Postal card from Italy – The Italian Riviera (Cinque Terre) , Milan & Parma

Click here for a recap of my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots.
Also: My 3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site

A little tour of Northern Italy (regions of Liguria, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy) by  your humble Montreal gourmand. Enjoy!

CINQUE TERRE – Most people who read this blog have no clue of what Cinque Terre is about (since they are mostly gourmands). But if you happen to feel the urge of visiting Italy, I recommend you include CT in your plans.    It’s a coastal area of five  eye-candy fishing villages of the Italian Riviera (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza,Corniglia,Manarola, and Riomaggiore). This is my first time here, and despite a major mudslide that affected some parts of this area, I have to say, upon my visit here ( Friday June 15th, 2012) that the place is as charming as ever: picturesque typical seaside Italian villages with colorful Mediterranean landscapes and lively ambience.

Touring CT was a breeze and one of the most fascinating experience as a traveller. I opted for a tour guide of the region:  Douglas Heise’s tour of Cinque Terre. Doug is a charming gentleman, and more importantly one of the most reliable tour guides I can think of. He offers both a seaside as well as a walking tour of what is nowadays widely known as one of Italy’s best well kept secrets (it is not a secret anymore, Rfaol, but definitely on the top 5 of Italy’s must-see places). Doug stayed till the very last minute with me, ensuring that the most was delivered. His knowledge of his region is un-parralled and what a cool person. This was top-class tour guide (I picked the sea tour of CT) and if you happen to visit CT, give a shout to Doug. 

Cinque Terre is beautiful, pure and simple natural beauty. But Doug surprised me with a finding on the gastro side as well. This gentleman is not the typical tourist guide with predictable recs. He went above and beyond and came out with — despite a week of top quality discoveries in Northern Italy — one of the major coup de coeur of my gourmand’s journey in Northern Italy:

It’s called  A cantina de Mananan and is located in  Corniglia (Cinque Terre) – Their Piatto misto acciughe / Mixed dish of anchovies(see above picture) was a reminder that the best of Italian cooking is the one that is  free to express itself without rules, guides nor food critic recommendations. The best of Italian cooking is taste that explodes in your mouth and lingers on your mind for a long time as epitomized by this Ligurian tastebud marvel .  This was a top dish, and in the room I could spot demanding local gourmands  with their nonnas raving over this cuisine. 

A Cantina de Mananan was a real gem and surprised me because in an area that is as touristic as Corniglia, they could have lowered their standards  and no one would have complained. Instead, they kept delivering stunning food after stunning food: 

For ie, their gnocchi salsa di noci (gnocchi and walnut sauce) had to be tasted in order to fully understand why, I found their meal on this Friday June 15th 2012, to outstand  many top  tables of Italian  cuisine in both the work of taste and texture of their food. This was Italian food in pure glory. A Cantina de Mananan, a fabulous hit on this lunch!

Osteria con cucina ‘A Cantina de Mananan’
Via Fieschi, 117 – Tel 0187 821166
Corniglia – Cinque Terre

A mention also to another place where they pay justice to the legendary palate of the Italian people: Ristorante Pizzeria Vulnetia in Venezzia  (Cinque Terre). They do Pizzas as well as various Italian amuses. Their sense of taste here is also fabulous.

MILAN – the city of fashion, business and the NEW Italy.This interesting article gives a fun introduction to Milan.For the gourmand that I am, it was also the opportunity to try their finest  iconic risotto à la Milanese. Outside of Milan, I spent  some time doing the same with the tortelli di zucca, a Mantuan signature dish. My modus operandi never varying: I always diligently knock at the doors of  experienced and picky local gourmands, twisting arms (I am kidding with the twisting arms;p)  in order to get as close as possible to their  hidden secrets. This brought some unusual …but much appreciated..moments such as enjoying the authentic food of some of their  nonnas (thanks to the Italian friends who made this possible: you know who you are!) in the Mantovan  countryside on at least 4 occasions.

Back to Milan, I understood that the locals were raving about Trattoria Milanese (the one on San Marta) as #1 best classic Milanese trattoria in town. I tried it, and here’s what I thought: 

It is a place that understands really well the needs of today’s diners: big portions, tasty food. As an ie, the saffron risotto you see on your left had that kind of deep rich flavor that makes a risotto standing out, and it was  sauteed to proper consistency with enough bite to it. But the osso bucco itself was just ok to me. Certainly impressive for its size, not the less appetizing but I have definitely seen better in town. It lacked the kind of meaty prime dimension that makes an osso bucco successful.  

And I have to say: I was disappointed by my starter of  Parma ham at Trattoria Milanese: in a region  where ham is a king, I was set aback by that lacklustre ham I was served. Odd. Only the wine really stood out: a Nino Negri Vigneto Fracia 2008, a lovely Nebbiolo.All in all, I can understand why many local gourmands recommended this place: you will feel good here (they treat you like a king, food is generally certainly tasty, the atmosphere really cool and I’ll certainly go back because I believe that a place where you feel well is a  place that deserves a return visit) . But as the #1 trattoria in Milan? I easily found 2 other spots that fared better and I am not even a local. 


PARMA – It is the temple of Parma ham and Parmigiano cheese, so naturally your Montreal gourmand had to stop by, Lol. Although manageable, I didn’t have time nor any interest neither to try all their places for Parmy ham and  cheese and tell you which ones stood  as my favourite, but as you would have guessed, any Parmy Cheese or Ham you try here is of course  among the very finest .With that said, there are naturally some who take the experience further in aging their  ham longer,  mastering its storage better than others, and using all kind of tricks and techniques to offer ultimate freshness and texture. One place that the locals kept suggesting for the perfected ham was  Salumeria Garibaldi. This is a salumeria well known and respected in the world of its top authentic  Parma charcuterie. They have a little table on the premises where you can seat and sample some of their finest hams and cheese. I asked for a tasting platter of their star prosciutti: culatello di Zibello  (culatello is a refined and aged prosciutto, the di Zibello kind being the top of the notch DOP kind), culaccia (another top prosciutto using production methods exclusive to the legendary nearby Salumifico Rossi). I also tried slices of  their coppa, along with …what a 30,48, and 60 months aged Parmigiano Reggiano. Top among the top stuff, indeed. You do not need to go all the way to Parma to taste those (I came to Parma for a combination of interest in both gastronomy and  architecture ), since you can also find those hams and cheese around Italy.

More to come….sorry, I am so exhausted, lately