Restaurant Review: Positano Coast

Happy Thanksgiving Week! I should have eaten much lighter than I did this past weekend, in order to prepare for Thursday’s feast, but I didn’t.

I took a couple of days off of work last week to hang out with my mom and aunt, and so I kicked off my weekend eating a bit earlier than usual. On one of our days off, we hung out in Old City, saw a movie at the Ritz (Anonymous. Highly recommend if you like the soap opera which is Tudor England. Which I do.  A lot.) , drank a lot of Starbucks (first Eggnog Latte of the season!) and then headed over to Positano Coast for dinner. Chester had to work that day, but he braved the nine bus down Chestnut Street to join us as well.

I’ve mentioned Positano Coast in passing before—it used to be Pasta Blitz, which was a weekly dinner destination for my family. When it became Positano Coast, it switched its menu from traditional red gravy Italian food to slightly frilly Mediterranean style tapas. When BFF and I tried it a few years back, the food was good, but just not the same
as we remembered.

On this most recent visit, however, it seems that they have struck a balance between the creative tapas plates and the more traditional dishes. The menu features a variety of appetizers, pasta/risotto dishes, and poultry, fish, and beef entrees. There is also a raw bar available. The portion sizes hover between small plate and entrée size. We chose to share a couple of the appetizers and each ordered and entrée size pasta dish, but if you aren’t in the mood to share, two or three courses per person (for example, an appetizer, entrée, and side) would probably leave you feeling pretty satisfied.

We started off with the Antipasto platter (which featured mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, sharp provolone, prosciutto, speck, salami, eggplant caponata, grilled artichokes, olives, and mushrooms) as well as the fried calamari. My favorite items on the former were the creamy burratta style mozzarella and the caponata, which is an eggplant/tomato mixture that is kind of like a cross between a stew and bruschetta, that’s served cold on crostini. The calamari was pretty run of the mill, except for the fact that it was topped with peppers that had quite the kick to them.

The pasta dishes that we chose weren’t very large thought the prices were pretty reasonable for the size of the dishes. My aunt and I both had tagliatelle, served in a rich, creamy mushroom sauce. The portion size was just right, so that I felt full, but not like I had overdosed on carbs and truffles. Chester had the tagliatelle with bolognese sauce, which tasted exactly as I remembered it from the Pasta Blitz days. I had a small bite of my mom’s baked cannelloni with ricotta, spinach, and mozzarella. I liked that it was stuffed with rib eye, instead of just ground beef. It gave it a heartier flavor.

We all enjoyed our meals very much, and the delicious food was enhanced by the beautiful surroundings. Usually, I’m so focused on food that I don’t notice the décor of a restaurant that much, but Positano Coast is really beautiful. The cool shades of blue, mosaic tiles, crisp white linens, lounge style furnishings and images from the Amalfi Coast might cause you to forget that you are in the middle of Olde City Philadelphia for a second.

The only décor element that is kind of questionable are the articles of clothing that are mounted on the walls—it reminded us of something out of an end of the world movie, where everyone gets taken up to heaven or wherever and their clothes get left behind on the street. I tried to find a decent photo of it–the best I could do is below–I direct your attention to the back wall.

Source

I would definitely return to Positano Coast again, since there were a variety of things on the menu that I would like to try. Plus, it would make a great location for a summertime happy hour. Positano Coast does offer happy hour specials throughout the week and is BYOB on Sundays and Mondays. If you are in the neighborhood before or after catching a movie at the Ritz, it’s worth checking out!

Pasta with Mascarpone, Chicken, Tomatoes, and Spinach

Today, I had a major kitchen fail, involving strawberry shortcake cookies. So, today I’ll share something that I made before we went on vacation that was a bit more successful. I’ll be trying again with the cookies next week, hopefully with better results. I’m not writing them off yet, especially because the strawberries I’ve been buying this season have been amazing. I need to do something with them.

Anyway, this dish came about because I was really craving something with mascarpone cheese. Mascarpone is a thick, creamy, slightly sweet cheese that’s often the main ingredient in sweet items, like tiramisu. The first time I ever tried mascarpone cheese was actually in stuffed French toast many years ago. I’ve been in love ever since, and I’m always sad that I don’t see it used in more things. It’s pretty versatile, and can be used in savory dishes. For example, it makes a good substitute for ricotta in lasagna or can be melted down to make a sauce, as in this easy pasta recipe.

This is a good summer pasta, because it’s quick and easy to make (only took about 30 minutes). The sauce is very light and lemony—In fact, I think I would use slightly less lemon juice/zest the next time around because it overpowered the mascarpone just a bit. I could see the sauce being a nice complement to many other vegetables, like asparagus, or even squash in the fall.

Pasta with Mascarpone, Chicken, Tomatoes, and Spinach

By Deborah Mele

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Chicken breast (I think I used three), diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 container of grape tomatoes (recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes, but I can’t eat those)
  • A few handfuls of fresh spinach
  • 1 package of pasta
  • Olive oil
  • Salt/pepper to taste

What to do:

1.  Combine lemon zest, juice, mascarpone, and a bit of pepper in a bowl. Whisk to combine.

The cheese will come out of the container as thick as cream cheese, so make sure you stir it quite a bit to loosen it.

2.  Cook the diced chicken in the olive oil until it begins to brown. Add the garlic, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook   through.

3.  Cook pasta, taking it off the heat a minute or two before it reaches al dente (this is important since you’ll be putting it back over heat to combine the rest of the ingredients and you don’t want mushy pasta).

I like fun pasta shapes. This is Campanelle. It means "little bells" in Italian.

4.  Drain the pasta, but keep a bit of the water, in case you need to thin out the sauce.

5.  Return the pasta to the pot and place over medium heat. Stir in the cheese mixture, tomatoes, and spinach. Cook until hot. If the sauce seems a bit think, you can add a bit of the reserved water to thin it out.

6.  Top with grated cheese to serve.

Deconstructed Lasagna

When I was younger, my family’s Saturday night routine consisted of going to 5 p.m. Mass and then out to dinner. Over the years, we became regulars at certain restaurants in the city. My brother, as I’ve mentioned, was kind of a picky eater (trust me, that’s the understatement of the year) and my grandfather wasn’t really an adventurous eater either (that’s the second understatement of the year), never venturing far from pasta (which he liked cooked really soft) and gravy. So, when we found something that they liked, we tended to stick with it for awhile.

For a few of years, we favored Pasta Blitz in Old City, which changed its menu and décor to become Positano Coast. Unlike the current incarnation, which features a slightly upscale menu that’s heavy on seafood, Pasta Blitz was a pretty traditional Italian restaurant. Think pasta, chicken marsala, and meatballs and sausage.

Almost every week, I would order the same thing: Lasagna with Meat Sauce. Sometimes I would try to switch things up with a different type of pasta dish, but I always regretted it. Don’t get me wrong, all of the food at Pasta Blitz was excellent, but I wasn’t really satisfied unless I had my lasagna.

Lasagna is truly the comfort food of Italian cuisine, if you ask me. It has everything you could ever want—gravy, lots of cheese, and pasta noodles. And, you can vary the recipe to include whatever kind of fillings strike your fancy—from veggies, to meatloaf mix, to sausage—so it’s different every time. And, for me, whenever I eat lasagna, it conjures up memories of those Saturday nights with my family, in which my grandfather would tell bad jokes, flirt with the waitresses, and sneak off to pay the bill before the waiter dropped the check off at the table and my mom or dad picked it up.

The thing about making lasagna at home that’s annoying is that it’s pretty labor intensive, so it’s not really an easy weeknight meal. So, I was excited to try the No Bake Lasagna with Ricotta and Tomatoes, from the May issue of Martha Stewart Living. Yes, friends, I cooked again last week and survived to tell the tale.

Basically, all you need to do is boil the lasagna noodles and arrange them on a plate, make a light tomato sauce, add some dollops of ricotta and strips of parmesan, and sprinkle with basil to make it look pretty. My husband still hasn’t latched on to my suggestion that we try to have one meatless meal a week, so I sliced up some prosicutto and added it to the sauce.

Deconstructed Lasagna. Chester's makes everything look so pretty in pictures!

There you have it. Lasagna in about 30 minutes. And, with less cheese and filling materials, it’s lighter and healthier than traditional lasagna (I didn’t feel the need to take a nap immediately afterward as I usually do after a lasagna dinner).

I’m still kind of craving the traditional lasagna, though, so I’ve decided to put that on the menu for the Mother’s Day Dinner/Baby Brother Birthday Celebration that the husband and I will be preparing on Sunday. Hopefully, I’ll remember to write about that too! Last week was busy, and this one is shaping up to the same. I’m behind on some of the stuff that I’ve been wanting to share, but hopefully, I’ll catch up.

No Bake Lasagna with Ricotta and Tomatoes

From the May 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 7 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups mixed red and yellow cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (2 pints)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock
  • 8 lasagna noodles
  • 2/3 cup small basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, shaved

Preparation:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. Cook garlic until pale golden, about 3 minutes. Add 2 cups tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Add stock. Simmer until saucelike, about 1 minute.
  1. Add remaining cup tomatoes. Cook until warm, 1 to 2 minutes.
  1. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain.
  1. Step that I added: Mince a few slices of prosicutto and brown in a skillet with olive oil until crispy. Add to tomato sauce prepared in steps 1 and 2.
  1. Toss pasta in skillet to coat. Stir in basil, reserving some for garnish.
  1. Divide pasta among 4 plates. Top with any remaining sauce. Dot with ricotta, and drizzle with remaining teaspoon oil. Top with shaved cheese and remaining basil. Sprinkle with pepper.

 Serves 4

I Cooked Dinner and No One Died

I know how to make exactly three meals:

  1. Chile
  2. Lasagna
  3. Grilled Chicken, which I usually serve pesto sauce, made from one of those Knorr packets, and a side of pasta, which I usually serve with a Parma Rosa sauce from one of those Knorr packets.

I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoy baking, but cooking is a whole different story. I’m just not good at it–I can’t even make scrambled eggs for God’s sake. I don’t have the knife skills needed for it. I don’t have the eye for adding a pinch of this or that. I don’t like how it takes what seems like hours to cook a meal, and then you eat it in ten minutes. At least you can make a batch of cookies or brownies last a couple of days (or at least a couple of hours in my case) and you feel like you got some kind of return on investment. Above all, I just don’t enjoy cooking for some reason.

My husband and I have been together for six years, and I’ve probably cooked the meals listed above a total of six times (that means I cook once per year, for those of you that need help with the math). He definitely does the bulk of the cooking. Lucky for both of us, because I’d have to resort the peanut butter and cereal to round out my culinary repertoire or else we’d both turn into chicken or pasta noodles. On the other hand, he doesn’t really like to bake, so at least we complement each other in that way. Just another example of why we’re so well matched (awww).

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that I should work on improving my cooking skills. It would be nice for the hubby not to have to cook every night, and at some point, we’ll have kids and I’m probably going to need to cook for them. So, last night, I actually cooked followed a recipe from Martha Stewart’s “Everyday Food: Great Food Fast” Cookbook. I like this book because it’s divided into seasons, so you can get ideas for your comfort food in the Winter, your pumpkins and squash in the fall, and your fish with fruity salsas in the summer. And, best of all, we got it on a random trip to Home Goods, so it was pretty cheap! I like getting a good bargain even more than I like good food.

This might be a good time to mention that I heart Martha. I could never even hope to come up with half of the crap she comes up with (I always remember watching a holiday-themed episode of her show, where she was making ornaments to represent the objects in the 12 Days of Christmas and she made 12 drums out of old Quaker Oatmeal containers. Seriously), but I’m in awe of her business savvy and all the crafty ideas, recipes, organization tips, etc. that I read about in her magazine and never get around to implementing. Also, I’m insanely jealous that she has a whole room in her house just devoted to dishes, silverware, and centerpiece makings. The woman has shelves lined with dishes for every occasion, from Easter, to Kwanzaa, to summer luaus. I would love to be able to collect all the cute dishes that I come across, but I just don’t have the room to store them all. I’m already dreaming about the dish room I’ll have in my next house. I will be just like Martha when I grow up.

Anyway. Idol worship over.

So, I ended up making a dish from the Spring section—Linguine with Sausage and Peppers. When I was flipping through the book, the recipe jumped out at me, mostly because it required minimal chopping and didn’t require me to make a sauce, so I figured it couldn’t really be that difficult or time consuming.

So, how did I do? I was actually really proud of my knife usage. I think I did of good job of slicing the garlic and red peppers pretty thin. I only scraped my nail once or twice, but that’s what they’re there for right? And, I actually managed to finish cooking in about an hour and didn’t make a huge mess!

But of course, there were a couple of missteps. I managed to let a plastic bag get too close to the stove and it melted a bit. Then, I took the arugula out of the fridge to tear it, only to figure out mid-way through the process that it was the parsley for Thursday night’s pork chops. I as thrown off by the green I guess. Also, I never know how much pasta to cook for just two people (I’m used to my mom’s tendency to dump the whole box in, like she’s feeding a small nation) and I ended up making way too much. Instead of spooning the sausage and pepper mixture on top of the pasta after it was in the bowls, I dumped it into the pasta while it was still in the pot and it wasn’t very evenly distributed. Plus, because we only had angel hair on hand, the meat got lost in the thin strands of pasta and the ratio of pasta to meat was definitely off.

The end result, I think, was just okay. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted pretty good. I happen really like butter (or, in our house, Smart Balance) on my pasta, because I think it’s yummy with a ton of grated parmesan on top. And, the arugula gave it a spicy, almost nutty flavor (that the parsley definitely would not have). But, the presentation was kind of lacking and that made me sad. It definitely did not look like the pretty picture in the book If I made this again, I would definitely use a thicker pasta (it would probably be good with rigatoni or something) and maybe that would help.

All in all though, I’d give myself a passing grade. It tasted decent and both the hubby and I are still alive today. Maybe I’ll start to cook more than once a year…

Linguine with Sausage and Peppers

by Martha Stewart from “Everyday Food: Great Food Fast”

Ingredients:

– Course salt and fresh ground pepper

– 1 pound linguine

– 1 pound turkey sausage casings removed

– 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced

– 4 yellow or red bell peppers, ribs and seed removed, thinly sliced

– 4 tablespoons butter

– 4 cups of arugula torn

Preparation:

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the linguine until al dente according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta water; return the pasta to the pot.

2. Meanwhile, cook the sausage and 2 tablespoons water in a large covered nonstick skillet over medium until the fat renders., about 5 minutes. Uncover; raise the heat to medium-high. Brown the sausage, breaking it up with a spoon, about 7 minutes.

3. Add the garlic, bell peppers, and 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water; cook until the peppers soften, about 6 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of pasta water and the butter; swirl to combine.

4. Transfer to the pot. Add the arugula; season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Toss; add more pasta water as desired. Serve immediately.