So Long, Italy

It was a fun trip.

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Fancy Time: Osteria del Treno

When you’re far from home, distant connections don’t seem quite so distant anymore. I guess everything is relative. Eliza and I joined a couple of frogs for dinner one night during our stay in Milan. There was Rebecca, a former frog Austin intern (originally from Brazil) and there was Ben, a designer from frog San Francisco. Both of them were doing stints in Milan. We began the evening as acquaintances. By the end, it was friendship. It was nice to find friends so far away from home.

The restaurant was Osteria del Treno, apparently known for their association with the Slow Food movement. It was very meaty.

This pasta involved some sort of anchovy sauce. Very salty. Every time I look at this photo, my mouth waters at the memory.

Beef cheek. Even for me, this was a massive serving of meat. I had to say basta before I could get through it all.


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Standup Italian: Luini

We eat every day, yet few meals leave an indelible mark. On my last visit to Milan, my friend Rob took me to Luini as soon as I arrived. Located just behind the Duomo, Luini serves fried mini calzones called panzerotti. When jetlagged, there’s apparently nothing better than a little fried bread and a cold Coke. Add to that the fact that most customers eat standing up on the street just outside the place, and you have one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had.

I owe my return trip to not only Rob, but also my employer, who paid for my iPhone usage during my trip. This enabled me to Google “fried mini calzones” while we were in the area. A few minutes later, I was reliving my memory. Only difference: this time, the Coke was a Diet.

I had forgotten how much these things actually smell like donuts. You almost expect a sugary taste. This was one of the last meals this trip. I guess it’s not surprising that my pants were starting to feel a little tight by the time we got home.

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The Genius of Apertivo

We call it happy hour. To the Milanese, it’s apertivo. But in truth, the two aren’t that similar. Apertivo is more about the food than the drinks. People seem to nurse a single drink for hours while taking ample advantage of the generous all-you-can-eat spreads of food. It’s like having dinner…before you have dinner. The whole concept was right up our alley.

Here we have Frida’s generously sized negroni, ideally suited to a long stretch of grazing on potato chips and mini-sandwiches.

Once again, we broke the rules by sitting in this area that turned out to be reserved. Oh well, it had nice light and we can’t read the Italian on those little tent cards.

The Obika Mozzerella Bar had one of the more impressive (and most frequently replenished) apertivo selections. We took advantage, to the tune of about three servings. Dinner followed, naturally.

Our fanciest apertivo was probably the one at Ricci Milano. Our €10 drinks bought us access to prosciutto, pizza, mini calzones, and little sausage balls. Not a bad way to unwind after a day at the office.

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Non Solo Lesso

As luck should have it, my friend Leo happened to be in Milan while we were there. Leo lives in Shanghai, so this was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. When he suggested dinner at a restaurant that was “known for meat stew” and “not for vegetarians,” I knew it was going to be a great night.  Sure enough, it was one of my favorite meals of the trip.

This dish is called stinco di maiale al forno. When the waiter tried to describe it in limited English, he pointed at his calf. According to Google Translate, it means “knuckle of pork,” but another web site called it a shank. Anyway, it’s leg-related. I especially appreciated the prominent bone, just in case you forgot you were in a carnivorous zone.

Eliza had pumpkin ravioli, which was lovely, if a little lacking in its meat quotient. To keep things equal, karmically speaking, I asked our cab driver to run over a squirrel on the way home. But he didn’t speak English very well either.

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Why Don’t Tourists Like Milan?

For one, a lot of it looks like this:

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What is Wrong With American Food?: Antica Trattoria della Pesa

I’m not afraid to generalize. What’s the point of travel if you don’t reflect on the little things that make us different?

So here’s an odd thing about the Milanese. They won’t give you specific restaurant recommendations. They’ll send you in a certain direction, perhaps to a particular street, but when it comes an actual restaurant, they are curiously mum. Luckily, I have some American co-workers who had preceded me in Milan and gave me some tips before we left. Our first recommendation, Antica Trattoria della Pesa, was right on the money.

This is the dish that inspired the title of this post. This was not like any caprese salad I’ve ever had in my life. The tomatoes reminded me of the ones my grandma grew in her garden. Things were off to a good start in Italy. But this dish also bothered me.

Ingredients of this caliber are simply not available in most of the U.S. Why is this? Why can’t we grow tomatoes like this? How has our agriculture become so alienated from our taste buds? I know a lot of people will say, “If you want fresh tomatoes, you need to grow them yourself.” And yes, I’m somewhat sympathetic to this point of view. But fundamentally, I think it’s a lame answer.

I don’t make my own television, computer, or cardboard box. There are other people in the world who can do this stuff more effectively and more cheaply than me. So why do I have to make my own tomatoes if I want good ones? I’m not opposed to cooking. But there are times when this whole eat local, grow-your-own food movement seems like a regression to the middle ages. (I do still think it would be fun to have chickens, though.)

The rest of the post speaks for itself. This was incredible pasta.

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Hey Milan, Here Come a Couple of Dumb Americans

In Italy, you’re not supposed to order cappuccino after breakfast. Luckily, we knew this rule before we arrived. What we did not realize, however, is that there’s a rule like that for everything. At least that’s what it felt like to us. I was in Milan for a couple of days of meetings last month, so Eliza joined me and we made a little vacation out of it.

Milan’s not a tourist city and it has a pretty prickly reputation, so this probably wasn’t what you imagine when you think “Italian vacation.” Still, we had a nice time, ate a lot of great food, and received lots of dirty looks when we unwittingly broke every little rule of Milanese life.

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More Mexican, Please: Zandunga

I am obsessed with queso fundido. Zandunga, a hard-to-pronounce Mexican restaurant on the East side has some of the best in town. As befits a hard-to-pronounce restaurant, theirs features huitlacoche.

Tiger Prawns “A La Diabla” are seriously spicy.

Carnitas in the shape of the Borg starship.

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Taqueria Arandas #3

Some days, you need some Taqueria Arandas. In our case, flautas and the torta milanesa.

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