How Italians eat hamburgers (Italy’s hamburger mania)

February 7, 2014

italian hamburger

Above: as far as Italian hamburgers go, my personal favorite can be found at Vittorio Fusari’s amazing Dispensa Pani e Vini in Franciacorta, where the Brescians’ already healthy appetite for beef has been augmented by the burger craze. Vittorio’s is unconventional but utterly delicious.

It seems that Italy has come along way since Katie Parla’s often fruitless search for a great burger in Rome in 2011.

If, like me, you follow Italian food blogs like Dissapore, Puntarella Rossa, or Scatti di Gusto (whose editor Massimo Bernardi also pulls the strings at Dissapore), you know that the last two years have seen an explosion in Italians’ maniacal passion for hamburgers (#NotHyperbole).

best hamburger italy

Source: Puntarella Rossa.

Just when we though we’d never hear another lament about Italy’s hamburger obsession from Joe Bastianich (who has complained that hamburgers are the only thing that guests at his newish restaurant, Orso in Friuli, ever talk about), the Italian hamburger mania has reached a new zenith with an article on “how to sink your teeth [addentare] into a hamburger” and the “perfect hold” for a hamburger, published yesterday by the Italian national daily La Stampa.

Read the rest of this entry »


#BestMeals2013: Dispensa Pani e Vini (Franciacorta)

December 23, 2013

The Dispensa in Franciacorta is one of my all-time favorite restaurants. This spring, I took Tracie P and Georgia P (and Lila Jane in Tracie P’s belly) to eat there not once but twice…

italian grissini

Above: Grissini — bread sticks — are one of Italy’s great gifts to humankind. I’m not talking about the hydrogenated oil-charged grissini that come in a plastic wrapper. I’m talking about the ones that chefs like the amazing Vittorio Fusari bake in-house. Georgia P couldn’t get enough!

Franciacorta Chef Vittorio Fusari and his Dispensa Pani e Vini have become a happy Parzen family obsession. Last week I wrote about the first of two meals we had there earlier this year.

Vittorio’s ability to match brilliant technique and precision with his uncanny knack for sourcing wholesome materia prima have fascinated and thrilled me. Bringing Tracie P and Georgia P to lunch there was one of the highlights of our family trip to Italy in the spring.

Here’s what we ate on the second day.

32 via dei birrai

There is so much great beer being made in Italy right now. We loved the richness of aroma and flavor in the Oppale by 32 Via dei Birrai.

raw salmon italy

The salmon wasn’t cured. It was served raw, expertly sliced and dressed with a gentle drizzle of olive oil. So simply yet ethereally satisfying.

pasta asparagus

Vittorio made these penne with green beans especially for Georgia P. Mommy and daddy couldn’t help stealing a bite.

risotto asparagi asparagus

Vittorio’s risotto agli asparagi was a masterpiece. This dish left me speechless.

italian chicken salad

Poached chicken salad. That’s a lightly breaded, fried egg in the middle. It’s yolk was perfectly runny.

italian hamburger

The Bresciani (ethnonym for natives of Brescia, Lombardy, the province that claims Franciacorta) love beef. This was Vittorio’s take on the hamburger. All the bread is baked in-house at the Dispensa.

manzo olio brescia lombardy

Manzo all’olio — literally “beef cooked in oil” — is a classic dish of Bresciana cuisine. Slowly braised beef usually served with polenta and/or potatoes.

giovanni arcari eugenio signoroni

If I’m in Franciacorta, you’ll usually find me in the company of my bromance Giovanni Arcari (left), winemaker extraordinaire and grand personage of Italian wine. He met us for lunch and we bumped into Eugenio Signoroni, editor of the Slow Food beer and osteria guides. That’s the kind of place the Dispensa is. You always run into food and wine professionals and personalities there.

happy italian baby

What a joy to watch our sweet baby girl enjoy her meals at the Dispensa. Our family life is centered around eating well (and by “well,” I mean deliciously and wholesomely) and there is no chef I know who devotes more attention and passion to the wholesomeness of what he serves his guests.

Thank you, Vittorio! The Parzen family is your unabashedly and eternally devoted and grateful fan!


Best meals in Italy: Day 2 at the Dispensa Pani e Vini #Franciacorta

June 18, 2013

italian grissini

Above: Grissini — bread sticks — are one of Italy’s great gifts to humankind. I’m not talking about the hydrogenated oil-charged grissini that come in a plastic wrapper. I’m talking about the ones that chefs like the amazing Vittorio Fusari bake in-house. Georgia P couldn’t get enough!

Franciacorta Chef Vittorio Fusari and his Dispensa Pani e Vini have become a happy Parzen family obsession. Last week I wrote about the first of two meals we had there earlier this year.

Vittorio’s ability to match brilliant technique and precision with his uncanny knack for sourcing wholesome materia prima have fascinated and thrilled me. Bringing Tracie P and Georgia P to lunch there was one of the highlights of our family trip to Italy in the spring.

Here’s what we ate on the second day.

32 via dei birrai

There is so much great beer being made in Italy right now. We loved the richness of aroma and flavor in the Oppale by 32 Via dei Birrai.

raw salmon italy

The salmon wasn’t cured. It was served raw, expertly sliced and dressed with a gentle drizzle of olive oil. So simply yet ethereally satisfying.

pasta asparagus

Vittorio made these penne with green beans especially for Georgia P. Mommy and daddy couldn’t help stealing a bite.

risotto asparagi asparagus

Vittorio’s risotto agli asparagi was a masterpiece. This dish left me speechless.

italian chicken salad

Poached chicken salad. That’s a lightly breaded, fried egg in the middle. It’s yolk was perfectly runny.

italian hamburger

The Bresciani (ethnonym for natives of Brescia, Lombardy, the province that claims Franciacorta) love beef. This was Vittorio’s take on the hamburger. All the bread is baked in-house at the Dispensa.

manzo olio brescia lombardy

Manzo all’olio — literally beef with olive oil — is a classic dish of Bresciana cuisine. Slowly braised beef usually served with polenta and/or potatoes.

giovanni arcari eugenio signoroni

If I’m in Franciacorta, you’ll usually find me in the company of my bromance Giovanni Arcari (left), winemaker extraordinaire and grand personage of Italian wine. He met us for lunch and we bumped into Eugenio Signoroni, editor of the Slow Food beer and osteria guides. That’s the kind of place the Dispensa is. You always run into food and wine professionals and personalities there.

happy italian baby

What a joy to watch our sweet baby girl enjoy her meals at the Dispensa. Our family life is centered around eating well (and by “well,” I mean deliciously and wholesomely) and there is no chef I know who devotes more attention and passion to the wholesomeness of what he serves his guests.

Thank you, Vittorio! The Parzen family is your unabashedly and eternally devoted and grateful fan!


Best meals in Italy, Franciacorta dreaming of the Dispensa Pani e Vini

June 12, 2013

coppa cotta

Above: Coppa cotta, “cooked coppa” at the Dispensa Pane e Vini in Franciacorta.

Whenever I lead a guided wine tasting, I make a point of asking the guests to consider what I believe is one of the most important elements in wine appreciation: how do you feel the day after you drink the wine?

I’m not talking about being hung over. We all know about the physical and emotional fallout of excessive alcohol consumption.

No, I’m talking about the role that wine plays in digestion.

coregone white fish

Above: Fried coregone and coregone “ice cream,” made from Coregonus lavaretus, European white fish from Lake Iseo (Franciacorta).

We spend so much time talking about how wine tastes, the rarity and prestige of certain bottles, etc.

But we devote too little time — in my view — in reflecting on wine’s value as a nutrient and digestive.

milanese

Above: The “Milanese” antipasto is a panino stuffed with a mini cotoletta alla milanese. A schmear of potato purée is applied to the bun before the dish is plated.

Sadly, I believe that the western world’s fetishization of food creates a disconnect between the food we consume and our bodies (excuse the paronomasia).

Ask anyone who’s ever worked at one of our country’s temples to the fetishization of fine dining, Per Se: they’ll tell you that guests, especially elderly diners, often regurgitate at the dinner table.

pasta fagioli

Above: Pasta e fagioli. The health-enhancing properties of this dish were truly remarkable. I speak from personal experience.

And so with wine, so with the foods our family consumes. One of the most important ways we gauge the quality of meal is how we feel the next day.

On our last trip to Italy, I was so thrilled about taking Tracie P and Georgia P to Vittorio Fusari’s Dispensa Pani e Vini in Franciacorta that we booked a hotel down the road just so we could eat there at least twice before we headed to our final destination in the Veneto.

pasta asparagus

Above: Spaghetti with green beans. One of the things that was so remarkable about our visits was how Vittorio created dishes especially for Georgia P. She loved this.

Vittorio’s technique is astonishing and his work is renowned throughout Europe. But it’s his maniacal attention to the materia prima that makes his cooking a game-changer.

Although Tracie P has been avoided raw fish and uncooked cured meats during our pregnancy, she consumed both at the Dispensa (and we discussed our concern and our desire with Vittorio beforehand; he assured us that the provenance of the salmon and the prosciutto was impeccable).

As much as I enjoyed this meal — our first on our recent trip to Italy and one of the best — I was reminded of how good it was the next day when I visited the bathroom (and I apologize for the level of detail here but if you’ve read this far, I know you’re with me on this).

This was one of two meals authored by Vittorio during our day-and-a-half stay in Franciacorta. I’ll post about the others tomorrow.


Franciacorta consortium KNOWS how to put on an event (WARNING: contains tench pâté)

April 30, 2013

best seafood italy lombardy

Above: Tench pâté, pike crudo, and marinated sardines by my current favorite chef in Italy, Vittorio Fusari of Dispensa Pani e Vini (located in the heart of Franciacorta).

Let’s face it: Vinitaly — Italy’s annual wine trade fair in Verona — isn’t exactly known for the seamlessness with which it executes. Last year, the cellphone and wireless network were offline the entire duration of the fair (leading to utter chaos among fairgoers attempting to confirm appointments via text and email).

This year, a two-hour lunch event for Italian wine bloggers was delayed for an hour and fifteen minutes (supposedly because Daniele Cernili went overtime for his event in the same space). I was invited to the event and spent an hour chatting with my Italian blogger colleagues outside before I had to move on to my next appointment.

maurizio zanella

Above: Chef Fusari and Franciacorta consortium president and legendary bon vivant Maurizio Zanella.

But, man, when it comes to putting on a Vinitaly event, the folks from the Franciacorta Consortium sure know how to get it right.

Not only did the event “Franciacorta in Cucina: l’arte dell’abbinamento” (Franciacorta in the Kitchen: the art of pairing [food and Franciacorta]) start right on time, its entire execution was flawless, with superb food (by Vittorio Fusari), world-class waitstaff (from his restaurant), and an excellent speaker, Nicola Bonera, the consortium’s in-house sommelier (winner of Best Sommelier in Italy 2010).

arici franciacorta rose

Above: The menu included five courses and five wines. My stand out was the Arici rosé, made by my good friend Giovanni Arcari who had invited me to the event.

I get invited to SO many events like this and I reluctantly accept, knowing that they’ll probably start late, go over time, and bore the guests with a speaker who talks down to the crowd like preschoolers.

Nicola’s spiel was impressive and engaging and I was thrilled by the insights he shared regarding disgorgement and varietal composition of the wines. Did you know, for example, that Franciacorta producers must include disgorgement information on their labels? This new regulation went into place three years ago. (Does anyone remember a high profile U.S.-based Italian wine writer calling for more transparency in disgorgement info last year?)

The event was nearly seamless… except for the fact that I had to request a dump bucket, which appeared a few minutes after my petition.

I still haven’t posted my photos and notes from the two visits that Tracie P and I made to Fusari’s AMAZING restaurant in Erbusco (and I will soon).

In the meantime, the moral of the story: when invited to a Franciacorta Consortium event, ACCEPT the invitation!


Sexy hotel Franciacorta (WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES)

March 30, 2013

helmut newton

Tracie P, Georgia P, and I landed early yesterday morning in Milan and made our way in our Alfa Romeo Giulietta to Erbusco (Franciacorta).

We had reserved a room for one night in Franciacorta because we wanted to eat at Vittorio Fusari’s amazing Dispensa Pani e Vini (more on that later).

hotel iris erbusco

The closest hotel I could find (that we could afford) was the Hotel Iris.

It’s a great place to stay: very clean, with all the amenities, and good internet, very affordable for the quality of the room and service.

We were a bit nonplussed by the fact that every room has its own private elevator from the parking garage. A nice security feature but a bit extravagant (see below).

We were even more surprised tickled by the sexy image that greeted us in our room (above).

private elevator hotel italy

The lobby hosts a poster featuring an image (top) from a 1980s photo shoot by Helmut Newton at the Ca’ del Bosco estate, which lies just up the road.

We’ve already eaten at the Dispensa twice and are about to head there again (it’s that good… stay tuned for my posts next week).

And the hotel worked out great (they had a very nice camping cradle for Georgia P). Highly recommended for the value… And hey, a little spice never hurt, right? ;)


Lake fish & Franciacorta at the “dispensary”

December 6, 2012

best fish restaurant italy

Marinated coregone (Coregonus lavaretus, European white fish) served with an “ice cream marinade.”

When you really get down to the thick and thin of it, “there’s really nothing unique about the terroir of Franciacorta,” as one prominent producer told me when I was visiting there over the Thanksgiving weekend.

With its marittime influence (thanks to Lake Iseo) and its alternance of morainic (glacial-era) and calcareous subsoils, it is indeed an ideal place to grow acidity- and minearl-driven Pinot Nero and Chardonnay. But in fact, those conditions can be found in many spots of the pre-Alps.

italian perch

Gently fried perch (Perca fluviatilis) served over a potato “millefoglie.”

The tradition of sparkling wine there is owed to a small group of wealthy, industrialist landowners who began making classic-method wines in the 1960s (Franco Ziliani of the Guido Berlucchi winery was the first).

In my view, the thing that really sets Franciacorta apart as a producer of fine bubbles is the local, fresh-water cuisine there.

European white fish

Vittorio called this superb however simple dish “bread and salt” coregone fillets.

And there is no one who can rival the fresh-water fish mastery of chef Vittorio Fusari at his amazing Dispensa Pani e Vini (“Bread and Wine Dispensary”) in the village of Torbiato di Adro (in the province of Brescia).

The restaurant is a temple to locally sourced lake fish and sparkling wine (including many French labels).

Especially when Franciacorta is made in a mineral-dominant style, the pairing can be sublime.

barone pizzini brut nature franciacorta

We paired with Barone-Pizzini Franciacorta Nature. In my notes I wrote: incredible balance, very nuanced nose, some tropical fruit, some red fruit, extreme freshness in the mouth, great balance here.

I had the great fortune of being treated to lunch at the “dispensary” by colleague Silvano Brescianini of the Barone Pizzini winery during my recent and very short trip to Italy.

I love the intelligence and elegance of Vittorio’s cooking (I ate there once before, in 2008, with Franco and Giovanni).

And he expresses his devotion to local fisherman through the eloquence of his menu.

I can’t recommend his restaurant highly enough. This meal alone would have made the trip worthwhile…


I have seen Franciacorta future and its name is…

May 26, 2009

…Giovanni Arcari.

Above: Giovanni Arcari, the Bruce Springsteen of Italian sparkling wine. This man is crazy and I thank goodness for him.

We first met in September of 2008, when he, Franco, and I visited Ca’ del Bosco together, where we tasted 1979 Franciacorta by Ca’ del Bosco (owner of Ca’ del Bosco, Maurizio Zanella, was just elected president of the Franciacorta consortium, btw).

We connected again at Vinitaly, where we got thrown out of the fair for hanging around his booth after hours, drinking Franciacorta and eating salame.

Above: In March, Giovanni led a tasting of artisanal “grower-producer” Franciacorta bottlings at Ceri Smith’s excellent wine shop in San Francisco, Biondivino.

The last time I saw him, he still hadn’t launched his new blog, Terra, Uomo, Cielo (Earth, Man, Sky), “a small man, on a small plot of land, under a small sky.” The blog is now live and so I felt it time to share my vision of the future with you: Giovanni has spearheaded an innovative winemaking program and agenda in Franciacorta, consulting with grape-growers who previously sold their fruit to the large commercial producers of Franciacorta. In doing so, he has helped to create a new genre of grower-producers who make excellent hand-crafted, artisanal expressions of Franciacorta.

Above: Ceri Smith (left) with Giovanni at their March tasting in San Francisco. One of the things I like the most about Giovanni is that he doesn’t just help the growers to make great wines. He also helps them to market the wines. There’s no point in writing a song that no one will ever hear and while there are plenty of reasons to make wines that will never make their way to the market, Giovanni’s wines are too good not to share with the world.

That day in Verona, we tasted a number of bottlings by Andrea Arici’s Colline della Stella and the Dario and Claudio Camossi’s Camossi di Camossi, each tasting better than the last. When sampling these terroir-driven wines, you cannot help but be impressed by their freshness and their structure. The secret, Giovanni will tell you, lies in when the wine is disgorged.

Chapeau bas, Giovanni!

The wines are not currently available in the U.S. but you can find them at Vittorio Fusari’s excellent restaurant and food and wine shop, Dispensa Pani e Vini in Torbiato di Adro in the province of Brescia (Lombardy). Even if you don’t read Italian, check out the photos is this review of legendary chef Vittorio’s new enterprise.


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