Poggio: dining al fresco
The last rays of sun warmed my shoulders as I drank in the waterfront views, sailboats bobbing happily beneath a hillside of pretty pastel homes, and made my way to a charming trattoria spilling out onto the sidewalk. A leisurely seafood supper awaited me, complete with crisp white wine, homemade pasta, and hospitality as warm as the balmy breezes floating in from the wide-flung doors. Was I in Capri? Positano? Close. Sausalito.
Located below Sausalito's landmark Casa Madrona, Italian trattoria Poggio seems like the perfect place to milk the remnants of an Indian summer.
Marinated Monterey Sardines with soft cooked egg, pancetta and lovage (an herb with a flavor similar to celery)
I was invited to do just that at last week's Festa del Pesce, a celebration of local seafood during the last days of summer. On the menu was a selection of mostly local and sustainable fish served raw, cured, marinated, oak grilled, wood fire roasted and fried.
Fritto of local Surf Smelt with lemon aioli (aka "Fries with Eyes")
I appreciate the tip of the hat that Poggio gives to each season. For example, coming up in November (11/10-11/15) will be their annual Festa del Tartuffo, celebrating the white truffle harvest (yes, Chef Peter McNee travels to Italy to hunt for truffles himself; and yes, this is one party not to miss). The Bollito Misto Festa takes its turn in the early winter with an abundance of simmered meats and sauces served tableside. The Spiedo Misto della Pasqua celebrates the arrival of spring and highlights meats cooked on the spit. And then before you know it, it will be time for seafood and long summer nights again.
Speaking of which, the pesce at hand.
The evening's special menu consisted of five Crudo (raw/marinated/cured) and five Cotto (grilled/braised/fried) seafood antipasti, along with two whole-fish preparations -- oak grilled Branzino with cherry tomato confit and broccoli rabe; Snapper baked in sea salt, with lemon, arugula and young green beans -- and a Risotto ai Frutti di Mare with scallop, shrimp, mussels, clams, saffron and tomato.
Stuffed Monterey Calamari braised in its own ink with local butter beans
For me, the most special dish was the stuffed Monterey Calamari braised in its own ink. The flavor was so unique -- rich and earthy (in a sea-faring kind of way). There was something...visceral about eating this dish. But, don't disturb yourself by getting too psychoanalytic here. Just dig in and enjoy the utter deliciousness.
Also of note was the wood-grilled local Swordfish Spiedini (skewers) served over slightly charred, tender radicchio. The swordfish was screamingly fresh, tender, almost buttery, and the accompanying bagna cauda was perfectly garlicky and anchovy-y.
Cozze al cartoccio mussels cooked in paper with white wine, tomato and chili
The Mussels cooked in paper were like a magic trick, as the translucent package was cut open tableside. Inside, we were rewarded with succulent gem-like mussels, sweet as could be.
Bruschetta with pickled Monterey Anchovies, avocado and heirloom tomato gazpacho
On the crudo end, Chef Peter did a phenomenal job highlighting two very under-appreciated fish: sardines and anchovies. Our table decided the poor things just needed some good PR, because oooh they are tasty! Anyone have a new sexy name we can instate?
Spaghetti alla Carbonara, made with house-made guanciale, egg, pecorino romano, and pepper
We veered off our pescetarian diet to indulge in some of the prized house-made guanciale (cured pork cheeks). The perfect vehicle to highlight that deeply porcine flavor? Spaghetti alla Carbonara, naturally. Not for the faint of heart, this dish is a serious calorie bomb. It left a little too much lard flavor and mouthfeel for my taste, but I could appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making it. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much the aroma reminded me of Chinese lap cheung (cured sausage) when the dish was set in front of me.
Prosecco Moscato, Carpene Malvolti
Just the thing to refresh my taste buds before dessert, a sparkling glass of this delightful Prosecco Moscato from Carpene Malvolti. Our sommelier was jazzed about sharing this beauty, and at the first sip, I understood why. A perfect harmony is struck here between the light fruitiness of the Prosecco and the flowery notes of the Moscato. Flavors of apricot and orange blossom danced in my mouth as I savored each bubble.
Lemon Mousse topped with Meringues and Pistachios
You'd think we'd be stuffed to the brim after such a feast, but there is always room for dessert. This Lemon Mousse was just what I wanted after this big meal, with its citrus punch and light-as-air texture. And the homemade meringues and toasted pistachios on top were the perfect touch. I love the flavor combination of lemon and pistachios. It is pure Italian sunshine to me.
Lucky us, Chef Peter McNee was kind enough to share his recipe! Perfect for dinner parties too because you can make all the components ahead of time. Buon appetito!
Lemon Mousse with Meringues and Pistachios
Recipe courtesy of Peter McNee, Executive Chef of Poggio
7 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Zest of 1-2 lemons
3 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 oz. lime juice
2 egg yolks
5 tablespoons butter
Combine all the ingredients, except the butter, in a mixing bowl. Place over a pot of boiling water (making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water) and whisk until curd sets up thick. Whip constantly so that your eggs don't curdle. Remove from heat.
Add butter, continue mixing. Pass through a fine mesh strainer or sieve. Pour into a container, placing a sheet of plastic wrap over the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Chill overnight. The lemon curd will stay fresh refrigerated for up to 5 days.
1/4 cup egg whites
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 100 degrees F. Whip egg whites with a mixer. Before soft peaks form, add the sugar and cream of tartar. Continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Using a pastry bag, pipe the meringue into .5 inch diameter lines, onto a wax paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake the meringues for 3 hours, or until they are crispy and without any color.
Can be made a few days ahead of time, but must be wrapped airtight once cooled to prevent them from being soggy.
Lemon Mousse (assembly)
Chilled lemon curd
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup pistachios
4 serving glasses, approximately 6 oz each
Lightly toast and chop pistachios. Whip cream to stiff peaks. Combine the lemon curd and whipped cream, folding the two together until homogeneous. Place one half tablespoon of pistachios into each of the glasses. Using a star tipped pastry bag, pipe the lemon mousse into each of the glasses. At this point the mousse may be refrigerated up to 3 days once covered. Before serving, garnish each with the remaining pistachios and broken pieces of crispy meringue.