For dinner one night we find our way to Casa del Sole. It’s a country house outside of Pesaro. We’re 15-20 miles inland, where the gentle hills rising to Urbino begin, far enough from the sea to know we’ll be eating meat.
“We haven’t been to this place before,” my wife’s cousin says.
“But my sister has,” his wife adds. “Si mangia bene.”
One of my first recollections of grappa dates back more than thirty years. My wife and I joined a friend and her husband for dinner down in Villa Verucchio, at a place called Casa Zanni. One part butcher shop, nine parts restaurant, Zanni is known for its meats. That night, after warming up with tagliatelle al ragu, we probably had a mixed grill: castrato, which is a cut of young lamb, pork ribs, and sausage.
At the end of the meal Fiorenzo said he would like a digestivo, a “grappina,” a little grappa. The Italian diminutive makes just about anything seem attractive. I pictured a small glass, maybe the size of a thimble. Bring one for me too, I told the waiter. Continue reading →
The food is good, plentiful. The wine, Sangiovese from Bertinoro, a barrel of it.
Around here there is no shortage of help if you want to find a good place to eat. One of our sources is Ricky. He has an enoteca across Ponte di Tiberio, on the San Giuliano side of Rimini. Before lunch or dinner, we stop in for a glass of wine.
The thing to do at Ricky’s is listen to the locals. What do Italians talk about? Where and what to eat. Our friend Adele jokes about Italians: Even while they’re eating, all they talk about is food. Continue reading →
These are people who know and care about local food.
For years I would ask my Arabic students, Where do you eat? In what restaurants do you find the best, most authentic Arabic food? The response was predictable: a bewildered smile. Then, also predictable, the answer: At home. Whatever they ate in a restaurant was, by default, going to be second best. Eating around in Dearborn, I tended to look toward the kitchen, hoping to see an old lady or two. If there was a grandma back there, that was a good sign.
In the last couple days, we’ve eaten in establishments with kids in charge. Kids? Okay, people younger than us, a lot younger, fully in command of local food tradition. Continue reading →
Wet means everything uncovered, unwrapped, naked and exposed to the human touch…
“If I lived here,” I tell my daughter, “I would shop at Fart Mart.”
I’m referring to the grocery store next to the high-rise where she’ll be living the next two years or so. It’s real name is FMart. She goes there only when she has to.
FMart is a full service grocery store, with a Chinese accent. The store combines elements of industrial food production and distribution with the traditional Chinese “wet market.” It’s about the size of a large 7-11, well, four 7-11’s piled on top of each other. Four floors of pandemonium. Continue reading →
Outside these places, people in line wait for the goods. We stop twice to eat.
Hello. Thank you. So far that’s all the Chinese I know. Nihao (KNEE-how). Xiexie (sheh-sheh).
I could use one more word, right away: fork.
Coming to Shanghai I knew I would face the challenge of how to get food in my mouth. I’ll use chopsticks in restaurants back home. It’s kind of fun, for about five minutes. I adjust my grip and the length of the sticks, align them and go for the pinch and lift. When my grasp fails, I stab whatever I can with one stick and take comfort in knowing there is always a fall back plan, a life preserver. Flatware. Inevitably I’ll lay my chopsticks down so I can pick up a fork and fully engage the food. Continue reading →
They should be soft. They will have a slightly bitter taste.
They look like celery stalks. Except much bigger. Except for the leaves that sprout along the edges. And really except for the spines along those same edges that make gobbi look more like a medieval weapon of war than a food. Continue reading →
Asked how I feel today, I’ll say, “Fresh as a fish.”
It’s a figure of speech I heard on the TV yesterday. The program examined the quality and safety of fish from the Adriatic. We were at an inland restaurant eating brassato, a braised beef dish our friend Lidia makes. At noon, for the workers who come for lunch, Lidia turns on TV news. The focus was on fish. This was long-form journalism. Three journalists in a studio were importantly holding forth, along with reporters and scientists in the field hoisting octopi aloft by their tentacles, displaying crates of sole, mussels, and clams; a full half-hour expose on fish. Given my limited fish vocabulary, I couldn’t follow much of what they were saying. I recognized a few fish names; every so often I heard inquinamenti, the Italian word for pollutants. Continue reading →
The sauce was red, runny, and pungent, with bits of tomato-esque matter and oregano floating in it.
I was reading the other day in The Daily Beast about Mario Batali’s friendship with Jim Harrison and their “search for the genuine.” Harrison’s final book, A Really Big Lunch, a posthumous collection of his madman essays on food and drink, was about to be published. My mind turned to a favorite subject and my search for the genuine.
The Italians call it a tegame di coccio or a pentola di terracotta. What cooks in it–a stew, a sauce, a roast– is, well, bliss. During the long cook, fragrance permeates your house. Of rabbit ala cacciatore. Of polpettone. Of lamb shoulder. You smell the meat, but also there is the unmistakable fragrance of hot terracotta. You smell the pot. It smells so good. Why I don’t know. It just does. Continue reading →