Friday, December 03, 2010

San Barnaba

The Ristorante San Barnaba.

As she was sending me off from La Marzocco, Mary passed on some advice about a place to eat: "Just up the street from the hotel and right before the city wall is a restaurant called San Barnaba - great people and great food. Go there."

So, in spite of the cold and my lack of clothing, I made the walk to San Barnaba - at 6:30pm. Which meant that the restaurant was closed. Darn it, I had forgotten that restaurants in Europe don't open until 7pm or later. Even though I don't like to eat as early as Americans, I always seem to end up in this predicament every time I am in Europe.

My table setting.

After walking around in the cold for forty minutes, I entered the restaurant. I was the first person there. The chef looked at me strangely, like "what's he doing here so early. We just opened." Communicating in as best Italian as I could, I motioned that I would like to eat and they sat me straightaway.

Right off the bat is a glass of champagne. Hmmm, I like this place. Then some bread and then more drinks. Still water and red wine, please.

The very cute girl came up to care for me. Wish I could actually speak Italian. I ordered the Flan and then she offered the Papardelle special. I agreed.

The dining room.

Here's the thing about Italian food. I've had a lot of it over the years, but I still feel that I don't know what truly good Italian food is all about. I'm hoping that this trip can shed some light on the subject. Another aspect I've heard about traditional Italian meals are the courses: anti-pasti, then a pasta course, then a meat course and then dessert. Honestly, it sounds like a lot of food, but I'm going to give it a go.

At first, I decide to hold off on the meat course since the papardelle special has meat, then after thinking about how the meat in this region is supposed to be some of the best in Italy, I decide to order the steak. The girl looks at me like I'm crazy, confirms and goes off to tell the chef.

Champagne, mille grazie.

I can hear them in the kitchen. The chef confirming with the girl that I definitely want the third course. I figure: what the hell. Game on.

The flan is crazy good. Pecorino and gorgonzola cheese in some sort of soft, spongy textured flan. Delicious and perfectly portioned.

Flan di Verdure in crema al pecorino e gorgonzola.

When the papardelle special arrives, I note that it's just the right size. Not huge like in America and not too small. I taste it. Again, this is delicious. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned and the pasta is perfectly al dente. I just want to scarf it down.

As I reach the halfway point of the papardelle, I start to feel it. That feeling of being just right - just full enough. I know that if I continue and polish everything off this plate, I will be Full. And if I eat that steak, I'm going to be ill.

Inside the Flan.

Suddenly, this has become a marathon. I must pull back from the papardelle if I'm going to survive the next round. But I can't. The pasta is too good. I must have more. I end up finishing the pasta while leaving some of the stewed meat and await the next course.

A few minutes later, my girl is back. She's come back to confirm if I really want the steak still. Wait, I don't understand. Turns out the chef thought that I might have ordered too much and chose not to prepare the steak, waiting until I was finished the papardelle and could better gauge if I really wanted the next course.

And some cheese.

Thank God for this man and his foresight. I immediately thanked her and canceled the steak because I couldn't eat anymore!

In the end, the food was delicious. I loved it. The service was great and they were very attentive and took my hacked Italian and penchant for English in good stride. The next time I visit Scarperia I will be eating here again.

The Special: Papardelle alla Cinghiale.

Ristorante San Barnaba
Viale Kennedy, 15
50038 Scarperia, Firenze, Italia


The main drag through Scarperia.

Mary has arranged a room at the Hotel dei Vicari here in the little town of Scarperia. It's an old walled city, right next to the Mughello raceway. After checking into the room, I'm hungry and go searching for the restaurant Mary recommended here. Along the way, I find some apples, some bread and some supplies for my Italian Journey.

Scarperia is also known for its handmade knives. Some of them are quite exquisite and probably come at a handsome price. I looked but did not inquire. Still saving up for the Ferrari to drive Mughello...

Electronic condom machine - ah, the Italians...!

The Church.

Cremino del Mughello - tasty.

I watched this butcher work and bought some prosciutto from him. He's amazing and thoroughly loves what he does. I wish we had a shop like this at home.

The Scarperia Vicari.

La Mecca-zocco

The machine that started it all.

Quite some time ago, someone asked me what I thought of espresso in Italy. Is it better than America? Is it really "the best"?

Truth is, I had never been to Italy. Never tasted "real" Italian espresso. So I had no idea what the difference, if any, that existed. But I figured that someday I would end up in Italy and find out.

The Boiler Room.

So when the opportunity came up to travel to Africa, I decided to tack on a couple of days in Europe to see what the fuss was all about. Certainly, the coffee in France is terrible, maybe it would be better in the land where espresso originated: Italia.

Which is how I found myself zooming north along the A1 Autostrade in an attempt to find a little town called Burgo di San Lorenzo. I was making the journey to my own espresso mecca: La Marzocco.

Insulated Strada boilers.

Those who know me in the coffee business know that I'm very hardcore about La Marzocco espresso machines. I really won't have any other. Yes, there are lots of great machines made by great people out there, but to me, the La Marzocco is the Ferrari of espresso machines. Porsche and Lamborghini make great autos, but they will never steal that luster (yes, I mean as in "lust", it's not a typo) for La Marzocco.

Before leaving the States, I made a call to Kent Bakke about visiting. Turns out he wouldn't be in Florence during my trip but that Mary would take care of my needs. The plan was to arrive in Florence and make the drive to countryside, arriving at La Marozocco by 2pm. With all the problems in flights and baggage, I didn't get to the factory until 4pm and it was getting dark.

Top Secret stuff with the first production Strada EP.

Over a year ago, La Marzocco built a new facility that's much larger and nicer than the original - or so they say. The main entrance features an old coffee roaster and some vintage equipment from the original factory. Upstairs is the museum slash coffee bar, along with offices, training center, conference room and classroom.

Downstairs is where the fun happens: manufacturing. Over fifty people work here at La Marzocco where they produce a few thousand machines a year. Looking around it really is La Marzocco mecca. Machines of every model and size are everywhere. It's a spare parts orgasm. I'd like to pick up supplies but really I'm a bit overwhelmed.

Mary Diamond and the GS3 production line.

They've just started the production of the first ten Strada EP machines and we bump into Roberto who's trying to fix a problem with Strada EP Number One. I'd tell you what the problem was but I've been placed in the Cone Of Silence about what I saw with the new Strada but I did manage a photo to show you (it's been redacted due to WikiLeaks).

Sadly, my visit to La Marzocco was limited. My flights were late, I arrived late, it's Friday and of course, everyone wants to go home for the weekend, but I did get to see Piero Bambi for a moment or two. It was a short visit but a good one and I look forward to returning on another trip.

Ah, La Marzocco Heaven.

Seattle mural on the conference room wall.

Custom GS3 machines.

A custom painted FB80.

The ubiquitous plastic La Marzocco tamper, in stainless steel.

The bar with custom brass cased FB80, Swift grinder and new Volcano grinder.

From the front.

The Conference Room

Fiat 500

The Fiat 500 - with 11,000 kilometers.

I rent cars pretty regularly throughout the year and I like to try as many different vehicles as I can. The nice thing about European rentals is that they have manual transmissions - meaning that I can get my driving chops even though I'm stuck in America where everything is automatic.

The Fiat 500 was an interesting choice. It's a small car. Very small. Quite small. The fit is tight and I have to adjust my balls to get comfortable. But the steering wheel and shifter are placed just right and the shift pedal and left foot rest are adjacent making the transition super smooth.

The dash - functional, compact and missing cruise control.

On initial review, the car is peppy and the short wheelbase makes it quite nimble. The downsides are the slightly cramped interior and the wide B-pillars, which obstruct your view but the car is so short that it's really not that much of an issue. The area that you cannot see behind the B-pillars are actually observable in the mirrors.

But there's still more driving to be done before I know if I really like this car, but so far, so good. Now if it only came with GPS...

A Windows USB port?

Cruising north along the A1 Autodstrade.

Arrival: Burgo di San Lorenzo.

Lament To A Bag

The receipt for the bag that was.

Statistically speaking, it had to happen.

I hear all the time of the horror stories of airlines losing passengers luggage. With millions of bags in the system at any one time, it's an inevitability.

And after twenty years in the not-so-very-friendly skies, my bag was lost. Can't remember if this really was the first time, but it definitely hasn't happened in a very long time if it wasn't.

The odd thing is that both of my checked baggage started in Entebbe and only one made it to Florence. How they were separated along the way is a mystery.

They're going to find it and deliver it to me. Hope it's not too long because the bag that's not here is the bag with all my clothes!


Those suckers don't know there's a back entrance to this E95.

After another hour of delay, we're finally in the air and I can't believe the Alps are beneath us! Amazing. Incredible. The snow-covered caps are majestic looking and I'm mezmerized.

I was able to commandeer a row to myself in the back of the Embraer 195 aircraft where I've positioned myself in a window seat against my normal preference. Usually, I opt for an aisle seat for quick departing when landing (normal or otherwise). But with an empty, two-seat row and the windows at just the right height, I'm encouraged to watch the world go by.

The view from the back in the penultimate row.

I don't really get this chance to watch the world from above and mainly because seats on planes are too cramped and a window seat usually has me bending sideways to fit into the curvature of the side panel. Not fun. Both Boeing and Airbus place their windows too low to peer out comfortably as well. You have to bend over to see out and it's just uncomfortable. Boeing says they're fixing this on the new 787 Dreamliner and the mockup I've sat in seems to address the issue, but we'll see.

The Embraer 195 has windows that are large and at the right height for viewing, so it's comfortable, and with the row to myself, I can sit as I desire.

A little ham sandwich with cream cheese and chives.

As we fly high over Europe, I start noticing that the ground is getting closer. And more snow-covered. Soon I'm giddy with excitement when I realize that we are flying over the Alps. They're picturesque and amazing. Much different than the Rocky Mountains in the United States. These are harsher and grander and covered in a lot of snow. I strain my eyes looking for a St. Bernard running to save hapless mountaineers with a barrel of whiskey strapped around its neck.

Storm fronts surround us, making for very dramatic cloud formations. One is impossibly high and we're going through it. Flying towards it reminded me of the final battle scene in the movie ID:4 where the fighters were racing towards the alien battleship that was just too massive to imagine. It was like that.

Once inside the front, it started off smooth then suddenly we're jarred up and down as air pockets and turbulence rock the little plane up and down and side to side. It's pretty hairy for a moment.

Holy Crap! That's the Alps!!!!

Typically, I don't worry about turbulence, comforting myself in the thought that there's about five miles between us and then ground. Then I remember that the alps are at least 10,000 feet - meaning that we've lost about two miles of safety. Oh, we could be in trouble.

I imagine ourselves falling out of the sky (especially since, from my view, the wings look like they could be icing over) and crash landing in the Alps. Would we survive? Would we be rescued? Or would we be forced to eat our fellow passengers for sustenance? I bet these suckers don't even have salt on board for seasoning. A terrible experience that would be indeed!

Flying into a front.

In the end, we clear all the storms and the white covered ground of Europe makes way for the greenery of Tuscan. I'm reassured that the weather here is a balmy 9C - over the minus 7C we just left in Western Europe. I can't wait.

A break in the clouds.

Coming out of the front.

Landing in Florence.

Waiting Frankfurt

A portable smoking lounge - filled with cigarette smoke.

I find Frankfurt to be such a curious place. Heavily industrial, Frankfurt never seems to come up as one of those chic places to visit. Walk around the downtown near the hoptbahnhof and it's mostly grey and uniform. Venture a little bit further and you'll find some texture. Then there are those renowned FKK Clubs on the outskirts of the city...

The airport is also curious. I've spent a bit of time in Frankfurt Airport on previous trips and the funny sounding announcements along with the very well stocked Lufthansa Senators Lounge has always made it a highlight of my trips through Europe.

A couple of frankfurters, some bread and a Coke Zero - Seven Euros.

Today, we're back in Frankfurt and fighting the weather. Hoping for a break because I need to get to La Marzocco in Florence before they close, so timing is of the essence. But there's a bit of time because of the delay and I can grab a frankfurter from the bar near gate A13.

These Germans... they know their sausage. Even this simple, nearly throw away frank at some airport bar is good. Smooth blended interior meat encased in a nearly perfect casing that "snaps!" when you bite into it. Consider that it's sat in a steamer for who knows how long and I'll say that this is one darn good frank.


Boarding the flight and gosh is it cold!

The snow has really put a freeze on travel here in Western Europe. Our aircraft was almost 45 minutes late coming in from Frankfurt, making our departure over and hour late with the delay and de-icing.

Of course, I prefer de-icing. The thought of the wings freezing, losing their ability to generate lift and us falling precipitously out of the sky to our doom is not how I imagined I would experience this visit to Europe.

Mandel Krackers - tasty!

Once airborne, things went smoothly for the relatively short flight to Frankfurt. A little girl and her father sat next to me and she reminded me of my little niece and how I would like to someday take her along with me on trips just like this.

Without the freezing of the wings, of course.

A little girl and her father.

Coca Light

An A380 being towed...

Good Morning BRU

A ham and cheese croissant at the pub in Brussels Airport, Terminal A.


All aboard!

These long-haul flights can be a bear and I've been fretting about this return since I arrived in Africa. On the way down, I had an entire row to myself from Brussels to Kigali. Then, in Kigali, the plane filled up for the hop to Entebbe and then the return to Brussels. Would my return be as packed as the arrival? I hoped not.

While waiting in the lounge at Entebbe, I jumped on the computer to see what was what. Would my flight be jam-packed and miserable? Or would get lucky?

The in-flight meal.

As the seating chart loaded, I nearly cried for joy. Our flight was going to be as light as the arrival. I had lucked out. Locating an empty row, I assigned myself 25G and just waited until the plane arrived.

Our flight arrived about 25 minutes late because of the snowstorm that had been blanketing Western Europe for last day or two. As we boarded, I noticed that some interlopers had squatted my seats 25G and 25F - damn them. I thought about telling them to move but I remembered that there were more seats open and that I was privvy to privileged information.

I sat in 29F and started securing my row by commandeering the pillows and spreading my bag in 29E and making it clear to anyone eyeing 29D that they would only have claim to that seat and not the E seat. I noticed other antsy passengers lurking about looking for any open rows they could hoist for themselves. This would be a blood feud to the death.

Beef with roasted potatoes, green beans and carrots.

This is another reason why I like to board last. I know there's almost no one coming up behind me and the seating is now my oyster. I can pick and choose as I desire.

After a few terse moments that looked like they could escalate into a standoff, everyone settled down, the doors were closed, the cabin was sprayed with sanitizer spray and we were off for the seven hour marathon to Brussels.

Mid-flight darkness. The way I like it.

The flight itself was smooth. I slept for about four hours and felt semi-rested for the day's activities when we landed in Brussels.

Now, if the snow doesn't mess up the schedule, we'll be just fine...

My Lie Flat Seating: 29D-G