All Trips End in Rome (Or: Rome Can’t Be Et in a Day)

I’ve been back for a week now (it’s hard to believe, but true) and only now to we come to my final trip post–the last city we visited and arguably the most important: Rome.

Unfortunately, the way our trip worked out we only had an afternoon and a night to experience Rome. Our boat pulled into Civitavecchia in the morning:

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That was my final view from the shipdeck before disembarking and bidding adieu to fellow travelers, crew members and Sidney Poitier. We boarded a mini-bus that took us on the hour and half drive to Rome. Arriving in Rome was exciting: we had brief glimpses of Vatican City (at least the walls) and the Spanish Steps near where our hotel was located.

Once we’d unloaded our luggage and checked in it was decision-making time. Mom knew where she was headed (can anyone guess?) and the stores eagerly awaited her arrival. Dad and Michael deferred to me and I felt a bit overwhelmed. As a New Yorker, I can barely imagine the advice I’d give someone who had only an afternoon and a night to experience the city. Ride one of those double-decker buses? Go visit Times Square? See a Broadway Show?

In other words: it’s never ideal to behave like a tourist when visiting a city of great cultural import, but sometimes time constraints require it. Thus I chose our first destination with only the tiniest bit of self-awareness. “Ok, dad and brother,” I said, “Let’s go to the Coliseum! That’s where they made Gladiator, y’all!”

So off we went to the Coliseum. Here it is from a distance:

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As we approached I felt a bit like the high school freshman surrounded by wisened seniors who attempt to sell you elevator passes and such. There were all sorts of hawkers–“take a picture with a gladiator!” “buy a mini sculpture!”–and one such hawker sold us tickets for a Coliseum tour that would let us cut the main line. As we joined our tour group, the tour guide narrated a bit about ancient Roman times with the help of a creepy Caesar and two sleazy gladiators:

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The narrating went on a bit too long so dad, Michael and I snuck away from the group and toured the Coliseum ourselves. Despite how touristy it was on the outside, I was glad we went once we were inside. The space is charged with ancient import and all the horrors of what went on there–slaves mauled by lions and tigers and elephants in front of jeering crowds (kind of like Iron Chef except iron chefs cook the lions, tigers and elephants)–and I felt like I was communing with history in a very deep way. Then we got hungry and left to meet mom for lunch.

Mom hasn’t been given enough credit in my blog posts for planning all the meals we ate in all the ports you’ve been reading about. I’d say she had a pretty solid track record–especially our lunch in Monaco which I raved about last post–and in Rome she scored again with our lunch at Da Bolognese: (though our dinner would be another story…)

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Da Bolognese was located right near our hotel and near the Spanish Steps where mom had been shopping. There’s an outside patio and then a fun inside space with cool art on the walls. Mom noticed that every table except ours was given parmesan and prosciutto to snack on but the place seemed mostly populated by regulars. Our waiter brought us some bread, some menus and water and soon we ordered. I tried to pick things I wouldn’t eat in America or things that felt authentic Roman to me. So I ordered vitello tontato for my appetizer:

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That’s veal in tuna sauce. I’d had it once before at some restaurant (I can’t remember where) and I was anxious to experience the real thing. Well the real thing tastes like what it is: veal in tuna sauce. The sauce had a grainy texture that I didn’t enjoy but taken as a whole it was a quirky choice that I don’t regret.

OH and here’s a pic of mom and dad so you can see the art on the walls. Isn’t it cool?

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For my entree I had a delicious tortellini that was stuffed with ricotta:

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The filling was flavored with nutmeg and that gave it a savoriness I really enjoyed. Dad had the title dish, linguine bolognese:

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which, as a red meat-lover, left him quite satisfied.

For dessert we shared a disappointing semi-freddo:

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Well mom remembers it as disappointing, I’m sure I liked it but I didn’t eat much because I was saving room for the ultra-famous gelato I would consume at the Trevi fountain.

So after lunch we all walked back towards the steps where we stopped into a cool sculpture store:

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We saw a film crew nearby and we thought they were shooting Mission Impossible: 3 but they weren’t. Mom and dad were ready to go back to the hotel and I, on the other hand, had a mission in mind. Savina, our loyal Italian commenter, suggested that I try the best gelato in Rome near the Trevi fountain at San Crispino. “I’m going for gelato!” I said. “Who’s coming with?”

There was a moment of silence and then Michael agreed to come along. We navigated our way in the hot sun and finally (after much confusion) found the pretty watery sculpture:

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We followed the tradition of throwing two coins over our shoulders: the first to guarantee a return to Rome and the second to make a wish come true. I wished for really good gelato and well… keep reading to see if WISHES COME TRUE AT THE TREVI FOUNTAIN.

As we searched gelato place after gelato place for San Crispino I began to think I wished wrongly: I should’ve wished for directions. Finally, though, we came upon it:

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There was a huge placard with a NYT review outside:

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I don’t remember the words exactly or who wrote it but it basically said there’s no competition for best gelato in Rome, it’s without question San Crispino. So with that knowledge going in we studied our flavor choices and I decided to get the signature flavor: San Crispino gelato which is flavored with honey. Michael, ever the predictable, chose chocolate.

“Would you like whipped cream?” asked the gelato purveyor.

“Sure,” I answered for both of us. Here she is slathering that whipped cream on:

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And here’s a very bright flashy picture of our gelato up close:

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We dug in greedily and enjoyed the best Rome had to offer. Funny enough my gelato reminded me of the gelato I had at Il Labortorio de Gelato in New York. If you recall, when I reviewed Il Laborotorio I said I was disappointed–the flavors were way too subtle. The San Crispino gelato was educational in that it too was subtle but somehow that subtlety worked in its favor. A simple honey flavor allowed me to appreciate the creaminess and richness of the gelato at hand; and I really did scrape that cup clean. Now that I’ve seen the light I need to return to Il Laborotorio here in New York with my newfound vision. Thanks Savina for the suggestion!

Now don’t think me piggish but after baking in the hot sun on the walk back from the Trevi Fountain, I had trouble resisting the Italian peach waiting for me on the table in our hotel room.

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I was alone in the room because Michael and dad discovered a crowd outside our hotel downstairs waiting for Bono who, apparently, was staying there too. I think it speaks well of my food dedication that I chose an Italian peach over Bono. (For the record, he never showed up.) And boy did I make a good decision: that peach was honestly the best peach I ever bit into ever.

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The juice literally poured out of my mouth on to the floor that peach was so packed with freshness and flavor and ripeness. Amazing how the simplest things–an unadorned peach–can bring as much pleasure as the most complex dish at the most highfalutin restaurant.

And speaking of highfalutin restaurants, it’s time to discuss our dinner in Rome. Now you have to understand the context: of all the feedback I got regarding my trip to Europe, the one city everyone was so eager to share their suggestions for was Rome. I had about three pages of restaurant names from you readers alone PLUS I printed out suggestions from Babbo’s website AND a thread I started on eGullet. I had about 70 restaurants I was aware of where we could have dined and yet I deffered to my mother who’d been such a champion picker of restaurants throughout the trip. The restaurant she picked for our final meal in Rome, for the entire trip, was at a posh hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps called the Hotel Eden.

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Mom and dad had eaten there the last time they were in Rome and dad remembered it for its panoramic view of the city. Mom said, “It’s really beautiful, you’re going to love it.”

The name of the restaurant was La Terrazza dell’Eden. Here’s a poster:

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We rode an elevator up and we were greeted by congenial hosts in black tuxedos. We told them we wanted a drink at the bar first and they let us sit in a room with couches and a charismatic piano player. As we sat, I looked around us and saw very few people. In the other room, where the dining room was, rigid older people ate very slowly from pristine plates. I suddenly felt myself overwhelmed as a sense of dread pushed its way up my spine: were we spending our final meal in Rome, our only dinner in Rome, at what seemed to be–the more I considered it–a high class version of a tourist trap?

Mom asked me what was wrong and I said nothing but she could tell I wasn’t happy. I was thinking of all the places people had suggested–the “fifth quarter” entrails Mario Batali savored at his favorite Roman restaurant, the pizza bianca Amanda Hesser raves about–what were we doing here?!

But then I remembered the New York City comparison I made earlier in this post: how could you expect, really, to eat Rome in a day? How could you eat New York in a day? It’s impossible. You did the best you could and this is a nice restaurant. Look at the view. Isn’t it pretty? Now go enjoy the food.

We were sat in a room where other Americans like us (and maybe a few locals) studied the oversized menus kindly translated into English. And despite my disappointment at the generic quality of the room, I was glad to see an appetizer I’d wanted to try while in Rome: “zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta and ‘taleggio’ cheese, black olives, and cherry tomatoes.”

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And these were truly excellent and, as you can see, beautiful. So what was I complaining about? Well my entree wasn’t that fantastic: “Veal in a crust of lentils with champagne sauce.”

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Nice presentation, yes, but it didn’t have that rustic Roman quality I longed for. And the dessert platter, while pretty, didn’t really wow any of us.

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I don’t mean this pejoratively, but it was all a little too French for a Roman feast—that last picture could’ve been taken at Jean-Georges. As you can tell, this wasn’t my ideal last meal—(“Are you still recovering from ‘The Last Supper?'” joked dad on the cab ride back)–but maybe it was perfect in that it’s the best reason ever to return to Rome. As a food-lover, I came close enough to Roman cuisine to know that it’s something I want to experience in depth. Plus, dad was right–the view was pretty awesome. Here’s mom and dad with the sun setting behind them:

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I’d like to thank them for a terrific trip—one I’ll be sure never to forget. (Especially because it’s so heavily documented, now, on my blog!) For those of you who’ve been overwhelmed by all these travel posts, good news: they’re done! Hope you’ve enjoyed my weeklong breakdown of our journey. Regular New York blogging shall commence tomorrow evening. Until then, ciao!

Moon Over Monaco (including the BEST MEAL OF THE ENTIRE TRIP)

Our cruiseship stopped at about six or seven ports on our journey and at almost every one we pulled away at 5:30 or 6. There was one exception to that and that was Monaco. After Sardinia, our ship sailed to Monaco and “made history” as the largest ship ever docked there. Instead of the mandatory 5 pm return-to-ship instruction, we were given the whole night: the boat pulled away the next morning.

So here’s the view from deck:

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Actually there are better pictures that show the Grand Casino and lots of the architecture but this gives you a sense. I was excited for Monaco because we’d be eating two meals off ship. While our ship food was good, as the cruise went on the food became less and less fresh and I craved something authentic and ripe and seasonal. Little did I know, we were about to have the best meal of the entire trip.

Which meal was that? Well we had two reservations: our lunch reservation was at a place called “Il Terrazzino” and our dinner was at Joel Robuchon’s Monaco outpost. Joel Robuchon is, of course, one of France’s premiere chef’s. I looked forward to our meal there with great enthusiasm. I’d never heard of Il Terrazzino–my mom’s friend suggested it–and I brattily dismissed it as a bad choice. “Who eats Italian food in Monaco,” I said affecting worldly airs although there’s really no reason NOT to eat Italian food in Monaco since it’s so close to Italy.

Well boy did I pick the losing end of the argument. Because without question the best meal of the whole trip was at Il Terrazzino. I still harken back to it in my sleep, remembering those deep ceramic bowls and the warm hospitality of the waitress and the chef and the owner…

But we’re going to reverse order this. Since Il Terrazzino was the best, let’s start with the second best: dinner at Robuchon.

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The Ritzy Francophiles on our ship went to dine at Alain Ducasse at the Hotel de Paris:

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I’ll confess there was a tiny part of me that wanted to experience Ducasse for the first time, but we have Ducasse in New York (still haven’t been) and we don’t have Robuchon. So Robuchon made sense. And while the Hotel de Paris is more ostentatious than Zsa Zsa Gabor in a solid gold bathtub, Hotel Metropol–where Robuchon’s located–is way cooler.

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See that entrance way? Wouldn’t you rather stay there? And check out the path to the front door:

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I’d say that’s pretty welcoming.

Once inside, they sat us outside on a terrace overlooking Monaco and facing the water. As you take in this picture, notice the glassware on the table: it’s way cool. (They sell at the MOMA store here and it’s $60 for 6 glasses. Though the MOMA’s version isn’t two-toned.)

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You’ll also notice that the restaurant isn’t packed yet. As someone once pointed out in the comments here, Europeans don’t dine before 9. That proved very true but even at 9 this place didn’t fill up even though a woman from our cruise tried to walk in and they wouldn’t seat her or her family. She saw us and said: “You must’ve made a reservation” and huffed her way home.

One of our main regrets at this meal was not having cocktails at the really cool bar. We didn’t want to rush our meal so we ordered cocktails at the table–Kir Royales (I observed other people drinking that so I suggested it)–and yet they still rushed us along. Here’s our drink:

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I was a huge failure that night when it came to ordering wine. Dad’s usually handed the wine list and he defers to mom but this night dad handed me the wine list and I studied it. Everything was wildly expensive and the only reasonable wine, really, was a Gwertztraminer from the Alsace region. I remember Gwertztraminer because when I was a waiter we’d always have a wine special and I remember having the hardest time pronouncing that to my tables. “Today’s wine special is a gaVERTZtremmynoirier,” I’d say. And even though I sold Gwertztraminer, I never tasted it. Because it was reasonable I suggested it and the sommelier approved my selection. “Very good sir,” he said.

No, not very good. Wayyyy too sweet and fruity. “This’d be fine for dessert,” said mom, “but it’s too sweet for dinner.”

Oh well. I like sweet and fruity so I lived. And then an amuse was presented:

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Avocado and apple pureed in layers. Very pretty, I’ll concede, but no one at the table loved this. Kind of like fancified baby food.

The bread was cool, though. And the butter very European and very delicious.

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As you can see all the presentations were artful. Like that tiny dot of balsamic in the middle of the olive oil. And check out my appetizer of crab and avocado presented in a ceramic egg shell:

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Lift off the top and…

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Behold! “A light summer dish,” mused our waiter. Yes, very light. Avocado on top of a layer of crab. We all had this for our appetizer because our waiter said it was the best but it was really just ok. Again, kind of like the amuse. Too baby food esque for our tastes. (Though I did like the complexity of flavor.)

My entree was a winner but definitely the wrong season for it:

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That’s spit-roasted pork with a side of Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes. For those not in the know, Robuchon makes what are considered the world’s best mashed potatoes: his secret is like 50 parts butter to one part potato. They were indeed extraordinary and we all got some on the side. Mom got some with her fish too:

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And dad and Michael with their blurry chicken:

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(Ha, I called it “blurry chicken” because the photo’s blurry but wouldn’t that be a cool name for a dish? Or a band?)

All of us ate our food gladly but none of us were drooling with primal satisfaction. I can’t really tell you why: it was all prepared perfectly, it just didn’t dazzle.

What DID dazzle was this dessert. It was called chocolate seduction or chocolate explosion or chocolate SOMETHING and it’s playfully reminiscent of something you’d eat from a Good Humor truck:

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Beneath that hard chocolate layer was a chocolate mousse and other types of chocolate and we all fought bitterly over this, ignoring the other dessert the waiter suggested:

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That’s basil sorbet in a pineapple soup. Typically, I was left with this while everyone else licked the chocolate bowl clean.

At this point it was nighttime and the moon shined brilliantly overhead. Check out this unprecedented picture of extreme magnificence which provides the title of our post:

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That’s not a postcard. That’s really a picture I took from our table. I did it by putting the camera in night mode and resting it on the ledge to balance it while it “over exposed” the “film.” (Not film, because it’s a digital camera.) I love that picture.

So we really liked our dinner at Robuchon, just didn’t love it. I loved how the bathroom was hidden behind this bookshelf:

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That was a fun touch. It was a fun meal. We went back to the boat completely overstuffed not just from that, but from the gigantic miraculous lunch we’d eaten earlier in the day. The lunch I call the best meal we ate on the trip.

What’s funny is that I had no real culinary expectations from Monaco. I really don’t understand it historically or geographically. I know Grace Kelly was a princess there and that Prince Rainier just died but I don’t know at all what Monaco’s cultural contribution is to the world. It’s not really France, it’s definitely not Italy. People speak French. There’s a nice casino and pretty stores. Here’s mom shopping yet again!

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It did feel a bit like Paris from the little I remember of Paris in the sense that it was so fashionable and so chic. All those fashionable chic stores: Hermes (Oprah was banging on the window as we walked past), Gucci, and fancy jewelry stores. Mom really enjoyed herself.

I was having a similar reaction to Monaco that I had in Capri: a shopping mall on a mountain. Except here the meals totally redeemed it. I’d go back to Monaco if only to eat. Especially here–it’s time to unveil the best meal of the trip.

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Il Terrazinno is so obscure, so hidden that we were one block away and shop owners had no idea what street we were talking about. All of us were a bit dubious about mom’s lunch choice. “What is this place anyway?” we asked.

But as we walked in I noticed fresh tomatoes heating in the sun and I suddenly had a good feeling about it:

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The room inside was bright and colorful. Here’s Michael and dad to show you the room:

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It must have been a slow day in Monaco because next to us there was only one other duo, two men on a business lunch. Otherwise the place was empty and there was SO much food spread out on a buffet. Would this be a buffet lunch like the one we had in Capri?

Soon a boisterous Italian man came to our table. “Bonjourno!” he said (at least I think he said unless that’d be inappropriate to say in which case he said something more appropriate for the time of day.) “No menus here,” he said, “I take care of you.”

Oooh, I liked this.

“I bring out some antipasto and you tell me when you’re full and I bring out pasta and if you’re still hungry we go from there.”

He was all smiles and all enthusiasm and I rubbed my hands together in anticipation. The first thing to come out was this fresh tomato bruscetta:

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Lots of oil and lots of fresh tomatoes and we lifted it to our mouths greedily. Compared to the antiseptic food we were mostly having on the ship, this was such a welcome starter to the meal. Fresh, bright, delightful…

And then came a mozzarella caprese with fresh homemade ricotta in the middle:

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That ricotta was unbelievable. Truly. Dad hates cheese and even he loved it. It tasted more like a cloud than anything I can imagine. And then he brought out a baked ricotta too:

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Equally delicious but with a different texture. Crispy on the edges and fluffy in the middle.

Then melon and prosciutto:

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Melon in summer is already perfect and paired here with prosciutto (a combination I’ve had before) it was transporting. Could it get more simple than melon and proscuitto? And yet it was soooo perfect.

There was more antipasto—too much for me to photograph it all. Eggplant, I remember, and…hmmm…see I’m already forgetting.

By the time they brought out pasta we were stuffed. And this pasta–the one you’re about to see–is my single favorite dish from the trip. It’s the simplest thing you could imagine, rigatoni in tomato sauce with fresh basil.

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Why did this taste so good and so summery and so sweet? Look closely and you’ll see the answer. Did you see it yet? It’s not regular tomatoes they used but CHERRY tomatoes. This was a cherry tomato sauce and it made all the difference. (And, indeed, this was the second and final dish I’ve cooked from my trip since I’ve been back—I’ll post the recipe and results after finishing here.)

After devouring that there was another pasta: ravioli stuffed with the ricotta.

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Again, the sauce was so fresh and lip-smacking. We nearly died out of gladness and fullness.

The woman’s hands you see serving us are the hands of our waitress and she was beautiful and charming and just about the best waitress you could imagine. In fact, she didn’t feel like a waitress–she felt like the Italian sister you never had who invited you over for lunch and wants you to try everything.

“We’re too full for ravioli!” we pleaded.

“No no,” she said, “You try, you like!”

This was what made this meal so spectuacular: the warmth and love of these people running this place. They showered us with food and love. It was magical.

After they cleared the pasta, they thrusted dessert on us. Literally: here’s mom with an entire tray of cannolis.

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“Take as much as you like,” said the waitress.

Then she brought out this big bowl, a mysterious dessert:

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Little pastry mushrooms soaked in a lemony alcoholic sauce.

Plus a fruit salad:

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“What’s that?” asked mom pointing to a sugary cake in the corner.

“No!” we all screamed, “no more!”

But the waitress brought over a few slices for us to try:

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It kind of tasted like perfume but we didn’t care. Then there was espresso in an adorable ceramic cup:

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We couldn’t possibly eat any more. It would be anti-human, anti-life. Protesters gathered outside with signs that said: “STOP EATING!” “PLEASE, THINK OF THE CHILDREN.”

Dad ordered a Tiramasu and we were done for:

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We all fell to the floor dead. They peeled us off with shovels and asked us kindly to leave. But first we paid the check which was half the price of our meal at Robuchon just to give you a sense of value and experience and all that junk. As we left, though, an adorable woman came out of the kitchen and the sisterly waitress said, in a hushed tone: “That’s the chef.”

“Oh my God,” I said, running up to her, “I loved your food.”

“No English,” she said.

“Oh,” I stammered.

“A little Spanish,” she said.

“Oooh!” I cheered. “Me gusta su food-o mucho!”

“Gracias!” she said.

“UN photograph?” I requested, “Por me website.”

“Si!”

Here we our together, master chef and eager fan. Aren’t her glasses cool?

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Thank you, whoever you are, wherever you are in Monaco, for the best meal ever.

The Bottom of the Boot and the Soccer Ball Midflight: Sorrento and Sardinia

I like my title for this post but it isn’t entirely accurate: Sorrento isn’t really the bottom of the boot. It’s at the bottom region of the boot but above the toes and the calf area. Opposite side of the calf area. What’s that area called? Maybe I should’ve studied podiatry. Here’s a map:

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See, Sorrento is where Naples is. How would YOU describe that anatomically?

Then Sardinia is the soccer ball “midflight” because as you can see the boot is kicking Sicily but Sardinia is the ball it’s already kicked in a traditional soccer ball arc. Those are my visual metaphors for these places I visited. These are also metaphors in the sense that these were my least favorite ports: the bottom of the boot and the kicked soccer ball indeed.

Oh Adam, you meanie, how could you call SORRENTO your least favorite port? Sardinia, ok, but Sorrento? Beautiful Sorrento, home of Capri?

I know, I know–what am I thinking?–but first let’s look at a volcano.

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Ok that’s a joke because you can’t see anything in that pic but I assure you there’s a volcano in it. On the way to Sorrento we passed Mount Etna at 1 in the morning. You can see from this map of Sicily where Mount Etna is:

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We were told to stand outside and wait for eruptions. Much of the cruiseship did and we sat there patiently passing the darkened silent volcano waiting for sparks. “Keep watching, keep watching,” chanted my dad. And just when we’d given up, sure enough, there were orange sparks in the sky. But tiny compared to the size of the mountain. It’s like going to see the Macy’s Fireworks show and having them set off a tiny firecracker. Here’s an eruption up close that I found on Google:

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Now imagine seeing that from far far away and having it comprise 4% of the mountain and that gives you a sense of it. But that’s still cool.

Ok, back to Sorrento. Here’s why I didn’t like it. Actually, it’s not fair to say I didn’t like it: we didn’t see Sorrento. We went straight to Capri (unless Capri is in Sorrento in which case please ignore previous sentence.) Getting to Capri was such a pain that maybe that’s part of why my impression is tainted. We had to take a tender into Sorrento, then we had to wait in line to take a hydrofoil to Capri and we missed the first one so we baked in the hot sun for an hour waiting for the next. Here’s dad buying the hydrofoil ticket:

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The ride on the hydrofoil was equally unpleasant. These rotten Italian women with big moles on their faces pretended to save seats for their husbands so my dad and brother couldn’t sit and they maintained that their husbands were coming for the entire 45 minute journey. Plus it was really hot out.

When we finally got to Capri we had to get up the mountain. You have a choice: cab or fenicular. (You know that song “feniculee, feniculah” that’s based on the fenicular which takes you up the mountain (kind of like the skybucket we rode in Santorini.) My family opted for a cab to avoid the crowds. This was a big nightmare for me because cars scare me as is and then going up these narrow one-lane roads with two-way traffic on the edges of cliffs made me want to barf. Then, FINALLY, we were in Capri.

What makes my anti-Capri stance more interesting is that I visited Capri in high school on that trip I told you about. My first time there I was awestruck and I declared Capri the greatest place I’d ever been on earth. I told my parents I wanted to scatter my ashes there. So what happened?

You know in writing school one of our teachers, Mark Dickerman, when you tell him you didn’t like a movie he says, “Did you not like it or did you have a bad viewing experience?” His point is that a lot of times the viewing experience itself can taint your impression. Imagine watching a favorite movie for the first time with someone you hate–would it still be your favorite movie?

This trip to Capri was kind of like that because by the time we got there I was pooped and bitter. And then mom went on a shopping rampage and I began to see Capri as a giant shopping mall on a mountain. Here she is where the cab dropped us off:

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Here she is looking at a jewelry store where there were pictures of Sarah Jessica Parker and Catherine Zeta Jones buying jewelry:

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Now loyal readers of the site are aware of my parents secret hobby: accosting celebrities and asking for photos. I retired from this sport years ago: my hope is that one day I’ll work with celebrities on plays and movies that I write so professionalism is my new stance. But mom and dad still jump at the opportunity to be seen with big famous stars. And as we were making our way to lunch I spotted a familiar face calling after his wife. It took a moment and then I tapped dad on the shoulder: “Dad, that’s Mike Nichols calling after Diane Sawyer.” Dad and mom sprung into action and here’s mom with Mike and Diane:

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I’m sure all of you know who Diane Sawyer is but I was more starstruck at Mike Nichols: he basically invented improv with Elaine May back in the 50s then went on to direct a million movies that I love: “The Graduate,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” and more recently “Angels in America” for which he won the Emmy and now “Spamalot” on Broadway for which he won the Tony. I got mad props from my folks for picking him out in the crowd.

And maybe here’s a good place to disclose the celebrity passenger on our ship. One thing that bothered me about my cruise was how white it was: almost everyone on the ship was Caucasian or Asian but there were no people of color. And then one day on deck or on the elevator or somewhere we spotted this familiar face. We saw him in port too—-here’s Michael with him:

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That’s right SIDNEY POITIER was on our boat! How cool was that? Let me tell you it’s a funny experience to be standing in line for all you can eat shrimp and lobster next to a man who made Oprah so nervous she could barely sit through the interview; a man who originated the role of Walter Lee Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” back in 1959, and the speaker of one of the most famous lines in film history: “Call me Mr. Tibbs!” So much for a racially lopsided boat: having Sidney Poitier on board makes everything better!

Boy, talk about tangents! So those were our big celebrity coups in Europe. (Plus: Michael spotted Brian Wilson in the Rome airport but really, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.) Now for the food in Capri. Mom made reservations for lunch at the big fancy hotel: Hotel Quisisana. (Or do you really use that V? Hotel QVisisana.)

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This was a beautiful hotel and I have no doubt Mike and Diane were staying here. (Actually, our shipboard friends Greg and Laura ALSO spotted Mike and Diane and said they were with Warren Beatty and Annette Benning. How’s that for a missed opportunity?)

Lunch was had near the pool in their poolside restaurant:

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They had a menu with moderately expensive dishes and then on the antipasto menu was “antipasto buffet” for the same amount as the other appetizers. I decided to explore and the antipasto buffet looked tremendous: enough for my entire lunch. So I ordered that making dad happy. Mom, Michael and he, though, ordered from the menu. Here’s the buffet from a distance (cue Bette Midler):

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And here are some of the items I chose—anchovies and I think that’s chicken but it could be fish:

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Plus the requisite mozzarella caprese:

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Mom and dad ordered theirs from the menu:

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Michael had a pretty wonderful pizza:

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But all in all this lunch was just ok. As I said, I fell out of love with Capri on this trip. I understand it’s allure and certainly it’s a place that, if I were a big celebrity, I might come to revel in my fame and wealth and power. But I’d take a day in Venice or Rome over a week in Capri any time. But maybe that’s just me…

There is one thing that Michael found redeeming, though, and that’s Limoncello. Look at the devious look on his face surrounded by all this lemon liquor:

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We bought a bunch of little bottles but mysteriously mine are back in Boca and not where they should be in my apartment. I’ll remedy that next time I’m back in Florida.

And that was Capri. Hope I didn’t turn you off too badly—it is really beautiful. Just soulless and empty.

Ok! Now on to Sardinia.

I’m surely in the minority when it comes to Sorrento but as for sentiments onboard our ship, I’m right in the majority when it comes to Sardinia. People hated Sardinia or they hated the idea of Sardinia. First of all, the seas were rough that day my friend. Looking out the window we saw the tiny tenders slam against the waves and my mom took one look at that and said, “I’m staying on the ship.”

Dad, Michael and I braved it and here’s dad looking a little green onboard the tender:

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We got splashed a great deal but I actually thought it was fun. Dad told me the difference between pitching and rolling and I think our boat was pitching. Then we reached the shore and beheld the excitement and beauty of Sardinia:

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Looks like a ghost town, right? Actually someone compared it to Mizner Park in Boca which is just a big pink shopping center. The stores here were trendy and fancy–Gucci, Louis, etc–but that’s not for dad, Michael and I. We’re men of adventure and substance. Our need to explore was overwhelming.

We’d heard back on board that the place to see was a hotel called Calle di Volpe where all the celebrities go to stay. They had a famous buffet lunch and after some consideration we hopped in a cab and made our way to Calle DV.

Here it is:

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I really liked the architecture and the decor. It was like the Grand Floridian meets the Delano (if that means anything to you). Here’s the pool:

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Michael tried to go in but they asked for his room key so that didn’t work out.

Now for the big fancy buffet lunch. We saw people from our ship heading that way and we decided to stop in and check it out. Guess how much this big fancy buffet lunch costs a person? Are you ready? Are you sitting down? 150 EUROS a person. For a buffet. That’s like $180 a person. Say WHA!

At this moment I took some initiative. I went up to the conceirge and said, “Excuse me, can you recommend a place to eat lunch around here?”

The conceirge weighed me up and down and said, “Well sir we have our buffet…”

“Not the buffet,” I jumped in. “Anything else?”

“Well,” he thought, scratching the chin. “There is a place that’s casual…”

“I like casual,” I said.

“Very very casual.”

“Perfect.”

“Super casual.”

“What is it?”

“Well,” he said, “if out the hotel and make a right you walk down the road you’ll see Bar Baretto on the left. It’s very good food…locals eat there.”

Perfect! So I led dad and Michael outside and we started on our way. Only we were walking on a hot dusty road with heavy traffic coming from either side and there was no sign of any restaurant in any direction. Still, dad and Michael posed for this picture:

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“If we don’t see it after the next hill we’re going back,” said dad.

And sure enough after the next hill there it was:

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We made our way inside and sure enough every person there, I’ll be brave enough to say, was a local. We were eating locally! Woohoo!

As for what we ate well we shared a salad:

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Very fresh and peppery. I think there was arugala in it…

But the best was my entree. I had seafood pasta with huge giant prawns in it:

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This was terrific. Dad had a white clam sauce pasta and then Michael ordered “pizza marinara.” It came without cheese but it still tasted good.

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The best, though, was the dessert. Dad loves Tiramasu and this one was the best I’ve ever had. Here he is showing it off:

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This was heavy in the egg yolks and the creaminess and it made it so rich and awesome. We scraped that plate clean.

Of course we had espresso to wash everything down like a real Italian would:

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Dad had one too and he couldn’t get over the fact of how little there is in the cup. “That’s all you get?” he said staring sadly down at the tiny cup.

“Believe me, you don’t want much more, it’s strong!” I assured him.

But dad was not an espresso convert.

We went inside and studied the kitchen:

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And then the owner offered to call us a cab. “You’re a cab,” he said.

We made our way back to the ship and ended our day in Sardinia. It was, indeed, a charming place if a big pointless. Wow, I just called an entire region of Italy pointless—but I mean pointless in the sense that it’s probably not worth visiting unless you’re doing research on Sardinian argiculture or you want really good Tiramasu.

And, by the way, our entire lunch cost $50 Euros—1/3rd of what one person would’ve cost at that buffet. We spoke to people who went to that buffet and they said it wasn’t all that. “It was good,” they said, “but totally not worth the money.” Dad, Michael and I smiled internally. We were the Rachel Rays of Sardinia.

Greece is the Word (Rhodes & Santorini)

Prologue: Greece Lightning

In 6th Grade our literature teacher, Mrs. Darman, rewarded us for our hard work studying mythology by having the Sybil visit our class. No, not Sybil as in schitzophrenic Sally Field, but “The Sybil”: the Greek fortune-teller who would see your future, write it down on a piece of paper, tear it up and scatter it around after which men would spend their lives trying to piece their futures together. (I wonder if the papers said: “You’re going to spend your life taping this piece of paper back together.” That’d be funny of the Sybil.) The Sybil came in a blue robe (whoever it was playing the Sybil remains a secret to this day) and all of us in class were dazzled and amazed. She spoke in a gravelly voice. I think she carried a walking stick. The Sybil totally rocked.

Which is why going to Greece, on some unconscious level, is the fulfillment of a dreamy-eyed middle school version of myself. The one who loved mythology and spent hours decorating my Acropolis diorama. (Remember dioramas?) I was psyched for Greece.

Part One: Rhodes

Our first stop was Rhodes and here’s a Greek flag to give a visual indicator to the non-text readers what country we’re in:

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Rhodes is most famous for…anyone? anyone?…it was one of the 7 wonders of the world?….anyone? anyone?…it starts with a C? Here’s a visual stimulant:

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That’s right: The Colossus of Rhodes. It supposedly straddled a body of water that ships passed under and toppled after an earthquake. Rumors abound as to whether the Colossus ever existed at all and our tourguide (named Daphne AND Scarlett (she never told us why she had two names)) did a nice job of explaining both sides of the argument. Here she is holding up a map of the Acropolis at Lindos. That’s because we’re at the Acropolis of Lindos; it was the big morning adventure that comprised the first half of our tour.

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Look, I can lie and do research on the internet and pretend that I retained everything I learned about the Acropolis at Lindos but let’s keep it real here folks. All I remember is that Greeks came here to pray and they had to climb a lot of steps. Throngs of tourists push past you as you make your way up which makes the challenge that much more challenging:

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Once at the top you see lovely columns:

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And a gorgeous view of the sea which, for some reason, I don’t have a picture of. Going back down is even more difficult having to walk over gritty rocky blocky stones that, we later learned, were avoidable if you took the stairs. Here’s mom fighting her way down:

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This tour we were on (the only guided tour we took the whole trip) came with a lunch at a local restaurant and that’s where this post becomes relevant. After all, this is a food blog.

Welcome to Restaurant Gregoris:

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This is located in an area I want to say is called “lothangelos” because it sounded like Los Angeles but remember this was already two weeks ago and I’ve suffered a severe trauma to the head. OUCH! Who just hit me in the head?

Wherever it was, the space was divine. We sat outside overlooking the water. Here’s the tourgroup at the long table we sat at and the water behind us:

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We had no idea what kind of food we’d be served (well we knew it’d be Greek, duh) and we sat down anxious to see what they’d bring out. And boy did they bring out a lot. It started with metal pitchers of wine. They served the wine before they served the water–don’t you love Greece?–and here’s dad pouring mom a glass:

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Now what comes next is one of two Greek salads I ate while visiting Greece and for me this was a hugely instructive part of the trip. Why instructive? Because my entire conception of a Greek salad has always been the Greek salad I get at diners: iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives and oily Greek dressing with feta broken in it. Not so in Greece, my friends:

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The remarkable thing about real Greek Greek salad is that there is no lettuce: it’s all “toppings.” I bought a Greek cookbook in Santorini and their ingredients for Greek salad (which I’m actually going to make today, document, and post later) includes tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, olives, green peppers, vinegar, olive oil, feta cheese and salt/oregano. That’s it–no lettuce–and it tastes terrific. Plus it’s healthy, you health nuts you.

But back to our meal. The food kept a’coming. Here’s mom and dad with tzatziki, that beloved mix of yogurt, garlic, cucumber, olive oil, and vinegar:

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The Barefoot Contessa makes that on the episode where she goes on a diet. It really is a tasty approach to yogurt, one that I should try one day at home. (I remember buying tzatziki at Trader Joe’s once when I lived in L.A. and that’s a tangy tangent that really doesn’t serve our story at all.)

Next up: tuna salad with lemon cut up into it! and octopus salad.

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Again, all of it fresh and terrific. I was falling in love with Greek food. Then these fried things came out:

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I’m not even sure what was in them (surely olives but what else?) yet I loved them anyway. Then came calamari—so much food, dad could barely keep his eyes open:

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Oh! This is a good time to tell you that while we were feasting we made friends right quick with this awesome Italian family from California that had been on the tour with us too. The mom and dad, Luigi and Clara (?) and their two daughters really hit it off with our family and I loved talking to Luigi about cooking, something he’s done a lot more of since he retired. He doesn’t use recipes, he says, and he loves to grille outside. Clara reminded me a bit of Lidia Bastianich, who I love, and we talked Food TV with Clara having a special affinity for that new show on Food Network with Gina DiLorentis. I always dimissed her as a pretty no-nothing who got the job because of her famous father (or grandfather?) the film producer, but Clara’s love of Gina makes me reconsider everything because Clara is as authentic as you can get. They said if I’m ever in LA I should come over and they’d cook for me. Who wants to buy my plane ticket?

But back to Greece. Focus, Adam, focus. At this point in the meal half of the table revolted (not our half) saying that they weren’t hungry for the main course, a swordfish they told us was being prepared in the kitchen. Our half of the table, the humanitarian half, felt it was rude and wasteful not to eat the swordfish they were cooking for us so we said we still wanted it. Our tourguide asked “how many people still want swordfish?” and our half of the table all raised our hands. We weren’t hungry but we felt an obligation as good guests. So here’s the swordfish:

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and it tasted fine but it was definitely the lowpoint of the meal. Maybe the table revolters knew something we didn’t know.

Now I get to teach you about Greek coffee. Our tourguide, as we drove around the island, pointed out Greek men sitting outside Greek coffee shops drinking Greek coffee and playing backgammon. She told us Greek coffee is prepared by putting the graunles in the pot of boiling water with sugar and then poured into the cup such that your cup has lots of granules on the bottom. You get to order your coffee “sweet, very sweet, or not sweet.” I ordered mine just sweet and I can’t imagine what very sweet would be because this was quite sweet:

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If I had to choose one word to describe the flavor it would be “grass.” It honestly tasted like wet grass and I have no idea why. But I kind of liked it. It was fun drinking something familiar in an unfamiliar way. By that I mean I stood on my head while I drank it.

So that’s Rhodes. We saw a castle at the end:

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This was another walled city like Dubrovnik but let’s face it, you’re bored now, you’re done with history you want some adventure. A new location. Bring on Santorini!

Part Two: Santorini.

If I am a neurotic person (and, really, I make Woody Allen look low key) I owe a small bit of that to my mother who is, to say the least, a bit neurotic herself. Not neurotic in an unusual way, mind you, but in a way that makes her grip her seat in terror at the slightest bump on an airplane.

The clearest manifestation of the mother-to-child transfer of neuroses concerns roller coasters. I truly believe if I’d had a roller coaster loving mother I’d be a brave rider of the most vicious twisting upside down rides you could fathom. As it stands, when I was young we’d go to Nunley’s on Long Island and their miniature baby roller coaster (it had like 2 tiny hills) filled with terror because my mom refused to ride and when I’d go on she’d scream “are you ok?! do you want me to stop the ride?!” and being the impressionable tyke I was I’d yell back “stop the ride! stop the ride!” Boy, do I need therapy.

Which is all set-up for a fun story involving our tender ride to Santorini. When you’re on a cruiseship you either dock at port or the boat anchors and you arrive via little boats–tenders–that launch from the ship. On the day we went to Santorini we were with mom and dad’s friends from Boca, Greg and Laura, and as we approached the tender the seas sloshed and splashed and the tiny boat bounced up and down as my mom surveyed the situation. There she is in a visor (in front of my dad) asking the ship guys: “Is it really rough? Will I die? Can I stop the ride?”

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Once on board, the boat really did rock back and forth. Once we launched away from the ship we hit some mighty big waves and at one point the boat did this huge tilt towards the water. As you can see, my mom reacted calmly:

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By the time we reached the shore, mom had had her fill of rocky tenders. “Never again!” she announced as men helped her off the boat.

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Only then we were confronted with our next hurdle. To get up the mountain of Santorini, you had to ride a skybucket.

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This, though, proved to be fun. Here’s mom having fun in our skybucket:

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So let me just tell you here that I loved Santorini. To me, it had everything Capri has (and we’ll be in Capri next post) but in a much folksier cuter way. The town is all broken up with stores and side streets and then there are cliffs that over look a magnificent view. We only saw one part of the island and that alone makes me want to go back. (We actually had a reservation at a hotel restaurant on the other side of the island but could not, for the life of us, get a taxi cab. We saw other people waiting for a cab and they’d waited 45 minutes.)

For lunch, Greg spotted a joint overlooking that water that was really perfect. Here we are going in and as you can see the place is called “Archipelagos.”

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Once inside, Greg–a bit of a wine maven–chose a nice bottle of Greek Chardonnay. Here it is, you can read the label:

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This lunch was more controlled than our previous lunch. We each ordered an appetizer (three Greek salads for six of us to share) and then we each had an entree. Check out THIS Greek salad:

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This was even better than the one we had the day before. Why? Because the feta was herb-flecked. I love me some herb-flecked Feta.

Here’s mom and Laura so you get a sense of the view:

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And here’s the view so you get a sense of mom and Laura: (huh?)

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For lunch I had–let me consult my notes: “Lamb wrapped in vine leaves with anthotico cheese and artichokes.”

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It felt necessary to order lamb before we left Greece and I’m glad I did. This dish was top-notch and had really unusual flavor components with the vine-leaves and the cheese.

Dad had seafood pasta (again!) and mom had grilled fish. We all loved our food and felt so sated that either the tender ride back wasn’t rocky or we were so euphoric we couldn’t feel the rough waters. And if my mom’s smiling on a rocky tender, you know Santorini is a place you should visit.

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It’s Dulightful, It’s Dulicious, It’s Dubrovnik!

Croatia never occurred to me as a place I’d one day visit on vacation. I am a huge failure when it comes to geography and history, and so I approached our day in Dubrovnik, Croatia with vague memories of news reports involving war and bombings. Then I confirmed that in my Lonely Planet Mediterranean Europe guide which says: “The deliberate and militarily pointless shelling of Dubrovnik by the Yugoslav army in 1991 sent shockwaves through the international community but, when the smoke cleared in 1992, traumatised residents cleared the rubble and set about repairing the damage.” Thus begins our day in Croatia.

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Croatia was the first stop on our cruise after Venice. The first full day on board was a sea day and this is a day you spend lounging by the pool, doing crosswords with your dad and fighting with your brother over his headphones which you want to use because you lost the rubber cover that goes over one of your earbuds. Arriving in Croatia, it was nice to have something less trivial to focus on. Studying the map of where we were, it was clear we were very close to Bosnia & Hercegovina. Our cruiseship pulled up next to a large wirey bridge and a bus took us into town.

Dubrovnik is called “the walled city” because it is “enclosed in a curtain of stone walls” overlooking the Adriatic sea. Take a look:

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Really beautiful, no? The town center was buzzing with excitement–several cruiseships arrived that day–and I removed a small piece of paper from my pocket and studied it carefully.

“Let’s go!” said my dad, marching towards the ctiy gates. The piece of paper I read was advice from two eGulleters who’d been to Dubrovnik and suggested we eat lunch at a restaurant called Orhan.

“We have to look for Orhan,” I said, laying the groundwork for a full-fledged lunch campaign. Sure enough a large plastic billboard said “Restaurant Orahan” with an arrow. “Hey, look, here it is!” I said and my parents nodded their appreciation then pointed out it was only 10 am and we should really go see the city.

“Ok, ok,” I murmured, as we made our way through the city gates.

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Walking into Dubrovnik is like walking on to a set from a movie or a soundstage in Universal Studios. It’s hard to believe that this is a real city and that it was built–this giant wall!–hundreds of years ago. We explored the town center which had a nice (but hot and dusty) church and a war exhibition. Sadly, many of the stores desperately tried to appeal to trendy Americans with club music and funky clothes. I’m sorry but when I’m in an ancient city I don’t want club music or funky clothes. I want lunch at Orhan!

Soon we stumbled upon an open-air market.

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The produce looked pretty standard, as you can see: apples, bananas, watermelon. Some woman, though, was cutting up slices of this exotic fruit which she passed out:

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Fond of new experience but scared of trichinosis, I decided to pass up a slice and save room for lunch at Orhan. Still, though, it was too early and we endeavored to do what about 50 tourists were lined up to do: climb the city walls.

When I say climb the city walls I mean you pay an admission fee and climb up a gigantic staircase. But once up there, Dubronik totally comes into focus. I will now suggest that if you ever go to Dubronik you MUST climb the city walls because it’s truly the best way to see the city. Here’s mom walking along one such wall:

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It’s a voyeur’s delight, really, because you peer into the lives of real residents as you traverse their city. We saw children splashing in a tiny plastic pool and cats leaping from doorsteps. Look, someone was marinating olives!

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I thought that was really cool. Then we passed a restaurant with this sign:

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But my heart was set on Orhan. “Orhan! Orhan!” I chanted as my family ignored me.

And wouldn’t you know it, walking all those miles around the city (we actually gave up 3/4ths of the way, going down an escape hatch) we DID work up an appetite and it was time for lunch. We went back outside the city gates and found that sign for Orhan. Near the sign was a giant sign for “Club Nautica” and yet I recalled the words of the two eGulleters on the paper in my pocket: “Whatever you do,” they BOTH wrote independently, “don’t go to Club Nautica! It’s awful!”

“Maybe we should go to Club Nautica,” said my dad, noticing how large and populated Club Nautica was and how empty and slightly poisonous Orhan appeared. Here’s Orhan from a distance:

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Children splashed in little toy boats and locals laid out in the sun. To get to Orhan we had to walk down a dark staircase and go through a graffited alley way.

“Are you sure you want to eat here?” pleaded my mom.

“Orhan! Orhan!” I retorted. We reached the entrance:

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A nice owner-looking waiter or waiter-looking owner came to greet us. “How many?” he said holding menus.

“Four,” we responded and we were sat at a beautiful table overlooking the water.

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Well beautiful except for the nest of bees flying around behind Michael and I. We all posed for a picture:

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And then the waiter presented us with the Croatian version of an amuse:

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This was like a seafoody paste that we spread on our bread. I really liked it. And I really liked our waiter: he had a professionalism about him that was kind of adorable in this environment. Plus we were really the only people eating there at that moment.

Dad, I must say, looked crazy uncomfortable. Dad loves safety and reliability when it comes to food and you could watch the battle on his face as he struggled with an urge to return to the ship. “You sure you don’t want to eat back on the ship?” he pleaded. “We could have a hot dog.”

But my mind was set and after studying the menu, I knew what to order. “Grilled fish platter for two,” I said. Michael and I would share this together. Mom and dad each ordered a small seafood pasta.

We all went to wash up and dad became even more discouraged to learn there was no running tap water in the men’s room.

“Grr,” his body language said but then the waiter let us wash our hands at the bar. Dad became less “grr”-ey.

And soon the food arrived. Here’s mom with her seafood pasta:

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And here’s the waiter presenting our grilled fish platter:

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He deboned the fish tableside and it all looked so beautiful. Mussels, calamari, potatoes; take a look:

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I made this plate for myself:

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And I watched dad slither up spaghetti. “Good,” he said, approvingly. Of course he got sauce on his shirt which is a ritual for him when he travels: a different stain for each different city.

Our fish platter was delicious. Truly. The fish had fresh garlic on it and the mussels were perfectly washed (so no disgusting sand) and the calamari, while less coated and fried than I was used to, was terrifically tender and lemony and toothsome. This was a great lunch.

Of course, back on the boat dad had his hot dog. And some ice cream. You can lead a dad to Dubrovnik….

And that was our day in Croatia.

We Open in Venice

Ah, Venezia. The sinking city. City of pigeons. Merchant of. The list goes on…

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Like nirvana or an ivy-league school, getting into Venice takes work. Especially when your family has close to 11 suitcases. We left New York on Thursday night, July 7th, and flew on Delta across the Atlantic and landed early on a Venice morning. My mom insisted that I sleep on the plane to keep my internal clock healthy but I managed to squeeze in a few episodes of Julia Child on my laptop first. You’d think watching Julia Child on a laptop on a plane would bring quizzical judgmental stares but it’s oddly compelling plane material. I watched the lobster episode and the sausage episode and a stewardess bent over to tell me she loved Julia Child. The sausage-stuffing looked vaguely perverse so I quickly shut down and attempted to sleep. It’s hard to make yourself sleep on a plane but I think I nodded off a bit. We woke up in the Venice airport, found our suitcases (all 11 of them) and boarded a bus which took us to a boat which took us to our hotel. I loved pulling up to our hotel in a boat: it’s oddly surreal. We checked in and relished the view from our hotel room. That’s the pic you see above. Then we realized we were starving and made out for some grub.

One goal I had for myself on this trip was to not be a food tyrant. I was travelling with three other people–mom, dad, and brother–and as much as I would have loved to boss everyone around demanding meals in places I’d researched, I didn’t want to be hated so early on. So when mom recommended a place she’d been to the year before that was also featured in her “Top Ten Venice” book–Trattoria alla Madonna–I gave a thumbs up. But then it was far and dad said “let’s eat somewhere closer.” I did my best Cartman voice: “But I wanna eat at Trattoria Alla Madonna!” and my family caved in. I pulled the tyrant card early.

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Trattoria alla Madonna is located near the Rialto Bridge in a secret alleyway surrounded by touristy waterfront posers. The moment we walked in I knew we were in for something special. There were fresh fish displayed in a case up front:

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[I took a picture of these too which were placed next to the fish and I have no idea what they are. Anyone?

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]

So in we went in our airplane clothes (we were too hungry to shower or change) and we studied the menus which had English but written beneath the Italian so though they catered a tiny bit to tourists, it still felt authentic (and everyone there seemed to be local Venetians). Here’s Michael and I looking haggard and weary but you can see the restaurant behind us, to get a sense of the space:

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Lots of art on the walls that gave the place character. You can see the bread on the table which was just ok (in accordance with Rev. Patty–who left many helpful comments on my going-away thread–who says that the worse the bread, the better the food in Italy) and also two bottles of water: one naturale, one sparkling. Mom and dad like sparkling, Michael and I like naturale. When it comes to water, we’re quite dysfunctional.

I better stop being so wordy we’ll never get anywhere!

The food. I started with artichokes in olive oil:

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These were really simple and really tasty (two definitive adjectives for most Italian food I loved: simple and tasty). I must say, though, that were were some rough spots in the preparation: I nearly choked on a hard leaf. But the tender parts were great.

But here’s what was truly fantastic: the seafood risotto.

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If you fly into Venice someday and you want the perfect food overture to your trip, start with seafood risotto at Trattoria alla Madonna. It was perfect in every way. It’s been two and a half weeks and I can still taste it: savory, seafoody, a perfect balance of liquid and solid. The picture actually does it justice: go ahead and lick your screen.

Mom, dad and Michael frequently ordered the same dish when we went somewhere (I always try to order something different so I can taste theirs and compare) and here they all had linguine with seafood which they also gushed over:

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Seafood is the thing to eat in Venice. We left, our bellies full, invigorated and ready to face the day. Here’s the obligatory photo of St. Mark’s Square covered in pigeons and tourists:

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That’s about all the sightseeing we did at that moment because we were dead tired. We went back to the hotel and passed out. Hours later, we woke up, showered, shaved, waxed, brushed, combed and did everything a family must do to prepare for a fancy dinner. This fancy dinner took place at a beautiful restaurant chosen by my mother, the frequent finder of fancy food facilities right on the Grand Canal. It’s name? The Grand Canal!

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One theme you’ll find rampant in our fancy eating excursions abroad (and I say fancy to make clear that these aren’t places I’d go to if I were backpacking in Europe with friends) is the importance given to the view. My parents are big view mavens and Venice rewards their passion quite well as you can see in this photo of mom and Michael astride the great waterway:

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Luckily, the food at the Grand Canal restaurant was equally meritorious. We started with my parents’ favorite Italian appetizer: mozzarella caprese. That’s tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese. See photo:

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I loved this the way it was but the family insists on pouring on the balsamic vinegar. I may be wrong but I think that’s frowned on in Italian culture: at least when we went to Da Silvano, the waiter refused to soil perfect mozzarella with anything as astringent as vinegar. But I won’t judge my parents for coating their perfect mozzarella with syrupy fermented wine. To each his own.

Now I’m not some jive-ass food blogger who travels abroad and then doesn’t take notes on what he ate in the language of the country where it was eaten. For my pasta course, I ordered–get ready for this: “‘Bigoli in Salsa’ Alla Veneziana.” (Translation: Wholewheat spaghetti in a light anchovy sauce.)

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This was lovely: fishy and pungent. My dad found it too strong (he ordered one too) but I enjoyed it for its strength of character. This bigoli made a big ‘ole impact.

Then, for my main entree, a very fatty choice: “Fritto Misto di Pesce con Salsa Tartara; friture de poisson de l’Adriatique, sauce tartare.” (Translation: fried fish and tartar sauce.)

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Sometimes I like to show off when I order and this was a case of getting ahead of myself. I knew fritto misto was classic Italian because I’d seen Mario Batali do some fritting of his misto but all this fried fish was a little heavy. With that said, it was tasty. Not my favorite, but good nonetheless.

What was truly excellent was the dessert but not the chocolate one you see:

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The one on top—prepare for bad spelling: zabayonne. This was almondy goodness that surpassed Tiramasu in my allegiance for creamy Italian desserts. Everyone at the table devoured it. Highly recommended, assuming you can spell it better.

And now for some controversy. Eager to share in the customs of local Italians, I decided that I would drink coffee like they drink coffee: cappuchino in the morning and then espresso after a meal. As Amanda Hesser makes clear in “Cooking for Mr. Latte,” Italians find milk too heavy to drink after a large meal. Espresso is the perfect complement because it gets you your coffee fix without loading you up. I ordered myself one and my mother was enraged:

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Enraged, you see, because “you’ll be up all night.” Espresso to her and to most people equates with electric volt of caffeine. I’ve heard various theories–I even wrote about one where a waitress told us that espresso has less caffeine than coffee because caffeine dissolves in water and espresso has less water. In any case, I still went to bed without any trouble. Michael had one too (I’m a trendsetting brother) and he slept without problem.

What happened the next morning, though, can’t be blamed on the espresso though mom tried. We were both up at the very very crack of dawn. 5 am. Completely awake. No, no, it wasn’t the espresso it was the jetlag. I mean, ok, it should’ve felt 6 hours earlier but for whatever reason we were wired. We called mom and dad’s room and told them we were going for a walk. They were unconscious.

Many commenters, in my going away post, suggested that I see St. Mark’s square early in the morning. Perhaps it was one of their spirits, then, that woke us up so early. I’m glad they did. Look at this beautiful picture, now my desktop image:

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Compare that with the earlier St. Mark’s pic and it’s like night and day (literally and figuratively). Something really mystical’s going on. Thank you to whoever suggested I see that.

Now I printed out several things before I ventured over the sea: all your comments from my going away post, a few comments from an eGullet thread I started, and travel advice from the Babbo website. Here’s their piece on Venice written by Joe Bastianich (Lidia’s son and Babbo owner) and it’s a really nice plan for one day in Venice. It begins with this advice: “Should you make it in early, stop for a coffee at CAFFE GLI SPECCHI on St. Mark’s Square….”

Seems simple enough. Except no one–and I mean know one–knew what Cafe Gli Speechi was when I asked. I asked the conceirge, two police officers, three random people on the street and several coffee shop owners. Eventually, Michael and I wound up here:

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A redheaded Italian (is there such a thing?) behind the counter had never heard of Cafe Gli Speechi but as he spoke we noticed he was making delicious looking cappuchinos. Michael and I looked at each other and decided to stay there. We ordered two cappuchinos and two pastries and sat outside:

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Everything was terrific only I realized, when it came time to pay, that I had no Euros: only dollars. The redheaded Italian was really nice: he let me pay in dollars. I left a big tip.

We’ve reach a point in my post where it feels excessively long. We have some options… I can stop here and do a Venice Part Two tomorrow but then it’d be hard to catch up on all the other places I need to write about… we must persist, we must…

After this morning sojourn, we met up with mom and dad, ate a hotel breakfast and then explored the city. Michael, dad and I explored the big church in the square and climbed to the top. Check out the view:

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We then rode a vaporetto down the Grand Canal which is like a Venetian subway; it takes about 90 minutes and lets you see the whole thing.

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(Forgive Michael’s placid expression: he had a big cankersore and couldn’t smile. Poor guy.)

Hey guess what? It’s time I panned something. Most of my meals I’ve been bubbly so far, right? Well allow me to espouse my hatred of Harry’s Bar:

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Everyone says go to Harry’s Bar for the bellinis. Ok, we did that, here’s mom and dad with their bellinis:

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The bellinis were great: foamy, peachy champagne cocktails. The people who say “go to Harry’s Bar for the bellinis and nothing else” are right on the money. And money is where my hatred begins to fume. You would not could not should not believe how expensive the food at Harry’s Bar is. Oh my God. I mean my eyes literally fellt out of my head. For a plate of risotto it’s like 60 euros. That’s like $70. For ONE PLATE of risotto.

I’ve eaten expensive food in my day but never that expensive in terms of what you get for what you pay. Here’s dad with his money-bleeding seafood risotto:

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I tasted it and it had curry in it and it was interesting and all but never in a million years was it worth $70. I ordered fish soup because it was reasonable at 40 euros. Here it is:

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It tasted like water and there was nothing redeeming about it. I hated the food at Harry’s Bar and I hope never to go back—bellini or no bellini.

How’s that for a pan!

But here’s a happy excursion. That afternoon I went alone to the Peggy Guggenheim museum which I loved:

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I don’t know much about Peggy Guggenheim but I love modern art and here you can see Dali and Magritte and others in Peggy Guggenheim’s actual house. Here’s her grave:

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She’s buried next to her cats or dogs, it’s difficult to tell.

[There’s actually this very moving room in the museum that’s filled with creepy childlike art and you realize, after reading the placard, that this is the art of Peggy’s daughter who killed herself.]

I ate some mediocre gelato on the way back. No need to go into it:

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But alas, friends and troopers who’ve read this far (really, how did you do it?) we’ve come to our final meal in Venice. At the beautiful Hotel Cipriani which you must take a special boat in order to enter. Here’s the big sign you see when you pull up:

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We spent some time walking around the grounds; check out the pool:

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And check out these grapes:

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Soon we were sat in the hotel’s restaurant: Restaurant Fortuny. Here’s mom and dad with the menu:

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(Notice mom’s Venice dress? She really dresses the occassion.)

This was another view-happy restaurant with a beautiful view of the water. This was also another fancy parent restaurant that was delicious but not recommendable for the budgeted student traveller. I started with an appetizer of (and again I took notes, I rock so hard): “Tortelli di cappesate con salsa zenzero e limone” (homemade ravioli filled with scallops, ginger and lemon sauce):

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Very light and very lovely. A good mix of flavors and textures. (How will I ever find enough adjectives to describe the food I ate on this trip?)

For my entree, I don’t know if my notes correspond with the food I ate: “Nocette di vitello al ‘vin santo.'” However that translates, it was veal with foie gras on it.

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Delicious but very very rich and heavy. This will also be a theme. (Oh, notice the truffle on top. Again, like the truffle I had at Babbo, it was disappointingly unintense but still nice to experience.)

For dessert they brought us bonbons:

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We had a tiramasu:

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And then this plate of treats:

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Would you believe it? That’s the final plate of food we ate in Venice except for the food we ate the next morning at breakfast. Then we borded a tiny boat that took us to a dock where our giant cruise ship awaited us. Yes, believe it or not, the Venice eating was just the pre-gaming for the two week culinary Superbowl we’d endeavor once aboard. Are you ready to get fat? Tune in tomorrow for Dubrovnik. I’m off to another night of jetlagged slumber. What a huge post! And this is only the beginning!