Italy, restaurant reviews, road trips, wine

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part ten

We want some wine!!!

Friday morning, after breakfast, we made our way back to the center of Florence with no specific plans for the day. We were scheduled to meet Tom, our guide, at 6:30pm at Santa Croce plaza. From there, we would go to a restaurant owned by friends of his and taste our first of many wines. Then, we’d have that Bistecca alla Fiorentina we’d been seeing for the past couple of days. But what to do for the rest of the day? Well, we did what we always seem to do when we travel, especially during a pandemic. We wandered around, people watched, and ate. Below are some more photos from Friday.

Near the Ponte Vecchio, we were in a narrow alleyway, where we were greeted by a “friendly” Italian man who saw us looking at menus and told us his place was opening in twenty minutes. I was more open to taking him up on his welcome than Bill was. Bill was put off by the guy for some reason. I guess he doesn’t like being approached. Neither do I, but I’m somewhat less reluctant than he is.

Unfortunately, after that encounter with the local, it took us awhile to settle on a lunch venue. We wandered around several places and considered dining at one place, only to change our minds when we saw a woman send back an obviously underdone pizza (horrors!). There was an Irish pub that looked inviting, with its many fried options… Sadly, I am a big fan of fried food.

We did eventually find a really great local restaurant for lunch, Osteria Cipolla Rossa (red onion). And we found it just as I was about to give in to the pull of the tourist traps! We got to Osteria Cipolla Rossa at just the right time. There weren’t many people in the place when we arrived. But, by the time we ordered our food, the restaurant filled up with many locals. Bill had a wonderful vegetarian dish of homemade fettuccine with crushed pistachio nuts, mint, and Mediterranean vegetables. It was unique and interesting. And I had chargrilled chicken breast with roasted potatoes. The chicken was tender, juicy, and very flavorful. When Bill tasted it, he had a look on his face that he usually only has when he’s mid orgasm. Sadly, I haven’t seen that face as often as I used to. I know… I know… TMI.

More buskers. Bill gave them some euros.

By the time evening rolled around, we had walked several miles. My feet were killing me. But we had to walk back to Santa Croce to meet up with our wine group. I was curious about who would be attending the tour with us and how large the group would be. We saw Tom De Vries of Sommeliers Choices waving at us from across the square, so we made our way over there to meet Shawna and John, a married couple, and Heather, a married mom of two who came by herself. All three were Americans who live and work in the Stuttgart military community, as Bill and I used to. I think Tom does more business with the Stuttgart community, though he’s also in my Facebook group, which started out being Stuttgart based, and is now more Wiesbaden centric because I live in Wiesbaden.

To be honest, I’ve often regretted starting that wine group. As I wrote at the beginning of this series, I was actually reluctant to do this tour, because I am not good at being in groups. I’m probably even worse at leading them! But… I can’t deny that it has led to some fun travel and food experiences, like this tour we did over the weekend. We did have some lovely experiences on the very brief, but intense, tour with Tom. I got lots of beautiful photos, drank some beautiful wines from small, family owned wineries, met new people and dogs, and found some places Bill and I might try to visit on our own at some point.

Below are some photos from Friday night’s dinner and tasting at Francesco Vini in Florence. The restaurant was really interesting, especially with the cool “bunker” basement, where we did our tasting. Tom says he does a lot of tastings in the cellar.

One of the group members needed gluten free food because of celiac disease. I’m happy to report that all of the places we visited were great about proving gluten free options for the group member who needed them. Tom was also great about indulging my aversion to mushrooms and truffles. Besides the truffled mashed potatoes with the above dish, there were also plain roasted potatoes offered. The gluten free group member said that Italy was surprisingly accommodating in proving gluten free options, even at pizzerias!

After dinner, Bill and I were too exhausted to walk back to the hotel, so we split a cab with the solo group member. It was about ten euros total, and worth every euro cent. My feet are only now starting to deflate from all the wine and walking we did!

Stay tuned for part eleven.

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Germany, Italy, restaurant reviews, road trips, Wiesbaden

Spring lunch at Villa Im Tal, and more travel plans!

Bill decided he wanted to go out to lunch again this weekend. Villa Im Tal, one of our favorite restaurants in Wiesbaden, was closed last weekend, so we went to Landhaus Diedert. This weekend, however, Villa Im Tal was open. Bill noticed that their menu appeared to be leaning more toward Italian cuisine. We are planning a big trip to Italy at the end of this month, so we made reservations for 1:00pm. Villa Im Tal is easily booked on OpenTable.de.

Some readers might recall that on April 2, Hesse dropped most of its COVID rules. However, I remembered that last weekend, when we dined at Landhaus Diedert, everyone was wearing masks in the restaurant. Although I threw out all of the masks in my purse, I made sure to carry a new one for today, just in case. On the way down the country road where the restaurant is, we passed a lady on a beautiful piebald pony who looked like he was about to start shedding his winter coat. He was still fluffy, like a teddy bear. SIGH.

We showed up right on time and donned masks, since the hostess/server was wearing one. She checked our vaccination statuses, which I understand that a lot of places are no longer doing, since it’s no longer required by law. Once we proved that we are up-to-date on our shots, she led us to our table. We noticed people were a lot more casual about masking this week. Some people wore them, but most people didn’t. The dining room is very spacious and there was plenty of room.

We usually sit in the front dining room when we visit Villa Im Tal. The one exception was in 2020, when we ate outside on a beautiful spring day. Today, it looked like the front dining room wasn’t set up. We were seated in the back, which was kind of interesting. It has a different ambiance, and offers a nice view of the lovely meadow that made me long for the days when I still had a horse and could go trail riding. Or, barring that, I would just like to hang out in a meadow with horses and smell their intoxicating aroma. Maybe someday…

In any case, Villa Im Tal is in the thick of “Spargel season”. It’s time for fresh asparagus, and they offered plenty on their menu. They also had their own version of the wonderful wild garlic soup so prevalent in Germany in the spring. Bill decided to have an asparagus heavy lunch, while I went with surf and turf. And we both had the garlic soup for our starters. Dessert consisted of a strawberry rhubarb tart with white chocolate ice cream for Bill, and an almond “cannelloni” filled with chocolate mousse and a small scoop of blood orange ice cream for me. The ice creams were house made.

Total damage for today’s lunch was about 215 euros, but it was well worth the cost. Service was, as usual, excellent. We were enjoying the space with a number of happy locals and a couple of very well behaved dogs. One dog was so good that we didn’t even notice her until the end of the meal, when her people led her out. Maybe someday, Noyzi will be good enough to go to a restaurant.

Below are some photos from today’s lunch. It’s always a pleasure to visit Villa Im Tal. It was funny, though, because the young woman who waited on us wished us a “pleasant journey”. I kind of laughed and said, “You mean, back to Wiesbaden?” She was surprised to find out that we live here. I guess they don’t get a lot of Americans in that part of town.

This week, we also made some decisions about our upcoming vacation. I hadn’t been really wanting to take this deal, offered by a member of my wine group on Facebook. He’s a sommelier in Florence who offers tours and sells wine. We’ve bought a number of his monthly boxes, which don’t come cheap, but are of excellent quality. He hit Bill up for a trip to Florence. I had originally said no, but then in the wake of the loosening COVID rules, decided what the hell. So, on April 23, we will be off on our next trip.

So far, our itinerary is this: One night in Andermatt, Switzerland, on the way down to Italy. Three nights in Torrechiara (near Parma) for three nights. Three nights in Florence, with one night incorporating the wine tour we’re taking. We will get there early because Bill wants to go to the Uffizi, a very famous art museum. He had wanted to go during our last visit, back in May 2013, but we weren’t able to arrange it. This time, we will make a point of making a visit happen. The third night, we will be having dinner and a wine tasting, and the weekend will consist of the rest of the tour, which will include visits to wineries and castles, and lots of wine tasting and probably a fair amount of wine buying. We will spend a night in Cortona, then come back to Florence, where we’ll spend another night before heading northward to Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where we will spend two nights before coming home again.

I had originally planned for us to go to Lugano, but I realized that it was too close to where we were coming from, and the timing might be tricky. Also, I have a feeling that we’ll be kind of ready for some quiet and decompression. Lugano will probably be a little too happening for us at the end of the trip, when I know I’ll be anticipating coming home. Vaduz is very beautiful. We went there for a few hours in 2009, with Bill’s mom, and we ended up literally getting trapped in Italy later. In any case, Vaduz is closer to home than Lugano is, and it’s not so close to Florence that we have to kill time before check in.

We WILL get to Lugano at some point. I do still want to visit there. I just want to do it at the beginning of the trip instead of the end. Maybe we’ll spend my birthday there in June.

We still need to nail down the hotel situation in Florence, but that will be sorted out soon. I hope to come home with lots of cheesy comestibles, wines, hams, olive oils, and pasta. I always look forward to Italy, so I think this will be a great trip. This will be my third time in Florence. The first time was in September 1997… and in fact, I was there when I heard that Princess Diana had died. I actually saw her picture on an Italian newspaper with the headline that she’d died. I thought I was looking at a tabloid. I am probably one of the few people in the world who heard about her death on September 2, 1997, rather than the day it happened. Ahhh… the days when we weren’t plugged in all the time. I remember listening to her funeral on French radio while riding a train through the South of France, en route to Spain.

Anyway, I think it will be a great foodie trip, and I look forward to writing it up. Stay tuned.

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Germany, restaurant reviews, Wiesbaden

BrewDog in Wiesbaden!

We had beautiful weather again yesterday, so Bill and I decided to go to Wiesbaden and have lunch at the new BrewDog restaurant. BrewDog is a Scottish craft brewery that claims to be the #1 craft brewer in Europe. Bill and I both like beer very much– that could be an understatement, actually. Bill is a big fan of India Pale Ales (IPAs), too, so he was especially interested in trying the place, which is situated in what used to be a Maredo outlet.

Maredo is a well-known German steakhouse chain, and if you search this blog, you’ll see that Bill and I have visited them a few times, although I don’t think we ever went to the one in Wiesbaden. Looking at their Web site, it appears that they closed a lot of locations. Stuttgart used to have two of them within view of each other, but now it looks like there’s only one. And I remember going to one at the Bonn-Cologne airport back in 2012, and it looks like it’s no longer open, either. There is still one in Frankfurt, so I guess we could go there if the spirit moved us.

In any case, I’m glad to see that there’s a new restaurant in Wiesbaden and it offers unique offerings, for Germany, anyway. Wiesbaden is actually pretty well served by different cuisines, but sometimes one can get stuck in a rut eating Italian, Greek, and German food here, and drinking hefeweizens, pilsners, and the like. BrewDog’s menu is very American friendly, but it also offers vegan choices. And, according to its official Web site, it’s a child friendly place every night until 9:00pm. It’s also dog friendly, as are a lot of German restaurants. We didn’t see any four legged guests yesterday. In fact, when we got there at about 12:30pm, there weren’t many guests at all. The door was wide open, but I didn’t see anyone enjoying lunch. I even wondered for a minute if they were open. It was busier as we were leaving.

We took a seat at table near the front of the restaurant, enjoying plenty of social distance. The barkeep checked our COVID vaccination statuses, but that formality will probably go away next week. The beer menu included a lot of BrewDog’s offerings on tap, but there were also bottled beers. Not too many of them weren’t of the IPA variety, though, which later turned into a problem when Bill’s co-worker saw us and decided to join us for a round. She ordered a pale ale and sent it back, because it was too bitter. I don’t mind IPAs in small doses, but like our friend, I would probably choose a lager or weizen over a bitter brew. I did enjoy my “Elvis Juice”, though, and afterwards, I had a Kokosnuss Porter for dessert.

For lunch, I had a Patriot burger, which was 100% beef with cheddar, pickles, onions, bacon, baby gem, and barbecue sauce. It came with pretty good fries. Bill had a Buffalo Chicken Burger, which was buttermilk fried chicken, hot sauce, honey glaze, gorgonzola cheese, and honey gem. It also came with fries. I was pretty happy with the burger, especially for Germany. It’s been nice to see the burgers get better in this country since our return in 2014. I almost went with the Chuck Norris, which was buttermilk fried chicken on a bun with avocado, red onion, cajun mayo, and coriander. I decided against it because I’m not a big fan of coriander. Next time, maybe I’ll try it… or maybe I’ll get brave and try one of the many vegan selections offered. They also have snacks, chicken wings, bowls, and salads, and for kids, there’s even a “Hoppy Meal”.

I really liked the interior of the restaurant, which offered views of the exposed bricks of the old building, which was perfectly located right near the main square in Wiesbaden. We probably should have sat outside, given the location. It was such a nice day, and the place is primely suited for people watching. There was a Muslim wedding going on out there yesterday! But I also enjoyed the music they were playing indoors. All told we spent about 53 euros before the tip. Food is not too expensive, but the beers were a bit pricey, as were the gooey looking desserts. BrewDog is Lieferando friendly, although I think their delivery area is fairly limited to downtown Wiesbaden. They don’t deliver to our neighborhood, for instance. You can also get beer growlers and canned beer to go there.

One word of caution for anyone with mobility issues. The restrooms are located upstairs, just as they are in a lot of European restaurants.

Below are some spring photos from our lunch date and stroll around Wiesbaden. It was a real pleasure to get out and about! And, on another note, I was glad to see Nora again, Bill’s colleague!

We have nice weather again today, but today is the first day of the DST time change. It’s already 1:19pm, and I am not dressed. I don’t know if we’ll go out or not. I did just send Bill out to drive my car, which hasn’t been out in weeks. I have heard the weather is going to be crappy again next week, so maybe we should make an effort to go out. We’ll see.

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France, restaurant reviews

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part seven…

Saturday morning, after breakfast, we decided to visit a couple of other towns in Alsace. One of the places we visited is the quaint and picturesque hamlet of Obernai. I wanted to go there because many of the times we’ve stayed in Ribeauville, I’ve noticed that our WiFi signal pings from there. A woman I knew from Stuttgart also happened to visit Alsace back in January 2020, when we were also visiting. We met up with her at a winery and had a tasting, and I noticed that after we parted, she went to Obernai. I remembered thinking the photos she shared made Obernai look like a very inviting place.

So we went to Obernai, which was every bit as cute as I thought it would be. The town has a large parking lot, complete with a very nice looking public restroom facility, which was closed due to COVID-19. As I walked around Obernai, I was thinking that it reminded me a lot of Ribeauville, except it was a lot bigger and busier. I noticed there is a shit ton of new construction going on there. It looks like a lot of people are moving to Obernai, or businesses are relocating there. The old town area is very charming and adorable. We mostly just walked around there, but got bored before it was time for lunch. It looked like a good place for eating, tasting Alsatian wines, and shopping, and I did notice a lot of places of interest, complete with informative signs in French, German, and English. But I still got the urge to move on fairly soon after we arrived. We visited the free public restroom, where donations were being accepted for the people of Ukraine.

Bill and I ended up getting off course on our way back to the car, so we were a little “lost” for a short while. It suited me fine, since I got the chance to take more pictures. We did eventually find ourselves back on the right track to getting to the parking lot. Obernai is definitely a cute town, but I think I prefer Ribeauville, because it’s smaller, quieter, and less “peopley”. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be up for a return visit someday. Below are some photos from Obernai.

As lunchtime got closer, we decided to head to Saverne, a town Bill discovered and was curious about exploring. Saverne is about a 45 minute drive from Obernai, but it’s kind of in the right direction for getting back to Sessenheim. That was important, since we had reservations at seven o’clock for our second gourmet dinner at the Auberge au Boeuf restaurant.

We easily found another free public parking lot in Saverne, although there was a two hour time limit. The lot was right next to the Presbyt√®re Protestant, which was inaugurated in 1897. It is a very beautiful church, but we didn’t take time to visit it, because we were on a mission to find lunch.

As soon as we walked into the little town, which is situated on the Rhine-Marne canal at the foot of a pass over the Vosges Mountains. It has a very different feel than Obernai does. The main drag is on kind of a steep hill that actually reminded me more of the Alpine town of Chamonix than Alsace.

Licorne Beer!

I had never heard of Saverne before we visited there, but I was impressed by what I saw during our short trip. For one thing, Saverne is home to the Brewery La Licorne. Licorne is the French word for unicorn. We didn’t stop in for a visit there, but we did pick up a six pack of their brews to bring home with us. We also visited Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativit√©, a beautiful old Catholic church that dates from 12th century. Bill was in a hurry, because he was worried about the time limit on our parking. Of course, no one was standing there with a stopwatch when we arrived, and I doubt people were chalking tires. He’s still big on following rules, though.

Saverne is also home to Rohan Castle, which is known as the “Little Versailles of Alsace”. It really does look like Versailles! And we almost had lunch at Taverne Katz, which is in a beautiful, historic building built in 1605 on the main drag through the town. We decided not to eat there when I noticed how many people were having lunch at that time. Instead, we dined at a place called Le Bistronome. Le Bistronome gets mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but we had a good experience there. Curiously, the complaints on Trip Advisor seem to be about a “lazy, inappropriate, and grumpy boss/waitress”. We didn’t have that impression of the service at all.

During our visit, a very pleasant lady was handling all of the tables. She kindly suggested a table to us, and I noticed everyone in there appeared to be a local. I heard one woman even murmur “American” when she saw Bill and me. A large French family, complete with the obvious matriarch, sat kitty cornered to us. She gazed at us, looking either grumpy or curious. I couldn’t tell, but she did seem to be much beloved by the people she was with.

Below are some photos from Saverne and our lunch at Le Bistronome, where we enjoyed the musical stylings of Billy Paul and Barry White. I swear, it’s not a trip to France if I don’t hear the song “Me and Mrs. Jones” at least once! That restaurant is where I heard it on this trip to France. It also occurs to me that it looks like Bill and I only eat beef, fish, fries, and chocolate mousse. That’s not true at all, but that was how it worked out during our trip. Lunch ran us about 70 euros. The waitress was clearly very pleased when Bill tipped her generously.