Archive for December, 2010

Haley’s Travels: phenomenal cuisine in Italy

December 15, 2010

The church in Matera, melting into the cliffs at night.

Rehoboth Beach restaurateur Matt Haley, after extensive travels in Tibet and India, made his way to Italy to sample the art, culture and cuisine.  His next few blogs will focus on his experiences in Italy. Timing wise, these next few blogs were all written before Thanksgiving. All of the writing and photographs are his.

Matera, Basilicata Region, Italy

Getting to Matera was easy. Just a few turns from Rome off A-1 south, but it was four hours: four great hours of driving through the inland mountains off southern Italy in the Basilicata region. Winding roads, muted fall colors, orchards and ancient hilltop towns. It is amazing how much open space there is in Italy.  I didn’t expect that.

A look at one of the roads from the balcony of the Sextancio Hotel.

Driving into Matera I was a little taken back. It was beautiful but I had read that it was more than Rome historically, but without the tourists and driving in it looked contemporary modern. I drove through the streets until I saw the signs that directed me to the neighborhood called “Sassi.” After a few turns I was in history. The town went back thousands of years. It was like watching an old movie. Coincidentally, I found out later it is where they shot the movie “Passion of Christ.”

The city of Matera.

It was beautiful. The entire town seemed to be carved out of a mountainside. At the top was an ancient church with a beautiful temple lit up by the sunset, with caves on the backside of the town, across a large ravine from our hotel. The ravine resembled a small Grand Canyon.

I knew I was in for a treat when I could not find the hotel because it had no sign. The Hotel Sextancio is the brainchild of a German winemaker whose family owns Italian wineries. He has developed a model for investing in old Italian villages that are losing their commerce to the big cities and easier tourist attractions. Some of the rooms in this hotel were over a thousand years old: rebuilt caves in the side of a hillside village turned into a five-star hotel.

The dining room at Sextancio.

So no sign. I had to have the women from the lobby come down to the street to show me up the winding stone staircase. Once up top I knew it would get better because the restaurant had no name and the dining room was a thousand years old too.

I spent a day in Matera and it was great. One afternoon I chatted with a man who showed me how to really eat bruschetta. With fresh-toasted ciabatta, he drizzled local olive oil and sea salt on the crunchy top then explained how the only way to finish it was by biting the top of a fresh picked cherry tomato and squeezing it on the top then eating it. He finished with a nice dry white wine; I, a glass of fresh-squeezed apple juice.

Beef Carpaccio at El Bottegha.

I had a phenomenal meal at “el Bottegha” one night. Fresh carpaccio of beef, orrechetti with chickory and bread crumbs, white bean mash and kale, finished with a hot chocolate cake. But the real dinner was the second night at Sextancio.

This may be the best meal ever. Please remember I said this and can’t take it back. I was with Bry and we walked into this cave dining room that was purely lit with candles and sat down at a table and were fed family style. The table looked like it was made by an apostle a LONG time ago. On the table (like the rooms) was all handmade linens indigenous to the area, candles, flowers and hand-pounded silverware. We enjoyed ricotta and mozzarella made within an hour of service followed by fresh-made cavatelli pasta with local squashes, fried zucchini, eggplant involtini stuffed with fresh marscapone, bread balls (like meatballs) poached in tomato ragu, sliced local hams, salumis and cured sausages and fresh squash blossoms sauteed with squash. The cheese was so fresh I felt like the cow was sitting right next to me.

When I was finished I asked our server, who was also our desk lady and housekeeper, if I could meet the chef if he or she wasn’t busy. After all I really did feel like I just experienced the most all-around, authentic better meal of my life. She replied ” it was me.” At that moment, without a second thought, it all made sense to me. A chef could not have produced that meal. Only a great granddaughter of a great grandmother who has passed down those recipes in a small village town in southern Italy using the same products from the same hillsides for all that time.

Enough said. I am trying to get Elizabeth to come to America to reproduce that dinner on a farm next fall with Lupo Di Mare.

Bry and Matt in the lobby of the Sextancio with chef Elizabeth, the inn keeper, and Oliver the security dog.

Laundry. A staple in every window in town.


Peanut butter vodka, banana bread beer!

December 8, 2010

The beer board at Arena's in Rehoboth.

8 December 2010

This northwest wind won’t give us a break.  It’s sharp and it cuts and it’s cold! We’ve been riding the Great Cape Loop Trail a lot lately, on weekends.  What a fabulous biking adventure that is.  Marshes and Boardwalk, ocean and neighborhoods, great downtowns and open forests and fields in between.  So many great places to stop to see the beauty of nature and the creativity of humans.

In Rehoboth last Saturday, we stopped into Arena’s for a quick refreshment. My eyes were attracted to the colorful beer board. A couple of impressions:

• You can eat the titles of some these beers.  Others are emotional.  Some are old standards.

• In all the colors, look how white stands out.  It’s the same reason why bucktails catch the attention of fish underwater, why cottontail rabbits pop their tail to warn others, Probably because white is the presence of all colors.  Cool.

Bartender Colleen Carney told us that Miller Lite is the beer most ordered at the bar.  Craft brews charge on toward creativity and character but the heavily advertised national brands command the lion’s share of the day-in and day-out beer market.

At DogFish Head the creativity of the brews always jumps out.  On the board their own distilled and flavored Peanut Butter Vodka jumps out.  I hear one person say they will use the peanut butter vodka along with some kind of chocolate liquor to make a Reeses Cup martini. There are no limits to creativity.

By the Rehoboth Beach Museum, the canal overlook park is complete and looks great.  New light fixtures are in place. There’s a nice harmony between the park and the museum and a synergy between Grove Park, the overlook, the museum and the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce offices and visitors’ center.

I like the historical display outside the museum of the old mill stone and one of Rehoboth’s many historic homes.

A sweet spot – the overlook park alongside the Rehoboth Beach Museum by the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.

Check out the mill stone and information about a classic Rehoboth Beach residence, outside the Rehoboth Beach Museum, along Rehoboth Avenue, in town, just over the drawbridge. Occasionally sea gulls fly over and, in the winter, Vs of crossing Canada geese.

Haley’s Travels • A layover in Qatar

December 8, 2010

Rehoboth Beach restaurateur Matt Haley is visiting children at an orphanage he supports in Nepal, exploring the Himalayan culture and cuisine, traveling throughout India and then on to Europe, and reporting on an occasional basis.  His reports are presented here to expand our own perspective on other parts of the world and cuisines that may eventually find their way into the local restaurant scene. All of the photographs are by Matt or members of his traveling group.

Doha, Qatar • Mid-November

I arrive in Doha, the capital of Qatar, for a day layover and decide to take in the sites. I have never been to a middle eastern county. This is a first and I am impressed. The Royal Sheik of Qatar is a smart man and has built a strong country. Doha, the capital, is manicured perfectly. Every detailed touch is in place. I find it strange the way we sometimes think of countries before we visit them, after growing up with impressions bestowed upon us most of the time. My impression is usually changed quickly.

I love the way the men dress here: the long white neck-to-toe outfits with the head piece tied elegantly around the top. These guys are on it. The women mostly in head to toe black, with faces covered, still find ways to use their iPhones and seem to be smiling underneath. It feels good here. You got to love a place when the guy in charge is also a world champion speed boat driver.

The food is good. I stop and grab some falafel on the side of the road with some fettosh. Falafel is a chick pea fritter and fettosh is a chopped tomato salsa Arabic style (tomato, onion, parsley, lemon, cumin, chili). These two go well together with, of course, some great flat bread.

Doha is close to Dubai in growth and presence. It is an impeccable city from the inside out. It might be one of the more organized, clean and energetic cities I have been in lately.

I wish I had time to stay but Rome is calling. I will plan a more extended trip to the middle east soon.

Stay tuned. •  Matt

Editor’s Note: Here is one of the photos that Haley sent along with his blog from Rome.  He was most impressed with the art there. The next blog will detail his impressions and include other artworks.

The fountain at Borghese, in Italy.

Haley’s Travels: Goa is crazy good!

December 2, 2010

Drying fish in a fishing village outside of Ampora, Goa.

Rehoboth Beach restaurateur Matt Haley is visiting children at an orphanage he supports in Nepal, exploring the Himalayan culture and cuisine, traveling throughout India and then on to Europe, and reporting on an occasional basis.  His reports are presented here to expand our own perspective on other parts of the world and cuisines that may eventually find their way into the local restaurant scene. All of the photographs are by Matt or members of his traveling group.

Late October • Goa in India

Goa is crazy good. It took a day to get into it but it is beautiful. The food is awesome and fresh. Seafood is the answer here.

I started at Calangute which is like Dewey Beach in July but I was on my Royal Enfield. A classic motor bike. So I was away quick on day trips that took me to all parts of Goa north and south.

It would be a book to describe. Let’s just say the beaches are pristine, the food incredible and the history amazing.

Catholic church in Goa.

In India only 5 percent of the people are catholic but over 90 percent of them live in Goa. The Portuguese influenced this hundreds of years ago so you see it in the food and the churches. I must have seen 50 churches my first day riding. The architecture was beautiful. I am not a big church guy but I couldn’t help but be incredibly attracted to these little, unpretentious, authentic buildings. The best part is when people congregate on the properties of these churches at night. With this comes the street carts full of pungently flavored street seafood: fried whole baby fishes dredged in chili sauce, prawns Goan style, samosas (potato stuffed pastry with tumeric, chilis, peas & shrimp), fresh chipatis, kabobs, chick pea cakes and one of my favorites, grilled corn rubbed with masala and lime butter.

A few days in I headed to Paolem, a beach down south where Shannon, Meredith and Alex were. The ride took me through a few towns like Panji, a large town and home of the late Mother Theresa.  There are farms, plantations and rice paddies which I find fascinating. After harvesting the rice the village women clean and dry the grains on the roads. The traffic wind helps blow the dirt while shaking the rice clean. I am always taken back when I see the age-old processes of making food.

Typical road in Northern Goa, above Cape Rama.

I arrived and had my first taste of how a beach town is developed in south India. Because of the monsoons, the beach towns are broken down and rebuilt each year. Shannon was waiting for her beach hut to have its wall built before she could check in. After an hour the last nail went in along with the toilet and she was in on the most beautiful beaching I have ever seen. On the beach for a sapping $8 a night!

We ate at Sabinas. It’s South India’s version of the Back Porch Cafe. Cute little open cafe on the beach with the in crowd and fabulous food and great service. The same thing is ordered every night. Fried whole fresh red snapper, lamb Biryani, spinach paneer (a fresh spinach cream with chunks of homemade cheese) and great fresh orange, mango, watermelon and pineapple juices. All we do to the fish is squeeze lime and it’s complete.

Me with Rehoboth Beach residents Shannon Colburn, Julie and Meredith at Sabina's.

We return to Sabina’s often for breakfast too. There is always a group of Australians there that look like the Grateful Dead. It looks like they came 30 years ago and never left.

The girls are now going to take motorcycle lessons. Everyday I take turns driving them on nice rides inland, up the coastal mountains and through the pristine countryside stopping for crushed sugar cane and lime juice. 10 rupees, 2 cents!

Along the way I catch up with a friend of Nicky’s, my motorcycle riding friend from last year with Gaurav Jani. Her name is Alcina and she and her family own a beautiful hotel called Astoria in Assagoan. This is a plantation-style hotel/restaurant, 90 percent self sustaining. To my surprise Alcina is a chef and cooking instructor. We talk for hours while she shows me the property. We walk through banana, pineapple, nutmeg, allspice, mango and chili trees, all herbs and greens grown on property, coconuts too!

Goan tikka aloo, a traditional dish developed in the north served in a cafe in Goa.

I ended up in the kitchen with her teaching me some of the finer Goan techniques on pastry of all things. She also schools me on Goan Fish Curry. This is THE dish here. A red curry, coconut chili stewed fish, shrimp or lobster dish that is a staple with rice and naan flat bread. The other is pan-fried white fish  done simply, with lime.

A few days later Alcina and I decide I will help her teach a cooking class in Mapusa at the culinary school where she teaches. Of course I can’t wait!

Today I venture towards Chandor, the original capital of Goa. I have been told that the bungalows there are magnificent. They were built over a hundred years ago and still have some of the original landowners’ family members living there. I find it in the quaint little town that was originally a religious intersection of all types. The bungalows are exactly as described. Out of nowhere there is Chandor’s own little Versaille, immense and full of beautifully ornate rooms with an Indo Portuguese touch full of marble, crystal, manicured woods and opulent chandeliers. It sets itself apart from the area but still feels very much a part of it.

I believe in giving back to all communities I visit. I don’t feel right if I receive and don’t play a role in return, so today I am going to the Victory House, a boys’ orphanage in North Goa. Because of my involvement elsewhere, contact is made and I am welcomed by a man named Francis. He, like most Indian men in Goa, is catholic. They have names like Peter, John, Luke.  I actually found it amusing. I have never been asked to call one of my Indian friends Frank.

As always, I am taken away by the presence of orphaned children and their sense of gratitude and humility. I connect well and have found my home away from home again. One of the boys is sick and can’t study but immediately becomes well again once he sees I have a cell phone with a game on it. I look him in the eye and say: “you’re not sick;” and he replies: “better now, can I play”

Out of the blue I meet a guy named Mike in the middle of nowhere Goa. Not only is he from Delaware but he also happens to work at the Back Porch Cafe, which I mentioned earlier in this blog before meeting him.  That freaks me out a little in the small world category. We hit it off, end up knowing all the same people and his dad is a frequent at some of my cooking classes.

For the next week Mike and I hit the road and cover almost all of Goa in its entirety. North, south, east and west nonstop.

By the end of our week-long ride we are exhausted but happy. The temples, churches, people and landscape have all but consumed me. Meeting up with and riding with Mike was cool and a coincidence. Saying goodbye to Shannon and Meredith after traveling with them for a month was almost sad, but we know we’ll travel together again. They are off to Southern India, then Thailand, and me to Rome to meet up with Bry and travel northern and southern Italy.

I have had a great experience again in India. I am looking forward to Italy but know things will be different. I wonder how I will feel when a cappuccino costs me what I spent in a day here to ride, eat and drink?

Stay tuned.  Next stop Italy.  Matt

Boys and girls in Chandor, after eating chocolate.