Category Archives: travel

A Celebration Lunch

serravalle-sanmarino

Serravalle, Republic of San Marino

For celebration lunch today we have Greektown of Detroit, Barbuto of New York, and Howdy Richards of Freeland to thank.

What are we celebrating? Being alive. Being together.   Continue reading

Chics and Tuna

chics and tuna

One of my fondest memories is having lunch at the Buca del Orafo in Florence. My wife took me there the first time–in 1978.  We had a Fiorentina, the giant Italian t-bone steak, which was awesome.

In subsequent visits, we’ve skipped the steak and enjoyed the shaved artichoke and pecorino antipasto, pasta with fresh peas, or ribolitta, finishing, if they were in season, with the fragoline, the mountain strawberries served with lemon juice and sugar, tiny flavor bombs that would put you over the top.

Every year we were greeted by the same waiter, Piero, who was quiet and genial and attentive. Maybe it was the third or fourth time we ate there, we had Tuscan beans and tuna for antipasto. He set the plate down and said, “Now you really should have some of excellent extra virgin olive oil,” and poured out that luscious green gold.

Shown above: an approximation of that heaven.  The dish is good any time of year. Fresh beans, canned beans (drained and rinsed). I used chickpeas today. Shown below: cannellini beans with diced campari tomato.

It’s a question of preference, tradition, and knowing what you like.  For a dish like this I want tomato to be peeled, seeded, and diced. It’s March. The campari tomatoes are in the grocery story and Costco. They are bursting with flavor. Peeling and extracting seeds takes a while. A job made less onerous if accompanied by a glass of wine.

At the Buca, I’m pretty sure there will no tomato.  And given the quality of the ingredients, the ambiance of the restaurant, and what’s just outside the door (the Arno and Ponte Vecchio) it won’t matter.

BucaOrafo

In Search Of

yak sign

Yakgurt.

There is such a thing, tasting more of gurt than of yak. We came to Yunnan province and the city of Lijiang hoping to see, among other things, yak in the flesh, the great furry, horned beast. We did not close to, but it felt like we did.

This was a trip that began with something of a fool’s errand, which led us to serendipitous yak. Having checked into our hotel, our kids did what they usually do; did, it could be said, what they learned from us to do: look for a good place to eat. Continue reading

The Efficacy of Loud

speak low

The bar is called Speak Low, on Fuxing Middle Road in Shanghai.

My daughter and I have come here on a Saturday night for a few cocktails. This is the third F & B joint (Food and Bar) I’ve been to. All three with ground level entrance, little more than an anteroom with space for a desk and two greeters, and a door that leads to a stairway that leads to second, third, and fourth floor rooms with bar, tables, low light, and a lot of noise. The room we’re in is full of youngish people–tables and chairs for 30 or so–maybe seventy-five people total seated and standing. They have shiny new shoes, important hair, and serious glasses. Shanghai chic. This might as well be Brooklyn. Continue reading

Coffee Ma’am

sad

“I’m the coffee man,” I say to my wife.

We’re sitting in the kitchen, enjoying our view of the snow. It’s mid morning, a single digit above zero out there, which is bad; but also bright sun on new snow, a brilliant cloudless blue sky, which is good. We’re well into SAD season, long stretches of short gray days, then dark. Sun is the best antidote to seasonal affective disorder. When I mentioned that to a friend the other day, I said sun or red wine. He smiled and said Florida is the best antidote.

Later today we’re flying to Shanghai, to visit our kids. We’re both a little off balance (cranky), nervous about the long flight (about 14 hours), the time change (12 hours), and the bad air in Shanghai. It will be cold there, damp, gray Chinese cold. China will be almost as SAD as Michigan. Maybe SADDER. Continue reading

Pizza, Good Any Time of Day

“Breakfast of champions,” I say to the kid sitting at the next table.

We’re in the hospital bar. It’s nine in the morning. I’m here with my wife, who’s going to have some stitches pulled. (She fell down a stairs, sliced her knee, broke her wrist. No, we say when someone asks, and everyone seems to ask, I didn’t do it.)

The boy takes a big bite from his breakfast pizza, tomato and cheese, and leans toward his father, who’s reading the pink sports gazette men in Italy love. I nod toward the pizza. I imagine he’s thinking, “Weirdo.”

Pizza is a common breakfast food over here. You see them, the size of pancakes, in the pastry cases at the coffee bars.

For me pizza in the morning was always hangover food. Leftover pizza, that is, obviating the need to busy yourself, providing the spicy, oily bulk that seemed to soothe and stabilize a woozy stomach. Usually washed down with a coke.

Both here and at home, we usually opt for pizza on a night no one wants to cook. Over there it comes to the door. Over here I walk two minutes up the street to the main piazza. The bar is called L’insolito Posto, the usual place. Think Cheers, the bar from the television show, only in this tiny village in San Marino. Weekends, if you want to eat inside, you need to make a reservation.

Once it was a coffee and breakfast pastries bar. Now it’s doing what lots of bars do. Coffee and pastries (and probably pizzas) in the morning; aperitivo (a pretty sumptuous appetizer banquet) and drinks in the early evening.

And pizza. Thin crust. Wood burning oven. Last night was one of those lazy nights. It took 5 minutes to cook my pizza margarita, which costs 5 euros. I walked it home and ate half of it, thinking I would eat the rest in the morning. But didn’t. Maybe it’s age. Or I wasn’t hungover.

The statute of limitations on leftover pizza is about 48 hours. Something tells me reheated or cold, that margarita will be the best thing I eat that day.

Food of the Gods

Persimmon tree, Vicenza, Italy-5.jpg

Persimmons galore.

We’re on our way to Ro e Buni for a fat pasta lunch. This restaurant (called a “tenuta,” meaning an estate), is off the main road that passes through Villa Verucchio. A sign says there’s a golf course back here somewhere. I’d look for it but I’m totally distracted by the orchard next to the road. Orange fruit heavy in the branches. Looks like oranges.  But, no, these are persimmons. In Italian called “cachi” (pronounced “CAH-cky”). Continue reading

Polenta, I’m Coming

img_4130.jpg

Twice now I’ve chosen not to eat polenta. My wife and I are in restaurants. It’s a choice between tagliatelle and beans or passatelli in a vegetable sauce, or polenta, I reluctantly say no to the polenta.

Last night it happened again. This just has to stop.

Oh, polenta. It comes to the table vivid yellow, this cooked corn flour mush with a sauce ladled over the top of it. Last Sunday, at Osteria del Pisello, their polenta with pea sauce.

You eat it with a spoon. It’s still hot. The red sauce, peas or beans or ragu or whatever, is likely to leave an reddish-orange olive oil sheen, as you stir, mix, spoon, and lift this wonderful food your mouth. To borrow a phrase from Raymond Carver, it’s a simple, good thing. That’s the dominant culinary principle in this region. Simple is good. More likely, simple is perfection.

When she was a kid, my wife says the practice was to pour out the polenta on a large cutting board and put it in the middle of the table, cover it with ragu. No plates. No servings portioned out. Each individual, spoon in hand, having at it.

In one of my undergraduate psychology classes I learned about what researchers call “the just noticeable difference.” We’re talking levels of perception. At what point does one lose the ability to distinguish one sensory input from another that is a measurable gradation less or more in strength. What is the just noticeable difference between the pleasure you take in one dish you love over another you love? That’s the fix we are in when we eat over here.

As we say these days, indulging in cliche, It’s all good. (This is cliche I can live with.) Seen below, last night’s polenta from Trattoria Rinaldi.

img_4175-1-e1542865010707.jpg

Polenta, I’m coming.

There’s Truffle in River City

tartuffo

And I do mean truffle, the white ones and the black ones, those gnarly, earthy nuggets of delight, the ones you dream about, their shavings falling like heavenly snow flakes on your tagliatelle. Yes, those truffles. Continue reading

So Many Ravioli…

siamo felice

My wife’s cousin sat a few chairs down from me.  It was Christmas 1984. We were having cappelletti in broth, a typical–and beloved–dish we look forward to at holiday time. After spooning (scarfing) for a few minutes, the cousin looked up, turned to me, and said, “I could kill myself eating these things.”

They’re that good. Continue reading

Meet Me at Rivetta

img_4055.jpg

Fish lasagne? Don’t think about it.  Just try it.

We’re eating at Trattoria alla Rivetta in Venice.  We’ve been coming here for over 20 years—for the seafood risotto, the moeche (soft shell crabs), the branzino, and whatever else they have that day that’s fresh. And always, in addition to great fish, there is a generous assortment of fresh vegetables that are boiled, sliced, and served with a generous anointing of olive oil. Was ever a potato so good? Continue reading

Ciao, Signorina?

IMG_3976

“Signorina?” I say.  My wife and I are in an airport restaurant in Venice, waiting for a friend to arrive. We have an hour or so to kill.  There’s no better way to do that than by eating.

I’ve ordered the pasta; my wife has the prosciutto and mozzarella.  We need some bread. Well, my wife needs some bread.

She shakes her head. “You really should call her signora,” she says. Continue reading