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Eat Here: Donna Selvatica in Neive

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You’ve heard of the term, “A Diamond in the Rough”, which refers to something special surrounded by something not so special. I was going to suggest that for a subtitle for this article, but it just doesn’t work. The Ristorante Donna Selvatica is surely a diamond, but it doesn’t sit in a rough…it sits in a charming hillside town called Neive.

So, let’s say that Donna Selvatica is a diamond on a golden crown, instead.

We happened upon this place within a place after a long afternoon of wining at Michele Chiarlo’s Le Orme vineyards and Calamandrana winery…I know, someone has to do it, so we gave of ourselves for each of you. And, you’re welcome.

The folks of Neive finally had something to be proud of when their last homegrown countess, Countess Maria Vittoria, became Queen of Spain

As just mentioned, we spent the afternoon touring the Michele Chiarlo vineyards, winery, and tasting room (more on that in a future article). It was early evening as we headed west to our lodgings at Villa Gremi. We had not researched, or even thought about, dinner because we were so intrigued with our afternoon activities. So wife Ellen took to Google as we headed west and suddenly shouted out, “Turn right at the next road!”. Being well trained, I turned right at the next road. This road led to heretofore unheard of Neive. Having interpreted the command to, “Park right here!” to mean park right here, I parked. Who says I never listen?!

Walking the cobblestone and brick-paved streets of Neive soon led us to Ristorante Donna Selvatica. As we arrived well before the opening hour of 19:00 (aka 7:00pm), we made a reservation for patio dining and we explored Neive, as described a bit further in this article.

We really liked this restaurant…the location, the view, the ambiance, the service, the wine, the food…everything.

The location is pretty much in the center of Neive, as can be seen in the aerial view a bit further down the page.

 

But the view…magnificent. The rolling, vine-covered hills go on and on, with the small town of Barbaresco sitting mid-distance.

 

This closeup view from our table provides detail of the famous Barbaresco Tower, and an elevator ride to its top continues those magnificent views.

 

For our nightly…daily…frequent…toast, we chose a white wine called Arneis. We had never heard of Arneis until our afternoon tour at Michele Chiarlo, which happens to also produce this crisp, minerally-yet-light wine. The grapes are grown in the Roero area of Piemonte. It is now our favorite white wine of Italy.

Those are in-laws Craig and Leslie Johnson toasting on the patio.

 

The homemade ravioli pasta with mountain butter and 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano is poised and ready to be eaten.

 

Might this be a mix of potato gnocchi pasta on Castelmagno-cheese cream, and sliced Castelmagno cheese with honeydew honey, jams and Langa Bio hazelnuts? Yes, I believe so. It’s like eating a cheese-covered cloud.

 

At this point I was in a food coma of some sort, so I don’t remember exactly what this dish is. But, it appears to be duck fixed a couple of ways — one of which is wrapped in pancetta. I’ll find out exactly what it was next time I’m there.

 

You know how sometimes you don’t have room to order dessert, but they bring you some anyway? I think that’s what this is.

 

If you are a grappa fan, and I’m thinking that one-in-a-hundred of you might be, they have dozens from which to choose.

 

Here you can click to see an actual Italian/English menu from Donna Selvatica >>>

 

But before we depart, I need to tell you what ‘Donna Selvatica’ translates to in English. That would be ‘Wild Woman’. You don’t have to be/take a wild woman to this restaurant; however, Craig and I found that it helps. We love our own wild women!


The Town of Neive

While waiting to eat at Donna Selvatica, we explored to tiny town of Neive.

Like many of the small hill towns of the Piemonte, this one sits on a hill — naturally. The hill upon which it sits is about 4 miles northeast of Alba, which is one of the towns-of-considerable-size in the Piemonte.

Neive is a very small town. This photo shows its extent. Ristorante Donna Selvatica is within the red oval.

 

Today, things are quiet in Neive, but it hasn’t always been that way. Witness the fate of the nice Castle of Neive that used to stand here proud. The Neivesi had a hard time of it in 1274 because both the communes of Alba and Asti wanted that little hill-top town as their own. The Albesi and Astigiani met for battle, and since neither could pull off the heist of the town, it seems that one or both of them destroyed the Castle of Neive in spite. But did they have to take it out on the nice folks of Neive?!

Then, in the next century they were totally embarrassed when Giangaleazzo Visconti’s daughter Valentina married the Duke of Orleans and the town was given up by her father as her dowry. And I thought an envelope with cash and some jewels were customary.

A couple of centuries later Neive went to the House of Savoy, and then to the French for 17 years before being returned to the House of Savoy.  In 1618, Neive became a fief assigned to Count Vittorio Amedeo Dal Pozzo, who assumed the title of First Count of Neive. The folks of Neive finally had something to be proud of when their last homegrown countess, Countess Maria Vittoria became Queen of Spain.

I’m guessing that after all of that, they would just like to be left alone. But go anyway, because in addition to Donna Selvatica there is a particularly nice little shop there.


Fili di Fantasia translated to English is Fantasy Threads.

We were really surprised to find this nice shop of things with threads open at a late hour — and frankly that it existed at all on its itsy-bitsy street.

Wife Ellen and Sis-in-law Leslie were quite pleased with this little shop.

 

And, I was quite pleased with the view from the back balcony.

And yes, purchases were made.


Strolling Neive

We found the brick pavers to be a bit easier on the feet than the cobbles, but either are more charming than the typical asphalt pavement.

The church of Saints Peter and Paul existed in the 12th century, but was rebuilt to its present form in the 18th century. I was fortunate to capture in a gorgeous evening light.

 

The inside of the church is very peaceful with numerous artworks.

 

Here you see a typical home and garden. Note the soil. It is calcareous and is just what the enologist ordered for the growing of grape vines.

One would think its not so great for vegetable gardens, though.

 

Love the Italian roof tiles!

Wish I had them on my villa.

Wish I had a villa.

Wish I was even near a villa!

 

Though these people are not enjoying a meal at Donna Salvatica, they do look to be having a good time.

 

As we closed out our evening in Neive, we were treated to the lights of the surrounding hill-top towns, with Barbaresco prominently featured in the foreground.



 

We fondly remember our afternoon in Neive and our evening dinner at Ristorante Donna Selvatica. If you are in the area, I would recommend that you follow my wife’s advice and, “Turn right at the next road!”…you will not be disappointed…unless you are coming from the other direction, of course.

If we happen to be at Donna Selvatica at the same time one evening, I’ll gladly let you purchase the first bottle of Arneis…I’ll get the second.

Ciao for now,

Steve


Eat Here: Ristorante Antico Martini

This restaurant has been in continuous operation since 1720, which means that it is approaching its 300 year birthday!

One of the charms of Italy is its food. With one exception, I've always enjoyed every meal. Today's article is about one of our favorite Venetian restaurants -- Antico Martini.

Here is a photo of the restaurant late at night. The photo shows one of the four dining areas -- this one the Terrace -- and it was taken from the campo that Antico Martini shares with the La Fenice opera house.

[click an image for larger view]

Like most Venetian restaurants, Martini is open late for dinner, because that's when Italians tend to eat. This makes it an ideal place to eat after an opera, which we did after a fabulous performance of our favorite, La Boheme. 

Any idea who the first party to make an Antico Martini reservation via the internet might be? We have that distinction! Long before restaurants created their own systems or began to use those such as Open Table, we used just plain, old email. The owner at that time, the charming Emilio Baldi, had a table set with a nice bouquet of flowers and the prosecco was on the house to celebrate the occasion. 

Here is a photo of the main entrance to Antico Martini, on Calle Veste, just over a small bridge.

Like most all of the Venetian restaurants, seafood is the predominate fare. And the seafood is fresh and delicious. Local chefs visit the Rialto Market each morning to gather the makings for the day's meals. You can read more about The Rialto Market in one of my previous articles.

Here are a few photos of our times at Ristorante Antico Martini, starting with a prosecco toast.

I've mentioned the seafood served in Venice before...and I will continue to do so. Here is an appetizer of very thinly sliced fish, caught just the previous evening. I'm not a sushi fan, but I had no trouble with this outstanding item. Notice how the candle light shows through my next bite!

One of our favorite things is having the fish presented, then de-boned, and then set before us. Here you see our server de-boning one of our dishes.

 

And here is our prize!

Antico Martini also has an excellent wine list. Here is a bottle of Valpolicella I enjoyed one evening. Note the 'legs' on this glass of red!

Here are a few photos of other dishes we've enjoyed at Antico Martini.

Always save room for dessert! 

We have eaten at Antico Martini six times and for sure, the next time we go to Venice it we will make our seventh visit. 

Here is the web link to Ristorante Antico Martini.

And here are two very happy patrons of Ristorante Antico Martini.

We are always happy to introduce friends to Antico Martini...so join us?!

Ciao for now,

Steve

Wild-Goose Chase

I'm not sure where the term 'wild-goose chase' originated, but it seems to be fairly descriptive of predicaments I've found myself in. And its not limited to chasing wild geese here in the U.S. either. My wife, Ellen, and I found ourself in an Italian version of a selvaggio inseguimento inutile.

Traveling conversation: ‘What are you going to have, Sweetheart?’ ‘Ummm, I’m thinking about a ribeye. How about you?’ ‘I’m going with a sirloin, but if the ribeye looks good, I’ll get what you’re having.’ ‘Do they have baked potatoes in Italy?’ ‘No idea.’

Some wild-goose chases are pretty innocuous, as you were just following your nose so to speak and weren't really going anywhere in particular anyway. But this one was important -- and this is what made it so frustrating. That's because we were on our way to a highly rated restaurant for dinner in the northern part of Tuscany. And it was to get a great steak! And we hadn't had much in the way of red meat for a couple of weeks -- that's the way it often is in Italy. 

I had checked on TripAdvisor for a nice place for dinner. Ristorante Becattini came highly rated for both its food and the view. Here is a photo captured from the TripAdvisor site that defines what we were looking forward to this fine evening.

Looks good, doesn't it?! i mean, we do love our Italian pasta, veal, etc., but after a couple of weeks of that, we were really looking forward to dinner at Becattini.

Ristorante Becattini is located high on a ridge in the small (very small) town of Poggio alla Croce. If it had been close to our beautiful Borgo San Felice (see previous article on this super nice hotel here), it wouldn't have been so bad. But it was an hour drive to get there...and that was using the A1 rather than the charming, winding Tuscan roads (Hey, we were hungry!). 

During the afternoon, I called ahead to make a reservation. It went something like this:

  • Guy on the Phone: 'Pronto'  ['Yeh, what do you want?']
  • Me: 'Buona sera'.    [Good afternoon]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Buona sera'.     [Good afternoon]
  • Me: 'Prenotazione per la cena, per favore'     [Reservation for dinner, please]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'    [OK]
  • Me: 'Due persone per stasera alle venti'.     [Two persons for tonight at 8:00]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Mi chiamo Senore Burkett'.     [My name is 'Burkett']
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Vicino alla finestra'.     [We would like to sit by the window]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Grazie'     [Thank you]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Prego'     [Your welcome]

Hey, I think I did pretty good, right? We have a reservation for dinner at this fine restaurant tonight! 

After spending some time at the Castagnoli Winery, we plotted our fastest route to Poggio alla Croce using our trusty iPad. Traveling conversation: 'What are you going to have, Sweetheart?' 'Ummm, i'm thinking about a ribeye. How about you?' 'I'm going with a sirloin, but if the ribeye looks good, I'll get what you're having.' 'Do they have baked potatoes in Italy?' 'No idea.' 

Like I said, its a really, really small town. That's it right there in the photo. After negotiating the winding road and driving back-and-forth on the only street a couple of times with no luck finding Becattini, we asked the locals where where we would find the Ristorante Becattini.

  • Me: 'Scusi, do you know where we can find the restaurant Becattini?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'I'm sorry sir, they closed in February'. 
  • Me: 'What?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'They closed in February'.
  • Me: 'Do you think they will be open tonight?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'No, they are closed for good'.
  • Me: 'But we have a reservation!'
  • Nice Woman on the Street Who is Starting to Irritate Me Now: 'I don't see how that could be -- they've closed down'
  • Me: [sotto voce] 'You've got to be...'
  • Nice Woman on the Street Who's a Bit Defensive Now: 'Sorry, sir'.
  • Me: 'OK, thank you'

Arrrgh. An hour and no food to be found. But there was this little bar that we passed at the other end of town. We backtracked to Pizzeria Trattoria "Zia Emilia". After we parked and got out of the car, what a fine sight we had for a sunset! Maybe the trip was worthwhile after all.

And how charming was Zia Emilia? Super. This was Italian comfort-food heaven!

We had a simple appetizer of pear and honey with fried zucchini blossoms.

This appetizer is not to be confused with the one to the right that we had at Ristorante Poggio Rosso at our Borgo San Felice that I showed you a couple of weeks ago.  I just wanted to make that clear, OK?

 

My pizza was cooked in a wood-fired oven. 

Ellen had this wonderfully gooey pasta dish whilst I had my very tasty pizza.

All was accompanied by a small pitcher of house wine. 

Dessert? Well, if you look at the photo of Zia Emilia (above) again (go ahead, I'll wait), you will notice a small, colorful poster next to the entrance door...see it? That shows you the standard selection of popsicles, push-up pops, drumsticks and other frozen confections that are available. I think I had one of those red, white and green frozen 'bomb' thingies, and Ellen had an ice-cream sandwich. 

So we never caught the wild goose. That's OK, because what we found was a small-hill-town Italy, occupied with some very charming people who welcomed us with open arms.  Simple food. Tasty food. Yummy wine. Beautiful companion. Fun local fare. I'm glad it happened just the way it did!

Meet you there for dinner? 8 o'clock OK?

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

p.s. But hey, how about that reservation that i made? What was that about? Your guess is as good as mine!

p.p.s. I updated the TripAdvisor website so others won't make a 'reservation' at Becattini.

p.p.p.s. Go Broncos!

 

Staying in a Convent Retreat

The Grand Hotel Convento Amalfi -- Ahhhh.

I hope that you have a ‘place’ you can go when you are feeling a bit out of sorts. A place of escape from sometime and somewhere that has comforting memories for you.

The convent from which this hotel sprang was originally an abbey of Cistercian monks beginning in 1223

I do, and I want to share it with you in hopes that you might think to dwell on such a place from your own life. And if you don’t have such a place, staying at this fabulous hotel will give you a place where your mind can go to settle for years to come.

In September, you saw the article titled ‘One Fine Day’. That article was about a fabulous day on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Today’s article is about our base of operations while we were in Amalfi.

History of the Convent/Hotel

That's the Grand Hotel Convento at the top left

First, you need to understand that in modern English usage since the 18th century, a convent refers to a community of women. However, in much earlier times, it referred to a community of either brothers or sisters. The convent from which this hotel sprang was originally an abbey of Cistercian monks beginning in 1223. In 1583, it passed to Capuchin Friars who were there for two centuries until they were expelled in 1813 (I’m sure there’s a great story in there somewhere). It wasn’t until 1885 that it began to be used as a hotel, and it experienced a series transformations to keep up with an increasing tourism demand.

Here are a couple of photos of what remains of portions of the old convent. White plastered walls with intricate stonework make for a contemplative scene.

Getting There

The Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, sits at the end of, and high above, Amalfi Town. You can see the hotel in this old photograph that seems to pre-date elevators and today's roadway, which you can see in the next photo.

To get to the hotel, one parks their car in the right lane of a two lane road just as that road enters a tunnel (and the Italian drivers give your parking in the roadway not a second thought -- its just the way its done along the Amalfi Coast), as that’s where the hotel entrance is located. You can see the tunnel entrance along the main highway in this photo, taken from the hotel pool.

A bellman comes out to greet you and unload your bags. They then maneuver your car into that small lot you see in the photo -- if there is a space, that is. If there are no spaces, who knows where your vehicle winds up? 

The hotel entrance is a cave-like opening in the cliff through which you walk to an elevator. That elevator takes you up a couple of hundred feet where you disembark (the glass elevator structure can be seen in the photo) to another elevator within the hotel proper where you then go to the lobby on the fifth floor.

A prosecco awaited our arrival...and you can tell we needed it!

Now, if you had been smart, you might have arrived in Amalfi by boat. Or maybe you arrived by car driven by a professional. And then there’s a bus. But we drove ourselves from Salerno along the most terrifying road on which we have ever been. When we arrived, we were given a complementary prosecco as seen above, complete with goose berry, to calm our nerves. See that guy in the background? He’s an Australian who said after learning that we had driven ourselves along the coastal road, “I admire you!”

The Hotel

Our room, with balcony and lovely whitewashed walls and ceiling, looked out over the blue Mediterranean.

An evening view of the Mediterranean from our balcony

The grounds were dreamy. Bougainvillea arbors covered the dining patio, where we had both breakfast, lunch and dinner whilst eating at the hotel. And the weather was superb!

The Amalfi Coast is noted for its lemons and its limoncello. Almost everywhere you look along the coast, you will see arbors of lemon trees, like these in the hanging gardens of the hotel.

 

The reach the pool, you walk along this loggia for a bit.

This loggia leads from the dining veranda to the pool

And then you come to the most dramatic pool setting that we’ve ever seen.

A dramatic cliff-side pool location

The infinity pool, with an infinite view of the Med

The view from the hotel’s terrace is spectacular, whether it be sunrise, midday, sunset or evening. The town of Amalfi sits just below. In this photo, you see the sunrise we experienced from the roof of the hotel.

Sunrise comes to the Amalfi Coast

Here is a view during the day of Amalfi and its harbor. The pool cabana can be seen in the middle-left of the photo. And the ever-present lemons can be seen along the lower edge.

Lush vegetation and Amalfi Town

The view towards Sicily 

I’m not sure if ‘what goes down, must go up’ is part of Newtonian physics, but if you’re staying at the hotel and want to go into town, that’s the reality of the situation. The good part is you don’t have to walk all the way up – just to the roadway where you can go to the hotel entrance and then up the rest of the way to the hotel by elevator. But still, there are plenty of steps to negotiate for you to get your exercise. 

It's a long way up to the GHCA

Want to go to the beach? Here is what you find just below the hotel…with crystal clear waters.

The beach below the hotel...a nice place to relax and get wet

And this shot from the hotel shows the ‘beach’ of the hotel just past the exit of the tunnel mentioned earlier. The Italians make creative use of their resources, don’t they?!

An architects dream...a stone workers nightmare

The Food

Now, if you’re like me, and I certainly know that I am, you are probably wondering about the food at the hotel. Rather than me telling you how scrumptiously delicious it is, just take a look.

The breakfast buffet – scrumptious.

Poolside lunch – scrumptiouser

Dinner – the scruptiousest.

And of course, at each meal we had either our favorite ‘Coca Cola Lite’ or wine – or sometimes, both.

A nice bottle of Amarone, all the way down from the Veneto

And how did the food get to our table? Well, it was usually Alfonso who took care of us, and he did a marvelous job!

Our outstanding waiter, Alfonso

After our evening meal, with this being Amalfi and all – home to the world’s best limoncello -- Alfonso brings us a bit of the yellow liquid to finish off a perfect evening.

The end to a perfect evening

 

I hope that you have your own special place where you can go to dwell on happy times whenever you need such a diversion. If you don’t, feel free to borrow ours!

Here is a link to the website for the Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi:

http://www.ghconventodiamalfi.com/en/

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

 

 

 

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The Rialto Market of Venice

One of the pleasures of Venice is the Rialto Market. Located near a ninety-degree bend of the Grand Canal, and just a bit northwest of the Rialto Bridge, the market offers both fresh produce in the erberia (vegetable market) and caught-the-night-before seafood in the pescheria (fish market).

All of these photos were taken at the Rialto Market.

[click on an image for a larger view]

One should plan to go around sunrise if you want to see the stevedores unload crates from barges which traveled up the Grand Canal in the early-morning hours. Or, if you want to sleep just a bit longer, plan to arrive around 8:00am to see the market in full swing. But, don’t bother to go in the afternoon or on Sundays or Mondays, as the market is closed.

Is this a working market? With over 100,000 visitors and locals in Venice on any particular day, this is the main source of food for the islands which make up Venice. If you show up early, you will see chefs from virtually all of the Venetian restaurants gathering items that you will find on their menus later in the day.

So, how is the Rialto Market different from the typical farmer's market in the U.S.? There are three main differences. For one thing, there is an abundance of seafood -- like fish, octopus, squid, crab, scallops and several mollusk types.

Second, the produce that is brought to your farmer's market most likely did not arrive by boat -- virtually everything arriving in Venice comes by boat.

The last difference is that your local farmer's market did not exist until the Rialto Market was about 800 years old. The Rialto Market has been serving Venice's food needs since 1097!

Produce of the Erberia

Talk about fresh produce! Just like our farmer’s markets, fruits and vegetables arrive daily fresh from the farms of Italy and surrounding countries. The photos you've been looking at are examples of this veritable cornucopia.

Seafood of the Pescheria

Though I really like the produce that’s in abundance at the market, the seafood is what I find the most interesting, as we just don't have access to such a fine market as the Rialto where I live. There are ‘creatures’ in this market that I’ve never seen in the U.S. seafood markets. Here are just some of the tasty denizens of the sea that you will find at the Rialto Market.

So that's the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy. If you have a chance to visit, I'm sure you will be as wowed with the seafood and produce as I have been. And by the way, all of the photos above can be found in the Food+Wine section of my website...just click on 'Print Store' below for easy access.

I'll close with a photo that was published in Black & White Magazine as part of a four-page spread on Venice a couple of years ago. This photo was taken during the daily cleaning-up-the-seafood-market event each afternoon. And yes, they still use stick brooms in Venice. The photo at right shows that sticks have been delivered, ready to be attached to broom handles. Amazing, isn't it?! 

Thanks for visiting. Feel free to leave comments, below.

Ciao for now,

Steve