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Il Cerro, Covigliaio - Firenzuola, Italy, tasted on March 21, 2004 Back to Italy. On this particular day we found ourselves driving on a long windy road from Florence to Bologna. Florence was great, but we were intent on spending the bulk of our time in Italy in Emilia Romagna - source of parmesan cheese, parma ham, and authentic balsamic vinegar. Not many regions can claim so many iconic and delicious contributions to the world of food. Bologna is the biggest city in the region and it was going to be our home base while we scoured every inch of the countryside for ham, cheese, and vinegar, saving small amounts of room for pasta and various other yummy Italian dishes. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Our drive to Bologna was long, and we were... no surprise... hungry.

When we couldn't wait any longer we pulled off the road and found the cute Il Cigno hotel with its own restaurant - il Cerro. We'd stoppped at a roadside bar/restaurant but the smoke was so thick we just couldn't stay. Luckily il Cerro was a little further down the road. It was 3pm on a Sunday and the place was positively empty. But they graciously agreed to feed us. It was very nice of them. Given that they were working late, we didn't judge them too harshly for the bad 80's music pouring out of the kitchen. Even though the hotel seemed pretty relaxed, and the decor of the restaurant was a bit rustic, the meal was definitely towards the high end of the spectrum - especially in terms of the service. When we were served wine, the waiter would "wash" all the glasses with wine... 'priming the glass" according to alex.

Our late lunch started off with Fagiolini with Bacon and Cheese. Basically a pastry shell, all golden with sesame seeds is filled with ham and a cheesy filling that was tart with warm beans all mushed up as well. The beans were light but provided a foundation of texture and flavor. This was quickly followed by an enormous plate filled with cold meats and marinated vegetables. The marinated artichoke was simply amazing. It was delicate, starting soft, but getting stronger over time. Citrus showed up halfway through, and the flavor held up surprisingly well to the strong meats. The oiliness was comforting. The strip of pork fat on the plate got a little too warm to be enjoyable.

Next up was a series of crostini. There were some good individual moments: the garlic on mushroom, the melty cheese, and the unbelievably tangy and exciting tasting tomato. Peyman pointed out that the bread did get a bit soggy given how oil drenched everything was. The Tagliatelle with Ham and Leek was delicious. I love pasta and this was no exception. It was a bit peppery on the finish. The pasta spirals with tomato sauce that followed were not quite as good. They had a great spicy kick, but were a touch too herby, and the pasta was slightly undercooked.

We were getting pretty full but soon a platter of San Carlo Dixi, Cornetti di Mais, al Formaggio arrived. The rice very good. The savory tomato meat flavored sauce was rich and hearty. But the penne that followed was even more undercooked than the spirals. It was inedible. Finally we had a platter with vegetables, cheese, lardetto, and mushrooms. Unfortunately it was kind of greasy. The fresh vegetables were great but overall tough to eat.

Two factors conspired to make this not a particularly great meal (tagliatelle aside). Firstly, there seemed to be an overuse of oil on the part of the kitchen. I love olive oil as much as almost anyone. But it seemed overly generous to me. The other issue was that many people in Italy had a hard time understanding our style of ordering. We go for breadth, not depth. Our ordering is designed to let us sample small amounts of as many dishes as possible. The waiter brought out such enormous communal dishes of each item we ordered that by the end we were begging for mercy. I suppose if the food had been more consistent, maybe we wouldn't have minded the enormous portions quite as much.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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