Eating: A Mano

A ManoIf you have been reading this blog, you know that Cristina’s father was born and raised in Sulmona which is in the Abruzzo region of Italy. So, when A Mano posted their dates for their Tour of Italy menu I quickly went to OpenTable and booked a reservation for a night when they were featuring the Abruzzo region. Best decision I’ve made in some time.

We had some great meals last year in Pescara and Sulmona. In fact, all of our time in the region seemed to based on eating and watching the World Cup which makes for a perfect vacation.

We decided to make our reservations early and in fact we were the first diners for the night. We were given our menu’s which including the prix fixe menu covering Abruzzo. I was determined to order only that, especially since it is a steal at twenty-eight dollars. Yet, the menu, which is seasonal, looked so good that I really was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep my resolve. I did. Cristina decided to order off the menu which I was happy about because that meant more food for us to try. By the end of the night, at least from my point of view, this was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. Continue reading

Traveling: Sulmoma, or Home

There are very few reasons an American would ever go to Sulmona, Italy, unless you are George Clooney and you are making a movie called The American. Very few people in this town can speak English…actually only those that have gone to college recently. It’s a modest size town with a medieval, and fully functional, aqueduct and a stature of Ovid, the town’s favorite son. It is big enough for the Pope visit, but doesn’t really appear in any of tourist guides. So why go there and how did it end up being the one place I vow on visiting again and again?

Dino Cavicchia

Dino Cavicchia, May He Rest in Peace

Because Cristina is from there. More specifically, it’s where her father was born and raised before he set out for America. So, it is where Cristina is from and if we have children, it where they will be from too. Continue reading

Traveling: How We Got Our Money’s Worth Part II

The other day, when I wrote about Europe, I wrote about how valuable Rick Steves was to making our trip a success. There are few more resources that I feel are just as valuable.

The first one is Tripadvisor.com. I used it extensively to find out not about the tourist attractions (I used Rick Steves for that) but for hotel reviews. We had decided to stick with no frills because every-room-looks-the-same chain hotels specifically Hotel Ibis have all we need: a bed and a shower. We understand we were giving up charm and personal service, but it was worth it for having a private bath in our room each night at a generally low-cost. Well, why look up reviews if you are staying in cookie cutter hotels? Because location is everything. I tried to find out if people had issues with safety in the area, how close it was to public transit, and what it was near any places we wanted to visit.

Sulmona

"Walking" through Sulmona with Google Maps

However, reviews can only take you so far. Google Maps are, simply, amazing. When researching, I would often “walk” around the neighborhood that we were staying in. This really put Cristina at ease because I for the most part knew where I was. We only got lost once, in Paris, and that wasn’t too bad…ok it was horrible because of the luggage, but we did get to see a lot of neighborhood butcher and bakery shops we normally wouldn’t have been able to see.

Finally, the MetrO app for the iPhone made public transportation in Europe very easy. All we had to do was type in the tourist attraction we were next to plus which one we wanted to go to and it would tell us how to get there. Best part is that it works offline so that we didn’t have to use the very expensive 3G networks in Europe.

Traveling: No pane con pasta; Pane con carne (or how I discovered I love gnocchi)

In the middle of our June 2010 Europe trip, we spent the night at a Best Western in the seaside town of Pescara, Italy. Pescara is the kind of Italian town that Google maps quite doesn’t understand. Instead of having us walk a block from the train station to the hotel…we walked more like 14. Luckily enough for me, Cristina can hold a basic conversation in Italian that we were able to find the hotel.

While checking into the hotel, the people on the streets were going nuts. It wasn’t a riot, but it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Well, as everyone knows, soccer is huge in Europe, and in this tiny seaside town it is matter of civic pride. The professional soccer teams in Italy play in different leagues much like the major and minor leagues in baseball in America. However, in their league, the best teams from the minor leagues take the place of worst teams in the major leagues and vice versa.

Celebration in Pescara

Pescara moves up from class b to class c

Pescara, which was in the C league, won the right to enter the B league right when we entered into the town. Now that I think of it, this explains why the streets were so deserted when we were lost. We decided to go check out the celebration. It was crazy, much like when the Saints won the Superbowl, but on smaller scale…and not in English. It was a great travel moment that obviously couldn’t be planned.

After the celebration and dipping my feet in the Adriatic, we were starving. We went back to the hotel and ate in the little café which had a nice view of the town square. The meal was nice and the star of it was the gnocchi in prawn and pumpkin sauce.

Gnocchi with Prawn and Pumpkin Sauce

1st time eating gnocchi

The sweetness of the pumpkin contrasted beautifully with the saltiness of the fresh prawns. Seriously, the prawns tasted like the sea. It was the first time I had gnocchi. It was filling without being heavy and wonderful end to a very unique day.

The next day we took the slow train to Sulmona. We were accompanied by Cristina’s sister and brother-in-law, Cara and Darin, who were doing their own Europe trip. Slow trains in Europe aren’t necessarily a bad thing; it allows you to see the country side, write in your journal, and nap. We were met at the train station by Emilio, Cristina and Cara’s uncle. Cristina's Uncle Emilio Over a dinner of pizza topped with hot dog slices and french fries (yes, french fries…but that’s going to be another blog), we told them we had gnocchi the day before. Well, the next day for lunch we were treated to a home cook meal of gnocchi. Amazing gnocchi…gnocchi of magical powers. Really, it was great to have a home cooked meal. Darin and I were drinking some of Emilo’s homemade grappa. Straight. No water to cut it. It wasn’t until I was completely sloshed that I realized Emilo had cut his down with water even though the entire time he was telling me wine was for drinking, water was for cleaning.

We also had a culture clash during this meal. Being Americans, we normally would eat bread with our gnocchi to make sure we got all the sauce. This was treated with the similar disdain I have for people when they mention Olive Garden as an actual place to eat. You can’t have bread with pasta. It makes no sense to them to have two flour based products at the same time. It wasn’t until we were finished with our gnocchi and were served the meatballs (the most amazing meatball ever) that we were allowed to touch the bread.

The next day when we went to Cristina’s cousin’s restaurant, her aunt Lydia hid the bread from us until the proper time for the bread. So, if you are in Italy, no bread with pasta. Bread goes with meat.

While I haven’t tried to make gnocchi from scratch at home yet, we have had it a couple of times. We usually buy the dried kind found in the pasta section of the supermarket. I’ve tried to recreate the meatballs a couple of times, and while I’m close, I’m not there yet. We also order it every chance we get. Herbsaint’s gnocchi with pancetta and oven dried tomatoes is the best version we had yet…this side of the Atlantic.