On balance, Jill and I like most every style of cooking and ingredient you can imagine. Call our palates “easy to please,” as we are often thrilled with the restaurants surrounding us on the Suncoast. However, being absolutely blown away by a Chef’s creations is quite a bit more infrequent.
It was the allure of the new seasonal menu at Andrea’s that prompted our recent visit, which has become more like a pilgrimage than a night on the town. And, yet again, we left having enjoyed an experience we absolutely had to sing from our blog “rooftop”.
Chef Andrea Bozzolo is the owner, creative force, and Maestro of Andrea’s – The Art of Food and Wine on Siesta Drive. He is also the brains and culinary talent behind the menu at Amore by Andrea on Longboat Key. Don’t ask me how he does both!
Since our last visit, Andrea’s dining room has seen a tasteful re-imaging, with the tables adorned with black tablecloths, while fresh paint and colorful artwork provide an understated elegance to the backdrop of the intimate room.
Marco is our server this evening – actually, “server” is almost a misnomer, as he’s more like a co-host at a family and friends dinner soirée. Chef Andrea himself is the host of the evening, popping in and out of the kitchen after almost every course. Andrea is known for this courtesy, often serving his food as well and taking time to explain the dishes to his guests (Read:friends. Everyone is a friend after their first visit!)
Like other guests at Andrea’s, we began our night with a complimentary glass of prosecco, which arrived with an amuse-bouche of deep fried ricotta cheese balls. The appealing golden brown color leads to a lovely crunch, followed by a smooth, mild and creamy filling. Move aside arancini, is all I can say!
On the heels of that arrives the world’s simplest pleasure . . . a basket of fresh house-made bread. This serving of my “personal kryptonite” has crunchy breadsticks, crusty focaccia, fresh rosemary bread, house-made crackers with sides of soft herbed butter, olive tapenade and pesto. As always, Jill reminds me to show restraint, as other delights are just around the corner. (Maybe the bread will have to wait for dessert?)
The real cavalcade of inspired creations began with a salted cold cheesecake. Chef Andrea explains that he worked over a month to perfect this savory take on a classic dessert. He starts with organic whole wheat bread crumbs mixed with butter to form a “crumble” crust, followed with a goat cheese filling topped with ratatouille and adorned with an organic fried basil leaf. This was the perfect combination of soft, savory and crunchy; fresh and seemingly born to be paired with a glass of chilled pinot grigio.
Our next course, Turkish figs, again showcased Chef Andrea’s creativity and eye for arresting presentation. Large, succulent figs are stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped with an aged Italian pancetta before roasted to a toasty brown. Crispy-thin strands of sweet potato added some crunch to the slightly salty pancetta and the velvety, tasty mouthfeel of this dish. If we were to be served a platter of these, it would be almost impossible to stop eating them!
Staying keenly in touch with his Piedmont area roots, Andrea was justifiably proud of his next creation – the Onion Piedmontese Style. A whole red onion is covered in salt, baked for three hours, then hollowed out and puréed with fontina cheese and a truffle essence, then topped with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.
In a word, this was described as “insane” by both Andrea and Marco. This was-is-will be far and away my favorite onion dish ever! The mousse-like texture…mild flavor…the nutty undertones…brilliant! We all know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, right? So please, Chef Andrea, please, let “insanity rule” in this case, and by all means, please keep making this dish this over and over! The results are insane! Insanely delicious!
Andrea’s Beef Carpaccio snapped me back from my onion-induced revelry, with its paper thin slices of beef tenderloin, shaved 24-month-old Parmigiano-Reggiano, a whole juicy caperberry, peppery arugula, and crispy fried carrot threads that resembled saffron. The dish was dotted with mustard and horseradish sauces then drizzled with aged balsamic reduction. This to me is the essence of Italian cuisine – clean and fresh.
Occasionally we are asked where one can find the best risotto in town. My answer inevitably paraphrases the old Monopoly game cliché: Do not collect $200, and go directly to Andrea’s.
This evening’s preparation was an Aquarello 7 year aged arborio rice originating from Vercelli (in Piedmont, Italy,) porcini mushrooms, butter, and parmesan cheese. Jill and I both adore this “heaven on a plate,” in all its variations, and this was no exception. It’s sinfully good! If they ever organize an “Olympic Plate-Licking Team” I’m pretty sure I would make the team after finishing Andrea’s risotto.
Unbelievably, an even more unique presentation was yet to come. Andrea’s Orecchiette style pasta starts with a white rotelle pasta (think wheel-shaped,) served with broccolini and homemade sausage bathed in a tomato and pecorino cheese. The cooked ingredients were all placed in a large cocktail shaker, shaken and then slid gently onto our dishes. Beautiful!
This fun presentation mixed all that melted cheese into every bite of delicious al dente pasta, tender-crisp broccolini, and Andrea’s mild sausage offered just the perfect hint of fennel. Like everything else we’d had, this pasta dish danced perfectly on my palate, happily waltzing with the sharp sheep’s milk cheese and fresh tomato sauce.
Our second to last course (whew) was a beautifully charred, medium rare rack of lamb. Sitting atop smooth, velvety Yukon Gold mashed potatoes with baby carrots peeking out, Chef Andrea shows once again that he doesn’t believe in “pumping the brakes” when it comes to flavor. Like a painter’s palate, we were able to alter the flavors of this entree by swiping each delicious bite through a rich wild mushroom demi-glace, a fresh basil pesto, or the balsamic glaze. Try alternating that with sips of a beautiful Valpolicella Ripasso. Aahhh . . .Perfezione!
Normally, when attending a magnificent performance from a Maestro like Andrea, shouts of “encore” would ring out from the room. Instead, the encore will have to come from diners like us, as we plan to return to the stage that is Andrea’s – The Art of Food and Wine.
After all, I just can’t wait for an order of Onion Piedmontese again . . .