Cafe con Giorgio Armani

January 28, 2010 · Posted in Travel · 4 Comments 

When visiting Milan one must stop at least once by the Armani megalopolis that is his flagship store, cafe, restaurant, another restaurant, club, hotel, spa, theme park, water park, movie theater, farm, nuclear research facility, space shuttle launching pad, race track, football stadium, symposium, palace and petting zoo.  (The truth in that sentence stopped somewhere around “hotel”)

So Jenni and I did, and had coffee and cocktails at his new cafe that just opened.  All sorts of beautiful people walked in and even dressed somewhat nicely I felt like I had been cleaning horse stables all day or something.  Quite a few old guys with small dogs and fur coats.  Then in walks a man in black velvet with perfectly combed, bleach white hair.  I whisper to Jenni “I think that’s Giorgio Armani himself”  She refused to believe me but he was walking around and as he was, every employee was jumping.  Finally this 6’3″ blonde used-t0-be-model gets up and says “Buona sera Sr. Armani.”

Damn – we were having coffee with Giorgio Armani.  I could have reached out and touched his exquisite velvet…whatever you call what he was wearing.  But I did not.  Story doesn’t end there.

I go upstairs in the bathroom, and as I’m washing my hands, guess who comes out of the bathroom and washes his hands next to me?

Emilio Estevez!  The Mighty Ducks man himself!

No, really, it was Giorgio Armani. So I said good evening and ran out before he could force me into a modeling contract or something absurd.

Jenni was there, she’ll tell you.  She was the one who called the fashionista’s name.  She was like “Giorgioooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

True story.

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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh….Milano!

January 20, 2010 · Posted in Recipes, Travel · 1 Comment 

My passport is almost a full ten years old, and needs to be renewed in 2011.  About 8 years ago, I also washed it.  Yeah, I know I know.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I washed it.  So it’s a bit frayed and, as I discovered in Istanbul, the part near the picture is actually starting to come apart.  The kindly border patrol agent (Round ’em up, as fast as you can, with one truck, or this country’s gonna be way too big!) at the airport wouldn’t let me pass for about 15 minutes because he didn’t trust it.  Several supervisors were called over, all of whom looked at him like he was an idiot because my passport’s only been stamped about 15 times in the past few weeks.

My favorite part was when he asked me – “Where are you from in the States?”

Me – “Chicago”

Him – “But you’re going to Milan.  Why are you going to Milan?”

You’re right buddy, because everyone leaving Istanbul should be going immediately home.  Ya’ jerk.

Then, on the plane, I get up to use the bathroom, and one of the two lavatories has been marked “occupied” for almost 20 minutes.  There was a very long line to use the facilities so I counted.  I knocked on the door to no answer, so I start thinking there’s a terrorist on board putting together some sort of bomb!  After several attempts to ask the stewardesses what was going on, one finally spoke enough English to tell me the bathroom was out of order.

Needless to say, after being taken for a ride several times, I was so happy to land in Milan.  Almost immediately I started smiling again and felt better.  There’s just something in the air over here…

I found my apartment very easily, got settled in, and met my roommate Abby when she showed up.  Per Facebook, I immediately bought several bottles of wine and started enjoying the fruits of the land.

Despite the dollar being worth about 1 Euro cent, wine is still super cheap over here.  So too are Belgian Ales.  My favorite beer, Chimay Blue, costs about $9 in the US.  It costs 1 Euro 50 cents over here.  Fantastic.

Apertivo

Milan so far has been cold and rainy, so I haven’t gotten too many shots of things outdoors.  Which means I’ve spent my time indoors, usually in bars or restaurants.  And usually at apertivo, one of the greatest things ever invented.

Basically you pay for your drinks and get an unlimited amount of buffet style food from about 6 to about 9.  The more crowded the place, the earlier it tends to end for some reason.  The buffet isn’t going to have the best pastas, but the pizzas and contorni (sides, veggies, etc) are always good.  You won’t find meats either.  But you will get incredibly full for the price of a few beers, which is nice.  Apertivo has been about a four to five times weekly occurrence.

Tall Italians

Quick side note here – there is an unusual species of people here, one I am not used to.  This idea of the “tall Italian.”  We’re talking ladies about 5’11, 6 feet and guys 6’2″, 6’3″.  Very interesting – at Easter mass in Tropea in 2003 I was the tallest person in the building by at least a foot.  Tropea is in the very south of Italy, FYI.  Up here it’s different – I don’t stand out at all.

The Food

I mean come on, that’s what we’re doing here, isn’t it?  This is supposed to be a food blog and I’m in ITALY for Pete’s sake!  We practically invented food!

Speaking of the invention of food, let’s dispel with a little food myth right off the bat.  The Chinese did not teach the Italians how to make pasta.  Please.  Let’s take a look at this from several angles shall we?

1 – The myth says Marco Polo went to China and brought back recipes for making noodles.  However Italian cookbooks predating his visit to China contain recipes that call for pasta.  So chronologically that’s a big fail.

2 – Let’s look at noodle construction.  While certain similarities do exist for the most part Chinese noodles look and taste nothing like Italian pastas.  I like Chinese food and noodles, but they’re not the same.  So on texture, appearance, and taste large differences exist.

3 – Rice noodles.  Both cultures use rice extensively and yet the Chinese make rice noodles and the Italians make…not rice noodles.  Why didn’t this technique transfer over?  I don’t know.   Probably because the Italians already had their system figured out.

Points 2 and 3 are more or less observational but point 1 can be fact-checked, so if you disagree go do that…

Now.  Where were we?

Ah yes, we were making a poor man’s Bolognese sauce and sneaking sips from that big magnum of wine you see in the background.

Instead of taking the full three or so hours I caramelized some onions, browned some ground beef and pork, and simmered with some tomato sauce for about 30-45 minutes.  Then topped with some fresh ground pepper and freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and served over bucatini pasta.

Here’s my fellow Booth student and newly acquired sous-chef Toshi working some cheese magic over a beautiful spread:

When all was said and done, we laid it down like this:

I mean, picture kinda says it all.  That’s about how we’ll be doing it from here on out.  Much more of that to come.  Spaghetti Carbonara is on deck – Toshi wants to learn how to cook a bunch of different Italian foods so we’ll be working our way through some traditional dishes here.

After my Italy for the gourmet traveler book showed up, I had a list of places to check out in Milan.  By far my favorite so far (and, will probably remain for the time I’m here) is Gastronomia Peck.  It’s a specialty food store selling all different kinds of cheese, meats, steaks, seafoods, chocolate, tea, oils, coffee and on and on.  They won’t let you take pictures, but at the cafe upstairs there are no such rules.  So here you go:

Prosciutto e Mozzarella

Lasagna Bolognese

Due cappuccini.

Peck is an absolute must-go and will be re-featured here.  I will give a much more descriptive run-down of the food after one or two more visits.

In the interest of time I’m going to stop here for now.  In the meantime since these events have taken place, I went snowboarding in the Alps, ran into Giorgio Armani himself, made spaghetti carbonara, gone inside the Duomo, and may have set up an interview with an MD from one of the Italian banks.  So that’s what we’ve got to look forward to.

But now I’m heading off to Modena, Parma, Bologna, and Mantua.  Back in a week!

Ciao tutti!

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