How does one truly savor a vacation in Italy? You eat your way through it and never look back. All thoughts of calories, fat, and carbs were conveniently forgotten at home, and instead we packed a slew of cravings, pasta-filled dreams, and our stretchy pants! The gastronomic motto was simple, when in Italy, eat as the Italians do. At every turn our appetites were guided by the generosity of local’s recommendations and our trusty Fodor’s guidebook.
It takes many cappuccini to keep your body going when your feet are screaming have mercy on us you crazy woman. You would have never guessed that I’m a regular tea drinker by the way I was downing one cappuccino after the other. Starbucks ain’t got nothing on an authentic cup of Italian coffee!
On one particular rainy Sunday afternoon in Venice, we were in search of a local lunch spot, but we kept bumping into the open-all-day touristy traps. We were beginning to get down on our luck when we spied a little restaurant tucked away in one of the narrow streets. As we walked into Dona Onesta, there was a pause in our steps–was this a local spot or another touristy trap–thankfully, the room was buzzing with Italian friends catching up over baked whole branzino, pasta alla cabonara, and copious amounts of wine. We snagged the last table. If it’s one thing we realized early on was that Italians follow the K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid) motto in their cooking. There’s no need to mask the bruschetta in a thick veil of garlic. A simple dice of tomatoes, basil, and really good olive oil is all that is needed. Lasagna is delicately prepared with meat taking the backstage to let the velvety béchamel sauce take center stage.
Italian food had us at Florence. By the time we had reached our hotel we were famished and as usual asked the locals, where do you go for good food? Mi Amor Pizzeria Ristorante, is what our concierge confided in us. We met the loveliest waitress, Johania. As she went over the menu with us, we learned that the restaurant was named after the nickname her brother-in-law calls his wife; their pizza is only served after 7 pm (local law where wood-fired ovens cannot be turned on till after sundown due to their immense heat generation); and their tiramisu is a house specialty. For the life of me I can’t seem to find the fotos I took of my first meal at Mi Amor. I was graced with a primi of pasta ai formaggi–pasta lightly blanketed in a creamy gorgonzola sauce, a secondi of stracotto di manzo al fioretina–Italian beef stew with fresh herbs and peas, while FunnyGirl feasted on pasta bolognese. It was like coming home to find our favorite meals prepared exactly how they’ve always tasted. We came back for the margherita pizza, then again for the pasta al vongole and the gnocchi al pesto. We just couldn’t get enough.
On a fun day of shopping, we had just finished buying an Italian silk scarf (for me) and silk tie (for FunnyGirl) when we asked the sales woman where we could go for some good food, and she quickly scribbled down Pizzeria il Teatro. Inside, it was a quaint yet hip spot with a mix of college students from the nearby university, couples on date night, and a regular who chatted up the entire staff at every chance.
There is so much truth in, the more Italians see you try and speak to them in their mother tongue, the nicer they are. As we tried to navigate conversations with our 3 years worth of Italian college courses, the staff warmed up to us even more to the point that they brought us free limoncello shots at the end of our dinner. OH and dinner! It was divine. I had the risotto with mushrooms, although I blatantly favored FunnyGirl’s pasta ai formaggi. It was the oddest thing, we went all out with appetizers, main courses, sides, dessert, wine, and limoncello shots, and still didn’t walk out of there stuffed like back home. The food felt light as a feather.
Naturally, while at Pizzeria il Teatro we struck up a conversation with two American students studying abroad. We quickly pulled out our map and they just as easily began marking it up with the best things to do and where to get amazing pizza. And this is how we ended up at Gusta Pizza the following day. The place was packed, and you immediately had to grab a ticket to wait your turn. I ended up with the Pizza Calabrese that was decked out with Calabrese sausage and spicy tomato sauce laying on a perfectly thin charred pizza crust–Mama Mia!
And then there was my birthday. FunnyGirl surprised me with the most romantic restaurant. We raced through the streets of Florence in the middle of a rain storm to make our 9 o’clock reservations at Trattoria e Pizzeria Baldovino. It was straight out of the movies–as we settled into this romantically lit trattoria, the rain outside was passionately thundering outside. We started with some wine of course, and a savory spread of rosemary flatbread, salumi, and formaggi.
I regret not ordering the lasagna, which FunnyGirl ordered. It was covered in the creamiest of creamiest cheese and béchamel sauce. While I enjoyed my pasta al ragu, I kept hoping FunnyGirl did not finish her plate so I could. No such luck.
Oh but the best was yet to come. The lights disappeared and a chocolate torte was brought out with one candle, and FunnyGirl sang me happy birthday. It is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. As I let its richness linger on my tongue I realized this is what it’s like to make love to your food!
You will one day make it to Italy if you haven’t already done so, and you too shall make love to your food.