It’s been a while dear readers. While Miss Eydie hasn’t stopped eating by any means, it’s been some time since I checked in to this blog. To be honest, it has been a rough and tumble year: the defining event being the passing of my longtime friend of 43 years and Manhattan Transfer founder, Tim Hauser.
I am here to say that we have decided to soldier on and continue singing the harmony we are known for. We have added the talented and tuneful Trist Curless to our band line-up, and are in the invigorating process of reinventing ourselves once again. This is the beginning of our first European tour without Tim in this world. Even though Tim was not really an explorer of cities we visited, he did so enjoy Italy in particular. He is with us always in spirit and in our hearts and for this tour, actually on my Converse! ( thanks to the talented Catheryn McKeever for this awesome and meaningful gift)
At our concert, in the most beautiful Teatro de Comunale del Marco , our promoter translated some of our opening remarks…but when Alan got to the part about Tim passing in October, there was no translation necessary. The audience knew what we were feeling and responded with a long ovation for Tim.
And so, I’m happy to report that we are back in the saddle and in Italy. The city of Treviso to be exact , in the Veneto region. No strangers to this region, we have performed in Venice , Vincenza and in Verona . I have had romantic vacations near Lago di Garda and in the vineyards of Valpolicella .( is it just me or are there a lot of “Vs?”) But this is our first time in Treviso . Can it compete with the charms of Venice? Waterways are in fact, an important part of the landscape here. The river Sile runs to the south of the center of town. Treviso has some charming canals which I discover late at night after an amazing meal and plenty of wine.
This area is famous for Prosecco , for the most delicious bar snack ever invented : the frico ,which is made with the local Montasio cheese, for delicious bitter radicchio ,( rosy elongated chicory) and for the perennial Italian restaurant favorite, tiramasu. Traditional tiramasu contains ladyfingers or Savoiardi biscuits, espresso, marscapone, eggs, sugar and dark cocoa. The best I ever had by far, was made by my friend Cinzia at her restaurant The Yellowstone Garage in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Imagine our delight in finding out that our promoter Francesco ran a restaurant and was inviting us all to dinner our first night in Italy- the night before our concert. Its very difficult to find a bad meal in Italy, and we were expecting a fine and simple repast of the usual Italian fare. What a pleasant surprise was in store for us. Francesco’s place, BASILICO TREDICI is considered a “biotavern.” All produce is organic, there were many creative vegetarian and vegan options , the wine list showcased the region of course, but there were many other fine options from around the world. First up, a splash of Prosecco to get the evening started and the engines fired. It’s great to start a tour by convening around the table, sharing food and immersing oneself again in the communal experience . Everyone had gathered together in this spot on the map from their various homelands The first course arrived and it was a springtime stunner. A sweet pea custard, vaguely reminiscent of the Japanese chawanmushi , strewn with tiny wild asparagus and topped with soured cream or panna acida.
I am longing for some Friulano with this first course -a couple of sips of Prosecco and I’m through. These white wines are also known as Tocai Friulano, fruit driven and bright. Francesco obliges happily with a cold bottle.Breadsticks suddenly appear-spelt for the gluten intolerant and black for those of us that like our breadsticks infused with octopus ink.
On cue, the second course arrives :A perfectly grilled scallop atop a green swirl of sautéed spinach and creamy burrata. The spelt breadstick appears again, but boiled, like a strand of bigoli pasta. And the octopus ink breadstick appears in crumb form atop the dish.
Next up is something called ” ash egg.”
The visual impression is that a poached egg is covered in ash, like a goat cheese or a thousand year old egg. In fact, the egg is covered again in the crumbs of the octopus ink breadstick and is cozily nestled in a bed of potato foam, sprinkled with green onion and dots of licorice syrup, which has the consistency of an aged balsamic vinegar.
There is a risotto coming , and so we confer with Francesco about another white. It is decided that Pinot Bianco is a good choice. The best Italian pinot bianco is produced in Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia, though the styles differ. Drummer Steve Hass and I talk about another favorite, the Greek white, Assyrtiko, since he was just in Santorini . He described the grape vines as a “crown of thorns” grown close to the ground because of the intense wind. Here comes the risotto ….it’s a colorful beauty of creamy white rice, dotted with the black of the pepper mussels and pepper sauce , and the bright red of Italian tomatoes. The peppery mussels are almost too intense for me, but mixed in with the sweetness of the tomato and the arborio rice ,the balance is achieved. Still I would have preferred to not mask the plump brininess of the mussels with all that pepper.
Time to move north vinous-wise. The reds of the Alto Adige are spectacular , to match with the heavier food and colder climate. I get a mini thrill when the white wine glasses are removed and the larger , more bulbous red glasses come out. It also signals the fact that meat will probably be coming down the pike . I have chosen a Cabernet Riserva with Francesco’s expert guidance …..the evening is ramping up. There are some charming guests that have flown in all the way from Barcelona for the concert and they are here at this dinner. The red is tasted, poured and the next course arrives….a Garronese skirt steak preparation with one solitary potato croquette that had a thin, crispy outer crust but a warm, melty center…like biting into a small earth. More of the tiny spears of wild asparagus are strewn on the plate as well.
The small portions of steak are just enough . They are everything I want : bloody, chewy, slightly BBQed flavor, with a strong meat flavor . The steak is soon gone…but the wine is not! What to do?
The formaggi is formidable with goat, sheep and cow selections. Cheeses are accompanied by an apple mostardo and more of the home baked breads. Protein needs have been beautifully met- but one almost always desires something sweet. And then comes the little hit of good espresso and a digestive to help it all assimilate and prolong the conversations. Miss Eydie is a big proponent of “Slow Food” as opposed to the American idea that food is to be gobbled down so we can get back to the more important tasks of making money and staring at our computer screens. It’s good for the soul to live slower, and what better place than when we are at table with family and friends . When we try and live more slowly, we are not only counteracting the dizzying pace of modern life but we are preserving traditions. And this is why I love Europe in general and Italy in particular. How great is the idea to take a couple of hours off from commerce every day to have a decent lunch, a walk , a nap , to make love, and then return to business refreshed. The 3 hour meal is not unusual here.
And so, with the wise words of J.R.R, Tolkein reverberating in our heads: “If most of us valued food, and cheer, and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world,” we order dessert. Mine is an apple cake with lots of caramelized fruit and some kind of transcendent ice cream on the side…with bits of meringue inside that first crunch, then melt in the mouth. It’s reminiscent of Julia Child’s recipe for Chantilly Meringuée ice cream. Soooooo good.
I order an Amaro with my coffee, but other people at our table are waxing rhapsodic about the tangerine liquore that has suddenly appeared called “Mandaretto. ” Those that love limoncello ,will love this.
Grappa also shows up for the party….especially since we are close to Bassano del Grappa in the province of Vicenza.
All of this hospitality makes us feel warm and fuzzy and certainly ready to sing our hearts out the following night. As we wind ( and perhaps stumble) our way home by the charming canals and cobblestoned streets of Treviso, we are reminded once again why we love Italy, and why we will always return.
Piazza San Vito, 13
31100 Treviso – Italy
Tel. +39 0422 549789