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Showing posts with label breakfast. Show all posts
Showing posts with label breakfast. Show all posts

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Butcher of Panzano, Dario Cecchini

Tuscan morning sun, we're under its power. Danijel is feeling burnt before breakfast. We've walked to the table on the lawn and set down the dishes - cheeses, fresh Roma tomatoes - my god they taste of tomatoes! - and green peppers, and scrambled eggs with caramelised onions and a lot more of those tomatoes, chopped into the mix.

Then we rest...


~~~~~~~~~

No, hang on, that was yesterday. For today's breakfast Izzy (so domesticated these days) has set the table and is bringing some brewed coffee (Bosnian style - boil water, put in coffee, boil again. Sludge.) Vicoo has a plate of those tarts we purchased at the market yesterday The tarts are vanilla with almonds, wild forrest berries, lemon and powdered sugar. They are delicious.

~~~~~~~~~

E@L had never heard of this place, Panzano-in-Chianti. Why would you? Look at it. It's tiny.


But Izzy and Danijel had seen something on an episode of an Anthony Bourdain show about an amazing butcher in this tiny town just past Greve-in-Chianti. Butcher? We're going to a see a butcher? (E@L checks online and makes a booking at the Solociccia [trans: only meat] restaurant for a pig-fat Tuscan degustation.)

We drive along the country roads of course, view after view, this is not on the A1. The Tuscan countryside is not spectacular, it is older, gentle, comforting, calming* - reminds me of Colac. Greve is perhaps the biggest town we drive through, and that takes two minutes to negotiate in and out of - turn left here. The smaller towns are not much more than a haphazard collection of towers, castles, churches, and houses that narrow the road down drastically. The houses encroach on, sometimes replace, the footpath; bottle-necking the traffic with blind corners, and then there are the dozing animals, on-coming traffic, rickety bicycles, grandmothers (not wearing scarves, thankfully it's not that clichéd) walking oblivious, men in singlets (OK, little bit cliché) and children playing unconcerned. E@L has to slow down to 20km to get around these safely - he is a cautious driver. Terrible, but cautious.

As we start to wind around another hill, vineyards, cypress trees, stone houses, roofs the color of flower pots below us on the right, the gentle uphill rise on our left, there are parked cars by the roadside. Lots of parked cars, cramped together under trees for shade, a dozen cars here, around the next bend two dozen more. We still haven't seen anything like a town yet. "Should we park," asks Izzy. "Why?" But then the first few houses appear and the cars are parked thick along the road shoulder. Suddenly we are in the centre of town. An intersection and a market up a lane way - "that's it," calls Iz. "Up there!" But place is jammed, we have to drive on, we can't stop here, and we've passed. And immediately we are out of town.

We have to keep going a bit further, there is nowhere to turn. Around the bend there is a new housing estate up the hill on our left. We turn up, get lost, turn back once, turn uphill once more into more narrow streets, and hey, we find the last vacant parking spot in town, no shade of course, and sit for a moment. "This is it, I think," says E@L. This way? That way? Fuck it's hot. The sun, so bright and E@L has no hat. Luckily, the ozone hole is over Sydney and not Panazano. We walk up over a crest, and it slopes down again, directly into the market that we had seen. Perfecto.

The market is small, really, it's not a fresh produce market, but there are jars of sauces and condiments, cakes and cheeky tarts, lots of wines, schlongs of salami, rounds of cheese, perfect. But there are lots of people milling, as people do when they get the chance, by the stalls. Look at them: mill, mill, mill.


(beware - LOUD music)

The market stalls concentrate in front of his shop and restaurants, where else would you place them. His shop is rocking, seriously rocking, It is crowded, dense-packed with people holding up small glasses of chianti or or of grappa, pinching bread with lard between thumb and fingers, holding greasy chunks of pig fat from fresh roasted rolled pork stuffed with rosemary.

And Dario is an amazing person, a celebrity butcher who stands tall amongst celebrity chefs.

E@L can hardly get in to the shop, but they have a reservation at the restaurant in 5 minutes. Is it in this shop, at the back maybe? He squeezes through, shouting to Danijel over the blaring music and the heads of the young and old people taking all that bounty on offer, free and gratis. Incredibly loud A/DC is pumping, Angus's guitar ripping, so inappropriate, but it isn't it always and is there any other way to play it but as loud as possible? He calls again to Danijel to wait, but the others have already picked up a Chianti, bread, pig fat, and are bopping, lost down somewhere in the crowd (OK, E@L can see Danijel, he's 6'7" and has a pony-tail.) Up high in the corner in a shelf over above the butchers' display, there is a large valve-powered amplifier.

Dario is bopping behind the meat counter, and his associates are cutting more pork, scooping out more lardo. Dario has a huge grin, he is sharpening his knives to the beat of the music. There is a large statue of the Minotaur standing at one end and looming over one of the feast-loaded tables…



E@L manage to find a lady in a white (blood smeared) apron who seems to know what she is doing right at the back of the store. She understands English well enough (Dario, doesn't speak English) and tells me that we are booked at the "other" restaurant. A wave of worry rises up (E@L panics easily) - OMG are we in the wrong place? But no, she says, it's just across the street, past the wine stall. E@L, claustrophobic (pig-fat-phobic? NEVER!), squeezes back out to check if ha can find it.

Outside, blazing sun still. Is this perfect weather ever going to stop? Another of those ladies who seems to belong there is being interviewed on the ramp by a sweaty chubby guy whose hair is a suspiciously deep shade of black, holding an iPhone up betweeen their faces. Vicoo is sitting on the edge of the ramp with a glass of chianti, listening in, grinning at E@L, who stands with her to grab some of the sound bites... She is perhaps Dario's wife, and he is praising the hell out of the place, she is agreeing, what more can she do? Did someone say that Wolfgang Puck was here last week?

There is a door. Unmarked. E@L asks the women there, "Is this…?"

"Yes," she answers, before he has finished his question. "Do you have a booking?" She is checking her watch, like a school ma'am.

It's time, we just made it, 1pm on the dinger. E@L has to drag Danijel and Izzy away from all that free Chianti, grappa and pig-fat in the butcher shop as we have seats over here where we have paid for Chinanti, grappa and pig-fat. A cheery waiter, experienced judging by his age, very experienced, takes us down two flights of steps
into a stone cellar where several others are already seated around a large table and the meal has already begun. We squeeze past - it is a tight package. A mature (maybe a little older than E@L) English couple from Gigglesoworth (IKYN), an hungry English man and his Irish wife with two kids, two young (hipster?) Italians, blend with an Australian, a Bosnian and two Singaporeans. Don't mention the war. Which war,? Any war.

At first we are all shy, but as the dishes keep coming down, carried by our ever cheerful, overly generous waiter and we pass them around, we gradually open up. Theres plenty of wine and chilled water as well as the food. Simple peasant fare, fresh ingredients, simply handled and presented, nothing flashy, lots of it. Just meat and more meat, lots of meat. But first just some crudités and (stale, oh well) foccacia with olive oil, balsamic and the most amazing spiced salt (Danijel bought some jars of that, but E@L didn't get to take any home - see another blog post).

Then thick slices of roast beef, grilled, fried meat balls with frittered vegetables, rosemary up your bum (lightly seared tartare nuggets with a sprig of rosemary insterted in a red and juicy hole. The table has way too many plates of food on it, we can't eat all this, but it keeps coming. Slow stewed beef shanks, with the meat on one plate and the fatty skins and tendon on another. It's floating in the jus with soft potatoes slices (it took a few bites to recognize them!) and onions. This last one sounds terrible (it also looked dubious), but for those who braved it (on bursting stomachs) it was an wonderfully rich and satisfying dish that would have been devoured completely and exclusively by E@L if it had been brought out first. The chianti kept flowing, but as E@L was the designated driver for th week he could only take a sip or several - he watered it down, the Italian way.

The feast continued for two hours and then we were, reluctantly (there was still wine), kicked out so they could prepare for the next sitting in the evening, We rolled up the stairs with bloating bellies and greasy, satisfied smiles.

Back across the street now, Dario's butcher shop was much less crowded even though the music was still on full rocking mode. Dario was out mixing it with us, a bottle of grappa in his hands and that radiant smile on his face. We saw now that he was wearing a trousers in the Italian colours (Italy lost the EC later that night) he was rocking his sholder in a happy dance. He poured E@L a shot of grappa even though E@L indicated he was driving. We all took photos with him, he loved to pose with Izzy and Vicoo in particular, funny that, and for everything was fun and games.

Giving away wine and food, just giving it away, heaps of it. The man is genius, we all love him, he loves to love us all back and this is just a ball. Get moderately pissed, put on AC/DC blast your walls into powder and dance with a bootle a grappa in your hand - maybe then you'll get an idea of this place.

Danijel was wondering if anyone could be as happy in his work as Dario obviously is. He doesn't (seem to) give a fuck about micromanaging and monitoring the margins, money is coming in, everyone ends up buying something, small or large, lots or a little and he gets back what he gives away tenfold. Brilliant. "He doesn't use SAP I'll bet," says E@L.

What he gets back is more than money, he thrives on the fun that he is bringing to all his customers. I can't describe this, it's mind-blowing. We love this guy, he is best person E@L has ever met. He can't speak English, we can't speak Italian, but we know what we all mean, and so much more than the general symbiosis of proprietor and patron: There's instant camaraderie thanks to the obvious honesty in his enormous generosity. Either that or he's faking it pretty fucking well.

We head back to the car, our arms full of meats and cheeses and those tarts for breakfast tomorrow, and a few bottles of Chianti to make up for the drinks E@L had to forego. The thermometer in the car reads 46degrees. Yes, it is hot. It takes 5 minutes for the air-con to fight against the stifling air in oven/car. We stand around, raving about this afternoon.

Then, sated and thrilled in equal portions, we wind back through the Tuscan hills back to our villa (also overlooking rolling hills and vineyards) and jump into the infinity pool (so Tuscan), laughing and splashing.

Brilliant day, one of the best, thanks to the big smiles of Dario Cecchini.

E@L

* Where there is Nature, there is meaning. Robert Walser.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Typical Morning's Work

What is it with breakfast?

Take the breakfast buffet as the Pullman in Khon Kaen. There is enough food here for the hungry German participants in a major convention, but there is no major convention. There are about four of us. Huge serves of veggies, salads, meats, soups, cheese, fish (last night's sushi? no thanks) are lying untouched in bain-maries and on plates all around the place. Who is going to eat all this?

Let E@L think of the mathematical description of this inverted homeopathic situation --- How about the ratio of unnecessary food to guests decreases according to the inverse exponential of the number of guests. A graph that slides from a number approaching infinity at the Y-axis (when there are zero guests) in a curve down to the X-axis (Y=0) as the number of guests approaches an appropriate number for the amount of food, and it then goes -Y when there is not enough breakfast. (Tom, am I anywhere near right?)

E@L makes barely a dent in this Siamese Babette's feast. He has a bowl of muesli, diced fruit and yoghurt, and he dehydrates two pieces of wholemeal bread in the "toaster". (What? No Vegemite?) The seventeen staff give him a Sawadee as he leaves for his 9am pick-up.

Outside, the poor struggle for 30Bht or so to get a bowl of noodle soup or a som-tam at the roadside stalls (and bloody delicious they are too).

~~~~~~~~~

E@L's sales guy has a gleaming black Beemer. It looks new, but shows 260,000km on the clock. He drives like Mark Webber in pole position, and E@L is thrown several centimetres into the faux leather seat as we accelerate up the nearly empty main street. This is OK except that the dashboard displays a *CHECK BRAKE FLUID LEVEL* warning in read-me red. E@L points this out.

"Fluid leaking, ABS dual system," he says.

"Are we able to stop?" E@L asks, somewhere between amused and fearful for his life.

"Yes," he replies and smiles. E@L wonders about emergency evacuation to Singapore.

That conversation was a lot of English for him. Almost everything E@L says to him is answered with a faux smile and "Yes." E@L is not saying this as a criticism, as his Thai, despite 13 years of visiting Thailand is a pathetic nit noi, mak.

"I couldn't get to sleep last night. There is a club somewhere, boom boom boom, music," complains E@L as a way of making conversation in the dreadfully quiet car.

"Yes."

"Are there girls there?"

He is silent.

"Girls, ladies, at the club?"

"Club? Ladies, yes," he says and smiles again.

E@L's evening is sorted.

~~~~~~~~~

True to form for E@L's hospital visits to inconveniently distant places, the customer will not be available until tomorrow. "You free morning," he says. "I pick you afternoon, we go KKU."

They head back to town, but E@L sees the turn-off to his hotel whiz by.

"Where are we going?" E@L asks.

"Service. Car brake problem."

"Well, do you really expect me to sit and wait for your brakes to be fixed?"

"Yes," he says. It that yes, I do want you to wait, or yes, as in I have no idea what you just asked?

"Can't you take me back to the hotel?"

"You want go hotel?"

E@L nods with an incredulous eyebrow raised.

"OK, I pick you up afternoon."

"What time?" E@L asks.

"Yes," he answers.

E@L holds up his watch and tap it. "What time will you pick me up?"

He smiles and nods, he gets it. "Seven," he says. He corrects himself, "Twenty o'clock." Then again, "Twelve."

E@L smiles and pats him on the shoulder. "OK, see you midday."

"Yes," he says.

~~~~~~~~~~

E@L has time to write this blog and to charge all of his gadgets. Excellently typical morning on the road in Thailand.


E@L

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coffee, Breakfast, Thailand - more of the same

E@L was in a "coffee" shop in a place slightly to the left of the middle of nowhere, the town of Phrae, in the province of Phrae. E@L has been up in this area before: Phitsanulok, Nan. Driving here is mountain, valley and river, mountains, valley and river, etc... Not that impressed with the valleys. The mountain are fantastic except that E@L has slept through most of the drives.

E@L has essentially given up on Thai coffee, on coffee in general in fact, and he is drinking a 'jasmine' green tea as he drafts this post with the morning sun over his shoulder (left, or was it right?). The slim, fawning waitress had initially poured condensed milk into the mix of tea and hot water she offered, and he sent it back perfunctorily. He was in a perfunctorial mood again. She deferentially delivered (she was now in a typically Thai deferential mood) the fresh cup which on first taste seemed to contain no jasmine. It was mostly green tea. Not completely. About 40% of the cup was sugar syrup, streaky clear stuff that spiraled through the tea, slowly diffusing. This sucrose vortex would be enough to upset his endocrinologist no end, who was on a quest to stave off E@L from metabolic syndrome - i.e diabetes, if E@L ever told him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Coffee, tea, can they ever be right? Toast, breakfast in general, ditto.

Breakfast - the coffee was fine, breakfast coffee usually is because it's not espresso - was missing just a few things last week in the Sheraton Krabi Resort (closer to Ao Nang actually). E@L noticed the absence of a prepared fruit salad. He had to chop his fruit up on his plate at the table, clinkety clink, must annoy the people nearby. E@L is nothing if not considerate. And there were cinnamon bagels but no Philly cream cheese. WTF? Not that E@L should be eating bagels - see above re: metabolic syndrome. Wholemeal or whole grain toast with their low glycaemic indices are fair game, and they were both present, so OK.

Fecking idiots who put their bread onto the circling treads of the toaster's tray and then stand in front of the toaster, blocking other people from inserting their carbohydrates, those feckwets were ALSO milling, like litigious movie lawyers outside movie hospitals.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But, Krabi? That was LAST week, this is THIS week. Having jumped (via taxi) from Suvarbumi to Don Muaeng (the old international airport in Bangkok) E@L Nokked up to the Central/Northern provinces of Thailand. Two demos, two deals, but who is one to puff oneself up?

Uttaradit, Phrae (see above), and now Phitsanulok. E@L mused that you know you've been in some shitholes* of late when you consider Phitsanulok a respite, a haven of sophistication, a safe port in the northern storms which have flooded heavily and stirred up Dengue fever epidemics in the previous few weeks (Google it). No-one's ever heard of any of these places, have they? No-one of any importance E@L means, of course.

Breakfast in Phitsanulok is a different story to the Sheraton's minor glitches (and aren't all unhappy breakfast stories unique?) Even before E@L arrived from his room, a plate had been placed for him at his assumed chair, opposite his more punctual colleague. On the plate was the plaster imitation of a circular fried egg, two precisely aligned steamed sausages of uncertain - perhaps porcine - provenance, two slices of white bread glued together with butter substitute, and two triangles of long-simmered (now cold) "ham". E@L was fortunate and foresightful enough to bring with him two bananas, two tubs of yoghurt and an apple. E@L eschewed the chilled still life and passed his coupon to another colleague, one who had slept elsewhere. (500Bht was excessive, he felt.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Five THOUSAND Bht a night at the Sheraton, with cable internet an extra 530Bht for 24hrs. Last night in Phitsanulok, a reasonable room (OK, the toilet door kept locking whenever it closed, but so does Izzy's old one at E@LGHQ - you learn to live with it, or she did anyway) was 500Bht, and yet the WiFi was free.

The internet seems to get cheaper the lower you go in hotel stars. Weird.

E@L will be writing a note of severe castigation to the Sheraton HQ, where heads will asymmetrically roll (as heads are wont to do - anyone remember Polanski's McB... Scottish Play?).

It is totally indefensible to charge the amount they do. There is no excuse he will accept, nothing they can say that will convince him that such a charge in necessary. He will never accept this insulting financial infringement again!

Exception: tonight. E@L is paying 600Bht to present you with this electronic missive in a 3,300Bht room at The Landmark - awesome breakfast BTW!

Life can be weird and E@L is not always consistent.

E@L

* not that E@L cannot tell these small(ish) Thai towns apart anymore; they all look desperate, distant, hungry and the same.

(Does this post make ANY sense?)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Breakfast Fail

As one travels the Asian circuit being a jet-setting professional piece of "foreign talent", one morphs into a grumpy old man quite quickly. Small things which a tourist might not even notice rise the ire of the sensitive business traveller.

And no-one is more grumpy, more sensitive and more foreign than E@L.

Breakfast, especially when E@L's business discount hotel room does not include a voucher and he must pay for it, is the most important meal of the morning. When he is travelling on a holiday tour, it is of course the most important meal of the late afternoon.

E@L has lost a susbtantial percentage of his body-weight in recent months, not that you'd notice, and not into double figures yet. His method has been a regimen that may be familiar to many of you other fat pigs.

White food is evil. Avoid white foods like rice, noodles, potatoes, white bread and lark's tongues in vanilla flavored aspic. White foods generally have a high glycaemic index, you see and E@L's pancreas is on the cusp according to the eminent physician who is taking E@L's money to maintain his Ferrari.

His (E@L's, not the windswept Doc's) typical petit dejuener of choice these days has a core of fresh fruit with colored yogurt. Maybe some wholemeal or multigrain toast with some not quite white topping like Vegemite or peanut-butter (bought two jars of Really Good stuff in New Zealand last trip), or some bran or muesli with the fruit. This been working well to whittle promising amounts of the avoirdupois from his flanks.

So imagine his dismay here in the Metropark hotel in Macau when the Cafe de Ciao had:
  • No yoghurt.
  • No wholemeal bread.
  • No meusli.
  • Not much in the way of fruit (canned peaches and watermelon chunks).
  • Terrible tea.
Desengaño again.

E@L

[Addendum: have only seen Vegemite out of Australia in an Australian owned hotel in Saigon.]

Friday, January 23, 2009

Not Happy [with Addenda]

Turned up at the hotel in Dubai at 3:30am. No booking under my name. This is the first time in 10 years like this something has gone wrong...

Checked myself in and promptly fell asleep into a moody nightmare of dusky skyscrapers and wrong venues and (for some inexplicable reason) hookers, sharks in the swimming pool and (even more dangerous!) ex-girlfriends...

Freud, front and centre please!

Maybe someone from the company will find me today. (I hope not, I still have the presentation to write.)

E@L

[Addendum I: Toaster Wars Strikes Back - at breakfast just then, two dudes each stole one of my twice-run through pieces of toast from the tray in the nano-second I moved away to get a plate. ToFos! Is this is the first time these people have ever eaten out? One was a swarthy type, the other a lanky, old American. So, yes probably. I got my toast back from the Yank - at least he was civilized enough to use the tongs to have picked it up. The other guy I let go with some abstruse mumbled abuse behind his back - who knows which hand he used...

Addendum II: Booking problem solved. It was a name SNAFU at the time of reservation. They had not booked me under my name, nor that of my company, but under one of their local company representatives in order to facilitate the credit card deposit. No-one had told me, I had had no Booking Confirmation number sent to me, so there was no way I could have found it anyway.

Addendum III: I was right. There IS no agenda for the training - as yet! Training starts tomrrow, therefore I have most of the day to put 20 slides or so together. I will need to do some surreptitious competition research but the Internet here is $55 per day! Alas, the swimming pool beckons out my window, down a few floors. Alack, it is freaking chilly here, only 15 degrees oustide currently.]

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