This vending machine in Gallarate, Italy, dispenses unpasteurized milk.
Two highlights of dining out in Gallarate, Italy, were an unusual lasagna in a fish sauce and a whole branzino grilled over a wood fire.
I spent my last three nights in Italy in Gallarate, a bustling commercial center north of Milan that is near Malpensa International Airport. Hotel rooms and restaurant meals are far cheaper in Gallarate than in Milan.
You certainly don't sacrifice quality when eating out in Gallarate, which is in the province of Varese.
And I found that employees behind the desk at the Hotel Astoria on Piazza Risorgimento were far more concerned for my welfare than the preening desk clerks of the Best Western Hotel Galles in Milan, where I paid more than $200 a night for a tiny room with a bathroom too small for a bidet (not 200 euros, as I wrote originally).
My first dinner in Gallarate was at the Galaxy Grill, a restaurant run by an Iranian chef and his Brazilian wife, with jazz tunes filling the dining room. It's best known for grilled meat and fish.
I ordered a whole branzino and grilled vegetables, and it was far more than I could finish. The chef agreed to make me a sandwich with leftover grilled vegetables and cheese for my day trip the next day.
I arrived early for dinner, around 7, after driving to Gallarate from Venice in a downpour. I was the only diner at that hour, and the chef had to start a wood fire to grill my fish. He gave me a cup of soup to start, but more than 30 minutes would pass before I got the branzino, which was stuffed with herbs and lemon.
It was worth waiting for -- about 12 inches long, moist and flavored by the wood fire. I demolished it, alternating bites with grilled zucchini and eggplant. The meal, with the complimentary sandwich and an after-dinner drink, was enough for two, and cost 31 euros, or about $44 at an exchange rate of $1 to 70 euro cents.
My next two dinners were at one of the most popular restaurants and pizzerias in town -- Compagnia delle Cozze or The Mussel Company, which was on the same piazza as my hotel.
My first meal was on a Saturday night and I walked over to join the line of people waiting for the two-level restaurant to open for dinner at 7:30 -- mostly family groups and young couples. Not long after I was seated, the place was full and people waited inside for tables.
I started with a wonderful seafood salad, which was made to order and served warm with potatoes, olives and a little pesto sauce I wiped up with bread. The mixed seafood was fresh and tender.
I followed with a wonderful lasagna with fish sauce and creamy bechamel -- just two by three inches -- and ended with a mixed salad, which was twice the size of the salads I ate in Milan. Wine, bread and water brought the meal to 33 euros or $47.
I cut my bill almost in half the next night with my first pizza of the trip, a mixed salad, wine and water for 17.20 euros.
The vegetarian pizza, brought to the table unsliced, was oval, and about half the size of a small pizza in North Jersey. There were more fresh vegetables than fresh mozzarella cheese, and the soft, chewy dough was deliciously scorched by the coal oven.
Restaurant food is expensive in Italy, and often, there is a long wait between courses because your dish is being made to order. To make matters worse, I usually ordered too much food and had no one to share it with. Perhaps all that food was meant to soothe me because I was traveling alone.
But if you consider that the tax and tip are included in the total bill, the meals seem to be a better value. And the quality is always high.
Grazie e arrivederci. (Thank you and see you soon.)
Galaxy Grill, Via Tenconi, 12, Gallarate, Italy; 0331-245662.
Web site in Italian: Galaxy Grill
Compagnia delle Cozze, Piazza Risorgimento, 8, Gallarate, Italy; 0331-776933.