Thursday, July 24, 2008

Italy and Ireland

After eight days in Italy and Ireland, a handful of eating experiences stand out as incredible in a generally wonderful week.

Trattoria Sostanza, Via Porcellana 25r in Florence, holds the top spot mostly because two of the finest food experiences of my life were there. First was the prosciutto di Parma, served as an antipasto. It was - incredible? sensational? heavenly? - some word must be right, but these aren't forceful enough. Exceedingly thinly sliced, the fatty ham simply evaporated on my tongue, leaving behind a silky sense of ideal fattiness and ham. My daughter had been in Rome for six weeks and was pretty sure she didn't like prosciutto until she tried this. She does now.

For the main course, my daughter ordered the Chicken in Butter dish. It arrived in a dish of bubbling, foaming hot butter. The chicken breast was deeply infused with the butter taste. It was wonderful.

Back in Rome, we ate one evening at La Rustichella. Rick Steves mentions positively their buffet, and after a week of my dollars being severely battered by the Euro, a meal on the frugal side seemed like a good idea. The buffet was terrible - cold, soggy, flavorless - but the lasagna - oh, the lasagna - made up for the buffet. The lasagna would have made up for months of McDonald's. It was thin, only four sheets of pasta with cheese, meat sauce and cream sauce between the pasta sheets. The pasta was perfectly made, the cream and meat sauces were intensely flavorful.

I will also mention a simple lunch we enjoyed in the Campo di Fiore. By night, Campo di Fiore is a destination hotspot for young travelers - American students, backpackers, and so on. In the morning, though, the Campo is a farmers' market. We bought a couple of fresh rolls, a few slices of prosciutto and a ball of fresh mozarrella. Our dessert included fresh cherries and the loveliest fresh strawberries I have eaten since last summer and the last of the few local wild strawberries we can find around here. A bossy American college girl informed me that I would certainly be sick if washed the fruit under the water from knee-high spigot that Italians use as a drinking fountain. We were fine.

Finally, in Italy, gelato deserves its own award for wonderfulness. Nearly everywhere we had it, it was intensely flavorful. I love it.

Finally finally, to Ireland. Well, to Dublin. The only decent meal I had in Dublin over two and a half days was a panini at Gertrude's in the Temple Bar. Fortunately, real Guinness made up for a lot of Irish culinary sins. Real Guinness is different from what we get here. American Guinness, to my taste, is much hoppier. Irish Guinness is, to my taste, smoother and sweeter.

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