Long weekend in Turin with Dad

My dad -- one of my very favorite people on the planet, the smartest man I know, my biggest fan! -- is back in town for his second visit of the year (hurray!) You've read about our (mostly gastronomic) adventures with my dad here and here and also here, which have all taken place in Rome. This time, however, we decided to shake things up a little and head all the way up north to Turin, Italy, to swap the capital's chaos for a bit of calm, but mainly, and most exciting of all, to see our friend Rachel sing the role of Leonora in Teatro Regio's production of Il Trovatore. More on that later.

This wasn't our first trip to Turin; the three of us had gone together all the way back in 2006 for the Winter Olympics, and then a few more times after that to visit relatives on my dad's side who settled there after WWII (to work at Fiat, mostly -- more on this at the end of the post). My dad also has fond memories of traveling to Turin with his mother, great aunt, and brother all the way back in 1967, when he was 13 years old, taking a train from Rome's Termini station just as we did (though his was an overnight train and he had the view of the passing countryside to keep him company rather than a smart phone!) Here he is, reminiscing as we waited for our platform to be posted. Bonus: our very photogenic breakfast.  

IL MERCATO PORTA PALAZZO
After a four hour train ride on the Frecciarossa (high speed!) train we found ourselves in Turin, a city that, of course, resides in the same country as Rome, but has very little in common with it. Turin is a city, but with a far calmer, more organized air then Rome; it's much cleaner, the people speak in a heavy northern accent, and streets are covered by porticos, a characteristic I associate with my beloved Bologna (a little rain? no problem!) Not long after arriving we met up with our friend Rachel, who you may remember from this post or this post or this one here. Rachel had been in Turin already for about a month preparing Il Trovatore, and had already found her favorite places. First up then we headed to Mercato Porta Palazzo with her and her very blonde, very adorable children. Now: I've visited many an open market in my day, but perhaps never one quite like this -- this was the largest, busiest marked I'd ever seen, sprawling beyond the main square, bustling and busy and packed, toeing the line between exciting and overwhelming. Here we found beautiful fruit and produce, meat and fish, fresh pasta, freshly baked bread, grissini, and pizza, and all sorts of cheese. We picked up some burrata (Rachel's favorite!) cachi (persimmons!) apples, and oranges. The highlight for me: a cheese called bastardo veneto aka venetian bastard (there must be a good story there) and some larger than life, very autumnal pumpkins on display. A+++ market in my book. 


ËL CRINET TRATTORIA DOC
As much as I love love love Roman food, I also do enjoy a change of pace and the chance to explore different cuisines in Italy (canederli in Bolzano! pici in Siena! cicchetti in Venice! etc). I was excited to try the cuisine of Piedmont region, and per the suggestion of the torinese who I was lucky enough to have sitting next to me on the train up north (ciao Francesca M.!) I made a reservation at Ël Crinêt Trattoria Doc, a restaurant in the city center that specializes in cucina piemontese. And what a breath of fresh air it was! We (the three of us, plus Rachel and her wonderful husband Rasmus) started with an antipasto with all sorts of specialties from the region, everything from vitello tonnato (thin slices of veal with a tuna sauce -- don't knock it until you've tried it, it's delicious) a savory cheese souffle with pumpkin, a beef and red bell pepper tartare, and an insalata russa, comprised of potatoes, carrots, peas, and mayonnaise, a dish that I usually hate, but apparently, when done well, is pretty darn delicious. Antipasti polished off, we proceeded on to risotto with black truffles, agnolotti con brasato -- stuffed pasta filled with braised beef, served in a meaty broth-sauce -- and roasted rabbit with fried polenta. The whole thing was fantastic, warming and cozy and a little different, and just when I thought we had reached dinner nirvana, we ordered the bonet, a dessert typical of the Piedmont region. The bonet is somewhere between flan and custard, wobbly and jiggly and chocolate-y and just barely sweet, topped off with some crumbly, nutty amaretti, and it was superb. We rolled back to the bed and breakfast.
 
 


IL TROVATORE + RACHEL
On Sunday afternoon, we headed to see Rachel sing the role of Leonora in Il Trovatore at the Teatro Regio (!!!) We'd already seen Rachel sing in Rome and New York City on more than one occasion and were equally excited to see her sing in Torino. This was especially exciting for my dad, who is an opera-expert, and has been a fan of opera ever since he was first introduced to the art form by his Uncle Sasa' when he was just 10 years old. For those of you who aren't such opera buffs: Il Trovatore is an opera in 4 acts by Giuseppe Verdi, and debuted in 1853 at the Teatro Apollo in Rome. Like most operas, the plot gets a bit complicated, and there's quite a bit of drama (a long lost brother! a gypsy woman trying to avenge her wrongfully murdered mother! a love triangle! full story here if you'd like to read it all). Rachel, unsurprisingly, sang beautifully and expertly as the lovestruck Leonora (goosebumps even to think about it now) and we couldn't have been prouder of her or more excited to see her sing. Every time I see her perform, I am in awe of her, and find myself asking questions like: who knew a voice could hit a note that high?! how does she remember all the words?! how does she manage to act and sing at the same time?! how does she get out there in front of a huge crowd and not look even the least bit nervous?! etc etc. You can hear a bit of her singing here and here also here (I, um, may or may not have taken more than one video in the theater before being told off by the theater staff -- OPERA REBEL). We were blown away by the production as a whole, and can't wait to see Rachel sing again in a few months. Photos of our trip to the opera below, including one of the tiniest, most stylish opera goer, plus pictures of our post-show dinner at a nice little restaurant near the theater.
 


PASTICCERIA GHIGO DAL 1870
I'd heard good things about Turin's bakeries and was excited to try one out -- on Monday, our last day in the city, my dad and I headed to Pasticceria Ghigo, one of the top rated pasticcerie in the city on Tripadvisor (usually a reliable source, and I admit I hadn't had too much time to do much research). I'll be up front here: it didn't exactly live up to its 5 star rating. The staff was on the rude side; the pastries were expensive; the cornetti were just average. That being said, the cioccolata calda or hot chocolate with whipped cream is supposed to be the winner here, and there were lots of other cookies and little pastries we didn't try. In any case, the saving grace of our visit, the reason I'm including Ghigo in my post, were the nuvole (in a smaller version, called nuvolette) which can be translated to "clouds" or "little clouds" in English. I had never heard of these beauties before, and with a little further reading, learned that they are a specialty of Pasticceria Ghigo. The bakery makes them in the period leading up to Christmas -- Italy isn't big on Halloween and doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, so we're already thinking about Christmas here -- and these were divine, buttery, tender yellow cake-bread (pandoro for those of you who are familiar) covered in a crema di burro or a butter mixture, then submerged in a generous dusting of powdered sugar. They went splendidly with our cappuccini. Bottom line: go to the pasticceria just for these and you won't be disappointed.
 


RISTORANTE PORTA SAVONA
Post-breakfast, we took a long walk around the city center and then headed to lunch at Ristorante Porta Savona, one of the cities oldest restaurants. Upon arrival, we were a little worried -- "it's on a piazza!" my dad exclaimed. "Only tourist traps are on piazzas!" Thankfully, we were reassured once we entered the restaurant, which was packed with locals (phew!) It turns out that Porta Savona is the exception to the usual rule -- this is a restaurant with exceptional food in a very good location to boot. We ordered more vitello tonnato (can't stop, won't stop) and robiola di roccaverano, a goats cheese typical of Piedmont served with jams and honey, plus very seasonal, very autumnal tagliatelle con funghi porcini, more agnolotti con brasato, and because that wasn't enough brasato, a second course of deeply flavorful, no-knife-needed brasato with potatoes. All of it was heavenly and I didn't miss my usual Roman bucatini all'amatriciana one bit (shhh!) Not pictured: an extra wobbly (in keeping with the wobbly dessert theme started by the bonet, of course) panna cotta with caramel sauce. Yummm.
 


GIANDUIOTTI (!!!)
Before leaving for Turin, my frolleague (friend+colleague) Tiziana had one piece of advice: be sure to try the gianduiotti. Gianduiotti, it turns out, are chocolates that are a specialty of the Piedmont region and produced in Turin. They are shaped like little overturned boats, and the chocolate is mixed with hazelnuts, more specifically the tonda gentile del Piemonte, aka one of the best hazelnuts around. A little research taught me that gianduiotti first debuted in 1865 courtesy of a sweet shop called Caffarel, which is still a big gianduiotti producer today. Since they were first distributed at a carnival celebrating Gianduja -- a figure that, in the Italian commedia dell'arte, represents the city of Torino -- the chocolates were given the name gianduiotti. We were sure then to stop at a whole store dedicated to gianduiotti in the city center, where we picked up a few bags to give both as gifts and us for the train ride back. They were divine -- think Nutella, but solid! -- perfectly smooth and dare I say even a little buttery, and came in milk chocolate or dark chocolate varieties. (If you're going to ask me for one, they're already all gone, okay?)



And then our three days in Turin were up! I've posted a few photos of the city here, including the Lavazza museum dedicated to the history of coffee (which, as luck would have it, is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays -- will have to be for next time!) Most importantly of all you'll see below a family photo with my prozii, or great aunts and uncle -- pictured below is my Zio Pasquale and Zia Rina, my beloved nonno's siblings who were born and raised in Calabria and then settled in Turin (he had charted a decidedly different route, deciding to make a life for himself in Rhode Island) not to mention my adored Zia Marcella, my Zio Pasquale's wife. We hadn't seen any of them in quite a while and it was a very happy reunion that made an already perfect trip even better. Until next time, Torino!