Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Cullinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 4 (Umbria & Rome)

July 10, 2010

View from our villa

As we left the wineries and cypress trees of Tuscany behind, we entered the rolling hills, and less traveled area of Umbria. You don’t hear of many people visiting this area, due to its more popular sibling – Tuscany – but I fear it is overlooked based purely on lack of publicity. Our time in Umbria felt more rustic than any place on our trip and we encountered more pure culture and non-English speakers than I ever could have imagined. We called it our “cultural immersion” part of the journey. No Rick Steves guidebooks here.

Although the cuisine is similar to Tuscany, there are a few regional specialties worth noting. Perugia is known for its chocolate, so the delicious sweet treat is easy to come by in these parts. Truffles are also popular and abundant. This area is also supposed to have the best salumi (which we later confirmed).

So our first stop (which we got to via our Fiat Cinquecento and first interesting driving experience) was Orvieto. This small hill town is known for its amazing duomo (the most beautiful I have ever seen) and its wine called, of course, Orvieto Classico. So, not in order of importance, we visited the duomo, then tried the wine with lunch.

Pancetta Panini with a glass of Orvieto Classico

In Cinque Terre the light wine felt right with the seafood and sea views – but here, I will admit, it was a bit odd. The food in this region is very pork, boar, tomato-sauce focused so it felt ripe for red. But, when we found a restaurant on the square with a view of the duomo and ordered a panini, the white, light wine went perfectly.

After our short lunch stop in Orvieto we proceeded (sans GPS, unfortunately) to our villa. We were fortunate enough to have a work friend who knew an old coworker with a cluster of villas just outside of Spoleto (http://www.borgoacquaiura.it/borgoeng.html). We knew it would be off the beaten path and absolutely amazing. We were not disappointed.

The villa was situated on a hill, overlooking nothing but trees, flowers and a few small hill towns. Our villa, La Casetta, was the perfect home base. To add to the ambiance, we were greeted by the caretaker, Nicu, who knew absolutely no English. Remember how we called this our cultural immersion?

I have so many stories to tell about this portion of our trip, but I will try to limit it to our food experiences. Our first night, we didn’t know where we

Antipasti at Palazzo del Papa - not surprisingly lots of salumi and truffle mushrooms

should drive for dinner. We knew how to get to Spoleto, but didn’t know much about what was there. In broken Italian, we asked Nicu who kindly offered to drive us to a restaurant called Palazzo del Papa, which was down some windy roads opposite of Spoleto. To boot, he said when we were finished to tell the wait staff and they would call him to come pick us up.

So our first course was, of course, the antipasti of the house – again, it was interesting to see the difference. Of all the places we had been, this was the most robust and hearty antipasti we had ever eaten. In some ways, it could have been its own meal. But, there was just too much good food to stop there!

Truffle pasta at Palazzo di Papa

For our primi, I got a truffle pasta (although I actually ordered something else – but the language barrier was a blessing since it was amazing!). Rob had a tomato pasta then we both had pork cutlets (his with lemon and mine with truffle – that time ordered on purpose!). The food was to die for, and when we had the restaurant call Nicu, the bartender gave us a gratis after dinner drink while we waited. An amazing night.

The next night was a special one – and I won’t bore you with ALL of the mushy details. My husband and I renewed our vows. No, it wasn’t a monumental anniversary, but we had always wondered what it would be like if we had eloped to Italy, and got married in a chapel – just us. Now, at the end of the day, having our friends and family with us that day was so important to us, we never would have done it. But there was something about a romantic moment, just the two of us, in a foreign place that always tugged at me. So, when the coworker who put me in contact with the villa owner said he renewed his vows there, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity.

Nicu broke out the “popemobile” which in fact WAS the same type of car

The church in Torrecola where we renewed our vows

as the popemobile. He drove us to a church in Torrecola – population 24. Electricity had to be run from a neighboring house, the townspeople came to join us (none of whom we knew) and the entire ceremony was in Italian. But I can honestly say, there was something so surreal about that moment, that I felt not only a romantic and religious connection to my husband, but also to the land of Italy. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Now, the food. So no event like that is complete without a celebration. So after Nicu took out us, his friend Angelica and her husband Francesco out for a “chin

Wine at Il Capanno

chin” nearby, we had dinner reservations at a place we had been hearing about ever since we got there – Il Capanno (http://www.ilcapannoristorante.it/). Now you can’t be fooled by the dirt road that gets you there, and the fact that it isn’t near much of anything (except our villa). We went there the night before – Nicu took us to make sure it was “acceptable” for our celebration. They gave us wine, antipasti and we tried to communicate with the adorable girl Raquella who was there with the family. We knew it was good, and we knew it was a gem that not enough people had discovered.

We tried a regional wine from Montefalco that special night. I can honestly say the only reason we knew it was regional is we had seen a sign for the exit close to the villa. For our antipasti, we of course ordered “of the house” and were not disappointed. Rob got a delicious ravioli for his primi (which we shared). Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing – it all was – but what I remember most about this meal, other than basking in the glow of our vow renewal, was the steak. Oh my goodness, the

Best steak of our lives - salt crusted with rosemary

steak. I feel like in my life I have had some pretty good steaks, all over the country. But this steak had some sort of unique salt crust, and it blew you away. I could never reciprocate it no matter how hard I would try. We both agreed it was hands down the most amazing steak we had ever hand in our lives. For dessert, we got a chocolate mousse with a pistachio creme that was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Needless to say, during our time in Umbria we went back to the delicious Palazzo del Papa for dinner, this time getting a pizza and confirming the legend that Umbria does indeed have the best salumi and cured meats. Hands down, best pizza I have ever put in my mouth.

Spaghetti Carbonara in Assisi

Another memorable meal was in Assisi, where we visited for a day of sightseeing. Those who know me well, know carbonara is my favorite pasta dish. As a child, my father and I would beg my mother to make it as much as she could. The whole trip I knew that certain dishes were only available regionally. And although there were some exceptions (my husband had a mean carbonara in Venice), I knew in Umbria and Rome, we had entered “carbonara country.” So, for lunch in Umbria, I ordered my first plate of this heavenly pasta. It was a drier carbonara – less of that heavy creamy sauce – which was perfect for lunch. The bacon was like none I have ever had. All and all, an amazing dish, and worth the long wait to experience it in its regional birthplace.

Once we left the peaceful lands of the villa and entered clustered, noisy, crowded Rome, I will say we both experienced a bit of a culture shock. It took many different directions (GPS still broken) and near misses with other traffic to make it to the Hertz station to drop off our car. To boot, it was raining. Although, I have to admit, this was the first real rain of the trip (minus about 1 hour in Tuscany) so neither one of us was complaining. Once we got settled at our B&B, we realized it was pouring rain and we were starving. It was time for one of those typical 2 hour Italian lunches, while the rain would hopefully pass through.

We ducked into a little place in an alley by our B&B – looked like it was filled with locals (good sign), looked crowded (also a good sign) and looked very unassuming (the best sign). We sat down, shook out our umbrellas and dug into the menu. For an antipasti, we got baccala (cod fish) that was fried. Despite its popularity in Italy, it was actually the first baccala we had on the trip. It was crispy and delicious.

Bucatini in Rome

For our main meal I got, not surprisingly, carbonara. Rob got a bucatini (the spaghetti like strands with a hole in the center like a long tube), which has now become one of my favorite types of pasta. It was served traditionally, with a tomato sauce. They were both so flavorful, and the pasta was cooked to perfection. It seemed the perfect lunch in a cozy restaurant, while watching people trudge past in the rain. Then, we topped it all off with an espresso, to give us the energy to trudge in the rain ourselves.

Our last evening in Italy, after a visit to the Trevi Fountain, we decided to eat in a popular area with outdoor restaurants, street performers, and amazing food. I will admit, I ate more food than I ever thought possible. But I realized that this time the next day, I would be getting whatever Delta airplane food they put in front of me on a plastic tray, so I had to load up on the good food while I could. We did both primi and segundi and I had a craving for traditional spaghetti with a meat sauce. Yes, it sounds simple for my last meal, but I wanted to have that one, comfort food that I always think of when I think of Italian food. I wanted something traditional, after all of the amazing specialties we had throughout the trip. Rob got a gnocchi and we both got breaded veal for our main dish. We held off on dessert, knowing we could find some good gelato nearby. We were right.

Gelato in Rome

We literally followed the people with cones into what might be the closest thing I have ever seen to a gelato palace. The place was huge, more gelato than I have ever seen in my life, and there was a system. You pay first. Of course, as clueless tourists we waited about 10 minutes before realizing the system, but once we did and got our cones, we knew it was worth the wait. Maybe it was because it was our last night, or maybe it was because I was eating ice cream that tasted like a candy bar, but it was the best gelato I have ever had in my life.

The cuisine of Umbria and Rome was not only memorable because I was able to experience carbonara, but because it was yet two more regions, with their own specialties. Umbria felt raw in its culture, Rome a bit more metropolitan. In Umbria, it was all home grown food prepared in traditional ways, in Rome you could get some pretty good Chinese food, I am sure. They both had their own personalities, and it was necessary to experience both to appreciate the differences. This part of my trip has a sentimental meaning to me. Not only because I renewed my vows with my amazing husband, but because it was my last few days in a country where I know I will be returning.

Below are a few more food photos of our time in Umbria and Rome:

Rob in the butcher shop in nearby Spoleto where we bought our meats and cheeses for the villa

Lunch on our patio at the villa - meats, cheese and bread from the butcher shop in Spoleto

The antipasti at Il Capanno

Ravioli at Il Capanno

Chocolate mousse and pistachio cream at Il Capanno

Wine at Trattoria Al Camino Vecchio in Assisi

Gnocchi in Assisi

Best pizza I have ever had at Palazzo del Papa outside of Spoleto

Fried baccala in Rome

Carbonara in Rome

Spaghetti with meat sauce the last night in Rome

Gnocchi in tomato sauce in Rome

Last meal in Italy

The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 3 (Tuscany)

June 26, 2010

As we left the Mediterranean behind in Cinque Terre, we were lucky enough to have hired a private driver/tour guide to take us from the coast into Siena – stopping within the Chianti region along the way. If it is in your budget, that is one travel recommendation I would have to make. Although we loved the trains (at first) and driving (although we thought we might not make it in one piece), there is something so relaxing about having someone else worry about it for you. And, instead of having a full day of travel from Cinque Terre to Siena, we had a full day of amazing food, wine and scenery.

Cappuccino in Pietrasanta square - the cup had a painted of the duomo in the background

Our first stop along the way was Pietrasanta. No, it isn’t in most tour books. But, it is the town from which my husband’s grandfather is from, and thus it would have been a shame not to see it, being so close. No culinary memories other than a cappuccino on their town square – but the memories were a bit more nostalgic for us. We found the church his grandfather was baptised in, and spent time in the square he surely played in as a young boy.

We then made a quick stop – and by quick I mean 20 minutes – in Pisa to see the tower, get a photo, then get the heck out of there. It was crowded, and quite overrun with tourists (ourselves included, of course). Then we headed south, past Florence (I know, everyone can add the “you are crazy” here), and to the Chianti region. We told our guide, Alessandro, we liked to go off the beaten path, where we could really experience the culture. So, we ended up in the small village of Lamole, just outside of Greve. I give him kudos for this choice, because I have yet to find a person who has been to Lamole. It was a quaint little town, but what I remember most was, of course, lunch.

After learning from Alessandro the history of Chianti Classico, it only felt fitting to get a split. We were seated at a

Lunch in Lamole - Pork and a Boar Ragu

table for two on a patio, overlooking sweeping views of Tuscany. Blue sky was interspersed with ominous clouds, yet we dined outside without a drop of rain. I started the meal with salumi, but unlike the salumi I had in the past, this was a softer kind. It had lots of pepper to give it a kick, and it was amazing. Rob got a pear ravioli that was so soft, sweet and salty, it melted in your mouth. Then for our main coarse, I got the boar pasta. I was told Tuscany is known for its boar, and you shouldn’t go there without trying it. It was slow cooked, braised for many hours, and added to a ragu over freshly made pasta. It tasked like a slow roasted pork (but a little richer, on the edge of tasting like beef). It was to die for. Rob got a pork that was almost too pretty to eat – until the first bite, then it was gone in a hurry. Dessert was something chocolate, filled with chocolate, then drizzled with chocolate. The perfect end to a perfect meal.

Balsamic vinegar casks at Montagliari Winery

Then, it was time for some wine tasting. Alessandro took us to a very small winery – definitely off the beaten path – for a private wine and balsamic vinegar tour. If you are like me, I knew very little about how they make balsamic, and the patient process that goes with it. We arrived at Montagliari Winery, in the heart of Tuscany, with more sweeping views of valleys and an approaching storm. We got the key to the place, then Alessandro took us into the balsamic vinegar aging room. I learned that the vinegar goes into 5 different casks, all of a different type of wood to give it its flavor – all the wine evaporating and condensing in each step. The result is a small, concentrated amount of 35+ aged balsamic. It is not a wonder, now, why Italian balsamic can cost in the hundreds.

Then, the wine – the cellar was massive, and wine dated back….well, let’s just say we were able to find a

Each cubby was one year of wine - there were many rooms, dating back to the 70s and 60s.

bottle of wine from the year I was born. After seeing the process, it was time to taste, so we went into the wooden paneled tasting room, just as we began to hear thunder threatening in the distance. The winemaker himself, David, joined us to participate in the tasting. We started with the balsamic vinegar, which was like nothing I have ever tasted in the US. Then, the wine, which was so earthy and rich. We tried some grappa (I am NOT a fan!) and some vin santo (I am also not a fan, but Rob is). Apparently, the way Tuscans drink vin santo is by dipping biscotti in it (because it is very strong otherwise). The winemaker even pulled down a good bottle of scotch for my husband, when he mentioned his love for it. We were talking about the winery with David, drinking great Chianti, and now listening to the rain falling just outside the open door. It was one of the most memorable experiences.

After Montagliari, we went to the “Crazy Butcher” of Panzano. You may recognize the name from a special on the Food Network about him – he is good friends with Mario Batali. We briefly met him, but what I really remember is the meat hanging in the fridge/freezer (vegetarians beware!). We were greeted with a glass of complementary wine (in true Italian style), and were asked to try some bruschetta with Chiani

The Crazy Butcher shop in Panzano

butter. Now, I may not speak the language, but when I saw the spread I knew that Chianti butter is the famous lard butter (lardo). I must admit, sounds a bit odd, but if you forget what it is and just pop it in your mouth, it is amazing. If you ever go there, you must try it.

After then a short stop at the Pentecoste e Castellina (a regional wine festival), a tasting at Rocca delle Macie Winery and a visit to the walled town of Monteriggioni, we were dropped off at our hotel in Siena – full and tired.

The next day, we had another tour guide, Nathalie, take us south a bit through the Brunello region. If you learn about Brunello di Montalcino, you will have a fond appreciation for it. The wine HAS to be grown in Montalcino and HAS to be 100% Sangiovese grapes. There was a scandal a while back, where a winemaker was adding grapes other than Sangiovese to his Brunello (making it NOT a Brunello). It was called Brunellopoli by the Italian press. You can tell, Italians take this tradition very seriously. So, if you are ever wondering why Brunello di Montalcino is so expensive, it is because it can only be made in this small town south of Siena. Needless to say, you cannot afford land here, unless you are growing grapes and then selling expensive wine.

We spent some time in the city of Montalcino – a beautiful hill town that truly lives for its wine. Then, we went to the outskirts to a winery called Poggio Antico. The winery had more sweeping views of the cyprus trees, and we went inside to get a private tour with another couple from the US. We then tasted the wines, and had a profound appreciation for the tradition of them, and a bit of sticker shock at the price.

We then visited Mont Antimo, a striking abbey in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, and then headed

Lamb stew (front), chickpeas (back left) and a fresh ragu (back) in Pienza

to Pienza for lunch. The restaurant Nathalie took us to once again had sweeping views of Tuscany (hard to avoid these views since almost all of the towns are hill towns). We sat along the hedge, looking into the valley, and had amazing wine and, of course, amazing food. I had a lamb dish – which may have seemed a bit heavy for the spring, but it melted in my mouth. Lamb is another cucina tipica in Tuscany, so I had to have it. Rob had a ragu that was absolutely amazing. Then we toured the town, which was quaint, filled with flowers and had a romantic vibe. Much to his dismay, I told Rob I want to move here someday. It was the perfect little town.

The atmosphere at Anica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Then back to Siena and for the meal I had been waiting for. On this trip there were only two dinner reservations I made. La Vista in Varenna, Lake Como and Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena. I found this restaurant on TripAdvisor as a “must visit” and then did some more digging to find out it truly is a gem in the city. Although the food is to die for, you go for the atmosphere. The restaurant is actually in ancient Estruscan tombs – so you feel as if you are eating in a cave. Surrounded by history, stone and candlelight, the experience is once in a lifetime. Because it was a “special meal “(which seems silly to say on this trip since every meal was memorable), we went all out. Bottle of nice wine,  primi, segundi and dessert.

For our primi, I got a lasagna and Rob a cannelloni. Amazing. We both got the stuffed pork as our segundi. As you may know, Tuscany is known for its pork, so again, we had to try the regional favorite. We were not disappointed. For dessert we got biscotti and vin santo. We left satisfied and full, then walked around the duomo at night, and experienced the beautiful main square in Siena. What a gorgeous city.

Below are some more food photos from our time in Tuscany:

Pear ravioli and salumi at restaurant in Lamole (Chianti Region)

Chianti with a view at the restaurant in Lamole

Dessert at restaurant in Lamole (Chianti Region)

Did I mention we ate a lot of gelato?

Ragu at the restaurant in Pienza

Cannelloni at Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Lasagna at Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Stuffed pork at Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Biscotti and vin santo at Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Our time in Tuscany was something I will never forget – we were able to experience the foods and wines that have made it so famous. We experienced the “must dos” like Pisa and Siena, but also went off the beaten path to places like Pietrasanta and Lamole to experience the Italian culture at its purest. Although Lake Como and Cinque Terre leave you awestruck with their beauty, Tuscany has a different kind of beauty – one that is more real, and in a strange way feels like home.

The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 2 (Cinque Terre)

June 19, 2010

CINQUE TERRE

Every person who has ever been to Cinque Terre has said it is magical. I had no doubt it would be beautiful, but magical is such a strong word. But after 3nights in this breathtaking place, I knew exactly what everyone means. They mean you don’t want to leave – and you consider what your life would be like if you just never went home at all!

Different from Lake Como, Cinque Terre is on the Italian Riviera, so it has a more resort feel,with a Mediterranean backdrop. Cinque Terre means 5 lands, so you can experience all 5 villages, hanging from cliffs with pastel houses leaning on each other for support. We stayed in Vernazza, the only one with a natural harbor – but we experienced all 5 villages either by boat or by hiking.

The food history in the Cinque Terre region is amazing – and because of its regional specialties, I almost felt as if I were eating in a very different Italy.

Spaghetti with mussels and clams, at a restaurant in the Vernazza castle overlooking the sunset

Being on the sea, it is no surprise that seafood is their specialty…sardines, anchovies (a local favorite), octopus, clams and mussels to name a few. After many years of believing I was allergic to clams (and testing negative 2 days before my trip), I was thrilled I could try of one their well-known Cucina Tipica – spaghetti with clams and mussels. It was one of the most amazing dishes of the trip, and felt like the perfect food overlooking the sunset on the Mediterranean.

Another food that originates from the Cinque Terre area is pesto. They were the first to take basil, garlic, cheese, pinenuts and oil and use a mortar and pestle to create what we call pesto. I have never made much pesto – my husband never claimed to be a huge fan and although

Walnut Pesto at Trattoria Sandro (on the main drag in Vernazza)

I like it, I would rarely order it in a restaurant. But, when in Rome (so to speak)…..so, our first night we tried the pesto. And, appropriately, it was the best pesto I have ever had in my life. That night we had a green pesto, but then the next day we had a walnut pesto (another regional favorite) that was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. It is safe to say we had our fair share of pesto in Cinque Terre.

Another item we were told was a must have is focaccia – another dish that originated from this area. Our first night in Vernazza, we were looking for an aperitivo and a little snack before contemplating dinner, so we found a little place on the main street and had an amazing focaccia bread. We met a couple on their honeymoon and had an amazing time – we also all tried Sciachetra which is a local sweet wine. I am not big on sweet wines, but we had to try it while we were there (it came in the cutest little wine glass!).

But amidst the amazing seafood, unforgettable pesto and light, crisp white wine (perfect with their cuisine and a nice break from red) – perhaps the most amazing culinary experience in Cinque Terre was Angelo’s Boat Tours.

I had read about them on TripAvisor (no surprise to those who know me), and he offered small group (no more than 6 people) boat rides along all five villages. We opted for a sunset cruise where we were taken along all 5 villages – complete with salumi, pestos, focaccia and flowing prosecco. Then, we docked in Manarola (one of the villages) and he grilled a fresh swordfish he had just caught, along with amazing shrimp. The food was so fresh and delicious. And yes, the atmosphere sure played a role.

Below are a few photos from the amazing boat ride:

Angelo's boat, ready for our cruise - he had already poured us glasses of prosecco as we waited at the bench on the dock

Our amazing antipasti - pesto, focaccia, salumi, cheese, etc.

One of the villages, perched on the cliffs

Fresh swordfish and shrimp grilling on the boat at sunset

Our shrimp and swordfish on the boat

Another noteworthy culinary experience was less about the food and more about the atmosphere – it was this little cafe called Il Pirata up where the traffic is stopped and forbidden to come into Vernazza. Two Sicilian brothers own it and they are a hoot. We went every morning not just to talk with the hilarious owners, but also for a great breakfast.

Breakfast at Il Pirata - most like dessert!

Also worth mentioning is that we were in Cinque Terre just one week after their lemon festival. Needless to say lemons are plentiful and a point of passion for Ligurians. Because of the prominence of lemons, limoncello is also in abundance. We found out early on during our stay that people like to give away limoncello as a thank you – particularly with your bill. We got used to that polite gesture in a hurry!

Cinque Terre truly is a foodie’s paradise – as well as one of the most romantic places I have ever been. Below you will find more food photos from our stay along the Mediterranean.

Focaccia and a Peroni

The local Sciachetrà wine - yes, that is really how small the glass is!

Traditional pesto

Caprese salad

Fried seafood of the day

Pesto ravioli

Gelato with a pizzelle on top

Cinque Terre wine - each village bottles its own

When I saw this dessert in a glass case, I told Rob I wanted it before we sat down to dinner. It was amazing!

The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 1 (Venice & Lake Como)

June 12, 2010

So yes, it has been a month since my last blog post. No, I didn’t stop cooking and I certainly didn’t stop eating. I spent 2 weeks in Italy, vacationing with my husband, and 2 more debating how on earth I would going to write a blog post (or multiple blog posts) about it.

The reality is, we will be doing this in phases. We took a cooking class in Lake Como that warrants its own blog post. Also, each region had such different, unique food – I will be breaking this out into Northern Italy (Venice, Lake Como), Cinque Terre/Italian Riviera, Tuscany, Umbria and Rome.

So, I will start from the top…

I was lucky enough to have been to Italy once with my parents, but I barely dipped my toe into the culture, the food and the wine. I knew I needed to go back. On the flip side, my Italian husband (whose grandfather came from a small town in Tuscany called Pietrasanta) had never been. We love food. We love wine. It seemed so obvious.

So, on our 3 year anniversary, I surprised my husband with plane tickets for the next spring, and 8 months later we were on a very long Delta flight to Venice for two weeks of relaxation, romance, scenery, food and wine. And more wine.

I did my culinary homework before the trip – reading about the foods in each region and studying up on my issues of La Cucina Italiana (I highly recommend it). I started to learn what areas were known for, what you “have to have” in each city, and the importance of all of the Italian basics.

VENICE

Our trip began in Venice, and I will admit I was so enamored by the romance and a bit blurred by jetlag, that I didn’t take photos of much food in this city. But, it was obvious the abundance of seafood. Our first night when my husband got Carbonara (my personal favorite) I went with a seafood pasta. Of course, it was a small taste of what 2 weeks in Italy would be like – food heaven. Also, in Venice we had our first gelato (which was followed by MANY more) – there is nothing else like it! Gelato is make with milk instead of cream (which is how ice cream is made) so gelato is lighter and smoother.

Below are a few food and wine pictures from Venice:

Gelato

Street market stall

Panini

Drinks at Cafe Florian - I had the house red, Rob had sambuca

VARENNA, LAKE COMO

After a mere one night in Venice, we took the train to Varenna on Lake Como. I was particularly excited about this city, and not for the chance of running into George Clooney (although it would have been nice.). I have heard that Lake Como is a gem – a still somewhat off the beaten path vacation area for wealthy Milanese. The alpine lake is a crystal blue, the alps show their snow caps in the distance and the little villages are quaint and surreal. Every view was a postcard.

Beef Risotto with Red Wine Sauce at La Vista

Our first night in Varenna we had reservations at Ristorante La Vista – very well known for amazing cuisine. We each started with a shrimp bruschetta that was amazing, the freshness and slight citrus of the dish woke up your palate. My entree was a risotto with beef, yet instead of the traditional broth sauce, it was a heavy wine sauce, drizzled with a red wine syrup. It seemed so intriguing on the menu, I knew I had to try it and it was so rich and deep with flavor. I could never recreate it.

Filet of Beef with Balsamic Reduction at La Vista

My husband had a filet mignon with a balsamic glaze. I beamed with pride when he told me it tasted like my filet mignon I make for him with balsamic (on this blog) but of course the quality of the balsamic in Italy surpasses anything we have in the US, so it certainly was a notch above. Dessert was a chocolate dream on a plate. And complementing our meal along the way was a splurge wine – a Barolo. Lake Como is close to the Barolo region and as we attempted to eat regional cuisine and drink regional wine on the trip, we knew it was the right wine for the night. It was one of the best bottles of wine I have ever had.

Chocolate Goodness at La Vista

As if we hadn’t had our culinary overload on our first night, on day two we were picked up in the Varenna square by Francesca who wove us up some hills for 10 minutes (Italian driving at its best) to her father Moreno’s restaurant in Perledo. We partook in a cooking class at his restaurant – 5 hours of cooking, drinking, eating and hearing Moreno’s stories. As I mentioned, this experience deserves its own entry, so I will do one at a later date.

Other food and wine we enjoyed in Varenna (and nearby Bellagio, after which the famous LasVegas hotel is named) included:

The Barolo at La Vista

In Northern Italy, an Aperitivo (drink before dinner) always included lots of snacks

Chianti Classico

Tiramisu - my favorite!

Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Sausage and Fennel

Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs

Filet Mignon with Green Peppercorn Sauce

Melon with Proscuitto


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