Saturday, November 19, 2011

Travels: Gelato!

How can I visit Italy without gorging myself silly on gelato? Seriously, there are gelaterias in every corner much like Seattle and its every-50m-a-Starbucks. Oddly, the sight of bright colored gelato never failed to bring a smile to my face.  Not to mention greed as well.  More often than not, the stomach just did not have sufficient room to enjoy a cone at that moment.  So...I could only manage four throughout the trip. 

I know, I suck.


Anyhow, I will share these four coveted gelaterias that were chosen after much research on the "best" gelaterias in each city. 


What's awesome about this artisanal gelateria is that it is by far the one with the most number of branches. It originated in Turino and I had mine in Milan. It is even available in the USA! In addition, there are seasonal flavors as well as monthly flavors.  Torn between so many flavors, I chose a pairing of Sicilian pistachio and dark chocolate sorbet with dark chocolate bits.  First, I must tap myself on the back for the most delicious pairing.  That said, the pistachio was oozing nutty flavor and had a little rough texture.  The dark chocolate sorbet blew my mind because I could. not. tell. it was sorbet at all.  It was rich and creamy all the same.  And the cone was a waffle cone which was delicious.  I don't like the wafer type.

The first gelato of my trip.  Memorable. 
2. Caffe Miretti
Apparently Caffe Miretti is one of the most popular caffes in Turin and a must if you’re Torinese. This caffe has a nostalgic old-school style that you could hang and savor local flavor. I tried the Fior di Panna, which was essentially a milky cream flavor.  It was rather sweet, like condensed milk, and melted quite easily.  It got a little too much for me midway, but I finished it anyway.

Address: Corso Giacomo Matteotti, 5 10121 Turin, Italy

Tel: 011 533687

3. Riva Reno

This is another popular chain highly recommended.  I tried a combination of Pistachio and Pear sorbet.  Again, it was spot-on complementary.  I loved the refreshing taste of the pear sorbet that also wasn't too sweet.  Here, the pistachio was really full of nutty flavor.  The texture was smoother than Grom but I daresay the flavor was much robust at Riva Reno and my prefered choice.

Address: Viale Col di Lana, 8 20136 Milan, Italy (google for others)
Tel: 02 89077147

4. Perche No!
This is a Florence gelateria, just off the main strip and easily found.  I wanted to go to a different one but it wasn't open at 10am.   Yes, I wanted a gelato at that hour!  At Perche no, I got the seasonal flavors - cachi (persimmon) and marron (chestnut) for only 2 Euros! By far the cheapest.  Oh they were soo good.  Cachi was a little bit sweet but still I could taste the persimmon.  The marron was the winner though.  It had a rich, powdery but smooth texture and had a roasted note.  Oh I want one now.

Address: Via dei Tavolini 19/r, Firenze, Italy 50122
Tel: +39 055.2398969

counter guy

Pistachio and Dark chocolate sorbetto
Pistachio and
Dark Chocolate
Sorbet from Grom

Gelato Fior di Panna – Latte fresco, Zucchero, Panna fresca
Fior di latte
from Caffe Miretti

riva reno
Pistachio and Pear
from Riva Reno

Cachi and Marron Gelato
Persimmon and Chestnut
from Perche No!

Gelato (Northern Italy), a set on Flickr.

Interestingly, here are a few things about gelato in Italy:

i. the recommended ones are usually off the main tourist strip;
ii. these are almost always labeled "artisanal"
iii. so these artisanal gelaterias always have a laboratorie look and feel and that means their gelato in steel vats and covered, unlike the ones along the main streets with exposed colored mounds of creamy goodness just shouting out at you

Just some random thoughts :)

Travels: Innocenti Evasioni (Milan, Italy)

I was prepared for Innocenti Evasioni's rather inconvenient venue. It would still take about 25-30 minutes on foot from the nearest Metro station and I certainly would not do that in the dark. As it turned out, taking a cab was the wise thing to do.

The restaurant was hidden in a small dark alley with no giveaway signs of its presence in a quiet neighborhood and dodgy people peppered along the corners. When we arrived at the address, our kind cab driver, despite of our language barriers, gestured toward the alley and told us to head there. I could hear his engine waiting for us, until we disappeared. What a kind old man!

Beyond the location, I found the food was pretty intriguing. The cuisine to me, was a mix between nouvelle and traditional cuisine. Not everything was a hit, but at the minimum, it was fresh local ingredients, there was excellent presentation and interesting ideas on the plate.

Small and cosy, the restaurant could be a romantic option if you are looking for one.

Bread platterBread BasketAmuse BouchePumpkin, Fresh Cream and Poppyseed cracker
Pumpkin, Fresh Cream and Poppyseed crackerHomemade pasta with amberjackAmberjackPetit Four

Innocenti Evasioni (Milan, Italy), a set on Flickr.
via privata della Bindellina, 20155 Milan, Italy 
+ 39 (0)2 33001882 |

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Travels: 'ino (Florence, Italy)

When you are in Florence and near the Uffizi Gallery, you have to stop for lunch at 'ino. Forget the touristy quick service restaurants along the main streets.  Just because 'ino isn't all that visible, it is just about 50 meters around the corner and I guarantee you a really awesome sandwich for just 8 Euros that includes a glass of wine!

The cafe is modern and small, not good for big groups.  The main con was the language barrier.  There was no English menu or English-speaking staff.  So, I took a gamble with my order and ended up with a delicious sandwich that was filled with a chunky spread that was made with tuna in oil and chopped sundried tomato bits binded with fresh cream cheese. A little oily but really delicious anyway.  The sarnie was huge but in reality, the ciabatta bread was full of air pockets so it remained light, crispy and airy and didn't feel too heavy in my stomach despite eating all of it.   Perfect lunch that would fuel the rest of the afternoon.


'ino (Florence, Italy), a set on Flickr.

7r via de' Georgofili
Florence, Italy

Friday, November 11, 2011

I miss Tokyo!

Taking a break from all the Italy post, here are some pictures from a short (too short) trip to Tokyo.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Travels: Ristorante Porto di Savona (Turino, Italy)

Now, I seldom use the word "best" to describe food because I feel it's a special word that inevitably builds up expectations and should be used with outmost respect and caution. So if I tell you that I had my best pesto ever in Italy, you probably should listen up and take notes.

Ristorante Porto di Savona, recommended by the Chowhounders and NYTimes, was the culprit made pesto a thing of the past.  I don't think I could ever taste something as simple and yet as unforgettable as its pesto tagiatelle.
The pesto pasta was plated in a mound onto a big plate with no frills at all. It had a dull green hue that really didn't look too appetizing. It was glossy from the olive oil and that contributed to a thick mouthfeel. I found the pesto to be blended using good amounts of pinenuts that weren't too finely grounded so there was some texture, and good amounts of parmesan cheese to lend a smokey savoury hint. There were moments I thought the cheese was a little overpowering, but not before the basil came sneaking up and the game continued. I guess it boiled down to 'balance' and the dish was an epitome of that. The first bite rendered me speechless and the last bite took forever because I wanted it to last. 

Sounds too good to be true? Well, I also had the best tiramisu as well, at this restaurant. OMG, the cheese layers were thick and creamy but not cloying. I could tell it was 100% mascarpone and not any bastardized versions that uses whipped cream and/or add eggs. The sponge layer had sufficient "wetness" that didn't threaten to disintegrate, and contains hints of alcohol and coffee. The first bite rendered me speechless, AGAIN!

Not surprisingly, we tried to have dinner the first night without a reservation and was turned away because there was no spots available, despite my initial assumption that the empty-ish restaurant should be available.  I learnt that Italians eat rather late too, as I was there at about 8pm and the restaurant empty sans a couple of tables.  So I made a reservation on the spot for the next day.  If you are ever in Turino, don't go and order the pesto.  Because life will never be the same again after that.

Ristorante Porto di Savona
Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 2
10123 Torino, Italy

Tel: 011 8173500

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Travels: La Morra Cuneo, Italy

Using Alba as the home base, we drove around the neighbouring towns and explored La Morra and the Barolo wine region.  Lunch was settled at a local osteria, called L'osteria del Vignaiolo.  The little town was, well, tiny.   It had a church, this restaurant and a small but nice looking hotel.  That was about all of town, all within 50 meters.  Ahh, such is the charm of the countryside, I suppose.

We were there in Alba for one thing and one thing only.  White Alba truffles.  Just picture my glee when we got seated next to the truffle.  I was basking in parfum au tartufo and loving it! 

Lunch began with a simple dish of seared scallops and fresh porcini mushrooms.  The robust flavor of the mushrooms melded with the sweet scallops.  A good starter indeed.

Then it was a simple dish of plain ravioli stuffed with cheese and a butter sauce, followed by additional shavings of white truffles.  It was Euros 4.50 / gram for that white nugget.  I had about three grams and was in heaven momentarily. We also had a half-bottle of Barolo red wine, the region's specialty, very easy to drink and not too dry. 

We shared a dessert of apple tart and ice cream.  Simple but done well.  Listen to this - Euro 7 for a dessert that came with a glass of bubbly Asti wine.  That was some good value!

By the way if you are curious how this whole truffle thing works, here's what would happen:
1. server would take the truffle and a digital scale to record the pre-shaved weight.
2. server then starts shaving the truffle on your dish.
3.  you (the customer) then tells server to stop when you think you would have enough.
4. server takes the weight of the now-shaved truffle and you will be charge for what was shaved off.

That's all there is to it really, in addition to a nice budget of course ;)

To end off, here's a shot of La Morra region, just a few meters away from the restaurant.

Frazione Santa Maria, 12 
12064 La Morra Cuneo, Italy 

Tel: +39 0173 50335