An Italian Culinary Experience with Casa Vinicola Zonin Wines and Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar

image of Zonin Wines and Aroma Kichen and Winebar in NYC, New York

Last Monday, I was invited by Casa Vinicola Zonin, Italy's largest privately owned wine producer, to the Italian Culinary Experience at Astor Center. It is an event that brings together food and wine, Italian of course! This month, they featured the Sicily region and their award winning wines from Feudo Principi di Butera Estate and the food was the creation from Chef Vito Posola, Chef and owner of Aroma Kitchen and Winebar, an Italian restaurant located in Noho. 

I was really excited to go because, usually, when I went for wine tasting, the food was either not present or just few crackers and little pieces of cheese! There, it was an opportunity to experience how these two components complement each other!

The setting was interesting: like an auditorium at the university. I could not not imagine what going to class would have been if they have been serving food and wine...
image of Zonin Wines and Aroma Kichen and Winebar in NYC, New York

When we arrived, we were greeted by Ingrid, Jelena, Francesco and Paolo from Zonin, as well as Chef Vito Polosa.
image of Zonin Wines and Aroma Kichen and Winebar in NYC, New York
Jelena, Paolo, Francesco, Chef Vito
They welcomed us with a glass of prosecco:
image of Prosecco  Zonin Wines

Some like to say that Prosecco is the main competitor of Champagne and for sure I would not call it sparkling wine! If you wonder what the differences are between these two: the grapes and the fermentation method. 
image of Prosecco  Zonin Wines

The prosecco was served with our first dish: crostino di cozze P.E.I. e lardo or crostino of P.E.I. mussels and lardo.
image of crostino of P.E.I. mussels and lard at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar

This was an aperitivo or amuse bouche (one bite, although this was a giant mussel!), pretty common way to start a dinner in Italy (in France, it would be the apéritif), to stimulate the appetite. Pairing the lardo (imported from Italy) and the mussel is not usual in Italian cuisine, but Chef Vito thought it would be a good idea...and he was right! The lardo brought some smokiness as well as texture and the bread some crunch that made this dish a nice way to start what would truly be an Italian culinary experience!
And let me add that it paired perfectly with the fruitiness of the prosecco.

The next dish was the tartare di capesante New Bedford, barbabietola, pompelmo, pane carasau or tartare of New Bedford sea scallops, beets and pane musica.

image of New Bedford sea scallops, beets and pane musica at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar

That dish was aesthetically spectacular with all the colors, especially the bright red from the beets and the green from the avocado.
image of New Bedford sea scallops, beets and pane musica at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar

It was a succession of layers: beets, sea scallops, zucchini and peppers (that added a nice crunch), avocado and the bread that was a perfect tool to push the food into the fork. Chef vito decided to add avocado because he wanted to add some fat to the dish and thought it would be better than pork. It was a successful dish presentation and taste wise with all the elements coming together and having flavors that complemented each other. 

This wonderful dish was served with a white wine: Insolia IGT Sicilia 2012, Feudo Principi di Butera, one of their top sellers.
image of Insolia IGT Sicilia 2012, Feudo Principi di Butera Zonin Wines

It is a wine made 100% with Insolia grapes, grown and harvested in the South East of Sicily, from an area 5 miles from the sea. They describe it as:
"Bright and luminous golden straw yellow with light greenish reflections. Full, with scents of exotic fruit and flowering bloom. Rich and harmonious with delicate scents of sweet almonds."

I am not a huge fan of dry white wine, I prefer the sweeter ones like a good riesling or a Sancerre (perfect with foie gras!), but I enjoyed it with the tartare, the acidity of the wine counterbalancing the sweetness of the scallops!

The next dish was the pulpo brasato con finocchietto ed arancia rossa or braised octopus alla piastra, fennel and grapefruit.
image of braised octopus alla piastra, fennel and grapefruit at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar

As Chef Vito put it, the presentation was challenging because of the octopus. Personally, I thought it was fine! I love octopus so I was really excited! I was curious to see if it would be tough because if it is not cooked properly, it can be tough and chewy. This one was very tender and had a nice char taste (they cook it for 45 minutes in garlic, parsley, basil, and then finish it on the grill). Interestingly, Chef Vito explains that he receives it frozen from Portugal, but, contrary to fish, freezing octopus does not ruin it.
With it was fennel, grapefruit (nice addition of acidity), frisee salad, olives, olive oil and some sea salt. 

They served the Feudo Principi di Butera Chardonnay 2012 with it because octopus has a meatier taste perfect for a Chardonnay as it is creamy and more full bodied.
image of Feudo Principi di Butera Chardonnay 2012  Zonin Wines

The way they describe it is: "Dry yet well-balanced, with an elegant touch of toasted almonds offsetting the fruity notes. Good zesty acidity and velvety fruit".

The next dish was one of my favorite of the night: Bucatini Del Verde con sardine, pinoli, uvetta e pangrattato or Bucatini Del Verde (Del Verde is a brand in case you wonder) with sardines, pine nuts, raisins and bread crumbs.
image of bucatini and sardines at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar

The dish, typical from Sicily, looked beautiful, with a nice swirl made with the pasta that were perfectly cooked al dente. The sardine was under (you can see a tiny bit on the left side of the photo): I loved it! It had a nice grilled taste. But what I loved the most was the pasta: the sauce was made with a branzino broth, bread crumbs (that added a fantastic crunch), oregano, and some sweetness coming from the golden raisins.
And guess what! It was served with a red wine: Feudo Principi di Butera Nero D'Avola 2011.
image of Feudo Principi di Butera Nero D'Avola 2011 Zonin Wines

This wine is apparently selling well in NY and it was my favorite red. So you wonder why the Chef committed such a blasphemy? He thought that pairing a young wine, that hasn't settle, would be perfect with the flavorful sardines. And then started a passionate debate about red or white wine with food, some advocating for white wine with fish, others disagreeing. As Jelena said, there are guidelines, not rules! 
Here is the way this wine is described: "Dry, well-structured and extremely rounded, it offers very complex fruit flavors on the palate. These are reminiscent of cherries preserved in brandy, mingled with a very appealing spiciness that lingers on the finish." I have to say that I love these descriptions: reading them is surely easier than guessing them!

The last dish before dessert was Trancio di pesce spada alla griglia con tapenade di Castelvetrano e caponata or grilled swordfish, Castelvetrano tapenade and Sicilian caponata. 
image of grilled swordfish, Castelvetrano tapenade and Sicilian caponata at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar

Again a spectacular presentation, very appetizing! The fish was perfectly cooked, moist, with a nice grill mark and taste. Having it with the tapenade made with Castelvetrano olives (it is a variety from Sicily) was great as it gave the necessary salty element to the dish. The caponata, also Sicialian, reminded me of the French ratatouille in a way, that is not surprising considering that it consist of a vegetable (here eggplant) stew.

They also paired it with Feudo Principi di Butera Nero D'Avola, but an older grape from 2008. Again, the choice of red with fish seem to make sense: swordfish has a meaty taste and is often referred as steak. 

The last dish was dessert! It was Pistacchio di Bronte in tre maniere or Bronte pistachio three ways.
image of pistachio three ways dessert at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar

Again a phenomenal and appetizing presentation! It was pistachio gelato, pistachio madeleine and pistachio creme brulee. That was something! The inspiration was from Sicily where there are lots of pistachios. I started with the creme brulee that, despite not being as expected by the Chef was good; the best proof is that, Jodi, who does not like nuts ate it (in fact it was so good that she ate all three!). The madeleine was light and had a very subtle pistachio taste. Last was the gelato: creamy and tasty with tiny pieces of pistachio in it, laying on a very thin layer of brittle and a small (too small) amount of nutella. It was delicious and I truly appreciated that it was not too sweet.

This was served with a Castello Del Poggio Rosato NV:
image of Castello Del Poggio Rosato NV Zonin Wines

This is a sweet wine perfect served as a dessert wine, made with moscato bianco and pinot noir grapes. It is described as "Fruity and floral, with delicate rose and exotic fruit scents. Fresh and pleasantly sweet with a taste that reveals its varietal characteristic". This was the exception of the night: coming from Piedmont, it is not from Sicily. It had a beautiful color, was refreshing and had a nice sweetness to it, that perfectly complemented the dessert that was not too sweet (sweet + sweet is not always good).

This was a great evening: the Zonin wine was good and the food fantastic. It was fun, but at the same time very educational thanks to the crew! They had such a knowledge and the surprising pairing of red with fish will definitely make me think twice the next time I order wine with my dish, especially if it is fish!
I also discovered Chef Vito Posola, his incredible knowledge of wine (his restaurant has more than 150 different labels) and his passion for food that transpired during the entire evening. His food was fantastic and, although it was not regular dishes from his restaurant (some key items like the octopus are on the menu but presented differently), it gave a nice insight on how the food at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar must taste! I will definitely have to check that out!

Enjoy (I did)!

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Please note that, in accordance with the FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I was contacted directly by the restaurant or a PR and that the meal was complimentary. However, the opinions expressed in my blog are 100% my own!