Tales of a wandering lesbian

Category — Food

Cuzco is for addicts

We got into Cuzco early.  It was about 8AM when our driver dropped us at our hostel.  I’d never stayed in a hostel, and images of bunk beds and shared showers had me a little worried.  But when we walked through the blue doors on the steep street, into a beautiful courtyard, I stopped worrying.

The woman at the front desk took our passports and spoke with Kelly in Spanish.  We designated Kelly our primary Spanish speaker, because she’d been studying the most.  She was so eager to speak, that even when the other woman told her she could easily speak English, Kelly refused.  So LeAnna and I listened and nodded along as Kelly confirmed our reservation and bought 3 huge bottles of drinking water.

Because we were there so early, the room wasn’t quite ready, so we tossed our bags in a corner and struck out to see the city.

Cuzco is high.  It sits at 12,000 feet above sea level.  I grew up at 7,000, with regular trips to 9,000, but the only time I spent above 12,000 was on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa for my 30th birthday – where we all became giddy from altitude sickness.  As we toddled out into the streets, it was with awareness of the distinct shortness of breath that accompanied the clear, blue sky.

We made a circuit around our part of town, stopping at the train station and airline office to confirm parts of the next leg of the trip.  Kelly and LeAnna would be continuing on to Lake Titicaca and the Amazon.  While they talked timetables and layovers, I consulted Kelly’s guidebook, and dozed lazily in the plastic chairs of the waiting areas.  I located the Plaza Armas on the map (the main historic square) and read about its history.  Then I turned to the really important thing:  food.  I had no interest in eating llama, or the local staple, cuy – guinea pig.

There were pizza places everywhere (I’m guessing because the wood-fired ovens used for cooking the cuy are a natural fit for pizzas).  The guide book suggested an interesting place off of the plaza, and I filed it away for later.

We tramped through the streets in a jet-lagged haze, making our way to the plaza.

The light seemed strange.  Filtered, somehow.  It was bright and made the morning feel much later than it was.  The streets of Cuzco were coming alive, its cobblestones reminiscent of, but more raw than those of Italy.

The lanes offered beautiful scenes of daily life mixed with simulated authenticity.

Mothers carried children of varying size and age under blankets wrapped tightly around their backs, little hats poking out from the bundles.  I covertly snapped a shot of what was remarkable to me, and completely commonplace to the locals.

Then, just off of the plaza,  I saw something colorful and furry.

When I ran over to take a picture of an “authentic” Peruvian with a llama, I didn’t know that I was supposed to pay for it.  These women make their livings selling snapshots of their clothing, animals and weaving.

The plaza offered great views, bounded on two sides by enormous churches that had competed for the Vatican’s attention and the Pope’s declaration of “most beautiful.”  The cathedral (the Pope’s choice) was built on the base of an Inkan temple.  The other was a Jesuit church.

We had a look around at the brown, brushy mountains and the images of pumas everywhere, scoping out a good place to sit.

The guidebook said that the plaza still served as a marketplace.  By sitting in a park bench, you could avail yourself of vendors.  Paintings, jewelry, knick-knacks, tours, paintings, massages and all other manner of items were pedaled to us, as we claimed our view on the plaza.

We became more comfortable talking with the vendors.  Unlike the vendors on Italian beachesthese vendors would take the time to let us look at their wares, and then move along when we declined, with a polite, “maybe later.”

The maybe later made us laugh a bit.  The third time we heard it we realized that it was ubiquitous.  We decided it must be a way to keep the conversation open for the next time we entered the plaza.  Because the vendors remembered us every time we entered the plaza.  “You remember me?  I showed you paintings yesterday.  I am Pablo Picasso!”  The young men sold mostly paintings.  The women crafts.  Silver jewelry and carved gourds.  Textiles and postcards, and everything under the sun, pulled from bags and displayed one after another with immense patience.

With one woman, the most assertive vendor we met by far, I tried out my theory.  After looking at her carvings, I smiled and said, “maybe later,” thinking I was politely ending the conversation.

“Maybe later is no good for me, lady,” was her response.  I think I burst out laughing as my self-designated cultural awareness was flung out the window.

The morning nearly over, we headed back to our hostel, stomachs grumbling.

Our front desk friend greeted us with a big smile and a grinned, “como estan?”  Our bags were already in our room, and all we needed was our key, which was turned-over heavily to Kelly.

She took command of the huge skeleton key and we made our way up to our second floor room overlooking one of the property’s courtyards.

Then we spent some time figuring out the surprisingly complex locking mechanism

By the time we got in the room and threw down our gear we were appropriately hungry.  Working together we came up with a fantastic meal of almonds, dried peaches and an Italian pecorino cheese that I’d smuggled out of Italy and into Peru.

Other places have things that the US doesn’t have.  Rooms for more than 2 single travelers, for instance.  Our room had four single beds.  We each claimed our own and designated the fourth as the gear bed.  Then we marveled at our accommodations.  Along with the four beds, we had our own, private bath, internet access, breakfast, and all the coca tea we could drink.  All for $55 a night.  Total.

But back to the coca…

When I told people I was going to Cuzco, they all said the same thing, “drink the coca tea.”  I like tea, but I don’t like introducing my body to new addictive substances.  Just doesn’t seem like a good idea.  So I’d planned to tough it out without the benefit of the coca.  But the shortness of breath, sleepiness and vague head pain I was experiencing, along with the pots and pots of coca tea provided by the hostel convinced me that I might be better off joining the locals.

And I was.

LeAnna and I sipped the tea, while Kelly, who would not be spending the next week hiking, looked on.  We had no interest in finding ourselves with altitude sickness two days before the four-day trek that was ahead of us.

The tea is made from coca leaves – that’s coca, not cacao – the leaf from which cocaine is extracted.  It lowers the blood pressure, and allows your body to absorb oxygen differently.  So, in effect, we were doping up for our trek.  It did the trick with our headaches.  Tea in hand, we all moved into the second, terraced courtyard where scores of traveling students were clutching their own styrofoam lifelines and taking in the mountain air.  After a couple of cups, LeAnna and I found ourselves lounging in the sun, our hearts beating insistently in our chests.

Beating aside, we were sleepy.  The 20 hours of travel finally caught up to us, so we soon headed to our bunks for a high-altitude nap.  In our little beds, we crashed.  My last thoughts were of the blood rushing through my heart.  LeAnna, on the other hand, was graced with dreams of falling off of cliffs.  The coca tea was potent.  Kelly slept like a baby.

When we awoke, the day was moving into evening, which meant we could head to dinner.  Yay.  We pulled out the guidebook once again and I found the restaurant I’d identified earlier.  The addicts in us were most excited about a good cup of coffee (because we needed more stimulation), and the “cultural center” atmosphere promised in the book sounded interesting as well.

Books lie.  Or they become outdated at an alarmingly fast rate.  We found the restaurant, and climbed the spiral staircase to the second floor.  We were the only ones there.

We looked out the top floor window onto the streets, and then looked at each other.

Maybe we were just early for dinner.  Maybe there were new owners.  Maybe it would pick up.

We were game for staying, but only because we were hungry and had no other lead on food.  And we wanted Peruvian coffee.  “So, do we drink the coffee?”  LeAnna asked the strange question and we looked at her quizzically.  “Well, it’s made with water, and I’m pretty sure they haven’t boiled the water for 10 minutes.”

Damn.  None of us had considered this.  Parasites weren’t on the list of things we wanted to take home from Peru, and the drinking water wasn’t safe.

A quick debate ensued regarding the drinking of coffee.  LeAnna and I came down on the side of “screw it, we’re in Peru, we’re drinking the damn coffee.”  Kelly came down on the , “can I have a sip” side.

While we waited for our coffee, we checked out the menu.  Along with cuy and other, unidentifiable items, there was a pizza list.  Which sounded delightfully comforting.  We were adventurous, but hungry.  After discounting local fare, we ordered my personal favorite:  pizza with olive and pineapple.  Delicious.  The olives turned out to be Kalamata, a change from the usual, but tasty.

And the pizza was good.  Surprisingly so.  We gobbled the pizza and slurped tentatively at the coffee.  Which was divine.  All thoughts of what could be lurking in the water was tossed aside as we tossed back the beautiful-smelling elixir.

And as we tossed back, we looked up to find the strangest part of the place.

Sperm.  Fertilizing a ceiling lamp.  Yes, that’s what I said.  I don’t know.  I didn’t ask.  We’re assuming this is the “cultural center” to which the booking was referring.  Who knows?

Our stomachs happy, we sat and considered the rest of our time in Cuzco.  We’d need another place to eat.   And we might need dessert.  While we were a little hesitant to consult the guidebook again, we weren’t ready to accept the recommendations of the hoards of barkers trying to bring in business from the streets.

The guidebook listed a European bakery.  A place where we could get more coffee and a piece of cake.  Potentially perfect.

Kelly needed an internet café, so we worked our way down the main street, searching for a shop that looked both legit and safe.  At every corner was clogged and we were barraged by women with handbills asking if we wanted massages.  “Maybe later,” we answered, and they agreed.

When Kelly entered the back of a shop, LeAnna and I sat waiting, catching up on each other’s lives, and musing about the days ahead.   Sitting there talking about the emotional and the mundane, we were treated to a preview of the camaraderie that would thrust itself upon us as we made our way through the truly foreign experience lying in wait.

And then we were walking again, through the streets of Cuzco at dusk, past murals of a maturing justice, and fountains and tourists and locals.  Toward pastry.

We would visit the pastry shop every night that we spent on Cuzco.  We would order a total of 10 desserts in the three visits.  Nine of them would be delicious.

The shop was lovely.  White-shirted, black-aproned Peruvian boys waited by the door, hands clasped behind their backs, their dark hair and eyes sparkling at the mix of locals and tourists streaming in and out.

Our three desserts and coffees were consumed, and we laughed lightly, comforted by the familiar look and feel of the place.  Caffeinated and sugared, we stepped out into the dark plaza in front of yet another ornate church, where we found a backlit Mary standing watch.

Odd churches were nothing new to me, and I was interested to see the Peruvian flair overlaying the Catholic basics.  Kelly and I stepped inside to find one of the strangest church interiors I’ve ever seen.  A couple dozen life-sized saints stared down at us from high niches.  Wooden or ceramic, each of them was dressed in real clothing.  Satin, lace, wool.  They all had complete textile clothes.  Some had jewels.  I wouldn’t have expected this to be so strange, but it really was.  Instead of the feeling of benevolence I have felt from the carved statues of saints, this felt like life-sized dolls staring at us as we made a circuit of the large church.

LeAnna, who had wanted to be culturally sensitive, came in to see what was taking us so long.  I’m sure we had wide eyes, due to caffeine overload, and the strangeness of the scene.

We weren’t far from our hostel, just on the other side of the Plaza Armas.  Despite our sugar highs, we were starting to fade.  As we walked back, the night took on a fuzzy, sparkly feeling, the scooters rattling past us along the ancient stones.

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August 16, 2010   2 Comments

Market of the Farmers

Decatur has a “Farmers Market.”  It’s not Portland, so it’s not like our farmers markets.  I mean, I’m sure there are farmers who produce the products, but I’m not actually sure they ever go to the market.  Still, there are some pretty visual things that happen there.

Here are some of them:

Yummy.

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July 27, 2010   5 Comments

Iberian splendor

Okay, here it is.  The big meal.  Every trip seems to have a big, memorable meal for me.  In Atlanta, this was it.  I honestly was trying to find a pizza place, to grab a slice of mediocre “New York style” cheese pizza.  But, as I walked through Decatur Square, I stopped in front of a smooth-looking restaurant to read the menu.

Damn.  I knew I was hooked almost immediately.  They had a nice outdoor seat for me, in the cool-enough Atlanta evening.  I quickly made friends with my waiter, Daniel who, when I asked his name, handed me his business card (I thought this was a nice touch), and we started moving through the menu.

Something I learned in Italy was the benefit of taking advice.  Some advice, about what to eat, from the wait staff.  These people know the food intimately.  They see it all day long.  They smell it.  They eat it.  They see what gets sent back, and know what the chef is most proud of.

Tonight I took my Daniel’s advice.  “You’ll be good if you order the special salad and the red quinoa.”  Okay, not what I was thinking, but why not?  I’d eaten late in the day, and my slice of pizza was quickly turning into a full-blown, serious meal.  I had a conversation with my stomach and prepared myself.

Or so I thought.

The salad, which was big enough to be a meal in its own right, was beautiful.  It was endive and arugula with seasoned Marconi almonds, grilled peach, and goat cheese.  Holy yum.

I savored every scrap of it, listening to the lesbian couple next to me bicker about whether they would allow their infant daughter to know the family members they didn’t like, and whether people who don’t work are just a drain on society.

I just smiled at my salad.

A fool, I had debated with Daniel about whether I should have the quinoa (I love quinoa), or something else I can’t even remember now.  The quinoa erased all memory of competing meals.

I’ll try to reconstruct the combinations of flavors and textures, because it was precisely these combinations that made the plate of food sing.  The quinoa, which was nutty and beautiful, had a delicate crunch, and sat on a bed of roasted red peppers.  Slightly roasted.  Roasted just enough to concentrate the flavors, while leaving the soft, sweet flesh tender.  That sweetness paired beautifully with the tangy tomatillo salsa, and the crunchy, salty asparagus that had been slightly braised.  The magnificent corn sauce was entirely of its own flavor, creamy and sweet.  Independent in the way it made the whole, stewed tomatoes edgy, and the mushrooms even more elegant.

I’d been worried about the mushrooms.  Generally, I’m a fan, but shitake can border on the slimy, chewy, nasty side for me.  I have to say, though, these were the star of the show.  They were marinated, seasoned and sautéed in a way that made them tender and succulent.

The endive and microgreens were lovely as well.  The finished off the piece, giving it a light, clean feeling.

I spent a good amount of time, studying the dish, which was beautiful and inviting.  I paired different parts and evaluated each combination.  It was as much entertainment as meal.  Even as I became increasingly, uncomfortably full, I wanted to make sure I’d tried everything fully before abandoning my attempt.

Daniel glided past a couple of times making eye contact long enough for me to smile, give the thumbs up, or nod vigorously.  When he saw a slow-down in the action, and approached again, he was smiling.  “Dessert?”

Now, I wasn’t hungry.  I was, in fact, unhungry.  But it’s almost always worth hearing the list, in my experience.  He went through a litany of tasty treats, gelato, tort, etc.  And churros.  With a chocolate dipping sauce.

I’d heard tell of such things existing in far off lands like Spain.  My experience of curros was relegated to Disneyland and Costco.

“What’s made in-house.”  The question had served me in so very many situations, and I pulled it out now with relish.

“Well, the churros.”  He was a little sheepish telling me that they didn’t make everything there.  It wasn’t a problem for me, though.  The churros sounded delicious, and I didn’t really want anything huge, so it was a win-win.

“And an espresso.  Let’s do this thing.”  Daniel smiled a conspiratorial smile and headed to the kitchen.

I sat in front of the plate of fried, sugared delight.  It reminded me of an edible Calder staybile.  You know those giant steel sculptures that look like mobiles that have fallen to the ground?  Yeah, maybe it’s an obscure reference, but it’s the truth.

Passersby gawked.  Kids.  Adults.  Dogs.  I could hear the lesbians whispering next to me, and after an hour of ignoring each other, they finally asked what I was eating.  The power of the churros was strong.

“How is everything?”  Daniel was back.

“You might want to give people a heads up about the size.  I’m getting stares.”  He giggled and looked at the ground.

The churros were hot.  They were extruded and fried-to-order.  Which was perfect.  I thought I’d finally make it through a meal in Atlanta without a fried course.  Nope.  The fried dough had a wonderfully crispy exterior, and an airy, doughy inside.  The tubes were the size of a big carrot, and crunched with a satisfying sound when I chomped into them.

The chocolate dipping sauce was slightly spiced, and equally hot.  Throwing all concerns about staring lesbians, I dip pieces of churro in the sauce, and then into the surplus cinnamon-sugar on the plate.  The chocolate dripped on the way to my mouth, and I soaked it up with more fried dough.  There were enough churros for four people.  And I ate them all.  Every last one.

I paid my bill and laughed at what my little piece of pizza had turned into.  Then I moved Spain further up my list of places to visit.  Pretty much for the churros.

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July 22, 2010   No Comments

Southern fried

Okay, so Atlanta, being in the South, has a lot of fried food.  This is true.  I think I had something fried with every meal I ate in my week-long trip.  However…there is also some seriously good food in that place.  I’m talking Atlanta and the lesbian-infused suburb of Decatur.  Here are the highlights from the trip’s food log.  Food pretty much fell into three categories:  Breakfast, veggie burger, and fried.  There was some overlap.  There were also a couple of healthyish meals thrown in for good measure.

Breakfast:

My first day there, my hostess, Kelly, took me to one of the best breakfast spots in town:  Highland Bakery.  (It just so happens, it’s gay-owned, too.  Joy!)  I’d been there about 7 years ago when I last visited Atlanta.  It was good then, but now it’s bigger, better and even more delicious.

What’s better than being greeted by a cupcake-laden pastry counter?  Not much really.  Unless it’s a mini-muffin sampler!

Yeah, that was good.

The actual meal was a breakfast sandwich of some kind for Kelly, and the breakfast burrito, recommended by our waiter.  I’ll have to go back to try the Hoppin’ Highland.

Pretty much every day, I headed to the Dancing Goats for coffee and bagels.  Mmmmm, bagels.  I hadn’t my usual bagel fix for over a month, so I was really excited to encounter the hand-made, wood-fired bagels at Dancing Goats.

Not to mention the world-class coffee.  (There are only two Dancing Goats coffee-shops, despite the coffee being sold everywhere.)

And then there were donuts.  I heard there was a place that’s been compared to Voodoo Donut in Portland.  I knew it couldn’t actually be like Voodoo.  That’s not possible.  It was, however, delicious.

Housed in a non-descript strip-mall of a building, Sublime Donuts turns out gourmet donuts.  We chatted with the owner who, when asked for his favorite, waived his arm dramatically and declared “all of them!”  Kelly had the caramel-apple fritter.

And I signed up for a red velvet cake and an orange dream star.

The red velvet was topped with cream cheese frosting and pecans and the orange dream star was filled with creaminess and topped with a delicate, sweet orange frosting.

Next there were the sweet potato waffles at Rise and Dine.  Kelly raved about these things from the second I got in until we had them.  And then a little after that.

She had hers with bacon.  I had mine with Jalapeno cheddar grits.

Turns out I’m a grits girl.

Which I proved again and again, next at The Flying Biscuit.  This place used to be owned by the Indigo Girls.  Now it’s not, but it’s tasty.  I had this:

It was black bean patties, over-medium eggs, tomatillo salsa and feta cheese.  With a side of cheesy grits.  And a biscuit.  And homemade jam.  O. M. Y.  Oh my yum.  This is possibly the best thing I ate in Atlanta.  At least for breakfast.  Don’t be dirty.

The award for most beautiful breakfast in Atlanta came from Rise ‘n’ Dine.  I made a return trip.  This time I had a scramble with tomato, goat cheese and basil.  It came with a beautiful biscuit and house-made, no-sugar-added jam.  It was terrific.  And pretty.

The least delicious, but most interesting breakfast was at IHOP.  It’s been years since I had eaten at an IHOP.  I was a fiend in college.  Currently, IHOP has a 600 calorie or less menu.  I’m really not sure how many people in the house were eating off of it, but my other hostess, Linda, and I were.  Not a bad meal, in fact.  Harvest Nut and Grain pancake, egg substitutes and a banana.

The other quasi-healthy, and much tastier meal I had was at Kelly’s place.  She and her partner cooked for me.  The takeaway from the meal was a recipe for kale chips.  Yep, kale chips.  If you rip kale into potato chip sized pieces, place them on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then bake at 400ish until they’re crispy, you’ll be delighted.  It’s almost like a potato chip.  But healthy.  And kale.

I’ve since learned that you can add a bit of mustard to give it a zing.  Paired with cheese I brought back from Italy, we had a darn good meal.

For other healthyish meals, I hit ragin’ tacos for a plate of delicious tofu tacos,

and Lotta Frutta, an excellent, exotic fruit smoothie bar.  I had a guana smoothie and a grilled cheese.

The sandwich came with seasoned corn bits that I would, oddly enough, experience a week later in Peru.

Veggie burgers:

I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of house-made veggie burgers on menus all over the city.  Some of these were seriously good.  Some of these were seriously fried.  Some of these were served in restaurants I will not frequent.

The first was at Joe’s on Juniper, a gay sports bar with a great outdoor seating area.

The burger was house made with black beans, and fried.  It was tasty, but fell apart in my hands, which irritates me, truth be told.  I sat on the patio and listened to labor protestors across the street.  My waiter apologized, but I had good time listening to the chants.

That same night, Kelly took me to a fancy burger bar, called Flip Burger.  I only tell you the name so that you will know that it’s the place that serves fois gras.  For that reason, I won’t, personally, go back.  The burgers were good.  Mine might have been fried, I don’t recall, but it was topped with pickled onions, goat cheese, and microgreens.  Kelly had a bacon cheeseburger.

The real purpose of the trip, however, was the milkshakes.  Kelly’s was toasted marshmallow, and mine was turtle.  Neither of us opted for the goose-liver pate option…

While we were there, we ordered a tray of fried pickles.

Yes, they were good.  They were bread and butter, and came with some kind of buttermilk dipping sauce.  I’ve always pictured a fried pickle as a whole pickle, dropped into a deep fryer.  That’s not what these were.  They could have been bread and butter shoeleather, fried and slathered and they would have tasted good.

Much like the fried okra I had a couple of days later at a place called Farm Burger.

This had some kind of chipotle dipping sauce.  I think I liked this veggie burger best of all.  It was fried and fell apart, but it was quinoa.  I like quinoa.  It’s another grain I saw a lot of in Peru…  Paired with the sweet pickles and goat cheese, the burger was nice.  It went down smoothly.  Which is good, because Farm Burger also serves ice cream floats.  I had a ginger beer one.

While the award for best veggie burger goes to Farm Burger, the award for best fried food goes to Watershed.

That’s an okra pancake.  Actually, it’s two of them.  Chopped and battered and formed into cakes, the okra retains some of its former glory, the tapioca-sized seeds bursting in your mouth.  But it becomes more.  It’s far better than the usual fried-okra, which is pretty darn good.  It was delicate and crispy.  It didn’t hit me over the head with its okraness or its fried nature.  It was just simple and good.  Like everything else on the plate.  There was no surplus.  The heirloom tomatoes were simply seasoned with salt and pepper.  The cucumber salad was dressed with crème fraische.  I left full and happy.  Plus, it was at Emily Saliers place, Watershed.  So it was staffed by cute girls, and had a certain lesbian sensibility about it.

While I ate well the whole time, there’s one meal that stands out.  After a long day of writing, I was hoping to grab a piece of pizza and head back home.  Only, on the way to the pizza place, I got sidetracked by a menu in the window of the Iberian Pig.

That’s the pig.  Or it’s A pig.  Might not be the actually Iberian Pig.  Unclear.  What was clear was that the food was divine.  Peaches, quinoa and churros.  If you want more detail, you’ll have to wait.  This place deserves its own post.

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July 22, 2010   2 Comments

You gonna eat that?

Despite the fit that Venice threw while we were there, we managed to find some serious food.

Even in the storm, I was able to find my favorite restaurants.  Whether it was Grom for incredible, fresh gelato,

or Pizza al Volo for the best veggie pizza ever,

my old haunts materialized before us.  I was even able to find the most remote of my previous dinner places on the first try.

Trattoria della Madonna is marked by a big, green lantern.  As I went to tell the Ant this, I found myself looking at it.

Like last time, I found the Madonna an elegantly simple restaurant.

Serving seafood specialties and seasonal vegetables, I find it a delight to point my waiter in a direction – vegetarian, meat, fish – and let him bring something good.

Tonight, we had a great dinner of Bolognese and pasta e fagioli

And snapper (it came whole and was boned for the Ant) and veggies.

The Ant loved her snapper, and I was unable to finish the huge plate of vegetables.  Though I stuffed as many of the carrots, peas and veiny beans down my throat as I could.

And then I ordered dessert.

Not because I was hungry, but because you can’t really go to the alleged birthplace of tiramisu and not have it.  Can you?

I think I cannot.

Regardless, it was a good first night of food.  But we had another.  After considering the menus of both Casi nobili, and Ristoteca Oniga, we decided to go with Oniga for our second night of food.

Oniga is a really warm place.

It glows with hospitality.  I sat next to the owner’s Staffordshire terrier, asleep in her bed.

And we were soon in conversation with the two couples on either side of us.  Of course, it helped that we were crammed in like sardines, but still.  While we considered the menu, we shared travel tips and recommendations for food.  The Ant and I found ourselves the resident experts on Venice, Rome and Siena, and we were glad to share what knowledge we had with our dining companions.

Tonight, I settled on a giant gnocchi and the Ant on a spaghetti with clams.

The gnocchi were the exact right firmness, even though they were twice the size of any gnocchi I’d ever had.  And the sauce was a lovely, delicate blend of tomato, basil and bufala mozzarella – three of my favorite things.

The Ant raved about her spaghetti, and we passed along the recommendations to our friends around us, who were asking how it was.

Next came another whole fish for the Ant, and something the waiter had thrown together for me.

It was cheese.  More bufala mozzarella.  And the most absolutely astounding tomatoes I think I’ve ever had.  I’d guess they were plum.  Maybe Roma.  But they were sweet and dressed with balsamic.  Really good balsamic vinegar.  And there was a dollop of fresh pesto.  I made little stacks of cheese, pesto and tomatoes piled on bread.

And then I ordered dessert again.

A meek bus girl came over to take our plates, and asked if we wanted something sweet.

“What do you recommend?”  I asked in some kind of Italian that she recognized.

“Ciocolata,” she smiled enthusiastically.  I nodded and settled in, eager to see what she would bring.

Yeah, it was chocolate.  Cake.  With some kind of maybe creamy-nut filling.  And fudgy frosting.  And a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

This, my friends, is why I ask for recommendations.

The Ant leaned over to one of the couples, and I leaned over to the other.

“You have to order this.  No, I don’t know what it is.  She just said, ‘ciocolata’.”  They all nodded and thanked us for the recommendation.

We finished up our little espressos, paid the bill, said goodnight to the dog and our new friends, and headed out into the night, to our little room a couple of blocks away, jacked up on caffeine and sugar, and blissfully exhausted.

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July 7, 2010   3 Comments