Category Archives: Food/Wine

Claire’s Corner Copia: A Vegetarian Delight

Lately I’ve been more open to trying vegetarian dishes. So when I got invited by Visit Connecticut to have brunch at a well-respected vegetarian restaurant in my home state, I couldn’t pass them up.

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Over the years, I had heard a lot about Claire’s Corner Copia, a fixture in downtown New Haven for almost 40 years. Last Saturday, as part of Connecticut’s Open House Day, I joined other bloggers to dine at this cozy and colorful eatery on Chapel Street, near Yale.

Claire’s Corner Copia was founded in 1975 by Claire Criscuolo, with her husband Frank Criscuolo, based on the couple’s shared belief in the importance of healthy eating. Each also grew up in a family of bakers and cooks. Still today, Claire owns her “corner copia,” which has a quite a large menu of entrees, soups, salads, smoothies and desserts with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free ingredients.

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Lines–and waits that come along with them–can happen here quite a bit, but my group lucked out. I ordered a roasted eggplant flat bread pizza with organic baby spinach, mozzarella and garlic oil on a whole wheat tortilla. Other guests chose different salads, quiche and other pizzas with pesto or as a caprese (which the second one was great). I thought my pizza was pretty good. I’m used to picking up slices, but with this version I had to end up using my knife and fork. Next time, I would probably try a salad or sandwich instead.

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The desserts at Claire’s are really visually appealing. Treats are an eclectic mix. They include vegan chocolate cupcakes  (which I definitely recommend), a rainbow colored assortment of frosted cupcakes, as well as cakes such as carrot cake, a Lithuanian coffee cake, and a lavender cake (another good choice; I bought a slice to take home). There’s an assortment of cookies too.

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Overall, meal portions are well sized, and prices reflect what you find in New Haven. Also note: If you eat in, your food is brought to you by servers, but you’re the one that has to bus your finished plates and utensils. And if you know New Haven, parking can get a bit hairy. I recommend using the parking garage on Crown Street, and then take the short walk over to Claire’s.

In all, Claire’s is worth a visit. Leave room for dessert.

Editor’s note: I was invited to a brunch at Claire’s Corner Copia held on behalf of Visit Connecticut, in which all the attendees’ meals were comped.

Must See Places in Madrid

As Spain’s capital city, Madrid mixes cultural and culinary influences with politics, commerce and royalty. I got to spend a few days there recently, wandering along streets and plazas and visiting museums, landmarks and districts. Here are some of the places I went that I definitely recommend checking out.

With museums, Madrid has a good standing. In the city center, there is a section known as the Golden Triangle of Art, which consists of three important art museums located along the street, Paseo del Prado.

DSCN1463 DSCN1486First, the most recognized art museum in Madrid is Museo Nacional del Prado. In comparison in size to the Lourve Museum in Paris, the Prado contains a massive collection: around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents. It’s one of the best collections of European art. Pieces date from the 12th to early 19th century, a number made by artists who were assigned to create works specifically for the Spanish royal crown.

DSCN1470DSCN1473It can feel a bit daunting to try get through a lot of the Prado in one visit. I got there on a Monday afternoon, still recovering a bit from my early-morning flight, and, due to my jet lag, I decided to stick to about two floors. Or perhaps focus on a certain artist or join in a tour. Francisco de Goya has a high representation, as well as Diego Velázquez, Titian, and El Greco, among others. Italian, Flemish, Dutch, German and French masterpieces are also well featured. If all else fails, one painting I recommend seeing is Velázquez’s Las Meninas.

For those who like modern art, the second museum is this “triangle” is also worth a visit. Across from the train station, Estación de Atocha, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is located in a former hospital and holds works by 20th century masters.

DSCN1399 DSCN1398It’s similar to what you would see at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. One of its most significant pieces is Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” which Picasso painted in protest of the Spanish Civil War. Major works by fellow Spanish artists, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, are also here. The museum is also open late on Friday nights, with free admission.

In addition to these museums, consider checking out the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, once a baron’s private collection, and a great navy museum called Museo Naval, run by the Spanish Navy. (Bring your passport with you for this one, as it’s in a government building. An ID is required for admission).

Along with public buses and the Metro, Madrid can be great to explore on foot. In fact, there are different squares you can walk through to reach landmarks as well as stop for a meal or people watching.

DSCN1423-sol DSCN1421Plaza Mayor is cobblestone-lined section is literally squared away, and its remote feeling is like stepping back into a different era. Buildings with beautiful balconies line this square and its different arches open out different streets. Yet, Plaza Mayor has an interesting history. Trials by the Spanish Inquisition took place here, but the location also has been a setting for bull fighting. Nowadays, there are cafes, restaurants and shops here.

DSCN1678 DSCN1676 DSCN1682 DSCN1681Plaza del Sol is a well-trafficked pedestrian area, quite lively in both day and particularly at night. Likewise there are shops and restaurants, in this older section of Madrid. On New Year’s Eve, people gather here to conduct the tradition of eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight for good luck for the incoming year.

DSCN1456-SolDSCN1576 DSCN1581 DSCN1582With dining, if you want to try a mix of everything, from tapas to seafood and even something sweeter, pay a visit to The Mercado de San Miguel. Located near Calle Mayor, this older building houses a nice mixture of delicatessens, restaurants and bars. For a few Euros, you can purchase different small plates and appetizers to try. During my visit, I dined on everything from stuffed olives to croquettes to fried calamari and even sampled a few pastries. My entire bill for the evening averaged out at most to 15 Euros.

DSCN1563 DSCN1545 DSCN1546 DSCN1547DSCN1556 DSCN1553Traditionally, the Spanish eat dinner late, so it’s possible you might have to wait until 8 p.m. or so for your restaurant reservation. One place I went to Reservante Botin, a restaurant that has been in existence for almost 300 years (it’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records). Down the street from the Mercado, and in existence since 1725, Botin’s specialty dish is a roast suckling pig that is quite tasty.

One final place that might be of interest to you ties into Spain’s royal history. Palacio Royal is Madrid’s royal palace is built upon an old fortress and is now mostly used for ceremonial occasions. You can check out the views on the patio area, but definitely take a tour of its lavish interior and exquisite rooms!

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Hope my suggestions get you started!

From Sites to Spirits: A Night with North Carolina Tourism

On Tuesday night, I got a fresh taste of what North Carolina has to offer. And it was good.

Inside the New York Public Library, more than 20 North Carolina Division of Tourism representatives from across the state shared the latest on what was happening in their respective cities, counties and regions. With a roundtable format, officials gladly talked about what made their locales worth a visit.

photo(96)photo(92)Their reasons were as varied as what’s found in their locales: culinary, culture, history, the outdoors and other long-time or new attractions that appeal to any visitor. From Ashville through Winston-Salem, here is a roundup that reflects signature finds in and around NC.

photo(97)photo(95)North Carolina’s culinary scene has been getting a boost with local food finds and growing chef reputations. 2013 was a good year for the city of Durham, in getting accolades for its restaurant scene in various publications. On hand at the New York Public Library, Matt Kelly of Durham’s Mateo Bar de Tapas served up Camarones con Arroz, featuring North Carolina shrimp with sofrito and Anson Mill “Carolina Gold” Rice Grits.

Fellow city Asheville also carries its Southern culinary weight. Chef John Fleer of Rhubarb, a new restaurant, dished out Lime-Ginger Cured Sunburst Trout, featuring this local catch. French Broad Chocolates presented its caramels made with locally grown Sorghum Molasses, and housemade truffles with Nicaraguan Dark Chocolate. North Carolina is also recognized for barbecue, and, so in rounding out the evening’s Destination Dining corner, Samuel Jones of Skylight Inn served up pork sliders with cored cabbage and mayonnaise slaw.

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April is North Carolina Beer Month, and last’s year launch of this theme had more than 30 breweries all over the map participating. A state wine trail is also holding ground and spirits such as vodka and hard cider are emerging as well.

On Tuesday night, cocktails featured Covington Vodka, a gourmet vodka distilled from sweet potatoes in rural eastern Snow Hill, to Defiant Whisky, Blue Ridge Distilling’s single-malt American whisky from Golden Valley. Beers from a decadent cocoa-infused Imperial Stout from Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewing to a ginger pale ale brewed by Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery.

photo(98)Also with food, argitourism has become a key player. Homegrown is the tagword for Haywood County, in North Carolina’s western region, which is promoting farm to fork experiences, aquaculture, agricultural communities, and even craft breweries. For example, county officials is anticipating a new pale ale to be released early this year in honor of the region’s hops and brewing.

From mountains to shorelines, North Carolina has plenty of outdoor attractions. The hit film The Hunger Games brought more attention to DuPont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest, which are known for waterfalls and hiking trails.

The well-recognized Outer Banks continues to be a popular destination, due to the Wright Brothers’ early experiments with flight, and the majestic Corolla Wild Horses. The entire OBX can now be explored through a drive along the NC 12, a newly designated two-line National Scenic Byway that threads this string of islands together.

Another new feature focuses on the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina initiative, a partnership between the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and the North Carolina Arts Council, promotes the unique music that was born and bred in this region of the state by aiming to support musicians and music related businesses.

There is a lot more to find in North Carolina, definitely more than I could list in this post. Learn more about North Carolina by logging onto VisitNC.com.

Chocolate Expo Comes to Connecticut

Like chocolate? Great. Live in or near Connecticut? Even better. The Chocolate World Expo is bringing its sweet self to the Nutmeg State on Sunday, January 26, right at The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk.

Traveling around the New York’s Greater Metro area, this tasty show offers all kinds of delights made by local and regional vendors. Plus, there will be free samplings. Need I say more?

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Source: Chocolate World Expo

Chocolate will come in just about any shape or form. There are common choices like cakes and candies and dipped fruits and pretzels to even more unique options like chocolate covered bacon. And besides gourmet chocolate, vendors also might feature bath products, baked goods and specialty foods.

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Source: Chocolate World Expo

At The Maritime Aquarium, booths will be set up throughout its galleries, on both the venue’s upper and lower levels. While getting a taste of different delectables, visitors can check out marine life displays ranging from jellyfish to seals.

Plus, the cost of admission to the expo includes admission to the Aquarium. Just make sure your taste buds are ready. And definitely your wallet!

Hours for the Chocolate World Expo on January 26 are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is $15 adults, $10 children ages 3–12. The Martitime Aquarium is located at 10 North Water Street, in Norwalk’s SoNo district.

Why You Should Go to the Czech Republic in 2014

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Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic

Ever been to Prague? It’s most likely the first thing about the Czech Republic that comes to mind. Yet as this city is definitely a must-see destination, Czech Tourism officials wants to make sure potential visitors know that there is plenty to explore in this Eastern European country.

Last Thursday night, Czech Tourism North America and Prague City Tourism co-hosted a reception to unveil the launch of a re-branding campaign called “Land of Stories,” which promotes Czech Republic’s heritage and offerings. The campaign is shaped to encourage travelers and tourists to create their own stories from their experiences they have there.

Back in New York City’s Greenwich Village, at the Czech-inspired Doma na rohu restaurant, board representatives greeted us with appetizers and a wine tasting by Vino z Czech of brands from Moravia, a wine-growing region.

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While Prague is a top reason to visit the Czech Republic, as I did in 2012, Czech Tourism also is promoting other equally appealing attractions. Here are the campaign’s key themes:

1) Modern Prague

Admirers of modern marvels should check out Cubist architecture found in The House at the Black Madonna, Trade Fair Palace and Muller House. Significant buildings also extend to historic houses of worship. Prague has a strong Jewish heritage, with a number of synagogues, a unique cemetery, and folkloric legends like the figure Golem in its Jewish Quarter, a former ghetto called Josefov.

2) Southern Moravia

In the Southwestern part of the Czech Republic, this region is famous for its wine, and also contains Palava, a nature reserve, and Lednice-Vaitice region, a cultural landscape of Baroque estates that has also been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3) Pizen

Of course, the Czech Republic is known for beer, and Pizen is touted as the capital of beer culture. I also learned that there is a Chodovar Beer Spa that centers on “beer wellness.” (Mental note: Look into making an appointment.)

 4) Český Krumlov

Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this town is famous for its historic castle and is home to the oldest Baroque theater in Europe.

 5) Medical Tourism

As the concept of medical tourism (going outside your home country for medical treatments, often at a lower cost) has been gaining more press, Czech Tourism is pitching Czech Republic’s emergence as a European destination to obtain affordable yet still topnotch medicine. One suggested place to perhaps head to is Karlovy Vary, a “spa town” in western Bohemia.

Learn more at Czech Tourism’s website.

Go on a Dishcrawl of SoNo, Connecticut

Imagine a pub crawl that centers on eating instead of drinking. That’s the main course for Dishcrawl, a digital start up founded in 2010 in San Francisco that schedules specialty food experiences. These nationwide foodie crawls are currently being served in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and even Connecticut’s Fairfield County region.

400831_10151055106943099_179744370_nIn Fairfield County, a Dishcrawl around South Norwalk is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. Nicknamed “SoNo,” this section of the City of Norwalk has a happening dining and nightlife scene.

“The purpose of this communal gathering is to bring people together over food and to highlight the best restaurants in the area,” said Jesse Leeds-Grant, Dishcrawl’s Fairfield County ambassador. This evening of food and footsteps will be quite filling.

general2In setting up the itineraries for all of Dishcrawl Fairfield County, Leeds-Grant handles every task with preparations, from selecting the locations to initiating customized menus.

For each Dishcrawl, Leeds-Grant picks four restaurants to go to and dine in. “I try to choose restaurants that embrace the community and have a common love of the ‘foodie scene.’”

Leeds-Grant also is the guide for each crawl, leading guests from one establishment to the other.

IMG_9836Dishcrawl Fairfield County had its inaugural event in May, crawling along Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich. The Fairfield County happenings take place about once a month. Other Dishcrawls have jaunted through Old Greenwich, Stamford, and New Canaan.

Along with varying locations, each Dishcrawl involves different tastes. Once the participating restaurants are set, Leeds-Grant works with owners and chefs to create a specialty menu with unique flavors.

Tickets for the November 20 Fairfield County Dishcrawl in SoNo are priced at $45 each. Hurry; they go fast. They can be purchased at http://dishcrawl.com/sono/.

Day Tripping at EscapeMaker’s Local Food & Travel Expo

This past Saturday, EscapeMaker, a travel website for day tripping, presented its third annual Local Food & Travel Expo inside Brooklyn Borough Hall. In keep with its focus on getaways, the expo showcased attractions in or connected to New York State, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. And Brooklyn also had a big part.

photoHosted by Brooklyn Tourism, Brooklyn’s rising locavore scene took center stage at this year’s expo. In also celebrating the rebirth of the city’s agricultural past, a “best of” cornucopia of companies offered samples to visitors.

Stinky Bklyn in Carroll Gardens had soft and hard cheeses on display. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que celebrated the opening of its Park Slope location with pulled pork. Kelso Beer Company in Clinton Hill served up two choices of brews while Williamsburg-based Brooklyn Winery poured tastings of its red and white labels. Right outside of Borough Hall, a small farmer’s market offered additional edibles for sale.

photo-9 photo-8 photo-7 photo-5Other Brooklyn-based outlets on hand included Edible Brooklyn, Allan’s Bakery, Coney Island’s Luna Park, Cacao Pietro, Urban Oyster Tours, and Brooklyn Museum.

While Brooklyn has much to offer visitors, EscapeMaker’s expo also recognized destinations within a day’s drive or train ride.

In heading upstate, the second level at Borough Hall centered on destinations outside of the city. New York State’s “Country Byways” encompasses a number of natural and historical attractions found in this region such as in the Finger Lakes and Greater Niagara. Howe Caverns Adventure Park offers hands-on activity, while town of LeRoy is known as the birthplace for Jell-O, invented there in 1897.

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From Pennsylvania, Brandywine Country Cooking School featured dishes from its classes. To further go on about food-related trips, Vermont is a good place to go for good eats, and not just maple or cheese. Visit Vermont tourism board featured the state’s “Dig In Vermont” campaign is flavored with specialty foods, wines, and microbrews. Outdoor pursuits and places to stay were also represented.

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Apples are New York State staple, and, at the expo, the New York Apple Association had plenty to give away. Informational materials on apple picking and different varieties were also available. Of course, we need transportation to get to places. So, in keeping with that portion of travel, ZipCar, Metro-North and Amtrak handed out materials on promotions. For those who like to going on foot, the Appalachian Mountain Club gave presentations on backpacking and hiking.

Overall, the EscapeMaker Local Food & Travel Expo had good resources to encourage exploring – culinary pursuits, especially.

Eating Along The Bronx’s Arthur Avenue

One of New York City’s five boroughs, The Bronx has a number of attractions in its Belmont area that close in proximity to each other: the New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo and Arthur Avenue. Particularly, if you enjoy Italian American food, Arthur Avenue is worth stopping by for eating, shopping and just walking around.

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Called the Bronx’s “Little Italy,” this main section of Arthur Avenue technically stretches across East 187th Street to Arthur Avenue to Prospect Street. It’s lined with restaurants, eateries, cafes, bakeries, delicatessens and grocery shops. And most of them remain as family-run businesses, as they have been for generations.

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You can get a taste for just about any dish and every essential ingredient: pizzas, pastas, fresh mozzarella, sopressa, proscuitto, pastries, and so on. Every September, a festival called Ferragosto takes place to honor an Italian tradition that recognizes the end of the harvest season and celebrates the fruits of hard labor.

On a recent Sunday, I  jaunted from place to place along Arthur Avenue’s center strip. In combining my picks with others’ recommendations, here are a few venues worth stopping at:

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Madonia Brothers Bakery
Along the main part of Arthur Avenue, Madonia is most noted for its bread, having a good thick crust yet a chewy texture. In fact, one of the restaurants I ate at (and will mention later on) gets bread right from this bakery. The olive bread is quite popular and the spread of pastries is lengthy! This third-generation run bakery is also noted for its cannolis, cookies, biscotti, baguettes and bread sticks. I went home with a hefty box.

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Dominick’s Bar and Restaurant
At Dominick’s Bar and Restaurant, get ready for the concept of family style. Diners share tables together, so you will eat alongside people you just met. Plus, the day’s menu is heard not seen. Your waiter lists off your choices of what’s available. Although it may seem a bit off to have to go by ear, the big portion dishes are good and filling. If available, I recommend starting off with the antipasti, followed by perhaps the chicken or eggplant parmesan or cheese ravoli. I went with stuffed peppers, but in hindsight, I probably would have ordered what my friends did.

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Teitel Brothers
Teitel Brothers Wholesale and Retail Company (as it’s fully known) carries high-volume imported goods such as olive oil, tomatoes, vinegars and the like. One of the store’s top sellers is an extra virgin Sicilian olive oil made by the Don Luigi brand. Also note, when you come here, take a look at the front door step. You’ll see a Star of David in the tiles and recognize that Teitel is not an Italian name. Unfortunately on the Sunday afternoon I was around Arthur Avenue, Teitel Brothers was closed due to observance but I would definitely make a second trip back.

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Arthur Avenue Retail Market
A bazaar of sorts, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market contains a deli, gelatto stand, a beer hall, produce stands, and a cigar store where visitors can watch cigars being made and rolled by hand. It’s right next to Madonia, and it’s good for walking through for a quick browse or to pick up something like a sandwich. For some reason, a few vendors were closed that day but I think it’s still worth popping into.

Other suggestions:

Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles
Like pasta? Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles offers different versions of dried fettucine, ravoli, fresh pasta, dry pasta, sauces, vinegars and various imported products from Italy.

Emilia’s
Another Arthur Avenue gem, Emilia’s Restaurant centers on southern Italian cuisine with old family recipes made to order.

Casa Della Mozzarella
On 187th Street, Casa Della Mozzarella is known for serving the freshest mozzarella, such as its highly-rated bocconcini. With cheese choices including from salted or smoked, to small, medium, and large, buying mozzarella and Italian meats from here are worth the cost, and at times wait.

Have you visited Arthur Avenue too? Share your favorites with me.

My Guest Post on Honey Harvest Pairing in Weston, CT

I have to thank my friend Billie Frank for inviting me to contribute a guest post on her and her husband, Steve Collins’ blog, Santa Fe Travelers. My published piece is on Red Bee Apiary, a small bee farm in Weston, Connecticut, that centers on producing single-origin, artisan honeys. Single-origin means that honey comes from only one flower source.

This past Sunday, Red Bee’s founder and owner Marina Marchese organized a small honey tasting in timing with the fall harvest season. As guests like myself tried pairings of her honey brands with specialty foods, we were instructed to first taste each honey separately to be able to distinguish its specific flavor and then share about our thoughts about what we had sampled.

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In accompanying our meal, the staff at Saugatuck Grain & Grape in nearby Westport invented three specialty cocktails featuring honey syrups as one of the main ingredients. Small drink samplings were served, along with explanations on trying to emulate them at home.

You can read my piece by clicking here. Below are additional photos of mine as well.

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Umbria Tourism Goes Tech with MultiMedia App Launch

photo-22Known as the “green heart of Italy,” Umbria is symbolized by food, wine, ceramics, history and culture. It’s also quite picturesque, as this central and landlocked region is noted for its scenic character with rolling green hills and historical towns like Assisi.
To better market its visual appeal, Umbria’s tourism board has taken a tech savvy approach that connects old-world traditions with modern-day applications. At a June 3 reception at Eataly in New York City, representatives unveiled English versions of UmbriaApp, a collection of roughly 20 apps using a multimedia storytelling approach to showcase the region’s offerings.

During the reception, officials described the process of creating the UmbriaApp line as a  “imaginary bridge” between Umbria’s past and future innovation, in terms of shaping the direction in which tourism hopes to go.

photo-21As of this writing, the English apps will be released first for iPad, with versions for iPhone and Android to follow shortly. Italian versions are currently available. Developed by Sesinet Snc, an Italian company, all apps are free and can be downloaded through iTunes.

Varying by subject, apps cover art and history museums, festivals, bike tours and particularly food and wine.

One of the new apps that is quite appetizing is “Umbria Enogastronomia.” This culinary app is a virtual cookbook on Umbria’s authentic wines and cuisine, covering the region’s meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. Users can also replicate a taste of this region in their kitchen by browsing through the app’s range of recipes, complete with photos, ingredients, and preparation notes.

The unveiling at Eataly kicked off “Umbria Week 2013,” a week-long roster of activities in Manhattan from June 3 through June 8 that serves as a precursor to a “Sensational Umbria,” a month-long celebration scheduled for November.

In highlighting Umbrian cuisine, samplings of traditional dishes such as lentil soup (with its recipe included in the culinary app) and pesce crudo were offered. Tastings provided by Goretti Winery in Perugia, Umbria’s capital, complimented the evening.