Category Archives: Italy

Cesare al Casaletto

The first time I went to Italy was in 2007. I gained thirty pounds in nine weeks.

Quattordici chili,” a pudgy-cheeked version of me would boast, as if saying the words in Italian made them somehow meritorious. I dropped two pants sizes — first 30, then 32 — before the trip’s end. And I ate in my first Michelin three-starred restaurant in jeans, because slacks were by then an impossible dream. Moderation has always been a problem for me.

Over time I’ve learned that in Rome there is no moderating guanciale. Tonight at Cesare al Casaletto I encounter the first piece, thick like tree bark, leaned casually against a plump pile of tonnarelli like the bouncer at a nightclub door — the carbonara gatekeeper. I dodge it at first, not to avoid the precious pork but to skewer it last, with a swirl of noodles. A fine varnish of egg yolk, pecorino and pepper holds it together. The bite looks, I reckon, just about perfect. But it’s not for me — it’s for a girl back home. She loves carbonara. Continue reading

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Al Pont de Ferr

I’ve missed many a plane, train and automobile in my day for reasons both significant and not. In matters both personal and work-related, I am a professional only at being late, a fact I was grimly reminded of last month when our train from Florence to Milan nearly scooted off into the sunset without us.

Thanks, of course, to me.  I bought a pair of Italian-made sneakers on the way to the station.  (Yes, I have a picture of them, and no, I’m not going to show you. We just met.) Because of my poor judgment — or because of my impeccable taste in footwear — we literally had to run to make a dinner reservation in Milan with my buddy from Genoa.

This man is approximately two and a half times my age, a father-figure, friend, and mentor in one. He’s also part of the reason that, though I’m not actually Italian, I’m awfully good at faking it.

He and I are a dangerous, demented duo. We sat down and got right to business.  No menus — just the chef’s choice on our plates and champagne in our glasses.

The first thing we ate at Al Pont de Ferr was not a chestnut. Continue reading

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Combal.Zero

Conventional medicine tells us appendicitis cannot be directly caused, that it just happens. I’m here to tell you that Davide Scabin gave my brother appendicitis, and that — sorry, bro — I still have to thank him for the meals that did it.  (The surgeon and our insurance provider send the chef their warmest regards as well.)

This story begins like most of our tales from traveling together — my brother Andre was poised to kill me at any moment. Still jetlagged and suffering a food hangover from the day before (and the day before that), he was being dragged to the third in a series of dinners so excessive I feel dirty just thinking about them.

I was not the only one to thank blame for this gluttonous streak, however.  I had an accomplice — one who combines the rambunctiousness of a child, the wisdom of a great-grandfather, and the appetite of an entire family. We’re not actually related, but he is our Uncle G. Continue reading

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