Friday, April 9, 2010

Puglia Monti: Artichoke Heaven

Puglia Monti

     Puglia Monti is a quaint little place in Monti, very close to the Roman Forum.  The owner and chef is Emanuele Dicuonzo who is from Puglia, hence,  the name Puglia Monti.  I have to admit that although I am vegan, I tend to avoid restaraunts in Rome that are specifically vegan or vegetarian.  I do so because my experience has been that these places have a huge emphasis on veganism, and not the actual food, so they do a lot of mock recipes and overuse seitan, and they are often very overpriced.  Puglia Monti is a vegetarian place in the heart of Rome that specializes in regional dishes from Puglia, but the food speaks for itself.  I ate the best food I have ever had in Rome hereWe went to Puglia Monti for lunch on “Little Easter,” the Monday after Easter.  I wanted to get there while artichokes were still in season.  A few weeks earlier I had dinner at Puglia Monti and had the best artichokes I have had in my life.  
Emmanuale truly embraces the word chef .  He creates masterpieces from simple ingredients, which is the true heart of the Italian kitchen.  He is trying to showcase the best of the pugliaese kitchen, without using animal carcasses, which is the tendency in the Roman kitchen.  In Rome, it seems they make up for lack of flavor or creativity by overusing animal products.  After all, what is the excuse most people use for not being vegan?  It tastes so good.  The traditional Mediterranean diet is not full of animal fats and proteins: 
According to Dr Walter Willett of Harvard University's School of Public Health in the mid1990s:    The traditional Mediterranean diet diet is based on,  food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s, this diet, in addition to "regular physical activity," emphasizes "abundant plant foods, fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert, olive oil as the principal source of fat”

 At Puglia Monti, the food is of another world.  Serious attention has been paid to every detail.   The food is fresh, the flavors simple, the presentation is modern and minimal.  It is a tiny place, with the capacity to hold maybe 20 people for lunch or dinner.  The wine list is 100% wine from Puglia.  The host is also a sommelier like us, and he is working on a degree in oenology.  He speaks perfect English, so if you have trouble reading the menu, he can help. 

      I came for the carciofi, and I left more than satisfied.  I have never before had artichokes this delicious in Rome, the city known for artichokes.  

We ordered a bottle of Cacc'e Mmitte di Lucera which is a DOC from the province of Foggia.  The principle grape is Troia.  It was a decent wine that was ruby red, earthy, honest, and warm.  It had a great minerality, but die to it's position in the south, it lacked a good acidity.  

For my starter I ordered Spiedini di Carciofi e Mandarini con Insalata di Finocchio, Pangrattato e Pesto delle Tremiti-Artichoke and Mandarin Skewers on a bed of roasted Fennel Salad, Bread Crumbs and Pesto of Tremiti
It was out of this world.  Everything was perfectly cooked, the vegetables were still crisp.  The mandarin was slightly caramelized, it was heaven.  The bread crumbs gave it a lovely texture, almost like cane sugar because it had set in with the caramelized mandarin.  The entire creation was perfectly balanced.  It was evenly sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and mineral with each bite.  The plate was also very well presented.

For my primo I ordered: Ravioli Ripieni di Carciofi su Crema di Fave Secche e Menta- Artichoke stuffed Ravioli with a Cream of Fave Beans and Mint

This was the great surprise of the evening.  I would love to know how he was able to manage to make stuffed ravioli using a pasta recipe without eggs(usually a binder) and yet the pasta was rich, homemade, and did not break.  It was actually delicious.  The dish was so creamy, I was in gastronomic heaven.  The filling was also a surprise.  I expected the usual bitterness to accompany the artichoke, but instead found that it was very complex, sapid, savory, nutty, and only slightly bitter.  This was a marvelous recipe.  I wish I at least had the recipe for the pasta.  


For my main I ordered:

Variazione di Carciofi-Mixed Artichokes
1.  Carciofi alla Giudia-Jewish style artichoke, or,  fried artichoke flower
2.  Carciofi alla Romana-Roman artichoke or, Artichoke Stewed with Garlic and Mint
3.  Carciofi sottaceto-Pickled Artichoke
4.  Carciofi alla Brace-Grilled Artichoke
5.  Carciofi Fritti-Breaded and Fried Artichoke

Everything was cooked to perfection.  Nothing was overly greasy, the fried artichokes were not dripping in oil as has been my experience in other parts of Rome, and the pickled artichoke were crispy, fresh, and had a well balanced flavor.  They were not overly acidic.

For dessert:  Tortino al Forno con Frangipane e Mele su mosto cotto-Small oven baked Apple pie with baked apples.  

I have noticed a lack of photos of ME when we go out.

I can't wait to go back, I hope it will be soon, and when artichokes are still in season!

Puglia Monti
Via Urbana 104
Rione Monti, Roma

Antiqua Tours