Valdobbiadene Will Deepen Your Love Affair with Prosecco

Prosecco, Valdobbiadene, ItalyWise

Prosecco wines of Valdobbiadene

It seems only fitting, with the holiday season, to devote a post to the standard-bearer of celebratory wines here in Italy – Prosecco. Until recently, I had been sloppy about my Prosecco knowledge. That is, until my partner and I took the forty-five minute drive from Treviso to Valdobbiadene. This town and area, my friends, is THE bullseye when it come to the gold standard for prosecco.

Prosecco continues to become all the rage outside of Italy.  But beware of what you’re buying!

I’ve been one of those people – you know, who gets excited just hearing the word prosecco, without really understanding the vast differences between what is being marketed as prosecco. I’ve learned there are plenty of differences, and a lot of the prosecco being exported is appealing to the general idea of prosecco, and not to the elegant subtleties. The good news is that most people really enjoy the prosecco they are buying at the local grocery or wine shop. But, come to Italy and spend a day in Valdobiaddene, and you might realize you’ve been short-changing yourself.

A day of tastings in Valdobiaddene will help you zero in on the style you like best.

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Coming to Treviso? Head to Hostaria dai Naneti for a Quick Bite with the Locals

Trevsio, Naneti, Italywise

Our “snack” was a board of sliced prosciutto crudo, a basket of bread and two glasses of wine – only 10 euro!

Treviso is chock-full of reasons (too numerous to list here, but coming in a subsequent post) to make it a stop on your tour of Veneto. It’s easy to leave the hordes of tourists in Venice and head to this incredibly civilized and elegant town, just 20 minutes north. With its river and canals running in and around the city center, Treviso, like Venice, is an ancient city. And, it’s the home of Prosecco. I joke that the waterway encircling the city surely must be made entirely of prosecco.

Recently we’ve latched onto one of Treviso’s prized gems – Hostaria dai Naneti. Dedicated locals flock here daily to queue up, and grab quick bites (cicchetti) and glasses of wine from a generous listing on the main board. On TripAdvisor, Hostaria dai Naneti currently is rated #2 out of 333 Treviso restaurants. I’d say that’s a pretty hearty endorsement. We found this place on our own one day, when strolling the city center. We spotted it, tucked in a small alley adjacent to the large Benetton store (headquartered in Treviso). People were spilling out of the Hostaria, drinks and cicchetti in hand, into the alleyway, where they were communing happily.

Treviso, Naneti, Italywise

Locals queue up for panini, boards of sliced meats, and glasses of wine (or a Spritz!)

Hostaria dai Naneti, dates back to the 900s and is reportedly the second oldest institution in Treviso. The name itself reflects the local dialect. Hostaria is a local variation on “osteria” which traditionally refers to a place of simple wine and local food. Some people might call it an Italian “pub” or “public house” (I call it a really cool, down to earth wine bar). “Naneti” is a local variation on “nanetti” which means dwarves. I’ll have to dig further to understand how dwarves inspired this Treviso institution.

Tons of locals choose Hostaria dai Naneti for a quick lunch, and often they return for “happy hour” later in the day, when they can wind down and linger. If you arrive during peak business, be patient, and be prepared to queue up – though understanding who is next in line can be a bit confusing. Fortunately this is mitigated by the incredible kindness and civility of the Treviso people. In other words, it may feel like you’re stepping into a bit of madness, but it’s a happy madness. The people running the hostaria are agile food and beverage artisans. A large wine “board” lists an ample selection of yummy wine, and a case of cicchetti (prepared small bites) and cured meats and cheeses make ordering easy.

Treviso, Naneti, Italywise

The Wine Board at Hostaria dai Naneti

Simone kindly volunteered to order for us. Two glasses of wine, a board of sliced prosciutto crudo, and a basket of bread, only set us back 10 euro. Hard to beat, right? A similar offering in California would have been at least $30. While this didn’t become our lunch for the day, it nicely sated our appetites, and quenched our thirsts after a morning strolling and shopping trip in Treviso’s city center. Life IS good!

 

Hostaria dai Naneti

Via Broli, 2, Treviso, Italia

Tel: 3403783158

Hitting the Jackpot for Venetian Cicchetti (Small Bites)

Cicchetti, Italywise

Cicchetti with baccalà

I can be a control freak, which at times can be at odds with spontaneity and seizing the moment. When I do quit trying to orchestrate life’s opportunities, some pretty great experiences have shown up in my life. Hence, this post…

We’ve recently relocated to the Veneto, and are living within a half-hour of Venice. We’ll still be maintaining the house in Umbria, but the Veneto is now our “home base”. So, just days ago, and after yet another day of unpacking and trying to settle into our new abode, friends called and invited us to meet them in Venice for drinks and cicchetti, which are Venetian “small bites”. We drove to Venice Mestre and took the train shuttle into Venice. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Frankly, I had to keep reminding myself that I’m one lucky fellow now to be able to do this kind of thing.

Having drinks and cicchetti is like breathing for Venetians. I’ve quickly became a devotee of the practice, after visiting some of the best establishments for these addictive “small bites”.

Cicchetti, Italywise

Perfectly hidden in an alley that seems to go nowhere, protecting the goldmine of cicchetti and ambiance

A good friend, who hails from an old Venetian family, urged us to visit Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso. It is so close to the Rialto bridge you might think it would be a major tourist trap. Thankfully it’s hidden from view of most tourists, several turns down a narrow alley which seems to be a dead-end. As we arrived this past Thursday night, a barren alleyway suddenly yielded a lively crowd spilling out the door of Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso, with drinks and small plates in hand. Inside, locals were queueing up to order the beautifully displayed cicchetti. The variety was immense, and at least half of the selection was seafood “themed”. Baccalà, or codfish, is the star of much cicchetti in Venice, and comes in many yummy variations. There were vegetarian options (e.g. mini eggplant Parmigiano), meat options (e.g. skewers with sausages and vegetables), and several cheese options (e.g. fried mozzarella with anchovies). I could have closed my eyes, and pointed blindly at the vast array of choices without being disappointed with any single dish. I ordered the skewers of grilled seafood, several polpette (meatballs) of tuna and ricotta, polpette with meat, and a couple of mini eggplant Parmagiano.

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A Special Insider’s View of the Food and Wines of Umbria

 

Umbria cuisine, ItalyWise

Recently I had the very good fortune to sit down with Elizabeth Wholey, who is a local expert in the foods and wines of Umbria. She is also a dear friend. Elizabeth has lived in Umbria for many years, and she carefully and painstakingly has done her detective work in understanding the history and craft of Umbrian food and wine. She has built important, long-lasting relationships with local food and wine producers – many who are gems hidden to the eyes of many people who visit Umbria. Elizabeth recently wrote Sustenance: Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland

A Guide to Farms, Markets, and Fairs in the Upper Tiber Valley in Sustenance, Elizabeth Wholey explores the Upper Tiber Valley and the ways in which its peasants fed and sustained themselves throughout history. Their ancient food traditions are still alive today, often with a modern twist, and are accessible to visitors as well as to the local populace. – available at Amazon.com

Elizabeth graciously agreed to do this interview for Italywise.com. I hope this will whet you appetite to learn even more!

You’re very passionate about the food and wines of Umbria, particularly of the Upper Tiber Valley. What, in your opinion, makes them so special?

Most people were poor in this part of the world until fairly recently. They subsisted on what they could grow, hunt, forage or barter, the growing season was short, and much of the terrain was mountainous. However, they made the most of what was available, and cooks took pride in what they created. These dishes are beloved, and are still found on local restaurant menus, often with a modern twist. People here are careful about what they eat and who they buy from. If a food product is not of high quality, a seller won’t survive. In other places local, seasonal, and sustainable are concepts that you fight for; here they are taken for granted, though vigilance has become necessary. People don’t want pesticides and herbicides in their soil.  

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Aperol Spritz – Signature Drink of Venice

The Aperol Spritz is THE Signature Drink of Venice

The Aperol Spritz is THE Signature Drink of Venice

We just returned from Venice where I officially I initiated my love affair with the Aperol Spritz, the signature drink of Venice. Ever since I overdosed on gin and tonics in my early twenties, I have avoided any type of cocktail that has the slightest bitter taste. I had tried an Aperol Spritz several years ago, without being impressed and without wanting to repeat the experience. Perhaps it was just bad timing and the wrong conditions. Fast forward to a suffocatingly hot and humid June day in Venice, when my mouth was screaming for something to revive me and to quench my thirst. This time, the Aperol Spritz was magical, and now I am a devotee. I probably shouldn’t confess this, but between the two of us, Simone and I consumed probably fifteen of these beauties during our three-and-a-half day stay in Venice.

If you’re not having an Aperol Spritz, along with cicchetti (small bites or a Venetian type of “tapas”), then you’re not getting into the swing of Venetian life. Making a meal of these small bites while enjoying a Spritz is quick and easy.

Aperol Ready for Mixing and Consuming

Aperol Ready for Mixing and Consuming

An Aperol Spritz is made of three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, and one part fizzy water. Add a slice of orange or lemon, and your ready to go. Normally you can find a Spritz for 3-4 euro, but expect to pay much more if you choose to sit in a popular tourist spot.

My New Favorite Tee Shirt from Elitre Concept Store in Venice

My New Favorite Tee Shirt from Elitre Concept Store in Venice

I returned from Venice with my witty new Spritz tee-shirt, which I found in the Elitre Concept Store. The store has two locations – one in the Dorsoduro, and the other close to the Rialto Bridge. Federica, who owns and runs the store, has curated the store selection with uniquely fashionable and fun items. You’ll find many items there to temp your whimsy.

 

 

Trastevere’s Antica Caciara delivers heavenly, fresh ricotta…and more.

Ricotta di Pecora - fresh sheep's milk ricotta

Ricotta di Pecora – fresh sheep’s milk ricotta

I’m going to gush. Fair warning.

Trastevere’s Antica Caciara is paradise on earth when it comes to gourmet cheese and cured meats. “Caciara” is an Italian word meaning “confusion, bedlam, hubbub, muddle; mess, disorder.” The experience inside this shop is full of energy – energy from customers queueing up to make sure they don’t miss out on the fresh sheep’s milk ricotta prominently displayed in one of the front windows. And, you’d better grab some when you see they have it, because it will definitely make you want to slap someone out of enthusiasm once you taste it. I can’t believe it’s less than five euro a kilo. No wonder it flies out the door.

Antica Caciara is the absolute best place for cheese, prepared meats and baccala.

Antica Caciara is the absolute best place for cheese, prepared meats and baccala.

But, there’s more, loads more – a vast assortment of artisanal cheeses, and every variety of cured meat you could hope for. At one entrance you practically have to shoulder your way past a huge display of guanciale, which is made from pork cheek or jowl, and is an essential ingredient (a preferred cut over traditional pancetta) in Bucatini all’Amatriciana. In case you don’t know, Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of Rome’s hallmark dishes, originating just outside of the city in the town Amatice in the Sabine Hills.

When I go to Antica Caciara, which is often, I load up on ricotta, a special spicy salame, and a salame with fennel. The people who run the shop couldn’t be more gentile. They recognize me now, and they always greet me warmly. What a great business to be delivering a big slice of culinary paradise to eager customers. If you’re in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, be sure to check it out, especially if you want to fill your bag for a gourmet picnic, and then head up the hill to see Bramante’s Tempietto, and one of the most spectacular panoramic views of Rome.

A profuse display of guanciale, an essential ingredient in Bucantini Amatriciana

A profuse display of guanciale, an essential ingredient in Bucantini Amatriciana

Baccala - Another staple in la cucina Romana

Baccala – Another staple in la cucina Romana

My Latest Italian Food Find – Agriturismo di Ivan

My new front runner of culinary delights is "Gnocchi di polenta", a discovery we made while visiting friends in Udine.

My new front runner of Italian culinary delights is “Gnocchi di polenta”, a discovery we made while visiting friends in Udine.

Thursday, February 5.

Today we visited friends in Udine, a two-hour train ride northeast of Venice. We left behind powerful, gusty winds, rain mixed with snow, and rising waters. I was happy to be inside the warm train, speeding out-of-town until the waters receded. Little did I know that our journey north would lead to the best dish I’ve had yet here in Italy.

Our friends took us to Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, deep in the countryside. This restaurant was heavily populated with locals and workmen. I felt as though I was slipping into a place largely unfrequented by tourists. In fact I felt as though I stood out quite blatantly.

Everything was rustic, and cozy. A mature fire was close by, and low, warm lighting made this a place where I wanted to linger well after the meal.

The menu was simple and incredibly inexpensive. I spied several items of interest. Our friends pointed out a specialty of the house, a gnocchi of polenta with smoked ricotta and speck (a type of ham) and insisted we try it. I shelved my usual low carb restrictions and jumped onboard. This turned out to be one of the wisest culinary decisions I’ve ever made.

I guess I was expecting typical gnocchi shapes, just made with corn flour. Instead, these gnocchi looked like little polenta “cubes” doused with shavings of the smoked ricotta and chunks of speck. I took my first bites and became speechless. I was so engrossed in this new culinary experience that my chatty left brain shut down. I just ate…and ate. I’ll be thinking about this dish for a long time, and a trip back to this area, just to partake of this polenta gnocchi, will be well worth it.

Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, in Friuli Venezia Giulia

This in no way should indicate that Agriturismo di Ivan is a one-trick pony. The cheeses and prepared meats will knock your socks off. The table wines are tasty, and the other pasta dishes, secondi and contorni (particularly the spinach in butter) are delicious.

We’re back on the train to Venice and to yet another fine dining experience at a favorite restaurant there – Osteria Anice Stellato.

A Coffee Please…the Italian Way

Un cafè dopo pranzo (a coffee after lunch).

Un caffè dopo pranzo (a coffee after lunch).

God, I love coffee, and Italy is paradise for me in this regard. On one hand, I pass up (most of the time) pizza, bread and pasta, because I am one of those crazy low-carb critters (it really works for me). If I passed up the incredible coffee here also…well, that just wouldn’t be right.

Having just returned from a brief trip to the States, and after having to depend on Starbucks for my daily “fixes”, I’m delighted to be back in coffee-Utopia. I had brunch at a great bakery while visiting South Carolina. The food was exceptional but I found the “American” coffee so foul that I was shocked something so awful would be served and consumed without a mass protest. How people could drink that stuff without wincing was beyond me.

You’re thinking I’m some kind of stuck-up coffee snob now, right? Think what you may, but the Italians have trained me to appreciate REALLY good coffee. And you can find it almost anywhere in Italy. My dear friend Arun, who has also spent ample time in Italy, and I often remark about the exceptional quality of a coffee or cappuccino at the Auto Grill – a chain of auto and truck stops all over Italy. Stop by most truck stops and service stations in the States and you’ll usually get something that will perk you up, but it won’t make your taste buds sing. Stop by an Auto Grill for a coffee and your ire will surge realizing you’ve been cheated with most of the offerings back home.

People often quote “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” For me, this goes for coffee as well.

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Christmas Lunch at Marco G in Trastevere

My first Christmas in Rome was celebrated with a wonderful Christmas lunch at Marco G in Trastevere. Simone’s parents have been here visiting and we had been searching these last few weeks for a welcoming place whose menu would include some tasty traditional dishes. After reading many reviews on Trip Advisor, we took it for a test drive a few days before. We left this first “test” evening with a hearty thumbs up and a reservation secured for Christmas Day.

A delicious Gewurstraminer from the Alto Adige, by Roca Savina, is just one of an impressive list of 168 wines.

A delicious Gewurstraminer from the Alto Adige, by Roca Savina, is just one of an impressive list of 168 wines.

Located at Via Garibaldi, 56 in the immensely popular Trastevere area, the restaurant has a quaint exterior (with tables outside for warmer weather) and is adjacent to a couple of eclectic looking restaurants. We were welcomed with big smiles and we were quickly seated. We began with a Gewurstraminer from the Alto Adige, by Roca Savina – a delicious wine, full of character, yet very reasonably priced. This was just one of an impressive list of 168 wines that Marco has been steadily building based on research and feedback from customers.

While enjoying our wine, we perused the menu. We chose from the antipasti, which included a couple of seafood choices, a trio of bufala, cured meats, etc. I had the “carpaccio di salome con riduzione d’arancia”, thinly sliced salmone in a reduction of orange, and served atop a bed of shredded radicchio and lettuce.

Carpaccio di salome con riduzione d'arancia - my antipasto.

“Carpaccio di salome con riduzione d’arancia”- served atop a bed of shredded radicchio and lettucse was my antipasto.

As for their pasta dishes, Rome should be proud, with an amatriciana that you’re sure to remember for a long time. Simone wisely chose that, and I was fortunate to snatch a small spoonful of the sauce.

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Baylon Cafe – A Favorite Hangout in Trastevere

My favorite Caesar salad, with a orange mayonnaise dressing. Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) pasta for Simone.

My favorite Caesar salad, with a orange mayonnaise dressing. Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) pasta for Simone.

Baylon Cafe, at Via di San Francesco a Ripa 151 in Trastevere, has quickly become one of our favorite hangouts in Rome. Just a short walk up from the Number 8 tram stop on the Viale di Trastevere, you’ll find a welcoming cafe that has a wonderfully eclectic menu, great wines, and a very friendly and attentive staff. Lots of locals and tourists come here to have a coffee, a glass of wine, a light bite or something more substantial. The menu offers something for everyone, whether you’re vegan or vegetarian, or an omnivore like me. And, it’s pretty creative. My new favorite is the Chicken Caesar Salad (with an orange mayonnaise dressing). A close second is the Moroccan Eggs. Check out Baylon’s menu to get a sense for the artistry and variety of their culinary creations.

Both the decor and the music are eclectic. Old doors, saw-horses, and a mix of chairs create the tables and seating. I’m not sure how to characterize the music, but it has a definite jazzy, western influence.

It’s easy to find a place inside to park yourself with your laptop while using the wireless network. What a great place to have a glass of wine and get some work done, or catch up on emails. It’s reasonably priced. For me, it satisfies on all levels. It’s rated 4 out of 5 stars on Tripadvisor.com, with the only standout criticism I see being “slow service”. This hasn’t been our experience. Just the opposite. And, if you do have to wait just a bit, because this is a popular place, remember you are in Italy, and part of the journey is learning to not be in such a rush!

Baylon Cafe is Funky, Friendly, and Delicious

Baylon Cafe is Funky, Friendly, and Delicious

Outside Baylon

Artful tables and seating is made from old doors, saw-horses, and an eclectic mix of chairs.

Inside Baylon

 

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