Tuesday, November 06, 2007



We've been to Lidia's in Pittsburgh a few times, usually for their excellent and reasonably priced (now $22) Sunday brunch. Lidia Bastianich, PBS Cooking show host and owner of multiple restaurants in NYC, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh comes from, as some of you already know, from a part of the world that has been run over, ruled, conquered, re-ruled multiple times. She was born in the port city of Pula in Istria, which is now part of Croatia. She describes herself as Italian-American, even though Italian and Croatian were spoken in the area she was born and raised in.

I am hurt that she minimizes her Croatian side but all is forgiven when one tastes her food. The $22 per person brunch is one of the cheapest thrills one can experience. The 3 courses, antipasti, choice of 7-9 entrees, and a dessert menu along with home-made breads, coffee, a mimosa or Bloody Mary leaves one ready for a nice long nap in the warmth of the sunny riverside nearby.
The entrees change each time although the Three Pasta choice is always available. The Three Pastas, unlike the Three Tenors, is an experience worth repeating with each visit. Three different pasta-based dishes are served to you, with unlimited servings (One of each is more than enough for the sane human). The three pasta offerings are alternated every weekend. We've yet to go there and see a repeat choice. I've had the three pasta entree twice and it is to die for. Homemade pasta and gnocchi, coated with sauces of sauteed duck, or rabbit, or beef, or cheese, or Putanesca sauce, or....well, you get the idea.

I held out this time around because the winter menu was in place, which meant..
Sarma. Barbarians call this dish stuffed cabbage. Sarma is to stuffed cabbage as filet mignon is to frozen hamburger. It is one of those simple dishes that take forever to prepare, if one is conscientious of the sanctity of sour cabbage and its need for time. In the highly competent hands of the chefs at Lidia's, the sarma, with a side-dish of garlic mash potatoes, was a palette pleaser of long-term taste memories. The sweetness of the meats (Pork, lamb, Beef), the juicy sourness of the cabbage, the bite of the garlic potatoes all combined on a tremulously clamped fork as it slowly traveled into my sense and memory-ridden mouth. It was like swallowing a bit of Croatia with each bite. The sarma transcended mere food, a soul meal if there ever was one.

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Oh, man, that looks good! Sarma is one dish I have not yet tried to master although I have written down several versions provided by family members...it's the whole, "first, you make some homemade cabbage" that slows me down. ;-) And while we love Lidia's here in KC, I have never seen sarma on the menu, nor did I know (and my husband will be delighted to know) that Lidia is really Croatian. We might have guessed, given her simple but wonderful way with food. Great restaurant! Our favorite is also the Sunday Brunch trio of pastas.
You've got it to a "T" with your ""first, you make some homemade cabbage"". In fact, you've given me a great suggestion for anothe NaBloPoMo entry. Thanks!

I'm afraid that the whole Lidia and Croatian thing may be a big thing about interpretation. While her family may be of Italian origin, because of all of the back and forth control of that region, it's tough to say she was actually Croatian. The thing is, though, that part of Yugoslavia/Croatia she was in was mainly under Yugoslav control so....

But whatever her admitted nationality, there is no doubt that her cooking is as much of Istria as it is of Italy. And, most importantly, as you well know, the food is absolutely delicious.

We went once for dinner and after reviewing the wine list, I asked the sommelier if they ever considered offering Slovenian wine, which is very good; heck, one vineyard's total output is purchased by a few Italian wholesalers each year and pawned off as Italian. He looked at me as if I was doing a Pinocchio on him.

But, back to the topic, I think creating Sarma is no possible by looking at a cookbook; the secrets have to be passed down. I've been bugging my mom about just that secret.

Nest time you're at Lidia's in KC, ask them when they'll be making it this winter. Gwynne, it was fabulous.
DV, did you take the photo? That's one delicious-looking spread, even at 7:00 in the morning.
Yes, when the subject, namely a loaded plate of antipasto, looks so gorgeous, even a fumble-fingered phototaker like myself is capable of pressing the right button.
I should have taken the "after" picture as well but beached whales in Pittsburgh immediately brings out Greenpeace. No offense to whales.
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