In our case, it was the last lunch in Italy that we celebrated today. With almost 90 days spent here, it’s time to leave before our welcome is worn out.
It has been a lovely time. Like any trip, there were good days and bad, and even some boring ones. But the memories we take home are of a country that is very kind to its millions of tourists, and very generous in sharing all its riches – except for its stinginess with signage. But as far as the actual Last Supper is concerned, we did not stop by to visit on this trip.
When we were here 35 years ago, we could just walk into the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie and watch the restoration work going on. This time, we would have needed to have booked an exact time for our reservation months ago, and paid steeply for a few minutes with this poor damaged painting. We decided to pass.
Today we spent on those personal chores that have to be tended to at some point. Hair, nails, laundry – these issues put one in touch with the real people, not the tourist crowd. And they may think we are slightly strange, but they are always very nice about it.
With all of those needs attended to, we are packing up for our flight to London tomorrow. In Milan it is 90°, without a cloud in sight. In London, it’s 70° with big whopping thunderstorms. Hmm. Sounds refreshing.
However, I suspect that within a few days we will become very nostalgic about la dolce vita that we have led for the last three months…
Don’s Food Corner
We returned to the same restaurant that treated us so well the other day. And two days later, they haven’t lost their touch.
We started with a platter of asparagus topped with Parmesan. The asparagus were either steamed to tenderness or, if the amount of butter evident on the plate is any hint, they had been poached in butter. Either way, the Parmesan was melted on top without being browned. Although the stalks of asparagus had not been peeled, they were all tender throughout.
Jo gave veal Milanese one more shot. True to the tasting on Tuesday, it was done just right. Still on the bone, the meat is pounded thin, breaded and pan fried. The bread crumbs were very fine, but not dry.
I went with a Milanese specialty called mondeghili di verza con pure. This was a kind of meat ball, which in this case was formed into an oblong, made with minced cooked meat along with breadcrumbs and other filling (some type of cheese? a binding of egg or milk?). The meat was wrapped in savoy cabbage and then braised. It came with the same very silky, almost gummy, pureed potatoes that I had the other day.
The German/Austrian origins of both of these dishes can be seen. Veal Milanese is really Italian-style Wiener Schnitzel. The Milanese meatballs wrapped in savoy cabbage were German stuffed cabbage rolls with an Italian twist. Of course, at one time Milan was under the rule of the Germans, thus the region’s name of Lombardy.
For dessert, we had a slice of the cake of the day. I thought the waiter said there was chocolate in it, but I couldn’t find it. It was a type of cake with lots of nuts of some type in it. Walnuts? As always with Italian baked goods, it was heavily sprinkled with powdered sugar. I think powdered sugar is one of the main food groups of Italy.
We had a unusually good bottle of wine with our last meal in Italy — springing for a bottle costing $25! We had a short conversation with our affable waiter about how a really good Italian meal in New York would be very expensive. Well, he knew the price of what everything would be in New York, beginning with the wine which he said would have cost over $50. Sounds about right. Our extra-special final meal, with the extraordinary wine, came to $90 with the tip.
Of all of the meals we had in Italy, we agreed that this last place combined all the elements of ambiance and food preparation to make it the best overall restaurant experience. We had other really great meals, but this place reminded us of the standard that we experienced in nearly every restaurant we ate in 35 years ago. I fear that assumption can no longer be taken for granted.
Overall quality has definitely deteriorated. That’s especially true in the areas now so overrun with tourists to the breaking point — or in the case of Venice and Cinque Terre, beyond the breaking point — that there is no time and, perhaps, no interest in serving the kind of food that has to be lovingly and slowly prepared as we found today. There is a “slow food” movement going on in Italy, as in other countries, but when we went to one of these modern slow food places, the food turned out to be such a tortured interpretation of the classic recipes that it made us pine for the real stuff.
During three months of searching, it was no easy task to find the real thing, even here where food always has been such an important part of the culture. We’re glad we experienced it 35 years ago and glad we were able to find some of it still available. But ten years from now? I’m not so sure.