I’m excited to write again. I’ve been traveling in Italy for the past couple of weeks on vacation with my husband. We celebrated our thirty year wedding anniversary there and I didn’t bring my computer to write a new blog while away. But don’t worry, I did plenty of research eating and drinking my way through Venice, Rome, and Tuscany. Today, I will share a story or two about the Italian people we met, the food we ate, specifically the gelato, and reveal my apricot sable cookie recipe.
It’s honestly so hard to decide where to begin. We ate the best gelato, pasta, pastries and coffee of our lives. I had to stop in just about every patisserie or chocolate shop wherever we walked. My poor husband would wait outside and fiddle with his camera or people watch while I was picking out the best treat to fill our bellies so we could keep up with the next destination.
Can I first give a shout out to our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon with Orinda Travel? Nancy led our last trip to Iceland which was phenomenal and was instrumental in making our anniversary in Italy memorable. We can’t thank her enough for the perfect itinerary, excellent hotels, delicious food and farm tours, and making all the plane reservations and Vatican, Statue of David, and Colosseum tickets. We basically handed over our credit card and she planned every detail for us. Nancy asked all the right questions and I wouldn’t hesitate to use her services again. This adventure was personalised so that we could relax and enjoy each other. It was a trip of a lifetime and ultimately the most romantic vacation that we’ve ever been on.
My husband and I agree that we ate the best breakfasts at the Michelin rated restaurant at Hotel Ai Reali in Venice and we ate the best pizza and gelato in Rome. Since this was our first time in Venice, we were blown away by all the superb breakfast options to choose from. There were mini pancakes which popped out of a machine made on the spot and all of the different toppings like crema di nocciole (hazelnut spread), sciroppo d’acero (maple syrup), miele di acacia (acacia honey), jams from every fruit possible like orange marmalade, triple berry, strawberry, apricot and sour cherry my favorite. Delish.
Ai Reali Restaurant served many baked goods like a plum cake, crostata, heart shaped gingerbread cookies, orange cake, donuts, muffins, croissants, and freshly baked breads of all kinds. There was a cheese and charcuterie platter, fresh greens with olive oil and balsamic, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, fresh fruit, yogurt and more. I had a glass of prosecco and cappuccino before we left for the day with coppa, salumi, ham and cheese croissant sandwiches which sustained us when we got hungry in the afternoon.The art in our hotel in Venice was colorful and inviting, many pieces made with murano glass from Vetreria Artistica a Murano Glass Factory in Venezia. Spectacular.
We also made it to Poli Distillerie where I sampled grappa, sambuca (a licorice liquor), limoncelli and who knows what else. This place was cool and trendy. I had never sampled grappa before, so why not embibe in Venice before exploring St. Mark’s Square and Basilica? I couldn’t stay long because my husband was yet again, waiting outside, but had time to purchase a few gifts for my boys. Ken doesn’t drink, so it was not the best time to learn about Poli and what they offer. I’ve never seen it sold in America, but that’s not saying much since I don’t shop for hard alcohol and liqueurs often. I’m known for stopping at distilleries in Sonoma.
Can we talk about the worst experience we had in Venice? This happened after our gondola ride. We finally had our fabulous gondola ride, which I had to talk my way into because my husband always wanted to save money and walk everywhere. The gondolier warned to only eat at the restaurants that had small menus. He was from Venice and seemed to know what he was talking about and it makes sense after all. So after he recommended Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso and we saw the extended menu, I was perplexed.
This waiter didn’t like me in the least and came back 6 times in 10 minutes, which just pissed me off. He acted irritated with me the whole evening, and eventually had another waiter check on us. He even brought me Chardonnay after I asked for Pinot Grigio! I was afraid of having frozen fish, like the gondolier had warned us about, so I eventually ordered pasta with Bolognese sauce and it was just fine.
We even had a guy selling roses at this same restaurant who came by the table and asked me if I wanted a rose. I said, “no” and he scurried away. A little later, the same guy basically handed me the rose, then came back later and asked my husband for money to pay for it. Such a scam. But we had experiences like this in Thailand, which tainted our time there, and yet we completely understand that these locals have to make a buck and see us Americans as easy money.
On the fourth day, we took a train to Rome and made it to the Palazzo Navona Hotel to settle in. We had dinner at Lion, a contemporary Italian Restaurant and Cocktail Bar located across the street. Lion was the swankiest restaurant we have ever eaten at. It was bright cobalt blue with geometric floor tiles, fancy cocktails and a smart vibe. We ate oysters, grilled octopus, beef tartare, and a puffed polenta with cod cooked perfectly. Their country style bread, olive oil and balsamic didn’t disappoint. We ended our meal with a caffe corretto cappuccino, chocolate and peanut truffle and a passion fruit gelee which I think was complimentary. It was quite the culinary experience being in extraordinary Rome, Italy for the first time.
But that meal wasn’t our favorite while tasting what Rome has to offer. Grano Frutta e Farina had the best pizza. I had the funghi porcini-tartufo and Ken had zucchine pesto pinoli. We were always starving after walking for miles around the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel and we went into every basilica we walked by. Incredible.
On to the gelato. My very first experience tasting gelato was at Venchi in Venice near St. Mark’s Square. Oh my! I was so excited to see this chocolate gelato shop also known as #cioccogelateria in Italian. I was asking Tomazzo questions about his favorite chocolates to get the inside scoop. My husband and I shared a cup with two different flavors and I honestly can’t remember which flavor I had. I do remember how they line the paper cup with the most delicious liquid dark chocolate and dessicated coconut before they add the gelato. And it’s the dreamiest sweet treat after walking for hours in the humidity and 90 plus degree weather. I can’t understand why the US hasn’t picked up on this concept. Because after you hold the cup of gelato in your warm hands, the chocolate on the bottom of the cup melts, and after your last taste of the cold gelato, you get this incredibly rich spoonful or two of dark melted chocolate and coconut. It’s my all time favorite treat, and that is saying a lot.
I will end today’s blog with these pictures and fond memories of our time in Venice and Rome. There is much much more to share, but this will suffice for now. I think I took over 1000 photos, so it has been somewhat overwhelming getting my ideas and photos in order. Now it’s time to find a good gelato spot in Northern California. Help a girl out here. Any one know of one?
Thanks for stopping by and reading my latest post. I’m honored to be able to share by travel and food experiences with you and am happy to leave you with my shortbread recipe.
2 Cups Unsalted Butter
1 Cup granulated Sugar
4 Cups Bread Flour
1 Cup Cake Flour
½ teaspoon vanilla bean
¼ teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon Saltwerk Licorice Salt (Bought in Iceland)
Cream butter, add sugar gradually and cream well. Add both flours, vanilla, and salts and mix well in a standard mixer.
I use round cut outs used for biscuits in varying sizes to get desired outcome.
Bake on a parchment lined sheet pan in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until done and slightly browned on edges about 9 minutes. Cool on wire rack.
Fill with apricot jam, or whichever filling you prefer. Serve right away with your favorite tea or coffee.