Menu I

One of the challenges of ordering food in a foreign country is our preconceived ideas about what that food should like—in other words, when we order we are thinking of our American version of this food. Sometimes what you imagine agrees with what is put before you.

Green Salad. That’s it—ribbons of green lettuce that I doctor up with vinegar, oil, salt and a swoosh of the pepper grinder. Pretty straight forward except that I discovered that the olive oil is much milder tasting and not quite as heavy as ours. It also was a clear light amber, rather than the greener versions we have from our grocers. The vinegar is substantially stronger. So my first salad was like eating pickled greens. After that, I watched the server, noticing her proportions (lots of olive oil, one splash only of vinegar) and things went much smoother.

Our lake bass—all rolled up like a camp sleeping bag, decorated with orange rind and pink peppercorns, dressed in olive oil.

The table just over from us had a crowd and when the dessert came out for the woman’s 50th birthday, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. I wanted a slice, but settled for a bite of chocolate upstairs afterwards on our balcony, watching the sun set.

They set out a breakfast buffet in the dining room, and we ate it on table on the patio—overlooking the lake. I especially liked the fresh fruit salad and the fruit smoothie. This place is run by a family; the mother of Michelle and Filippo ran the kitchens and the smoothie was her creation.

A sign listing different shapes of pasta, found in a shop in Orta.


Gelato. I liked the funky little gelato cups for children.

Bread basket at Hotel/Ristorante Belvedere. The grissini, invented in Turin, were crisp and flavorful. Other places would give us pre-packaged grissini—more of what we get in the States.

This was branching out for us: fish pate. Three different kinds with different sauces, served with toast. Dave said “It was better than I’d feared.”

Then we had pasta: mine was homemade tagliatelli with shrimp, minced zucchini in a saffron sauce. Dave’s was the same noodle with a fish ragout.

The last night his conference had a dinner. The first course was “langostino in Catalan style, with tomato.”

The guests—all scientists at the conference, plus staff and two spouses (I’m one).


Second course: risotto with asparagus.

Third course: choice of strips of roast beef atop arugula (they call it rocket), or bass encased in potato. Usually Dave and I have a sort of contest of who has the winning entrée. Since I had the fish, I was the winner.


They were serving tiramasu, doused in amaretto for dessert. Since we’re non-drinkers, they brought us crème brulee with fruit.

We knew we had left Shangri-la on our first night away from Lake Maggiore. I ordered gnocchi. Dave asked how it was. I said Trader Joe’s was better. He had a calzone that was pretty good, and I love our blue bottle of water. We had always gotten tap water in Lake Maggiore, but when we asked for it here “Not potable,” was the answer. Yeah, right. Dave won this night.

The breakfast spread included rolls, sliced ham and cheese, croissants, pan au chocolate, yogurts, fruit juices, coffee, tea and chocolate milk powder to be added to cold milk at the cereal table.. We always think of Keagan when we see this, as she loves her “Bunny Milk.”

At the grocery store in the little town of Lezzeno, they sold panna cotta mix, and a whole host of potato chips.

Lunch that day was melon and prosciutto in Varenna, preceeded by “ensalata misto” – a salad with various vegetables adorning the greens. Not necessarily what we’re used to: I’ve seen corn, shredded carrots, tomatoes, curly lettuce (which is like trying to eat spaghetti).

Okay, I don’t know the name of this, but it’s a Bergamo specialty: like a type of ravioli with a cheese/mystery stuffing, slathered in butter and speck (hefty bacon). It was recommended to us. It was okay.

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