We arrived in Italy safely, but tired, with one small victory under our belt: all our luggage, including our ingredients and equipment had arrived! With some effort we made our way into Milan, although the last 5km took nearly an hour an half of back tracking, honking and a few choice words to get us to our hotel.
It was raining quite hard and we were tired, so we asked for a local restaurant recommendation that we could walk to quickly; we were sent to what they said was a great local restaurant, if not one of the best in Milan, and they might have been right.
Our first night in Italy and our dinner was outstanding. A cold plate of various salumi (prepared meats such as prosciutto and coppa) was my first course, then Keith and shared and exceptional risotto, better than any risotto I have ever eaten. It was a basil and brie risotto, done to a perfect al dente. This was an incredible treat.
However, the highlight of the evening just might have been my grappa experience. Grappa is grape based brandy, loved throughout Italy as a digestivo, or after dinner drink. I think I had grappa many years ago but did not have it in me to truly appreciate. So, with considerably more maturity in my palate and my soul, I ordered a very nice, if not slightly expensive, glass a grappa to celebrate and finish this incredible evening; I must admit that it took everything I had to appreciate the grappa.
The beautiful golden Sangiovese grappa had the nose of paint stripper and the very viscous 80 proof drink was difficult to sip; however, in very small sips, I could taste the very rich taste of sweet raisin grapes. With each sip the grappa burned my eyes and I tried to find the enjoyment in the experience; I started to think this was similar to learning to appreciate scotch, but realized the education process for scotch was a far more enjoyable experience in Edinburgh.
After a very appropriate length of time of casually enjoying my grappa (and I will admit that I did begin to slowly appreciate my grappa while Keith, who had passed on the grappa experience, took great pleasure in my education) I decided to discretely dispose of my grappa into the decanter left on our table, where a small amount of wine and sediment would hide my indiscretion. I executed the maneuver perfectly, with no one witnessing what I am sure would have been a capital offence if caught.
The waiter returned to our table to ask in his very broken english, “how was grappa.” I politely told him it was “very nice, thank you.” He grinned and with one finger held up in front of me, asking for my patience, he returned with the bottled of grappa; against my insistence, that any more of this tremendous grappa would be far too generous, he kindly poured me a double, and with a very big smile explained that this one was on the house.
I sat back and enjoyed my very good fortune; sitting in Milan, poised to compete in what will be one of the most exciting events of our lives, and realized that it did not matter whether it was grappa or the experience, but that I would forever appreciate grappa in a new way.