Mangiare, Milano, Molto Bene
We recently embarked on a very short trip to Milan – a city break as they call it – which is to say we escaped one city just to temporarily dwell in another. I don’t mean to be sarcastic and I’m the farthest thing from a cynical character, but my life has brought me in a place where I believe that happiness has nothing to do with geography. That is why I wouldn’t relocate to any other place, because I believe one is happy where they are now as they’ll ever be. Also, I loathe checklist vacations, where the ultimate goal is to complete all appropriate tourist attractions, which almost always means one loses sight of the joy and focuses too much on an illusory goal.
That being said, travelling brings me enormous joy because I think a little bit of cultural exchange works wonders on the mind and soul. Also, I love diversity. I’m sort of a melancholy kind of girl, so if sometimes a walk in the park in my hometown of Bucharest evokes too many familiar smells that mix in with bitter-sweet memories, I really need to switch it up. So, this fall I switched the oh-so-familiar smell of burnt tree bark that somehow still protrudes through the urban streets and alleyways of Bucharest with the sweet smell of almond that is emanated by the Cherry Laurel trees in Milan’s Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli.
It was the first time travelling with my daughter to Milan and it truly was a novel experience, because memories of Milan to me seem to belong to a world long gone, “tempi passati” as my best friend’s Italian Nonna always says. A couple of years back, I used to travel to Milan for work and I got to experience the city in all its dynamic, yet laid-back splendour, with morning ristrettos served in busy corner cafés over the counter while standing up or the two hour lunch breaks in the city’s finest trattorie tucked in the side streets of Montenapoleone. Evenings started early with aperitivo and would usually end in a lovely wine and dine experience with either colleagues or close and dear friends that lived in Milan at the time. I know how some people often brush off Milan as if it weren’t much of a destination, but I honestly don’t get why, I think it’s so vibrant and alive, with the most elegantly dressed people I’ve seen, ranging from all ages (although at their best in their 60s and 70s) and with the most amazing positive attitudes I’ve ever experienced. It’s like the Milanese got the memo that they need to live for now and they’re doing it splendidly, unapologetically, perhaps trivial and vain at times, but nonetheless charming.
What I surely did on this short vacation was eat well. I had the opportunity of going to some really nice restaurants in Milan and I’ve made sort of a shortlist with my favorite.
First, there’s Bice, a traditional place on Borgospesso, opened in the 1920s, that remains a family business even after all this time. The atmosphere at Bice is cosy, with its black and red tartan fabric covered floors, dark cherry wood period chairs and warm lighting. The tableware bares the restaurant’s name on the rim, as any respecting traditional location would. Bice is all about the greatness of local simple dishes, so the best thing is to go for the pasta, the Spaghetti Bolognese are really good and so are the Mussels Linguini. If you’re going for an appetizer, I have to recommend the Puntarelle salad, simple and delicious. Dessert is also something of a phenomenon here. I had what translates to a block of meringue topped with warm dark chocolate sauce. But the absolute star is the Tiramisu, hands down, best I ever had; and I’ve had a few.
Next up is Giacomo Bistrot and I have to say, this place is in a league of its own. Had it not been for the amazing food, I wouldn’t have been able to take my eyes off of the patrons, probably the most fascinating people I’ve seen, best dressed would surely be an understatement to describe them, having dinner and talking at the tables that are set close together in the French bistrot manner. I stared and I ate, that’s what I did at Giacomo Bistrot. I had a bunch of plump and delicious oysters, followed by the simplest and most exquisite Mezzi paccheri cacio e pepe and for dessert, we all had “La bomba”, which was absolute joy in the shape of layers of pastry and an abundance of vanilla custard. And weirdly notable, the fresh-out-of-the-oven flat breads they bring along with the complimentary bread basket is to die for. If you’re going to Milan and it’s just for one evening and you want to have a really nice dinner, then this is the place.
Rather off the grid, somewhat unappealing as far as decor goes and not hip by a long shot, is Emilia e Carlo. What it lacks in perhaps design and atmosphere is gained in the quality of the Modern Tuscan cuisine. I had anchovy fillets marinated in house and served with toast and butter, followed by a simple yet most satisfying veal tartar. For dessert I went for the Zabajone caldo served with the most amazing home-made cantucci. They also have a very nice wine list.
Right around the corner from the apartment we stayed in, there’s a pizza place, Pizza Pazza, where we went twice, because it was so good and so cheap. The pizza is great, I had the Margherita and I washed it down with a small bottle of Coke (Italian Coke is the best!). Another very good dish they serve and in fact, my daughter’s newly found favourite is the Cotoletta alla Milanese. The staff is nice and quick on their feet; they have to be, as the place is jam-packed all the time. And although there’s a sign on the wall that loosely says “If you don’t think our waiters are polite, wait till you see the owner”, they truly are very polite.
Another great place for going out to drinks and dinner is the relatively new Carlo e Camilla in Segheria, set in an ex-sawmill. It’s one of those places that when you’ve stepped inside for the first time, you just can’t help yourself from taking out your phone and photographing the interior. The place is beautifully designed, the lighting is spectacular (I’m sort of a restaurant light freak) and they have this huge table everyone sits at, so it’s kind of like a big family table. The most amazing thing about it is the cocktail bar, as the bartenders are pretty rad, they make the most beautiful and tasty drinks ever. The food is also very good, but you might not notice it as much after having gulped down the two first cocktails. I had an appetizer of Vicciola tartar served with microgreens (Vicciola is a variety of beef that is fed with hazelnuts and bred in Piemonte). As an entrée, I had the Stinco di Maiale, which is roasted pork shank, accompanied by a potato and fennel mash and salad. You can also just go for drinks and appetitivo, they are a pleasure to share with friends.
Last, but not least, there’s Trattoria Bagutta, a 90 year old trattoria serving Lombardian and Tuscan dishes. It’s right off Monte Napoleone and it’s where I always used to go for lunch years ago. It’s one of those traditional places that’ll never change. So if you go there, you might as well have something traditional, like the Tuscan Sausage with Beans in Tomato Sauce or some simple pasta dish. I went for the steak with fries and a glass of red wine. Don’t bother with dessert, just have a coffee. And if it’s warm out, try to get a table on the terrace.
Last but not least, if in Milan and looking for a great place to have coffee or tea and something to eat, then definitely go to Cova and order the Tramezzini variety, which is basically a serving stand with delicious crustless mini sandwiches. If you’re looking for something sweet, try the Piccola pasticceria, which lovely enough, is a serving stand with an assortment of mini patisserie.