Monthly Archives: October 2009

Italy Part III: Lakes, Barolo and Truffles

After ten days of non-stop sight-seeing, walking, eating and drinking, the Beast and I were ready to slow down.  Piemonte, which translates roughly to “at the foot of the mountain,” would be a perfect reprise.

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Our hosts, P and D (as we affectionately call them) are friends of the Beast’s parents. We spend quite a bit of time with P and D, and their three grown daughters.  In fact, we even accompany them on many of their family vacations. Now, it’s not like the Beast or I need surrogate families–our families are simply quite lovely thank-you-very-much–but if I was forced to choose a second family, it would be this one.  And it’s not just because they have a wee property in a town called Ameno, just outside of Orta.  

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IMG_0845Obviously P and D are grown-ups.  I am pretty much a grown-up.  The Beast is not a grown up.  Now, I know what you’re nervously thinking:  What did the four of you talk about every night over dinner?  Did the Beast behave himself? Let me save you the suspense: We had the time of our lives!  We went on mini-road trips; we went grocery shopping; we prepared and cooked dinner together; and we talked about everything that grown-ups talk about, and even some stuff that Beast’s like to talk about, including lardo, Gregorian-chanting nuns, and the global role of the United States.  And New Orleans jazz.

We spent five memorable evenings around this dining table.

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And we prepared our feasts (and drank a heck of a lot of wine) in this kitchen.

IMG_1009There were also snacks.

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Maybe the most exciting meal was sea bass, or branzino, cooked in a salt crust.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but have been far too nervous to do it.  P and D prepped the fish.

IMG_1518And I got to do the plating!   Off with the heads, tails and out with the bones (most of them.)  The Beast must have taken a dozen photos of me in action.  (I think it counts as the moment he was most impressed with me on the trip.)

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Nearly every night in Ameno the wild boars, or cinghiale, came out and dug up bits of P and D’s lawn.  And every night P, D and the Beast woke up to their cries, and got out of bed to try and see one in action.  But I didn’t hear a thing.  I don’t think I’ve ever slept so soundly.  Maybe it was the white cotton bed sheets; or the fresh mountain air; or all the wine we drank with dinner; or maybe it was because I had a bed all to myself and didn’t have to contend with a Beast thrashing next to me.

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We worked up an appetite one afternoon by walking with P and D into Orta from Ameno.

IMG_0889We nearly walked around the entire perimeter of Lake Orta, and then stopped for lunch at a spot with a perfect view of the tiny island of St. Giulio.

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This Giulio character rid the lake of some serpent-like beast, and then he built a church on the island and then he died and was buried here and then there was a basilica built over his tomb. There is also a Benedictine monastery here too, and lots of kitties.

But this hazy afternoon, Orta had a different sort of Beast to contend with and he’d eyed a piece of lasagna being enjoyed by a patron at Ristorante Venus.  So we stopped here for lunch.  The sweet server told us that the lasagna was part of a lunch special that also included “stinco” for only 12 euros.

Foodie (to server):  Mi scusi, ma no parlo Italiano molto bene.  Allora, ah, oh…come si dice “stinco” in Inglese?

Server:  Ah!  Stinco e bla blah blo ballkk e conemlkdflkdsa;fjdsa;l ljppfftt.

Foodie:  Ah!!!  Io capisco!

Beast:  So what is stinco?

Foodie:  I have no idea.  But I think it’s meat of some sort.  You should order it.

P and D agreed.   P ordered the lasagna, without the stinco, D ordered a gorgeous salad, and I ordered another lunch special; fresh taglietelle with porcini mushrooms.

And then, the stinco arrived…

IMG_0902It was lamb shank!  (Stinco means shin).  I can’t imagine a more fitting lunch for a Beast than stinco, lasagna and roasted potatoes.

IMG_0903My pasta was over-cooked, and I’m not sure I liked the cumin sprinkled all over it either.  But the porcini mushrooms themselves were packed with flavour.

After lunch, P and D kept on walking while the Beast and I took the ferry over to the island to visit the basilica.  We had the place to ourselves for most of the visit, which was quite beautiful.

IMG_0920Back on the mainland, we had a chance to explore more of picturesque Orta.

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It was a lovely day.  But the best day of our visit, in my books, was saved for our last 24 hours in the mother country.  P and  D drove us to “persons-interested-in-food-heaven”:  the area in and around Alba. This is the land of white truffles–that strange little stinky fungus that can’t be cultivated; this is the land of the barbara grape, and, get ready for it…the nebbiolo grape–arguably the king of Italian grapes-that gets turned into Barolo and Barbaresco in the towns of…you guessed it: Barolo and Barbaresco.

And we went there!  Oh did we go there!  Better yet is that D, being, how do you say, “a very important, real-life, no-joke journalist who writes a column for a real-life American newspaper,” arranged for Alba’s director of tourism to take us through the city’s annual truffle festival.

IMG_1089The Beast, P and I followed D and the tourism director around the crowded event where not only truffle hunters gather to sell there wares, but also wine producers, hazelnut growers and cheese makers.

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IMG_1030After P and D picked out a truffle to buy (which they planned on sharing with us for dinner later that night), and some freshly made pasta, off we drove to La Morra to taste some wines at a small festival that D had read about.  Apparently, Julius Caesar himself stopped here many years ago.  He wrote in his memoirs that he very much enjoyed the local wines.  I did too, because they were all pretty much Barolos.

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We ended the day by driving up a winding road to the town of Barolo itself.

IMG_1090Where we tasted more wines (but not these old ones in the photo.)

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It was a perfect day that ended with a perfect meal back home in Ameno.  P and I researched a simple pasta and fresh truffle recipe in Italy’s cookbook bible, The Silver Spoon, and decided on topping our tagliatelle with butter, cheese and shavings of our truffle.  And because P is obsessed with kitchen gadgets, we even had our own truffle shaver.

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The pasta was amazing, although we all agreed that we needed more butter, or olive oil, which is hard to admit after melting cups of it already.  I can still recall the smell of truffles now…and I bet P can too because she transported the little expensive bugger in her purse.

Well that about wraps it up folks.  We came; we saw; we conquered.  And boy did we eat and drink.  But you know what?  The best part of all that eating and drinking, better than any old stinky truffle, bottle of Barolo, Bistecca Fiorentina, Spaghetti Carbonara, or numerous samplings of gelato, was the very act of gathering around a table and being with good people.  We’ve  being doing this very thing, that is congregating with food and wine as the focus, for thousands of years.  I’m proud to keep the tradition alive.  Buona Notte.

Ristorante Venus:  **(F)   ***(B)

Branzino:    ***1/2 (F)   *** (B)

Truffle Pasta:   **1/2 (F)  ** (B)



 

 

 

Italy Part II: When in Roma, Eat the Carbonara

Foodie: Did you know that this is the best preserved structure from antiquity?  Well it is!  And you see up there above the columns of the porch?  Well that used to be covered in bronze but the Pope stole it so that Bernini could melt it down and make that garish baldacchino in St. Peter’s that marks Pete’s tomb!  And you see how it says M Agrippa up there?  Well you might think that Agrippa, your buddy Augustus’s right-hand man, had this built.  That’s sort of the case:  you see Agrippa did fund a temple to the gods (aka Pantheon) on this very site but it burned down.  Hadrian had this Pantheon built but in a bold propaganda move, he kept Agrippa’s name up there–it sort of connected Hadrian to the Imperial heroes of the Augustan golden age.  And did I mention concrete yet?  Isn’t it interesting that the recipe for concrete, which was invented by the Romans, was eventually lost?  It wasn’t rediscovered until the Renaissance!  But this dome couldn’t have been built without concrete.  And over there, that’s Raphael’s tomb.

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Beast:  Who else is buried here.

Foodie:  Oh I don’t know.  Who cares though.

Beast:  Is this the original floor?

Foodie:  Um…maybe.

Beast:  I think I’m going to get the audio guide.

Foodie:  Excuse me?

Beast:  The audio guide.  What’s wrong?

Foodie:  Oh, I just thought I told you everything about the Pantheon.  Why would you want the audio guide?

Beast:  Oh what you told me is great!  I just want to find out a little more is all.  Is that okay?

Foodie:  Sure.  I guess so.  I’m going to wait outside though.

(Foodie exits Pantheon, and then enters again, trying to find the Beast in the crowd)

Foodie:  May I have your pack of cigarettes?  Don’t forget the lighter.

Beast:  Sure, here you go.  Are you sure you’re okay?

Foodie:  Whatever. I’ll be sitting on the fountain steps.

And that’s where I went to smoke and cry.  I don’t know what happened.  I guess it was just a culmination of things:  I was in charge of getting us everywhere; of speaking; of ordering; of planning; of researching; and of showing the Beast how to use a bidet–I think it just hit me, right there in the middle of the Pantheon.  I felt my efforts were going unnoticed.  I felt like a baby.

Beast (ten minutes later):  Hi there.  You’re not crying are you?

Foodie:  YES I AM!

Beast:  What’s wrong?

Foodie:  What are you an idiot or something?

Beast:  Is it because I got the audio guide?

Foodie:  It’s just that I’m trying so hard to tell you everything and make sure you have the best first time in Italy ever and you go and get a stupid audio guide.  How do you think that made me feel?

Beast:  Not very good.

Foodie (long pause):  Did it tell you anything good?

Beast:  No!  It was stupid!  I hated it.  Everything you told me was so interesting.  I’m never getting another audio guide.

Foodie:  You mean that?  You know sometimes I just need to hear OUT LOUD that I’m doing an okay job here, or  “thank you so much for planning this whole amazing trip and all I have to do is have fun and just say thanks occasionally, or give you compliments.”

Beast:  You’re doing an incredible job, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been saying this everyday.

Foodie:  Well I haven’t heard it.  (Pause)  Are you hungry?

Of course he was, and obviously I had a destination planned for lunch:  Cul de Sac, which is steps away from the Pantheon, just outside Piazza Navona.  It’s a great place for cry babies to have a pit stop for cheese, meat and wine.  We ordered a mixed platter, a caprese salad, and two glasses of Verdicchio, a minerally white wine from the region of Le Marche.

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Beast:  This is just what I  wanted.

Foodie:  Me too!  We’re so much alike!  (Pause)  Hey, can you not tell anybody about my melt down at the Pantheon.

Beast:  You didn’t really have a melt down.  You just went crazy for a bit.

Foodie:  Maybe I just needed to have a little cry.

I think that’s the case because the rest of our day was incredible.  We went to look at the Caravaggio paintings in San Luigi dei Francesci, and peered down into the archaeological remains at Largo Argentino, the spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

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And we visited the new Richard Meyer-designed museum that houses the  Ara Pacis–an “altar of peace,” built by Augustus 2000 years ago.  (I’ve been to Rome several times but this was the first chance I’ve had to see this incredible structure.)

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And then we walked along the river Tiber and saw Hadrian’s tomb by moon-light and street-lights.

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And finally, we found the restaurant I was most anxious to visit in Rome, Taverna Trilussa in the Trastevere neighbourhood.  And boy, were we ready to sit down!

Foodie:  My feet feel like jelly.

Beast:  I’m starving.  You order.

I found a bottle of “Le Volte,” a red wine made by famed Super Tuscan producer Ornellaia, for only 30 euros. We’d start with the fritti misti, a platter of fried vegetables and mozzarella in carozza (essentially, deep-fried mozzarella sandwiches).  I’d have a plate of their award-winning ravioli mimosa and the Beast would have the rigatoni carbonara.   And finally, we’d share a simple tagliata di manzo (thinly sliced steak) with arugola and parmigiano.

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Beast:  Did you see the photos of famous people on the wall behind you?

Foodie:  Like who?

Beast: There’s Mel Gibson.  And that’s Tiger Woods, and there’s Roger Federer.

Foodie:  Neato!

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Even better than Braveheart was the platter of deep-fried delights.  It was so bad and good all mixed up together.  But the pasta…oh my, the pasta!  I’ve only had pasta carbonara-a very typical Roman dish of eggs, guanciale, black pepper and pecorino cheese invented around WW II–a couple of times, and I’ve always liked it, but this one at Taverna Trilussa will stay with me forever.  The ravioli wasn’t too shabby either.  Actually, both pastas overwhelmed us so much that we forgot to take photos.  And we very nearly forgot to take photos of our steak salad and roasted potatoes too.

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Our hotel was just a short walk over the Ponte Sisto bridge and past the Campo dei Fiori.  We slept like babies that night. Good thing too because the next day was as action-packed as the first, minus the melt-down.  We visited the Capitoline museum to start…

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…followed by the Colosseum:

Beast:  You know what they should do outside this place?

Foodie: What’s that?

Beast:  Grow a big field of wheat and play that music form Gladiator and then visitors can run their hands through the wheat like Russell Crowe did in the movie.

Foodie:  That’s an incredible idea.

And then we did something I would have never expected:  we got audio guides for the Colosseum!  And you know what?  It was so much fun.  I mean, I totally could have told the Beast everything about this Flavian Amphitheatre that he needed to know, like how it was started by Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, and how it was built right overtop of Nero’s Golden Palace to erase the very thought of that crazy guy, and that it sat 50,000 spectators and about how they’d flood it and how they had trap floors and neat stuff like that, but I didn’t want to sound like a know-it-all.  And besides, the lady who speaks on the guide has a nice British accent.

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After that, we walked through the Roman Forum, one of my favourite things to do of all time.  This is a place that oozes history and it gives me goose bumps just thinking about being on the hallowed ground where Etruscan civilization once flourished; where Caesar’s body was burned; where Cicero’s head hung; and where literally all roads across the Empire once met.  I think the Beast liked it too.

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But he was itching to see some more Michelangelo sculptures after our visit to the Medici Chapel in Florence, so I dragged him up a hill to the church of San Pietro in Vicoli to see Pope Julius II’s tomb.  That’s where Michelangelo’s Moses is.

IMG_0714And because we didn’t get into the Borghese museum (it was all booked up) to see all of the incredible early works by Bernini, I wanted to make sure that the Beast saw at least one work by him.  So off we went to the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria where the artist’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa perches in the Cornaro Chapel.

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After that, thank God, it was dinner time.  We decided on a restaurant called Maccheroni, just north of the Pantheon on a little side street.  We’d been instructed to order the spaghetti carbonara and the rigatoni all’amatriciana–another very typical Roman pasta.  We also decided on a nice bottle of Morellino di Scansano, a bresaola antipasto, and grilled sausage and vegetables to share as a secondo.

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The antipasto was great, but our pastas were extraordinary.

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Actually, the carbonara pasta was extraordinary (it was a very close second to Taverna Trilussa); the amatriciana pasta was only very good.  (Terroni restaurant makes a far superior version if you ask me.)

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The grilled pork sausage was a nice reprise from all the beef we’d been consuming.  Maybe the best part of the meal was all the people-watching we got to do: There were real-life Romans all around us, and more waiting to get a table.  And the severs, who juggled their waiter responsibilities with text-messaging, kept going for smoke breaks, not to mention the cooks. The best siting though was a chubby little accordian player who kept playing “My Way.”  His tight little plaid pants broke my heart.

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The next day was all about the Vatican.  We started at St. Peter’s where there was a very scary looking line.  But it moved fast and we were inside in ten minutes flat.

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Foodie:  Look look look!  There’s the round piece of porphyry I was telling you about!   Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800AD on that piece of marble!  And see those marking on the floor all along the nave?  Those mark the lengths of all the cathedrals in the word.  It’s  a subtle way of saying that St. Peter’s  is the biggest.  Did I tell you that technically this isn’t  a cathedral?  Because a cathedral has a bishop so this is called a basilica because it’s the pope’s seat, not a bishop’s seat.   Rome’s cathedral is actually the Lateran.

Beast:  Did we go there?

Foodie:  No, but remember how I told you that they stole the giant ancient bronze doors from the Senate house in the Roman Forum to use as the Lateran’s front door?  And lookie!!!!  There’s the bronze baldacchino that Bernini built! Isn’t it garish?

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Beast:  And they got the bronze from the Pantheon right?

Foodie:  Sweetie I’m so proud of you!

Beast:  Thanks.  Now where is she?

Foodie:  Oh her.  She’s over there just on the other side of that crowd of Japanese people, behind thick glass.

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The Beast took his time to get to the front of the crowd to catch a glimpse of Michelangelo’s Pieta.  I can’t blame him–it’s an incredibly moving and beautiful work.  The Beast also took his time examining every other sculpture in St. Peter’s.  It was cute at first I guess.  But we had a reservation at the Vatican museum to make!

After a quick lunch that isn’t worth speaking of, we started the pilgrimage through the 40+ rooms that eventually lead you to the Sistine Chapel.  Unfortunately, we weren’t alone.

IMG_0812Beast:  They should really make it so that the tour groups have to come at a set time. This is fucking insane.

Foodie:  Yes it is.  Don’t you feel like cattle being herded?

Beast:  And nobody’s even really looking at anything.

Although the crowds do make it difficult to “have a moment” in front of some of western civilization’s most glorious accomplishments, the Beast still tried.  He even got yelled at by about 30 Germans for standing too long in front of the Laocoon.

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But the Beast lightened our mutual pissy mood by making some really good jokes that went a little like this: The Sistine chapel’s ceiling looks so different than it does in all the pictures! (He repeated this joke in every room we entered) What’s in that cabinet?  Who painted that?  Will we see the Pope?  What will we call him? Are we at room sixteen yet?  I want to see this sixteenth chapel.  Why are the penises so tiny?

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We did manage to score a seat on the benches in the Sistine Chapel once we got there, so the Beast could take his time and crank his neck to look up at those glorious frescoes.  I must say, even though I’m getting pretty crotchetty in my old age, this place still gets to you no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

After the Vatican, it was back to Florence for the night.  And then the next morning, we’d head off to Piemonte–the foothills of the Alps; the land of truffles, of hazelnuts, of Nutella, of lakes, of nebbiolo, barbara and dolcetto grapes; and of wild boars!  VIVA THE CINGHIALE!

Taverna Trilussa:  **** (F)  **** (B)

Cul de Sac:  **1/2 (F)   ** (B)

Maccheroni:  **1/2 (F)   *** (B)

 

Italy Part I: Oh Florence! And Siena too!

Beast: Hey, didn’t you used to live around the corner from this place?

Foodie:  Why yes I did!  Michelle and I lived–oh wait a second; you’re making fun of me because I always start every story with “oh I used to live around the corner from here when I was fancy and lived in Italy.”  

Beast:  Yes.

Well I did live around the corner from Alessandro’s, the place I was taking the Beast for our first lunch in Florence.  We’d already had two lovely meals by this point; the first was antipasti laid out by our formidable host, Michelle (I lived with her in Italy in case you didn’t know.)

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And the second was a lovely late night dinner at Baldovino, a charming spot tucked in beside Santa Croce.  

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But back to Alessandro’s, a place I hold very dear to my heart.  It’s on Via Ghibellina–the same street where some artist named “Michelangelo” once lived.  Did I mention I lived around the corner?  Well, Michelle and I used to visit this trattoria for lunch quite frequently not only because it was so close but also because it was cheap and best of all, delicious.  

IMG_0052When the Beast and I walked in after a morning of vigorous sight-seeing, we were starving.  I was delighted to see that the same man (Alessandro?) who used to serve us was behind the bar.  And the same woman (Alessandro’s mother?) was dishing up the food.  It’s a cafeteria-style spot:  you choose the dishes and then carry your food over to the communal tables.

IMG_0049We settled on a breaded veal cutlet, pasta with leeks and speck, some baked vegetables, and their lasagna bolognese.  I waited anxiously for the Beast to try the lasagna.

Foodie:  So?  What do you think?  Do you like it?  Do you like it?

Beast:  I think it’s the best thing I’ve put in my mouth so far.

Foodie:  I knew it!  Isn’t it just wonderful?

Beast:  I can’t imagine eating anything better than this in the next two weeks.

Well there’s a challenge if I ever heard one!  And over the next five days we did our best to top Alessandro’s lasagna.

Potato-stuffed ravioli with fresh white truffles, parmigiano and butter came close.  We had this in an off-the-beaten-path sort of place called Tullio, which is somewhere between Fiesole and Montebeni. (Notice that I forgot to take a picture before digging in, because the smell was simply too alluring not to mangia it right away.)

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The tagliatelle pasta with meat sauce at Trattoria Mario, a tiny gem of a place  near Florence’s central market  that you just might walk by should you not know any better, came close too.  Mario’s is the perfect place to visit for Tuscan home-cooking. The place gets mighty busy at lunch time, and because you eat family-style at communal tables, seating is pretty tight. But any discomfort suffered is worth it for their homemade ragu which is usually on the menu, even though the rest of the menu changes daily.

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The simple sandwiches served from a literal hole-in-the-wall, and eaten on the sidewalk along with a itsy bitsy glass of vino rosso, from I Fratellini were pretty darn memorable.

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And then there was also pizza at Il Pizzaiolo near the San Ambrogio Market to contend with, not to mention their appetizer platter that showcased burrata, an absurdly decadent and creamy cheese that had the Beast swooning for days.

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But I think it was the Bistecca Fiorentina at Perseus that came the closest to knocking off  that piece of lasagna from the top of the Beast’s food pedestal.  We’d planned on having this local specialty, which is essentially a three inch-thick t-bone cut of beef from a specific breed of cow called Chianina, since we arrived.  It was hard to resist it at Tullio–the place in Fiesole–seeing as there was quite literally a mountain of it at the front door.

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But the time wasn’t right until Perseus, a beautiful restaurant in Piazza della Liberta that serves, once again, typical Tuscan fare.   Michelle and her husband Andrea (real-life Italian!), and another couple, Bruno (half-Italian!) and his fiance Sofia (real-life Italian!) brought us here, and the six of us shared mounds of crostini, platters of salame and two Florentine steaks.  

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The Italians even let the Beast gnaw on the bones!  Sofia, who studies constitutional law, was fascinated not only by the Beast’s Neanderthallic mannerisms, but also by his questions about the history of constitutions.  

Sofia (to me):  What is it with him?

Foodie:  How do you mean?

Sofia: He is just so, how do you say, curious, no?  

Foodie:  Oh yes, he’s curious alright.

In fact the Beast was so curious during our two week trip that it actually got a little annoying.  A typical day in Florence went like this:

Beast:  Who painted that?

Foodie:  Uh, Branzino I think.  No, actually, Vasari…maybe.  I don’t know, we’ll ask Michelle.

Beast:  What’s the story behind this Rape of the Sabines?

Foodie:  Oh you know, it’s when the Romans needed extra women to make more Roman citizens so they took some from the Sabines, err, something like that.

Beast:  Why is that there?  Who made this?  What year did that happen in?  Are there people really buried in there?  Is that a real skull?  Why are there no more Medici left?  Can we go in there?  I want to touch that.  Did somebody actually make all these?  How big is the key for that lock?

It wasn’t so much annoying as it was stressful for me.  I studied this bullshit for seven years and I didn’t want to let the Beast down, or look like a dummy in front of him.  I’m embarrassed to say that I even got out my university notebooks weeks before the trip in order to refresh myself with the basics.  It did some good I suppose, but nothing could have prepared me for the Beast’s inquisitiveness.  

He was just as bad in Siena too.  But I had a better game plan:  instead of waiting for him to ask the questions, I’d tell him everything I knew about everything we saw.  I blabbered about the age-old rivalry between Florence and Siena; about the early 14th century Sienese painters Duccio, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini, about the fact that you could have found life-size sculptures of Plato and Aristotle on the facade of Siena’s cathedral nearly 150 years before the Renaissance proper; and about how the cathedral was to be massively rebuilt but then the Black Death hit and all the artists and architects starting dying so the project was haulted mid-construction (you can still walk along the unfinished vaults and enjoy a spectacular view of Siena and the Chianti countryside beyond).  

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I bet you’re bored.  Anybody would be.  Except for the Beast.  My diatribe only fueled his thirst for seeing more.  Thank goodness I had a lunch plan.  

I’ve always wanted to go to Siena’s  Osteria Le Logge but I never had the money to splurge on fancy food when I lived in Italy (did I mention that I lived here yet?)    I don’t really now either, but we were on vacation.  Plus, it’s not that fancy.  I’d describe it as serving traditional Tuscan food with many modern twists.  And they have a beautifully curated wine list too.

Beast:  Have I mentioned that I’ve been very impressed with your Italian?

Foodie:  No, but thanks.  I’m surprised how much comes back when you’re put into a speak-it-or-look-like-an-idiot situation.  What are you having?

Beast:  I don’t know.  But that looks good! (He points to the table beside us who were eating a crostone topped with things that looked very rich.)

Foodie:  Why don’t we share that and then we’ll order two primi, and then I’m going to have the vitello saltimbocca for my secondo.

Beast:  What’s guancia?

Foodie:  That means “cheek”.

Beast:  Then I’m having the Guancia di Manzo.

Foodie:  Beef cheeks!  Good choice.  I’ll choose the wine obviously.

After much deliberation I settled on a bottle of Morellino di Scansano.  That’s a wine from Tuscany’s coastal Maremma region, and morellino is what they call their local variety of the sangiovese grape.

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And then our crostone arrived.

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Beast:  Oh no.

Foodie:  Oh nuts!  I guess quaglie means quail.  I should have asked.

Beast:  You can do this!  I won’t let you get away without tasting it.

Foodie:  Oh fine.  I’ll try a little bitty piece.  Oh God, it looks like a  dinosaur embryo wing.

Beast:  It’s amazing isn’t it?

Foodie:  I don’t really taste anything to be honest with you.  What’s this yellow stuff again? 

Beast:  It’s a saffron aioli I think.

Foodie:  Ewww.  Egg on top of bird.  You eat the rest.

Our primi piatti arrived next (Mom, that means our “first plates”.  A primo is usually a pasta, soup or risotto.  It’s followed by a, you guessed it, secondo, which is typically a meat or fish dish.

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The Beast chose pasta stuffed with swiss chard and served in a white bean sauce (above), and  I had some sort of herb pasta in a butter and sage sauce.  I can’t remember what the orange sauce was.  No, I didn’t take notes.  And yes, that was really stupid of me.

Foodie:  I think I like yours better.

Beast:  Me too.

Foodie:  I think they both need more salt, don’t you?

Beast:  You always think everything needs more salt.

That’s true, and it was true of our secondi too.

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Foodie:  These look like meatballs, not veal saltimbocca.

Beast:  What’s veal saltimbocca?

Foodie:  It’s basically a veal cutlet that’s been wrapped in proscuitto with a piece of sage affixed to it and then it’s cooked in butter, oil and a little wine.  Maybe I didn’t translate the menu correctly.

Beast:  How is it?

Foodie:  Tastes like meatballs.  And they need salt.  How’s yours?

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Beast:  These cheeks are amazing!

They were excellent but–and I’m not just being ornery–they needed salt.  Le Logge was the most extravagant lunch we had while on vacation.  But it wasn’t the best.  I think that prize goes to Alessandro’s–the lunch we had on our first day in Florence.  This isn’t to say that Le Logge wasn’t amazing.  It was!  But I think I’ll remember the charming outdoor setting, the cute server, and the feeling of being drunk in the afternoon more than the food.  Plus, that lunch cost us over a hundred euros. Alessandro’s was under 20.

Now, you’re probably wondering how the heck we managed to eat so much and not explode.  Well, we walked every day from 9am to 1am.  We only stopped for pre-dinner drinks (and boy oh boy did Michelle ever pull out all the stops for aperitivi time!  She took us to this absurdly cool boutique hotel with a roof-top bar where we sipped on cocktails and watched the sun set…

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…and to the top of Torre Guelfo–the last medieval tower standing in Florence–to sip local wine.  

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We also climbed to the top of the Duomo (no drinking involved.)

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And we rode bikes up hill for what seemed like 10 km (it was probably 1 km) to Piazalle di Michelangelo to catch the sun set.  

IMG_0081But we still gained weight.  I put on a modest four pounds.   The Beast, bless his heart, gained 14. That’s a pound a day.  Every inch was worth it though.  

Stay tuned for Roma, and my colossal melt-down.  (Did you catch that?  Colossal, like the Colosseum! Oh shit that’s a good one!)

Alessandro’s:  **** (F)   ****(B)

Trattoria Mario:   *** (F)  **1/2 (B)

Ristorante Tullio:  ***1/2 (F)  *** (B)

Pizzaiolo:  ***1/2 (F)  *** (B)

Perseus: **1/2 (F) ***1/2 (B)

Osteria Le Logge:  **1/2 (F)  **1/2 (B)

*Maybe you noticed that my photos are of a higher quality.  Well you can thank Mamma Linda for that:  she bought me a new point and shoot digital camera before the trip as an early birthday present.  She’s a keeper.

A Place called Italy

We went there. We ate a lot of cheese, meat and pasta.  Also, there was gelato.  And espresso.  There were plenty of shops selling savory and sweet things too.  That about sums things up.

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Just joking–there’s more.  In fact, I don’t yet know how I’ll sum up two weeks of our eating extravaganzas into a two-part post. But I’m going to try damn it.  Now give me a few minutes to wrap my head around it all. Stay tuned.