Monday, July 24, 2017

Venchi - Milan, Italy

Venchi - visited June 25 and June 27, 2017, Milan, Italy
There's no way I would be in Italy and not get gelato. Especially when I'm there during summer and it's hot. My fondest memory of eating gelato was another hot day in summer when I was in Florence many years ago. Nothing had ever tasted so good.
But I was willing to keep an open mind in Milan to see if I could get something equally yummy. It's Italy and it's gelato - 'nuff said.
Venchi appears to be a chain, like a cross between an Italian Baskin Robbins coupled with the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. I didn't let myself look at the shelves of chocolate when I found a stand-alone Venchi shop. I was there for the gelato and nothing was going to get in the way.

There was a Venchi near my hotel and I confess, I went back there on two separate days. I probably should've gone for each day I was in Milan. Aw, hindsight.
The first time I went, I got the cappuccino gelato. I don't drink coffee but I like coffee-flavored ice cream. I could've been greedy and gotten a larger size but past experience with the richness of gelato led me to get the small. When something's really excellent, you don't need a lot. Just enough to satisfy but not make you feel sick.
Cappuccino gelato

Cappuccino gelato
Which, of course, gave me an excuse to go back a second time on a different day to try another flavor. I'm not entirely sure because I can't remember the Italian name but from the taste, I think I got a Nutella gelato or something close to it. There was chocolate and there was hazelnut. In my mind, that always equals Nutella. And wowza, it was so good. Smooth, creamy, perfect flavor. Italians know how to do gelato.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Restaurant Review: Alla Cucina delle Langhe, Milan, Italy

Alla Cucina delle Langhe - dinner on June 27, 2017 Milan, Italy
This is the restaurant we went to for dinner after our second and final day of our work meetings, also conveniently within walking distance of both our Milan office and the hotel we were staying at, located on Corso Como.
First, second and third, let me tell you up front, this is probably one of, if not THE, best meal I’ve ever had in Italy. And I’m including my previous trips to Florence, Rome and Venice in that group where I’ve had some pretty delicious and amazing food. This one topped them all. That’s saying something.
So I will save myself from gushing about everything and repeating all the superlatives I can find – like tasty, superb, gastronomic delight, epic culinary peak, amaze-balls delicious greatness – by simply laying out what we had so that if you were find yourself in Milan, it will be worth every effort to find this restaurant and dine sumptuously.
We had appetizers but I skipped those. You know I like to save room for dessert so I focus on entrée and beyond. At first I, along with the rest of my coworkers, waffled back and forth between the varied menu choices. Pasta? Steak? Some of us hadn’t had a good steak in awhile (my Holsteins burger didn’t count). There was also a risotto option on the menu that sounded good. Simona, our Milan host, took pity on our indecision and negotiated with the restaurant staff to serve us a combination of dishes family-style.
Fried Zucchini
It was the perfect solution. First came the best risotto I’ve ever had in my life. Perfectly cooked, perfect texture, perfectly seasoned with saffron, perfect in every way. I could’ve eaten bowlfuls of the stuff. They served us each a European-sized portion (meaning an actual single serving, not the double or triple portions common in Americanized restaurants). I have to admit it left me wanting more and for the first time in Milan, I wish they did serve more like American restaurants. Gastronomic greed was winning out.
Saffron Risotto
Fortunately, they soon followed with “fresh Tajarin pasta with piedmontese sauce” as the next dish to be shared around the table. If it was possible, it was even better than the risotto and definitely the best pasta I’ve had in my life (see the trend?). Fresh noodles perfectly cooked in perfectly cooked sauce. Amazing. I had another European-sized portion but this time I was grateful for it because now I knew to pace myself. Each dish coming out was so good and I had to resist the urge to overeat any one dish or else I wouldn’t have room for the next one.
Which turned out to be one of the most perfectly seasoned steaks I’ve ever had. Yes, the trend for “best meal ever” continued when they sliced succulent slabs of beef tableside, seasoned it expertly (and perfectly) then served it. The steak was more rare than I normally cared for but it was so beautifully seasoned that I enjoyed every bite. It was carved tableside by a man I think was the restaurant owner or manager. Super friendly guy who really cared that we enjoy the food and drink being served by his staff.
The manager or owner (?) carving our steaks

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If you’ve tracked what I’ve eaten, so far I’d had the risotto, pasta and steak. Good thing I skipped the appetizers. Which left just enough room for a half serving of a delicious tiramisu. Normally I’m not a big tiramisu fan but I was in Italy after all and after that stupendous meal, I figured if I was going to have tiramisu in Milan, I should have it here.
One of my coworkers ordered some kind of soup (butternut squash?)
It turned out to be the right call as that too was an excellent tiramisu. Too bad by then I didn’t have much room left so I could only eat a half portion before I stopped myself. I was at just right level of fullness, meaning I didn’t hurt, so I could look back on the meal with fondness but not guilt at having overeaten. Okay, I ate a lot but I didn’t overeat. At least not by my usual standards.
All in all, an incredible meal and for anyone who finds themselves in Milan, I highly recommend tracking down this restaurant and ordering the risotto or the Tajarin pasta or the steak. Or all three.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Restaurant Review: Pavarotti Museum Restaurant, Milan, Italy

Pavarotti Museum Restaurant - dinner on June 26, 2017
Duomo di Milano
I was in Milan for a 2-day meeting with our European team and at the end of our first day, we all gathered for a dinner arranged by our Milan-based team member at the Pavarotti Museum Restaurant. I hadn’t even known such a place existed. But the first view that struck me when we alighted from the taxi was the impressive structure of the Duomo di Milano or the Milan Cathedral. My favorite Duomo is in Florence but I was suitably impressed just by the outside of Milan’s Duomo. It was gorgeous. My biggest regret is I hadn’t known about it the day before when I was walking around and could’ve gone to see it as a tourist. Ah well, something for next time.
The Pavarotti Museum Restaurant was in the building next to the Duomo, on the 4th floor. You walk in and can do a tour of the rooms that had various paraphernalia and information about Luciano Pavarotti and his musical genius. If you’re a Pavarotti fan, it would be an enjoyable place for dinner combined with a little culture.

We were given a separate room for our group so I never really saw if there was a main room for the restaurant or how many people dined there on a given night. But the service was great and the food was delicious. 

24-month-old aged cheese

Appetizer sampler platter

Italian version of fried won tons

Prosciutto and spinach salad


Perfectly prepared pan roasted potatoes

See the music note in the risotto?

It was pasta again for me (hello….Italy); this time tagliatelle ragu or long ribbons of pasta in meat sauce. It wasn’t so much a tomato-based meat sauce like a Bolognese nor was it a carbonara sauce but somewhere in between. Whatever it was was again amazingly good. Portion size was perfect and despite it being pasta, which tends to sit heavily, because it was a reasonable portion size, I could savor it and, yes, still have room for dessert.
This time around, I had a good idea of what “tentazione al cioccolato” was so I wanted to try something different. “Flan al cioccolato col cuore caldo” looked promising and although the English translation on the menu said it was “chocolate flan warm-hearted”, I bet it wasn’t a flan like I would normally think of a flan as a custard dessert but that this was more like a molten chocolate cake, hence the “warm-hearted” billing. Fortunately, it appears I can speak Italian dessert menu as it turns out I was right. 
It was a molten chocolate cake served warm in a cool puddle of crème Anglaise. Yeah, it was as good as that sounded. Plus, remember that Italy is the home of my favorite Pernigotti cocoa. I don’t know if that’s what they used in this particular cake but the Italians know how to make good cocoa and good chocolate in general and that was reflected in this cake.

Besides the food the and company, I also enjoyed the post-dinner view as we left the restaurant and once again saw the Duomo di Milano, this time lit up against the night sky. Simply gorgeous. We also walked down the nearby gallery with its domed roof and architecture that, ironically, reminded me of the mall of shops at Caesars Palace in Vegas. Just more classy and not tacky. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Restaurant Review: Altopascio, Milan, Italy

Altopascio - dinner on June 25, 2017
For the next few posts, we now leave the US and head out to Europe. Right after Vegas, I flew back home just long enough to unpack, repack and head back out to the airport so I could catch my flight to Milan, Italy for a business trip. I arrived a day earlier because jet lag and I are not friends and I wanted time to acclimate to the local time zone.
Still water
I’ve been to Italy before but not Milan. It’s a very business-centric, Monday to Friday sort of city;I arrived Saturday night and ventured out Sunday so it was fairly quiet when I arrived. I spent most of the day walking around (okay, and napping because jet lag smacked me around) and ended up at a restaurant near my hotel for dinner. I’m not quite sure what the restaurant was actually called. It was Altopascio according to my check but I can't be sure. My Italian is almost non-existent. I speak gelato and that’s about it. (I did look it up later but the only reference to an Altopascio I could find in Milan was at a different address and according to yelp, had closed.)
Most of the restaurants I’ve seen in Milan and other Italian cities have primarily outdoor seating. At least the ones near my hotel did. Which is great because it made for good people watching. I passed by the opening of the restaurant, a server saw me and asked if I wanted a table, I said yes, she indicated a two-topper and I took a seat with a good view of watching people walk by.
I can’t be in Italy and not get pasta. It’s unthinkable. So I ordered pasta carbonara and it was delicious. Carbonara is often rich since it’s made with eggs and cream and this was no exception. But the ingredients were really fresh and the sauce was perfectly made. A bad carbonara is rich and heavy but very bland. This was a great carbonara and actually wasn’t too rich (or so I kept telling myself so I could keep eating it) and it definitely had flavor.

What I also like about dining in Europe is the restaurant portions aren’t too big. This one wasn’t too small either but just right, especially considering I had napped through lunch so I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. It left me with enough room to order dessert.
Now, with my Italian being almost nonexistent and I had turned off data roaming on my phone so I couldn’t look up what the dessert menu choices were, I took a chance that “Tentazione al Cioccolato” would be some sort of chocolate cake or at least something chocolate. Fortunately, I guessed correctly and I was served a piece of chocolate cake with some kind mousse and chocolate frosting. (After I got back to my hotel and logged onto the free wifi, I googled to find out the literal translation was Chocolate Temptation.)

When I took the first bite of cake, I almost regretted my choice. It must’ve just come out of the refrigerator and the first mouthfeel was of dry cake. Uh-oh. Fortunately, as in European people watching custom, I ate slowly and that gave the cake enough time to warm to outside air temperature (which was rather warm) and the cake righted itself to how it was meant to be eaten: soft cake, chilled mousse and creamy ganache frosting. I enjoyed the last bite more than the first. Still, for once, the entrée beat the dessert. That carbonara was quite excellent.