Emilia-Romagna

Locanda Mariella {Calestano} – The Perfect Meal

Locanda Mariella eggsWhy are we here?  How did we get here?  What exactly made Kim Kardashian famous?  When is an egg no longer an egg?  I feel like starting this one like Anthony Bourdain starts some of his shows, with deep, philosophical nonsensicalness that grabs your attention and never lets go… until commercials.  Its the perfect prelude to what’s to come, whether its “The best soup in the world” (Vietnam – last episode), “Best Duck Feet I ever had” (Beijing), or “Best Meal I ever had” (French Laundry).  Because somehow “The Perfect Meal” or “Best Egg Dish I ever had” would simply get lost in the shuffle of this blog if I dont start with a deep Kim Kardashian question.  Makes sense?  I thought so

Locanda Mariella OutsideWhat makes a perfect meal?  When you are hard-pressed to find any little detail that worked against your enjoyment of the meal.  From the food, the host, the wine, the room, the environment, there is absolutely nothing negative I can say about Locanda Mariella.  And while I usually ignore any imperfections in meals I greatly enjoy, its hard not to notice when everything goes right.  Sure someone may be bothered by its location, 1 hour south of Parma, in the North Apennine Mountains.  But to us the location just added to the fun and intrigue.  Especially considering it allowed us to visit the town of Felino, the home of “King of Salami” where the Italian version of Rick Steves tried to sell his entire Salumeria to us.  And on the way back, it was the magnificent Torrechiara castle which deserves its own post.Locanda Mariella - Strolghino and Cheese

Mariella is Slow Food at its finest.  In a way it reminded me of the one man show of Roberto in the village of Montisi, while the two got almost nothing in common except for their true Slow Foodness and that passion to deliver to you the finest ingredients available to them.  It almost felt like you are visiting a three Michelin star chef who retired in the mountains in the middle of nowhere and cooks to those brave and willing souls simple mountain food

Alloooora! At Mariella all this melodramatic stuff came from sampling just 5 dishes, with wine pairing and dessert, with each dish making me shake my head with hand gestures Andrew Zimmern style.  Mariella had a white truffle menu, black truffle menu, and a regular menu that included black truffle filled classics which we mostly took advantage of.  Did I use “Allora” there correctly?  Two hours into the meal I still did not have the heart to tell Mariella that we don’t speak Italian.  She explained every single detail of the meal in Italian. My entire Italian is solely based on menu Italian, so when I wanted to ask if the egg was baked at some point, I said “Umm.. Uovo..Al Forno?” Mrs Ziggy had a “Fish Called Wanda” moment, and now I occasionally have to speak Italian to herLocanda Mariella - Sformatino

Started with a very nice Strolghino salami with aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.  And continued with some of the staples on the menu, potato Sformatino with pumpkin cream, and polenta with cheese fondue and black truffles.  Both outstanding!  A great start aided by a fine Sauvignon Blanc/Gewürztraminer blend from Le Fate Furbe (Tuscany).  Mariella, I find out later from my host in Parma what I suspected all along, is a great sommelier

Two sunny side up eggs with black truffles would have been the best egg dish I ever ate even without the truffles.  It hits you like a smack in the face as soon as you taste the whites.  So rich, so creamy, so good I didn’t want to share.  I believe with my menu Italian understanding that she blends cheese instead of butter with the eggs.  A truly remarkable dish in every way, aided by black truffles which had more flavor than some whites we had on this trip. Gnochetti with light cream and black truffles, by far best Gnocchi of a few gnocchi dished we enjoyed on this trip.  Mariella matched a beautiful Nebbiolo with this course

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For the third course we shared another outstanding veal cheek with mashed potatoes (since we had polenta in the first course, she suggested mashed instead), along with a Voerzio Barolo 08.  I say “another cheek” as this was about the 4th of the trip.  Another thing we couldnt get enough of on this trip was Cachi (Perssimon).  We like eating it and we liked saying it.  Here it was a splendid chestnut mousse with a cachi purée, along with an excellent preserved sour cherries with ice cream

Simply Perfect!

Locanda Mariella - Polenta Locanda Mariella Beef cheeks Locanda Mariella Hezelnut cake Locanda Mariella Ice Cream Locanda Mariella road Locanda Mariella

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Emilia Romagna – The Final Leg

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Moving on to the final leg.  Without kids, 10 days is just about all we can stretch it these days.  First leg is here, next here.  This one features mostly Bologna where we settled down for 3 nights

Day 8 – Traffic, Vignola, Balsamic, Modena, Traffic

Left our B&B in Parma and started the day with a bang, as in a crash on the highway resulting in a standstill for close to an hour.  We were lucky enough then to meet with our new friend from Vignola who showed us his hometown including the striking castle of Vignola which we had for ourselves pretty much.

Villa San Donnino, a balsamic vinegar producer was the next stop and this was a real eye opener.  Essentially we quickly realized that we knew nothing about Balsamic Vinegar, and the tedious process of making  “Traditional” vinegar.  The icing on the cake was sampling traditional balsamic with ice cream.

Modena, another beautiful walkable city was the next stop.  The famous Modena Duomo was everything we imagined and more thanks to the guidance of our friend.  But not quite as emotional as the church we went to next, the entrance to Osteria Francescana, considered top 5 in the world.  But the highlight for us this day was lunch at Hosteria Giusti, one of the toughest tables in Italy.  Drove to out last B&B in Bologna in more heavy traffic and all sorts of Hertz drop-off adventures.  An ok dinner at Osteria La Traviata

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Day 9 – Bologna

We fell for Bologna fairly quickly.  The porticos, the door knobs, the people, the PORTICOS!   Everywhere you turn, porticos, porticos and more porticos all completely different.  We pretty much walked all over the historic center checking out the sites

Lunch was a good one at Sale Grosso, a newish popular seafood joint.  We try to make it to at least one seafood meal on every trip to Italy even in cities not particularly known for seafood.  Dinner was even better at Slow Food pick Osteria Bottega where we finally got  solid tasting of the local cuisine.

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Day 10 – Bologna

Started the day with a church and a special prayer for no earthquakes for the next 2 hours.  I dont ask for much.  We then climbed the the tower, Bologna’s symbol for magnificent views of the city.  Explored a bit more and settled for another long lunch at Via Serra outside of the center.  Our best meal in Bologna.  After that we just walked around, did some last minute food shopping in the area where Eataly is located and said goodbye.  Zero complaints about our B&B Antica Residenza d’Azeglio

Day 11 –  Fly home

Day 12 – Denial and Isolation

Day 13-15 – Depression

Day 16 – Calling in sick, feeding pigeons in the park

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Emilia Romagna – Little Miss Black Piggy

Italy 2014 868Moving on to the region I like to call Emilia Romagna, because that is what its called.  This is the middle leg of the trip, First leg is here, last still to come.  This is the most eclectic leg, featuring a variety of food filled fun…  Culatello, Prosciutto, Parma Cheese, Parma, castles, AT&T misadventures, wife finding out that all the shoes you packed have holes in them, and some of the underwear, mountains, black truffles, more great food including another “one of those meals”, and much more.

Day 5 – Cremona and Corte Pallavicina

We drove the two hours from our hotel in Piedmont to Cremona, a town (just outside ER) renowned for its Violin making.  Violins, violins and more violins everywhere you turn, workshops, Violin Museums, chocolates shapes like violins. A very interesting, clean, super bike friendly town.  As a New Yorker I was staring at old ladies riding bikes with great fascination in particular.  This could also be the home to the most underrated Duomo in Italy.  But all this fun came to a crushing halt after I called AT&T to upgrade my data service, only to have them disconnect everything completely.  Thankfully, I pre-programmed the GPS with most of the sites so we could get to the next destination.

Rest of the day was one of the highlights of the trip, Antica Corte Pallavicina where we spent the night.  The entire stay was like a dream, a very good one, and I will have a blog post when the time comes.  Corte Pallavicina is renowned for their Culatello, essentially prosciutto on crack, which can only be produced in that area in/near the town of Zibello.  Food lovers detour to visit their famous cellar featuring their black pig Culatello aged for Price Albert, Prince Charles, René Redzepi of Noma, Osteria Francescana in Modena and more.  Each one comes with a sticker who it belongs to.  We used their bikes to ride along the Po river, visited their famous black pigs, white cows, and had a wonderful dinner at their Michelin Starred restaurant, before a friend I met on Trip Advisor Forum joined us for the meetup we’ve been planning for a year

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Day 6 – The cheese producer, the meal, the castle

I arranged an early morning visit to CiaoLatte in Noceto, one of many Parmigiano-Reggiano producers in the area.  For a mere 10 euros we got a tour and witnessed the entire process of cheese making, along with a tasting of some of their products.  This is a small family producer that is very popular with local schools partly due to the efforts of the mother who turned into a Liza Minnelli song and dance routine when she just met us and found out we are from NYC.  More on CiaoLatte later

We then visited the town of Felino, known for the Felino Salami, dubbed “King of Salami”.  We had a little Felino tasting at a small Salumeria by the Rick Steves of Salumi salesmen who tried to sell us his entire store.  We wanted to visit the salami museum in the nearby castle of Felino but it was closed.  Although the splendid views from that castle didnt make us feel too bad.

Lunch was probably the most memorable meal of the trip at Locanda Mariella in the mountains.  A culinary ecstasy by a Slow Food legend.  If you understand Slow Food and seek it in your travels to Italy, it doesnt get any better than this.  After lunch, the magnificent Castle of Torrechiara was the obvious choice smack in the middle between Mariella and our B&B.  Dinner at Ai Due Platani was good but pales in comparison to lunch and other meals on the trip.

Villino Di Porporano, our B&B for the next two nights did the trick and more.  Highly recommend it

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Day 7 – Parma

Spent an entire day touring Parma.  Visited the magnificent Duomo, Farnese theater and the attached museum where we couldnt for the life of us find the exit when we were done.  The stunning Teatro Regio was unfortunately closed due to the Verdi festival rehearsals.  Salumeria Garibaldi treated us to a nice light lunch at one of their 3 tables.  Then we explored the big park and the city outside of the historic center which we found equally as fascinating.  Dinner was a good one at the ancient Cocchi

More to come soon.  Going shoe shopping….

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Categories: Emilia-Romagna, Italy | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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