Tagliatelle al Tartufo Pasta at Il Palio

I’m a big fan of the pastas at Il Palio Restaurant in the Siena Hotel. I’ve tried quite a few, and have never been let down. One night a month or so ago I was accidentally brought the Tagliatelle al Tartufo instead of what I’d ordered. My server quickly started to take it away to bring the pasta I had ordered, but I assured him that this was in no way a problem, since it is one of my favorites. At this point he said “Then you need to hear the story of this pasta from the chef.”

The Tagliatelle al Tartufo at Il Palio is decadent and delicious. Like all their pasta, it’s made in house. This freshness allows it to soak up the sauce and flavor the pasta strands. The silky truffle sauce tastes both homey and extravagant, and the pine nuts on top add a wonderful crunch. The dish is finished with finely grated grana padano cheese.

The night I got the wrong pasta Chef de Cuisine Isaiah Allen came out and introduced himself. He’s a fascinating person. Not only is he an amazing chef — he also has a farm, and tells a great story.

Isaiah got his start in the restaurant world working as a dishwasher at Carolina Meadows. He would watch the chef cooking and especially loved the smell of the fresh bread baking each day. He was determined to learn to bake bread himself and convinced the chef there to teach him; including knife skills. He stayed focused and continued to teach himself to cook and got more and more involved in restaurant work.

Five years ago he married his wife Whitney. They got married in Las Vegas. They knew that this would be easy, that someone else would handle all the planning, and that it would be comparatively inexpensive.

They wanted to save their money for their honeymoon — a month spent in Italy. They flew into Florence and spent the first week backpacking. It rained for two days during this time, but they made the most of it. They stayed in a tent, making quick runs for bread and cheese which they’d eat cuddled up romantically, with the rain falling outside. Every two or three days they’d bounce to another town. While just outside Florence he spent a few days cooking at La Cantina Petrarca, a small restaurant whose chef he’d met when The Siena invited him to come cook at Il Palio for their “Taste of Tuscany” week. Trying to decide where in Italy to go next, and wanting someplace completely random, Isaiah shut his eyes and stuck his finger on a map. It landed on a small town called Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, an untouristed place two hours from Florence and Siena.

They stayed in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa for a week. There were no train lines; no tourist attractions. They’d ride bikes into town, picking up food at farmers markets and taking it home for Isaiah to cook each night. From out their windows they could see orchards and vineyards. One night they decided to eat out instead. They wound up at a restaurant in an old stone mill. It was here that he had Tagliatelle al Tartufo for the first time.

The dish stayed in his mind and he tried to recreate it. He knew there was garlic, shaved truffle, thyme, good olive oil. But something was missing. He kept trying and trying and finally he figured out what it was – a single, oil packed white anchovy. Once he figured out the secret ingredient he had the recipe just how he had tasted and it and loved it. It is simple, perfect, good food. He brought this back from his honeymoon and started serving it at Il Palio.

I’ve always loved this dish, but knowing the story behind it — the Italian honeymoon, the views of olive groves and vineyards, the bike rides to town to pick up the makings for the night’s dinner, and the random choice of town all make it seem even more special and romantic. Take the truffle lover in your life to Il Palio and see what I mean.

You can follow Kari on Twitter @NoshSpiceNC.


That Unmistakable Sweet Flavor

For me, the taste of summer is the unmistakable, sweet flavor of sun-ripened tomatoes, fresh from the farmers’ market or the garden of a generous friend. 

Growing up, my father always had a backyard plot for his treasured tomato plants that yielded varieties such as beefsteak and better boy.  Throughout the summer, my most important chore was to hop on my Schwinn and pedal to the bakery at Park Road Shopping Center to purchase a loaf of salt rising bread, which cost 25 cents.

Upon return, Daddy would give the sun-warmed tomatoes a quick rinse under the faucet before slicing them onto bread slathered with Duke’s Mayonnaise.  Lunch, and often supper, would consist of a simple, tomato sandwich reverently partaken with an observance and gratitude of Daddy’s tomato harvest.  Sweet memories.

Today, I would like to share with you my favorite 2012 version of the perfect celebration of the tomato, created by Executive Chef Adam Rose and prepared in Il Palio’s kitchen. This tomato plate would be a delicious prelude to one of Chef’s new summer entrees, or savored as a light refreshing lunch celebrating our markets’ bounty. 

Summer Tomato Plate with Burrata Cheese

Sun-ripened tomatoes
Wedge of burrata cheese
Light sprinkling of sea or kosher salt “to accelerate the flavor” (Isaiah Allen)
A drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, followed by a drizzle of olive oil
Chiffonade of basil leaves

Sommelier, Chetan Reddy’ s wine suggestion:  Bollini, 2010, Pinot Grigio. 

I caught up with Isaiah Allen, Il Palio’s Chef de Cuisine and owner/farmer of Rocky Run Farm, at the Southern Village Farmers’ Market, where he sells produce from his farm. Allen and Chef Rose agree that their favorites for the tomato plate are a mix of Valencia, Pineapple, Cherokee Purple, Green Cherokee, and Indigo Rose. 

Visit the markets, meet me in Il Palio, though most importantly, celebrate tomato* season!

* Extensive research has revealed that the French claimed the tomato had aphrodisiac powers, therefore, the name pommes d’amour, “love apples.”


Fire in the Triangle

There is indeed a Fire in the Triangle that was ignited on June 11 and its blaze will be burning until July 31!  Not to worry, there are no actual flames that the fire department needs to extinguish, though the fire fighters are certainly involved.
The kindling that sparked Fire in the Triangle was Chef Jimmy Crippen, owner of Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant in Blowing Rock.  Jimmy Crippen’s original Competition Dining event, Fire on the Rock, which began seven years ago, has spread across our state like wild fire.  This year, Crippen joined forces with the NC Department of Agriculture’s Got to Be NC campaign and has taken the contest from the rock to the dock.
Fire on the Rock, Blowing Rock
Fire on the Dock, Wrightsville Beach
Fire in the Triangle, Raleigh, current
Fire in the Triad, Greensboro, upcoming
Here’s how it works:  Two chefs, each with the help of two assistants, prepare three courses for about 100 people using a secret ingredient that is revealed only on the day of the competition. They have six hours to plan their menus, cook and then arrange each of their three dishes on 100 individual plates.  
I was fortunate to attend the second battle held on, June 12.  Il Palio‘s Executive Chef Rose was in battle with Chef Josh DeCarolis, from Jujube Restaurant.  The secret ingredient was a variety of mustards from Lusty Monk Mustards located in Asheville. 

The evening was full of electricity and energy.  Cheers and the sense of comradery were present throughout the dining room and from what I understand, in the kitchen as well.  The run of show was efficient, which was quite a feat due to all of the technical aspects of voting and getting course after course set in front of more than 100 attendees!  Flat screens were strategically placed around the room so we all could view descriptions of each dish as it was presented.  The organizers, sponsors, judges, and press are to be congratulated as well!
I am all aglow to let chapelboro.com readers know that the winners in the week’s first three battles are:
Shane Ingram, Four Square Restaurant
Adam Rose, Il Palio Ristorante, at the Siena Hotel
Ryan Payne, The Weathervane, at Southern Season
More smoking battles are on the horizon! Go to www.competitiondining.com for full details.

A portion of ticket sales will be donated to NC’s Office of the State Fire Marshal to support local fire fighters because the leading cause of home fires and burn injuries is cooking.

(Please excuse, it is not my usual style to be “cute,” but it has been very difficult for me to resist using more than a few applicable metaphors in this posting.)

Who are your favorites in the Fire in the Triangle competition? Who should be in the Fire in the Triad competition? Let us know in the Comments below!


Another 'boro's food fest

I’m a party girl. I love getting fancy, putting on heels and statement jewelry and heading into a crowd to meet new people and learn about new stuff…an opening exhibition of feminist artists! a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House! a Pepper Festival!  

My event attire has definitely um, casualized since moving to Chapel Hill from NYC, but that don’t mean my love for a party has toned down. Fortunately this area has loads of great events to raise dollars and awareness for the neat work that happens in this community. And fortunately for this little piggy, many of these events revolve around food. Yum. 

The 4th Annual Pittsboro Pepper Festival takes place in the new community park in Briar Chapel this weekend, Sunday, October 2nd, from 4pm – 7pm. Presented by the Abundance Foundation and Piedmont Biofarm, the event should be the hottest ticket in town this weekend. In their words and exclamation points, “The Pittsboro Pepper Festival aims to go pepper-wild with the greatest local chefs and local beers (including pepper beer!) to spread the superfood power of the plentiful peppers of the Piedmont! Local hotshot chefs are provided a choice of over 60 varieties of heirloom local peppers (everything from sweet to hot) and they serve up their best, most creative pepper dish as an appetizer to the pepper public!” 

That’s a lot of enthusiasm for the pepper. I appreciate that. Talk about a veggie that doesn’t get nearly the props some of its other superfood brethren enjoy.  

I also really appreciate the opportunity to chat with some of the best chefs in the Chapelboro area about the importance of promoting the humble pepper and its heirloom varietals as a significant crop for Piedmont farmers. Celebrating a sustainable crop that brings cash and serious attention to the Piedmont agricultural community…that makes this girl want to put on some dancing shoes. 

I’m psyched to sample dishes like Yeasted Corn Bread with Roasted Peppers from Chickenbridge Bakery (Carrboro Farmers’ Market), Smoked Pepper Soup with NC Shrimp from Glasshalfull (Carrboro), and Spicy Pepper Gazpacho with Cucumber Yogurt from Carolina Crossroads (Chapel Hill). Hope it isn’t too tacky for me to bring my own growlers for those Fullsteam and Triangle Brewing Company pepper beers – that is definitely happening. Already hungry for more? Here’s the full Pepper Festival Menu

See you on Sunday, and don’t forget to buy your tickets online in advance…$25 through October 1st and $30 at the door. 


Triangle Restaurant Week

Triangle Restaurant Week (TRW) launches today with over 70 restaurants participating in Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties. Sure you could drive those nine utterly un-scenic miles to check out the participating locations in Durham (groan) or see what’s on offer in Raleigh and spend more money on gas than your dinner bill. But let’s face it, you’d enjoy that bottle of wine so much more if home was just a couple miles down the road. Chapelboro residents have 8 options worth a little exploration this week. 

Carolina Brewery – Chapel Hill, $15 lunch menu & $20 dinner menu
Carolina Crossroads at the Carolina Inn – Chapel Hill,  $30 dinner menu
Il Palio Ristorante – Chapel Hill, $30 dinner menu
Jujube – Chapel Hill, $15 lunch menu & $30 dinner menu
One Restaurant – Chapel Hill, $30 dinner menu
Shula’s 347 Grill at the Sheraton – Chapel Hill, $30 dinner menu
Tyler’s Taproom – Carrboro, $20 dinner menu
Weathervane – Chapel Hill, $30 dinner menu
The deets:
Triangle Restaurant Week lasts from June 6-12. Participating restaurants will offer a three-course, fixed price lunch ($15) or dinner ($20 or $30 depending on the restaurant); not all restaurants are participating in both lunch or dinner so be sure to call ahead. In some cases the TRW website lists the available menu selections, so be sure to check out the Triangle Restaurant Week site before making your selection, some menus are more compelling than others. No coupons necessary, but diners are encouraged to call restaurants in advance for guaranteed seating.