Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dining out in Milan, Italy

I enjoyed three seafood dinners during my stay in Milan, the first at a restaurant called Noblesse Oblige, above left. 

I was told Italians eat dinner as late as 10. I saw them gathered at cafes in the early evenings, enjoying wine or another drink and a snack. It was convivial, but I was traveling by myself and couldn't hold out.

Noblesse Oblige was recommended by an employee at my hotel in Piazza Lima, and I walked over. When I arrived shortly before 7, I was told I had to wait 10 to 15 minutes until the restaurant opened. When I was shown inside, I was the only diner and had to wait some more for a waiter to come on duty, bring me the menu and take my order.

This was my first dinner in Italy and one of the most expensive -- two courses cost more than $45 at an exchange rate of $1 for 78 euro cents. There was no price-fixed tourist menu, and I paid extra for mineral water and bread.

I chose from a menu of specials headed "Return from the market." I ordered "surf fish" with porcini mushrooms and roast potatoes (25 euros), followed by a simple mixed salad (5.50 euros). I was surprised that the "surf fish" was, in fact, fresh swordfish, which I rarely order. (Noblesse Oblige, Via Gaffurio, 1, Milan, Italy; 02-669-2773.)

I did much better the next two nights, where I had dinner at Ristorante La Buca, another seafood place, this one a few blocks from the massive Central Station, the city's major railroad hub.

The first night, I was offered an 18-euro menu that included water, wine and bread. As at all restaurants in Italy, service (the tip) was included, but I left another 2.50 euros for the waitress.

I started with a creamy risotto and porcini mushrooms, which were in season. Each kernel of rice was firm but yielding, unlike any risotto I've had. My entree was a grilled salmon steak served with salad, which I dressed myself with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar brought to my table. It was a terrific dinner for about $26.

I went back the next night to order a plate of spaghetti with seafood I saw another patron demolish the night before, but not the big bowl of ice cream he ended his meal with. The mixed seafood was pristine and the fresh tomato sauce coated every strand of pasta without being in the least bit soupy.

I started the meal with selections from a buffet of seafood and vegetable appetizers. The pasta was 10 euros, the appetizers were 8 euros, so I spent about $25 for this satisfying and delicious dinner. La Buca also has a fixed-price vegetarian menu and special menus for several days of the week. (Ristorante La Buca, Via Napo Torriani, 28, Milan, Italy; 02-669-3774.)

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