Tag Archive for italian

Star Bene

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When I went to school in Santa Cruz, Star Bene was one of the fancier restaurants I heard about but never had the chance to go to because (a) it was outside the range of my college student budget and (b) none of my dates chose it for dinner. Thus, it remained an out-of-reach of restaurant that people went to on dates in my mind’s eye for the last decade. So when my husband and I stayed overnight at the lovely Bella Notte on East Cliff Drive last month, I was delighted to realize Star Bene was right down the street. My chance to live out a college fantasy was in reach.

The atmosphere of Star Bene lived up to that fantasy pretty well.

Yes, that’s the husband in the side dining room.

Yes, that’s the husband in the side dining room.

It’s standard for an Italian restaurant with moderately dim and warm mood lighting, welcoming staff, dusty bottles of wine on the table, a patio area closed for the season, and an enclosed courtyard out back that looked quite swanky and I wish we’d been sat in—we didn’t notice it until later in the meal.

The cuisine is a typical menu of Italian food with some Spanish influence and a specials menu of Argentinian fare.  I’m not sure the specials menu actually changes, but it was a separate sheet regardless. They offer a wine and beer list as well—I should note that we didn’t particularly enjoy the chianti we ordered, but I can’t remember its name. Sorry! Bad food blogger.

The bread service was notable for the dipping ingredients arranged by color to mimic the Italian flag.

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I’d actually recommend not mixing them up; the tomato, parmesan, and herb flavors were best appreciated separately when dipping.  The bread itself was unremarkable Italian baguette rounds.

We decided to order from both the Argentinian and Italian menus, starting off with a beef empanada.

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It’s made with ground top sirloin, cumin, bell peppers, caramelized onions, green olives, and hard-boiled egg and it was delicious—the star of our meal. Empanada pockets vary greatly, and this one had a hard outer shell with a satisfying crunch while maintaining a nice and moist inner layer. The filling was very flavorful, enough to make me wish I’d stuck with the Argentinian menu for the main course as well.

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Caffe Greco

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Caffe Greco, just around the corner from Chinatown, is a North Beach institution operating since 1988. It’s a classic Italian coffee shop, offering both the warm service and the quality, simplistic espresso drinks I expect from such spots. Brass rails, cherry wood chairs, and fake marble tables appeal to me in a way that only Italian cafes in US metropolitan areas can. The wall decorations could be more imaginative than vintage Italian food advertisements, but I suppose that’s part of what makes it classic.

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Order at the counter, and make sure you have cash. If it’s a nice day, make use of their sidewalk patio while you enjoy your food and/or drink. All Caffe Greco’s espresso is made with Illy Caffe coffee. I opted for a house specialty, the café freddo Sambuca. I must give props to one of Caffe Greco’s long-term employees for making sure I knew what the drink was before he made it as Sambuca can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re getting into.

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It’s an iced espresso with Sambuca and a dose of foamed milk. The glass might seem small, but the licorice brio of the Sambuca encourages lingering over equally small sips. For an iced coffee, the foam impressed–it can be a challenge to do well in chilled drinks.

The barista followed us outside to chat with my friend and reminisce about the days they used to provide Italian newspapers to their customers before the store that sold them closed. While they talked, my friend sipped her café greco, a cappuccino made closer to the American style with plenty of milk.

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Firehouse Subs Sampling and Talk with the Founder

Firehouse Subs Sampling and Talk with the Founder

Blogger David of Lunchboy Says, Robin Sorenson, and myself.

Blogger David of Lunchboy Says, Robin Sorenson, and myself.

Two weeks ago, I was invited to the Firehouse Subs on Kildaire Farms Road in Cary for a night of sub sandwich and soda tasting with my blogging peers. The real draw for me was the chance to hear Robin Sorenson, who founded Firehouse Subs with his brother Chris, speak about the origins of the company, their goals, and their nonprofit work. I jumped at the chance because (a) I am not against chain stores unless they have dubious practices or a bad quality of food, and (b) I had never been to a Firehouse Subs.

The real draw for you is to leave a comment on this blog to win a $10 gift card to Firehouse Subs! First five comments will be mailed a gift card.

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In case you’re one of the few people in the country who also hasn’t been, Firehouse Subs is decorated to resemble the inside of a firehouse with rows of firemen jackets, fake hoses, and attractive murals depicting local fire trucks and scenery.

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Why the firehouse theme? Both of the Sorenson brothers are former firefighters, and Robin was inspired by the quality of eats and the sense of fellowship that came from breaking bread with his coworkers in the firehouse. I’ve heard legends of the skills of fireman and policemen at the stove, so I believe him. The Sorenson family has a history of entrepreneurship, so it was only natural the brothers would eventually try their hands at it. And they did, opening the first Firehouse Subs in Jacksonville, FL, in 1994.

Robin showing off the brisket used in their restaurants.

Robin showing off the brisket used in their restaurants.

The Firehouse Sub sandwich-building technique involves toasting the bread then adding the meat, cheese, and dressings and sending all that through a steamer. The cold toppings are added before serving the sandwich. The result is outstanding for me, but I’m a fan of messy sandwiches with lots of mayo. For my husband, it was generally too drippy. I was especially impressed with the creamy, mellow mustard they use because strong mustard can be off-putting for me. The mustard on these sandwiches was a nice complement instead.

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