I love the way Italians enjoy their food. After visiting all my recommended restaurants in Verona, I sat down at my favorite place, Enoteca Can Grande, with my friend and guide, Franklin. We let the chef, Giuliano, bring us whatever he wanted. Franklin’s a local. He knows the cuisine. And just to see Franklin swoon over the food made the evening even better than the impact of Giuliano’s fine food and wine. Here are a few of Franklin’s comments as the food came and we ate (perhaps some a bit impolite, but all from the stomach end of the heart):
With the first of many small plates, Franklin is delighted. “Raw Piedmont beef, carne cruda. It is like seeing the smile of a beautiful woman after ten years. You never forget her.”
I ask, “Sublime is an Italian word, no?” He says, “Yes, soo-blee-may…this is sublime.” The wine is Amarone della Valpolicella. It is sublime.
Giuliano brings a plate of various cold cuts — glistening in a way that lets you know it’s nothing but the best — and we ponder: If you had to choose between salami and cheese in life, which would you choose? Both agree that it would be a terrible choice…but cheese. Then we nibble the mortadella with truffle, and it complicates the matter. Mortadella is the local baloney — not a high-end meat. But with the black truffle, it’s exquisite. Imagine calling spam exquisite…just add truffle.
And if you had to choose between white and red wine? Franklin says, “I used to smoke, and I compared white wine and red like cigarettes and a good Cuban cigar. And I enjoyed my Cuban cigars.” Then he gets distracted by the herb decorating the next little mozzarella dish. After tasting a sprig, he says, “Yes, fresh… It’s normally served dried. The chef is a genius, brilliant with mozzarella.”
Then comes the best polenta I’ve ever tasted. Italian cuisine is like a religion — and it’s the quality of the ingredients that’s most sacred. Polenta comes in varieties, like white bread and whole-grain bread. This is the darker polenta integrale, using the entire corn. And it comes with anchovies. Anchovies and polenta go together…a good marriage. It’s the simple things — the anchovies, the olive oil, the polenta integrale, and the proper matching of flavors — that can bring the most joy at the table.
Noticing how Franklin polishes every plate, I say, “You even eat the speckles.” He says, “Yes, I would feel like a sinner not to.” And, sipping his wine, he adds, “And to not finish the Amarone — Dante would have to create a new place in hell. Mortal sin.”
Then comes the pumpkin ravioli. I hold the warm and happy tire of my full tummy and say, “Basta.” Giovanni, looking at my Amarone, realizes we need another bottle. He warns us, “Next I bring you a small cheese course.”
Franklin says, “I’m not so religious, but for this cheese, with Amarone, I fall on my knees.” I agree, saying, “In cheese we trust.” He compliments my economy of words and repeats, “Yes, in cheese we trust.” I say, “This cheese plate takes dessert to new heights.” Franklin, playing with the voluptuous little slices, says, “Even if we do not talk, with these cheeses we have a good conversation.”
I support my happy head with my hand as Franklin pours the last of our second bottle into my glass and we move into the parmesan and the gorgonzola. Franklin, taking the last dribble into his glass, says, “If this was my only wine, I could be monogamous.”
It occurs to me we must have tasted thirty different ingredients — all of them top-quality and in harmonious combinations. Franklin again marvels at how the chef was creative and unpredictable without garish combinations — no gorgonzola ice cream.
Giuliano asks if I’d like anything else. I ask, “Dov’è il letto?” Franklin agrees and says, “Yes, a good restaurant should come with a bed.”