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Trattoria Da Romano Worth the Hype!

August 24, 2012

Burano, Italy

We saw the Anthony Bourdain No Reservations episode about Venice after we’d already planned our honeymoon to Italy and knew that we’d have to visit the small island of Burano for risotto from Da Romano. As with any restaurant featured on a prominent television show, we knew that this was a risky endeavor, but crossed our fingers that after our 70 minute ferry ride to Burano, the restaurant would not be overrun by tourists. Score! We started lunch as only one of three parties sitting outside. Although the inside was properly air conditioned, we couldn’t pass up sitting outside, on the edge of the small town square of the island lined with pastel-colored houses.  We watched countless people pass up Da Romano, muttering about 36€ for risotto for two and, instead, opting for the pizzeria across the square. Fine by us.


So, then, we had some lunch.


Pastel colored houses that line the few streets on Burano.

For lunch, we had Risotto “Romano” for two, which is goh risotto (goh is fish—like, minnowy-small fish), which wasn’t at all fishy. It was perfectly creamy and barely al dente and heavenly.

Best risotto I’ve ever had in my life; and I fancy myself a fairly decent cooker of risotto (but not of regular rice, which I always burn).

And then, the soft shell crab with fritto misto of julienne veggies and white polenta. It tasted like the sea. The crunchy, yummy sea.

Nom, nom, nom

And then, I chased kitties all over the island. Crazy, inbred kitties, who have all perfected the art of begging.

Kitty at Da Romano.

Kitty at the ferry dock that wanted nothing to do with me. Or, was blind and couldn’t find me.

Kitty at the fishing dock that tried to kill me when I stopped petting it.







Part Three: Beating the August Heat in Italy through Proper Hydration

August 23, 2012

It’s important to stay hydrated. Otherwise, you’ll die. Since drinking bottled water means that you hate the earth and care not about your carbon footprint (you know, being from Seattle and all, blah, blah), we choose other ways to hydrate.

Prosecco. Always Prosecco.

Beer works. But not Italian beer, which is gross. A nice Belgian lager at the trattoria across the street from our Venice hotel is just perfect on a hot evening!

Granita totally counts. Especially when the best granita in Florence is 10 meters from our apartment.

Did I mention Prosecco?

Look at that. There’s Prosecco in Sorrento, too! And Limoncello (not pictured).

There’s also beer in Sorrento. Again, icky on the Italian beer.

A tacky souvenir fan helps when there’s no beer or Prosecco. Please note: I’ve been in a stripes phase and I totally bought this shirt BEFORE I even got to Italy. After one day in Venice, I realize that I look like a complete MORON wearing it. So, it’s being retired until we’re back in the states.

Part Two: Beating the August Heat alla “Bourgie” to Siena and San Gimignano

August 20, 2012


Giacomo, our driver for the day in Tuscany.

If you calculate the ROI of taking crowded, hot, public transportation to Tuscan hill towns from Florence compared to hiring a private driver, the winner is clear: private driver. Yay air conditioned car, interesting conversation with the driver (Giacomo), and doing whatever we want. (Although, I was a little uncomfortable driving through pedestrian areas in Siena in a chauffeured Mercedes while the plebeians peered in the windows, looking like they were about ready to die from the 107⁰F heat. I will get over the odd bourgeoisie of it all; it is a climate-controlled environment after all).

First stop: San Gimignano. Definitely one of the most beautiful of Tuscan hill towns, it has been little more than an agrarian outpost of the Florentine empire since the 14th century. It is picturesque, quaint, and quirky.

Tuscan countryside.

In the small piazza in the center of San Gimignano.

John in San Gimignano.

One of the few towers left in the medieval town of San Gimignano. The claim is that there used to be 72 towers in this tiny town with two streets.

Next stop: Siena. Originally one of Florence’s biggest rivals, it’s now practically a sister-city to Florence, full of narrow Gothic lanes, roseate stone buildings, and a car-free historic center. We visited Piazza del Campo, arguably one of the greatest piazzas in Italy—just a few days after the legendary Palio races. The city’s Duomo is amazing, built of white and green marble that gives it a pristine appearance.

Awesome light fixtures in Siena.

Duomo in Siena.

Our day in the Tuscan hill towns left us with one, undeniable impression: we’ll be back.

…and on our way home, we stopped at Piazzale Michelangelo, for one of the best views in Florence. Priceless.

At Piazzale Michelangelo.



Part One: Beating the August Heat in Florence, EATaly

August 19, 2012

We are efficient museum goers and conquered eight museums in 72 hours but were home to our air conditioned apartment on Via Alfani by 1pm every day. We accomplished this first by finding a hotel that is less than five minutes walking distance to the Duomo (we have a view from our giant patio) and only 10 minutes walking distance to Ponte Vecchio.  Second, we mapped out our three days of museums efficiently, never going out of our way to get to one museum. Third, we got out by 8am every morning, which was perfect because not only were the mornings practically cool at 85⁰ F, but the streets were completely empty and Florence was our very own for about an hour.

“Home by 1pm every day?” you ask, “but what did you do for the rest of the day?” The answer is simple: we ate. In our air conditioned apartment.

We fell in love with the Mercato Centrale, where not a butcher or fishmonger speaks English. There are more touristy stalls, selling braids of garlic, Calabrian chilis, and over-priced wine that we can find at QFC, but most of the fresh produce, meat, fish, pasta, and pastry stalls are run by merchants who either only speak Italiano, or who choose to only speak it out of pride—either way, I’m OK with it.


Massimiliano, our fishmonger.

I wish she was my grandma.

Though I’m far more confident in my French (hell, I’m more confident in my Greek language skills compared to my Italian), I fancy myself a quick language-study and made it through just fine. (Confession: I panicked and only ordered things in kilogram and mezzo-kilo, so we ended up with a LOT of food). Prosciutto, prosciutto affumicato, vitello scallopine, soppressata picante, cozze, vongole, salsicce, salame cinghiale, mozzarella di bufalo, provolone affumicato, parmesano reggiano, gnocchi verdi, linguine, pesto, sage, basil, pomodoro, garlic, pane, cannoli, and torte.

Tracey buying some parmesan.

Our butcher, who didn’t speak a lick of English. Loved it.

And I cooked. And loved every minute of it—even when I had to clean mussels with the dullest Ikea knife in the whole wide world.

John in our kitchen (giant by European standards!).

Caprese salad with green pomodoro; linguine con vongole e cozze del Trattoria Tracey.

Salsicce e vongole e cozze.

Saltimbocca alla Tracey (which is Romana, but with provolone affumicato) and gnocchi verdi con pesto.

Prosciutto e melone; e gnocchi verdi con pesto.

Yay for food porn! What’s next for our remaining two days in Florence? Stay tuned… we got stuff planned.

Three Days of Museums in Florence

August 19, 2012

Might as well as hit up some museums when in Florence, right? Right. We splurged for the “FirenzeCard” at 50€ each, which gave us admission to all state museums, and then some, for 72 hours. If you’re only interested in Accademia (for David) and Uffizi (for Birth of Venus), it’s not worth the price. However, it does grant you line-skipping privileges, and offered us the opportunity to visit some museums that we might not have otherwise considered visiting.


Early morning at the Duomo


Our three-day museum extravaganza went something like this:


  1. Galleria dell’Accademia—this is where Michelangelo’s David is. There was also a special modern art exhibit (a “surprise treat,” as John says), which included Picasso and Warhol’s Last Supper).
  2. Museo di San Marco—it’s in an old monastery and features the works of monk-artist Fra Beatro Angelico.
  3. Orto Botanico—or as John calls is, “Mosquito and Big Fake Dinosaurs that Jesus Rode in On” Garden.
  4. Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure—it’s the precious stone museum that is, literally, 3 steps out of our apartment doorway across the street. It is unassuming, uncrowded, and unbelievable. This was our favorite museum, showcasing amazing artwork made of inlaid precious stones.
  5. Palazzo Medici Ricardi—the Medici palace that they sold to the Ricardi family, who expanded the palace.
  6. Galleria degli Uffizi—a large museum with Renaissance masterpieces, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We wandered through the Humanist and the Gothic movements.
  7. Museo Galileo—a small, beautiful, modern museum with examples of Newtonian telescopes and mathematical and time instruments that were invented based on Galileo’s work. There was also a special exhibit here, Geometrie dell’Illusione–an exhibit of optical illusions where art meets science; apropos for the Galileo museum.
  8. Palazzo Vecchio—the Vecchio palace, with amazing gilded ceilings and views of the Duomo.

Not bad for three days, especially considering that we were home by 1pm every day. Some picture highlights:

John in the private bedroom of Cosimo di Medici in the museo di San Marco (#2).


At the Palazzo Vecchio, taken from the rooftop café of Uffizi (#6 and #8).


Cabinet in the Palazzo Vecchio, similar to the inlaid stone work we saw at the museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure (#4).


From the Uffizi, with the Duomo. 9am, and it’s a gazillion degrees (Celsius) already (#6).


The Ponte Vecchio.


“Home by 1pm every day?” you ask, “but what did you do for the rest of the day?” Stay tuned for how we beat the heat in Florence…


Limoncello in an Irish Pub in Sorrento, Italy

August 15, 2012

We got to Sorrento and, after seeing the view of Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples, and Sorrento from our hotel way at the tippy top of the cliffs, decided we could skip Naples all together. So, we spent three days in Sorrento, mostly wandering through shaded back alleys. We also went to an Irish Pub (because it had air conditioning), John discussed politics with Seamus the bar owner, and we had Limoncello and beer with an odd-duck solo traveler from Scotland: Bernadette.


The town of Sorrento, Italy from Piazza Tasso.


The Real Housewives alla Sorrento. Or, the gentlemen’s club off the Piazza Tasso, where men gather to gossip every day—no women or cell phones allowed.

We had planned to head to Capri today, but a few things changed those plans:

  • Nearby wildfires created so much haze, that the trip wouldn’t yield any better views than what we have at our hotel.
  • The Blue Grotto sounds beautiful, but with up to 2 hour waits to get into the grotto after a 30 minute ferry ride (and even then, no guarantees that you can get in), small rafts rowed by surly Italians, and my general nervousness about large bodies of water, that trip didn’t seem so worth it. “Next time,” we decided, since we’re already planning our Amalfi Coast-only return trip.
  • It’s vacation and we can do whatever the hell we want.

So, instead, we camped out at the hotel for the day; a day that included:

  • A nap at 10am (I love a good pre-noon nap).
  • Stunning views from our balcony.
  • Cheese puffs and prosecco and beer.
  • A proper lunch of lemon risotto with clams and veal scaloppini with lemon (Sorrento is known for its lemons); homemade pasta with shellfish (frutti di mare) and, and veal scaloppini Sorrento-style; and then we shared strawberry tart.
  • Another nap.

Two fellas walking on top of the lemon grove canopies to snatch some figs at lunch time.


View of Sorrento and the marina from our hotel room

Arrivederci, Roma!

August 12, 2012

We learned to puff out our chests, hold our chins high in the air, and look down upon the rest of the barbaric world like true Romans (thanks to Gastone, our guide at the Colosseum). We shopped, we ate, we napped, we ate some more, and then had gelato.


Prosciutto, Soppressata picante, Chinghaile salame, mozzarella di bufala, focaccia, olives




Spaghetti con vongole


Filet with prosciutto, purple Peruvian potato chips, and the most neon-green olive oil we’ve ever seen


Fancy cannoli–they’d probably call it “deconstructed cannoli” on Top Chef.

John’s worried that he loved Rome so much that the rest of Italy won’t compare. I’m betting a gazillion euro that he’s really got nothing to worry about.


John shopping for nom nom nom


Gelato flavors tried to date: melone, pistachio, pear, chocolate, oreo, nutella, champagne, pineapple

Next stop: Sorrento.

Jesus Christ and Bootie Shorts

August 11, 2012

We went to Vatican City today; we did not burst into flames. Our guide, although a bit scatter-brained and who never meant it when he said “and one more thing,” was knowledgeable and, admittedly, non-religious, as well as a rule-breaker (he dropped some knowledge on us in the Sistine Chapel, despite dirty looks from the Swiss Guard). So, that was basically awesome.

Swiss Guard outside St. Peter’s Basilica

In the Raphael rooms; the fella just left of center near the bottom, thinkin’ on a piece of marble, is Michelangelo. Raphael painted him in after he finished the fresco because he snuck a peek at the Sistine Chapel in progress. Renaissance props (Michelangelo and Raphael were not the best of buds).

To the parents that allow their young girls to run around in bootie shorts anywhere, much less in St. Peter’s Basilica: gross.

To the people that gave me dirty looks when I screamed “JESUS CHRIST!!!” when some dude stepped on my dress as I was walking down the stairs from St. Peter’s Basilica, well, sorry, I guess. The spirit moved me.

And those were the highlights from Vatican City.

John pseudo-contemplating the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, which will be opened in 2025.

That’s me, outside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Compulsory Rome

August 10, 2012

We spent our first few days in Rome acclimating (to our neighborhood and the heat), and generally gushing about the food. We tackled some compulsory tourist activities, such as the Pantheon, Colosseum, Forum,  Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain (the latter two more than once, so that we could get some pictures without being overrun by throngs of tourists by going at the crack of early).


We’ve settled into a decent routine that goes a little something like this:

  • Up when we’re up.
  • Coffee at the apartment, and whatever leftover prosciutto and mozzarella there is from the day before—and then usually ready to head out the door before 8:00am for more coffee and pastries.
  • Off to the sights early to try to beat the crowds.
  • Realizing that everyone else had the same idea.
  • Paying double (or triple) to get a semi-private tour, which comes with the added benefit of skipping the line. Despite that tour groups of any kind go against every fiber of my vacation M.O., this has worked out in our favor each time because our guides have been phenomenal.
  • More food: pizza, spaghetti con vongole, Carpaccio, gnocchi, saltimbocca…
  • Shopping
  • Siesta
  • More food
  • Gelato

Sprinkle in a bottle or three of prosecco each day (John has taken kindly to bellinis), a lot of laughs, and we’re having ourselves a proper Roman holiday.


Our French Laundry Dining Experience

August 26, 2011
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Mom and Freefs after our lunch at The French Laundry

I’m not going to waste much time and am going to get right to it (if you’re interested in other Napa Valley tidbits…). Here is, course-by-course, mom’s 60th birthday lunch at The French Laundry:

Not pictured is our amuse bouche, which included a mini puff pastry stuffed with Gruyere and also an “ice cream cone”-inspired salmon tartar and crème fraiche.  

Oysters and Pearls

First course: “Oysters and Pearls”
“Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar.

It was warm, salty, and heavenly.

Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Palm

Second course: Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Palm
Compressed cucumber, mango, Hass avocado, chili and Rangpur lime “gastrique”

It was the most refreshing—and fresh—salad I’ve ever had.

Sauteed Fillet of Atlantic Cobia

Tracey’s third course: Sautéed Fillet of Atlantic Cobia
Bluefoot mushrooms, nantes carrots, cipollini onion, parsley and “Beurre Rouge”

"Tartare" of Ear-shell Clam






Mom’s third course: “Tartare” of Ear-Shell Clam
Chanterelle mushrooms, Tokyo turnips, somerset peach, and garden mint

A collection of salts, just because.

While still raving about the salty yums of the “Oysters and Pearls” our server overheard me mention how much I like salt. So, he appeared with three salts for me to try—the one in the upper left is a Jurassic salt recently discovered in a mine in Montana.

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster "Mitts"









Fourth course: Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Mitts”
Basmati rice, cauliflower, Sultana raisins, Marcona almonds, cilantro shoots, and coconut and Madras curry.
You have never in your life tasted curry like this. It was so good, I’d rather have not even sullied it with the lobster (really, my only constructive critique for Mr. Keller).

Salmon Creek Farm Pork Belly








 Tracey’s fifth course:  Salmon Creek Farm Pork Belly
Toybox tomatoes, artichokes, Romaine lettuce, and Bottarga – hen egg emulsion

Dear Pork Belly, Marry me. Love, Freef.

Spring Lamb "Raviolini"






 Mom’s fifth course: Spring Lamb “Raviolini”
Lima beans, Brentwood corn, jingle bell peppers, and Swiss chard and Padron pepper consommé

The consommé was amazeballs in and of itself.


Snake River Famrs "Calotte de Boeuf Grillee"







Sixth course: Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf Grillee”
Fairytale eggplant, broccoli, red radish, Asian pear, and “Sauce Japonaise”

It also had mini brisket cubes. So, double boeuf!








 Seventh course: “Acapella”
Bing cherry, celery, Piedmont hazelnuts, and Australian black truffle

<drool> Obviously, the cheese course. </drool>

Yellow Watermelon Sorbet





 Eighth course: Yellow Watermelon Sorbet
Basil-honey and Saba vinegar

It also has yellow compressed watermelon and red watermelon as the vessel for the vinegar. At this point, I figured we were nearly done…

Caramelia Chocolate "Cremeux"





 Tracey’s ninth course: Caramelia Chocolate “Cremeux”
Gros Michel banana, candied pine nuts, “Dentelle” and salted popcorn ice cream

I totally won on this course!

"Nectarine Melba"







Mom’s ninth course: “Nectarine Melba”
Sicilian pistachio “Pain de Gene,” Andante Dairy yogurt, “Bicotti,” and raspberry sorbet

Happy 60th Birthday, Mom!






Mom-only ten course: “Birthday Cake”
It was a soaked sponge cake and chocolate whip and then covered in cocoa

Happy 60th, Mom!!!

Megnardises (or "four more desserts after the dessert course!!)





 Eleventh course: Mignardises
Chocolate semi-freddo (looks like a cappuccino), doughnut holes, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, truffles (from upper-left, clockwise: peanut butter and jelly, ginger, cherry, olive oil, hazelnut rum, Meyer lemon)

Four different sweet things rolled up into one course!

Not pictured: They sent us each home with a package of shortbread cookies, and mom got a package of chocolates for a birthday present, along with a fancy-pants, exclusive magazine.

After lunch, we strolled around The French Laundry garden, directly across the street from the restaurant.

I took about 50 pictures of this chicken.

The French Laundry compost pile is pretty effin' magnificent!

So, this is my mom. If you don't already know, she's kind of amazing.

It was, by far, the best culinary experience of my life and will be one of my most memorable life moments, thanks to my mom telling me emphatically at the end of the meal, “This was the best Saturday of my life!”