This past weekend, I journeyed centuries and centuries back into the past and found myself in the quaint, lovely little town of Verona. Verona—one of the earliest cities built by the Romans and the city in which Shakespeare set his arguably most famous play Romeo and Juliet. Also in Verona are the Arena (a small Coliseum-like structure that was used for gladiator shows and plays), the Castello Vecchio, Juliet’s balcony, and many tiny restuarants. Everything “worth” seeing, or famous for visiting, can be seen in a morning or afternoon. We left our hostel around 9 and were done with the touristy sites by 12:30, just in time for a light, but delicious lunch at an elegant café.
I am already noticing that each city has its own personality and vibe. Verona is older and closed down much earlier than Florence did. Hardly anything was open at 12 a.m. And Verona is synonymous with romance. The delicate artistry of the buildings, the color bursting forth from every street, the shops, the restaurants, the aura of Juliet’s Verona. I would definitely say that it is a couple’s city for the taking. It’s just lovely. That’s the best word I have in my vocabulary to describe it. Lovely and calm. The best memories I have of Verona are not the sight of a fictional character’s balcony or even the ageless beauty of the city, but the unspoken encouragement to relax that emanates from its structural bones. Many times Sofia and I commented on the relaxing pace of the city and the people that walked it streets. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry, but took their time, enjoying the colorful experience with every deep breath.
I would also be so bold to say that it is a city perfect for a Foodie. The peaceful personality of the city was evident even in the restaurants. Italians are known for their belief of enjoying your meal. There is no rush to eat and leave, but an encouragement for you to sit, enjoy your food and the company you have as you eat it. The dinners I had here will be the best memories of Verona. Both nights, Sofia and I had good food and great conversations that covered practically every topic imaginable. Saturday night revolved around our common love for the movie The Hundred Foot Journey.
I am truly very sorry for you if you have never heard of or seen this movie. It is just beautiful, a movie that every food-lover should see. In the movie, which is set in the French countryside, a young chef helps a French restaurant receive its second Michelin Star. In a few words, a Michelin Star shows just how excellent a fine dining establishment really is. To quote the movie, “One Michelin star is good. Two is amazing. Three is only for the gods.” They truly are high honors. On Saturday afternoon, we were walking by restaurants, making notes of which ones looked particularly cute, ones at which we might like to have dinner. We walked by a restaurant that had the words Michelin and stella on it. We suddenly knew that we had to find a Michelin star restaurant for dinner. Why we hadn’t even thought about that before, I have no idea. It turns out that that particular restaurant did not have a Michelin Star, but we found one that had been so fortunate as to have one bestowed upon them.
After walking a short distance from our hostel (which involved walking down deserted and dark alley way that was screaming for us to turn back), we found the elegant establishment Il Desco. I have never been in a restaurant so nice before in all of my life. It was just so proper, and I loved it. After our coats had been taken, we were sat at a table in an empty room. The chef himself came and served us a taste of the most delicious champagne that my tongue has ever tasted. The menu was not extensive, and I am finding that I much appreciate a concentrated menu that specializes in a few things than one that tries to please every picky palate.
The restaurant served us little tastes of an appetizer before our food came: a strip of melt-in-your-mouth pancetta, rice chips with saffron, a little dish of a honey, caramel almond blend, and pureéd pumpkin with red pepper and herring. So good. Wine. We knew we wanted a wine that was unique to this specific area—Amarone— so we ordered that. I had never seen such an extensively thick wine list in my life. I wondered who had the amazing job of putting it together! This Amarone might be my favorite red wine. It reminded me of a Pinot Noir, but it had so many complex hints of flavors that I could not pick out.
The moment I saw my dish on the menu, I knew that I had to have it. Just before I left for Italy, I had seen a similar dish created by Anne Burrell and Tyler Florence on the Food Network. Black Spaghettini. The pasta is freshly made with squid ink, which gives it the characteristically black color. The chef also added squid, spiralized zucchini, the most fresh-tasting tomatoes, all in an oil based sauce. Every bite was heaven. Dinner was followed by a complimentary sampling of five bite-size desserts: cocoa covered hazelnuts (basically Nutella), a ginger mousse with peanut granola, the tiniest apricot macaroon, a square of chocolate with hints of cherry and orange zest topping, and a lemon gelatin bite. The total price of our meal was very reasonable. Words cannot express how delightful this whole experience was for two girls who enjoy food as much as Sofia and I do. That night is now a blur with clear definition. A dream realized. Perhaps one day, I shall find a restaurant that has been granted two stars…
Dinner was followed by a walk to one of the main piazzas of Verona where the nightlife seemed to be. On the way to the piazza, we wandered straight up to a statue of Dante. I was literally giddy. I had known there was one in Verona; what I didn’t know was where it was, but we happened to come upon it without any searching whatsoever. We bought some Rosé at a café and sat talking and enjoying the night.
I love this Italian way. Relax. Enjoy your food. Please, have wine. It seems to me that Italians work to live and enjoy their lives. Old Verona, who has seen centuries of people live and die, who has seen happiness and misery, with venerable wisdom seeks to remind her visitors to live meaningfully and to remember to enjoy the journey. For this reason, for the tranquil and distinct personality of Verona, I will always remember it fondly.