Okay, yes I know I am a sucker for all things Italian. Leather gloves, and handbags included. Sorry, but once you start, you can never go back. Which is why Jeff and I are essentially kidnapping my parents and spending all of July in Italy! (oh don't worry, our houses will have housesitters, so don't get any ideas!). This will be my third trip to Italy, and Jeff's second trip. My parents have never been, so it will be extra fun to enjoy their reactions. I seem to have a pattern of every other year, and to lengthen the trip by a week each time.... oh darn! If you haven't been to Italy, the one thing you find when you go is that it ultimately doesn't matter where you go, but you'll be forced to slow down. If you return home, and find just eating dinner takes you anything less than an hour, then there is something very wrong. I guess then you would just have to go back! However, it also doesn't matter where you go because everything changes in Italy so very quickly. A ten-minute walk or a ten-minute drive can feel like an entirely different world. The food, customs, and clothing can be entirely different within what North Americans would find to be a very small distance. In fact, I have also found that with each additional trip to Italy, I plan to travel even smaller distances, but to become very familiar with the regions I do travel to. Plus, it provides much more time to discover your favourite gelateria, or caffe, and to really savour it again, and again. So I guess you could say, that I am pretty excited about this trip! However, it is also nice to have a little warm up of sorts. You probably know me well enough by now, to know that a trip is a recognized eating event! The majority of the trip is planned around eating, so as to not miss out on any particular regional necessity! So surely, I plan and research a little bit obsessively. Just a little - I swear! I'm sorry, but I have eaten in bad restaurants in Italy, and was so very disappointed upon realizing that I could have eaten at the same place as the night before, which was life-altering. This becomes especially true, when you add into reality that the cost of meals does not vary as greatly for differences in flavour and preparation. Certainly, there are supremely expensive restaurants, however, the average price for dinner for two does not tend to differ by greater than ten to twenty euros - when ordering the same number of courses most nights. The price of most restaurants tends to be quite competitive with each other. Of course, there are always exceptions! But to help stave off any excessive excitement, Jeff and I met up with a couple of very good friends for a family-style dinner at Capo. Now, normally Capo is known for high-end dining, with slightly smaller courses (but generally the size in many areas of Italy), and exceptional service. It seats forty, and has an extensive wine list. It is certainly one of Calgary's finest restaurants, and even before this dinner, I would say that it is Calgary's finest "Italian" restaurant. Recently, I also enjoyed some fantastic pasticciata (3 day lasagne), prepared by Giuseppe di Gennaro, which was served at Bite Groceteria to promote their Tour of Italy Dinners, as it was also sponsored by Bite. The pasticciata was phenomenal, and I don't say that lightly. It was extremely flavourful, rich, with perfect pasta which was not overcooked (!!) and evenly seasoned too. (!!) I should probably admit that I tend to have a gripe with many Calgary restaurants for being at a complete loss with salt. There is either too much salt, or none at all. (Did they forget??) In comparison, the food in Italy, is always seasoned; or it is naturally "salty" - containing parmigiano, or prosciutto. What I am trying to say is that I was very happy to have lasagne which made my eyes so wide with enjoyment! Capo is also renowned for exceptional service, and why Jeff and I have purchased gift-certificates for others to enjoy it. Luckily, the food is also very, very good. We know that the friends we send will be taken care of. Unfortunately, Jeff and I could not make the first Tour of Italy dinner, because of prior commitments on Tuesdays, and were very excited that a second night in March was added. Now besides the fact that the food and service at Capo are great, we were more excited to have a 5-course meal served family style with wine pairings for $110 per person. No thinking; just eat and be merry. This is reasonable to me, as I prefer simpler preparations with slight innovations, but still prefer deliciousness over innovation. To be completely honest, every time that I have eaten in a Michelin-starred or even very expensive Italian restaurant, I have been at least a bit disappointed. "So expensive, and I am still hungry?" It makes me think, "yes the sauce is delicious, but the texture of the gnocchi still isn't right!" Modern Italian food prepared with French techniques, is still good, but I prefer things a little bit more like nonna would make. Nothing fancy, just good food done right. I was curious to see how Giuseppe di Gennaro would make nonna's food, and make us feel right at home. The dinner began with robustly flavourful rolls of eggplant and anchovies. They look so small, but the flavour is huge. Then we were onto the first region of the tour, Le Marche, for calamaretti d'Anconetana. It was a dish with baby squid with tomato, olives, and crostini. It was also richly flavourful, and did not contain an overwhelming amount of garlic for the faint of heart. This kind of dish is entirely addicting to me, with a little bit of the sea cooked right into the sauce. The squid was tender and perfectly seasoned. The crostini were a nice accent, and understandable in a restaurant setting - but I preferred to dunk little bits of the bread from the table to soak up the sauce. Out of the table of six diners, I probably ate most of one of the two dishes served. From there we moved onto the food of Puglia, for polpette di melanzane; eggplant fritters with rapini aioli. This was an immediate hit at the table, and suddenly the volume of joyful voices abounded like gleeful children. This dish tastes much different than it looks and sounds. It does have eggplant, but also a significant amount of ground beef. I wish it was sold on the street here in town, as a snack that you would want to enjoy everyday. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Salty, but a little sweet. A little tangy and bitter with the aioli. Fantastic. The only problem was trying to cut the stringy eggplant, to actually have a bite, even though it was extremely tender to eat. Although, the effort was well rewarded upon tasting the dish. And really, a little rustic this way, so it was a little more lovable since extra effort was required. Next stop, Sardegna for culurgionis di patate Ogliastrini. One of the most enjoyable parts of the meal was Giuseppe's thoughtful descriptions before each course, and new additional wine-pairing. For this course he talked about "starch-on-starch", as this is essentially ravioli stuffed with potatoes. It was also served with roast pork and ricotta salata. This dish acted to emphasize the reality that every culture has a dumpling of some sort, and in a way, this is like a little like a perogie. Just a much more elegant and refined version. I liked the dish. But I have to admit that for a dinner in which everything is served alla famiglia, I expected more pasta. Don't get me wrong, I was quite full by the end of the night. But I had 2 pieces of this pasta, and Jeff had three. It is certainly an extremely lovely pasta, but so labour-intensive, that it is too difficult to serve very much of it. I could have done without the calamaretti, or the polpette and had two pastas as a replacement of one. A little more gluttonous, but it would have felt a little bit more relaxed, as if mama was forcing me to eat! Mangia! My favourite course was the saltimbocca alla romana con piselli e patate. Everyone loved these peas. They are certainly not something one would ordinarily have in a restaurant like Capo, as the rolling factor could certainly detract from a fine-dining experience. The accompanying sweet onions made the dish one which would convince anyone to eat their vegetables. I did need the crispy potatoes to serve the sauce accompanying the veal. For me, the veal saltimbocca was the highlight of the night. It was dizzyingly spectacular. Rich, tender, flavourful, and I ate as much as I could. Even so, I could still eat more of it at this very moment. Every bite was better than the last one. The prosciutto was sliced so thinly, it was difficult to decipher the pieces of veal from the prosciutto. The sage came through singingly. This is the kind of dish I want to eat all the time, and the kind of dish I expect to have while in Italy. A simple, but memorable dish. Nothing complicated about it, just good food prepared well. I love that. I have to admit that when I think of Italian cuisine, desserts rarely come to mind, except of course for gelato. Sure, there are great Italian desserts, but they are rarely sweet and are most often based on fruit. Refreshingly, this chestnut and white chocolate mousse was inspired by the montebianco of Valle d'Aosta. I think this dessert was overshadowed by the success of the veal, because it didn't have much impact for me. I loved the creamy white top, but needed a bit more to really fall in love (and I swear I do not have a gigantic appetite!). I would have loved for a large bowl to be plunked on the table, and have the server place it in individual bowls to fit the casual-ness of the evening. There was nothing wrong with it; I just won't be dreaming of it. I haven't mentioned the wine pairings, but they were phenomenal (and available from wineboy), and a hit with everyone at the table. In fact, the whole concept was a hit, and it would be impossible not to have a spectacular time. There was even a goody bag with a recipe and pasta to try at home. It also helps to enjoy good food, with good friends. Even those we did not know, quickly became our friends! All in all the best part is the variety of foods and wines which were a part of the event; an outstanding value. You too can enjoy a tour of Italy with chef Giuseppe di Gennaro, at the next tour on Tuesday, March 17 at 6:30pm. Contact Capo for more information.