Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Day 19: Modena

Day 19:  Modena

Department of Amplification (is amplification another word for “putting on weight?):

1.     The Grand Hote et un Milan is around 450E per night, and a lovely hotel

2.     The four hours of a driver was 300E

3.     We are now on a weeklong culinary tour arranged by Riva Cucina, a great Berkeley restaurant near us in E-ville (we were two of their first customers 8 years ago). THB is therefore eating his way around Modena PLUS the region is gorgeous the tour doubles as a sightseeing trip of very high quality. On top of the regular tour dining stops, THB is also ingesting other local delicacies. It’s very possible THB will be going vegan on returning home. Maybe only water.

POTD:    The bill please: A conta por favor

Weather:  Drizzling turning to rain in the morning, glorious in the middle of the day, cooling in late afternoon, raining again in late evening

Opera02 from above

THB and DB are up for a walk, heading west and up from Opera02. Very pleasant, not too much going on Monday morning other than the school kids gathering for the bus (now that takes THB back 60 years!).

Back to the hotel for the most unbelievably good croissants: THB and DB end up trying all four types. THB even made toast and cut a sliver of chocolate cake (for breakfast? YEP!) to try (no pastry left unturned?). With decaf coffee, and a great view across the way, an excellent (and fattening) start to the dining of the day.

A late tour start to allow the jet lagged a chance to get up and move about and to delay the drinking until the reasonable hour of maybe 11. Our first stop is very close, Chiarli Winery, and we’re tasting the local Lambrusco in various versions of bubbly. Our winery guide, Mattia (a different Mattia), is a character, and learned his (proper British) English from youtube. They produce a million bottles here, and many millions more at their other two locations.

Rich risotto

Lunch is at a large table in a deserted dining room. THB and DB decide to eat half of what is served. Even at that, it seemed like a lot. The main course is chicken or veal paillard wrapped around ham and cheese. Dessert is sour cherry tart. Of course, wine.

Then a scenic drive to a small village where two simultaneous activities are scheduled and the group is divided in half. We get a very thorough explanation or traditional balsamic vinegar and non-traditional balsamic vinegar while moving up narrow stairs in tower that at other times was a church and a prison.

The vinegar moves from larger different type of wood barrels to smaller until it is fully aged and ready to be sold

A sign that the tower used to be a church

The six of us switch sides across the plaza and we’re in the kitchen of our dinner spot, Locanda del Feudo, where the chef, Roberto, is going to demonstrate making tagliatelle.  His brother, Andrea, is in charge of the dining room and hotel and does the translating for Roberto who has limited English. THB has a lot of experience making pasta and bread, so asks a lot of questions (Roberto also makes the bread) and of course uses a slightly different technique for kneading.

It all ends up back in the pan

Everyone takes a turn kneading the pasta dough and most rolling it out before Roberto cuts some into a ribbon and makes the pasta of the night: peas and prosciutto with a hint of butter and cream over the tagliatelle. In the kitchen it tastes great (as well as at dinner).

Now for the non-culinary activity: a fleet of Ferraris are in the plaza and available for driving by any of our tour members. THB and DB are not interested in driving, instead we go for a 20 minute ride on the local two lane small-town roads with one of the drivers. He gets us up over 90 several times and then apparently over 120 once. How? Why? We’re not sure, maybe just to make sure we’re queasy for the next half hour. It sure didn’t make THB want to buy the car.  A number of others on the tour are thrilled, including several of the women. Who knew!

While the group is assembling for the test drives, THB and DB return to the balsamic vinegar shop. The idea behind traditional balsamic is you take it alone as a tonic or digestif. The non-traditional, especially if made mostly of grape must rather than wine vinegar, makes for a great salad dressing or veggie topping. We make purchases of each of the better versions of traditional and non-traditional types.

At the hotel, the entire group reconvenes for an excellent dinner, prepared by Roberto and his two helpers.

First the menu, then the pics

Terrific dessert, there's a chunk of choc cake hiding underneath

It’s been a long day, we get back to the hotel after 10:45 to find out that there are issues with the kitchen remodel electricity load and our panel’s capacity. ­Using skype we do a quick call to our contractor and agree on a plan of action.

And now for the gossip:

-      --   The group appears to be very conservative, the Canadians are Trump fans who think Obama has been weak and got nothing done and the Houstonians are Texans. Will THB and DB have to finesse our left coast bias? TBD

-     - -  The conversation at the opening dinner at THB’s end of the table was full of macho bravado: long slow stories involving midget porn, threesomes­­­­, slapping your buddy on the golf course, and other boorish bullshit, with the women (and THB) hardly saying a word. Fortunately, that had died down during full day one to just “how much does it cost” type comments and on full day two to just normal tour discussions: baseball, food, how pretty the scenery was, most people napping on the bus, women’s shoes, baseball, wine, kids (our kids are the oldest of the group, as are we; the others have pre-teens, teenagers and 20 somethings), baseball

-      --   We’re getting closer with the Canadians, learning more about their Italian roots and how close they are as a family (or not, as the case may be) and with their in-laws (also very close).

-         - At the end of full Day 1 there was a vote on whether or not to include a castle (it’s on the itinerary) and THB and DB are outvoted, some of the group voting to eliminate it and others not voting. On the morning of full Day 2 the castle stop had been re-instated (a good thing, for many reasons), with one of the tour guides overruling the other guide (who had posed the vote). That’s a good thing because THB was going to discuss with the guides that it was inappropriate to a) take a vote to eliminate stuff rather than let people opt out of some activities and b) letting jet lagged people vote to spend more time in the hotel…for obvious reasons. Final outcome much better with guides coming to their senses.


-  - Pre-dinner on full Day 2 half the group is delaying the ride 15 minutes to our catered meal in a close by castle in order to get (more) drinks at Opera02. Then, on the bus, they want to get more alcohol and that enlivened a discussion about sending Paulo, the driver, off to buy a long list of items (e.g., vodka, nectar, etc.) and finally the agreement among the drinkers (not the rest of us) that they will find something in the town were eating in.  Half our group goes up for bubbly and canapes, half stays somewhere in the town ordering drinks (and complaining later they picked the wrong bar). As best as THB can tell, they really set the meal back over an hour and the main course was inedible when it came, overcooked pork tenderloin smothered in balsamic sauce. Hmmmmm….

More gossip in a few days


  1. oh dear- these guys are just your cup of tea, eh? (yes, skipped to the bad news and gossip). Contractor problems? no way! i bet that will be fun to come home to. baseball is always a good subject changer!

    1. Well...the electric panel was always fraught with peril. Back in time to catch a game together!