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Posts Tagged ‘Palmanova’

GradoAs scorching as the weather had been the past few days, it was growing hotter and hotter still. RAI news was reporting a heat wave throughout much of Europe, with some of the worst areas being in Italy. It was a combination of the stifling heat and my seemingly never-ending jet lag that kept me awake until the early morning hours. After only a few restless hours of sleep, I awoke just before my alarm was set to go off. I took a cool shower, ate a hasty breakfast of yogurt, orange juice, and a banana, and departed for Udine’s autostazione (bus terminal), which was located practically next door to Hotel Principe.

I was headed for Grado, a former fishing village and now a popular beach resort. The bus was filled to capacity with locals, everyone off to spend a Sunday at the beach. The ride took about an hour, passing through vineyards and fields of corn and sunflowers, as well as the towns Palmanova and Aquileia.

GradoAs I expected, Grado’s beaches were packed. A rainbow of umbrellas dotted the longest sandy strip, while wooden piers extended far out into the sapphire blue sea. Along the numerous rocky areas that lined the island, families spread out their beach towels for sunbathing, the water beyond filled with bronze-skinned children splashing and bobbing in the calm waves. I wished desperately that I could have gone swimming myself, but not only did I not bring a swimsuit but I was always paranoid about leaving my valuables unattended on the shore. This was one of the downsides I often encountered traveling alone.

GradoI consoled myself with a reminder that I was not on vacation but had a very specific purpose. My goal in Grado was to find another restaurant in which to try the town’s signature dish, boreto alla Gradese. I even had a particular restaurant in mind, one that was listed in a brochure of the region’s top 20 restaurants: Tavernetta All’Androna. But despite my typical over-preparedness, I had forgotten to put the address in my backpack. I wandered through the narrow, winding alleys of the town’s centro storico, searching up and down every single street, but simply couldn’t find it. I had finally resigned myself to choosing someplace else, when I suddenly, unexpectedly stumbled upon All’Androna.

For three generations, the Tarlao family has run All’Androna, serving local seafood in an elegant dining room with dark wooden banquettes and white linens. The prices were fairly high, so I ordered only one dish, the boreto alla Gradese. A selection of fish steaks—today they served orata (sea bream), anguilla (eel), and asià (dogfish)—was cooked with garlic and vinegar, the sauce reduced to a thick broth, and served with two slices of grilled white polenta. The orata was bony, but the eel was especially moist and flavorful.

When traveling, I mainly spoke Italian, even though it was often apparent that English was my native language. It must have been obvious to the waiter at All’Androna, because he spoke only in English to me. My engagement ring must not have been as obvious, however, since he flirted with me the entire time, elaborating on how I had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.

PalmanovaAfter lunch, I caught my return bus, deciding to make a brief stop on the way back in Palmanova. The town’s unusual layout may be best appreciated in aerial photos: originally a military fortress, it is bordered by a massive stone wall and moat in the shape of a nine-pointed star. In the central, hexagonal Piazza Grande, palm trees allude to the town’s name. From there, streets branch out like spokes on a wheel, while other streets surround the piazza in concentric rings. Houses—plain and square, some colorful but most brown and beige—resemble barracks and add to the town’s military character.

As it was mid-afternoon, the streets were deserted, save for a swarm of flies that seemed to follow me everywhere I went. The pavement was dry and dusty, the air oppressive from the sweltering heat. I longed for shade but was determined to see as much of the town as possible before the next bus arrived.

PalmanovaPalmanova is home to a military museum, but of course it was closed like everything else at that time of day. I was hoping to pay a visit, not so much to see the museum itself but to have access to the fortress walls, where there was a path that encircled the entire town. At the entrance to the museum, there was a locked gate that led to the walls beyond. Inspecting it a little closer, I found a small gap next to the fence. Glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching, I sneaked through the opening and crept up the steep slope to a lookout area that was presumably on museum property. I walked a short ways along the path, but the view out over the flat countryside was uninspiring. I didn’t dare trespass too far, so before long I snuck back down the hill and out onto the street again, just in time before I saw a group of official-looking men turn the corner in my direction.

Back in Udine, I tried unsuccessfully to stay awake. This was always my most difficult time of day, when I was exhausted from a full day of exploring, and all I wanted to do was to crawl into bed and go to sleep. But after a brief yet refreshing nap, I was ready to head out for dinner. I was armed with my list of restaurants I hadn’t yet tried, but the first one I passed was closed, as was my second choice. And my third. And fourth. As much as I loved Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo, I didn’t want to eat there every night—so I settled on a place I’d been to only a couple of times before: Osteria Alla Ghiacciaia. The restaurant is situated on a canal, with an outdoor seating area shaded by willow trees. Just like the previous evening, however, I chose to sit indoors. There would be air conditioning, fewer mosquitoes, and no smoke to contend with. (Italy had passed an anti-smoking law earlier that year, which made my dining experiences infinitely more pleasurable. There was, unfortunately for me, no law prohibiting smoking at outdoor tables.)

Of course, the downside to sitting alone indoors was that I might easily be forgotten. It should have been a signal when no one noticed me waiting to be seated; after several minutes of being ignored, I approached the counter and asked if I could have a table. It took another ten minutes to be handed a menu, then another ten minutes for the waitress to take my order. I was surprised when my meal arrived quickly: a plate of frico con polenta and a mixed salad. The frico was a thin pancake of potato and cheese, crispy on the outside and soft like mashed potatoes on the inside. Though it needed a little salt, I liked the sweetness from the addition of caramelized onions. The polenta was grilled, which I much prefer over the standard mush. (Creamy polenta can be delicious when fresh—steaming hot, comfortingly soft, sweet with corn flavor—but it congeals when cool, and this is how many restaurants serve it.)

After dinner, I took a long, circuitous stroll back to Hotel Principe. If it weren’t for the dark, indigo sky and closed storefronts, I might have thought it was daytime. The streets were overflowing with people—groups of teenagers laughing and shouting, elderly couples walking arm-in-arm, even parents with children whose bedtime it was long past—all out enjoying the relative coolness of the night air. I wondered how many of them had spent the day at the beach—even Grado perhaps.

boreto alla gradeseHere is my recipe for boreto alla Gradese, adapted from the one at Tavernetta All’Androna. The fish is traditionally served with white polenta.

2 pounds assorted fish steaks (such as eel, turbot, bass, or monkfish), cut 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed
1/2 cup fish stock or clam juice
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Sprinkle the fish steaks with salt and black pepper.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves; cook until golden brown, about 5–6 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Place the fish steaks in the skillet; cook until golden brown, about 4–5 minutes on each side. Add the fish stock and vinegar; cook until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, about 8–12 minutes longer. Divide the fish steaks among serving plates.

3. Increase heat to medium-high; cook the sauce until thick and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the fish steaks; sprinkle liberally with freshly ground black pepper.

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