Scuzzi! Babada Buppi!
Trivium and crew had just flown in to Milan to do some headlining dates before reuniting with our friends in In Flames for their headlining European tour, when I said: "As soon as we drop our bags. We gotta freakin' eat." Italy is one of those places (like all places in the world as far as I'm concerned) that you need to get out into. That you need to eat. I will never forget before we ever toured Europe… when we met bands who had been to Europe. They'd say things like: "Dude. The fuckin' food in fuckin' Europe is fuckin' gross." "The cities and the countries fuckin' suck." "Fuck touring Europe."
Gross food? Fuck Europe? Fuck that!
You'd be surprised that more often than not - that is the attitude of the touring musician. I cannot believe that people who are given the opportunity to do things; to try and eat and drink and see things that some will never be able to even imagine - simply don't out of ignorance or laziness. Almost everywhere in the world has an amazing story… you learn it through their food, their drink, their history. All food in the world uses semi-similar ingredients to what you're most likely eating (unless your vegan or picky or on some new starve-yourself-of-something-trend-diet), and will in most cases (when sent to the right place with a little research or help from your friends) yield memorable results.
Now I am not saying that you can just walk into any spot at a food-capitol of the world and have something great. No… maybe that's where those "certain musicians" went/ go wrong. You can't do that in the States (unless you're going for the all-too-safe cartoon-mascot, recycled newspaper-covering, meat-colored-product, beakless-assembly-line-tourtured-chicken fast-food spots daily). In the States - yeah… maybe it's a little easier to find food thanks to things like Yelp and Google and the instant-accessibility to asking friends on Twitter and Facebook. But with just a little time and research - you can be chowing down on something like I was about to be in Milan that would change my already very high-outlook of Italian food. If you do however - just stumble into any random spot… it's gastro-Russian roulette in my opinion. I don't like to waste my appetite on subpar food when it could be amazing. Milan and all great food-capitols of the world do have restaurants catered to the fanny-packing Disney-shirt wearing tourist. Spots with American-ized, bastardized versions of local cuisine. It's taken me a few years to sharpen my senses to pick out those spots… but nowadays I see the dead giveaways: "Children Friendly!" "Oldest blah blah of the blah blah." "D.J. Booth!" Menus in all languages posted in the front are a new one I learned recently in a disappointing Frankfurt experience...
Since I didn't have a local friend available at the time of that Milan half-day off… I had management get me in touch with Roadrunner/ Warner Italy - people, mind you, I've never met. I know the magic of a good meal with people who know food - and all Italians in Italy know good food. I met with the head of RR/ Warner Italy and Anna Marzia at Ristorante Al Cantinone. The spot they had taken us to was known for doing Milanese Italiano - a spot that locals go and tourists don't know.
Seated and greeted with a bottle of Cadia red wine, we allowed our hosts to order the traditional starters. We started with Tagliere Di Salumi and Formaggi Lombardi Con Cipolle Rosse Caramellate. The Tagliere was Italian salted cured meats and the Formaggi was cheese.
My god do the Italians know how to do salted, cured meats. I can't recall the exact names, but the salami-looking and prosciutto-looking ones were familiar to other Italian cured meats… just way way better. The white creamy meat? That was fat. Delicious, delicious, salty, creamy fat. The meats were accompanied by Gnocchofrito - something I'd never eaten before. Imagine a salty, giant Gnocchi, only made of flour-dough, kinda flaky and puffy. It's sort of like a super-fresh made doughnut with salt on the outside, and more air on the inside. The way to eat the fat and puff-ball is to wrap the fat around and go to town. This is one of those little discoveries I'll never forget eating.
To already be sharing and enjoying food with our new friends in Milan was a beautiful experience. Here were, 6 people brought together over eating the same wonderful food - food for two of them that they had been familiar with since being kids… food for four of us that was blowing our minds.
The cheese plate was equally as mind blowing as the meat board… only it was cheese. Creamy, impeccable Italian cheese. My main was the Cotoletta Alla Milanese Con Risotto Alla Milanese. Again! Another mind-blowing Italian dish I've never experienced (Italian is so much more than the red sauce-covered strip-mall joints peppered across the Northeast U.S.A.). Those looked… Austrian. It was schnitzel essentially - hammered-thin pork, breaded and fried - served with lemon (just like the Germans and Austrians serve it with). Flaky, crunchy, crispy, porky majesty served alongside some ultra-creamy, perfectly-done risotto. I don't order risotto anywhere in the world unless I know it's done right; done in that painstakingly time-consuming style it ought to be done in. This was done right. Still - thinking of this schnitzel in an Italian place… nuts. It was as much Italian as it was Austrian/ German. You could taste the histories of the different countries intermingling in their food - it's learning with taste (far more fun than a textbook).
To finish: Espresso, Meringata, Apple Tart Tatin (another Austrian/ German relative), Strudel (and another), and a shot of Amaro. Beautifully done were the pastries - utilizing the simple, good stuff; the Meringata was a light creme with chocolate on top. It's always gotta be a feast when I'm around, friends. Always. Amaro is the Italian post-meal, post-espresso liquor that helps digest all that mess you just ate up. Lunch was a great way to bond with our new food-friends from RR Italy.
We parted ways for the time being, and then Paolo and I headed to the Duomo church for some sight seeing (I love me an old European church) and the modern art gallery. Outside of food and drink - seeing the historical sites and museums are always on my list; another passion is symphony halls (but that one is impossible to drag my band mates to (the aforementioned are difficult enough)).
After a full day of wandering about, our plan was to meet Anna once again for dinner - at an Apertivo spot. Apertivo, from what I only recently learned from Anna is basically a bar where as long as you order a drink… you eat for free. Thanks freakin' killer considering the spots that would be giving free food, would be giving really good food. Apertivo is what the young kids do as a warm up before the club. They get their pre-party cocktails in with a snack and then rage till all hours of the night. Me? I had only just flown in… so it was an old-man pre-bedtime cocktail and snack - but I was overly excited to see this style restaurant I hadn't heard of before in Italy.
We hit Bar Straf for their Apertivo and drinks. I started with a Spritz and then moved to the Negroni Sbagliato. I wish I could recall the components - but I just remember being happy - happy on having all these new things that even after all these years of eating and drinking… I could still have new flavors and experiences. The cocktails in Italy are totally different than ours - the bar snacks were different than even I'd ever guess to see in Italy. We called it a night early… but thanks to good food and drink, we had made new friends.
I can't wait to get back.