Each day on our recent trip with good friends Martin and Misa through parts of Czech Republic, Austria, Italy and Croatia, I would sit in the RV while Martin drove and, with questionable penmanship exacerbated by a bumpy road, scrawl a barely-legible account of the previous days adventures. The following is an entry from one of our favorite days, and by far our favorite meal…
Thursday, September 24, 2015
A change of plans yesterday took us to Verona. It was a wonderful night in one of the loveliest cities I have ever seen.
Misa found a perfect campground atop an ancient castle – Castel San Pietro, which sits on a high bluff overlooking the city. The city center is compact and perfect for walking, which we did happily after a long day of driving.
It was a gorgeous, mild evening, just an hour or so before dusk when we descended into the city from the campground. As we did the sun cast a beautiful light on the red clay rooftops and ancient buildings and cobbled alleyways.
We were eager for wine and stopped first in a charming corner establishment, the Cappa Café. There was a fine, large balcony overlooking the wide, swift-moving Adige River, which bisects the town. We sat initially there but moved inside to a cozy table due to the dropping temperature and chilly breeze off of the river.
We spent a couple of hours there, laughing and telling stories over two bottles of good red wine. Verona was working it’s charms.
After, we strolled some more, slightly buzzed and happy. We took in a two thousand year old Roman coliseum, the Verona Arena, which is still in use today and famous for it’s large-scale opera productions. It was spectacular and reminded me of the blinding pace of change in the US. For example, the wonderful Carolina Coliseum in Columbia was only built in 1968 and was state of the art at the time. It was replaced over ten years ago by another, more modern facility. Sad. But that rant is for another blog.
We ambled over to Casa Guilietta for a glimpse at Juliet’s balcony from Romeo and Juliet – by far the most frequented tourist destination in Verona and a little crowded even in the off season on a Wednesday night. We people-watched, inhaling the salt-tinged perfume of the early evening air while walking a little more. Between the wine and the walking, we were ready to eat.
As we made our way back across the river toward the campsite, we settled on an enchanting little restaurant within the shadow of Castel San Pietro – Alcova del Frote Osteria. The “osteria” caught my attention and I immediately craved oysters.
We were seated in a private room downstairs in the wine cellar. The room was small and cozy with just one table. Dried hams and sausages hung from rough-hewn ceiling beams and candles cast soft light on the shelves of local and regional wine lining every wall from floor to ceiling. It was a room built for luxuriant dining.
We started with what might have been the best red wine I have ever tasted – a locally produced, small batch wine – Valpolicello, 2011. Amazing, peppery and boldy flavorful. We ordered ham three ways – dark, Spanish and Italian with sweet marinated tomoatos. Of course, we ordered local oysters, and they were beautiful, meaty and fresh, tasting strongly of the Mediterranean – briny and delicious. Polenta cakes with scallops and potato puret – amazing.
I ordered horse, for the dark novelty of it more than anything. It was prepared both grilled (spectacular) and carpacio, which was good as well but not as flavorful. We had the best pasta aldente any of us had ever tasted. It was light, topped with local olive oil and fresh olives. Pasta is ruined for me now because I will always judge it based on that dish and it will always fall short – I know this even now. There were also wonderful pan-roasted potatoes and at some point, another bottle of wine, this time a Heletto – also local, but smoother and equally wonderful. We coined a new word – “Foogasm” – and we were fully in the throes of multiple foogasms at this point.
We finished with dessert, which was a mix of tiramisu, cheesecake and chocolate mousse, presented on twelve large spoons – samples of all three for each of us. It was outstanding, but at this point we were in danger of sudden-onset gout. Good Italian coffee helped to settle over-burdened stomachs, but what we really needed was a walk.
I must mention as well that our waiter was tremendous. He was patient, charming and knowledgeable, offering suggestions unobtrusively and picking our wine after thoughtful questions. He was professional in every way and made our evening immeasurably more enjoyable than it could have been otherwise.
After, we shuffled back to camp, zombie-like and deeply satisfied. It was the meal of the year.
Verona reminded me vaguely of Charleston with it’s well-worn charm and seaside aromas. It made me want to sell everything and move there. To learn just enough Italian to get by and to spend my days writing and eating and walking it’s cobbled streets. I think I could talk Melissa into that…