Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gathering Great Things for Future Posts

We have been remiss with posts but we are on a “technical” journey gathering oodles of fun information and tidbits as well as a few insightful observations and ideas. Drifting around Germany and Trento has provided us with some marvelous material for upcoming posts so, stay tuned and hold your knickers on because we have lots to say! Now Snow White must run off to the woods to gather mughi to flavor a small bottle of Grappa Moscato. ;-)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

La Meridiana a Domodossola, What a Gem!!

Oh my god, yesterday’s stumble into this unbelievable restaurant restored my faith in off-the-beaten-path places to eat. This was a find of monumental proportions and anyone who can or is able, head to Domodossola for a fabulous meal. They specialize in fish courses but also propose perfect Spanish fare. This is of course family-owned and operated, which means the clan of ultra dedicated and proud owners will serve you. Situated close to the Swiss border this town boasts a lively atmosphere. There is a fun Jazz Club hidden off of the main street, nicely frescoed palazzini all framed with the majestic mountains of the Val Dossola. The family recently restored an old building from the very early 1700’s into a casa-vacanza in the locale of Cadarese, the Valley of Antigorio. The area will soon host thermal baths as well as sport complexes and recreational activities summer and winter.

For in
formation regarding the vacation lodging, contact or follow the link latter in this post.

The restaurant is one of a kind serving courses that would cost upwards 20€ per plate. Many of the risotto fish dishes or paella must be ordered for a minimum of two bodies, which would tell any food fanatic your dishes are prepared to order! They do not have precooked this or that. Saturday is their busiest day at lunch and trust me, the tables turned not twice but three times during the lunching hour. The place is small; the tables are barren, wooden and simple. As a restaurant classification one might expect tablecloths or linen napkins; probably for dinner they set up in that manner as in the photos on the website, but for lunch it was nice and bare and simple. They put out paper placemats, a knife and fork serving the wine in big generous glasses and that is it folks. A very simple but stunningly divine repast. La Meridiana

The courses are presented without too much fanfare (lord with that crowd how can they do anything else but get the food to the tables) and the food was piping hot. They offer Spanish prosciutto hand cut per order rivalin
g any Italian prosciutto to date. Tending to lean towards Speck, this female became a convert since stopping in at this locale, ordering pearls or melon balls in a tortilla cup served with ultra thin slices of Spanish prosciutto and large shredded Parmigiano (not shaved). The bread was ultra fresh in nice thick generous slices and upon requesting a refill, they were more than happy to fulfill, which makes any Italian very happy. ;-)

It was hideously hot outside and the desire to eat a heavy meal was not on Snow White's planner but luckily she did order three courses, all of them small amounts of perfectly prepared dishes. She had tortelloni of Astice with julienned zucchini in a sauce neither she or Golden Piglet could figure out; utterly di
vine and only four of these things on the plate, a perfect, perfect amount of food! While taking this meal in a very slow manner (due to the number of patrons in the place), she was able to spy other dishes whizzing by the table and most of them made her realize, this is going to have to be a regular watering hole for them and begin their exploration of the fabulous fish fare proffered.

Granted, living in the area would help but a trip from Milan to this restaurant is worth it and if you really want to soak up the scenery, get a room so you can not only eat a great meal but explore their wonderful cellar as well. Beware of the desserts or she should say, save room for at least one. Difficult not to overhear the table next to her as the Italian/Swiss/French creature expounded on the delights of a semifreddo with amaretti of course all made by the chefs. If a meal is not in your budget, then go in for a glass of wine at the bar and a slice or two of prosciutto, this is truly a hidden gem and with a little bit of time to spare, Snow White will translate the story of the cooks and family from their brochure, another impressive story (they boast fantastic chef training).

Ciao for now!

Burnt by the Sun of Napoli

Yes, yes I know we were to keep this to food wine and such but you must mosey over to Burnt by the Tuscan Sun and read this post inshallah.

Despite Italy's seemingly unorganized world and way of doing things, the country does manage to limp along however the times of frustration, chaos and inability to plan things do tend to outweigh the rest of it's beauty. Take a peek at the link and have a good laugh.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Pasticceria Biffi of Milano

A step down memory lane to Biffi's of Milano is definitely a treat. This coffee and pastry house is as much a part of the foundations of the city as the Castello Sforzesco. The prices may kill you but the experience is one of a kind.

Taking a little morning refreshment here is something your eyes and taste buds will remember and if you do this seated, which is really the only way to go to get the “full” Biffi experience, the weight of your wallet will be quickly lightened. ;-) The waiters are impeccably dressed; the service is flawless with tables done in the typical Milanese fancy cloths with upholstered chairs and matching cushions and back upholstery on the benches. The colors are relaxing, happy, cozy, and the din from the bar helps add to the ambiance. Upon entering besides the magnificent bar in polished brass and dark wood and Murano chandeliers, there is a nice little freestanding croissant case to grab your attention full of mini croissants filled with jam, cream, chocolate and other wicked things.

Once seated, she could explore the room and delight in the little flat ceramic sugar tray at the table (ceramic fanatic here) as well as, take in the sounds of the patrons; many regulars chatting with the waiters and the bartenders. We ordered cappuccino and two of the little brioche as well as 250ml of water. The cappuccinos were liquid cream on the tongue, the kind you want to take your spoon and scrape the sides! The croissant/brioche were morsels of divinity, fresh and flavorful. The water was brought to the table in the bottle, opened and poured for us into the glasses, such a luxury.

Unfortunately, we had to worry about the car since we did it Italian style by parking in pay for park area but you know how it is, we are just stopping for coffee so why pay? ;-) That meant, we could not spend a nice amount of time seated and
at the prices they charge, you really should camp in for a while. When we asked for the bill she thought his face was going to fall off; 14,50 Euros for all that fanfare! We laughed while walking to the car and talked about how things have changed over the years (like the prices) knowing that a trip back there would have to be standing at the bar and even then, maybe not for a little while (gotta save up our pennies).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Food Frolic Adventures - La Speranza - Tieni Forte il Portafoglio!

English translation below
Ci eravamo proposti di parlare solamente di ristoranti dove fare delle vere e proprie esperienze eno-gastronomiche, quindi di parlare solamente di esperienze positive; bene, è il momento di contraddirci subito! :-)
Ricordandomi di un ottimo pranzo presso il ristorante Hostaria La Speranza di Solcio in provincia di Novara sul Lago Maggiore cui partecipai una decina di anni fa, e visto che il nostro peregrinare per il nord Italia ci ha portato nei pressi di detto ristorante, approfittai dell'ora di cena ormai superata da un po, per proporre a Snow White una sosta "tecnica" presso l'Hostaria. Questo ristorante qualche anno fa, godeva di una discreta fama per gli antipasti alla piemontese che serviva e per una discreta cantina.
Vi confesso che non ho faticato molto a convincere Snow White a rifocillarsi con un po di antipasti misti e con del buon vino... ma ahimè, temo di avere perso qualche punto nei suoi confronti quella sera!
Dunque, il locale è molto ben arredato, finemente e in maniera ricercata. Bene, si trattava di vedere se oltre alla forma, la "sostanza" era migliorata o almeno era rimasta quella di qualche anno fa. Le cameriere sono giovani e cortesi, ma assolutamente non professionali; danno proprio l'impressione di avere imparato a memoria tutto quello che dicono, ma senza sapere di cosa stanno parlando. Gli antipasti sono solo discreti, nulla di eccezionale e per di più in numero assolutamente inadeguato: una volta da loro si mangiavano solo quelli, ora invece ci si alza da tavola con più fame di prima.
La sorpresa però non è il cibo. Appena ordinata la cena, la padrona del locale, si avvicina al tavolo e butta li la frase innocente: "Vi porto un po' di vino?" Ma come, sarò anche un Piglet, ma non del tipo che ha pensato la ristoratrice! Alla mia richiesta di poter guardare la Carta dei Vini, la signora in questione, è sparita ed ha mandato una camerierina a presentarci detta carta. Ad una prima occhiata ho pensato si trattasse della versione con i prezzi espressi in Rupie e non in Euro, ma ad un più attento esame, il simbolo dell'Euro era riportato in molte parti, e della valuta indiana non c'era traccia... I vini avevano prezzi assolutamente demenziali: quello che costava meno era proposto a 120 Euro la bottiglia (roba che si paga 25 Euro massimo in qualunque altro ristorante, quello che costava di più era un Franciacorta Brut per il quale chiedevano 1,290 Euro!!! Dopo avere rifiutato di farmi depredare, la camerierina arrossendo ha annuito accennando a voce bassa un: "già, capisco..."
Mentre con Snow White mi stavo ancora chiedendo in che razza di posto eravamo capitati, la padrona si avvicina e con la faccia di chi vuole fare la generosa con dei poveracci, ci dice: "Se volete posso offrirvi un bicchiere di vino". E' stato solo un piccolo calcio ricevuto da Snow White sotto il tavolo per fermarmi ed evitare di dicessi alla tizia cosa poteva farsene del suo vino e dove poteva metterselo! (Grazie Snow White!)
Morale: pagato il conto salato, cenato male e senza vino, presi in giro ed insultati.

La Speranza - Hold on Tight to your Wallet!

I know we had promised to only discuss good wine and dinning experiences, speaking only of positive experiences at that but the time has quickly come to veer away from that promise if only briefly.

Remembering a superb lunch at a place called Hostaria La Speranza situated in Solcio on Lago Maggiore about ten years ago, and seeing as how our pilgrimage in northern Italy took us near to this still-functioning “joint,” I decided to take advantage of the fact that we were late with our dinner decision so I proposed a little “technical” stop to Snow White. The restaurant a few years ago carried a discrete fame for its antipasti alla Piemontese, which they served along with a robust cellar to accompany the feast. I must admit, I had no difficulty whatsoever convincing Snow White to take refreshment (with the promise of some mixed antipasti and good wine…) but alas, I fear I lost a few points in her eyes that evening!

Let’s see, the locale was very nicely decorated, done with taste and maintaining a certain time period for style with well-chosen pieces and accessories. “Great” I thought to myself, besides excellent presentation and ambiance it was time to see if the substance had improved or at least, remained that of a few years ago. The waitresses were all dressed in uniforms of an era gone-by, all were very young, courteous but completely unprofessional; they gave the impression they were speaking from a script not having a clue what they were really saying.

The antipasti were only discrete, nothing exceptional and furthermore, the number of different types of these minuscule tastes was totally out of line; it was almost like a Sunday Brunch smorgasbord, lots of stuff but nothing great or too much and unable to appreciate any of it. Once upon a time in this “joint,” one could eat just those now, one leaves the table hungrier than prior to being seated.

The surprise however was not the food. As soon as dinner was ordered the owner of the “joint” (big female chowhound herself) approaches the table in her apron and in a little innocent voice, tosses the wine question: “Shall I bring you some wine?” “What, are you kidding?” I say to myself. I may be a chowhound too but not the kind she thought I was. Upon my request to bring me the wine list, this questionable female disappeared and sent one of the girls with the list to the table. At first glance, I thought to myself this must be the version with prices in Rupees and not Euros, but upon closer examination, I saw the Euro symbol here and there finding not a trace of the Indian currency.

The wine prices were insane!!!! The least expensive wine was a bottle for 120 Euros (stuff one would pay 25 Euros max in any other restaurant) and then there was a bottle of Franciacorta Brut (mind you just Brut, not a bottle of non dosato) to the tune of 1,290 Euro!! After refusing to be pillaged, the waitress blushed and knowingly acknowledged in a low voice “ah yes, of course…” While Snow White was still asking me what kind of racket for a restaurant I had brought her to, the big female chowhound approached us and had the brazen nuts to play Ms. Generous and offer us wine by the glass. It was only a tiny whack in the ankle that Snow White launched in my direction to help prevent me from telling that creature what and where she could put that glass of wine (Thank you Snow White)! Then after paying the horrendous bill for not eating, the little waitress comes back and sheepishly offers us a glass of grappa, on the house. Good God, I refused that as well; was not going to put myself at her mercy, no way!

Moral: paid the sticky bill, ate poorly without wine, was insulted and had my leg pulled from here to Timbuktu…you do the math.

Dinning at Grinzane Cavour Castle

Dinning at the Castello Grinzane is a must for anyone who would like to re-live a little bit of history in modern elegance. Reservations are a smart thing and required to even get near the place in October and part of November (white truffle season). The auction for the largest of these beauties usually occurs at the castle annually and hosts a multitude of VIPs who populate the town of Alba as well. There is a quaint and convenient hotel, Casa Pavesi just meters from the castle offering unique room décor, breakfast on the terrace, bar and cozy reading rooms.

The dinning room at Grinzane Castello is not only an elegant atmosphere but the service is professional and discrete. High heels beware walking up to the castle, if one parks below it can be a wicked challenge on the rounded rock road as well as, taking the path towards the entrance and the uneven floors and steps once inside. This place was meant for climbing and sensible shoes plus, getting to the bathroom or better said, navigating the steps to the bathroom after a few glasses of wine can be an issue, especially when you really need to go. ;-)

While gazing up and through the windows from inside, over the expanse of the vineyard-clad hills beyond, she could not help but breathe a little bit of the history within these walls.

Dinner consisted of tagliolini with sausage ragù (sausage from the Roero region) a bottle of lively Barbera, hand-rolled bread sticks and a main course of Brasato al Barolo. Brasato is one of the ultra famous dishes from this area and is truly a must-try. The meat is soaked in Barolo wine, cloves, juniper berries and garlic for 12-24 hours then removed from that marinade and slow baked for 1½ in fresh Barolo but not before performing a sauté of carrot, celery and onions, browning the meat and then bathing it in Barolo.

After all that food no one needed dessert but they insisted with a few complimentary cookies and of course we did have to imbibe in an outstanding grappa! The waiter brought the bottle to the table after we told him a little bit about our taste preferences; he suggested this one and poured two generous glasses offering us, on his wallet, a second. God, a second glass would have done this little lady in, she would have needed a stretcher to get down the stairs.

While seated outside on the benches in the gardens encircling the castle, the night air was cool (blissfully) and the night birds extremely busy. Something came whizzing by her head at a speed so fast her hair flew up and her ears were buzzing from the speed with which this creature flew. Who knows what it was, certainly not an owl of any sort and not a bat. The lights across the valley to the
other hill town were mesmerizing and suggestive, music floated up from the tent party near the hotel, laughter and the clink of glasses while toasting; all elements adding to the ambience rendering the experience even more suggestive for a creative mind. The past oozed around us with the pride of the people of the town for the place they live and for the traditions they protect. Romance, romantic dinning, sensuous, warm, sexy, suggestive, hot, steamy, languid, escorts, red roses, venetian mask, antiquity