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Trattoria del Tribunale, Parma, Italy, tasted on March 24, 2004 — Walking through the streets of Parma at night we really didn't know where to go for dinner. We stopped in a wine bar but the smoke was so thick we thought we were going to choke. It's so funny to me how a country that's so enlightened about incredible flavorful food, can so aggressively kill their ability to taste any of it by smoking like chimneys. Weird. Anyway, eventually we happened upon a small entry to Trattoria del Tribunale. What we thought was a small restaurant ended up being incredible deep, and having a surprise second floor with multiple dining rooms. Each entry way was an arch made of bricks leading to rooms with exposed rafters and beams.

We sat at our long table and started off with a plate of bread and crackers. We knew better than to expect magic at this point in the meal. And while the rolls were dry and floury, the slightly puffy crackers were very crispy and surprisingly good. "Hey, what's that? Salt? Nice to see you." From our previous experiences you would think that putting salt in your baked goods was against the law.

First up was a salad. This was not just any salad. The Insalata Rustica in Agrodolce was some traditional vegetables lace with warm sautéed ham and onions. This was shockingly good! I loved the warm/cold combination/contrast as well as the (now) salty oily yummy and crispy vegetables. One of the dishes I was most surprised to see in Italy was Anolini in Brodo - dumplings in broth, typically a rich and delicious chicken soup. The consomme had a strong salty (in a good way) flavor and was protecting a large flotilla of squat cheese-filled dumplings

Just after we finished our soup a plate of buttery cheesy fluffy dumplings came by - Tortelli di Erbetta. Yummy. I really enjoyed the Tagliolini al Culatello. This pasta was beautiful to look at and had a range of salty, savory, and bright flavors that I credit mostly to the generosity of the ham chunks throughout the dish. It ended up a touch greasy and I didn't care one bit. Super good.

Next up was Picollo Gnocchi di Patate con Melanzane. These were really nice and firm gnocchi - small gnocchi coated with a velvety cheese sauce studded with chunks of eggplant. We also had a bowl of squash soup. My notes said the waiter said the soup came with Orzo, but it tasted like barley to me. Either way the soup was a good solid effort with only slight sweet undertones. In the interest of full disclosure, a lighter touch with sweeter flavors really is the right balance for my particular palate. And this dish struck a great balance in my opinion.

Super soft veal cheek in tomato sauce - Guancialetti di Vitello alla Diavola - had a slight kick. The meat was falling apart it was so soft and good. At first I thought the veal steak - Nodino di Vitello alla Griglia con Patate - was slightly dry and a touch boring. But right after I'd made my judgment the waiter returned with some olive oil to be distributed liberally over my veal. It made a big difference. It's amazing how one key ingredient can have such an effect on the flavor and texture of the dish. It was neither dry, not boring. But now it was quite delicious, savory, and juicy. Three points for olive oil.

We had two other steaks - Tagliata di Manzo all'Aceto Balsamico which had good texture and decent flavor though it was a touch oily; and Filetto di Manzo alla Griglia which held its own. We also ordered the Involtino di Melanzane Asparagi e Formaggio. This combination of cheese, eggplant, asparagus and other good stuff had a good meaty flavor. But it was served at a psychotically hot temperature making it inedible for a few minutes until it cooled down. We didn't mind munching on the Patate al Forno on the side while it cooled. The potatoes were sweet a tthe start, with soft insides, and excellent crispy outsides.

What better way to wrap up our meal than with some Parmigiano di Collina made by Gennaio Giugno in 2000. The crunchy chunks of cheese almost sparkled. There was also a tiny bitter undertone on the finish.

We were only in Emilia Romagna for a handful of days, but after eating at this simple and delicious restaurant - Trattoria del Tribunale - that we basically wandered into randomly, I couldn't help but wonder how many other restaurants there were in this region that were just as good, but I wouldn't have time to find. I'm thankful that at least I got to eat at this one.











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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