maandag 17 augustus 2015

Hello Lake Como - hello George Clooney!



 
For this year’s culinary reconnaissance Kees and I decided to take a trip to Italy, more specifically to Lake Como. Starting our journey from the north of Holland, we traveled south for two days via Germany, France and finally through Switzerland. The long drive was worth it because the moment we drove into Cernobbio we were in LOVE! The lakeside roads were hazardous, but the views more than made up for the hair-raising ride. Simply stunning!
We arrived for a week of food, wine and relaxation and since our Laglio apartment was a mere stone throw from the George Clooney residence, a little George spotting - who can blame a girl! - as well.

{Lake Como view}
{Apartment view}

Once we got settled into our apartment, we decided to venture out for our first Italian meal. This is what we came here for and the restaurant in question came highly recommended. We were hungry and full of anticipation for our first Italian food experience! After a short ten minute walk we found La Locanda del Cantiere; it looked promising and boasted of excellent lakeside views and seats.
 
{La Locanda del Cantiere view}
We checked out the menu and after some initial confusion* decided to order a First and Second plate dish.

*Italian menus can be a bit confusing. Antipasti “before the meal” is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal and is usually served cold, such as prosciutto, salami, olives etc. This is followed by Primo the “First plate” which consists of non-meat hot dishes like pasta, risotto or soup. Moving on to Secondo, the “Second plate” is considered the main course and includes meats and fish. Contorno are side dishes such as eggplant, spinach or salad. An Italian dinner is not complete until something sweet, or Dolce, hits the tongue. Think about tiramis├╣, panna cotta, or zabaglione…. Yum! An after dinner coffee (espresso)and/or digestive: grappa, amaro, or limoncello will make sure that you can walk, rather than roll to your next destination. 
 
My First plate was a mushroom gnocchi. Although it looked rather inviting it was somewhat deflating as the tastes just weren’t quite there. Spirits were still high however as I was looking forward to the Second plate. A local fish dish which came with the short explanation: “It is just like Dutch Herring”. Hmm, OK, I thought! I can do that! Unbeknownst to me, the fish in question are caught in the spring, sun-dried, spiced/pickled and conserved for a few months. Before being served they are lightly fried in oil. This regional Lake Como dish, missoltini with polenta, may be different in various restaurants, but at the La Locanda it was downright vile. Although I enjoy my salt, this was overly salty, foul smelling and inedible. The polenta was dry and tasteless (I suppose to even out the super salty fish). Even the wine could not make up for this underwhelming dinner. 100€ (!) lighter we left, feeling fooled and disappointed.

Surely, we thought, this cannot be it!

After a good night’s sleep our mood improved significantly once we found the local bakery, I Lagolosi. A friendly, family run business that sold the most delicious little pastries.

{Delicious pastries from the local bakery}
We concurred between bites of heavenly custard-filled puff pastry that, at last, our Italian food journey had officially started. Forgotten was the failed dinner of the night before, we put it down to lack of research and decided from here on out to avoid tourist traps. We searched TripAdvisor to find hidden gems and full of renewed appetite decided to have lunch in Cernobbio at Trattoria* La Vignetta. The place was a little off the beaten path and quite a steep climb up the hill. It had the rustic Italian charm we were looking for and most of the patrons seemed to be locals. So far so good!

*There are different types of eating establishments in Italy. Most sit-down restaurants are categorized as follows:
Ristorante - This is the top end of fine dining establishments.
Trattoria - Informal places to eat, they focus on typical Italian fare.
Osteria - Osterias are much like trattorias, but a bit more casual with a focus on regional specialties.
Pizzeria - In Italy, pizzarias are sit-down restaurants that predominantly serve pizza with wine, a variety of salads, and a few pasta selections

Kees and I decided to stick with one plate (First Plate) each and see how it goes. I went for the risotto parmesan, Kees ordered the fried calamari. And MammaMia, I don’t remember much else from that day (and not because of the, ahem, few glasses of wine that were consumed) except the first bite of that risotto - all creamy and textural and perfectly flavourful. I was transported to food heaven. After that first bite, I was hit with a taste explosion that made my mouth water even while I was eating. I realized, I had ordered the perfectly prepared risotto. During our week long stay at Lake Como we went back to Trattoria La Vignetta three times. Menus were changed daily and everything we ate was delicious. To tell you the truth, I would’ve happily eaten risotto parmesan every single day had it been available.


{Trattoria La Vignetta front view}

{espresso at the La Vignetta}

Most eating establishments within a 10km radius from Laglio were pretty good and towards the end of our journey, we decided to venture out a bit further. Once again we checked TripAdvisor and spotted an entry for the Trattoria Alla Costa in Como that had received such great reviews that we decided to try it. After searching for a while (where would we be without a GPS!) we ended up at this non-assuming building in the middle of nowhere.
By this time it was nearly 2pm (most establishments are closed in the afternoon) and we feared that our journey was for nothing. Luckily the doors were still open and as we walked in were warmly greeted by the friendly proprietress who invited us to take a seat.
As we were late, hungry and most of the lunch guests had dissipated we hoped that we would not have to rush. Our fear was unfounded. Not once did we feel hurried, as a matter of fact, our lovely hostess made sure that we understood everything on the menu and even though her English was not the best, we managed with online translators and her rushing back and forth to the kitchen to ask advice from the chef.

While we were waiting for our traditional Lombardy cuisine, we looked around this warm and cozy trattoria and noticed a lot of advertising for wine and prosecco and a large collection of wine bottles lined up at the side wall of the dining room. We asked our hostess if they were distributors for the wines. Speaking with gestures and broken English we found out that indeed they were and their wine cellar was underneath the house. When we told them that we are in the food business and always on the look-out for some excellent wines we were spontaneously given a tour of the wine cellar and a personal wine-tasting. The chef, who is also a sommelier, guided us through the wines that they had stored. I was particularly interested in some quality prosecco and sparkling wine as we often serve a glass of bubbly for our guests. We were thus introduced to the wines of Collalto. This was pure gold! We ended up buying their entire stock of Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Brut* and Collalto Rose V.S.Q.**, and exchanged information for further purchases.

*The Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Brut, made exclusively from Glera grapes has a pale straw color with delicate long-lasting bubbles. Its bouquet has intense, fruity aromas with impressions of ripe pear and golden apple over a delicate floral background. It’s dry, crisp and well balanced.
**The Collalto Rose V.S.Q., made from Manzoni Moscato has a peony-pink hue with long-lingering bubbles. Its bouquet is intensely fragrant and quite distinctive in character with hints of rose petals and lime blossoms. It’s dry with a very lengthy aromatic finish. 


{The sommelier in his wine cellar}

{Our friendly proprietors at the Alla Costa}

{Happy with our purchases}
 
This truly made our trip and even though we didn’t spot Mr. Clooney we came back inspired and full of ideas on how to incorporate the perfect risotto with the perfect sparkling wine for our new menu.

Ciao, until we meet again.

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