The Italy MMXIV extravaganza got off to a blistering start as the intrepid duo of chef Nancy Silverton and driver Michael Krikorian zoomed around northern Italy in a nearly frenzied fashion, dining at six restaurants in the first 57 hours and amassing seven Pirelli stars in the process.
Rebounding from last year's Italy adventure, where, in the first three days, the two came close to being banned by the International Dining Federation, Group Formula One for disastrous restaurant and menu selections, this year's saw the couple deftly weave a blazing trail of dining satisfaction.
The First Report:
The first lunch, haphazardly selected as we rented a red Factory Fiat at Milan's Malpensa airport was a place we had never heard of until it was vigorously promoted by fabric mogul - and friend - Jason Asch as the "best of the best" in this entire region. Me, I'm thinking what the heck does the fabric guy know about the "best of the best'? Turns out, he was right.
Located in Brusaporto, a few kilometers east of our home base of Bergamo, Da Vittorio is one of the most celebrated restaurants in Italy, one of 11 in the nation with three Pirelli stars.
But, even while seated in Da Vittorio's charming garden and handed menus we still don't know this. However, it soon dawns on us we are somewhere special. The impeccable service, the bread tray, the amuse, all have us baffled.
"Is this a three star?" Nancy asks.
"I don't know. It sure seems like it, right?"
Then my pasta comes and it's all over. A half of lobster nestled against some long strands of pasta that is so good I close my eyes for over three seconds.
We split a main course of lamb loin that is of a rarefied quality.
At the table next to ours, a family of four are just about giddy as the youngest, a girl of 14, 15 or so, gets her main; a wooden platter about two feet by two feet mostly covered with Da Vittorio's salivating take of veal Milanese. Her family takes a picture of her with chef Enrico Cerea and the platter topped with lemon wedges. I even take a picture of her and the chef. Later, when another platter appears I say "Enrico, it's for the girl." Everyone laughs. It's that type of three star.
We leave, just a few hours after landing in Italy, thinking we mighta already had the meal of the trip.
Four of our next five meals are at Pirelli one stars. They're all very good. Here, briefly, are some highlights.
Our first dinner was Osteria della Brughiera in Villa d'Alme, highly recommend by Philly chef Jeff Michaud. We dined outside again, this time with thunder and lightening putting on a dazzling performance. Milk-cooked pork loin was a highlight.
The next night was at another Jeff Michaud joint called Frosio in Alme. It was superb. A report on a single bite might be coming soon. But, maybe not. so I'll just say it was a quail with mashed potatoes porcini and foie gras.
By the way, if you ever go to Bergamo, we very highly recommend staying at the Hotel Petronilla in the old city. The room was tight - even had a leather love seat that resembled a Mel Ott glove - and the manger, Uta, a charmer. About 140 euro a night.
The next day, we drive on in the red Factory Fiat - by now called the "Crimson Glide" - about 90 minutes east to the city Verona, which, to my delight - and surprise - is named after a server at Pizzeria Mozza.
We go to another one star called, Osteria Fontanina which on this day did two covers for lunch, both who you probably know. I had a "cappuccino" of peas and cod, which as bad as that sounds, well, if you're out that way, give it a shot.
The last one star was a place outside of Bologna called Amerigo 1934 in Savigno where we went twice last year and might go back this year. That satisfying. Nancy had goat, I had rabbit, but the highlight, as it was last year, was a simple dish or tortellini with cream, Parmesan and prosciutto. So good. We spent the night at one of their five delightful rooms. 80 euro a night.
But, back to Verona. I gotta tell you about this rain storm there. .Nancy is at a clothing store, some high-end little boutique and she's buying a particularly lovely dress, and a scarf. So they need her passport to get this special tax deal at the airport. Don't ask. They just need the passport. Thing is the passport is in the Crimson Glide parked underground about 3/4 of a kilometer away.
How much you save with the passport? After some computer digging, turns out 55 euro.
"I'll go get it."
I start walking, get about 50 meters and a monsoon not dropped since the Second Crusades hurls down from the skies. It's like Zeus has hired 10,000 day laborers to spill buckets of water on downtown Verona. The throngs on the narrow main, pedestrian-only street rush to the meager awnings of the stores like they are avoiding a drone strike. Pakistanis mysteriously appear selling five-euro umbrellas. I walk on, determined to get that passport, determined to do what no human being would do for Nancy under these conditions. Tourist stare at me. They'll have a story for the folks back in Dusseldorf. "This man, had to be an American. was happily walking through the deluge like he was Gene Kelly."
Past Verona's Coliseum, (a very nice one, indeed, if a bit rustic), past the main square, past some arch that's gotta be famous, I make it to the parking structure, three, four kilos of rains attached to my dark sports coat. I find the passport and begin the journey back. I buy a five-euro umbrella from a guy from Karachi. Yeah, I asked, 'Where you from?"
I open it, but it's so flimsy, I fear it might be ripped to shreds before I can hold it for Nancy on the walk back so I close and walk in the rain holding a closed blue-plaid umbrella. .
By now, no one see this as the streets are abandoned. The place has an eerie feeling, like East St. Louis on a dreary Sunday morning. With all the water attached to my sopping clothes. I must be nearly 97 kilos.
The rains ease off. It's still coming down, but it's not as angry. I make it to this boutique. The workers look at me like I just emerged from a lagoon. We do the paper work. We leave.
On the walk back to the car, I hold the umbrella for the lady. I tell her my tale of the walk to get the passport. She says "I know you're the only one who would have done that for me."