Sunday, January 28, 2007

And the winner is...

This post is long overdue. Yep, it's the annual "Best of" for 2006. I was trying to squeeze this in just before I left for Sri Lanka, but had no time. Now I'm back I thought, can't let the Oscars people get all the attention with their silly list.

But first, a quick note. I am still trying to work out which categories are worth including year in, year out in this round-up. The categories selected here, I hope, are the kinds of things that perhaps one could file away in the "good to know" category. We're always concerned with service journalism here at ISB. Let me know what you think.

Eccola, la lista:

Best Meal (Italia): From Sicily to Alto Adige, it's hard to pick one regional cuisine over another. I did get around in 2006, and ate quite well. La Gazza Ladra in the wondrous city of Siracusa, with its heaping dishes of pasta Norma, is a revelation. Up North, skiing above the quasi Austrian town of Bressanone, I ate stinco on the bone. A meal fit for a king. But the honors for 2006 is Il Picciolo di Rame in the tiny midieval hamlet of Vestignano in Le Marche. There are only four tables, and scoring a reservation is no easy feat. But when you do, prepare yourself for a wondrous meal: usually 12 courses, each that carries a story. And at 30 euros a head (including wine), it's a rare bargain. A special mention has to go to the world's most flavorful tuber: the sacred tartufo bianco. The tagliatelle with white truffles in November took top prize in the home-prepared meal category. White truffle season cannot roll around soon enough!

Best meal (fuori Italia): They say something like one in four Americans considers himself "born again." I was dubious of such statistics. Until, that is, I ate at Arzak in the wondrous Basque city of San Sebastian. Somewhere between the caramelized apples drizzled with truffle oil, pomegranate and orange and the squid with apple compote , I had an out-of-body experience. My original review is here. Adam, my partner in crime that afternoon, wrote up a much more credible report here.

Best wine: But first a note on this category. I have a slight bias with wine. It has to be of good value, versatile enough to drink with a variety of meals without, crucially, overpowering your tastebuds before the main course. I also like the more obscure producers and have a preference for indigenous grapes with an interesting story behind them. Thus, you'll rarely hear me raving about a Sangiovese or Montepulciano. I'll happily drink them, but, at the enoteca, I look for something regional that I can share, hopefully, with somebody who's never tried, nor heard of, a particular varietal. Ok, ok, the wines already:

White: As you may recall, I went to a wine tasting course last year. At the end of each class we voted on our favorites. This 2004 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from the Colonnara vineyard blew the room away. Here's my original review. The good folks from Belisario also make a nice Verdicchio di Matelica.

Red: 2006 was the year I first was introduced to Lagrein, a magnificent red from the Trentino-Alto Adige region, a flavorful red, a bit earthy, peppery even. Perfect for hearty meat meals. It never disappoints. As a runner-up, we're going back to Le Marche for another curious, indigenous grape: Lacrima di Morro d'Alba. I met Piergiovanni Giusti at Sensofwine, the annual wine fair in Rome this November. At his vineyard in the hills outside Ancona, he's produced real stars with the Luigino, Rubbjano, and the eponymous Lacrima. I hope to pay him a visit this spring and report back more on this incredible grape.

Beach: The little Greek island of Sifnos has everything. Fantastic beaches, quaint sea villages, all white-washed in sugar-coated splendor. Swimming in the Aegean is a sublime experience, a far cry from my youth swimming in the rough surf of the Jersey Shore. The beaches are rocky and the water is crystal clear. And, Greek grandmothers do swan dives (pictured) from overhead. The favorite beach was Chrysopigi, where you could see other islands in the Cyclades floating in the distance. And, for lunch, a fantastic fish meal on the beach nearby. Che bella!

Film: Here's my review of the best Italian films of 2006. NuovoMondo gets this year's top nod.

Gelato: For the second straight year, it's Gelateria Alla Scala in Trastevere. His cinnamon (la cannella) is a world beater, certainly good enough to quiet the Romans, who insist their gelateria is the best in town. Pffft.

Have I left anything out?

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