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Milan in April -- a Brief Report

jnwall | May 11, 201811:43 AM     2

We were in Milan for 4 nights in late April, with an agenda that emphasized museums and churches rather than food. As a result, we tended to eat close to the places we were visiting rather than spending our all-too-short time in Milan seeking the best places to eat. Nevertheless, we did eat well in several places, and that seems worth sharing.

One place especially that anyone who loves Italian food must visit in Milan is Al Peck, described by a serious fan as defying "labels like "delicatessen", "supermarket" or "grocer" because it's all these. It's a provider of exquisite foods on three levels. You might call it the Louis Vuitton of providores. It makes Fauchon or Fortnum & Mason look like your local IGA." I would agree with all of that, and say that the light lunch we had in the cafe on the ground floor was one of the best meals we have had in all of Milan. Also check out the extensive wine shop downstairs and the first-class restaurant upstairs.

We also enjoyed lunch at a corner soup and sandwich shop called Ottimo Massimo, with lots of vegetarian choices, a nice selection of wines, and delicious house-made desserts.

The best evening meal of our trip was at Nerino Dieci Trattoria, which we had found on an earlier trip to Milan. This proved to be well worth our return trip, offering delicious pasta and seafood, and an excellent range of wine selections. Since our last visit, they had added English descriptions to what had been an all-Italian menu, but they otherwise gave us no reason to question their continuing commitment to the authenticity of their cooking.

We were fascinated with the preparation of one pasta dish -- the waiter brought to the table a hot fry pan with the pasta (spaghetti) and sauce (cherry tomatoes, among other things) in it, along with a huge wheel of parmigano reggiano, placed atop a rolling cart. He dumped the contents of the fry pan into a bowl-like cavity that had been excavated in the top of the wheel of cheese, then took spoons and stirred the pasta around, occasionally scraping some of the cheese off of the wheel and mixing it into the sauce. The result was a delicious, creamy sauce, rich with cheese, yet done so that the cheese melted into the sauce without clumping into a mushy bit of melted goo (as it did the first time I tried something like this at home!)

We also ate extremely well at Le Vigne, on the bank of one of Milan's canals. This was after drinks at a bar on a barge which had a flourishing hair and nail salon on one end and the bar, which happened to be offering a tasting of several proseccos, on the other, apparently one of the joys of the Navigli section of Milan. Le Vigne brought us delicious ravioli with a sauce that involved ground pistachios and more well-cooked local seafood. We also discovered that the people at two of the adjacent tables lived within 20 miles of our home in the USA, even though one of the couples had been born in Bologna and was home for a family visit.

We also enjoyed Taverna Moriggi, a restaurant with a very traditional Milanese menu, located in one of Milan's historic buildings. We had a fabulous meat antipasto and wonderful pasta, including a truly delicious risotto. The night we were there, the place was mobbed and the staff looked overwhelmed. They actually lost track of one of our courses, and never brought it. But they were very apologetic and made our wine complementary. On the basis of the quality of what we did get served, I would go back in a heartbeat, but hope for a quieter night.

Our final dinner was at a place in the Brera neighborhood that we found after a long afternoon at Milan's Pinacoteca di Brera art museum. Called Obica Mozzarella Bar Pizza e Cucina, it turns out to be an outpost of a chain of restaurants with locations in several Italian cities, but also with branches in London and several cities in the USA. The mozzarella was delicious; the pizza we shared was very tasty -- we are glad we stopped in.

But this place proved to be a puzzle, in a way. We (or at least I) go to Italy for the deeply rooted culture of food, the close connections between farm and table, the delicious flavors of the cooking, and the way in which Italians take the fewest and simplest of ingredients and turn them into culinary delights. Now, here, we have this place which is a chain restaurant, with outposts in the major cities of the western world, which must function like a chain restaurant, with standardized menus and ingredients brought in in bulk from who knows where. Is this Italy?

Its the same question that is posed for me by the Eataly phenomenon. Eataly in Manhattan -- now that I understand -- its a way of taking advantage of the American interest in Italian cooking by bringing at least the commercial side of Italian food culture to the USA. But Eataly in Turin, or Rome, or Florence, or Bologna? Why do they need Eataly? The real Italy is right outside the door. Everywhere. And all the time.

Ottimo Massimo
Nerino Dieci Trattoria
Ristorante Le Vigne
Taverna Moriggi
Obicà Mozzarella Bar - Brera
Obicà Mozzarella Bar - Duomo
Eataly Milano Smeraldo
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