Progressive Dinner Around the World?

We are feeling a bit nostalgic.  One of our recent conversations included naming the best meals we have ever had.   So, I posed the question to Gabe….if you had superpower and could have a ‘progressive dinner’ around the world (travel to different places for different courses), where would you go?

His answer:

Nicolas Maillart Champagne

Nicolas Maillart Champagne

Apertif:  Champagne from Champagne Nicolas Maillart  in Reims, France

5 rue de Villers aux Noeuds
51500 Ecueil, France

First course :  Pasta course trio at Mario Batali’s restaurant, Del Posto, in NYC with Ferdinand & Isabella

85 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212-497-8090

Fish main course:  Grouper at Ostria

Ostria
Plaka-Elounda, Crete Greece

Meat main course:  Veal (Vitello), a fried veal cutlet which came doused in fresh tomato and basil at Al Mercante in Milan

Piazza Mercanti, 17
20123 Milan, Italy

Dessert: Nutella pizza at Luigia in Geneva, Switzerland

Rue Adrien Lachenal 24A
Genève Suisse

And my response?

One of my favorite dining memories, Plaka, Crete, Greece

One of my favorite dining memories, Plaka, Crete, Greece

 

Drink:  Bordeaux from Château Pontet Canet

33250 Pauillac, France
05 56 59 04 04

Appetizer:  Eggplant dip from Ta Koupia in Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens, Greece

Αναπήρων Πολέμου 22
Αθήνα 11521, Ελλάδα
+30 210-7400150

First course: Truffle Pasta from Restaurant Maurizio, off the square in Orvieto, Italy

Via del Duomo,
78  05018 Orvieto Province of Terni, Italy

Fish main course:  Grouper at Ostria

Ostria
Plaka-Elounda, Crete Greece

Meat main course:  Veal chop at Trattoria 4 Leoni, Florence, Italy

Trattoria 4 Leoni
Via dè Vellutini, 1-red  50125 Florence, Italy
055 218562

Dessert:  Tres leche cake at Sole in Charlotte, NC
-no longer in business, formerly of East Blvd Charlotte NC-

Where would you go on a progressive dinner around the world?  Please share your favorites!!!

The Swiss Rule Book: Drinking in Public

Drinking in public isn’t a big deal in Europe.    We are constantly reminded of this with our guests.  We bring along a bottle of wine to a picnic or on a train and they ask us, “you can’t actually drink that here, can you?”.     The answer is yes.      Europeans are far more lax about things like this.  As a result, there are actually far less drunk people because it isn’t so taboo.  In fact, the Swiss can start drinking wine and beer at 16.  It’s 18 for hard liquor.  And, we have never seen drunk teens.

Here are a few photographic reasons to further demonstrate the point:

Recently, in Italy, we had a glass of champagne at a risotto fair.   They gave us cloth glass holders to string around our neck so that we could take it “to go”.   This has become my favorite new accessory.

Me with my champagne glass necklace, walking around town

They  put reminders up about the legal drinking age:

Babies can't drink in public.

Babies can’t drink in public.

However, some don’t pay attention.

Before….

After….

Sorry little guy.  You have to wait a few years.

And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.

This guy might have just had his 16th birthday

People drink in random places.   It is most common on the bus to see a guy in a suit enjoying a beer on his way home from work.   I prefer this photo of a lady in her 70’s opening up her bottle she purchased grocery shopping and drinking it out of the bottle at the bus stop.  There is no time like the present.

It’s 5 o’ clock somewhere.

Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!

The Apéro or Après-Ski….Two Alternatives to What We Know As Happy Hour

When we lived in The States, we frequently had “Happy Hour”.   Whether it was with colleagues or friends, it was common to get together after work, enjoy a drink and catch up.  In the US, it is also common for bars and establishments to have Happy Hour Specials such as dollar beers or half priced glasses of wine, etc.

In France, they have a similar tradition, however usually without the discount.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing them before but while in Morzine for Christmas, we feel like we’ve really gotten a lot of practice!

The first is “L’Apero”, or The Apero.    L’Apero is the French bridge between your normal busy day and the start of the evening.   Enjoying an ‘aperitif’ before dinner is classified as a gesture of health or well-being, to start your appetite.   The typical aperitif consists of :  champagnes, martinis, vermouths, sherries, or a light or sweet white wines, as well as small snacks like olives, chips or nuts.  A fruit juice is also an alternative to the alcoholic beverages.

Having Champagne for an aperitif

Having Champagne for an aperitif

In ski towns, the apero has a fun spin in terms of the “Après Ski”.   Literally translated, it means ‘after the ski’.  Crowds gather at the most popular bars to start the night.    Here the drink selections are more broad, including beers and mixed drinks.

The Après Ski buzz

The Après Ski buzz

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends, including a special birthday celebration

Finally, after dinner, it is common in France and other European countries to be served a digestif.   Many times this is included with the meal, and is intended to help your food settle.   In Greece, it is raki or ouza.  In Italy, many times it is limoncello.  Here in France, we had homemade apple and pear liquor as well as a hot rum digestif.

While I have heard of “the night cap”, an alcoholic beverage consumed before going to bed, in the US, I typically know it as a sleep aid vs. a digestive aid.

It sure is hard to do this research, but we are happy to do it for the benefit of the blog!  Happy New Years Eve, everyone!!

Viennese Café Culture & other Austrian Culinary Delights

The Viennese are very caffeinated due to the proliferation of fantastic cafés in their city. Inviting, dark, and sometimes smoky, they keep you wondering the history that’s taken place within their walls.
Ambience at Café

Ambience at Café Braunerhof

We had the benefit of relaxing at Café Braunerhof while a violinist & pianist played classical music for a den full of Viennese patrons.  Decorated with rich fabrics, antique mirrors and dark woods, these cafés feel like you are sitting in your grandmas living room.  Buy a cup of coffee and you are welcome to make yourself at home. Racks of the day’s newspapers are yours to enjoy.

Most of these cafés serve delishous desserts and pastries.  We grabbed a few at Café sacher, trying the famous sachertorte and an apfelstudel.

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

In addition to the cafés, pastries dominated the hotel breakfast buffet with overflowing baskets providing endless possibilities of sugar intake. And at the Christmas markets, the confections were also plentiful and tantalized the crowds.
Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely pastries

Lovely pastries

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce.

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce. Yes that is a trash can.  It was crowded and I had no place to stand!

And don't forget the pretzels!

And don’t forget the pretzels!

Mmmmm

Mmmmm

Beyond the sweets, breads, and java, Vienna still has much more to contribute in the culinary scene. We loved the soups….broths coming stuffed with goodies….crepe soup, pancake soup, and a beef noodle veggie soup were among those we tried.
Pancake or crepe soup

Pancake or crepe soup

And of course, we had to have wiener schnitzel, a popular Austrian dish of pounded & breaded veal or pork which is then deep fried.   We had veal and pork, both fried. We also tried a pan sauteed version with a sauce and rice. Our favorites were the veal options found at Fromme Helene, but we also liked the pork schnitzel at Café Rathaus.
Wienerschnitzel

Wiener schnitzel

Sauteed schnitzel

Sauteed veal schnitzel

The Austrian fair food kept us full and warm as well.  Over the course of the weekend, we had rosti (a potato dish), bratwurst & mustard, goulash, and two types of nockerl (like little gnocchi).
Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Goulash in a bread bowl

Goulash in a bread bowl

Austria is also know for its white wine.   In the local dialect, the word for Vienna is Wien and Wine is Wein.  We had fun at this place having lots of Wiener Wein.

WienO

WienO

We also partook in the festival hot wine….

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine. He was also excited to keep the boot mug….you pay a 2 euro or 2.50 euro deposit on your first drink for the cup.  We didn’t return ours.

 

Vienna is a city of the finer things: classical music, balls, culture, and the arts. But it is also a very satisfying food town as well. Perhaps it’s best enjoyed in the winter when it has a fantastic warming effect and the extra pounds dont show as clearly!!

 

Wiener Christkindlmarkts

Vienna tops the best destinations in the world for Christmas, so we knew we wanted to see it our last holiday season in Europe.

During the month of December, the city is filled with small Christmas villages, selling everything from ornaments & gifts to Austrian-style fair food & hot toddies.  Lights fill the trees and booths, providing a holiday glow all around. Smells of spices and delicious foods permeate the chilly air, inviting you to try everything.

Ornaments for sale

Ornaments for sale

Yummy gingerbread

Yummy gingerbread

These markets are called Wiener Christkindlmarkts or Weihnachtsdörfers.  To help with the translation, in Austria, Wien is the name for Vienna.  So anything Wiener is Viennese.
We visited four Viennese (or Wiener) markets during a mid-December weekend in Vienna:
Rathaus Christkindlmarkt 
Rathaus, or town hall, market

Rathaus, or town hall, market

The town hall surrounded by stalls

The town hall surrounded by stalls

Happy Christmas-market goers

Happy Christmas-market goers

View at daytime

View at daytime of the Rahthaus (town hall)

And view at night

And view at night

The market was glowing, even with the rain

The market was glowing and full of people, even with the rain

Schloss Belvedere 

Markets surrounding the palace

Markets surrounding the palace

Schloss Schönbrunn
Schloss

Schloss Schönbrunn’s tree & market

Weihnachtsdörfer @ Museumquartier
Adorable stalls

Adorable stalls

More authentic artisans

More authentic artisans were found at this one…

We got recommendations for Karlsplatz and Spittelberg but didnt have enough time.
One can’t help but feel full of Christmas cheer after spending a few days in this lovely Christmas capital.
Related post:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Colmar’s Marchés de Noël

Colmar is a picturesque town in the Alsace region of France known for its lovely Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets.     I have wanted to check out the town for quite some time, regardless of the season, but it never worked out.   Now with a departure date ticking down, I knew this Christmas would be my last chance.     I’d set up two potential dates to go.  The first one called for rain/snow and temperatures of 33.  It wasn’t very appealing to have a temperature hanging at the freezing mark but not committing to freezing ( and thus snow which is better than rain), so Plan B became the fall-back.

I awoke last Thursday (Plan B) to another forecast of rain and 33 degree temps.   But a little freezing rain wasn’t going to stop me this time, especially with it being the last chance!   I took off, connecting in 3 towns, for a trip of about 3 hrs & 45 minutes through Northern Switzerland and into Eastern France.

I had about five minutes of no rain where I captured a few photos.

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Then, the rain showers came…and continued.  It even started snewing, which is my word for the wet thick fat snow / rain combo.   While I love snowing, I don’t love snewing.  It doesn’t stick, but just makes everything wet.  It was interesting to balance the umbrella and take photos!

 

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I ended up staying a few hours to visit all five of the markets in Colmar, and coming home very soggy.  However, I am happy to have gotten my fill of Alsace Christmas beauty, as evidenced in these snapshots.

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If you are ever in Alsace, I have heard from friends that the wine road is really cool.    My PT recommended biking it in the summer.  S & S loved exploring it as well as some of the other quaint Alsace towns.  While I didn’t have it in me this trip, I’ll provide a few related posts to this area below:

Related posts:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Too Much Can Get You Alsauced, Alsace’s Wine Route (Route du Vin) 

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Colorful Colmar

Schwingen in Switzerland: Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

Schwingen in Switzerland:  The Malgre Nous, Forced To Fight Against Their Country of Birth During WWII.

Gratitude Friday: Scotch with Cousins

This Gratitude Friday, we are grateful for seeing family.   My cousin and her husband live in Edinburgh.  We had wanted to visit Scotland for awhile and it finally happened last weekend.

We had the chance to meet up at their local haunt, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.     The society is a private club which purchases full casks of whisky from local distillers to provide a special and rare taste to its members.  Thus, as a member, you can come to the society and enjoy tastes of scotch by the glass, or order them via post by the bottle.

Image courtesy of insidebars.wordpress.com

Image courtesy of insidebars.wordpress.com

Because of the agreements with the distillers, they don’t disclose which distiller/brand at the bar.  You simply have a guide indicating the characteristics of the whiskies, each given a very creative name.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of insidebars.wordpress.com

We got a kick out of the copy written to describe each.   Intense discussions were had on whether or not our whisky tasted like “a fine leather handbag”, “creme brûlée” or “a newly wrapped tin foil pack”.

My taste of

My taste of “in a sweetie shop”

We were advised  by my cousin’s connoisseur husband that if you like something, you have to buy a bottle fast.  They have limited quantities and the good ones sell out quickly.

It was very nice to catch up with my cousin.  It occurred to me it has actually been about 16 or 17 years since we’ve seen each other.    She has been in the U.K. for quite awhile, having met her husband in London.  They recently settled in Edinburgh about 2 years ago, finding a nice balance versus the bustle of London.    We also enjoyed meeting her hubby and getting to know him.  We don’t have a lot of personal contact when we travel, so this was very special.

Good times

Good times

We are grateful to the two for showing us such a lovely time in Edinburgh!  Although, I will have to fault them for now making Gabe so fond of Jura scotch.  We came back from Scotland many pounds lighter…in the wallet.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Two Fools at the International Truffle Fair

The idea to go to Piedmont actually got hatched on our way back from Cinque Terre.   I was reading our guidebook to learn more about Italy and came across the “Festivals and Events” page.    I mentioned to Gabe that the Alba International White Truffle Festival was listed as mid-November.    Since the Piedmont is only a 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive from our flat in Geneva, we decided that we’d check into it.    And, as it turned out, the last weekend of the fair was our only free weekend in November.   Perfect.  Booked.   Why not?

Let’s back up and say while we like truffled foods, we are not connoisseurs.   We have some friends from Singapore who we’d call connoisseurs of truffles, but not us.    I can probably safely say the amount of truffled dishes I have had in my life have been less than five.   The only time I’d ever seen a truffle was at our anniversary dinner at Le Sesflo in Geneva where they shaved it into my risotto.  The rest of the time, it has been truffle-infused or with truffle oil.     I can probably say the same for my husband.

Planning the trip to Piedmont, I looked into trying to go on a truffle hunt, with an actual dog (Italy banned the use of truffle hunting pigs a few years ago due to the animals damaging the special truffle producing turf).    After researching, I soon found this excursion wasn’t in our budget.  Far from it. Like obscene. And you don’t even get to keep the truffle.

Since we can’t afford a truffle hunt, this image is courtesy of theguardian.co.uk

We decided that attending the Alba International White Truffle Fair would be enough of an experience.

Streets of Alba at the entrance to the Truffle Fair

Not knowing anything, we were a bit overwhelmed.  There were truffles everywhere. The farmers were proudly standing with their selection, most in glass cases.

Line up of truffle hunters

White truffle display.  Yes, the big one is 252 euros.  A today’s exchange rate, this is 325 dollars.  Takers?

I liked this guy. He kept polishing his truffles on display. We bought some truffled dry pasta and truffle oil from them to savor at a later date.

This is as close as we got to a truffle dog

As we were intimidated, we wondered around looking at other foods of the Piedmont, continuing to take it all in.   The vendors were very kind offering samples but my Italian is very weak so I felt bad at not being able to communicate.  Just a polite nod and smile.

I’ll point out that this wasn’t a very touristy event.  We didn’t see a single other person who was a) there for fun or b) speaking English.  They were all there to buy.

Cheeses……

Mushrooms….

In the end, we actually ended up buying a little white truffle.   It was a splurge but we are pretty sure we won’t be going back to the White Truffle Fair any other time in our lives.

This is how much truffle we can afford.

We sliced it up so that we could put in on buttered gnocchi pasta.

The 3 B’s of Piedmont Wine

As I mentioned in the last post, we have become fans of the wine of Italy’s Piedmont region.   However, while we knew the most famous types – Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera – we did not know the slightest about the vinoculture.

So, to develop our knowledge on Piedmont wine, we had no choice but to travel there and have an official Piedmont wine tour!

To start, all three of these are grown in the Langhe region of Italy.   This is an area within the Piedmont.   Italian wine isn’t as complicated as French with Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and village level designations.  However, they do have a similarity in that certain plots are valued more.  However, these are more ‘small areas’ than particular plots belonging only to one winery.     While France uses AOC to designate the its approval of the grape / area, Italy uses the term DOC.

The Langhe region is very hilly.

Of the three I mentioned above, in addition to being types of wine made with Nebbiolo grapes, Barolo and Barbaresco are also towns.   There is no town of Barbera, but the Barbera grapes grow in the Piedmont and come from different towns…Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti, etc.

Barolo is the king – the best.   There are eleven towns in the Langhe which can call their wine Barolo.   Building on that, there are many crus, or plots of land where these special Nebbiolo grapes come from.    At our first stop, Fratelli Revello, we tasted their Barolo 2008, Barolo Vigna Gattera 2007, Barolo Vigna Giachini 2007 and Barola Vigna Concha 2007.   The names Gattera, Giachini and Concha are the plots.  They pointed out their window to show us where they came from – to the south, to the southeast, and across the street.  Thus, Barolos are not blended.

Checking out the Barolo map while overlooking the beautiful vineyards

While visiting the Marchesi di Barolo winery, we learned a bit more about Barolo’s history and the influence of the Savoy, who made their capital in nearby Torino.  This was very influential in the growth of Barolo.

As I mentioned, Barolo is a town.  And it is quite lovely….it is located in the middle of the hills, complete with a charming castle.

View of Barolo as we descended from our tasting above in La Morra

If you don’t have a planned visit, there are countless local wine stores in the town of Barolo with signs that invite strollers to come have a tasting.  We abstained due to the heavy amounts we were tasting at our visits, but did buy some local goods – hazelnut creme, pasta, and a handmade wine opener.

Exploring the town of Barolo, Italy

Barolo’s castle

Barbaresco is a town and also a type of Piedmont wine made with the Nebbiolo grape.   Exactly like Barolo, Barbaresco has only certain plots within the DOC.   There are only five compared to Barolo’s eleven.    We visited a charming family winery, Ca’del Baio.  In addition to their flagship Barbaresco, this winery also produced a few other local grape varieties: Dolcetto, Barbera d’Alba, and a Nebbiolo without DOC designation (outside the borders).

The hubby, checking out the family’s photo collection.

Barbaresco town is beautiful yet still much smaller than Barolo.   It is situated on the top of one of Piedmont’s rolling hills.

Town of Barbaresco, as seen from a neighboring hill

Like Barolo, you can taste in the many tasting rooms of Barbaresco.  Our guide told us about one tasting room that is a converted church.  We didn’t visit the Sunday morning we were there, but you can see it in the below photo as the central building.  Barbaresco also has a charming Sunday market.

Sunday morning market in Barbaresco. We purchased some nocciola creme and olive oil.

Finally, an explanation on Barbera.   As mentioned above, Barbera is the name of a grape, not a town.    So, it came come from different areas, generally designated on the label.

Barolos are the most expensive, ranging from 30 – 50 euros a bottle.  Barbarescos are a better bargain at 20 – 25 euro bottles.  Barberas are 6 – 12 euros.

While I like Barolos and Barbarescos, my wallet keeps me a bigger fan of Barbera.

The Piedmont: Italy’s Best Region for Food & Wine

I first discovered Piedmont wines through a restaurant in Charlotte called Vivace.  Always an early bird, I would sit at the bar to wait for the friends I was meeting.   One time, the bartender recommended a Barbera wine from Italy called Fontanafredda – Briccotondo.   I enjoyed it and let him know that he’d made a great selection.   He tipped me in on a secret….the local Charlotte gem Common Market was the only place to stock it in town and the bottle sold for as much as what a glass in the restaurant ran.

My first taste of Piedmont

I picked up a few bottles and it became a favorite.

Fast-forward a few years and we are in Geneva.  We attended an expat fair which was very boring but what made the visit worthwhile was a food & wine booth run by a Swiss man and his wife.   They were selling Piedmont products and couldn’t have been more passionate.  They said after a visit, they’d fallen in love with the area and bought a house.   They then started a business selling Piedmont products in Switzerland.

Image courtesy of e-rcps

They graciously offered us tastes of all their foods and wine.  We expressed interest, but our regret that we had not enough francs to buy wine.  The gentleman assured us he’d ship us a case and invoice us later.  Still new to Switzerland, we were baffled that someone would ship us wine before we paid for it.   We were a little skeptical but gave our address.

And, one week later, our wine showed up.  We loved it.  As time passed, we’ve learned even more about the products from the Piedmont region.  It is in my opinion, Italy’s overall best region for food and wine.    Here is a run-down of what Piedmont is known for:

The Slow Food Movement.   The Piedmont is the birthplace of this movement, which was started to counteract the fast food movement.  Basically, the theory is that food sourced locally and prepared mindfully is better for the body & spirit.    It’s thinking about how the choices you make in food affects the world.

Street vendor selling locally made items

Truffles.    Truffles are basically very rare mushrooms.      I love dishes with truffle flavorings….they are aromatic and add a special flavor to dishes.  While there are many parts of Europe that produce black truffles, the Piedmont is known for its white truffle.    Due to their rarity, they are very valuable.  In fact, the world’s most expensive truffle ever sold for $330,000.

A line-up of truffles for sale at the International Truffle Festival in Alba

Risotto.    Made with a special short grain rice, Italian risottos are cooked until creamy.   I like making mushroom risotto as well as green garden risotto.   The best risotto I ever had was truffle risotto at Les Sesflo in Geneva.

I bought three types of Piedmont rice from this guy at the Alba farmers market.

We happened upon a risotto exposition and decided to get our lunch there.  I wasn’t able to express the kind I wanted in Italian, so they gave us ‘risotto spumante’.   It is risotto with Asti champagne.

Don’t eat so much, Gabe! You have to drive!

Hazelnuts.    The Piedmont is a prime hazelnut producing area.    In fact, Nutella was invented in Piedmont!

Passing the factory where Nutella was made.

Passing Italian hazelnut fields

The company who produces Nutella, Ferrero, also produces Ferrero Rocher, the yummy hazelnut truffle candies.    However, we did learn that modern day Nutella production uses Brazilian hazelnuts because they are cheaper.

All of these things are made in Piedmont, Italy

A very interested customer.  Doesn’t everyone need a jar of Nutella the size of your head?

If you are into local types, artisanal hazelnut creme (nocciola) is sold in droves.

I decided that I needed to research these artisanal types….you know, for the benefit of the blog.

Hazelnuts are also made into delicious cakes and flours.

An offering of hazelnuts at the Alba farmers market

The hazelnut cake lady at the Truffle Festival

Wine.   Piedmont produces a few types of notorious red wines:  Barolo, Barbaraesco, and Barbera.  As I mentioned, the Barbera was my gateway wine.  The Barolo is most often named as Italy’s best wine.     Also, Asti is famous for its sparkling white wine.   As it is sweet, and it isn’t our preference, we didn’t stop in Asti this trip.

A few late bloomers….Barolo vineyards after harvest

What’s not to love in Piedmont??