Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Foodie Blogger Meet Up At Buzo Osteria Italiana

It’s always exciting to meet people that you've come to know in the Blogosphere. The Trini food bloggers are a particularly great bunch. They blog consistently, give honest feedback, and ask all the right questions. So I was happy to do a little genre jumping and join up with the foodies for a bloggers’ lunch at Buzo a few Wednesdays ago. Meeting all the people I know in cyberspace feels, well, kind of like a blind date. But it was a nice small bunch to ease me in.  Our coordinator and organizer extraordinaire was Corey
who blogs over at http://www.thehinzadventures.com/, I was also excited to see Marie from TriniChow, Sarina from Trini Gourmet (who now has her own television show), and Q from Bring It to The Table. 
 If you’re not familiar with Buzo Osteria Italiana, it sits on that wonderful spot at 6a Warner St that once housed Rafters Restaurant back in the eighties and nineties. The limestone building (built in 1908) with its original thick walls has a long history of food.
 Beginning with its incarnation as Camacho’s Grocery (owners and proprietors Manuel and Rosina Camacho lived upstairs and ran their business out of the Warner St wing) the building was later sold to the Mowser family who ran the very popular Rafters Restaurant for some twenty four years.
Elizabeth Mowser remembers that when Rafters first opened, the late Pat Bishop did a series of large floral paintings to adorn the walls of the restaurant. Bishop knew the building well as she had grown up diagonally opposite to Camacho’s and would no doubt have shopped there, as many people living in the area did at the time. Mowser, no stranger to the restaurant business as she had been instrumental in running JBs (named after owner Johnny Boos (Mowser’s brother) was a solid source of knowledge to her sons, Richard and Paul, who managed Rafters through its sterling run before closing its doors after almost quarter century of operation. Today the Mowser family still owns the building but it is now the home of Italian restaurant Buzo Osteria Italiana.
With a snazzy renovation under its belt, the old world charm of Rafters has been replaced with an uber chic remodel.
That all of this modern appeal is housed in one of Port of Spain’s older buildings only adds to the charm of both the spot and the ambiance of the restaurant.
Chef Christian Grini pulled out all the stops for us and after much chatting and picture taking we settled down to our menu while taking note of all the lovely touches.
 Here thanks to Corey's great organisation, I have her handwritten menu. I'm including it because I like the rustic-y charm of an au natural menu.
We started with Focaccia al Rosmarino, also known as Focaccia Cicilista (pronounced chick-kle-sta) topped with olive oil, rosemary, and rock salt. I like the presentation of the bread standing in triangular shapes. Reminds me a bit of the hot, salted, nuts are served as street food. The focaccia (a type of flatbread) was crisp, not greasy, with the rock salt and rosemary flavor holding up well to the texture.  
Focaccia al Rosmarino
Next on the plate was Polenta Fritta on Cheese Fondue  or Polenta Fritta con Fonduta al Quattro Formaggi which was perfect. Deliciously cheesy, the polenta base is always more accommodating than heavier starches and reliably delivers on texture. Visually it was also interesting as the association with an egg (for obvious reasons) intrigued me; it's something that I've been seeing recently, this idea of chefs playing up visuals to throw the palate off guard.  A culinary-pun, I guess. 
Polenta Fritta on Cheese Fondue
 For me, the piece de resistance was the Portobello Tempura. If you haven’t tried it at Buzo, make sure you ask for it next time. This meaty mushroom is perfect in its tempura batter. Light and heavy. Yin and yan. The basics of good cooking. I like when my palate expects something and I get an other. Wonderful.

Portobello Tempura
 All through our tasting, we were attended by Frances, our waiter, who was gracious and ever patient as we rearranged the food to shoot it and asked him a million questions. Thank you Frances. You were the bomb. 
Frances our waiter
The flat bread  pizzas are really called Focaccine Farcini and they came in several combinations. My personal favorite was the Arugula and Truffle Oil (a lettuce pizza?), and the Zucchini and Goat Cheese.
Zucchini and Goat Cheese - A favorite

Prosciutto Crudo
A selection of the flatbread pizzas. Note my favorite in the back!
 They were all very good but my favorites had flavors that I didn't expect to find on a flat bread. For anyone going to Buzo and expecting the heavy, cheesy, pizza that most people associate with the term will be surprised at both the versatility and the flavors that are produced by these light, crisp, offerings.
Next on the menu were little pillow shaped Lobster Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta Cheese.
 Lobster Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta Cheese.
But, for presentation, nothing beat the whimsical touch of the Frito Misto, fried calamari and shrimp which arrived in its own little brown bag and jar. The absolute gourmand's brown bag lunch!
Frito Misto, fried calamari and shrimp which arrived in its own little brown bag and jar.
 Style on a plate.

Note the bed of Proseco Risotto
Gorgeous! This was followed by a Strawberry Salad. Even on the page this menu is an epicurean's dream. I was intrigued by the use of radishes as accents with their crisp red and white circles. I'd seen them in the polenta dish and here they were again. Just a little pop of color.
Strawberry Salad


Final Light Dessert
After this marathon tasting session and lots of this (always necessary at long Italian lunches)...

And even some of this. All fine Italian of course.

We had to have our fair and delicious share of this...

But we were all still shooting away. So many lovely things in this restaurant
Pepper Flakes and Pepper Oil
Even the Display Jars are Exotic.

 Buzo Osteria Italiana is on Facebook and at 6a Warner St. Port of Spain.
Be sure to have the Portobello Mushroom Tempura.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

March in the Garden

Jade Bower
It's easy to forget how the country changes when the dry season sets in. I see it immediately in the garden. My Jade Vine has surpassed it self this year. The blooms are fighting each other to get down and open up. We don't have spring in the Caribbean but there is certainly a birds and bees feeling in the air as both are busy pollinating.

Close up the colours have a hint of mauve in them

This is not the only thing in full bloom, I've moved my "Princess Vine" onto my porch and she's very happy there which makes me happy. This little vine is a treasure but is very prone to mites. I monitor almost constantly by checking the undersides of the leaves. Here she can enjoy our chat on the gallery and I hope really begin to thrive.

Princess Vine or Ipomoea Horsfalliae

This blog has some very interesting infomation on this plant which seems to grow quite easily in other parts of the Caribbean. It twines quite easily and the glossy leaves are a good contrast to the red flower. Even the buds are attractive as they cluster on the stem.

Buds on the Princess Vine enjoying morning sun

 The little bluebell plant is one that I remember clearly from childhood. My mother had a planter full of them and the whole thing would die back and then miraculously appear for a few months each year. I remember being fascinated with the velvety indigo on the lip and trying to rub the colour onto my cheeks. I'm so happy to see it popping up again this year in my own garden.
Little blue bell

 The Red Hawaiian Torch is one of the stars of my garden. It is dramatic, large, and very much a primadonna. And the hummingbirds love these flowers. Once there are two or three clumps of torches in any space, hummingbirds are bound to show up. I've hung my feeders not far from the flower so often they make the quick flight over the feeders. The torches attract hermits with their longer beaks. Flower and bird designed to work together.
Red Hawaiian Torch
I spend my life pulling duck weed out of the copper. It multiplies at an alarming rate. Really alarming. But it does keep the water nice and cool and clean. It's also very pretty. But the tipping point is very rapid. It's beautiful one day, an absolute menace the next. I wish the fish would eat it but they don't. I scoop it out and throw it into my beds as compost. It seems to get on well with the lotus pads as well, not interfering too much and everyone seeming to understand how to co-exist. The only interlopers are the snails who are voracious and eat anything young and tender such as baby lilies. I am on the lookout for an equally voracious fish who has the reputation of being the great snail slayer.
Duck weed
 My lilies are in bloom and I've discovered that the whole head falls off, sinks to the bottom and soon becomes a little cluster of new plants. Who would have thought? The bees and wasp love the blooms and spend their days rolling around in an ecstasy of delight. I am at a loss as to what they could be so blissfully pollinating but the garden never fails to surprise so maybe they are simply making themselves more attractive to potential suitors.