Monday, November 30, 2009

Buona Beef and Tensuke Market

The weekend before Thanksgiving, Joe, Stephen and I took our first flight to Chicago as a family. Stephen did really well... though he did guzzle about five sippy cups of diluted apple juice in a little over an hour. While we were there, Joe was stationed at a table representing Kuei Shan School for an international Christian school expo held at several Christiain colleges in the Chicago area. Steve and I were free to eat, play and chill out with my mom. We had sandwiches from Buona Beef one night... mine was a chicken artichoke pesto panini, crunchy and compact like a panini ought to be (in my opinion.)
Mom had the egg and pepper sandwich, only offered on Fridays (for meat-avoiding Catholics, I guess.)
We also all went out for dinner at Tensuke Market, a little Korean/Japanese grocery that has a casual restaurant in the back. I got the soba set, which came with soba soup, shrimp and vegetable tempura, california roll, fried tofu squares and salmon chirashi. Yum! This photo combines some leftover udon with one tofu square. Sorry, no photos from the original meal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Silke's German Bakery

Joe had the day off on Wednesday, which happens to be our anniversary... We started dating 11 years ago and were engaged 9 years ago on Nov. 11. Those were frigid, gray days in Cleveland, Ohio. But our day was sunny and filled with fall color and good eats, such as this authentic German SPAM :-) with eggs and briochen from Silke's German Bakery in Clarksville, Tenn.
The decor of the bakery was kind of like a garden with plenty of nature art for sale on the walls and little mosaic patio tables. There was even a picket fenced area for children. We sat right next to it so Munchi could play.
I had a melted brie and apple sandwich with honey. We also split an almond croissant and later, a pan au chocolat.

Da Vinci Little Italian Restaurant

Let me just say that I ate Da Vinci food three times in one week. The first time was for the story below, the second two were just because I couldn't get enough of the calamari. :-) Stephen liked his baby pizza, which is free for children under 5 when you eat in.  Chef Pavel's balsamic dressing is addictive, and his Da Vinci Salad-- with a warm chicken breast and sauteed mushrooms over spring mix, tomato and a hunk of feta is possibly the best salad to be had in Hopkinsville. Below is the story of how this international couple came to open their new eatery in a little Western Kentucky town.

Italian chef opens North Drive eatery

By Emily Parrino, Special to the New Era
Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 12:53 PM CDT
Pavel Skorpil’s signature Italian salad dressing, marinara sauce and pizza dough are all freshly made. Alexa Becker rattled off the list as though she was preparing for a quiz.

“Pavel, you make your meatballs from scratch?” she directed the question toward the kitchen where her husband was rolling out pizza dough.

“Yes I do,” Pavel fired back.

“He makes them from scratch,” Alexa repeated.

“You didn’t know this?” Pavel shouted from the kitchen, feigning indignation. “You’re fired!”

“Yeah, he makes everything from scratch,” Alexa said. “I am so glad I don’t work in the kitchen.”

The feisty couple are chef and head server of Da Vinci Little Italian Restaurant, an eatery in the former Pizza Roma storefront on North Drive. Pavel is keen on treating the town to authentic Italian, but is also learning what locals like.

Since opening on Oct. 13, they’ve been selling mounds of meaty entrées.

“The first day, everyone wanted meat lover’s pizza,” Alexa explained. “The second day it was all Italian Sausage sandwiches. It was like everyone was calling their friends and telling them to order the same thing.”

Spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna with meat sauce have also been big sellers. Pavel also offers an Italian-style pulled pork sandwich with mushrooms and creamy gravy on foccia. In a town where meat-and-three is a menu staple, Alexa urged her husband to offer traditional barbecue sauce as a substitute to the Italian gravy.

“A lady ordered it the other day,” Alexa said, “and she was surprised.”

“She thought the flavors went well together,” Pavel said.

Pavel, originally from Italy, and Alexa, a German native, met and fell in love at a restaurant in Clarksville, Tenn., where they both worked. Pavel had initially come to the U.S. to be chef of a restaurant in Destin, Fla., before moving to Atlanta and eventually Clarksville. Each time, Pavel cooked a menu according to the owner’s set recipes and specifications.

After the Clarksville venue closed, Alexa urged her husband to be a chef once more, but this time using his own recipes.

“I told Pavel, ‘You should quit working for other people and open your own restaurant,’” Alexa said.

The couple agreed on opening Da Vinci in Hopkinsville, lured by the lower cost of rent and hoping to bring authentic Italy to the locals.

The bustle of business their opening week seemed to heat husband and wife up with the intensity of the Blodgett stone pizza oven that fills Pavel’s kitchen.

“We yell so much,” Alexa said. “But we don’t take it home with us.”

These days they don’t go home very often. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, with Pavel staying up, sometimes until 2 a.m. to make his dough from scratch.

“I am always busy,” he said. “I was born busy!”

“He makes dough by hand, using fresh ingredients,” Alexa explained. “One time he put a towel over the bowl and said, ‘Shh! Everybody be quiet because if you’re loud it will sink.’”

Pavel trained at a cooking school in Bolzano, northern Italy, but he learned his favorite dish, lasagna, from cooking under his grandmother in Milan. He still calls his popular recipe “Nona Lasagne,” using the Italian word for grandma.

In addition to the long hours, bringing Italian food culture to Hopkinsville has proved challenging. In Italy, lunch breaks are typically two hours, Pavel said.

“So if you go in a restaurant, the cook will make the pasta and bring it to you fresh, which takes between 10 and 15 minutes to prepare,” Pavel said. “You can’t do this because people here have only 30 or 40 minutes for lunch.”

He also decided to offer some decidedly American items like buffalo wings, deep pan pizza and cheese sticks alongside authentic Italian items like Mussels Alla Diavola and Calamari Fritti.

Still, Pavel is proud to make the majority of his menu from fresh ingredients. He tells Alexa to tell customers he uses specially ordered unbleached flour to make his dough.

“Unbleached flour is much better for your stomach,” Pavel said.

Pavel’s original recipes include Da Vinci Salad with mixed greens, grilled chicken, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes and feta; and his White Pizza, topped with crème, mozzarella, roma tomatoes, proscuitto and mushrooms.

The restaurateurs say their menu and long hours have won them many compliments.

Several of Da Vinci’s diners early Saturday evening were repeat customers.

“It was delicious again,” a woman said to the server as she left.

“Bye y’all,” Alexa said with a convincing twang. “Have a great day!”

Da Vinci Little Italian on Urbanspoon