1 week | 2 people | 3 cities | 4 pizzas | countless liters of table wine.
my husband and i arrived in italy hungry, very hungry. we had just gotten through three days of pre-partying with friends and family, a wedding- i mean our wedding- and thirteen hours of travel. lucky for us, italians can eat. i mean, really eat...
our first few days were spent in impruenta which is a sleepy town in the chianti region of tuscany with large rolling hills, vineyards, and olive trees as far as the eye can see. if you're a 'locavore' this is your place. nearly everything we ate while there was grown locally, not because it's cool or trendy but simply because it's practical. the local cheeses, wines and olive oils are among the best in the world, no importing necessary. for our first meal of vacation we ordered cured meats and local cheeses, a pizza with speck (ham) and funghi (mushrooms), cacio el pepe (spaghetti with cheese and pepper), and the house red wine, a local chianti. we were not disappointed. my husband was a little perplexed when there were no peppers in the extra al dente pasta that had arrived; i had to explain that ground black pepper was the "pepe" part of the dish. we also made the mistake of going in for a slice of pie and struggling a bit until we realized they didn't cut our pizza for us lazy americans. we didn't have any room left after our meal but managed to stop for our first taste of gelato on the way home. all i can say about that is ... the hype is real.
we went back for lunch the next day. another non-sliced pizza, caprese salads, and the house white wine. the most impressive part of lunch was the couple next to us. they were locals; you can just tell. they must have been in their late 60s. when we arrived they were sharing a half liter of wine and each had a seafood pasta dish with lobsters in front of them. about half way through our meal, we noticed that the couple's plates had been replaced with yet another 'main course' ... and this was lunch. they finished their meals with cappucinos and cigarrettes before leaving for what i can only imagine was nap time.
the following morning we were off to monterosso al mare, which is in cinque terre "five villages" located along the italian riviera. we stepped off the train and were totally blown away. it was so completely different from tuscany. this place was bustlin'. breathtaking blue water, vibrant beach umbrellas, jaw dropping cliffs and people everywhere. sorry, make that tan people everywhere. i suddenly felt so pale. we took another recommendation from some of our old friends and ate at ristorante miky that evening. seafood was obviously the name of the game. the most memorable part of that meal had to be the tuna tartar and their house white wine, the best we'd had since arriving. i was also stuck by the way they served pasta, a sheet of dough was stretched over a terracotta baking dish which was in turn lit on fire. once the fire was extinguished, the sheet of dough was peeled back and underneath, our pasta awaited, a seafood ravioli.
the following morning we set out on the hike that runs between the five villages. we were told about this hike by numerous friends. well, we thought they were our friends. as it turns out this hike took us over four hours up and down cliffs with stairs for days... so. many. stairs. if it weren't for the views, we would not have made it.
once that was through, we were famished. we grabbed a late lunch, wine and birra moretti (the draft beer everywhere in italy) at a small spot on the water whose name is escaping me. i ordered the warm seafood salad and for the hubs, spaghetti. so predictable. said he had to carbo load after a long hike.
after sunning ourselves and resting our legs, we were ready for our next meal. i had a reservation at ristorante belvedere, another recommendation from friends. we started with some black and white pasta with mussels- which was the highlight- then rounded out our meal with octopus salad, the fish of the day (sea bass), and naturally a liter (pitcher) of the house white wine. we felt pretty good about our meal. it was great, the view was unreal and we had made some friends in the aussie couple next to us. then we saw the aussie's meal arrive .... it looked (and smelled) unreal. the waitress put a giant bowl down on the table and had a large terracotta jug in her hands. when she turned over the pot, the contents (lobsters, fish, mussles, and the most fragrant broth) came pouring out. we immediately knew we'd been out ordered. a little disappointing but nothing a little gelato couldn't/didn't fix.
the following morning we were off to florence, frienze. when we walked into our hotel (hotel lungarno), it was love at first sight. when we walked into our room, a two story suite with a balcony over looking the arno to which we'd graciously been upgraded, i was thinking "David who?" i'll just stay here. i was still having nightmares of stairs anyway. Unfortunately hunger had struck, and it was time for another pizza. it was good but only held us over for a few hours until dinner rolled around. we strolled the streets looking for a highly recommended small family osteria for what must have been hours before discovering it was closed for the month of august (holiday month for the italians). feeling totally defeated, we stopped in an unknown spot and- feeling hungry and wanting to fit in with the italians- ordered: steak carpaccio, polenta with mushrooms, pasta fagioli, grilled vegetables, a mixed green salad, pappardelle with wild boar ragu, and... you know the rest. we never stood a chance, didn't even make it past the vegetables. i don't know how they do it.
on our last day we did what tourists do, the duomo, david, michelangelo plaza at dusk, drinks on the arno, ate another pizza (this makes four)... but the day didn't really begin until we arrived at dinner, Aqua al 2. i had twice been told (by different people) about the blueberry steak from this very spot. when we arrived we immediately noticed that it was the first restaurant we'd been to without english translations on the menu. this was going to be awesome. we got a sampler of salads to start which were fantastic. that was followed by what i can only describe as my husband's dream come true, a sampler of five pasta dishes. they arrived, one after the other, each one better than the next. just when we didn't think we could eat any more, the piece de resistance (i know, that's french) arrived- the blueberry steak, along with a swordfish carpaccio- and we did. finally, and in true italian fashion- we finished it, all of it.
and that my friends, that is how it's done. -mrs. tarin frantz