Quips & Anecdotes - A Night with Little Italy West

Sometimes it's a tad difficult to get my fingers moving across the keyboard to generate content that people will hopefully find useful and interesting enough to share. Then I think about all who have already put Much Ado About Fooding on their list of websites good enough to follow, even if part-time. We recently passed our 1,000 fan mark on Facebook and were ecstatic. It may not seem like too large a number compared to all the other food blogs out there but it certainly was a special moment because for the most part, our fans are people who read the posts every once in a while. They'll mention to us in passing about the site so we know that they have engaged in one way or another - it's not just numbers. As a thank-you, we teamed up with Little Italy West to bring together a very special and delicious dinner for those who wished to join us. I'd have to say that the night went very well, and we hope you enjoy seeing the pictures in this post! We're definitely looking to do more and more events as we continue to grow.

The intimate 20 person dinner was graciously hosted at the home of Dr. Dave Patel who was kind enough to let us not only use his home but also donated to the set-up of the evening. Chef Donna Cali of Little Italy West donated her time and the time of those who came by to help (Amy, Annie, Andy, and Kaylee) - wow! We were so grateful for all of their hard work before and during the event. I went through Chef Donna's specialties and put together a menu of items I felt others had to have, and Duc had an absolute blast pairing wines with the dishes. It was most certainly a team effort, and we were glad to be on it. We had first met Chef Donna at The Hood Kitchen's vendor tasting event a few months back, tasted her food again at their own private tasting, and knew we had to utilize her skills. She is working on opening her restaurant in Orange County at the start of 2014 so be on the look out!

If there's one thing you can say about Donna, it's that she is passionate. The whole time we watched her work while prepping the dishes before guests arrived, it seemed like she was always smiling. The culinary workplace is her haven it seems, and she has the skills to pay the rent! As you can probably tell from the name of her and her husband's restaurant (they have Little Italy in Florida where Chef Alfredo currently is), they focus on authentic Italian food, and no, I do not mean that Italian-American carbo-load. I mean fresh ingredients and fresh talent coupled with innovation and love. Our first dish of the night was inspired by Hawaiian poke but still maintained a Sicilian flair - Insalata di tonno con anguria, pomodoro ed’erbe fresce (tuna with watermelon, tomato & fresh herbs). It was paired by Duc with glasses of Armani Pinot Grigio Valdadige 2013 which everyone seemed to enjoy together as an evening palate cleanser.

The wine carried over to the next dish which was one that really caught my attention the first time we tried Little Italy West's food - Gnocchi freschi di ricotta al burro e salvia (fresh made ricotta gnocchi with butter & sage). Why did it stay on my mind? Well most people think of gnocchi has being a dense, rich potato pasta but since Chef Donna cleverly makes hers with ricotta, it stays very pillowy and light but with enough savory weight to hold its own. Bathe that in a sage butter sauce and top with sprinklings of freshly-grated nutmeg and shreds of Parmesan and you most definitely have yourself a winner. I'm pretty sure I saw eyes roll back on this one.

Some people aren't too keen on lamb but Chef Donna has a good hold on how to present a nice rack (har har). Guests that night got a taste of her Costoletta d`agnello con frutti di bosco in aceto balsamico ridotto (lamb chop with fresh berries in balsamic reduction) which looked beautiful but also tasted amazing with the green sauce on top. The pairing for this dish and the following was the Casalino Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, a lighter-bodied red wine that every range of wine lover could manage but with enough complexity for the wine lovers to really enjoy. I believe this was the one that prompted many to want the wine list.

One of my absolute favorite dishes of Chef Donna's is the Fettuccine fresche ai funghi porcini (fresh made fettucine with a porcini sauce), and the general consensus once the night was over was that this was their favorite as well. Her specialty among the many, many culinary talents she has is infusing pasta - this was no different. A thick noodle infused with porcini and lounging in a porcini and black truffle sauce, the fettuccine was highlighted by freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt crystals.

You'd think that when someone has an amazing handle on entrees and savory foods, they might be lacking in the baking or sweets department. Wrong! Chef Donna continued to amaze everyone that evening when she brought out Cornetti di pasta sfoglia alla crema (puff pastry horns filled with Italian vanilla cream), dainty little horn-shaped pastries filled with an out-of-this-world cream that had been flecked with lemon zest. The espresso bean garnishes were just the perfect touch. The other end to the night came in the form of bonbons from our favorite chocolatier, Amy Jo of Valenza Chocolatier. It only made sense to have Italian chocolates with Italian food, and she absolutely delivered. Spumoni, limoncello, and espresso bonbon jewels lined plates that had people gaping as they were brought out. I had barely come back out after the dessert had been presented when I realized all the chocolates were gone. What a compliment! The wine for this last course of the evening was Sant Orsola Moscato d'Asti 2013, a true Italian Moscato that showed how complex the wine could be and how some American versions don't do it justice because of artificial sugar additions.

There just feels like there is so much more to write about the night but then this would become a lengthy post. It was just too perfect with everyone's work put together into one amazing evening with great people, food, and fun. Donna was such a joyful whirlwind in the kitchen, and Duc loved being able to educate about the wine (and a lot of times, wine was also in the kitchen as you could see from the pictures...haha). The talent that night through the food, service, and chocolate(!) made us so very grateful to be in the company of such masters, and we hope to have more of these events! It was a ticketed event this time with limited seating but who knows? If you continue to help us grow, maybe the next time we can have a huge (free) shebang. Thank you everyone for making everything possible!

Photography by Duc Duong. More photographs available on Facebook here.