Best meals 2011: Le Calandre (Padua)

Imagining that 2012 wasn’t going to be our year of Michelin-star dining (and having just cashed a check for a song we sold to Gossip Girl), Tracie P and I treated ourselves to dinner at Le Calandre in early February…

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments: for the one night where we hadn’t already planned where to eat, we dined at Le Calandre in Padua — a 3-star Michelin restaurant.

tagliolini di mozzarella

the texture of the julienned mozzarella released unexpected flavors from the plastic cheese

scampi tostati con “formaggio fresco” di latte di fave, radicchio di Treviso e mele

toasted langoustines with a “fresh cheese” of fava milk, radicchio trevigiano, and apples

battuta di carne cruda piemontese al tartufo nero

as instructed by our server, you wrapped the nuggets of raw beef in the shaved truffle, served on a piece of bark, and then dipped them in light beaten-egg sauce

cappelli liquidi di brodo d’oca all’arancia

these were cappelletti filled with an orange-goose broth, like soup dumplings

cannelloni croccanti di ricotta e mozzarella di bufala con passata di pomodoro

crunchy cannelloni filled with ricotta and buffalo mozzarella with tomato sauce

risotto di zafferano con polvere di liquirizia

saffron risotto with licorice dust

maialino di latte arrostito, salsa di senape e polvere di caffè

roast milk-weaned suckling pig, mustard sauce and coffee dust

proiezioni al cioccolato

dessert came with a mini-screening to complement the physical sensations

Many believe that Massimiliano Alajmo is the best chef in Italy today. He might very well be. Le Calandre was a fantastic experience… And for however experimental and avant-garde his cooking, the flavors were pure Italy… A stunning and thrilling evening, full of sensual surprises…

Nota bene: Le Calandre is not a cheap date (THANK YOU GOSSIP GIRL!). But you can order à la carte and there are a lot of very reasonably priced, wonderful wines on the list, like this Malvasia Secca dell’Emilia by Donati, one of my favorite producers. Natural and wonderfully stinky and crunchy, lees-aged, bottled fermented… Perfect with the wide range of flavors…

Padua! Our first sip of Prosecco like a first kiss

Except for a tight connection in Paris, our trip has been seamless so far: we arrived this morning in Padua (Padova), checked into our hotel, and made a beeline for the legendary Bar dei Osei, a tiny hole-in-the-wall sandwich place in the Palazzo della Ragione.

I can’t even begin to express the thrill of tasting this first sip of Prosecco with Tracie P in Padua, where I spent so many years of my life studying and playing music! It was just a clean, bright commercial Prosecco but man was it sweet on her lips… like a first kiss…

Tramezzino tonno e uovo sodo (tuna and hard-boiled egg) and tramezzino con la verdura cruda (raw vegetables), the latter a specialty of the Bar dei Osei. Isn’t it wonderful how some things never change? Took me back literally 20+ years!

Glorious radicchio! Radicchio trevigiano, radicchio di Castelfranco, radicchietto

The signore were out and about doing their Saturday morning food shopping at the many vendors underneath the Salone, as the Palazzo della Ragione is known. You can always tell where the best stuff is to be found: just look for the lines!

She hasn’t had a chance yet, but Tracie P is excited about her first taste of sfilacci di cavallo cured, shredded horse meat.

O how I love the Veneto… We also made it to see Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel, which I hadn’t seen since the restoration was completed. Even more stunning than when I first saw it all those years ago…

I could eat a horse (and I did in Legnaro, PD)

From the “keeping it real” department…

Last April, I hooked up with my really good buddy Gabriele “Elvis” Inglesi after Vinitaly for one of our favorite traditions: meeting the “gang” at the horse restaurant. Yes, the horse — equine meat — restaurant. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in the Veneto (where I lived, studied, and played music for many years) and when Gabriele (aka Lelecaster for his mastery of the Telecaster) and I used to tour as a duo there, we would often spend Sunday evening with our friends at one of the many family-friendly horse restaurants in the hills and countryside outside Padua (btw, Padua is English for Padova, like Florence for Firenze, Rome for Roma, Naples for Napoli). That Sunday night, we went to Trattoria Savio (since 1965) in Legnaro.

Here’s what we ate:

Risotto with sfilacci di cavallo. Sfilacci are thinly sliced “threads” of salt-cured, smoked horse thigh.

Griddle-seared horse salami, sfilacci, horse prosciutto, and grilled white polenta.

Pony filet. Very lean (yet tasty), horse meat became popular in Europe in the 1960s when it was promoted (in particular by the French government) as a nutritious and inexpensive alternative to beef. In Verona, pastissada de caval — horse meat, usually the rump, stewed in wine — is the traditional pairing for Recioto and Amarone (check out Franco’s alarming article on Amarone, overcropping, and excessive production in Valpolicella, published in the February issue of Decanter magazine).

At Trattoria Savio, we drank pitchers of white and red wine. I’m not sure but the white tasted like Verduzzo to me, the red was probably stainless-steel Piave Cabernet and Merlot.

Gabriele is one of the meanest chicken pickers I’ve ever heard. Great friend, great times.