Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lunch at Lake Garda - eating in the wake of agent 007

“Shaken, not stirred”

And how! Sometimes the best way to explore Italy is to pretend that you're a spy, as in “I spy this” and “I spy that”. All kidding aside, we followed in the wake of 007 as he was seen in the movie Quantum of Solace. Remember the high-speed chase in the first few minutes of the film? That was shot at Lago di Garda, less than 80 miles east from the environs of Lago di Como/Lecco where I call home. Lake Garda (as I will refer to from now on) is a massive fresh water oasis in the easternmost part of the Lombardy region, but also partially belongs to the regions of Veneto and Trentino on the north and eastern shores. Dotted by old limonaie (lemon farms), lush olive groves, and gorgeous lakeside resorts, I knew that it would make the ideal setting for our weekend agenda.

Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda

This agenda involved making stops along the route where Bond's Aston Martin might have heated up the asphalt, as there is no way for him to end up at the marble quarries in Carrara (160+ miles south) without driving through some of the most loveliest towns this side of Italy. By following in his wake, we were able to slow the pace down, portraying Lake Garda and its postcard perfect villages in the best way I know how - through food and drink. A visit to Pasticceria Vassalli, a well-known pastry/chocolate shop in the town of Salò, was first on the list, as well as a mandatory stop at a notable cheese shop in Gavardo. These, however, would precede the ultimate target: lunch at Trattoria Agli Angeli in Gardone Riviera. The whole idea for this mission was to explore lakefish cuisine as the menu saw fit, putting ourselves at the mercy of whatever the fishermen caught that day. This post constitutes the actual food part of our Saturday outing, for I'm doing an entry on a tour of Lake Garda itself. Not wanting to drive the 80 miles just for a day, we decided to get a headstart on Friday in order to stake out the area, and booked ourselves into a discreet hotel. The following has been expedited in a top-secret dossier to blogspot headquarters.

Pasticceria Vassalli
Pasticceria Vassalli in the town of Salò

Dessert before lunch? It had to be, especially after stumbling across an interesting post by World Foodie Guide. I was only going to walk in there and buy a bagful of chocolates and walk right out, but what kind of fool would want to pass up tantalizing desserts? We still had a couple of hours until noon, so an order of a lighter-than-air ricotta cheesecake and an almond-studded cookie basket filled with fresh custard and fruit were set before us. They were both excellent on all counts - flavor, texture contrast between filling/crust, with the right amount of sweetness. But together with a glass of shakerato each, the whole sugar rush got to be a bit too much, and off we went to a Slow Food-recognized cheese shop nearby, with the intent to counter the sweet high with something aged and strongly-flavored.

Torta di ricotta
Cestino di frutta e crema Shakerato

Borders and language are no barriers where cheese is concerned, and this was clearly evident with the german license plates lined up next to Al Mercato Coperto dei Formaggi, a nondescript cheese store in Gavardo. The selection offered by the proprietors are primarily from Brescia's environs, with every square, round and wedge exuding the most mesmerizing of scents. We purchased a flavorful Stracchino di Bagolino (made from goat's milk), of which the proprietor suggested drizzling with olive oil from Lake Garda, and opted for a mild cow's milk cheese (for the life of me I can't remember the name). Both are great table cheese to be enjoyed with a good crusty loaf of bread and a glass of red wine.

Formaggi at Al Mercato in Gavardo
Display case at Al Mercato Coperto dei Formaggi (At the covered cheese market)
Stracchino di Bagolino
Stracchino di Bagolino
Formaggio d'alpeggio
Formaggio d'alpeggio

Trattoria Agli Angeli
Trattoria Agli Angeli

Finally, Trattoria Agli Angeli, a Slow Food-listed restaurant set in an intimate little square in Gardone Riviera. It must have been in the high 80's on Saturday, and with only a faint breeze occasionally wafting through, I'll admit that while everything was wonderful, the dessert (again!) at the end really hit the spot, but I'll get to that eventually. We immediately reviewed the fish secondi (second plates) and honed in on the coregone (common whitefish) done simpy over the grill, and panfried sarde, which was coated with breadcrumbs and served with herbed olive oil. Fish, from what I've experienced in Italy, is usually done without a lot of fussy ingredients and elaborate presentations. Together with the local cheeses, local wines and unique ambience, we've already got it in our heads to hop into our imaginary Aston Martin (no harm in pretending) and visit the lake again soon.

Polenta con salsa di peperone Breadsticks Lugana

An appetizer teaser compliments of the chef: local polenta with braised red bell pepper. Housemade breadsticks and olive rolls. A bottle of chilled Lugana.

Coregone alla griglia Serving coregone

Grilled coregone (common whitefish) being filleted and plated by our server.

Sarde pangrattato

Breaded and fried sarde topped with datterino tomatoes, served with polenta.

Cheese platter

Local cheeses served with nuts and fruit conserves.

Cantaloupe gelato Sambuco sorbetto Olive oil from Gargnano

Housemade cantaloupe gelato, sambuca sorbet topped with coffee-flavored whipped cream and ground coffee (this was SO unbelievably good!!!!), the local olive oil from Gargnano.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG, how are you NOT as big as a house? Everything you described sounded and looked so wonderful, I was especially taken with the Sambuca sorbetto, nummers!
I was thinking, how could I possibly emulate that in Seattle.

6:52 AM, July 27, 2009  
Blogger K and S said...

what a great foodie adventure!

8:14 AM, July 27, 2009  
Anonymous Lori said...

Congrats on being chosen for the 24, 24, 24! Everything looks so ono, especially that cheesecake! :)

8:37 AM, July 27, 2009  
Blogger Rowena... said...

Carlae - in a word, metabolism! I'm trying to find a recipe for the sorbetto right now, but using the liqueur itself, not flowers like what's called for in online recipes. I was never that crazy for sambuco but this...this was sublime with the coffee whipped cream on top!

Kat - wala'au! Ok I'm counting words does leave you rather speechless doesn't it? Heehee...

8:38 AM, July 27, 2009  
Blogger Rowena... said...

Lori - at first I regretted being selected, because I really didn't think I'd be chosen by a long shot. I was just so worried that I wouldn't be able to pull it all off. Putting this post together was the most difficult part!

8:41 AM, July 27, 2009  
Anonymous Midge said...

Oh, those cheeses - those cheeses! It's heartbreaking to think that we don't have such a magnificent variety of cheeses here.

10:44 AM, July 27, 2009  
Blogger Ann said...

OMG!! this sounds sooo Fantastic. I love that close-up dessert picture.. just mouth watering!!

4:56 PM, July 27, 2009  
Anonymous lisaiscooking said...

Beautiful setting and beautiful food! The cheesecake made my jaw drop. It's still dropped.

9:40 PM, July 27, 2009  
Anonymous foodhoe said...

looks like a true destination to feast the eyes as well as the mouth! I am running to get my pathetic dinner ready...

4:52 AM, July 28, 2009  
Anonymous foodhoe said...

sorry, was starved... congratulations on your 24,24,24 posting, that looks like a fantastic spot with such amazing cheeses and treats.

6:43 AM, July 28, 2009  
Blogger Rowena... said...

Midge - it's enough to baffle the mind I tell you. I've learned to simply not dwell on how much there are, but when will our current stash will be finished so that we can go out to buy more!

Ann - everything at Pastecceria Vassalli was like eye candy, but it was the service (our server was in a suit!) that made the whole experience refined.

Lisa - I hear you...if we didn't have to make that lunch date, I'd have been happy scuttling between Vassalli's and the cheese shop.

Foodhoe - thank you! I checked out the other participants and the spreads are all fantastic. You're still the queen when it comes to finding the unique stuff...I'm still thinking about that comment you made on the beef tendons with ultra spicy chili oil. I want that!

8:05 AM, July 28, 2009  
Anonymous Marnie said...

I'm not a fan of fish, but the energy in which you went about tasting everything! I've never seen you, but reading Carla's comment, you don't seem the type to be big as a house. :-)

2:39 PM, July 29, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mild cow's milk cheese, you can't remember the name is Bagòss.

11:20 AM, July 30, 2009  
Blogger Rowena... said...

Marnie - I'm sure the fish in Lake Garda will thank you for that! In all seriousness though, I was really hoping to come across a few of the lakefish that are listed at Wikipedia. Either it was the wrong season or the fishin' wasn't so good that day.

Anonymous - nope. It wasn't a bagoss because we already tried that last time (we always strive to try something new on these outings). As an aside, the bagoss at that shop was really good, I would go so far as to say spettacolo! but maybe next time. And a little FYI: check this post for Bagolino's Carnevale. A lot of cultural fun and bagoss shops everywhere!

12:18 PM, July 30, 2009  
Anonymous Diana said...

What a fabulous journey! I'm drooling over the cheeses and have decided even if I don't have any amazing cheese, I'm going to bake some bread today. Putting the post together on time after your grand adventure is the hardest part isn't it?

1:24 AM, August 02, 2009  
Blogger Rowena... said...

Diana - putting the post together gives me a headache. I always try to have a general idea of what I want to write in a post, but when it comes to the day and you experience all these extra's just difficult to squeeze a grand event into something that won't scroll more than a couple pages. Next time I'm doing only video!

9:44 AM, August 04, 2009  
Anonymous Cellartours said...

I love Agli Angeli! It is close to my granny's home and I go there quite often! :)

4:08 PM, August 16, 2009  
Anonymous Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

What incredibly beautiful photos! Now I want to go back. Thank you for linking to my post by the way, very flattered.

11:21 PM, August 20, 2009  
Blogger Rowena... said...

Helen - and a big thanks for sharing your views on Vassalli. I always appreciate backup testimony (wish there had been more!) on these food discoveries.

2:06 PM, August 25, 2009  
Anonymous manju said...

Incredible post! I could almost smell the breezes. Really stoked the formaggi envy, though!

8:42 AM, October 25, 2009  

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