A Reasonable Excess

I’ll see your 10,000 steps. And raise you 10,000 bites. Let’s hear it for disinhibition.

Case in point: yesterday. If it had been a nice day, we might have walked uphill, from Borgo Maggiore to San Marino’s third tower, gaining thousands of steps on our way to 10,000 and, in the uphill part, climbing the equivalent of 90 floors of vertical gain. But it was raining. And it was cold. As I do on a daily basis, I began to think about lunch. We would be in Italy seven more days. There were restaurants we had not yet re-visited.


Lunch at “La Rampa”

I’ve had my eye on this place for years. It’s at the end of Via Garibaldi, up by the gardens in Venice. Just outside the restaurant is a fruit and vegetable stand, actually a floating market with their goods displayed on the deck of a boat. I would guess that’s the rampa. You naturally think, inside the trattoria, fresh is a virtual certainty.

We were able to get a reservation for lunch at 1:00 p.m. This was midweek, in November, last weeks of the Biennalle. I was surprised. We arrived at 12:30, thinking we would eat early and get to garden exhibits. When we got there, the place was packed. Old local men standing in the front of the restaurant drinking their mid-day glasses of white wine. In the back, diners. No way I can seat you until 1:00, the proprietor said. We went across the street and had our own glass of mid-day white wine.

At 1:00 the restaurant was even fuller, people crushed together, wanting their table, people in back finishing their lunch, trying to get to the front to pay.

So: you see a crowd. Good. You see locals, even better.

We ate well, two primi, the spaghetti neri and spaghetti with tuna and peas. First rate grub. That’s what I want and like. Polenta with baccalà and a scallopine Veneziane. Both terrific. House wine. No dessert.

A criticism. One dish came out. A few minutes later, the second. A few minutes later, the third. Finally the fourth. That was bad. The first dish was done by the time the fourth arrived.

Everything took forever.

It’s a wild place. There’s lots of yelling and commotion on the part of the servers and cooks. Frenetic lunch. If that’s your thing and you’re not in a hurry, you’ll be really happy.

I was happy. The people I was with were not. So: don’t go to lunch with those three if you have your sights set on Trattoria alla Rampa. Go and enjoy the noise, the sound and the fury, and the really good food. And be prepared for chaos.

Rhymes with Gregarious

We were eavesdropping last night.  We couldn’t help ourselves. And we were glad we did.

We were sitting outside at Biberius in Rimini, our second night in town. Our second night back in Italy. A guy sitting directly behind me was talking about a cook. He had two children, this cook. He was thinking about moving to London to work, this cook. And the guy on the phone was saying, What does he think life will be like in London? If he finds work, does he think he will make more money? Will he make that much more money? Does he want to live in London, where he doesn’t know anyone? This went on for a while. When he shifted to a new subject, the tone changed. He was moving toward ending the call. The word “polenta” came up, repeatedly. 


Leftovers: An Apologia

Every so often I met Shirley at the copy machine. She was senior staff, I was junior. One day the conversation turned to food. 

“I’m by myself,” she said. “I poach a big piece of salmon on Monday and eat it all week.” I was horrified.  And must have shown it. “I don’t enjoy cooking,” she said. “And you know, cooking for one.”

I thought of her yesterday morning when I ate a chunk of leftover salmon for breakfast. It was a semi-failed dish, two days prior, of salmon and brothy beans with chard. Semi-failed–the beans needed to be a little brothier, the chard fresh, not leftover.  But damn, two days in waiting had made a disappointing dish great.


Bird Beans (Fagioli all’uccelletto)

I can’t get enough beans, ever. This dish resembles, probably badly, a Tuscan bean dish called fagioli all’uccelleto. I’m translating that roughly, and probably badly, as “bird beans.” For this dish you need: dried beans, tomato, sage, garlic, and love.

The recipe calls for cannellini. I usually substitute Michigan navy beans, whose goodness is unsurpassed. This time, because we have been enjoying other recipes for chickpea, the uccelletto (Italian for little bird) is eating chickpeas (though an Italian bird would call them ceci).


How to Correct Your Coffee

“Did you drink my coffee?” Tizi asks.

“Yes, by accident.”

We’ve just finished a satisfying lunch. In Italy a post-prandial blast of espresso adds an exclamation mark to the experience. Lately she’s been taking her coffee “corrected.” With a dash of “mistra,” the local anise flavored grappa. Typically my wine intake at the table is higher than hers, so I finish with straight coffee. This day the server gets the two coffees mixed up. As soon as I toss it I know, Yes, this one was hers. And Yes, this is how I should be drinking mine. Correct.


Take a Tomato Break

I was talking to my friend Pat a few days ago about tomatoes. “Everyone who’s been there,” she said, “talks about the tomatoes in Italy. They’re supposed to be so good.” Yup, they’re good all right. Here in the US we do pretty well a few months of the year. Over there, year around it seems, great tomatoes.


‘Tis the Seasoning

For years now I’ve suffered from garlic salt shame. It’s the seasoning I use most often, thinking that it’s a shortcut, that an accomplished cook with stores of self-respect would employ solo salt and stand-alone garlic that he would strip, dice, and sprinkle on a side dish or main course instead of going the two-in-one route.


Pass the Fennel

When I was a kid, my junk food of choice, purchased at Pat’s Food Center across the street from my house, or at the park store in the Missaukee County trailer park, was Twinkies or Mars Bar or Three Musketeers bar (Pat’s) or wax lips or wax coke bottle with that syrupy pseudo coca cola inside or colored-sugar-in-a-straw (county store). I had friends who bought Good and Plenty, black or red licorice. Not me. Ever.