Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day 4: Verona in the morning; Alba, the truffle heaven, in the evening



Restaurant visited:

Antica Corona Reale da Renzo (5 star. Amazing food, incredibly friendly services), Micheline 2 star


Morning walk in Verona town center: Arena, Juliet’s balcony and the Lamberti tower.

Verona is the city that Shakespeare picked for his star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. However, once I started looking into this city, I realized that there is a pretty famous arena here, too. Not as big as the one in Rome but seems to be better preserved (or restored).

As soon as I walked out of my hotel (Hotel Milano), within 100 steps, I was standing right in front of the Arena. I didn’t expect my hotel to be in such a prime location!

There is no fence or any barricade between me and this buildings of 2000 years. As I reached out and touched the crumbling facade of the exterior wall, I wondered what the roman citizens 2000 years ago were thinking as they tried squeezing into the arena to see the bloody sport of Gladiators.

After I got inside (pay for ticket at the entrance), I climbed up to the top of the arena and had a nice view of the entire space. This is where roman citizens celebrated honor through blood and violence. I could feel the terror and excitement of the crowd and hear their gasp and cheer soar through the sky.

 

I climbed back down under the arena and got a completely different perspective. It was dark and horrifying. As gladiators and prisoners being forced through these humiliating holes, have they given up all hopes and just wanted a quick death? The sense of fear and hopelessness was so overwhelming. How many people have died this way in that ancient time. How many people cared?

 

I continued my journey to Juliet’s balcony. I was really glad that I visited arena first so that I didn’t have to end my half-day encounter with Verona with such heavy emotions.

The road connecting the arena and Juliet’s house is the main shopping street of Verona. There were a lot of people outside. Great for people watching.

Verona is a small town and the walk was less than 10 minutes. Juliet’s house was much smaller than I thought. I’m not sure if it’s because I was affected by the preconceived notion of Shakespeare’s story or because of all the pink heart-shaped souvenirs hanging around all over the place, when I looked up to the balcony, I had the urge to pay the fee to go up to the balcony and call out “Romeo, oh Romeo. Where are thou?” Before I did it, however, a flood of tourists stormed in screaming and shouting. They all bunched up around the statue of Juliet to touch her bare breasts. Rumor has it that it will bring you luck in romance. After witnessing such a chaotic scene where people pushing each other to touch Juliet’s bare breast, any sense of romance has all but escaped me and all I wanted to do was to get away from that crowd as far as I could. “Gosh, tourists…” I caught myself saying that as I exit the house… LOL.

A few blocks away from the house was Lamberti tower. People can pay to go up and have a bird’s eye view of Verona. Since my visit to the romantic balcony was abruptly cut short by a group of screaming strangers, I figured that I’d pick myself up and attempt at saving some sense of romance with Verona before I left. What else can be better than hiking up to the top of a tower for a sense of hope and achievement?

 

The view on top of the tower was amazing! I didn’t know Verona was such a beautiful city until I viewed her from atop. My love affair with Verona was saved!

 

With this powerful sense of achievement and optimism, I now travel on to my first main destination, Alba, the city on the land of hazelnuts, Barolo wine, and of course, white truffles!


Train from Verona to Turin

The train from Verona to Turin takes almost 4 hours…

“Wait, Won Sun, where did you have lunch?”

Ha. I thought I could slip that one through by you! The answer was… you might want to hold on to something for this one… A granola bar! I had a light breakfast at Hotel Milano before I left, and wasn’t really feeling anything for lunch by the time I got on the train. I had expected some kind of cafe on the train for such a long ride but there was nothing. I was left with just a granola bar that I brought with me from home for the plane ride, which I didn’t eat until now.

Don’t worry though, the dinner that I have tonight will more than make up for it. You might want to hold on to something for that one, too. Hahaha.

Back to the journey… I reserved a rental car a month ago. I don’t know how to drive a stick shift, so I requested an automatic. My friend Keyvan told me that sometimes, even if you have reserved an automatic, they might still not have one available for you in Europe and you are left with a manual. I was really nervous that it would happen to me as I approached Turin train station.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Not only that, they have given me a Mercedes-Benz! I’ll be eating truffles in style! Woohoo!



Driving from Turin to Alba

Here was my first ever driving experience in Italy… well, in Europe, even. It was a bit nerve-wrecking to drive on a single lane road and have two cars on my both sides squeezing pass me. Thankfully, through many small obstacles, I arrived at Alba safely to meet with the owner of the vacation rental that I will be staying for the next 7 days. Laura was kind enough to wait for me until I arrived an hour later than we had anticipated. She showed me the lovely apartment and gave me the keys. Here is my home for the next 7 days!


Antica Corona Reale da Renzo: The most amazing truffle dish I’ve had.

It took about 40 minutes to drive here from Alba. It was a pretty straightforward ride. I just followed Google directions and got to the restaurant without any problem.

Antica Corona Reale has 2 Michelin stars and has been around since 1815. (That’s 198 years!) The chef now is the 4th generation owner. The restaurant staff was very friendly and the decor was very comfy and feels like home. All the male patrons, however, wore shirt and jacket. No one was wearing a tie. The two guys sitting next to me wore jeans, so I take it that jeans are okay. I was in my dress pants and jacket without a tie and felt right at home.

As they walked me to my table, an overwhelming aroma of white truffle filled the air. I was already intoxicated before I sat down. I knew I was in right hands. I knew this evening would be amazing.

I didn’t order the tasting menu but still, they gave me 2 amuse-bouche and a palate cleanser before dessert. The Amuse-bouche dishes were huge! Not the small bite size that I’m used to in the fine dining restaurants back home. And my God, they were amazing. They were the best food that I have eaten since the risotto back in Venice, and these were just amuse-bouche! First one was a pork sausage on top of creamy buttery mash potatoes. The second one was beef tartare. Both were just amazing. I’m not used to eating raw beef but I had no trouble finishing these and still wanting more.

 

For my dinner, my waitress told me that the dish “Cocotte egg with white Alba truffle” was the winner of the best truffle dish in 2004, so I ordered that dish. Since I’m a huge risotto fan, I asked if they could make me some risotto and they said yes. What a great service!

The risotto came first. The chef came and personally shaved TONS of truffle on it for me. He told me that the real prized Piedmont white truffles are actually brown and the flesh is more brown than beige. Good to know! The risotto was a bit too salty for me but it was really creamy and the truffles were amazing. A lesson learned for me. Order what they offer, instead of asking for something that they don’t normally do. I should’ve just order the Tajarin with truffle. (a type of pasta special to this region)

The next course arrived with a lot of truffles on it. My waitress went ahead and stirred it up to mix everything together. The chef then arrived and shaved even more truffles on it!

 

This dish, was absolutely the best truffle dish that I have ever had. So creamy and buttery. The warm bowl held this running bright yellow creamy mess where the flesh of white truffles filled every corner. Every spoonful of it, there was so much truffle that I had to chew through it like eating a meat dish. Cream, cheese, egg yolk and white truffle. This is literally the dish to die for. I mean, seriously, I have to now consider if I should eat a lot of this and die happy early in my 50s of heart attack. The. Best. Truffle. Dish. Ever. Must-have if you come to Alba.

Next: Palate cleanser. Cinnamon cream with red wine poached pear. At this point, I was so overwhelmed with joy and happiness from the last dish that I couldn’t really remember what this taste like anymore. I remember it was good. That was all. Sorry guys… Hard to remember anything after such a truffle high from the previous dish… Sigh.

My waitress stopped by after I finished my palate cleanser. My God, I am amazed at her ability to understand what I was mumbling about. I didn’t even understand what I was saying. All I could think about was how great that truffle egg dish was. I must have said yes to her asking me if I wanted dessert. I don’t remember. Hahaha. That truffle dish was all I could think about. When the dessert arrived, I kept asking myself why I ordered this since there was no way I could finish it. Anyhow, it was delicious and really beautifully presented. So as the little sweets at the end of the meal.

 

This meal was the most amazing meal I’ve had in Italy so far. When you visit Italy, even if it is a little bit out of the way, come here. It is worth it. I might change my schedule so that I can visit it again before I leave Alba. Absolutely amazing.

Amazing food and friendly service. The old owner (I think he was the father of the chef) stopped by twice and asked me how everything was. All I could say was “perfect”. Everything was just perfect. And he gently pat my shoulder, said “Good”, smiled, and walked away satisfied. Such a sweet old man.

Couldn’t have imagine a better first meal in the white truffle capital of the world.. :-)

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