Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Turin, Italy - the Olympics of Eating?

After 3 days I was dying to get out of England, only because I've never had my allergies act up so badly and it was making me unbelievably miserable. We arrived in Turin in the northwest corner of Italy for the next leg of our vacation where it was sunny, warmer, and my allergies calmed down. However, we landed on a Sunday afternoon and as is the norm for Italy, almost all restaurants are closed on Sunday nights. Not a big deal ordinarily if we were in an apartment where we could cook, but we weren't, I was hungry and it's a time when I really miss the conveniences of the US.

Luckily, in addition for being known as the host city for the 2006 winter olympics, Turin seems to be well known for its gelato, and there was no shortage of gelato shops open late on a Sunday afternoon. So it ended up being that our first meal in Turin consisted of gelato from Grom, which is the gelateria with the most expensive gelato in NYC. We tried salted caramel and I think nutella, 
which were both tasty but we think we had better gelato in Rome. Since gelato wasn't going to suffice for a meal and my appetite had come back, we ended up eating at our hotel restaurant since there really wasn't any other options. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food here too, where the asparagus with poached eggs and black truffle was fresh and flavorful, while the tomatoes with the creamy burrata needed a bit more time to reach its peak.

We only had a day in Turin at the start of the Italian leg of trip, and we were staying right in the heart of the historic center, so we made the most of it by walking everywhere. Their piazzas are beautiful:

A good part of the day was taken up by a visit to the original Eataly in Turin. We've been to the NYC outpost, which was an adventure in itself, so we were eager to see the original store. 

NYC Eataly

Turin Eataly
Not surprisingly, the Turin location is far bigger than the one in NYC, consisting of a little bookstore, multiple dining options, and the basement devoted to alcohol, both wine and beer. We didn't eat any of the food options in the NYC branch, as the waits were inordinately long due to very limited seating. At least in Turin, we arrived before the lunchtime crush so we were able to leisurely tour the store to get our bearings before we decided on where to eat. 

We started off in the seafood section, which consisted of a long bar with seating facing the cooks. It was surprisingly pleasant since we were in the seafood section of the store, but at least our backs were to the raw fish area, not that staring at whole raw fish bothers us, and it didn't smell fishy at all. I had a surprisingly tasty calamari salad - my surprise came from the fact that squid was only boiled, which can be pretty bland, but it was paired with fresh mesculun greens, perfectly ripe tomatoes, lots of olives, and a tasty dressing that included an aged balsamic vinegar. The husband ordered a type of bouillabaisse but thicker, almost like a tomato based stew and only containing baby octopus (octopi?). It was an extremely elegant, civilized lunch, particularly since we were in a grocery store, complete with a glass of wine each.

While this might have been enough of a meal for most people, we were just getting started. By this point it was peak lunch hour and we had to wait to get seats at the pizza and pasta bar, which gave us a little time to digest the first part of our lunch. We shared a Marguerita pizza with buffalo mozzarella, which was good but still doesn't compare to the one we ate in Rome last fall. Of course we had to have another glass of wine to accompany this part f the meal, so for those of you keeping track, we're at 2 glasses of wine each and it's not even 2 in the afternoon yet. We finished off the meal with gelato and coffee. 

All in all, we spent over 2 hours in the store and in addition to what we ate, we left with 8 different types of honey, most of which we'd never seen before and the same bottle of balsamic vinegar that was used in my salad:

One balsamic vinegar and 8 different types of honey

We came back to Turin for a morning after our stay in the Italian countryside, with the sole purpose of finding a particular chocolate shop. Turin is known for their chocolates, even hosting a two week chocolate festival (we missed that). The store we were searching for was Guido Gobino, which had been  reviewed a few years back by Serious Eats. Since the article was written by Mario Batali's pastry chef at Babbo, I imagine the author knows what she's talking about. The chocolates were fantastic - many types made it back to the States with us and we've been eating various goodies for over two weeks now. I'm not sure it's available stateside, so it's a good thing we can make do with the mass-produced Venchi chocolate at Formaggio the next time we have an Italian chocolate craving! Now if only we could find decent gelato in the Boston area and not the crap the locals call gelato...

Guido Gobino

A giant chocolate bar - hack off as much as you want and pay by weight


sarah said...

Your pictures of the piazzas are beautiful. What will you do with eight types of honey? They must be something special. :)

aileen @ pharmafoodie said...

Thanks! Surprisingly most of those were taken with our iPhones - never leave for vacation without first checking whether the camera battery is fully charged! So far we're just eating the honey on toast with a little butter. It's amazing the difference in flavour amongst the different flowers.

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