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Dine Local at Market Bistro

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A jar of Horman’s Best Pickles

Where’s a quaint little eatery to go on Long Island? Why your local strip mall, of course! Market Bistro is a little gem tucked away in the Marhsalls shopping center in Jericho. Its sister restaurant, West End Café in Carle Place, shares a similar locale. MB’s warm décor is reminiscent of a West Village eatery minus the aloof staff. Their mission? “…to bring farm fresh, seasonally inspired and thoughtfully procured provisions to Long Island.” Local farmers, wineries and breweries are nicely emphasized on the diverse menu.

Two cool decorative touches among many: the huge chalkboard at the entrance that features that evening’s dinner and drink highlights and the MB wall of barrels that separate the kitchen and bar/dining room.

It was pretty hoppin’ on a recent Thursday night, and bartender Stephen warmly welcomed us as we settled in. My pal and I ordered Lieb Cellars Pinot Blanc – one of my favorite refreshing Long Island whites – on tap, perfect for a warm summer evening. To start, we enjoyed zesty market pickles, local from Horman’s Best. Cleverly served in a jar, they perfectly accompanied our wine and opened our appetites. Next was two absolutely huge salads: arugula with manchego, dates, cerignola olives and a pork load of serrano ham in a bright sherry vinaigrette and a new twist on Caesar: MB caesar & kale salad with crisp baby romaine, grilled kale, white anchovy, fried capers and zesty pecorino romano. Hungry for more, I spied local sea scallops on the menu. It was too late to turn back now…

Come hither, you succulent sea creatures…

Perfectly seared, fleshy in the middle and pillow tender, they were served with sweet corn risotto, roasted cherry tomato, black truffle and basil – an absolute killer dish with textural and flavorful contrasts (way to show those scallops who’s boss, MB!). Overall, Miss Ciao gives two LI forks up for Market Bistro. It may just be my new neighborhood haunt.

Market Bistro on Urbanspoon

Carlo Vs. The Donkey

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Sant Andrea

Sant’ Andrea, Calabria

I visited my grandmother Vittoria on Sunday for her 88th birthday. While I was there my grandfather Carlo told me some pretty hilarious stories of when he was growing up in Sant’Andrea, an ancient town in Calabria, Italy nestled high on a mountain.

One story in particular involved a donkey or “jackass” as he put it (I think he just likes saying jackass). When he was 14, each morning at 4:30am he’d walk from where he lived at the highest point of the town to school, which was located at the base of town near a convent. He’d sing at the top of his lungs the entire way. His song of choice – I wish I knew the name – involved lyrics that went something like, “If you don’t want to hear my song, I don’t care. You’ll hear it anyway!”

His before sunrise serenade would go on as he passed the bakery, shoe shop, homes with semi-sleeping residents and my grandmother’s house. Carlo would stand under her window for a moment and sing louder, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Of course she ignored him and he walked on.

Near school awaited his daily target, the jackass. The animal lived in a stall under the home of a farmer, who kept him there for whatever reason – it was the 1930’s – and was a pretty placid creature. That is, until Carlo arrived…

The donkey started braying like crazy as soon as he heard my grandfather’s voice echoing off the stone houses. If the singing wasn’t enough to wake the entire paese, this racket surely did. This amused Carlo to no end. Once he riled the creature up, he immediately stopped his song and ducked into school. Mission accomplished.

Carlo in his 20's.

Carlo in his 20′s.

One day after too many complaints from the neighbors about his noisy jackass, the farmer waited outside at 4:45am. But my grandfather was (and still is) pretty slick, knowing he should proceed with caution. Quiet as a church mouse as he walked towards school, but the farmer stopped him, gesticulating and going on about complaining neighbors and an irritated donkey. Carlo scratched his head and pretended to be confused. Perhaps the donkey was just pazzo? But the farmer was on to him and let him off with a stern warning.

The next morning Carlo was quiet again. The only sounds were his footsteps reverberating on the cobblestone streets. He was annoyed that he couldn’t give his morning jackass salute. He paused as he passed the farmer’s house and hatched a quick plan. My young grandfather crept up to the donkey’s stall, put his face to the window and whispered the song loudly into his chamber as the animal stood half asleep.

If you don’t want to hear my song, I don’t care. You’ll hear it anyway!”

The donkey roused immediately and went even more ballistic. Carlo took off just in time right before the flustered farmer came out. There was no singing, so what set the animal off this time? Maybe he really was pazzo!

Hibachi Hostage Situation

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Don't wear too much hairspray.

Don’t wear too much hairspray.

The Village of Farmingdale has lots of great shops and plenty of dining options, particularly for Asian cuisine. My daughter, aka Little Miss Ciao, enjoys hibachi at Wasabi Japanese Steak House on Main Street, but mostly for the cheesy jokes (egg roll, anyone?) and to catch shrimp in her mouth. The latter tends to make me feel like a seal (clap clap clap), but I play along. It can be a fun dining experience even after you know the shtick. Plus, their hibachi is delish.

But I drew the line on a recent visit. I was enjoying some sushi in the main dining room. Through a dividing lattice, we could see a rowdy bunch of hibachi goers hooting, hollering and really getting into the whole spectacle. It escalated into frat party mode when the rowdy chef – all fire and knives – started squirting sake into their mouths; they were competing as to who could go longest. I made the mistake of watching half-amused as it went on and on. The wild-eyed chef caught a glimpse of me and rushed over, shot his arm with the squirt bottle through the lattice and challenged me as I sat enjoying my safe dragon roll. Here’s more or less how it went:

Overzealous Hibachi Chef: “HAVE SOME SAKE!!!”

Hibachi table: “DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT!”

In-No-Mood Me: “No.”

Table: “Awwww, she’s lame!”

Chef: “I don’t care! I’ll squirt it in your mouth!!!” (background: CHANT CHANT CHANT CHANT)

Glaring Me: “NO.”

Peanut Gallery: “OH, COME ONNNN!”

There was an anxious moment when I was sure he’d actually fire, but I sat firm with my mouth in a line. I challenged him back with my eyes: “Go on, Punk. I DARE YOU.” It felt like a western showdown. So much for my leisurely dinner.

Luckily, my dining companion chivalrously volunteered and the missile veered off in a different direction. Whew. I was released from the hibachi hostage situation. The moral of the story? Avert your eyes from rowdy hibachi. If unwittingly presented with a squirt bottle, put your finger firmly over the mouth of the “gun” and sweetly say, “Not tonight, honey.” Best not to challenge and fan the onion volcano flames.

The next time I was in Farmindgale, I dined at Tiny Thai, a cozy little restaurant across from Croxley’s Ale House. I sat un-accosted and enjoyed some excellent Chicken Pad Thai. Would I go back to Wasabi? Sure, but only with some protective rain gear, a posse and squirt bottle holster. What’s fair is fair, Pilgrim.

Hospitality Personified

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Omer Acar

Le Royal Monceau, Paris

I admit, before writing this piece for The Affluent Traveler magazine, Miss Ciao didn’t have a burning desire to go to Paris. But I do now.

The primary subject is hospitality “rock star” Omer Acar, who performs daily as General Manager in one of the most amazing venues in the City of Lights, the uber-swanky hotel Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris. During our interview, he was charismatic and filled with colorful stories about his vast history in the hotel business. It was a delight to hit record and listen to the global adventures that led him there. Acar somehow manages to balance daily operations with a fulfilling personal life. He also finds time to sit with each hotel employee to perfect the inner workings of the hotel. I wonder if the man ever sleeps? Look how refreshed he is in the photo!

And then there’s the hotel itself, remodeled by famous architect Phillipe Starck. Under the tutelage of the Katara Hospitality Hotels Group, its staff strives to provide emotional luxury for each guest. They coined this phrase to describe that warm fuzzy feeling you get years later when recalling your stay. If you’re a lucky traveler, you’ve experienced it at least once. Well, the very idea made me want to book a trip and stay in the famous Ray Charles suite, traipse around Paris on a customized art tour (yes, they do that) and celebrity watch in the hotel’s gorgeous Grand Salon. Click on the photo to read the piece. Vive la France!

Rooting for Revel

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Our mighty fine room.

Our mighty fine room.

I love Boardwalk Empire and wish Atlantic City could recapture some of the glory from its heyday, minus gangstas like Gyp Rossetti, of course. And even though The Borgata and Water Club bring some sophistication, they’re far removed from Boardwalk – prime real estate if you like to casino hop. When Revel arrived on the scene last April, I was hopeful it would breathe some life into the tired Boardwalk. After all, AC can be a fun and convenient getaway…

So on a recent free weekend, I called my MOM (I put it in caps ’cause she’s fun) and suggested we take a little impromptu trip. Now I’m not much of a gambler – ten minutes on a Kitty Glitter slot machine is my limit – but Vera loves AC and playing craps (always say robustly as follows: “CRAAAAAAAPS!”). So we donned our hipster hats, depleted our Amex points and booked us a mighty fine room.

Once you step inside the Revel resort, the AC cheese melts away. It’s dynamically beautiful, reminiscent of The Wynn in Vegas. It’s also smoke free, utter paradise for a contact lens wearer like moi. The striking casino seems much smaller than most others in AC, but still full of action. I had to start exploring the awesome multi-levels immediately…the indoor/outdoor pool, game rooms, spa, gym, mall areas, nightclubs, bars and the “signature” and “select” restaurants, touted as, “A curated collection of Iron Chefs, Michelin chefs, James Beard Award winners…”

Indoor/outdoor pool.

The indoor/outdoor pool.

We dined at Azure by Allegretti that evening, which features Mediterranean Coastal Cuisine. Bright blue décor is accented by natural light that floods in from floor-to-ceiling windows. Our table faced  the mighty Atlantic, and the fare was excellent. I enjoyed the grilled octopus appetizer and Seared Scallops entrée, and mom loved her Crab Cakes and Free Range Chicken (and she’s not too into the “fancy food”). Note: all the servers were wearing Converse sneakers ala Chef Alain Allegretti. Loved that.

After dinner, mom lost $190 playing craps for two hours. So I took her remaining $10, plugged it into the first slot machine I could find and won $115 in 10.5 seconds. Vera was mad, but not for long because I returned hermoney. Free drinks on mom!

I really liked Revel and would definitely go back. I read that they’re adding some lower priced dining options, too. And although struggling like most after Hurricane Sandy, they’re featuring some major acts in the 5,500 seat Ovation Hall this spring, such as Alicia Keys and Rhianna. Plus, Vera just informed me she got some free rooms from them in the mail. Let’s rally some troops! “CRAAAAAAAPS?”

Happy Food Year

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Tomato sauceThe year’s end always brings forth personal reflection. One may ask themselves, “What have I accomplished professionally?” “How is my family doing?” or “Where is my relationship headed?” This year, I dare you to ask another question; one that reaches deep within the recesses of your very core…“What were my best meals in 2012?”

If you can easily recall some food highlights that spark instant happy memories of time spent with good friends and family, then you’ve had a pretty good year. My most memorable meal in 2012? Bet you can guess. But if you have to think about it reaaaallly hard and are still stumped, perhaps it’s time to hit the dining reset button. And even though I love eating out and will continue to do so, I’m resolving to cook more substantially at home in 2013. We’re already headed in the right direction.

Last week, I spent 24 hours and cracked 497 eggs to make two giant platters of eggplant parm for the holidays. A few nights ago, I grilled some marinated rib-eyes for me and Little Miss Ciao. My New Year’s Eve home dinner plans involve a tuna tartare appetizer, filet mignon and lobster tail main course served with fresh spinach and homemade garlic mashed potatoes. I don’t do the Italian NYE lentils good luck thing, but maybe I should start; if it works for you I’d love to hear it. Anyway, I am reminded of how centering home cooking can be, how much food brings family together.

Recently, I also made a simple, yet heavenly marinara sauce with some tri-colored farfalle. Since we enjoyed it so much, I’m going to share the recipe. There are tons of variations out there, but this is more or less how I learned it from grandma – and you can’t mess with the nonnas. You’ll be amazed at how fresh and vibrant it tastes. Serves 2-3, and of course you can double for more guests.

Marinara Sauce

3 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2-3 finely sliced fresh garlic cloves (you can add chopped onions, too)

½-1 cup hearty red wine (ex. Merlot)

1 14.5 oz. can Muir Glen Organic diced tomatoes

1 small can tomato sauce

½ tablespoon sea salt (or to taste)

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)

Fresh basil & parsley, half a handful each. You can also add in a few bay leaves.

Put the olive oil in a medium sauce pan and add in freshly sliced garlic. Saute on medium to high heat. When garlic is opaque, add in red wine and reduce for 3-4 minutes. Add in all the tomatoes, then 1/2-1 cup of water to cut thickness. Increase heat to a simmer, then gradually add in herbs and seasonings, then butter for richness. Cook on a slow simmer on low/medium heat for about 40 minutes. Serve over your favorite pasta, top with some parmigiano-reggiano grated cheese if you wish and enjoy.

Here’s to sharing many great meals with loved ones in 2013. Have a Happy Food Year! Now everybody sing! Should all the lame meals be forgot…

The Good Life Digital Dining Magazine

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Yes, Miss Ciao been an absentee blogger, but our eMarketing Company, Ciao Chow Media was busily putting together The Good Life DineZine (aka, Digital Dining Magazine) for Anthony Scotto Restaurants, Blackstone Steakhouse, Rare 650 and Insignia Prime Steak and Sushi. And while we thought our first DineZine, Dining in Style with Tom Schaudel was pretty cool (toot toot), this second digital publication one has more reach. Why? In the seven months between our first two digital magazines, HTML5 technology has become more widespread, allowing The Good Life DineZine to be interactive and shareable not just on desktops and laptops, but on all smartphones and mobile devices, too. No extra steps with apps needed.

Wherever they go, readers can click on live links and instantly watch the three videos inside. One is showcased in “The Art of Sushi” spread, highlighting Rare 650’s exciting specialty rolls and a Tuna Tataki preparation. Two more videos appear in a wine series called “Uncorked with Jake Young,” featuring the bow-tied, charismatic and knowledgeable sommelier who offers perfect holiday wine pairings and helpful tips. Click on a phone number to make a reservation, check out menus, or just explore the promos and websites. On page two, there’s a signup form for free $25 Dining Comp Card and more offers. The magazine and its individual pages are shareable via email and social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Digg, Google and Delicious. Pretty neat, huh?

Kudos to the team, The Good Life is also beautifully designed and photographed. But style without substance is like a steak dinner with just sides. So we packed it with engaging content, such as a feature interview with restaurant icon, Anthony Scotto; the latest restaurant news, events and promos; a printable recipe on how to “Prepare the Perfect Steak, Blackstone Style;” bartender advice column with drink recipe in “Dear Kristal: The Dish on Life and Love” and much more.

Thanks to Art Director, Jeanine Davis, Videographer, Keith Withers and Photographer, James Haag for doing an amazing job and turning things around so quickly. Hurricane Sandy was a deadline challenger (hello, digital requires POWER), but we hauled tooshie and delivered despite all odds. So, please take a peek inside! We hope you enjoy reading Anthony Scotto Presents, The Good Life.

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