Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Italian & Croatian Vacation!

My husband and I recently got back from a fabulous 2 week vacation to Italy & Croatia. We visited Ponza (S. of Rome off the coast), Hvar, Dubrovnik and Lake Como. We pretty much ate and drank our way through the trip...our favorite things to do! If you've ever been to Italy, it's truly amazing how much more you eat there than in the States. Guess with such great food it's hard not to eat least that's my philosophy!

Our first stop was Ponza where the food was pretty remarkable. Pasta's, fresh fish, seafood really can't go wrong. Probably had a caprese salad with roma tomatoes and seafood pasta (with hot olive oil of course) for lunch everyday along with 2 bottles of white wine. Usually had lunch around 1 or 2pm and then dinner around 10pm. Needed a lot of time in between as you can imagine! I do have to mention the coolest lunch spot we found was at Frontone beach. You have to take a boat to get to the beach and then a small hike up the rocks to the restaurant. The view is worth it alone but luckily the food was out of this world. They have one chef (very hippie like), the only one working in a tiny open kitchen, who is busting out all the food with one waiter running all the dishes. Very impressive!

The dinners in Ponza were amazing. The one I am going to highlight is called Acqua Pazza. We decided to go big and get the Chef's tasting menu which included Potato croquettes with a creamy dipping sauce, a shrimp skewer dipped in tomato soup and a side shrimp in crispy flakes, artichoke w/squid carpaccio,
tartar trio (tuna, shrimp, swordfish), tortellini with fresh fish and tomato (surprisingly wasn't very good so we ordered a delicious sea urchin bottarga pasta), and a red snapper w/potatoes and rosemary. We were then served an apricot dessert wine to accompany the desserts. We had an unbelievable chocolate crumble with ginseng ice cream (and I'm not a huge chocolate person) and the other was a super thin biscotti with caramel whip cream and chocolate (not as good as the crumble).

One last addition to Ponza...they had my favorite Italian cocktail - a sgroppino (vodka, prosecco and lemon sorbet) - LOVE!

We started off in Hvar which was beautiful. We stayed at the Adriana hotel which we feel is the best place to stay and they have a great breakfast buffet included which is always nice.

Unfortunately, the food in Croatia isn't reason enough to go there nor is the wine. In fact, the wine is TERRIBLE (stick to Slovenian white wines). For the food, I only recommend the fish dishes as the fish is very fresh. Everyday for lunch I had an octopus salad which I have to say I truly loved. Most were made with grilled octopus, onions and potato and marinated in olive oil. Definitely a delicacy there. For dinner our favorite spot was called Gariful. The setting was stunning and right at the edge of the docks with yachts parked in front. Since we had to wait both nights for a table, even with a reservation, they served us complimentary wine and prosecco while we waited - a very nice touch. The most unique part of the meal is picking out the fish. The manager leads you to a table where a number of fresh fish lay on ice for your choosing. Our favorite fish was the local Sea Bream grilled and drizzled with olive oil and lemon.

We then headed to Dubrovnik which is a medieval town right on the water - so beautiful! We really only had one solid good meal there at a place called Nautika. We got a great seat on the patio overlooking the ocean. We started with a seafood carpaccio sampler (lobster, octopus, shrimp and fish) and fish soup. For the entrees I had the squid ink risotto (pretty much ordered it at all restaurants if it was on the squid ink risotto!) and my husband had lamb with pancetta served with polenta cheese puffs which he enjoyed.

Lake Como
This was our last stop of the trip and by far the best! The best hotel, the best food, the best wine and the best service! We were told we had to go to this lunch restaurant called Locanda dell'ISOLA Comacina which is located on the only island in Lake Como. We had to take a taxi boat there which we used to tour the lake, so it worked out perfectly. There is no menu they just bring out everything to you. Also have to mention it is all you can drink white Gavi wine which is chilled and already waiting for you at the table. Immediately when you finish a bottle they bring you another - does life get better than that?!

The meal starts with 7 veggie antipasti including marinated peppers, marinated beets, marinated carrots, marinated celery, marinated fava beans, marinated cucumbers and these enormous baked onions (wood fired oven) with balsamic and olive oil - unbelievable! All of these were delicious though easy to fill up on. They also brought out a charcuterie plate with bresaola and home smoked ham. The second course (yes only second) was a river caught salmon. It was probably the best salmon we've ever had. They deboned it at the table and seasoned it with lemon, olive oil, salt & pepper. It was super light and fresh. By this point I was super full but knew I had to press on as their were a few dishes left. The third course was a chicken dish. It is cooked in a pot then followed by crisping it on a BBQ (technically fried), then served with lemon and salt. Accompanying the dish is a lemon butter lettuce salad...sounds plain but it was so refreshing and had great flavor. They then come out with a HUGE half of a parmesan wheel which the waiter scoops out a chunk with a knife and serves it directly to you. I loved this! The last course, the dessert course, were fresh peaches with ice cream and liquor (can you believe we were still eating at this point?!).

But wait, there is more...the owner of the restaurant comes around and hands us a small pamphlet with the history of the restaurant and on the cover was a picture of him from his 20's (I would guess) and wearing a beanie. He then comes back out (probably now around 75-80 years old) wearing the same beanie from the picture. It was really cute. He then goes into this 5 minute blessing all in Italian (we had no idea what he was saying) while making this unique coffee liquor for all the customers there. It was such a unique experience.

I wish I could talk about every meal in Lake Como as all are worth mentioning but will try to keep the rest brief.

The other lunches we had were at the Villa d'Este hotel - all were phenomenal. We usually went with the same pasta which was a spaghetti with chunks of crispy proscuitto.

Our favorite dinner there was our last night where we went to George Clooney's favorite spot called Gato Nero. Absolutely amazing! We got a great table in the center of the room (the room is open so you can look out to the lake) which made all the difference. We started out with a fresh Buffalo Mozzarella with grilled
toast. Then we moved on to the pasta course - I had the parpadelle bolognese and my husband had the ravioli with marzano tomatoes, eggplant and ricotta cheese - both incredible. For my entree I had to get the Vitello Tonnato (a favorite of mine). For those of you you who don't know what this is, it's thinly sliced veal served with a tuna sauce. Sounds gross but it's awesome! This one may have been the best I've ever had. My husband ordered the rabbit with bacon which he loved. We had a delicious wine to go with the meal which was a 2006 Le Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia. While great today, this wine will be killer in 5 years.

Overall, Italy took the cake as expected for wining and dining.

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