Saturday, January 11, 2014

Best Meals of My Life: Part I

I'm going to take a little break from reviewing Salt Lake restaurants to reminisce about some of the the best meals I've ever eaten. Perhaps not surprisingly to those who have read more than seven consecutive words of my writing, most of these meals have taken place in Italy. In fact, the first took place in Verona.

Verona is a magically delightful city. Situated in Northern Italy's Veneto region (a historical anomaly brought about by Venice conquering Verona back in the day), Verona is the home of, among other things, Romeo and Juliet; one of the best preserved Roman coliseums in the world (which hosts an amazing open-air summer opera season); and the sublime, winding Adige river. It is also home to one of the most developed horse cuisines in Europe. (I know, horse. Sounds crazy to Americans, but horse is one of the best red meats out there. Honestly, if you get the chance, try it.)

Some years ago now, my wife, son, and I were winding down our Italian vacation. Verona was on the ville du juor, as it were. We took in the coliseum, Piazza Brà, Parco Cesaro Lambroso, etc. Part way through the day, we happened (intentionally) upon Juliet's balcony. For those who have never been, Juliet's balcony is a tribute to lovers. The archway leading to the courtyard is covered in love messages scrawled on ancient stone. Inside the courtyard, within the shadow of her balcony, stands Juliet in all her one-shiny-boob splendor. After basking in the romance of the scene, and having taken the obligatory good-luck photos with Juliet, we meandered east toward the Adige. It was time for lunch, so we walked north along the west side of the river until we found a promising restaurant: Trattoria all'Amelia. 

I believe we were the only ones in the Trattoria, which meant we received the proprietor's undivided attention. An interminably nice man, he suggested various dishes. I settled on the gnocchi with ragù veronese, braised rabbit, and grilled polenta. Demaree ate something, although I can't remember what. Elliot ate part of our dishes, but he also devoured a head cheese sort of sliced meat the proprietor provided gratis.

I began with the gnocchi. Like the mystics of old, the experience of eating these gnocchi was transcendent, almost ineffable. They were light like pillows, toothsome, and delicious to the taste. The ragù was a tight sauce made of almost all meat, with just enough tomato and onion to bind everything together. Incredible. By far the best gnocchi I have ever eaten. (I asked the proprietor how he made them. He responded by saying he used standard red potatoes and giving me a general gnocchi making procedure. When I pressed him for more information, he politely declined. I wanted to yell, "Damn you, you nice old man! Tell me what kind of voodoo do you practice to create such food?!" In the end, I didn't.)

The rabbit, unlike most, was succulent tender. It was lean and meaty, and ever so slightly gamey. It went perfectly with the braised vegetables and grilled polenta. (Rabbit and polenta: you know you're in Northern Italy when those words are joined by a conjunctive.) These people had put a lot of thought and time into this dish, and that was readily apparent.

We ate. We talked. We basked in the afternoon sun shimmering off the Adige. Elliot exited his chair and scampered about. 

There is nothing better in this world than passing time with my family eating memorable food. These are the times I will remember when I'm about to pass the way of all the earth. Not remembered will be the hours spent at the office, or the time spent watching television (except "Breaking Bad") or lifting weights. No, these small moments made special by family and food is what I will think about before beginning that singular journey to the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah. And during that journey, the angels who stand as sentinels will serve heaping plates of Trattoria all'Amelia's gnocchi, for they are the food of God. 

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