Eat, Drink, Repeat 

I revisited three restaurants from my Tour d'Italia 2016 trip, Zeb in Florence, Zingaro in Parma, and Punto in Lucca.

Zeb in Florence

A repeat from last year's Florence trip and only because Cousin Vince and I talk about it whenever we hear anyone is going to Florence, Zeb Gastronomia is run by a mother and her son at the base of Piazza Michealangelo on the other side of the Arno.

First up, pasta. Spaghetti with shaved truffles is all about simplicity.  It's all about fragrance and depth of flavors. Pasta noodles are al dente and you’ll be smelling like truffle for the next couple hours.

truffles_zeb_florence

Tortellini with pumpkin and ricotta in a fonduta of French cheese and garnished with poppy seed. Big stuffed pasta! Flavors were good, with the tang of a stinky French cheese to round out the dish. The dish makes an impact on the plate.. It’s big and contrasting colors of yellow, white and black get people looking and since it tastes great, it’s a winner.

pasta_zucca_zeb_florence

Rabbit stuffed with a GRIP of fennel seed, cheese and herbs (an outstanding dish of rabbit). No bones to mess with, just moist rabbit and stuffings. The outer skin was crisp texture. Flavors were deep and complimentary to the wine. I remember having rabbit in Siena back in 2009 that rivals this dish. Great flavor and I could probably do it with chicken breast, since people think eating Thumper (or Bambi for that matter) are creepy.

rabbit_zeb_florence

Dessert was tiramisu, not overpowering with coffee, liquor or sweetness. I don't know if this would sell well in American restaurants as it lacked the over the top nature of an American style tiramisu (you know, the "welcome to flavor town” American style). That said, I liked it. As the pasta and rabbit were incredibly savory, even a touch of sweetness is welcome at the end of the meal.

tiramisu_zeb_florence

I haven't a clue what wines were served, as I knew better from last year that if I asked to take a picture of anything, I'd be scolded. Suffice it to say, the wines paired with each course and white and red were served.

Zeb still gets top marks for great food in a casual environment. Remember, Italians tend to eat at about 1:30, so get to Zeb when it opens as they don’t take reservations.

Zingaro, Parma

A return to the first restaurant I ate in Parma in 2016, Osteria dello Zingaro, and a repeat of what I ate last year, a plate of cured meat, pasta and a trio of horse meat (so I won't take up space with pictures). The meal was wonderful and the owner and his son were just as they were last year, proud of their food and their restaurant.

I could simply re-post the exact same blog post from last year. Everything was exactly the same and I still think the cavallo tartare with picante is a delicious version of steak tartare. However there is one addition, a sausage risotto that was lovely.

Zingaro_risotto_parma

Punto, Lucca

I'll say, it was pretty cool to be greeted with a smile, handshake and "welcome back" when I walked into Punto Officina del Gusto after almost one year to the day of my first visit. 

I was so impressed with the food and wine program at Punto last season, I was really looking forward to coming back. Since last year, Punto has opened their apertivo bar next door, however, this dinner was in the main restaurant.

Amuse of radicchio with tartar sauce. I didn't know what to think about this combination as in all my travels, it had never come up before. Perhaps a play on a veggie bowl with a ranch dip or onion dip. Tack it up to whimsy.

Amuse_punto_lucca

Artichoke with quinoa and coffee infused mayonnaise. Last year, I also ordered an artichoke for my first course and loved the result, this year in no different. Wonderful presentation, well prepared and fun. The quinoa add dimension and texture.

artichoke_punto_lucca

Risotto with tangerine, olive oil, Parmigiano and ponzu. Again, I repeated my risotto order from last year with the latest incarnation, tangerine risotto. The innovation here is the use of ponzu, not a typical Italian ingredient. The tangerine is not dominant, like the celery last year, I found the risotto balanced, delicate, and flavorful and a good pairing with the Pinot. Stronger flavors, bacon, beef, even poached fish would overpower the risotto. This risotto is a solo act IF you want subtle flavors, If you'd rather have this risotto in the background, I think it would pair with fish, game, or beef rather well.

risotto_punto_lucca

Spaghetti with squid ragu and chili. Well constructed, good heat from the chili and the pasta. had good tooth on it. This dish almost seems tame for Punto. I have no complaints and would happily order it again, but perhaps I expected a 'spin' on the dish, an innovation that Punto does so well; taking tradition and offering an update.

dessert_lemon_punto

Desserts were a lemon cream and meringue on sweet cracker and the cake of the day, beet juiced soaked with cream and chocolate. Both were welcome sweet treats after a savory meal.

I was pleased to return to Zeb, Zingaro and Punto and would happily return to all three again.

Where to stay in Emilia Romagna, Italy

Is Bologna a jumping off point for Emilia Romagna? Or should you stay in Parma or Modena or even Ferrara?

Bologna is a big city. You can easily fly in from Paris or Frankfurt and be at your apartment/hotel in 20 min. The main train station, Bologna Centrale is part of the downtown and you can be in Parma or Modena within an hour by train. 

Bologna's secret canal network

Bologna's secret canal network

Bologna has everything, high-end shopping, a nightlife, Michelin restaurants. It also has a lot of students, hordes of tourists, and plenty of trinket dealers. The town is big. You could easily explore a quarter of the town and not get bored. The guidebooks can detail walking tours and sites to see. Bologna is a culinary focal point, so there are plenty of cooking classes and schools you can attend to fill your time.

Parma and Modena by comparison have much less in the way of tourists, students,  or hordes of people. They are quaint towns compared to Bologna. You can walk the entire city center of Parma around the edge in an hour on a fast walk. Modena, is even smaller if you don’t venture out of the old center.

Where should I eat next? 

Where should I eat next? 

By train, Parma is an hour to Bologna, Modena is 30 minutes. If you want a Gucci bag, take the train to Bologna and go back to Modena. Modena has very well regarded restaurants, one of the best in the world actually. Parma has a great apertivo culture.

While I’ve never stayed in Ferrara, I visited. It is north of Bologna on the same train line that would take you to Verona/Vicenza/Venice. The city has an intact wall, similar to Lucca, although much larger. The town itself is also bigger than Lucca, but with charming streets. I could see an extended stay in Ferrara if you wanted to get both Emilia Romagna and some day trips in to the Veneto.

I_love_modena_mastro_scheidt

It’s a give and take, Bologna or the outlying towns? I think it depends on you and your personality. You want slower, eat lunch within a 10 minute walk, take a nap, don’t wanna fight a busy Main Street or smell the stank of yet another student’s cigarette smoke? Parma/Modena are your places.

If you just want to trophy hunt and say you “saw the sights” stay in Bologna and day trip everywhere. There’s always a train passing through Bologna to take you somewhere else for the day.

Osteria del 36, Parma

Upon entry, I didn't see anyone at the front desk. So I made a little cough noise. I can only assume it was the owner that heard me, he clapped twice, loudly, as if to summon someone from the back to help. That's exactly what happened. The summons clap, something you won't ever hear in an American restaurant.

Incredible wine list here. Pages of stuff. Lots of big names and verticals from Tuscany. This is where traveling solo has a disadvantage, missing some great wines at reasonable prices. This is probably the reason this restaurant is on the Michelin list as an up and comer.

It's pasta, it's soup, it's good. 

It's pasta, it's soup, it's good. 

This is the first place that I noticed non-Italian music in the background.  Club beats in English no less, from Pitbull. Truly Mr. International.

To start, tortellini con brodo. It was pure. I added 2 spoonfuls of Parmigiano. There's not much to say here, it's broth, it's pasta (some meat filled, some only cheese), it's good. Look at the picture.

Time for your close-up Ms. Pasta

Time for your close-up Ms. Pasta

Wild board with pears

Wild board with pears

For my second plate, wild boar. The cut is a loin chop, bone in, with pear in a red wine reduction finished with what are small enough to be huckleberries and  a ton of butter. A true pan sauce style. The boar is gamey and wildish in texture and flavor like wild ducks. Frankly, a bit tough and chewy. The rare part near the bone is where it's at. The Italians can cook a steak perfectly rare, but pork or boar, always cooked through. The pan sauce is the bomb. I actually took bread to soak it up. If it weren't for the sauce, I would have been disappointed.

A first, Parmigiano with honey

A first, Parmigiano with honey

Parmigiano with honey. A first. The pairing doesn't clash with the pitcher of wine. No problem. Never seen honey served with Parmigiano, only w Gorgonzola. 

This is basically what I drank at Osteria 36

This is basically what I drank at Osteria 36

My pitcher of red wine is a drinker, plain and simple. It's my Jug wine. It's red, Sangiovese based and an easy going bouquet that will pair with everything I eat. This is why I made the Jug wine.

Grappa generally has a couple choices, morbide or dolce and then bianco or the caramel colored variety that has been aged in oak. The Italian purists believe that anything other than bianco is not one should drink. Basically, the oak adds color, some sweetness and mellows out the flavor. That oak treatment is something I've seen in many an American restaurant for sure. We do love oak, sweetness and mellowing. I tend to get bianco and morbide.

Grappa and the end of another meal

Grappa and the end of another meal

Was this my best dining experience in Parma? No. However, there was one very positive take-away, chunks of 24 month or older Parmigiano pair very well with wild honey and dry red wine and for that alone, I'm glad I dined here.

Another night (or two) at home

Creating my own meals are just as important in Italy as going out to dinner. I get to shop at various markets in my general area, work on my otherwise horrible Italian language skills, and walk-to-shop something I haven't done in too many years (I drive to shop for everything these days). 

Buying some basic stuff from the market; fennel, oranges, persimmon, raw onion, and treviso I can create a simple, seasonal salad. While this salad is just basically chopped stuff on a plate (because that's what it looks like), I did slice the fennel and onion about an hour ahead of time, squeezed oranges and a pinch of salt over them to allow the fennel/onion mixture to "cure" as I didn't want the harsh flavor of the onion and overly crunchy fennel, as my knife selection here isn't sharp (or I would have cut the fennel thinner)

Fresh winter style salad. 

Fresh winter style salad. 

The salad makes a great starter course to be followed up with pasta with braised fennel, onions and mortadella, topped with Parmigiano. 

Homemade pasta in Parma

Homemade pasta in Parma

Dolcetto d'Alba. Easy drinker for the week. 

Dolcetto d'Alba. Easy drinker for the week. 

Re-working a dish of leftovers, is just as important as a new dish when you're only in town for a few days at a time. You may recognize the big green cabbage roll (below) that I had earlier in the week (that's another purchase) since it's filled with pork, it's going to be tonight's protein. Beneath the cabbage roll are the denser and greener stalks of fennel as well as the whiter parts of the treviso, scraps from the salad I mentioned above. Add a little bread to the plate and bingo...another meal in the books and no waste. 

Pork filled cabbage roll with braised fennel and treviso

Pork filled cabbage roll with braised fennel and treviso

What's next in the kitchen? Don't know. I keep a supply of yogurt for breakfast along with a big hunk of Parmigiano for when I get hungry mid-day. We'll see what the market has to offer.  

Ristorante Cocchi, dal 1925, Parma

I discovered this restaurant on one of my random walks down (or was it up?) one of the main thoroughfares of Parma. Located in the Hotel Daniel, Ristorante Cocchi has been around for some time.

To start, Insalata Mista with warm speck and potato. Speck is a smoked ham, usually found in mountain towns. The dressing was simple, a sweet balsamic and olive oil. Solid. Normally I wouldn't order salad but it was kind of nice considering its cold outside, around 38 degrees and I walked about 2 miles to get here. Good start.

Mixed green salad with warm potatoes and speck

Mixed green salad with warm potatoes and speck

Next up, pasta with potato filling and shaved truffle. Good crack of black pepper. There was a starchiness to the sauce, which leads me to believe the pasta was placed in a sauté pan with butter and black pepper with some of the pasta water and tossed through with extra butter. Notice a bit of a brownish sauce coating the tops of the pasta., super viscous.The potato filling was good and hearty, the truffles are all about luxury and perfume. A couple elements on the plate to produce a wonderful lunch.

Pasta with truffles

Pasta with truffles

Grilled steak. Let's get something straight. My server didn't ask me how I'd like my steak because there's only one way it SHOULD be prepared, THIS WAY! No medium or well. Medium rare to rare. No sides. The sauce is olive oil and the garnish is salt. The simplicity of it all. Yes it was tender, yes it was tasty. And if it makes you feel better, I went Paleo on this course.

Filetto di Fassona

Filetto di Fassona

image.jpg

The mezzo of Sangiovese from Fattoria Zerbina went with everything. 100% Sangiovese Grosso, aged in stainless steel and concrete vats, no oak, and I'm guessing not aged for more than a year. Easy to drink but not weak or thin. The wine easily paired with this whole meal. This is why I make Sangiovese, because it's good and pairs with lots of things.

Zabaione with crushed amaretto cookies. We've got a Goldilocks moment here. Too much liquor whipped in with the egg yolks and the zabaione is ruined. Not enough and it tastes like mousse custard thingy. But the zabaione at Cocchi, just right. The magic of having a crushed cookie lurking in the depths of that yellow custard is a nice surprise to, not all creamy and luxurious, but with an edge.

Zabaione with crushed amaretto cookies inside

Zabaione with crushed amaretto cookies inside

Always some grappa to finish! 

Grappa to finish

Grappa to finish

Ristorante Cocchi, Parma

Ristorante Cocchi, Parma

I enjoyed my lunch experience at Cocchi and my 2 mile walk back home. 

Ristorante Parizzi, Parma

As I mentioned in my last post, I can't always start a multi-course meal at 9:00pm. I'll be up till 2am with a heart rate nearing cardiac arrest levels trying to digest 10 courses. Which is why there are multi-course lunch options with the same menu as dinner.

One of those options is the Michelin-stared Ristorante Parizzi. 

Lonely Waffle

Lonely Waffle

To start, compliments of the chef, a Parmigiano waffle. Tasty. A good waffle. The next level would have been to sauce it with balsamic as the "syrup" or Saba because basically it's a lonely waffle that needed a partner. Balsamic infused butter? Fried chicken? (too American) Gorgonzola honey? I liked the waffle, but it needed something to pair with it.

A second amuse was a mache salad with stuff I couldn't identify. It was very good and was perfect with the Pinot. It sort of looked like and tasted like cous cous spiked with saffron and sun dried tomatoes. But I can't be sure. It was all served cold....I liked it, I just wished I asked again what was in it.

Mache Salad

Mache Salad

Slovenian Pinot, wine highlight of the day

Slovenian Pinot, wine highlight of the day

The wine for my game bird courses was a Movia 2005 Slovenian Pinot Noir and it was outstanding. 92 pts by W&S at release, this wine drinks fresh, with full-palate depth, I wouldn't have expected. Cherry skins, licorice and completed integrated and well rounded tannin structure. I would have loved to try this wine at release to compare.

Cracker sandwiches of pheasant pate were next up. The Pheasant pate was uber smooth in texture, a fitting foil for the cracker crunch. In the middle of each pate cracker sandwich, there were caramelized onions waiting for you. The appropriate contrast for the rich smoothiness of pate.  Gelatin, placed as garnish, was made with white wine and offered yet more contrast and all important acid to pate cracker sandwich. Well done overall and visually attractive.

Pheasant pate cracker sandwich

Pheasant pate cracker sandwich

Surprise! Caramelized Onion! 

Surprise! Caramelized Onion! 

Roasted quail with winter salad. The quail was delicious, moist and well seasoned. The winter salad of persimmon, fennel and pomegranate seed is a combination I expect from a 1-Star establishment at this time of year. I could have done without the chickpea cake, don't think it added much. The dish was paired spot on with the Slovenian Pinot. And since I ate the bones with my fingers, they gave me a bowl of warm water with a towel in it to clean my fingers prior to the next course. Excellent attention to detail and unexpected.

Game Bird #2...Quail

Game Bird #2...Quail

Pasta with duck and a bit of broccoli rabe was a high point. I love my pasta. If you're worried about gamy flavors, broccoli rabe will get rid of that notion in a hurry. Sharp flavors of broccoli rabe that contrast the warm, rich, wild flavors that come with rich duck pasta. I like the dish very much and could easily see cauliflower or cabbage used as the contrast to the duck. Possibly a grilled item, such as fennel, as a further flavor development.

Time for Pasta

Time for Pasta

To finish the Degustazione di Terra menu, a grand presentation of loin with foie gras. The middle of the loin was punched out and foie gras was inserted in the middle. Three sauces or garnishes surrounded the main, true center-of-plate many a chef fail at creating. Not whispers and smears of sauce, but statements of sauce. The foie and loin were balanced out. I thought for sure the foie would have been the star, it almost always is, but there was harmony here.

Highlight of the meal, Loin and Foie

Highlight of the meal, Loin and Foie

Near the end of its life for my palate

Near the end of its life for my palate

Both the duck and the loin/foie were paired with Castello di Farnetella 2007 Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot from Sinalunga near Siena in Tuscany. The wine was beginning to give off a hint of oxidation and raisin notes on the nose after about 10 minutes in the glass, on a bottle that was poured to 3/4 empty. I'd say the wine was paired off better with the beef and foie than with the duck filled pasta, as the broccoli through it all off. More thought needs to go into the pasta and wine pairing because of the flavor profile.

Cheese, glorious cheese

Cheese, glorious cheese

Regional cheese selection focusing on one item and one region...Parmigiano Reggiano! Duh! 14, 24, 36 months from different areas of the province. I've experienced this type of tasting before a while back in San Francisco, when the Consortium for Parmigiano came to visit and presented to the trade. I liked the 24 month cheese for this tasting.

Pre dessert #1, Creme anglaise w lemon was light and easy dusted w chocolate. I like this Pre-Dessert compliment a lot. Refreshing, colorful and clean. Winner.

Pre-Dessert #1

Pre-Dessert #1

Chosen dessert...chocolate cannoli with candied orange and raspberry coulis. Cannoli shells are filled fresh, as they are crunchy, not soggy. Easy, one-bite cannoli. Candied fruit and crushed nuts are often served with cannoli, and there was no exception here. I don't like candied fruit inside my cannoli. I want the option to eat it separately; Parizzi gave me the option to explore the candied fruit on my own, which, I happened to really like. Great dish. Fun, exciting to look at, playful and well de-constructed.

I chose Dessert #2, Cannoli

I chose Dessert #2, Cannoli

Post dessert...In rapid fire and in order of how I consumed them: raspberry topped panna cotta was about as light and clean as Pre-Dessert #1; therefore it was devoured. Creme brûlée was not so good, I had one bite and finished. The 4 candied nuts were good so I ate them all, the single chocolate truffle was good, the single lemon ball was great. Done, done and done.

Dessert #3, Post Dessert, Dessert

Dessert #3, Post Dessert, Dessert

Sicilian Cab / Cab Franc

Sicilian Cab / Cab Franc

From the cheese course through the last dessert, the wine offered was a 2006 Planeta Burdese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend from Sicily. 92 pts by WE and one of their Top 100 wines on release and 91 by WS on release. Riper edge when compared to the other wines I sampled at Parizzi, with prunes, tobacco and spice. The bright fruit was gone, this was a wine that needs to be drunk sooner rather than later. I appreciate its longevity, but it was least favorite wine in the mix; Slovenian Pinot wins the wine award today.

Grappa to finish. No espresso today.

Grappa

Grappa

Service was solid, attentive but not intrusive. Everyone hustled and I never felt rushed or alone. Stemware replaced swiftly, silverware replaced swiftly, plates taken away 80% of the time by the time I placed the utensils down. Everything is brought on a cart or in a tray and placed away from the table and then brought to you from a service location in the center of the dining room. Michelin service standards here, professional.

A very good experience at Parizzi. The level of service, attention to detail, intricacies on the plate, and atmosphere all  lead to a professional dining experience in a restaurant that is expected to cater to a wider, international clientele because of their star rating. Is this better than some of the other places I've dined so far? No. Is it worse? No. It's apples and pineapples; very different dining experiences. Each with their own expectation level though. 

Some nights, I have to eat early

Eating out for dinner in Italy translates into 9:00pm for an actual sit-down multi course dinner; unless you want to go to some touristy joint on a big street. Sure there are places you can go for a cocktail and food at 6 or 7pm, but it's not the same experience fo me to eat snacks and cocktails.  

I'd rather have dinner at the apartment. Which means using my Zone of Assessment Map and hunting for items to eat and drink. I basically walked outside and shopped for everything on this plate in 10 minutes.

It makes sense to purchase Parmigiano and Prosciutto when in Emilia Romagna.  The greens are actually cabbage rolls filled with what amounts to pork rillette. The last item on the plate is basic olive oil focaccia. The wine for this particular meal is a Lambrusco like local drinker, 8% alcohol, lightly sweet, effervescent and 5eu.

For dessert, some fried dough with powdered sugar. They're gluten-free. Just kidding.

La Gatta Matta, Parma

Roughly 3 minutes walk from my apartment and on a line back to the train station, La Gatta Matta was an easy find and recommended in the Gambero Rosso guidebook.

To start, Budino of Parmigiano with shallot confit and 30 month Parma Ham. Budino of parmigiano is all about texture and shape. I still don't know if I'm a fan of budino, I know the Italians are. It could be the warm texture that I associate with dessert. Or it could be the shape, it looks like a flan or a lava cake or maybe a angel food cake. There was nothing wrong with execution, just a personal preference. The flavor of cheese was integrated well and maybe if I slathered the budino in turkey gravy on Thanksgiving, budino would suddenly turn into fancy stuffing. Not such a bad idea.

Highlight on the plate was the confit of shallot. Powerful flavor. And I love to confit things like garlic and onion. Leeks and fennel would be solid with this combo. Yes, I'm taking for granted that there was a 30 month aged Proscuitto on the plate as well. Proscuitto is on every menu, everywhere and I have it everyday. I'm in PARMA, duh.

My pasta was a chestnut and potato gnocchi with boiled cotechino and lentils. Cotechino is a special type of regional sausage I have made back in the States before and often paired with lentil. Each item is cooked separately, combined just prior to assembly on the plate. The salami melts. The lentils still have texture and loads of flavor. The gnocchi have solid mouthfeel and offer heft to the dish. Lentils and sausage sound a bid pedestrian, but add gnocchi on a pretty plate and you've got a complete meal...although I didn't stop eating. Solid punch of black pepper on the dish. Downside on this dish, literally was the dish itself. The plates should be warm and this one was stone cold. It rushes the dining experience for the plate to be cold, as it's a race against time to eat quickly cooling pasta. Paired the pasta with a local Romagna Sangiovese. Simple, well constructed and easy to drink with most foods I gather.

My final course, Guancialino (veal cheek) braised in white wine and served with polenta and pumpkin cream. The second thing I notice, after a lovely presentation, is another cold plate, which was a bummer and increases the speed at which I eat. However, outstanding dish.  Polenta is there as decoration and to soak up sauces. The polenta is good, but background noise when compared to the veal and the braising sauce. The veal itself is fork tender, with no residual fat hanging off the edges. If you generally like short ribs, these are a step above. The dark sauce on the veal is deep rich and warm the result of roasting juices from the Guancialino and wine. The second, more decorative sauce is pumpkin. The pumpkin is smooth and flavorful, akin to a pumpkin soup but cold because of its position on the plate. All in all, a splendid dish, but a bit rushed due to a cold plate.

The wine paired with the Guancialino was named Epibios by Podere Colombaiolo 2011, from just outside Siena in Tuscany. Stunning! It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Merlot. Simply put, an awesome glass of wine. Supertuscan and probably a 3oz pour. Bright and fresh for a 2011. 4.50 eu a pour on BTG.

Survival 101: Zone of Assessment

I'm a big fan of Survivorman, Les Stroud. Bear Grylls got all the attention and the celebrity status, but Les had more appeal to me. The situations Les put himself in were real.

Your friendly neighborhood winemaker is also a survivor, both an Urban and Backwoods survivor, although the alpine surviving skills haven't been put to the test since 2010ish. Luckily my urban skills are regularly tested.

The interior of Parma

When I get to a new town, I tend to walk endlessly without a map, once I have a base to operate from. It was no different upon arriving in Parma. Drop the bags, get some walking shoes on and walk around and around. Oh, and lucky me, my apartment has this hugely convenient wall map of the city!

Pay attention to landmarks, restaurants, wine shops, laundry, ATMs, espresso bars. Then go back again, after dark and see if you can find your way around again. Some of the shops you walked by earlier probably closed, do things look differently? Remember to get food before Sunday...cause things are closed on Sunday in Italy.

Things aren't as easy as a grid system of numbered streets and roads, like we have some much of in California. Streets curve, dead-end and street names change for what seems to be no reason at all in many a international city. Parma is no different. 

Yes, there's Google Maps and it does work here in Italy, but that won't help you much if you have a dead battery.

It helps to sketch things out

More restaurant food picks in the next review. Ciao. 

Zingaro in Parma

Parma, home of Proscuitto di Parma was the perfect place to revive The Cured Ham.

For my first real meal in Italy, I chose Osteria Dello Zingaro. Within 5 minutes walking of my apartment, it was an easy choice after browsing about a half-dozen restaurants in my immediate area.

Prosciutto di Parma

Upon the entry of guests and the response from the owner, there appears to be lots of locals, lots of regulars. Taking that cue, everyone starts with some form of cured meat, culatello, Proscuitto, and or salami, with sides of various roasted vegetables and large chunks of Parmigiano. Wine is also ubiquitous, with several bottles of Lambrusco being consumed.

Not one to turn down cured meat, naturally, I had a plate. The salami was served skin-on, which automatically suggested, eat this meat with you hands and peel the skin for yourself. A fairly typical salami, nothing more than salt and pepper. The Proscuitto was the highlight of the plate. Creaminess and depth. All the meats are displayed at room temperature, with a single, dedicated hand to slice everything, repeatedly and efficiently throughout the night.

Pasta! 

My second course was pasta. Simple, arugula and ricotta stuffing, with a sauce of butter and grated parmigiano. That's all. How can a dish these days be this simple? When all the elements are executed properly. No fancy garnish. No surprise filling. No complex sauce making. Bringing together the simplicity for some chefs and many customers is difficult, however, I find it refreshing.

Skilled Hands

My final course was a trio of Cavallo, yes, for those who are not Italian, Cavallo equals Horse. And before people freak out, it's a local delicacy and the Italians would think no differently to serve a pig as they would a horse or cute little deer for dinner. Cavallo Tartare served with a simple salt and pepper, while the second was spiced up considerably more with a hot pepper, Tabasco like flavor and then mixed with raw egg, which made it considerably more rich The third preparation was sliced whole loin, quickly seasoned and seared, then allowed to rest cold and then seasoned with olive oil. One of the staff suggested roasted potatoes with my trio.

Seared Loin

Seared Loin

My favorite tartare, upon first bites, was the spicy and enriched with egg, more classic in preparation. However, with my roasted potatoes, the seared loin stood out. The more basic salt and pepper variety of tartare was my least favorite, not because it was poorly prepared, quite the opposite, it was beautiful in color to the eye and gave me a sense for how lean and clean Cavallo can be, it was obviously the purest expression of the three, uncooked and a minimum of ingredients; it probably could have used olive oil to richen it up.

Spicy Tartare

Spicy Tartare

Salt and Pepper Tartare

Salt and Pepper Tartare

Irony. I love the pasta for its simplicity yet I choose the most heavily seasoned tartare for it's complexity. There are no absolutes. And it's not as though the tartare with Tabasco and egg were untraditional or overly complex.

I finished my evening at Zingaro, standing at the counter, talking with the owner and watching the slicing skills at the salami bar. I finished with a grappa, on the house, as a thank you from the owner.

A perfect welcome to Italy.