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Back from Italy (Fatter and Wine-soaked)

September 30, 2011
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We have returned from our Italian escapade!  It was of course an amazing month, filled with new experiences, lots of relaxing, laughable attempts at speaking Italian, and, of course, excessive consumption of fantastic food and wine.

Rather than inundate you, my lovely readers, with post-upon-boring-post detailing our vacation (I like to call this “Grand Canyon Style,” after my grandfather’s infamous slideshows of his 1000+ Grand Canyon photos), I decided to just get it all out in one big list of highlights, with pictures for your drooling pleasure.  And, this way, you hopefully shouldn’t have to endure me bragging about spending a luxurious month in Italy in too many future posts.  So, our favorite food highlights:

  • Pizzeria Due Colonne (Campo Sant’Agostin, Venice) – a simple, no-frills place hidden from the tourist hordes, and packed with locals.  Really inexpensive but creative pizzas and salads, packed with fresh veggies.  Good quality, cheap liters of house wine.  A magical atmosphere outdoors in a residential square, surrounded by the sights and sounds of typical Venetian life.  We ate here 2 of our 3 nights in Venice (and should have just gone here the 3rd night too).
  • Trattoria Vecio Mulin (Via Sottoriva, Verona) – we loved pretty much everything about Verona, and this restaurant was definitely one of the highlights.  Again, a place loved by locals (and recommended by our B&B host, as her favorite place for a date with her husband).  It is situated at the end of a pedestrian walkway along the Adige River.  We had great service from the entire waitstaff, none of whome spoke English.  The prosciutto plate came with lovely jams and mascarpone cheese as condiments.  AJ’s seafood pasta in tomato sauce was incredible: a clay pot packed to the brim with fresh mussels, clams, octopus, shrimp, langoustine… mmmm.  The tiramisu sealed the deal – we love this place.
  • Inexpensive picnic dinners overlooking the sea in Portovenere, made up of amazing homemade pesto, raisin bread, cheese, prosciutto, heirloom tomatoes, and local white wine, bought from local shops in town.
  • Locanda Lorena (Isola Palmaria, Portovenere) – we splurged our last night in Portovenere here, the only restaurant on Palmaria Island (where we stayed).  The seafood appetizer consisted of about 8 different creative plates of local (a.k.a. caught that day directly outside the restaurant) seafood, and the unbelievable pasta dishes could have easily each fed a family of four.  Really, you can’t complain in any way about a restaurant where you can see both the basil plants used for homemade pesto and the mussel beds harvested daily directly from your table.  Really.
  • Grom Gelateria (next to the Duomo, Florence) – we ate gelato pretty much every night the entire month, and this was one of our favorites.  Plus, it’s a chain, so you can get it all over Italy too!  Our other favorite places for gelato were both in Rome – Flor, on Via Cavour, and San Crispino, near the Pantheon.  Mmmm…
  • The beautiful Val d’Orcia – we loved absolutely everything about this gorgeous region of Tuscany.  We stayed in the phenomenal villa Casa Moricciani, owned by Isabella and Carlo, who also run the renowned agriturismo Cretaiole. Everything about this week was wonderful, and we can’t wait to go back.  Just some foodie highlights from the week: sampling Pecorino and watching the cheese-rolling competition at the Pienza Cheese Festival; a wine tasting at the women-run winery Fattoria del Colle, near Trequanda; Pici pasta-making and olive oil tasting classes led by Isabella and Carlo at Cretaiole; a private dinner in the beautiful Sant’Anna Camprena monastery, near Castelmuzio; delicious sangiovese wine, grappa, vin santo, prosciutto, salami, and garden produce, all homemade and provided by the wonderful Moricciani family.  Fantastic.
  • Take-out pizza and beer on our balcony under a full moon overlooking the Mediterranean in Positano.  Need I say more?  Not quite sure what’s all going on with the lady on the pizza box though…
  • Next2 (Via Pasitea, Positano) – creative takes on classic Mediterranean food, with beautiful plating and incredibly kind and attentive service.  Stuffed squash blossoms, fresh mussels and clams done perfectly, beautiful seabass dressed tableside, candela pasta perfectly al dente, and unbelievable tiramisu and a peach millefuille for dessert.  A perfect meal.
  • The absolute best meal of our trip, on the very last night, at L’Asino d’Oro (Monti, Rome).  This local favorite just moved into the hip Monti neighborhood, where our hotel was.  The entire meal was incredible, and definitely was the closest in our whole trip to the inventive locavore food we expect from our favorite restaurants at home.  This restaurant is known for having a great selection of Italian craft beers as well, and we were very pleased to try the Re Ale from Birra del Borgo brewery.  The highlight for me was the incredible wild boar in a chocolate vinegar sauce – an entree that was more like dessert, but with giant hunks of dark meat.  Mmmmm
So, I think that’s about it!  It was an incredibly exciting and relaxing trip, and we’ll have lots of good food memories to reminisce about during the long Wisconsin winter.  Of course, because I’m me, I’m already brainstorming where our next foodie trip will be…
If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, based only on the food (or wine or beer), where would you go, and what would you order?
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