A “best” restaurant in Italy: Da Vittorio in Bergamo, a classic that keeps on grooving

From the department of “just in case you were concerned that I haven’t been eating well in Italy”…

branzino seabass recipe italyA great day visiting vineyards yesterday in Franciacorta (where I’m working on a post on Franciacorta soil types) was capped by an extraordinary dinner at Da Vittorio in Bergamo province with Maurizio Zanella, Ca’ del Bosco’s founder and the outgoing Franciacorta Consortium president.

Ten years had passed since the one and only time that I had the great fortune to dine at this Michelin three star. And I happy to report that legacy chef Enrico “Chicco” Cerea, Vittorio’s son, hasn’t lost any of his delicious groove.

That’s a branzino crudo, above, served with Norcia truffles and toasted Piedmontese hazelnuts. I loved how Chef Chicco served the plate warm, thus encouraging the aromas and flavors of the delicate fish.

caciucco cacciuco recipeI also loved the playfulness of his mise en place and dish names.

That’s his “caccia al caciucco” (hunt for caciucco), a deconstruction of the classic Tuscan seafood stew and a wonderful paronomasia.

tuna tartare recipeTuna and oyster tartare, served with tapioca, Pernod-infused and finely diced cucumber, and Sicilian tuna bottarga.

It’d be hard to call any one of these pittances a standout because they were all so spectacular. But this was one, Maurizio agreed.

amatriciana recipe authenticLinguine with a “fish amatriciana,” made with cod jowl (cocochas).

Both Maurizio and I swooned over this dish.

black cod sableBlack cod over a Salento yellow tomato sauce.

Just hearing the waiter say “Salento yellow tomato” had us giddy.

As we delighted over dish after dish, Maurizio and I remembered fondly a dinner we shared many years ago now at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego.

One of the things I really, really love about him is how he’s equally at home eating a Jaynes Burger (my fav) or dining alongside the world’s richest and most famous.

It was amazing, btw, to hear him share his Playbill notes on the celebrities and big-time power brokers who filled the dining room.

Maurizio, thank you, man! Great wine, great conversation (I loved the Veronelli anecdotes more than anything else). A night I’ll never forget… Thank you!

Poisonous strawberry update: not toxic but evidently unpleasant on the palate

wild strawberry recipeA number of people posted comments on social media or wrote me offline after I posted the above photo a few days ago, taken in Montello (Veneto).

One note came from Michele Fino, professor of food law and policy at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (Piedmont), whom I met for the first time this weekend in Asolo (I enjoyed talking with him immensely; more on that later).

“Did you know,” he wrote on my Facebook, “that according to Local traditions, wild strawberries are edible if the fruit [faces down] at the soil [while] the ones that [face up toward] the sun aren’t?”

His concern was echoed in a more stern warning by Los Angeles-based Italian wine professional Diego Meraviglia, who noted: “Careful, that ain’t a wild strawberry. That’s a ‘fragola matta’ [crazy strawberry]. It’s toxic… duchesnea indica… The difference is in the shape and the fact it has no yellowish seeds on the skin but those tiny protrusions. The red is bright and it grows upwards (wild strawberries grow downwards).”

Diego grew up in the Italian Alps, he wrote, where both wild strawberries and “mock strawberries,” like this one, are common.

As it turns out, the berry I photographed wasn’t a wild strawberry (fragaria vesca) but a false strawberry that was purportedly brought to Italy from China around 1800.

The FDA does not consider them toxic although they can cause allergic reactions.

The good news is that I didn’t eat it!

By all accounts, while it’s not poisonous, it’s not pleasant on the palate.

Posting in a hurry from Brescia this morning as I prepare to head out for tastings and vineyard visits in Franciacorta…

Happy Mother’s Day, Tracie P! Our girls and I love you!

mother and child reunionI’m sad to not be with Tracie P and our girls today.

But knowing that I’d be traveling this week, we celebrated our Mother’s Day last Sunday with red roses chosen by Georgia P, a new purse, lox breakfast, and some silly cards.

Tracie P’s such a beautiful lady, inside and out. And it’s been one of life’s most wonderful experiences watching her become a mother and nurturing our girls.

Whether soothing a tummy ache with three-o-clock-in-the-morning snuggles or simmering chicken into a savory stock that she’ll use to stew the girls’ favorite lentils, lest they digest an unwholesome broth, Tracie P makes their world and mine brim with love, affection, and gentle care.

Happy Mother’s Day, Tracie P! We love you!

When I first got on that plane from San Diego and took you to dinner back in the late summer of 2008, I couldn’t have imagined the joy that you would bring into my life by bringing our girls into this world.

Giorgio Grai never fails: 1981 Alto Adige Pinot Nero

giorgio grai winemaker italyIt took a little while for this bottle to come around last night, but, holy crap, it was utterly beautiful.

Francesco, one of my best friends in Italy, has been soon generous in digging deep into his cellar for these older bottles by the legendary winemaker Giorgio Grai (a good friend of his).

And aside from one corked bottle (out of roughly eight or so, but who’s keeping count?), these wines from the 1980s and early 90s always deliver spectacular aromas and flavor.

I learned last night, btw, that Giorgio — in his mid 80s — is planning to launch yet a new label. That’s all I can say about it but it will be thrilling, I’m sure, to taste his new project.

Thank you again, Francesco! So lovely to see you and Marina and to share a wonderful meal and conversation last night in Siena.

Today, I’m in Asolo and tomorrow I’ll be tasting the debut bottlings of Asolo Prosecco DOCG Extra Brut (which means less than 6 grams residual sugar).

Of the three townships that make Prosecco DOCG (Asolo, Conegliano, and Valdobbiadene), Asolo is the only one that produces Extra Brut (a new category to be presented for the first time tomorrow).

Stay tuned…

Maremma dispatch: the 1954 Ribolla coal mine tragedy

ribolla mine accidentA number of people commented yesterday on this photo, posted from the village of Ribolla (Roccastrada township) in the heart of Maremma (Tuscany) yesterday.

It’s a memorial to the victims of the 1954 coal mine tragedy there, which claimed the lives of 43 miners and shook Italy and its citizens just as the nation was rebuilding in the wake of the Second World War.

An explosion was caused by firedamp (a flammable gas) just as the miners had begun their morning’s work.

More than 50,000 persons attended the miners’ funerals, according to the Italian Wiki entry for Ribolla.

Here’s the only English-language account I could find.

The episode inspired the 1962 novel La vita agra by Luciano Bianciardi (published in English as It’s a Hard Life), which was adapted for the screen in 1964 by Carlo Lizzani.

The hills of the Maremma Toscana, which lie roughly 15 km from the sea, were a historical center for mineral and coal mining, with a legacy that stretches back to the iron age and the time of the Etruscans.

Viticulturally, Maremma is more widely known for its coastal vineyards. But today there is a growing presence of fine wine production in the hills that lie inland from the sea.

More on that later. Heading out now for my first appointment of the day in Montalcino…

Eugenio Boer’s extraordinary cooking

The adventure begins…

pasta primavera recipeLast night found me at dinner in Radda in Chianti at the Zonin family’s Castello d’Albola estate.

As I head out today for winery visits, I don’t have time this morning to explain why or how I got here. But I will reveal all in good time.

In the meantime, I just had to share a few photos of Chef Eugenio Boer’s extraordinary food. The Zonins had brought him down to Tuscany from his restaurant, L’Essenza in Milan, especially for the occasion.

That’s his spring vegetables, above.

venison recipeEugenio insisted that we eat this venison crudo with our hands. Delicious… Note how they served the dish on alberese, a stone that plays an important role in Chianti’s soils.

eugenio boer chefEugenio (above) is Italian-Dutch and his work reflects both culinary traditions. I was totally blown away by the creativity and wholesomeness his food.

monty waldin wine biodyanmicsA preview of a post to come: that’s Monty Waldin (left), who literally grilled professor Denis Dubourdieu during our tasting.

Stay tuned…

A whirlwind trip to Italy

jeremy parzen wine blog bloggerAbove: as much as I love what I do for a living and the fact that my work takes me to Italy on a regular basis, this is where I’d rather be (image snapped yesterday in Houston at Fire Truck Park, one of our favorite weekend destinations).

Man, my itinerary for the next few weeks is insane!

Chianti, Maremma, Montalcino, Siena, Asolo, Franciacorta, Barolo, Montefalco, Ascoli Piceno, Pisa…

Of the course of the next fourteen days, I will be sleeping nearly every night in a different bed.

Traveling to Italy for work — even when you work in the wine trade — is not as glamorous as it may sound.

Above: a recent performance of our ABCs that I furtively captured using my iPhone. Georgia P’s intonation and understanding of rhythm are really starting to come along and Lila Jane is getting more and more interested in the keyboard (she’s the one playing the clams!).

Days begin early for me on the road because I have to create and manage all of the day’s content (for all of my clients in Italy and stateside), before I leave my hotel each day. And the rest of the each day is filled with travel – taste – spit – photograph – repeat…

Not that I’m complaining: as I gear up to leave today from Houston, I know that there are many wonderful experiences, wines, and meals in my near future.

And I’m especially looking forward to the Asolo Prosecco and Verdicchio tastings, as well as my time in Langa (where I’ll have some downtime with friends).

In other Italian travel news…

New York-based Italian wine blogger Susannah Gold has been posting some great info on Milan on her blog Avvinare.

You may remember a post from a few weeks ago when I reminded Italian wine tradepeople that “Italy is so much more than just wine.”

Susannah lived and worked for many years in Milan and I’ve been loving her posts devoted to the city and the World’s Fair — EXPO Milano — which opened last week.

Check it out here and see you on the other side! Thanks for being here…

All wine and no jams make me a dull boy: Tonecraft rocks my home recording world

Happy May Day!

tonecraft bass preEven though my band Nous Non Plus hasn’t been performing or recording lately, I still keep my chops up by writing and tracking my own songs. It’s something that I enjoy immensely and it’s also a way — you’ve seen as much if you visit here regularly — to get our daughters into music.

The professional music and audio world often overlaps with the wine and food world. Off the top of my head, I could name many more than a handful of winemakers and restaurateurs who all played (and continue to play) music professionally or semi-professionally.

My good friend Jon Erickson isn’t just one of the best bass players I’ve ever met and the co-owner of one of my favorite San Diego restaurants, Jaynes Gastropub.

He’s also — and I’m not exaggerating by any means here — a legendary audio designer. In other words, he designs audio devices that are used in the recording arts. The Pacifica microphone pre-amp, an industry benchmark, is arguably his most famous patent.

His newest entry is the Tonecraft All-Tube Direct Input Preamplifier. And I have the great fortune to own one (above) thanks to a wine barter he and I did a few months ago!
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