Sunday, July 01, 2007

Day 7: Milan, at last and Dinner at Le Vigne

After we trained back to La Spetzia, after dinner, I hit the bed and blacked out, literally, till the next morning. Loading all our luggage back into our cars, we drove back toward Milan, with the rainy, overcast weather following us all the way. As we neared Milan at 11am, we suggested that the guys should drop us off near Corso Venezia while they went to check-in at the hotel.

While they were gone, we visited the Nuti and Ferragamo shops for some serious shopping, then went into a street-side cafe for lunch. The cafe was called Cova and they had the loveliest cold, whole mozarella dish with cherry tomatoes and a wonderful sacher torte.

After the boys came to meet us, poor things, the subway train drivers had gone on strike that very afternoon and they were stuck somewhere slightly out of town, in the rain, we shopped on at more male-focused stores like the Ferrari flagship, Boss, Valextra, Fendi and Geox. I really do regret not having made it out to 10 Corso Como or the wonderful stationers Pineider 1949 at Corso Europa but there really wasn't much time, especially as we wanted to stay around and visit the Duomo.

Getting to dinner was a slightly confused process as well. After following the advice of way too many street drunks, we finally found our way to Ripa di Porta to this little restaurant called Le Vigne. This is a quaint and far more artistic streets, in the navigli district, on one of Milan's surviving canals, with so many wonderful shops (so little time!)

Before we had left for Italy, we had an friend who grew up in Milan (now working in Singapore) to write down a list of small eateries, not fancy, not expensive but with good, honest food that he had to eat every time he came home. This was one of the recommendations.

We decided just to share all the starters and chose a cheese plate and a ham and salami plate.

While these were excellent, I wasn't exactly that impressed, having come from the Chianti region.

The other two appetizers were the sandwich tower of mozzarell and tomato (not as good as at lunch) and the huge wanton (which was both amusing and very savory yummy).

The main courses though, were the best part of the meal. The one that I should definitely point out was the chicken that M. ordered.

None of us had had chicken in Italian menus during the entire trip. This place had a chicken breast on offer and while that sounded extremely ordinary, it was soft, smoothly textured and the most succulent piece of chicken. It made me wonder, pretty much, whether they had cooked it using methods similar to our Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice, you know, the double dipping in boiling and ice water.

The other dishes we ordered were steak and lamb, all of which were good and honestly cooked.

My dish was the risotto with rose hips and porcini. Despite not even liking rose hips, I ordered this just because I had to have risotto again. The lesson I learned is, if you don't like a strong taste like rose, or mint, or almond, or durian, don't order the dish, even if the mode is something you like.

I have to say I'm an absolute purist when it comes to risotto. I don't even like saffron in mine, so I didn't much like this. I felt the flavour was definitely too strong and it sort of highlighted for me, the hard grains of rice that I could feel encapsulated in each foamy piece of risotto. This is traditional Milanese risotto but I have to say, I'd pass on the tradition for my version of risotto perfection.

The desserts were, as most Italian desserts tend to be, a little hard, a little thick, a little dry, a little disappointing.

We had a creme brulee (the Italian version is made with a great deal more egg and is neither as smooth nor as light as the French version).

We also had a chocolate cake of sorts (very lightly coloured but then most chocolate cakes in Italy look like they've been flavoured with nutella than Valrhona) which wasn't really worth a photo, a plate of biscuit things called chocolate salami (which we didn't realize would be so hard and yet chewy) and a lemon cream tart with strawberry accents.

The next day, we woke for breakfast at the hotel and packed up. I managed to sneak away to the nearby grocery and fill the rest of our Bistecca styrofoam box (yes, J. this is how I arrived in Singapore with half an Italian cow) with fresh cheese, pesto, speck and parma ham for some great follow-on meals in Singapore. Buon Giorno!

Via Montenapoleone 8
Tel: +39 (02) 76000578

Le Vigne
61 Ripa di Porta Ticinese
Tel. 02 8375617

For those of you with interest, these are the other restaurants that made it to the Milan cheap and good list, which we didn't get to try:

1. L'osteria del Treno, Milano Repubblica, Stazione Centrale, Via San Gregorio 46-48 Tel: 02 6700 479

2. Trattoria del Pescatore, Milano Porta Romana, Vannucci 3, Tel: 02 58320452

3. La Piola, Milan Porta Venezia, Viale Abruzzi 23, Tel: 02 29531271

4. Ponte Rosso, Milano Navigli, 23 Ripa di Porta Ticinese, Tel: 02 8373132

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