors under a canopy at the palace’s restaurant, Caffe Luna. The mostly Mediterranean menu includes local ingredients, especially at the lunch hour. I found the best choice was the assorted tea sandwiches that included chicken with chutney, and cream cheese with arugula and chives. And though these were most flavorful and filling, the desserts were a high point. I chose the signature cake: a slice of carrot with pineaplle and walnuts plus a dish of lemon granita. What could be more refreshing?
The only thing I missed was High Tea in the garden — it’s considered too hot in August for this service . Ah, another reason to return.
FISH AU SALT
Salt crusted baked Branzino with grilled asparagus and creole potatoes
Chef Luisa Fernandes‘ top notch signature of Branzino in Mediterranean cuisine.
It’s not often that I step into a restaurant in New York City and find that after the first bite, I feel transported to another country. But that’s what happened to me the other night when I had dinner at a very recently renovated restaurant on the Lower East Side.
Nomad, a restaurant specializing in North African cuisine, still retains a North African theme with its murals, lamps, naturally-sculpted rose stone pieces and other embellishments. But now that it has Portuguese chef, Luisa Fernandes, as its executive chef, the restaurant has taken on a whole new life.
Luisa conjures up some magical Mediterranean fare that include elements from Spain, Italy, Greece, France, North Africa, and her native, Portugal. Portugal is one of my specialties and every dish that came out of the kitchen harkened back to my travels across that country. But each also had a little twist that made it approachable to the American palate.
The fresh sardines came topped with pickled onions. Perfected grilled baby octopus was nestled in amongst chickpeas that were nicely flavored with bits of lamb sausage. A stuffed quail was dressed with a tangy pomegranate sauce and served with couscous, onions and raisins.
I ordered a balanced Trajadura wine from Monho, Portugal to accompany the meal. And I couldn’t get enough of the freshly-baked garlic and herb flatbread. (Many of the dishes are cooked in the brand new wood burning brick oven set into the wall in the dining room. And it’s the maple and cherry woods Luisa uses here that lend to the aromatic flavors.)
If you want to dine in a restaurant where the chef — who, by the way, was the 2009 champion on the Food Network’s cooking competition show, Chopped — has a supreme passion for cooking, then I’d run right down to Nomad if you live in New York. And, if you don’t, I’d put it on my list of places to dine when you’re next in town.
15% OFF on food and drink at Nomad during July! Mention ‘Best Tapas’ to redeem this offer.
Authentic Mediterranean Tapas, Spanish Tapas, Portuguese Tapas with seasonal menus such as Cous Cous, Cataplana, Tajine, Rabbit Casserole and more by Executive Chef Luisa Fernandes, winner of “Chopped” at Nomad in East Village.
Beautiful garden, Private dining room and Sidewalk seating right on Second Avenue. For reservations, 212-253-5410 or online, www.nomadny.com/Best_Mediterranean_Restaurant_NYC_reservation/
Many, including myself, have come under Djerba’s spell. Perhaps even Ulysses. After all, this Mediterranean island has long been suffused with mythology. In Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses and his crew were said to have been seduced by the sweet fruit of lotus flowers — most likely it was a fermented beverage that intoxicated them — that they had difficulty heading back to their ships. No wonder this isle is sometimes dubbed the “Isle of Forgetfulness.”
What I found was equally intoxicating from an atmospheric point of view. This petite lush Tunisian oasis that’s trimmed with sandy beaches is a perfect place for bicycling: an almost year-round sunny land that’s as flat as it can be, aside from a few minor hills. (For those not wanting to work up a sweat, the bus network is extensive or you can rent a scooter or a car.) But, for me, cycling allows for more of an intimacy with the land.
And though there are not the tantalizing lotus flowers — or whatever fermented fruit they may have consumed — that are said to have tempted Ulysses and his men, there is the sweet perfume of flowering fruit trees.
The golden swaths of sand is what attracts most everyone who steps on Djerba’s shores. In fact, the northeast coast with its clutter of resorts and private beaches sees most of the tourist traffic. Instead, I headed further south towards the causeway where I found more solitude along the sandy stretches.
But, a much more magical landscape awaited inland where the scape is dappled with gnarled olive groves and tall date palms. Once I left the sandy coast, I found quiet country lanes where donkey carts rolled by, fields of grazing sheep, and even a young boy herding camels.
Djerba’s villages dramatically sparkle in the sunlight, their whitewashed facades in stark contrast to their azure-blue trim and the colorful surrounding fields planted with a cornucopia of fruits, from pomegranates and apricots to mandarins and grapes. Each village displays the island’s distinctive white-washed domed buildings. Even the mosques have an unusual architecture, more fortress-like than you might’ve expected if you’re accustomed to the ornate Ottoman embellishments.
Many of the island’s villages are noted for different artisanal goods: whether its hand-woven baskets from Fatou or straw hats from Sedouikech. And Saturday morning brings crowds to El May flocking to their colorful market. For generations, the village of Guellala in the south has been turning out pottery and ceramics that’s still made the traditional way, on the potter’s wheel, with the clay dug from small quarries just outside of town.
One morning, I wandered the vibrant souks in Houmt Souk, the island’s picturesque capital that’s brimming elaborate silver filagree jewelry, palm leaf-woven baskets, camel hide bags, boldly hued Bedouin belts.
My retreat was the snowy white village of Er Riadh with its network of narrow lanes. There I found the Hotel Dar Dhiafa, a boutique property that’s fashioned from centuries-old houses. This is an idyllic place to walk through the tiled courtyards, past pools and niches where bougainvillea are draped and candles cast a warm glow. Plus, they have some of the best cuisine around, North African dishes with French accents.
One of the most surprising findings here is that a Jewish population has called this village home for some 2,000 years. In the modern-day synagogue, El Ghriba, North Africa’s oldest, beyond the blue-trimmed white facade is a sun-speckled interior bedecked with ornate mosaics and painted pillars and archways.
Even if Djerba is mostly flat, it’s nice to know that weary muscles can easily get some relief. That’s because Djerba has become a center for thalassotherapy, spa treatments that revolve around sea water and seaweed treatments that are said to be especially rejuvenating. A firm massage or a soothing wrap could very well be as seductive as the beverage that once captivated Ulysses.