Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

RESTAURANT: Via Venuti, Monterosso al Mare, Italy


And now it is our last day in Italy. No more sleepy little village by the sea, no more warm ocean, no more local wine bar and no more fresh fish.

We spent the morning soaking up all of the sun, sand and surf that we could. For lunch, we had--for the very first time of our trip--pizza. Pizza is not known as a local specialty in Cinque Terre, but it damn well should be. We ate at Pizzeria Ely, which makes its pizzas on a foccaccia-like crust instead of using the standard pizza dough. It was SO GOOD. The crust was thick but light and crispy. It kind of reminded me of Pizza Hut pan pizza, but saying that does it no justice. This was approximately 58 million times better than a Pizza Hut Pizza. I ate my half of the pizza and then immediately wanted to order five more pizzas. I came thisclose to snatching the leftover pizza from the skinny American girl sitting behind me before the server could clear it away.

The evening we once again began at our wine bar, playing cards and perusing my new Ligurian cookbook.

Once I was ahead in our card scoring tally by about 3,582,675 points, I felt I had a safe enough lead to go to dinner. I have to get a really big lead in cards. I am always strong coming out of the gates, but then J. is smarter than me and figures out strategy and starts winning every game. At the beginning of our trip we learned how to play German Whist and first we were pretty even in the W-L column, and then he figured out how to really play and beat me EVERY SINGLE TIME.

So we had to switch games. He's an expert now at how many times I can lose a game before I start to act like I am five, and throw the cards or something.

For dinner, we went to Via Venuti. I think that is what it is called. I meant to bring my travel book to check, but forgot. I will edit later if it's something different.

This restaurant lured me in by promising risotto all fragole (wild strawberry risotto):

I tried to grill the waiter about this dish, but he didn't like strawberries, so he was no help. The service was really great at this restaurant, by the way. There was a waiter and a waitress who both spoke excellent English and were super friendly and helpful. Because we could find no preliminary info about this dish, we had to order it and see for ourselves. For the record, strawberry risotto is good, and not at all sweet or fruity. It's made with garlic and butter and strawberry with small chunks of strawberry in the rice. It's warm and buttery and garlicky with some tartness from the strawberry. It would be a great comfort food.

By the way, and apropos of nothing, how is this for a surprise? At the store last night I asked for a blue corn tamale from the deli counter. The blue corn tamales have jack cheese and jalapenos inside. I knew as soon as I unwrapped it at home that I had not gotten what I asked for, since it was not blue. Imagine my surprise though, when I tasted it and found that I had gotten a STRAWBERRY tamale. Who ever heard of a strawberry tamale? It certainly was not what I was expecting. It was way too sweet for me, especially for dinner, but I glopped some goat cheese on top and then it was awesome. The tang and savory flavor of the goat cheese made it perfect. So, note to anyone who is making a strawberry tamale: throw some cream cheese in there or something.

Back to Italy. For our main course, J. and I split a branzino with wild mushrooms. Now that was good ... mushrooms are in season right now in Europe and are yummy. The earthiness went well with the mild flavor of the fish. And of course the fish was uber-fresh.

As we were finishing our dinner, a sudden rainstorm hit the village. We were able to watch from our comfortable table as it suddenly started pouring and people went running everywhere, including the waiter, who had his scooter (of the foot-pushing kind, not the Vespa kind) outside and had to rescue it. The waitress laughed and said it would be over in five minutes and it pretty much was.

After closing down the restaurant, we headed back, stopping on the way for our last Italian gelato.

The next day we went to Germany and that is where my food pictures stopped because (1) we were going to a wedding and had to go a lot of places with friends and family; and (2) we only ate German food once and mostly ate Italian food even in Germany.

I did want to share the fact that in Germany we stayed in a hotel where the owner had a "pet" cheetah. When I first saw the Cheetah, it was like this:

"Hey, I wonder if this is where that chee-WHOA, there it is! Oh my god, it's coming!"

Because at the same time I saw the cheetah, it saw me and started coming toward me and I really thought it was going to leap up onto the roof of the shack in front of the fence and try to get me. It geared up, started running, and .... got its ball and started playing.

Then it would stop, look up at me and roll on the ground. Um ... does the wild cheetah want to PLAY with me?

When it got tired it went over and sat by the fence near the driveway. So on our way out, we stopped to take pictures of it. The cheetah started purring. I am never forgetful that wild animals are exactly that--wild. But it gets harder and harder to remember when they play with toys and purr at you.

We got to meet the cheetah, Samy, the next day at breakfast. He would come that the hotel owner's call and he clearly loved the guy. I learned that cheetahs don't have claws on their front paws, but instead have paws like dogs. I also got to pet the cheetah a little through the fence and he tried to play with me some more. We kind of played tag, but I stayed far enough away from the fence to not be actually tagged, because I don't think the cheetah needs sharp claws to maim me.

Tomorrow, back to local programming.

This is Samy:

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Strawberry Risotto? Damn Italians are so passionate about everything--cooking included. It sounds genius.

said by Acme Instant Food at 11:55 AM Delete

It IS genius. I was expecting it to be really weird, but it actually tasted perfectly normal.

I think it must be fairly common in Italy, because I ventured a Google search and came up with several recipes.

Go figure!

said by KT at 12:19 PM Delete

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