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The Prado Food & Wine School

Chef frigeri At Work
©2009 sandiego.com, Inc.

Here is your mission. Head over to Balboa Park, make your way to The Prado restaurant BUT instead of heading for the dining establishment, make a sharp left as you enter the courtyard. Take the stairs (two at a time if you can) and as you hit the top landing enter a room full of possibilities. No this isn’t a wild goose chase; this is how you will find The Prado Food & Wine School. Then again, maybe they will be teaching you to cook wild goose. You never know!

Nestled in its perch above the courtyard, the cooking school is a tiny little hint of a room that requires a little grace in mingling with the other attendees. Cramped is a good description of the initial feel. We had to suck in our guts to move past the already seated patrons on their high stools. Sixteen individuals sitting shoulder to shoulder occupied the span of the “L” shaped counter top directly in front of the cooking area. As the various groups settled into conversations amongst themselves we realized that the chef, who was already working away at prep, didn’t acknowledge any of our presence which was a bit awkward considering we were there for a good 20 minutes. Turns out we were waiting for one late couple, but it would’ve been nice to have a bit of repartee or just start and let the late comers join in when they arrived.

After that Chef Nadia Frigeri came to life and the whole affair became enchanting. One thing to note is that this is not a cooking class where you also participate in the slicing and dicing, but an instructional course in preparing the set menu. Our class was a Tuscany themed evening full of intriguing dishes. Six courses with wine pairings were on the nights agenda.

In a heavy accent (she apologized saying she had just returned from Italy so her accent was indeed heavy, we thought it was charming) Chef Frigeri explained the evenings menu and told us about the prep work she had already began. She did a brilliant job of being educational, whimsical, unassuming and a real pro. There were also a couple of attendants moving about making sure your water and, more importantly, your wine was always filled.

The night’s fare began with focaccia di mais con olive (olive and cornmeal focaccia with rosemary and sage) that had a distinct sweet yet savory flavor about it. A delightful way to begin the meal. Second course brought us the pici al sugo di pepperoni (Tuscan pasta with spicy bell pepper sauce and baby braised tomatoes) that was amazingly flavorful. Thick strands of pasta embraced the fresh tomatoes (which were a burst of zest in your mouth) and the thick rich bell pepper sauce was wiped clean with the remaining focaccia. Too good to waste even a drop.

Next, the polletti alla diavola (devil Cornish game hens) were absolutely unbelievable. One of the most tender and flavorful chicken we've had,and we watched her season and cook them before our eyes. Crispy skin on the outside made way for the moist, succulent hen. OMG! Then came the gamberi in salsa (shrimp with spicy tomato sauce on mozzarella and polenta timbale) which delivered another showstopper. Chef Frigeri had us literally eating out of her hands at this point. Layers of polenta, mozzarella, then more polenta created a masterpiece of texture and “just lay me down” flavor. Wow!

Cornish Game Hen
©2009 sandiego.com, Inc.

There was no stopping now as the next dish was set before us. A traditional Tuscany fagioli all ‘uccelletto (white beans Tuscan style with sage and tomatoes) continued to satiate our taste buds. Perfectly cooked and seasoned. It made you feel like you were a world away sitting at a bistro in Sienna. Dessert followed in the guise of sorbetto di cioccolato (chocolate sorbet) and was a brilliant ending to the evening’s array of indulgent dishes. A cool and simple that cleansed the palette perfectly.

Shrimp & Polenta
©2009 sandiego.com, Inc.

As Chef Frigeri worked her way through the evening’s brilliantly selected dishes, you could follow the ingredients and cooking instructions in the handouts given before the night’s theatrics began. “Try this at home” was the inspired feeling you had after watching how effortlessly the chef danced around her work station creating the lively dishes.

At the end pictures were taken with the chef and leftovers were distributed among the eager but full attendees. And somewhere during course of the evening you found yourself making new friends with fellow diners. Laughter and “oohhs” and “ahhs” filled the night.

The Prado Food & Wine School turned out to be a real treat. Full bellies and happy smiles left the venue that at first seemed so unapproachable. So be daring and make the climb up the stairs to the loft above and be prepared for some good eats. Hint…don’t eat lunch that day. Enjoy!

The good – Great meal and the wine kept coming

The bad – again, very awkward intro with no engagement from the chef.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-235-8144
  • Name: The Prado Food & Wine School
  • Address: 1549 El Prado