Did you know there’s a tower in Italy named after eating?
It’s true. Mangia is the word for ‘eat’ in Italian. In Siena, their tallest tower is named the Torre del Mangia or the Tower of eating!
Italians take their food seriously. I’ve never had a bad meal there. It just takes a little planning, though, to get a GREAT meal in Italy. The internet makes it even easier to avoid the usual touristy restaurants and get to experience Italy the way the locals do.
Meraviglioso (wonderful) Montepulciano
By far the best meal we had happened in the tiny hilltop town of Montepulciano. As we drove up the autostrade, I looked up the 10 best restaurants on discoverTuscany.com. Several were closed for off-season. I starred 3 of them. Montepulciano is ALL uphill to the Duomo. I did not see any flat street until we climbed to the piazza pubblico where the cathedral sits. It’s a great pre-meal workout!
But I digress. We ended up eating at the Rosso Rubino Trattoria. (I had to pick that one because my maiden name is Rosso.) It was funny because the owners were actually eating their dinner when we walked up. Their website said they opened at 7 pm and it was 7:15. We were hungry, so I knocked on the window. After getting everything set up again, the wife (as I assume) finally opened the door, showing us a table.
For our Primi, or 1st course, we ordered tortellini in cream sauce with black truffles. Mmm. Definitely the best pasta ever. They were stuffed with a whitish meat, probably veal or ground pork. Ohh, that cream sauce was amazing!
For our Secondi, or 2nd course, Frank ordered the Cinghiale (wild boar) stew and I had grilled steak with black truffles and truffle oil. They accidentally gave me Frank’s meal, so I started eating it. I’d have to say it was perfect. 5 stars! The meat is so tender and the brown stew sauce so tempting I kept dipping my grilled steak in it throughout the meal. Frank could easily eat the boar despite his new braces. And I liked my meal very much. I’d give it 4 stars. It is the first time I’ve eaten truffles. They are good! Personally, I am not fond of the oil, but since I dipped the meat in Frank’s sauce anyway it was delicious. (I made sure the chef extraordinaire or his wife did not see me dipping.)
Our second favorite meal was in Rome, at a restaurant near the Colosseum. Our hotel booked the meal for us as soon as we arrived, since we got there so close to dinner time. We got lost on the way there, of course, but they didn’t mind us being late. For our primi, Frank and I split a lasagna, which was scrumptious, then each ordered a secondi. I had veal in a lemon/caper sauce, and he had meatballs. Just meatballs. It is a little different because in the USA they would deliver pasta with the meatballs, but not in Italy! My lemon sauce was perfect. If I had had a spoon, I would have used it. I DID have bread, which I used.
The most memorable thing for us about this restaurant: the hot chocolate. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Frothy, thick and just sweet enough. I compared it to chocolate pudding—only better. When you walk through the cold Roman night, a belly full of hot chocolate (and a cuddly husband) keep you warm all the way back to your hotel.
Favorite breakfast: Definitely the one at the Hotel Nerva Boutique in Rome. They served us fresh fruit, the yummiest pastry I’ve ever eaten, and eggs. Simple, elegant, healthy and filling.
Cheese, glorious cheese!
One of my missions in Milano was CHEESE. I wanted to find aged provolone for my Dad and brother Ben. It couldn’t have been easier. We parked at the parking garage, asked the attendant for ‘formaggio vecchio,’ and he told us about a Simply market on the corner. We found the deli, and it was amazing. Whole ham-hocks hanging in the cooler behind the counter, every kind of Italian meat and cheese you can imagine, and the Italian woman at the counter was such a character. She didn’t speak much English but my rusty Italian was enough. If both sides want to communicate, it will work!
I asked her for ‘provolone vecchio’ and she shook her head dramatically. But she produced what she had with a flourish and offered us a taste. Frank helped out with the metric when she asked how much we wanted. You should have seen the huge wheel of cheese and the 18-inch long cheese knife she used to cut it! She cut the sizes almost perfectly. We popped the cheese into the car since we didn’t want to tote it all over Milan that day! If we had, my cheese would have gone to the Last Supper.
Florence wins for #1 bakery
For favorite bakery, that is a tough one. I’d have to say, the one in Florence tops my list as the most exciting bakery. Their prices were high, we knew, but we still indulged. I needed a quick sandwich and they had a yummy one with prosciutto and artichoke. The bread was crusty and delicious. I also saw the most curious pastries there! We bought some cannoli that looked like a tiny ice cream cone dipped in chocolate and chopped nuts. Oh, it was so cute! Inside the cone: a rich chocolate mousse. Heavenly. Frank got some softer options, and we enjoyed them on the way back to the train!