Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Mangiare Bene: Osteria Al Guerriero

Al Guerriero (The Warrior)
This weekend we spent the day in a beautiful hill town called Arqua Petrarca. I will post more about this town because it is absolutely stunning and one of the jewels of the Colli Euganei (Euganean Hills). Our main objective was to go to Frantoio Colli del Poeta, a local olive mill, to get some freshly pressed olive oil. If you've never had freshly pressed olive oil, you are missing out - there's nothing better! Drizzle it over some toasted bread, sprinkle with salt and enjoy. If you find yourself in Italy around November, look for local olive presses - they usually give tours and tastings. It's something not to be missed.

Anyway, after we did our tour and bought our bottle(s) it was lunch time.  I had read about this little osteria on the web and decided we should stop and eat.  Osteria Al Guerriero is a tiny place right off of the main square of Arqua Petrarca and looks exactly like you would expect it to. A crazy old stone building, beautiful wood ceilings, fireplace in the back, clean white walls, glass and brass gleaming, holding about 8 tables total. The owner and wait staff are extremely friendly and though they don't speak much English are happy to give you suggestions about the menu and/or wine selections. I can't stress enough how pleasant and nice the people were. They are so welcoming and make you feel right at home.

Osteria Al Guerriero entrance
We were lucky and got there at the right time because when we left, people were waiting for tables (did I tell you IT'S SMALL!). The menu is written on a chalkboard outside the door as it changes frequently. It is a small  space and serves typical Veneto cuisine - some of which I personally won't eat, such as horse (cavallo) and donkey (musso). We decided to have an antipasto course and a primi which was:

Antipasto - slice of a zucchini frittata, slice of a torta salata (kind of like a quiche) with veggies in it, some ribbons of zucchini which were slightly pickled, and a caponata. All super delicious and the caponata didn't have bell peppers in it (most of them do, and I hate bell peppers) so I was happy - all served with a basket of bread.

Just inside the door
Primi - I had a bowl of mushroom soup which was really good (though needed a touch more salt) with big chunks of wild mushrooms and potatoes, and a good amount of parmesan cheese/crostini. S. had the house specialty, an onion lasagna - you should totally try that, it was hard for me just to have one bite. The onions are sliced thin and sweet, mixed with bechamel sauce and layered among thin sheets of pasta and parmesan cheese.

We decided against a meat or dessert course but I'm sure the offerings were good. It was a cozy, warm place to enjoy good food and get out of the cold wind.

Arqua Petrarca is definitely a town worth a visit. I will post more about it one day, but remember the name, you'll want to see it. And while you are there, stop in at Osteria Al Guerriero for warm Italian hospitality, good food, and a very "Italian" experience.

Name: Osteria Al Guerriero
Where: Via Jacopo d'Arqua 2
             Arqua Petrarca
Province: Padova
Phone: 0429.718376

More later...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cultural observation - menus

There's a strange phenomenon that I have come across in Italy that I either never experienced as a visitor or took notice of. When Italians go to a bar they don't seem to need to look at a menu - they just know what they want and order. What? How do you know what you want to order? How do you know what they have to offer? Where's the menu???

This has happened to me on two occasions recently. One, S and I were out with his mom at a mall doing a bit of shopping and decided to hit up one of the bars inside for something to drink.  Within seconds of sitting down, they ask me what I am going to have. S will have a coffee, his mom a gingerino... they look at me expectantly. I don't know what I want to drink - I want to see what they offer then make a decision. Seconds tick by.... the waitress comes back a second time... looking at me expectantly... I am looking at a menu of drinks but feel pressured to respond so - I order a Shakerato (coffee/milk/chilled and shaken) - it's not really what I wanted but everyone was looking at me like I was from Mars not knowing what I wanted immediately upon sitting. lol  Whatever, I shook it off and didn't take much notice.

Fast forward to two weekends ago when S & I went back to Venice to see the rest of La Biennale offerings and as it was around noon when we arrived we stopped at a nearby bar/restaurant for a quick lunch. Same thing happened. within seconds of sitting down, waiter is there, S starts to order - they look at me expectantly. I am a total blank. I have no idea what they have to offer. How can I know what to order if I don't know what they have? So, I asked for a menu, feeling a little embarrassed that I needed to. It was very short  - basically 3 or 4 variations of sandwiches and beverages.

This time I took notice and it led to a discussion not only with my husband but also with my Italian teacher.  In my experience, this is not something that happens in the USA, unless its a place you know well and frequent often. When you sit down, menus are always offered and you enjoy your water while you decide what you want. Here, not so much. Most bars have menus if you want to see them and you should not feel embarrassed like I did by asking to see it. However, forewarned is forearmed - at least now you'll know what to expect and not feel like a idiot for not being ready to order on-the-spot. It seems the safe bet in bars is a panino (could be pressed or cold) with either prosciutto crudo/cotto or a local salami  and some mild cheese or a toast which is white bread with those same ingredients warmed up. Maybe they add some tomato or arugula in there, but that has not been my experience.

Am I the only one who has experienced this? Is this some common knowledge that I somehow missed? Ah the cultural learning curve when living in a foreign country....

More later...

PS - this weekend we're planning to go to a Christmas Market up north if the weather holds. Can't want to share!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Random Tip: Don't be scared of gas station coffee

In Italy most gas stations still have attendants that pump your gas and a great majority have bars where you can get a coffee, a panino, etc. Don't be afraid of these. In America, there is no way I would eat at most gas stations unless it was something pre-packaged out of a vending machine. But here, you can have a quick cappuccino and brioche (croissant) while filling up your car :)

If you're on the highway - Autogrill = delicious sandwiches and some pretty good last minute gift shopping. We have been known to drive to an Autogrill just to get a panino. (As do other big rest stops along the highways but I can't remember the names).  Small stations around towns may not have the panini but the coffee hits the spot!

More later...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

OTBP: Terme Euganee

Did you know that for more than 2000 years, people have been visiting the Terme Euganee  to enjoy their thermal pools and spas? The Romans valued the area for its waters and would travel there for its healing benefits and relaxation. Living here, it seems the place is well-known in Italy, Germany, and Russia -  but not I think, to many others. I'm going to let you in on this well-kept (?) secret of Italy so you too can be in the know.

Here's the scoop:

Region: Veneto
Province: Padova
Main Spa Towns: Abano Terme, Montegrotto Terme, Battaglia Terme/Galzignano Terme

The area of the Terme Euganee is the largest thermal spa in Europe. Set at the base of the Euganean Hills, the two main spa towns - Abano Terme and Montegrotto Terme - and the much smaller ones of Battaglia Terme/Galzignano Terme are host to more than 100 hotels offering thermal pools and spa treatments. What makes this area special is the water and the mud.

Thermal spring 
The water is classified as "hyper-bromine-iodic" and reads at a constant temperature of 87F (31C). It begins as rain in the Alps (about 50 years ago), collects in uncontaminated basins at the foothills, runs through mineral -rich soil (for about 80km) and is warmed by the volcanic (not active) Euganean Hills. As a result, the water is hot and full of beneficial minerals that just make you feel good.

The hotels offer numerous thermal pools in which the water temperature is regulated (so its cool in the summer) and which have various hydro-therapy jet areas. Hot tubs, of course, little individual "barrels" on the sides of the pool which offer whole body water jet massages, water "beds' with jet massages, waterfalls and fountains for neck/back water massage, or just a large area to swim or take a water aerobics class. Most, if not all, pools are indoor/outdoor which is an added bonus in the winter. There's nothing like swimming in hot water on a cold afternoon.  In addition to the pools, the hotels have various spa treatments you can try, one of the most popular is the mud therapy, called Fangotherapy.  This mud is particular to the area, taken from two small "lakes" at the base of the hills and aged in big tanks with the thermal water.

Abano Terme pedestrian area
The towns themselves are really centered around the hotels and will not satisfy your need for that old, quaint Italian town. But, there are plenty of activities and good food to be had. Both Abano and Montegrotto have expansive pedestrian areas with great shops to peruse and bars to have a leisurely espresso. Hotels also loan out bicycles so you can take a ride in the hills or around the towns (they are very bike friendly). Though you can find fancy, cosmopolitan spas, if you're looking for that Zen type spa - this is not the place. The Terme Euganee has an atmosphere that is more like those old black & white movies where people took months off to recuperate at the spa hotels, strolling around the grounds in their luxurious robes - kind of a casual elegance if that makes sense.
Catajo  - Valsanzibio

A few other attractions:
- The Euganean Hills themselves (more on that in another post)
- Montegrotto - Ruins of a Roman spa that can be toured
- Battaglia - Castello del Catajo, hosts events and offers night time ghost tours
- Galzignano - Villa Valsanzibio Garden with its hedge maze
- Numerous Venetian villas, vineyards, etc.

Other info of note:
  • The towns of Abano Terme and Montegrotto Terme are very close together and offer a tram that runs between them making stops at hotels, pedestrian areas, etc. - it is called the Puffetto (because its painted Smurf blue and in Italy, the Smurfs are called I Puffi)
  • There is a train station in Montegrotto which is the Terme Euganee station; it is a major stop on the train routes
  • These spa towns are about a 45-minute train ride from Venice and even closer from Padova
  • All the hotels have room/spa packages but if you aren't staying in town, you can purchase day passes to the pools
  • Always check for local events - this area has a ton of events in the towns as well as the hills
So now you know. You're welcome. lol

More later...