Archive for September, 2011

Chocolate-covered cream puffs

Jamie says:  These chocolate spheres of chocolate-ness were calling to us from the window of Ristorante Centrale in Venice (Calle Specchieri, 425 S. Marco- Tel. 041-520-5730).  We didn’t know what it was, but ordered it anyway.  The chocolate perfectly covered the whole thing, and there was this other lighter chocolate sauce on the bottom of the pan that the owner so kindly poured on top.  K and I got it to go, brought it to Saint Mark’s Square, and delved in.  It turned out to be a cream puff.  I thought the chocolate part was good, but overall, it looked better than it tasted.

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Array of bread

Tuna salad

Fresh sardines with onions and polenta

Grilled vegetables

Ostaria Antico Dolo

Jamie says:  For our first dinner in Venice, Dad found a restaurant that offered gluten-free options.  We navigated our way to Ostaria Antico Dolo (Ruga Rialto, 778, Venice, Italy; tel. 0415226546; http://www.anticodolo.it ; info@anticodolo.it).  A bread basket with an array of breads was brought to the table (not gluten-free).  It was definitely the best bread we had so far.   Our first taste of Venetian bread beat any bread we had in Florence.  We shared a tuna salad which was quite tasty.  In Italy, you never get asked which salad dressing you would like- it’s always olive oil and vinegar- two ingredients you can pronounce.   I ordered the sardines and polenta.  I loved the creamy polenta and somewhat enjoyed trying the fresh sardines.  Surprisingly, I would have preferred a can of sardines.  Kathryn ordered some grilled veggies which were pretty good, too.  We asked a couple at the table next to us to take our picture and enjoyed conversing with them throughout the dinner.

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J's caprese sandwich

J's apple

K's olive bread, ham and cheese sandwich

Jamie says:  The tickets were sold out for the earlier train out of Florence to Venice, so I pulled out a section of the newspaper I took from home.  It was too early for lunch, but I followed my Mom’s advice and grabbed a caprese sandwich (mozzarella, tomato, basil) from Chef Express at the train station. Kathryn absolutely loved her sandwich from the Chef Express at the Termini Station in Rome, so I figured I’d give it a try.  I packed my sandwich in my backpack and enjoyed it with an apple on the train.  It was a cheap and good lunch.  Venice, here we come!

Kathryn says: Only in Italy could a pre-made sandwich with no toppings be this good. I grabbed a sandwich made with a light, flat olive bread, soft provolone cheese and sliced ham. I enjoyed it while journaling on the train. I love how the meat and cheese were so flavorful and moist that I didn’t feel the need to add mayo, mustard or other toppings. Quality ingredients mean you need fewer ingredients, I guess.

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Cornflakes with chocolate milk and nocciola yogurt

Our family and the wonderful nocciola yogurt lady at Hotel Maxim

Jamie says:  Arrivederci (goodbye), Hotel Maxim, and arrivederci, Florence!  We ate our last breakfast at Hotel Maxim and said our farewell to the nocciola yogurt Italian woman.  I enjoyed my last nocciola yogurt and cereal.  I made chocolate milk by using the cocoa powder next to the coffee and stirring it in cold mix; I then added cornflakes and sliced a banana that my Dad got from the little vending stand he frequented.  Of course it was delicious- there was chocolate involved.  After lugging our heavy suitcases down the stairs and grabbing a few last-minute souvenirs (I got a perfume that I had been thinking about from Santa Maria Novella Perfumery), we hopped on the train for… VENICE!

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K's midnight gelato

Kathryn says: J and I had a fun night at Astor, a local bar that borders the Duomo. It was NFL football night, so we watched TV and met people from New York and Ireland. Our Mom said we had to come back before 1 a.m. because the hotel’s main entrance locked at 1, but we joked that she made that up to get us back at a decent hour. We left about 15 minutes before 1 but made a quick detour to the gelateria next door. J couldn’t believe that I wanted sweets at such a late hour, but when you’re in the mood for gelato, you’re in the mood for gelato. The man working there gave J and I a lesson in gelato etiquette since business was quiet and he felt like venting, I guess. He said it’s ok to ask for samples when a place isn’t busy, but if there is a line, don’t ask for samples, just order. Gelato shops in Italy generally haven’t seemed keen to giving samples, J and I noticed. I enjoyed stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chips).

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Chocolate gelato with chocolate candies and vanilla gelato with fruit

Jamie says:  On our way to the train station from Lucca to Florence, we stopped in a little shop to grab some bottled waters.  The mounds of gelato were calling to me, and I didn’t have a gelato yet (a “goal” for the trip was at least one gelato every day).  And who knows the gelato in Lucca could taste different, right?.  I ordered a chocolate gelato with chunks of chocolate candies and the vanilla gelato with fruit.  I loved the crunch of the chocolate and fruit!  I can now say the gelato in Lucca is good, too!

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Osteria Via San Giorgio


Leather menu

Prosciutto, fig and brie appetizer with olives

Orange sesame tuna

Pumpkin gnocchi dish

The family at dinner in Lucca

Kathryn says: We hopped off the bus in Luca and found our way to Osteria Via San Giorgio (Via S. Giorgio, 26 – 55100 Lucca, Italy; Tel. 0583953233; osteriasangiorgio@alice.it). We had read wonderful reviews about it in the Rick Steve’s Italy guidebook. However, we forgot that many stores in Italy close for the late afternoon. We were so excited to find the restaurant, but the owner sent us away and said the kitchen would re-open at 6:30 p.m.   In the meantime, we found another place for lunch, went for a bike ride around the ramparts and window-shopped. We made sure to be back at the Osteria by 6:30 p.m. and were delighted to be seated outside.

We flipped through the soft leather menus and all agreed on an appetizer – figs with prosciutto, brie and a side of olives. The hot, oozing sweet cheese paired nicely with the salty slices of meat and the soft, sugary figs. The olives tasted fresh off the tree and were best savored on their own. J had an orange sesame tuna that was a bit plain until she dipped it in a green sauce that was served on the side. I was impressed with my pumpkin gnocchi dish. It was rich and creamy with a subtle pumpkin taste; I liked the thick, soft texture of the potato pasta. Soon after, we were back on the bus and heading “home” to Florence for a few more nights.

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Peasant soup


Seafood salad

Jamie says:  When we arrived in Lucca, it was quite late and we were starving- ready for some lunch.  We had a restaurant in mind, and I navigated our way there.  The restaurant was so charming, but it was closed!  (But don’t worry, we went back for dinner- see blog post above.)  We realized there were limited restaurant choices since most places were closed around 3:00 PM.  We found Fontanini to be open and dined outside.  I enjoyed the peasant soup and the bread.  It was just what I needed- something to hold me over for a couple of hours until our early dinner at the charming restaurant…

Kathryn says: My seafood salad, although a bit skimpy on the seafood, was tasty. On a hot afternoon sitting outside, I was happy to get a cold meal – chunks of octopus and slices of calamari on iceberg lettuce with carrots and tomatoes. The seafood tasted like it was marinated in vinegar and was nice and chewy. After fueling up on a light but satisfying meal, I was ready for a bike ride around Luca’s ramparts.

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McDonald's hazelnut Blizzard

McDonald's menu board with Blizzard options

Impressive-looking desserts at McDonald's (Pisa, Italy)

Kathryn says: Sometimes, you surprise yourself. When I walked into a McDonald’s in Italy, I had one of those moments. My initial thought was that the golden arches was an American fast food chain that didn’t belong in this beautiful, ancient country of mom and pop restaurants. I rarely walked into McDonald’s back in the States, so why would I waste my calories (and Euros) on Ronald’s food in Italy? I mean, I could be eating gelato, right? Two words: hazelnut Blizzard.

Honestly, we don’t have hazelnut Blizzards back home. And hazelnut is an Italian specialty. There I was justifying myself…and then buying a hazelnut Blizzard. When I tell you it was better than most of the gelatos I’ve tried, I mean it. Chopped hazelnuts. Creamy caramel. Smooth, soft vanilla ice-cream. It was the perfect, cool treat in the mid-afternoon heat. I have a new appreciation for McDonald’s in Italy.

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Muesli with hot milk, nocciola yogurt, kiwi, and Nocita chocolate hazelnut spread

Jamie says:  The kind woman in charge of breakfast at Hotel Maxim again presented us with four of the coveted nocciola (hazelnut) yogurts. (There were still none in the little refrigerator at the breakfast bar…she must have been saving all of them for us.)  I enjoyed one along with muesli (uncooked oatmeal and dried fruit) with hot milk (no low fat or fat free milk options here).  I saved the kiwi and Nocita chocolate hazelnut spread for for later.

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