Camogli

As we head out of town, the skies (which previously had so diligently guarded the condensation therein) finally relented to the swelling pressure, and the rain began it’s descent. Coming in waves as we drive the convoluted streets into the town of Camogli (that’s pronounced ca-MO-yee, with maybe the faintest hint of and ‘L’ between the “MO” and the “yee”), the rain finally lets up and becomes a drizzle as I execute the finest parallel parking job in history, coming within inches of the rough stone wall on the narrow winding road down into town. This is, of course, after driving down into the town once, not finding parking (or even being sure that we were in the right place), driving out of the town, looking at the crude map of Camogli given by the hotel, firing up the GPS, inputting an intersection as the destination, and following the GPS back to where we were.

Of course, this finely executed parking job was a bit too far from town. Sooooo, we get back in the car, drive to some free parking lots and find our first SUV-like vehicle mostly parked in it’s space, but not enough to allow us to park in the only remaining space in the two free lots. I’m not ready to give in to the pay-lot yet, so we start heading back to our original spot on the hill and find one a bit closer. After deftly parking yet again, we head into the soggy (but currently drying) town.

We start into the quaint, quiet town down a tall and narrow street. Not much happening here other than the occasional puddle. We decide to take a long steep staircase down toward the sea. As we enter the sea-front road and begin to pass some shops, nature decides to oblige our unconscious desire for more water and the clouds begin to relieve themselves. On us. A lot.

The beginning of Noah’s flood is too much for us to bear any longer (especially with no umbrella), and we duck under the closest shop awning. Hey look! It’s a gelateria! I resist, but Nancy gives in. We sit on a bench outside the gelateria, Nancy licking away at her single scoop on a cone, for several minutes. Through the deluge, we watch as people walk by covered by blankets, towels and (occasionally) an umbrella. Apparently we’re not the only ones unprepared.

Deciding that we can’t sit there and eat gelato all day in the rain, much as we may like to, we make a dash in the rain to the next awning. Hey look! It’s a bar! Nancy resists, but I give in. Well, on second thought Nancy has a beer too. We get our drinks and some prosciutto and a basket of semi-edible bread. The proprietor turns on some music on a DJ rig and Santana begins to fill the air in a hip-hop remix. Not bad… but the bread leaves us wanting. Finishing out drinks, we press on into what is now a drizzle.

Without the pressure of trying to stay dry, we hit a few shops (read: Nancy hits a few shops as I tag along). Knick-knack here, scarf there we go through pretty much everything the seaside has to offer. Looking at the time, we start thinking about dinner. A strange closet of a restaurant catches our eye, mostly because it’s lit up with red and dim lights internally, but it’s closed and to prove that there is no one to take our reservation, we knock on the door and get no reply.

Deciding to take one of the shop keeper’s bits of advice, we plan to go to one of the restaurants on the seafront at either end of the street. We’re looking for a bit of seafood. None of the places is open yet, so we decide to explore the next tier of Camogli. We stumble across a wine bar across from a bar that is oozing smooth bass onto the street. With nothing to stop us between now and dinner, we elect to step in for a drink. The bassist/owner informs us that he’s not open yet, but there will be live jazz and drinking later that evening. We decide to try our luck with the wine bar instead.

Success! As we sit down at one of the tables halfway into La Cantina Della Bossa, the Julio Iglesias look-alike owner gives us the wine menu. The place is nicely decorated, perfectly lit and some Ibiza-like chill music is playing in the air. We fit. Taking a look at the menu, we decide on some local wines that don’t disappoint. Well…. does this smell corked to you? Nancy’s not sure, but I’m usually pretty good at picking up the TCA in a wine. I take the wine up to Julio and say, “E posso il vino e cappo.” A dubious look. Which wine was it? Eh… I don’t know I wasn’t paying attention that closely, but I’ve got a 50/50 chance. It’s this one. He pours a glass. Sniffs. “No! E fantastico!” I’ve guessed wrong. The entire time, he does not smell the glass that I’ve brought to him, but he pours me a new glass of il vino fantastico and pushes it across the bar dismissively. We’ve lost our Julio card.

A new face (possibly Julio’s son) brings out some snacks for our wines. A tuna puree, olive tapenade, toasts. Then, fried mozzarella stuffed ravioli, fried zucchini blossom, meat stuffed fried olives, fried something else and something else fried. We order another round of drinks and inquire if they do dinner. They do and they start serving in 30 minutes. Great! We drink and wait and talk about the day as the 30 minutes passes into oblivion.

Enrique comes back to take our dinner order and does his best to explain what some of the handwritten menu is. We order a type of pasta called trofie with pesto (a specialty of the area) and gnocchi dish with polpi (which we learned was octopus). Both are excellent and the pesto is the greenest and smoothest that we’ve ever seen. A little red haired nonna (and I mean red hair) sits down next to us and orders her usual: two deep fried ravioli with mozzarella (these are much bigger than the snack version) and a glass of red wine. Her english is very good and she recommends that we not own a house and that we travel a lot. She finishes the night with a grappa and wishes us well. We do the same and order a plate of her ravioli.

Finished with dinner, we head across the way to the bar with the bassist. We order a couple of pints (well… half a litre each) and pick a table close to were the action will be. As we listen to the trio crank out standards on their sax, guitar and bass, we pick up a Scrabble set and begin to play as we drink. We do our best to play in Italian, but despite the excess of certain letters for the language, I am unable to get the right combo for words that I know. Nancy eeks out “duomo” across the board with a smile, and I continue to pull unfavorable letters and drink.

Eventually we head back to the hotel and I use the bidet the only way I know how: to do laundry. Our 6 days of socks and underwear fully washed and rinsed, I hang them to dry on multiple surfaces to dry. Exhausted from the labor (and possibly overeating and drinking) I join Nancy in bed and crash.

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Ristoro Olivio

Our first meal in Italy. I don’t know what it is about the menu, but something is throwing me off. I feel like there are too many pages for what is being offered. Another problem… wines by the glass are not shown on the menu (something that I’m really not used to). Nancy directly handles the issue of BTG wines by asking (God bless her). She gets the house red ( a Barbera d’Asti) and I get the Dolcetto d’Asti.

We order the risotto al funghi for our main course, and order appetizers as well. Nancy, a sautéed gnocchi with pancetta and some greens (arugula?) and I get the Tartare di Tonno. All dishes are preceded by an aparatif (passion fruit and blood orange juice with grappa on the rocks) and an amuse of sorts (a diagonal half of wheat bread topped with cheese and salami, served with strawberry jam and dried oregano on the side). The first, delicious and palate-whetting and the second, odd but yummy.

The appetizers arrive. The gnocchi looks good , and smells better. It tastes good, but I’ve had better sautéed gnocchi in Sonoma county at Monti’s. The flavor is pure, however, and the pancetta is welcome and the greens refreshing.

The tartare di tonno (tuna tartare) is a different matter. It looks great and tastes great. As you would guess, the tuna is fresh tasting and tender. It’s served in the trendy cylindrical format, but it is topped with three types of sprouts (onion, frisée and bulls blood beet) There’s a nice decorations drawn with molasses in one quadrant of the plate, and I’m instructed to pour a liquid served on a side dish over the top. The liquid reminds me of tea with honey in it. Honey is the only ingredient that I can readily identify, but Nancy seams to think that some sort of vinegar was involved. The taste of everything was wonderful. Clean, refreshing and reasonably light.

Nancy was full by the time our main course arrived, but she still managed to make the large circle of risotto into a Pac-Man by eating a quarter of it. The risotto was full of mushrooms (porcini?) and perfectly al dente (not a hint of uncooked centers of the grains anywhere). It had the perfect amount of sauciness to it, and the flavor was great. However, that didn’t stop Nancy from telling the Italian couple next to us (Anna and Maximo) that my mushroom risotto was better (much to my simultaneous pleasure and chagrin).

With Nancy stuffed and me with a quarter of my dish left (also stuffed), we skipped dessert. I did order an espresso, however.

I’d been waiting to try coffee in Italy since we started planning this trip about a year ago. Perhaps I was expecting too much, but it didn’t live up to the hype. It smelled strong (expected), but it was thick (unexpected). It was strong, almost harsh, and had an ok finish. It wasn’t like the espresso that Nancy’s sister brought back from Rome (which had a wonderful nose, strong flavor and was slightly acidic, resulting in a terrifically clean finish). I’ll be conducting more research in this area over the next two weeks. :)

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