Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Toscanini's: A gem of an Italian Restaurant on Jamaica's North Coast

The weekend had lived up to the hype. Paul and I had traveled to Kingston for Buju Banton's Long Walk to Freedom concert and it had exceeded expectations. We were on a high (no, not that kind) and wanted to sustain it. We were scheduled to dine at Toscanini's -- a North Coast, Italian-themed restaurant that I would be visiting for the first time -- and I was hoping that this establishment would bring us in for a soft landing.

As shown in the below map, the restaurant is northeast of Ocho Rios, in the neighboring parish of St Mary's. We drove but I was made to understand that the restaurant will provide transportation to and from neighboring hotels for interested diners.

The restaurant is set up such that diners have an expansive view of the outdoors. A cozy bar is situated to the right front and the wine cellar is in a room to the left.

We were welcomed to the restaurant by a petite, assured woman dressed in all black, including a black baseball cap. This was Lella Ricci, co-owner of the restaurant and, as I found out during the course of our many conversations during the course of the evening, a transplanted Londoner whose Italian-born parents owned food service establishments in England while she was growing up. She was passionate about this restaurant.

We were shown to our seats and the wine list was offered. I was impressed with the selection of Italian wines which included, for example, Sassicaia, Tignanello, and Bruno Giacosa. I knew immediately that I was in for a high-quality experience. I ordered a bottle of Gavi di Gavi from Marchesi di Barolo to get the evening started.

Two portable chalk boards with the evening's menu were planted table side. One of the boards listed the appetizers and the pasta while the other had the meats and desserts.

Lella sat down with us to explain her offerings. But this was not just a bland restatement of the items listed on the boards. Instead, it was a full-throated exposition of her food philosophy (rooted in her parents past practices but with a significant nod to her country of operation and its ingredients) and supplier relations (small farmers and fishermen; if the product from the sea is not moving, she is not buying), all the while regaling us with stories from her youth as well as life as a restaurant owner on the island.

The bottle of Gavi di Gavi was delivered during this time. The high level of staff training was evidenced by the service precision exhibited by our wine server.

I ordered the Escargot as my starter while Paul ordered the Cream of Pumpkin Soup. The Escargot was removed from the shells and cooked in a garlic-infused sauce. Slices of bread were available for dunking. The Escargot was excellent with a slight salinity contrasting an earthy mushroomy taste. The individual pieces were succulent, lush, and plush with great texture.


Cream of Mushroom Soup

We both had pasta as our second course: Spiny Lobster with Penne Pasta in an Alfredo Sauce for Paul and the Spiny Lobster with Penne Pasta in an Arrabbiata Sauce for me. There was a slight hiccup in my order in that Spaghetti was used rather than the Penne pasta. Lella was so apologetic, and the fix so seamless, that it was rendered meaningless in the scheme of things.

Spiny Lobster with Penne Pasta in Alfredo Sauce

Spiny Lobster with Spaghetti in Arrabbiata Sauce.
Spaghetti replaced with Penne Pasta

My pasta was superb, imbued with hefty chunks of lobster in an Arrabbiata Sauce that spoke uniquely about the environment in which it was crafted.

I had ordered a bottle of Antinori's 2010 Pian delle Vigne to accompany our pastas. This wine was immaculately decanted with the extra candle on the table being used as the light source.

I truly enjoyed this dining experience. One of the things that made it even more enjoyable is that this restaurant had been sitting right here beneath my nose for years and I was blissfully unaware of its presence. Well, I will make up for it going forward. This was a high-quality experience with the food style, quality of preparation, tastiness, setting, staff quality, and wine offerings all combining to excite the senses and to fulfill the expectations thus aroused. If I had one word of advice, it would be to reduce the portion size to allow more space for plate esthetics.

This is definitely the best restaurant I have eaten at on the North Coast outside of Half Moon Bay's Sugar Mill Restaurant in Montego Bay.

Soft landing accomplished.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, March 11, 2019

An Introduction to 2014: Barolo Margheria from Azelia and Massolino and Rocche dell'Annunziata from Renato Corino at La Festa del Barolo

Growing Nebbiolo grapes for the production of Barolo wines was a challenge in 2014; but the show must go on. And go on it did, according to the producers who spoke at the Saturday Seminar of Antonio Galloni's La Festa del Barolo.

At the seminar we had the chance to hear from, and taste the wines of, 14 Barolo producers arranged into flights of between two and four producer/wine combinations.

The initial flight was titled An Introduction to 2014 ... and featured Lorenzo Scavino (Piemonte's response to Hollywood) presenting Azelia's Barolo Margheria, Franco Massolino presenting a similarly designated wine from his namesake estate, and Stefano Corino presenting the Barolo Rocche dell' Annunziato from Renato Corino.

Lorenzo Scavino, Franco Massolino, and Stefano Corino

I was mystified by the composition of this flight. The Azelia and Massolino wines had been paired in a flight at last year's Seminar as we probed the character of the cru. Combining them this year with the Renato Corino wine -- a wine from one of my top 18 Barolo Vineyards -- begs the question as to intent.

I have covered the fundamentals of the Azelia and Massolino estates, and the Margheria and Rocche dell'Annunziata crus, in prior posts. I will provide a brief summary of the Renato Corino operations herein to fill out the picture.

Renato Corino
Renato Corino split from his brother in 2005 and founded the estate currently bearing his name. The estate owns vineyards in the La Morra crus of Rocche dell'Annunziata, Arborino, and Pozzo, employing integrated/sustainable farming practices therein. The estate eschews the use of chemicals, using copper, sulfur, and manure instead. Grass is maintained between vineyard rows and is then tilled into the soil in the winter.Vines are trained using the Guyot system. Yield is managed through fruit drops at the end of July and pre-harvest.

Grapes for the Barolo Rocche dell'Annunziata wine is sourced from a 0.6 ha, southwest-facing plot that sits between 300 and 320 meters on clayey sand soil. The vineyard was planted in 1962.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks before being transferred to wood for malolactic fermentation and 24 months aging.

The Wines

According to Lorenzo, this wine was fermented traditionally with submerged cap and was aged for three years in the bottle after the 24 months in wood.

The wine was perfumed on the nose, with a profusion of violets accompanying notes of tar, roses, and spice. Linear and focused with beautiful fruit. Mineral and saline with good acidity. Drying on the palate as tannins make their presence felt.

Perfumed. Violets, tar, and red fruit. Broader-based than the Azelia; fuller and rounder. Beautiful fruit. More textured than the Azelia.

Renato Corino
Lean and elegant with fine-boned tar. Violets, walnuts and truffle. Structured and complex. Great acidity, aggressive tannins, and a bitter, creamy finish. A beautiful wine.

Right about this time we got the first of many fire safety announcements from the PA system. It was a pain.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme