Friday, July 22, 2011

Trieste - Meeting of Three Empires

Treiste is known for its unique inter-melded culture due to the significant influences of Italian (Venetian), Slovenian, and Austrio-Hungarian presences throughout its history. Geographically, it is located along a large bay at the Northernmost tip of the Adriatic Sea, and right on the border with neighboring Slovenia to the East, Austria to the North, and basically as far East as you get can in Italy. The food similarly reflects these influences, with lots of seafood, but also lots of stewed meats and sauerkraut and Viennese pastries.

We had selected to visit Trieste specifically for the food. It is known throughout Italy and beyond for not only their fine foods and wines, but for the care they take in pairing the right great food with the right great wine. So, while we were nervous in selecting our first restaurant whatfor to ensure we would have a good experience, we were also pretty excited that we couldn’t go too far wrong.

The restaurant we chose based on various reviews ended up not having a particularly interesting or unusual menu. So we were pleased when we asked about the special fresh catch of the day, and the waitress became rather more excited and telling us how special it was. We had no qualms about ordering it (it was only available for a minimum of two people, so we didn’t get to “share” anything else) and her wine recommendation of a white Malvasia from the Fruili-Venezia-Guilia.

She told us the special, and even though she spoke quite good English, she didn’t know how to translate the specific main ingredient, so after her amusing but only slightly useful hand gestures, we could only guess that it was some type of shellfish. Another table next to use was shortly thereafter served two servings of a lobster dish, so we were pretty sure that was what we were getting, but I couldn’t have been happier when our meal came out as crab! The word is granchio and the specific variety was grana sporetta. It was served over a large macaroni with a tomato, oregano, and chive sauce and it was completely fantastic. The wine was not one we had heard of before, but it really did complement the meal well. It was light and mineral, with a fair amount of fruitiness without being sweet.

For dessert, Will tried their panne cotta with chocolate sauce. We were very pleased with our Adriatic catch-of-the-day!
The next day we went in a completely different direction, far away from the sea and straight into the Austrian empire. The New York Times only has one restaurant recommendation for Trieste, so that’s where we headed… Buffet della Pepi (buffet doesn’t mean what it typically means in the U.S.) We ordered the all-meats selection with some body parts on it we don’t usually see on menus, and certainly don’t think to eat at home. I can’t say I enjoyed all of them, but I absolutely appreciated the opportunity to try them in a venue where they are known to be specialties. I did however love the caraway-heavy saukerkraut, thick moist caraway bread, and tangy mustard accompaniments. I don’t think I’m going to try for “head” or “tongue” again anytime soon, but it was fun for a day and you’ve gotta love their cheeky serving platter.
Can you read this menu? I had to try very hard to not let it scare me off,
but I wanted to eat like a local...

The 'buffet' - the serving plate is worth the price of admission.

Finally, the area is well-known for their pastries, and I consumed many. Most went into my mouth much quicker than it was possible to photograph them…. Linzer torte, ricotta cheese cake, croissants stuffed with raspberry jam or custard (because croissants aren’t rich enough unless you add a filling?), soft egg bread studded with chocolate chips and rolled around a chocolate-hazelnut filling, and of course struedels of all types, but especially apple. One of the favorite shapes is a pretzel, and you see breads, pastries, and cookies all wrapped into a pretzel round. The one we tried is filled with almonds, hazelnuts, figs, rum, and ameretto cooked into a thick paste stuffing.

My last word about Trieste actually applies much more broadly to all the areas of France and Italy we have travelled. That is that gelato (which actually means any kind of ice cream, even a pre-packaged paper wrapped ice cream cone, not just the high-quality, smooth, flavor-intense gourmet products we think of as gelato at home) – which we have sampled extensively! – has reflected the locale specialties in each region by the special flavors offered. We had chestnut flavor in Paris, calisson in Aix, and “opera” in Verona (a cream-flavored base with toffee hazelnuts and chocolate shavings.) In Trieste, we had Black Forest (chocolate with cherries) and Sacher (chocolate with apricot). What a great way to interpret cuisine! What flavor would Seattle be? (Coffee doesn’t count…)

No comments:

Post a Comment