While in Milan, Bae and I had the opportunity to eat dinner at the James Beard American Restaurant, an extension of the USA Pavilion at the World Expo. While the Expo site was located in Rho Fiera, the restaurant itself was in central Milan, on the fifth floor of the Seven Stars hotel, atop the Seven Stars Galleria. Prior to the restaurant popping up on May for the Expo, the view from the restaurant, which overlooks the Seven Stars Galleria, had not been seen in 60 years. Needless to say, it was breathtaking!
After joining the other dinner guests for a champagne cocktail, we were seated at our own private table in the restaurant. The restaurant’s general manager, Daniel Alley, who is a New Mexico native living in Milan for the past 25 years, introduced us to the concept of the restaurant. In a country well known for its food, the USA pavilion of the World Expo really wanted to demonstrate that the country isn’t just French fries and burgers. By bringing some of the best chefs from all over America for two-day sessions at the restaurant, the James Beard Foundation wanted to show that the United States has magnificent culinary expertise on par other countries.
Since Bae and I visited Milan in early September, we had the pleasure of experiencing the flavors of Chef Norman Van Aken, of Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Orlando, Florida. Originally from Chicago, Chef Van Aken is a self-taught chef who used James Beard’s first book to learn culinary arts. Not being able to afford to attend culinary school, Chef Van Aken was taught to be resourceful – which probably had something to do with his invention of the idea of culinary fusion, melding the flavors, ingredients, and techniques of varying cultures into his cooking.
Our Cuban and Creole inspired menu was the epitome of fusion. Take a look at some of the amazing dishes below!
San Pietro Ceviche with Bloody Mary ‘Salsa of Life’
I’m not a fan of ceviche normally, but this one was wonderfully sweet, spicy, and tangy!
Shrimp Chowder with Saffron, Oranges, Star Anise and a “Coconut Cloud”
This light chowder had a delicious coconut flavor, with a hint of what my taste buds interpreted as curry.
Cornbread Stuffed Ancho Chile & Guava Glazed and Roasted Quail with a Mango-Lychee Chutney
The quail was spicy and well seasoned, while the chutney had a light sweetness that complemented the quail quite well.
Roast Pork ‘Havana’ with Smokey Plantain Crema and a Black Bean & Sweet Corn Salsita
When I saw plantain, my heart leaped in anticipation, but sadly this dish used green plantain instead of yellow plantain, producing a neutral flavor rather than sweet. The salsita was flavorful, while the pork had a subtle, yet well-seasoned taste.
Key Lime Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce
I actually HATE overly sweet deserts, and too heavy cheesecake, so this dish impressed me with it’s lightness and mild sweetness.
All the courses were complimented by special wine pairings sponsored by Zonin wines, including an amazing Cuvee 1821 Prosecco during the cocktail reception, and my absolute favorite – the Traminer Fruili Aquileia D.O.C. Superiore, which came out with the chowder and ceviche.
Needless to say, Bae and I very much enjoyed our meal, and were honored to get to meet Chef Norman, his team (including his wife who’s been cooking by his side for decades, so cute!), and Charles Haas, CEO of the USA Pavilion. I’d like to give a special thanks to Jocelyn Deschamps, the Reservation Coordinator at the James Beard American Restaurant in Milan for allowing Bae and I to come experience the amazing extension of the USA Pavilion! Now we have to trek to Orlando to get some more of Chef Norman’s amazing cooking. If you have the opportunity to be in Milan before the end of October, be sure to stop and eat at the James Beard American Restaurant.