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A Night at Michael Anthony's

Tucked away in a tiny little plaza sits a tiny little piece of genuine Italy. Featuring traditional, Old World Italian cuisine, Michael Anthony's Cucina Italiana was founded by Hilton Head residents, Tony and Becky Fazzini. Offering some of the best wines in the world in an upscale contemporary atmosphere, Michael Anthony's has been recognized as one of the "Top 50 Italian Restaurants" in the United States by Open Table.

Alongside the dining room, there is a quaint Italian market offering wine, fresh pasta, truffle oil, balsamic vinegars, and more. When the market closes at 4pm, the room is set for dinner and is used as extra seating. We had the pleasure of sitting in the market. The view certainly did not disappoint!

Our waitress, Lucy, was incredible in working with us to choose wines we had never tried. Not having an easy task ahead of herself, Lucy and I chatted about wine preferences, flavor profiles, and regions. I was floored when she introduced a new wine every single course. While the variety may have been familiar, it was the vineyard and region that we had never tried. Needless to say, we walked away with some new favorites.

Part of our week in Hilton Head was for the Marriott Timeshare Conference, and included in our stay was a 4 course meal with wine pairings at the elusive Michael Anthony's. My grandparents had been before and raved about the food, the wine, and the desserts. Being only slightly skeptical of their high praise, we attended dinner with high hopes - and quickly found out it was the best food on the island.

Course 1: Traditional Sicilian Crab Salad

As we were seated, we snacked on a white bean bruschetta served with crusty Italian bread. It was rich, creamy, and so flavorful.

The first course served was a traditional Sicilian crab salad. Lump crab meat was piled on top of a bed of arugula. The ratio of crab to arugula was phenomenal. Under the arugula was a hidden little tangerine, adding just the right amount of citrus and brightness to the rich seafood and spicy greens. A perfect way to start the meal, I couldn't imagine what came next.

Paired with the salad was an incredibly affordable Feudo Maccari Grillo. Grillo grapes are native to Sicily and are commonly used in still white blends and varietals, originally used for Marsala wine. When highly fortified, the wine is crisp, light, and fruity with notes of apple and lemon.

Course 2: Gnocchi in Gorgonzola and Mushroom Cream Sauce

Gnocchi di Patate al Gorgonzola

Being the carb-enthusiast that I am, this was my favorite course of the evening. The gnocchi were little fluffy pillows that melted in your mouth. The sauce... the sauce was so rich, creamy, heavy, and tangy - and filled shitake mushrooms, adding to the richness. The gorgonzola flavors were strong without being so intrusive and overpowering. To top it off, a demi-glace and guanciale was sprinkled over the gnocchi. Rich was an understatement, but I could have eaten 4 more bowls.

The wine paired with the intense flavors of the gnocci and gorgonzola was Mastroberardino 'Mastro' Aglianico Campania. Influenced by Vesuvian soil and material, the vineyards are located mainly on clay soil and the wine is aged in stainless casks. A medium-bodied wine, there are hints of black cherry, plum, and strawberry, followed by pepper and cinnamon notes.

A phenomenal wine with equally phenomenal cuisine.

Course 3: Veal Involtini

Involtini di Vitello con Formaggio e Salsiccie

Perhaps the course that was most overshadowed by its wine pairing was the Veal Involtini. Melt-in-your-mouth veal tenderloin was rolled with prosciutto, sharp provolone, and Italian sausage. Sauteed in a white wine demi-glace with fresh tomatoes, you'll be left wanting more.

Paired with the veal was a to-die-for 2013 Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore. This is a wine that certainly needs proper time to breathe so the flavors can mellow and gain a richness that would otherwise get overpowered by a tannic acidity. Because of the double fermentation process, the alcoholic is high and the color is a deep burgundy with a strong bouquet.

Course 4: Biscotti and Cream

After we were stuffed with so many rich foods, I was very happy to see biscotti and cream to lighten up the end of the meal. Instead of being jaw-breakingly hard, the biscotti was firm and crunchy but soft enough to bite. The cream was so light and airy, it complemented the almond flavors so well.

To no surprise, the dessert was paired with homemade Limoncello. Served chilled, Limoncello is traditionally served as a digestivo. Thought to held aide with digestion, Italians have been drinking shot-sized glasses of grappa or amaro for hundreds of years. But they're strong and bitter and a little hard to swallow. That's why Limoncello is so popular. It's light, refreshing, doesn't burn your throat, and isn't too sweet. The balance of sweetness and acidity makes it ideal for an digestivo that you can stomach.

As if that wasn't enough food, we decided to add on some desserts of our own. My grandparents, who had frequented Michael Anthony's before and knew exactly what they wanted, ordered the Tiramisu Classico. And that's exactly what it was. Classic, espresso and rum soaked ladyfingers layered with mascarpone and cocoa. My fiance decided to go a little lighter with his dessert (not that I can blame him after all that food!) and ordered the Strawberry Sorbet. Daily selections of gelato and sorbet are made locally by Pino Gelato. I'm incapable of going to an Italian restaurant without ordering Cannoli. I've had many cannoli in my day, and these were quite possibly the most classic - sweetened ricotta, chocolate chips, and pistachios in light and crisp pastry shells.

This is truly a can't-miss when you're in Hilton Head. Savor the food, indulge in Italian wine, and revel in the atmosphere.


- K


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