Viva Milano

Here we are, back in Milan for the third time within a year. It’s funny how familiar you can become with a place after only visiting a couple of times. We stayed in the same hotel for our first two visits. We’re in a different hotel just across the street this time only because of an availability problem with our first choice. We know where the grocery stores are in the neighborhood, we know how to buy tickets and ride the trams downtown to the Duomo, and we eat at the same restaurant just down the street nearly every night. You know what they say – if it ain’t broke…

I must admit, Milan did not make a good first impression on me. I found it loud, abrasive and dirty. However, after a few days, its charms began to grow on me. Like, the way everyone (especially older women) fuss over my son. The simple beauty of the food. The gorgeous stands in the street markets and the impeccably dressed men and women everywhere you look. Seriously, I can amuse myself by checking out women’s footwear while riding on the trams. Milan may be an industrial city, but it’s definitely not without style. I find myself considering more closely what I wear here. I know I’ll never pass for a native Milano, but hopefully I’m not immediately labeling myself an American tourist.

Because I am such a terrible traveler when it comes to flying, I never take the risk to eat aboard a plane. Just in case. The last thing I want to do, in addition to desperately trying to divert a panic attack, is to end up making a fool of myself by accidentally blowing chunks all over the person seated next to me. This means that once the wheels of an overnight flight to Europe finally touch down, I am famished. Today was no exception. We landed in Milan around 9 a.m., and I realized the last solid food I’d had was a bowl of cereal prior to our original departure from Indy nearly 18 hours earlier.

After we’d grabbed a cab to our hotel and ditched our bags, we were off in search of sustenance. I’m not sure what the basic Italian breakfast is; we’ve only ever partaken of the luxurious hotel buffet for our morning meals. This standard European-model continental spread consists of all manner of pastries, yogurt, fruit, cold cereals, breads, and a selection of cold cuts and cheeses. This morning, we weren’t checked in in time to enjoy, so breakfast ended up being coffee and croissants at a café around the corner. The croissant could have been better, but it must be said:  When it comes to coffee, Italians know their shit. The cappuccinos, lattes and espressos here blow away anything you’ll find at Starbucks or anywhere else in America.

After that, we hit up the grocery to restash our toddler snacks. I love wandering the aisles of the Italian grocery stores checking out the endless varieties of pasta, olive oils and what have you. Still hungry, I ended up eating a few of Michael’s rice cakes and cheese back in the hotel room. My usual lunch when we’ve been here consists of a mozzarella and tomato sandwich. Again, when you’ve found something you like so much, why not stick with it?

Along those lines, we are loyal devotees of Il Pavone, a small and very pink pizzeria/pasta joint about two blocks away on Viale Certosa. Hubby got hooked on this place during his first trip to Milan a couple of years ago, and the toddler and I have come to adopt it as well. The hostess, a very attractive woman named Maria of an indeterminate age, recognizes us now, and she loooooooves  Michael.

The menu is pretty vast, and full of Italian cuisine’s greatest hits like tortellini pomodoro, grilled steaks, seafood, bruschetta, and a whole array of thin-crusted, wood-fired pizzas. I’ve tried a number of items on the menu during our visits, and my favorite meal remains a big plate of the lightly dressed fusilli della casa with a sumptuous tomato/pesto/cream sauce alongside an insalata mista (mixed salad) or perhaps a plate of steamed spinach. The salad is a bowl of fresh greens, tomato slices, shredded carrot and red cabbage. You’re left to your own devices to dude it up with the olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper on every table. Same goes for the spinach, although I like to give it a liberal dusting of Parmesan cheese as well. With a quarter liter of the fizzy, citrusy house white wine for a ridiculously affordable two euros, it’s darn near the perfect dinner in my book.

We’re set to be here for three days before heading north on the train for France. The weather looks like it’s going to pour down rain the entire time we’re in Italy, but I’m determined not to let this curtail good eating. Buon appetito!

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