Adeus, Lisboa and thanks for the memories!

And then this happened...

And then this happened…

I’d love to go on and on about the many great things I ate in Portugal almost as much as I’d love to go on and on actually IN Portugal, but alas, like my trip itself did, the lovefest has to end. But don’t you worry, sweet reader o’ mine, I’ve saved the best for last!

And by best, I mean most likely to possibly freak you out. Bear with me.

My last full day in Lisbon was spent with my old high school friend who lives there (the lucky bastard, him and his EU citizenship) strolling around town, stopping at museums, bars, markets, shops, and miradouros (viewpoints from which to take in the city’s many gorgeous vistas) basically squeezing every ounce of goodness out of life that day. It was a pretty phenomenal day at that, and you know I wouldn’t say that if it hadn’t included some good grubbing too.

For my last proper meal in Lisbon (not counting the pasteis I wolfed down en route to/and at the airport the next morning) I wanted one thing: caracois. Uh, huh. Snails. I’d heard about them and seen signs advertising them outside of restaurants so I figured, hey, when in Rome…

We walked up to As Zebras Do Combro, a small, homey restaurant with azuleijo covered walls and a sassy, Portuguese only speaking waitress who confirmed they had snails, among other traditional and regional Portuguese eats.  With stomachs growling (ok, possibly just mine) we ordered a plate of snails, linguica, grilled sardines (another thing I wanted to eat before leaving the country) and a cold bottle of white wine.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

Ok, so let’s get right down to it: the snails. I posted a picture on Instagram (AngieDupinthelimousine if you don’t already follow me) and one vegan friend commented with a broken heart emoji. I texted the same picture to my sister, who immediately wrote back (5 hour time difference be damned): “HELL, NO.” So, I get it, people on this side of the pond aren’t crazy about the slimy little suckers as food. But over in Lisbon, they’re a local favorite, so I wanted them. Was I necessarily in love with them after? Well, no, but I didn’t think they were bad either. After poking them with a toothpick and dragging each one out of its shell, the tiny snails were kind of gummy, and didn’t really taste like a whole lot besides the butter and olive oil they were cooked in. Not as meaty or flavorful as escargot I’ve had prepared the French way, these were just ok. Not bad, but ok.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Now the linguica, a Portuguese chorizo that won’t be winning any points for its good looks, was deeeeelicious. Smokey and garlicky with a slightly crispy outside and a juicy, spicy inside, this sausage ranks as some of the best I’ve ever had. Again, not much to look at but damn good to eat, a true lesson in the importance of focusing on more than just looks.

It wouldn't be Portugal without sardines.

It wouldn’t be Portugal without sardines.

Last were the grilled sardines, probably the most Portuguese of foods since sardines are everywhere and on everything from a billion different beautifully packaged cans to keychains to magnets to t-shirts. I was most interested in getting them on my plate, however. Grilled whole with just a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, these little fish were the perfect example of less is more. They were simple and tasty, the plump, soft meat inside worth the work of pulling the thin bones away.

Having done everything I wanted to do and eaten everything I wanted to eat, I left Portugal with both a full stomach and heart. Until we meet again, lovely Portugal, obrigada and adeus! (But you can keep the snails…)

Brunching alla Swiss

With cheese and chocolate as some of its most recognizable foods (albeit, each one a broad umbrella group), it should come as no surprise that Switzerland would hold a special place in my heart/stomach. Of the different coutnries I’ve been to, it’s always been one of my favorites.  Lots of natural beauty (nothing like a mountain to blow a Florida girl’s mind), awesome cows (yea, I know, random, but they really were the prettiest cows ever) and again, the food.

So when my friend Holly, who was recently visiting from out of town, suggested a Swiss brasserie in Chelsea that her boyfriend recommended from having been there before, I was all for it. (And sidenote, friends that make food recommendations you can count on being good? Golden!)

I liked Trestle on Tenth pretty much from the get-go. Outside, the weather was rainy, cold and crappy, but inside the restaurant was cozy and warm, and when Holly mentioned that the sticky buns were specifically recommended via the BF who wasn’t there with us, I knew it didn’t matter what was going on outside because I was about to be exactly where I needed to be: in front of great food, with great company.

It might be a scientific fact  that sticky buns improve rainy days

First to come out were the aforementioned sticky buns. They’re not usually one of my favorite baked goods because the sticky factor kind of bothers me, but these weren’t too messy or over-the-top sweet. Fat and doughy, these buns mostly kept the sticky part on the inside, with a dark, molasses-like interior  swirl and a drizzle of icing on top.

The Bure Rösti looks unassuming from the outside, but don’t let it fool you…

BAM! Deliciousness inside!

One of the things I went crazy for when in Switzerland was rösti, a traditional breakfast dish basically comprised of grated hash browns topped with other breakfasty things like eggs, sausage or bacon, so when I saw Bure Rösti on the menu, it was a no brainer.  In the past, rosti had always been sort of just a heap of goodness on my plate, a pile up of different breakfasts classics, but the rosti at Trestle was neat and composed. When it first came out, it was perfectly circular with the fried eggs hiding everything neatly underneath, but when I gently lifted the eggs (so as to not burst the yolk, duh), there was delicious mess of sausage and gooey, melted cheese, all on a bed of bacon-onion potato hash (aka rosti).

Pizokel… Swiss for cheesey mountain of awesomeness

Finally, Holly and I split a plate of the gratinéed pizokel, which also came highly recommended. If you’re wondering what pizokel is, you should know that I had no idea what it was either, but I was sold when I read that it had caramelized onions and gruyère. What more did I really need to know? It turned out to be just as good as I had hoped, with pizokel being doughy, wormy shaped dumpling-like twists, all under a thick blanket of thick, golden gruyere and sweet caramelized onions. After everything else we’d eaten, the pizokel were too much for us and I ended up eating just a couple of bites and taking the rest home. But even hours later, when I ate it cold and straight out of the take out box it was in, the pizokel were delicious.

The whole thing made me want to book a ticket to Switzerland, where I could sit in a cozy Swiss chalet eating my weight in cheese, chocolate and rosti… until I resembled one of those big, beautiful cows of theirs.

Trestle on Tenth on Urbanspoon

The best pizza on this side of the pond

Take note, all you nasty pizzas out there, THIS is what you should look like.

After saying arrivederci to my friends and boyfriend, the hardest thing about leaving Italy was parting ways with the food. Goodbye chicken liver crostini. So long burrata. See you later frittelle di riso. Until we meet again, dear friends.

Well, at least going to New York I’ll have good pizza, I reassured myself. Pizza is universal but New York’s is supposed to be great, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

To say that I was disappointed the first time I encountered this so-called “great pizza” would be putting it nicely. My roommate took me to a pizzeria around the corner from our Murray Hill apartment and while it smelled mildly enticing from outside, the second I walked in I knew it would never work out between us.

Glass countertop cases were filled with pizzas: flimsy, sad ones, covered in beige layers of cheese, and crumbly looking bits of sausage, and red pepperoni slices whose orange grease bled through the off-white cheese in unappetizing swirls of nastiness.

Ohmygod. Is that a heat lamp? How long has this depressing specimen of a pizza been sitting here? Is it too late to make a run for the door?

It was only my first or second week in the city, so I cut it a break and wrote off the bad experience as just that: one bad experience at one of a million pizza places in New York. It’s not like every single pizza made in Italy was perfect either.

Time passed and I had slices at other places, in other neighborhoods, with other toppings, and still nothing. If I passed a pizza parlor, I looked in the window and quickly inspected their product. Always the same sad pizzas, sitting under heat lamps like iguanas at the pet shop.

Some places weren’t horrible. They were just ok. But it was only the beer that went with them that got them even that far. Numbing my senses and probably my tastebuds, the beer helped me forget.

I was sad. Losing pizza made me nostalgic and whiney. I didn’t want to be a pizza snob but how could I not be? Il Pizzaiuolo, my favorite in Florence, had been directly below my apartment. Caffé Italiano, just down the street, had made heart-shaped pizzas when I went with girlfriends. Gusta Pizza, across the river, had been a regular gathering place for friends. Each offered pizzas from dough that had been kneaded right there in front of me, with bright white chunks of fresh mozzarella and other delicious ingredients, all before being slid into a giant wood-fired brick oven. Not a heat lamp in sight.

But I wasn’t giving up that easily.

Good pizza has to be around here somewhere! New York is crawling with Italians, real Italian-speaking, born-in-Italy Italians. I hear them everywhere I go and can pick them out in crowds. I doubt they’re settling for this cheapy, iguana pizza, so where are they eating, dammit??

I polled friends and coworkers, pored over blogs and reviews, scrutinized menus and inspected photos. And then I found it.

Motorino, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria in the East Village. Their menu had just a few pizzas, featuring classic ingredients like buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil, and even toppings reminiscent of my Italy days like soppressata and scamorza.

This was going to be good. I could feel it in my bones.

Flaneur and I showed up late on a Friday night and the small restaurant was packed. After a 30-minute wait, we were squeezed into a small table for two. I scanned the room and besides amazing looking pizza remains on people’s plates, I saw another sign that put me at ease: a table of Italians, chatting away and lounging around at the table where they had probably finished eating some two hours earlier. These were real Italians.

We ordered and thankfully not long after, our pizzas arrived.

Flaneur, ever the traditionalist Italian, ordered a margherita, which of course I tried. It was perfect, like it had somehow magically been teleported from a pizzeria in Napoli somewhere. Bright red tomato sauce, creamy white splotches of mozzarella and bright green basil leaves. And it wasn’t just good looking. This pizza was the real deal. It. Was. Awesome. Soft, doughy crust. Not too thick, not to thin. None of that weird, even coating of artificial cheese. No orange, acidic tomato gunk. Just simple, delicious perfection.

Oh pizza, how I missed you so.

I, on the other hand, ordered the cremini and spicy sausage pizza. Same soft, wonderful crust as the margherita but topped with scamorza (a Southern Italian cheese similar to mozzarella) AND pecorino, cremini (small, brown mushrooms), spicy little chunks of sausage, and swirls of olive oil (the good stuff), with just a few black olives, some garlic, and a bit of thyme.

After just the first bite, Motorino and its pizzas quickly won a place on my hands-down-all-time-favorite-insanely-delicious-pizzerias list. Anyone watching me wolf down that pizza might have thought I was having some sort of religious experience.

At the end of the night, as I walked home with my New York-transplanted Italian boyfriend and a belly full of authentic Italian pizza, I thought, ah, now this is la dolce vita. Thanks for pulling through, New York.