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Rick Steves’ Europe: My dinner with Franklin

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When I'm not in Europe, I like to recall my favorite meals on the road. I especially love the way Italians enjoy their food.

I’m sitting down for a meal with a friend at one of my favorite restaurants, Enoteca Can Grande in Verona. Eating in a little restaurant like this one, you have contact with the chef. We were here a year ago and chef Giuliano remembers us. Once we’re comfortably seated, he consults with us. As is our tradition, we encourage him to bring us whatever he’s most excited about today. Pleased with the freedom to dazzle us, he goes to work.

My friend and guide, Franklin, is a local. He knows the cuisine and gushes about the food incessantly. As the courses come and we eat, he shares his thoughts, which are sometimes impolite, but always come from the heart (perhaps with a side trip through the stomach).

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. Even after 10 years, you never forget her.”

Our wine is Amarone della Valpolicella. Enjoying a sip, I ask, “Sublime is an Italian word, no?”

He says, “Yes, soo-blee-may ... this is sublime.”

 

Giuliano brings a plate of various cold cuts, glistening in a way that shows they’re nothing but the best. We ponder, if you had to choose between salami and cheese, which would you choose? Giuliano and Franklin both agree that it would be a terrible choice ... but they would have to go with the cheese. Then we nibble the mortadella with truffle, complicating that decision. Mortadella is the local baloney — not a high-end meat. But with the black truffle, it is exquisite. Imagine calling Spam exquisite ... just add truffle.

Franklin says, “I used to smoke, and I compared white wine and red like cigarettes and a good Cuban cigar. I enjoy my red wine like I enjoy 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 ... fresh, brilliant with mozzarella.”

Next comes the polenta, the best I’ve ever tasted. This cornbread, typical of the Veneto region, comes in varieties, like bread ranges from whole grain to white. This is the darker polenta integrale, using all of the corn. And it comes with anchovies. “A good marriage,” Franklin says. It’s the simple things — the anchovies, the olive oil, the polenta integrale, and the proper matching of flavors — that bring the most joy to the table.

Noticing how Franklin polishes every plate, I say, “You even eat the crumbs.”

...continued

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