Lessons learned in Italy:
- Buy bus tickets at tobacco (tobacchi) shops, which is especially important in Rome where you shouldn’t expect to find good trams or subways
- When you see fixtures in Rome that look like fire hydrants but with a spout like a faucet that is always on, use your finger to plug the faucet and drink from the water that shoots out the hole in the top – really important in the hot Italian summer
- Bring cash to pay for local taxes at each place you stay because they don’t accept credit card for that part of the bill
- Like in many European cities, they will ask if you want to purchase a bag at the market
- “Always weigh the pineapple” – all produce must be weighed and get a sticker printout before getting into the checkout lane
- Generally, traffic signals are suggestions, not rules
- 5-cheese blends are an American invention – Italians don’t mix their cheese and our blends are mixing cheeses typical in completely different regions of Italy
- Italians enunciate the “e” in “grazie” (grah-tzee-eh)
- Buy your Italian leather jackets in the street markets in Florence.
Milan, Tuesday 7/1/14, Dinner at Trattoria del Nuovo Macello
Found this little gem off the beaten path. Trattoria del Nuovo Macello was packed, and we were the only English-speaking people there. The woman, who we are pretty sure is the owner, was very friendly and helpful as we enjoyed some traditional Milanese cuisine. I had the risotto and Luke had the salumi to start. We both enjoyed La “Cotoletta” del Nuovo Macello.
Milan, Wednesday 7/2/14, Walking Tour of Brera
We booked this tour through Viator under the small group option, but I guess we were the only ones to pull through, so it ended up being a private tour. Even better, they were trying to build up to the 2015 world fair in Milan, so they were really looking for feedback and testing out new stops.
- Panificio Pattini via Solferino 5 – sampling of small pastries
- Parma & Co – prosciutto di Parma and culatello, both delicious and the owner even gave us an extra helping of the amazing culatello. They also served some beer alongside (Menabrea e Figli).
- Amorino Gelato Naturale – Strawberry and pistacchio gelato. The tour guide told us this was one of the more common / well-known gelaterias, but that it was the most consistently solid of what they had tried.
- Pastificio Moscova – Some yummy cheese lasagna and two kinds of meatballs. Apparently this place started as a pasta shop only and then evolved into a catering and take-out shop. Another very friendly owner served up way more food than was necessary.
- Enoteca Cotti – A wonderful enoteca in Brera. The owner was clearly very passionate about his job and went into great detail about grappa. We sampled the one shown, which is from the Piedmont region. Loved the grappa here, which is not what I was expecting based on prior experience. This reminded me more of a tequila or whisky tasting.
- There was also a cute spot where we stopped for an aperitivo, but I can’t remember the name.
- Priuci – Milano style pizza is basically a thick bread with some sauce and cheese. Seeing as we lean more Neapolitan style, this wasn’t our favorite, but it’s how the locals in Milan prefer it.
On the recommendation of the tour guide, we opted to walk through Navigli for a proper aperitivo. You buy a drink, and you have full access to a buffet of food. They need to adopt this tradition in the US. I enjoyed lots of Aperol spritzes. This was also by far the best aperitivo we had on the trip based on the food selection.
Rome, Thursday 7/3/14, Dinner at il Convivio Troiani
We decided to class things up for a night in Rome and found this 1 Michelin Star restaurant hidden down a back alley. Careful trying to get there since the cobblestone was not friendly to heels. We enjoyed some rosé prosecco to start! Also, don’t just ask for “water” here. Their water list is multiple pages long. Below is a view of the restaurant front and some of the courses of the grand tasting menu, which we paired with wine. The fig on the mackerel sandwiches was delicate and delicious. The Gorgonzola crème brûlée with a port gelato was also quite notable. And even though it wasn’t on the menu, the palate cleanser of watermelon ice with white chocolate whipped cream and chunks of chocolate that were made to look like watermelon seeds was lovely!
Rome, Friday 7/4/14, Walking Food Tour of Rome
Unfortunately, we didn’t luck out for another private tour. After gathering in Campo dè Fiori, we embarked on another food tour which was a nice way to sample Rome, but slightly disappointing after our Milan experience. The stops and foods didn’t seem as hand-picked, and the guide was not as passionate about it.
- Antica Norcineria Viola – Meat! Sampled some typical salami
- Ruggieri – Tasted some mozzarella di bufala and Pecorino Romana at a local market. The best mozzarella isn’t refigerated, which is only possible when extra fresh. Rome is only an hour from Campania.
- Antico Forno Roscioli – Had some pizza mortadella and pizza tomate at a place that has been featured more than once in the New York Times. In Rome they typically sell pizza from long rectangular sheets by weight, and they just cut off however much you specify.
- Franco E Cristina Pizzeria – Onto the Jewish ghetto for some fried risotto balls and stuffed zucchini flowers. The zucchini flowers were a little too fried for my taste, but the risotto balls with tomato sauce and stuffed with mozzarella were great comfort food.
- Ristorante Sette Oche in Altalena – Crossing the river from the Jewish ghetto to Trastavere, we each got a portion of Pasta all’amatriciana, only authentic if done with bucatini (as done here) or mezzi rigatoni.
- Fior di Luna Il Gelato – Last stop for some of the best strawberry (fragola) gelato we had. We had more gelato than I care to admit. It’s really hot in Italy in July.
Naples, Saturday 7/5/14, Lunch at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele and Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba
Onward to Napoli! Stopped for lunch at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele, which is famous for its appearance in Eat Pray Love. Then we walked along via Tribunali to see all the pizzerias and stopped for more at what is thought to be one of the first pizzerias in the world. Pizzeria da Michele definitely won out over Port’Alba, though. It was also amazing how quickly they churned out the pizzas there.
Praiano (Amalfi Coast), Sunday 7/6/14, Dinner at Il Pirata
Il Pirata was one of the main restaurants on the walk down the cliff-side to get to the beach. We stopped for dinner and started with Le Colture Rosé vino spumante brut and bruschetta because the tomatoes just taste better here. For the mains, we went with seafood pasta, lobster, and local fish. Also, lemons are everywhere in Amalfi.
Florence, Monday 7/7/14, Aperitivo at Kitsch
This was rated highly on the lists I found, but we were disappointed after the amazing aperitivo in Milan. The food and selection was just not as good or fresh and the service was very lacking.
Florence, Tuesday 7/8/14, Chianti Wine Tour
- Castello de Poppiano Guicciardini in the Colli Fiorentini – The first stop was this castle where they make wine and olive oil. We sampled the Frantoio and Laudemio olio extra vergine di olive, Il Cortile 2011 Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Riserva 2011 Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Tricorno 2009 Toscana, and Vin Santo della Torre Grande.
- Fattoria Corzano e Paterno – Stopped at a local cheese shop for a variety of pecorino (sheep cheese). The first was the Marzolino, which is like a mozzarella and is not aged. Then we sampled a special pecorino from this shop that is processed like a goat cheese and covered in poppy seeds (rocco papavero). Finally a slightly aged version similar to parmesan but done in the Tuscan way instead of Romano. This was served with schiacciata, a flatter version of focaccia.
- La Cantinetta di Rignana Ristorante – Had a Toscana lunch with a beautiful view and delicious food. 5 types of bruschetta (including chicken liver paté, porcini, and truffle), fresh spaghetti, and the grilled meat platter (sausages, spareribs, guinea fowl and chicken). All done in the typical simplistic Tuscan style.
- Fattoria Cinciano – The winemaker here is only 30 years old and has already received a number of awards for his wine. He specializes on purely sangiovese, so his wines can’t receive the DOCG but instead qualify as one of the super Tuscans. We sampled the Pietra Forte Toscana 2009, Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Chianti Classico 2011
- Antica Macelleria Falorni, Greve in Chianti – Salame con Toro Chianino, Salsiccia con Cinghiale (wild boar), Finocchiata di Montefioralle
We got the leftover bread, cheese, and meats! We paired this with the wine and olive oil we bought from the tour (Cinciano’s Chianti Classico and the Guicciardini Tricorno) along with some items from a nearby market for dinner back at the AirBnB apartment overlooking Piazza del Duomo.
Florence, Wednesday 7/9/14, Cooking Class
This was a basic cooking class, which was selected so as not to intimidate my boyfriend. We started in Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo to pick up fresh meat and cheese. Then we went back for a quick lesson in balsamic vinegar and bruschetta appetizer. In the class, we learned how to make Florentine Bolognese sauce (no cream) with hand made tagliatelle and tiramisu for dessert. Not sure that I learned much, but I think it was at the right level for my boyfriend, and it was a fun way to get in another meal.