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Con Gusto - Italy 2001

By Ethel Carter,2014-07-11 11:14
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Con Gusto - Italy 2001 ...

Italia 2001, The First Week

For me personally, this trip to Italia ranks as our best. My command of the Italian

    language has improved dramatically over the last two years and, therefore, I was

    able to communicate in Italian at the level that Terry has always assumed I could!

    Secondly, Terry had done such a thorough job of mapping out our automobile trips

    that I, as navigator, had a relatively easy time doing my job. We had 17 glorious

    days where the biggest decision was whether to drink an ’82, ’85, or ’90 Barolo!

We arrived in Bologna on time, but thoroughly exhausted. Our flight on

    Northwest/KLM took us from Seattle to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we had a five-

    hour layover in Amsterdam before we headed to Bologna where we picked up our

    rental car and headed to Modena, land of Balsamic vinegar, for the night.

Our hotel, The Canalgrande, is located in the center of town. It was formerly a

    patrician villa and today is a hotel with neoclassical architecture. The foyer and

    salons are done in stucco and beautiful old paintings give the place a cozy

    atmosphere. I liked its faded grandeur.

Dinner on our first night couldn’t have been more perfect. We opted for Osteria

    Francescana. It is chef-owned by a young chef, Massimo Bottura, who did some

    cooking in the U.S., met his American wife in New York and then went home to open

    his own restaurant. He is one of the new breed of chefs in the Emiglia Romano and

    the Veneto regions who are combining tradition with lighter, creative preparations.

    He made our evening very special by coming out initially (most chefs do this in Italy)

    and telling us about the menu. When we told him we really would like to try as many

    things as possible, but with very small portions, he happily “created” our menu.

Osteria Francescana

    Modena 16 maggio 2001

    You are always offered an aperitivo in Italy. It can be champenoise, spumante, white wine or some special concoction. On this night, we have the house special

    which is vodka and orange juice with what tastes like warm zabaglione on top. I’m

    still not sure exactly what it was but as close as I can figure, the foam was some of

    the actual drink with a small amount of egg white that was frothed with some gizmo

    that uses gas. It was very tasty. The combination of cold, warm, foamy and non-

    foamy changed the simple “Screwdriver” ingredients into something quite delicious

    and interesting.

We then must have a glass of white wine to go with our antipasti course and we are

    served a glass of Villa Bucci, 1997 Riserva Verdicchio from Le Marche. It is

deliciously clean and crisp, beautifully balanced and served cool, but not icy cold.

    Very enjoyable and perfect with the appetizers.

    Antipasti was fabulous - slices of smoked salmon on a sweet garlic sauce with a The

    caviar garnish and a pistachio cracker. Then, Baccala (salted cod fish) on crispy

    potato, sautéed fresh spinach, tomato confit and a crispy ring of sweet Naples

    onion. Finally,

    Cappuccino of Asparagus and Langoustine this is a pureed asparagus soup served in a coffee cup, topped with a layer of the frothy foam and a perfect little

    langoustine. Here the foam has no egg whites; just the soup infused with the

    gas???!!!

All three of the appetizers are so flavorful and beautifully presented the

    components of each plate are very distinct and separate, but join to enhance and

    complete the dish.

We chose an Italian Syrah, Poderi Il Bosco Manzano 1996, Syrah Di Manzano, to

    have with the rest of our dinner. It is well priced at about $29. The Primi course

    is usually pasta or risotto. The chef has chosen Squid Ink Risotto made with a fish

    stock using the Langoustine shells, etc. This is topped with tiny little sautéed squid.

    The flavor of this dish in intense but it is not overly rich.

The Secondi, or main course is an unbelievable preparation of rabbit with Balsamic

    and Tomato “Foil”. The “foil” is sheets of balsamic and tomato gelatin. It is served

    with olive oil mashed potatoes. The rabbit is so moist and cut into small pieces,

    including a little “chop” with the rib attached. This dish is incredibly light but so much flavor. Without a doubt, one of the best preparations of rabbit we have ever

    had!

We are exhausted been up for 32 hours now. No coffee, no dessert, just sleep

    zzzzzzzz!

17 Maggio 2001

We head out early in the morning after breakfast. Out destination is 7 km from

    Verona with a stop for lunch on Lake Orta. Two years ago, we had a wonderful lunch

    at Vecchia Lugano. The emphasis here is fish mostly fish from the lake. So we opt for a slightly frizzante, lightly chilled Barbera Del Monferrato La Monella 2000, Braida Giacoma Bologna, which turns out to be an excellent choice with the fish.

They have a fabulous antipasti “bar” here that we remembered from our first trip.

    There are several plates of fishes and vegetables. Most of the fish are grilled and

marinated in olive oil, garlic, herbs, and capers. But each is a bit different. The

    vegetables are grilled, pickled, sliced, slivered. We taste a bit of each dish (there

    must be 10 or 12) and it is delicious. It could be LUNCH, but instead we go on

    asking them to split some items so we can have tastes of several dishes.

We start with a very light risotto with lake fish, prepared with tomatoes and herbs

    Gnocchetti with Crayfish. This turns out to be heavier than before we move on to

    expected. The sauce is made with a crayfish stock and olives and the result is a

    very strong and rich flavor. The gnocchi themselves seem heavy not tiny little pillows but more like blobs (that’s Terry’s description). It’s easy to leave most of

    this on the plate.

    The Secondi Piatti are both excellent. I enjoy a Branzino (black bass) filet, rolled around an herb filling on a tomato caper puree while Terry has the fresh lake pike

    with stewed barlotti beans and polenta. This is so Italian tasting. Obviously not as

    light as the bass, but one of those dishes that seems unlikely for me to duplicate.

    It is, of course, the unique flavor of the pike, as well as the beans and other local

    ingredients and I really can’t figure out what the ingredients of the sauce are. Our

    waitperson has disappeared so I have no one to ask about it which is unfortunate.

    An espresso and our plate of little sweets and off to the Villa Del Quar, our base for the next 4 days.

The Villa Del Quar is about 7 km out of Verona. This is Valpolicella country the

    land of the very special Amarone wine. The hotel is right in the vineyards. The

    building is typical of the region, with three wings around a central garden. There

    are beautiful salons and bedrooms and a one-kilometer walking path through the

    vineyards. Great thing to do first thing in the morning!

    Our first night in Verona, we chose a relatively new restaurant, Trattoria L’Oste Scuro, which specializes in fish and seafood. The owner chef speaks a little English,

    but not much. We ask him to prepare a tasting menu for us and off he goes!

    We are drinking a 1993 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Quintarelli and it goes beautifully with our fish.

    To begin, Simone prepared a plate of raw fish monkfish carpaccio, salmon tartar, Sicilian red prawns, Adriatic scampi. He serves this with a bit of mixed greens and

    drizzles it all with olive oil, fresh thyme, basil and marjoram. Every fish is in

    perfect condition fresh and clean, light and delicious. The BEST raw products; a

    SIMPLE preparation.

Our next treat is grilled shark’s fin with lemon, olive oil, oregano and fresh capers

    followed by seared Tuna and a mixture of cooked carrots, celery, onions, pine nuts,

    raisins, prunes (no tomato or peppers). The veggies are diced perfectly and quite

    Caponata, but it’s small and cooked until it caramelizes together. Simone calls this

    nothing like the Caponata I know.

There are several Sicilian touches to his food and I ask him if he is Sicilian. He

    says NO, NO. Terry thinks I have offended him. He is, after all, Veronese and

    Toscano.

The next course is a plate of very fresh, tiny baby calamari about 1 ? to 1 ? inch

    total length. They are simply fried and are so tender. They come from the

    Adriatic and disappear from our plates quickly.

We really are finished, but a huge platter of grilled Sicilian red prawns with olive oil

    and herbs and a wonderful mixed green salad is delivered to our table.

We think this is it, but Simone disagrees and delivers a Pistachio Parfait (sort of a

    Panna Cotta but lighter) with a Wild Berry Sauce and a glass of a Sicilian Hazelnut

    Liqueur (to which I tell him there are some good things in Sicily.) He graciously

    smiles at my “joke”.

    “Abiamo mangiato molte bene! (We ate very well). I miei complimenti allo chef (our compliments to the chef) before we roll out of there. What a fun experience!

18 Maggio, 2001

We spent the morning in Verona, shopping and walking around and had lunch at the

    Botega Del Vino. Although we had very good food here last year, the reason one comes here is because they have 90 bottles of excellent wine by the glass. We did

    our best to try as many different wines as possible and had a bit of lunch. There

    are a lot of locals who come here to drink the “tap” wine, which we haven’t tried.

For years now, I have wanted to dine at Il Desco and Terry has not! It is a highly

    rated Verona restaurant and is considered by some to be one of the top 10

    restaurants in Italy. So here it is, from start to finish.

The chef’s wife is the person who greeted us and she is quite nice and very

    personable. Unfortunately, that was the last time we saw her until we left. We did

    see her at other tables, but she did not visit us during our meal. The interior of

    the restaurant is a bit formal but comfortable with some modern art on the walls

    a nice room.

We did not even have a chance to look at the menu and our waiter came over and

    niente (nothing). Just, “Ready?. said, “Ready?” Not “do you have any questions”,

    We said we needed some time and he went away.

    The stuzzichini (the tiny little free palate teaser), was an olive oil ice cream on a tomato pure with fresh basil. Sounds weird, but it was quite good.

We finally ask if we can see the sommelier and we order a Joseph Drouhin, 1990

    Clos Des Mouches. This is a very nice wine, but we didn’t come to Italy to drink

    French wine. But the prices on the wine list are ridiculously expensive so we opt for

    the best value. We are already not very happy.

Primi Piatti is Fois Gras with Balsamic, pears and onions served with a sweet

    Veronese wine, Ansemi I Capiteri. Terry says it is excellent. I opt for a Ravioli of Chickory, with Butter, Fava, and “Fried” Breseola. It, too, is delicious.

Secondi is a Wild Norwegian Salmon (it takes me forever to get an answer as to

    where the Salmon came from.) It is served over a lentil stew with spring onions and

    cilantro. My sea bass is served on a potato pure with fennel and baby calamari. We

    end with a nice mixed salad.

Because we have a bit of red wine left, we share an uninspired cheese plate with fig

    bread and squash chutney (the chutney is good).

Terry’s instincts were right on with this one. Although the food was quite good, the

    overall experience was not. The service was very poor. We were very rushed with

    our dinner, which never happens in Italy. So, I can now check this off of my list.

19 Maggio 2001

Today, Saturday, we have scheduled a drive to Erbusco which is about 40 minutes

    West and slightly North of Verona. We are going here to eat lunch at Gualtiero

    Marchesi because the chef there is one of the chefs Saleh Judeh (Saleh al Lago)

    trained with early on in his career. It is a highly rated restaurant in a beautiful

    Relais and Chateaux Hotel, L’Albereta.

We arrived early (we always do) and walked around the gorgeous grounds. The

    hotel is in the hills between the Alps and Lake Iseo the landscape is magical and the hotel is elegant. This would be the perfect place to spend a first night in Italy

    if you were flying into Milan (about 40 minutes away). The staff is very

accommodating and offer us an espresso while we wait for the dining room to open.

    The sun was shining, the view was unbelievable and we were happy campers.

The dining room is very elegant and we are one of only two tables. Lunch is not as

    big a deal in Italy these days. People are tending to go the American way with “fast

    food”. Terry immediately recognizes our waiter and we decide that he had been

    our waiter two years ago when we ate in a 3 star restaurant in Lombardia about 100

    Dal Pescatore 2 years ago, miles from there. When we ask him if he was working at

    we discover we are correct. Hmmmm. Now we are recognizing waiters in Italy!!

We begin with the Stuzzichini which are the little bites of free appetizers. They

    are very elaborate here and there are many including: in a little demitasse spoon,

    there is finely chopped eggplant and peppers with parmesan cream and caramelized

    garlic; a fried won-ton filled with pumpkin and drizzled with Amaretto; a shrimp

    wrapped with bacon and a piece of mint leaf; thinly sliced Daikon wrapped around

    sweetened ricotta and almonds; a toast point with avocado cream; a fried morsel of

    lard (yes, lard it’s a delicacy); a thin zucchini flower that looks pressed (we are told the chef sits on them all morning) BUT as beautiful as these are, they seem to

    be lacking in flavor.

    The wine for this day is a 1997 Pio Cesare Barbaresco, and it lives up to it’s reputation. But we find it to be over-priced by Italian standards. Terry begins with

    a Straci di Pasta Al Ragu Fini Di Vitello. Translation, spinach pasta, a light béchamel and a veal sauce. The sauce is not red, but made with a stock reduction quite rich

    and very good. My first course is Raviolo Aperto two squares of pasta filled with pieces of fish and seafood. This is not as successful as Terry’s dish. The sauce the

    fish is in is very non-descript. Baby lamb for Terry and Rabbit for me. The lamb is

    prepared quite simply roasted in the wood burning oven, served with an au jus for

    dipping and a raw fennel salad. The rabbit is in natural juices with potatoes and

    fave beans. Nothing special about either dish. The cheese plate includes

    Gorgonzola, a local hard cheese called Bagoss, Teleggio and Pecorino. The cheeses

    are served with almond tuille, Cugna (cooked dried fruits and nuts), honey and figs that are preserved with hot mustard and fave beans delicious. No, we are not through yet. The finale is a Tiramisu made with Panettone instead of sponge or lady

    fingers. It is a delicious note to end the meal on.

We probably would not return to this restaurant. It was a very nice experience

    thanks to our waiter and a young Japanese woman who is the sommelier. BUT, the

    food is really not special and certainly there is no real creativity. It reminds us of

    expensive “hotel” food in the American sense.

20 Maggio 2001

    Piemonte. We were Sunday May 20, we are anxious to get on the road and head to

    drove from Verona to Lake Maggiore, which is about a 3 ? to 4 hour drive. Our

    reservations for lunch were in the town of Lesa on Lake Maggiore. Once we arrived

    in Lesa, we followed the signs for Antico Maniero. As we approached, we saw a beautiful well kept old manor house, surrounded by battlements and rolling parkland.

    Since we had arrived early, we went to the house and asked to use the bathroom

    and also, to have an espresso. A very attractive but harried woman directed us to

    the bathroom but said she couldn’t fix us a coffee. This is so unusual, we felt rebuffed and wonder if we really wanted to have lunch here. Then she indicated

    that we could go sit outside and have an apperitivo while we were waiting for lunch

    to be served. The entire conversation, by the way, was in Italian. We went out and

    walked down a forested path where there was a table set up with all kinds of

    apperitivi and glasses. We hadn’t been there long when 3 or 4 older Italian men,

    dressed in black tie attire appeared and poured us some Spumante. By this time,

    cars are rolling into this place like it was the World Series. So we headed back to

    the house for lunch. We were taken to a sitting room and given menus, but the

    owner, Michele (husband to the woman we talked to earlier), verbally recited a menu

    “of the day” he would like us to have. Of course, we agreed, but said we didn’t want

    to eat a lot. The wife then came back in and gave us a tour of the dining room(s).

    It appeared that they had 4 or 5 huge families or groups coming in for lunch Holy

    Communion, Graduation, etc. Ours was the only table for two in the whole place.

    And so, we came to understand why Giovanna, the owner, was so stressed out when

    we arrived early!

    We ordered a 1990 Collis Carellae Ghemme. Ghemme comes from the Gattinara area and you don’t see them much in the United States. Our first course was a house

    made duck Prosciutto served with a drizzle of olive oil and shaved parmesan. It was

    perfect. Next, there was a zucchini flan served with a fresh tomato puree and

    basil. This dish was so light and flavorful. Terry really liked it a lot. A richer flan

    made with Parmesan and served on a Parmesan béchamel, was very tasty, but a bit

    rich and we forced ourselves to leave some on the plate in anticipation of the next

    course. And it’s a good thing we did, because pasta filled with crab, ham and

    fontina cheese was then served. Whew this would be dinner if we were home. The fontina is unlike anything we can buy in the States. How about a little “test”,

    they mean taste, of risotto. Can you believe it? And now, there is the main course,

    veal stuffed with chopped veal, breadcrumbs and herbs in a Barolo sauce. We beg

    Michele to stop. Nient’altra, we cry (nothing else), but to no avail. Dessert is a

    Sicilian Moscato and a Mandarin Semifreddo with two sauces, orange and berry. It

    really is the perfect ending to a great meal. We had such a wonderful time watching

    and listening to all the locals. And the food truly was wonderful. We visit with

    Giovanna and Michele, who speak wonderful English. They have a daughter who has

been an exchange student to the States and they go there often. Giovanna

    apologizes about not making us coffee, and we are able to tell them how we

    understand, having been in that position with our own restaurant. They are planning

    to add some rooms to the restaurant in the future, so maybe we’ll be able to stay

    there one day. They are such nice people, but it was time for our visit to come to

    an end so we could head to Soriso where we will stay in an Inn where we will also

    have dinner. Giovanna and Michele tell us we are going to the “temple of food” – in

    other words, a place where other Italian restaurateurs eat because it is so good. I

    Il miei complimenti allo chef. So tell Giovanna to give our compliments to the chef,

    she took us to the kitchen to tell him ourselves. He was so appreciative. Finally, we

    are off. Antico Maniero was an unexpected star.

Il Ristorante Hotel Al Sorriso is in the quiet village of Soriso in the verdant hills of

    Lake Orta. Among the little houses that climb up a hill, the charming façade of the

    restaurant and hotel elegantly stands out. Often in Italy, restaurants will offer

    rooms for their dining guests. Dinner is late, Italians usually drink a lot of wine

    with dinner, and so you just climb the stairs to bed. Very convenient, even if the

    rooms are miniscule. They do have every convenience, however, including newly

    renovated bathrooms. Angelo and Luisa Valazza are our hosts. She is the Chef and

    he handles the front of the house.

This is obviously a place where locals with money are regular guests. They are very

    well dressed and everyone seems to know the owner and the other guests. The

    dining room is elegant and attention to every detail is evident from the Fiandra

    tablecloths to the fresh flowers and cut glass goblets. Terry and I choose two

    different tasting menus, which should be very small portions (we hope). Served

    with our apperitivo, a sparkling wine from Ca’Del Bosco, is a tiny bit of potato and

    tomato mousse on a bed of pureed basil and olive oil. It is just a thimble full,

    bursting with flavor. I am served a tuna tartar and sashimi with julienne of

    zucchini, tomatoes and almonds. The tuna is coated in herbs and chives. Terry’s

    appetizer is Foie Gras on a purée of fresh peas and fave beans, garnished with

    whole fresh peas, fave and corn and a red pepper marmalatta di cipolle. Both are

    excellent. The second appetizers are prawns with a potato and black olive flan and

    scallops with black rice stuffed tomato and balsamic sauce. Now it’s time for the

    Primi, usually pasta, course. I enjoy Gnocchi of nettles with a Parmesan sauce and Foie Gras and Terry savors Green Ravioli with a Goat Cheese Filling. Secondi, or

    main courses, include Squab and a White Fish with mushrooms. By this time, we are

    too full to appreciate this course, but after sitting for a while and sipping the last

    of our wine, we managed to find a little room for a berry tart, made with those tiny

    little wild strawberries and served with a pistachio pastry cream.

What a day. We feel like we could go for 2 or 3 days without eating, but we know

    we’ll be ready to go after a nice walk in the morning and a drive to our next

    destination, Isole d’Asti.

Many of the restaurants we visited on this leg of the trip were “city” restaurants –

    restaurants with Michelin stars and well-touted reputations. But for us, the most

    enjoyable experiences are in the wine country in small family owned restaurants

    where the same person who waited on you then goes to the kitchen to prepare your

    meal. So we look forward with great anticipation for the coming weeks in the wine

    country of Piemonte.

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