Milan, Nov. 3, 2010—WE FLY THIS EVENING from Milan's Malpensa airport up to Amsterdam, where we'll take the train to Apeldoorn in eastern Netherlands to spend time with old friends, so our only hope for a good meal today is an extended lunch. Dinner, that meal was called in my youth, among my middlewestern relatives, where the three meals of the day were breakfast, dinner, and supper.
But where to eat? After whiling away the morning in conversation over cappuccinos and cornetti, those not entirely successful Italian attempts at croissants, we walked downtown to the center, along "our" Corso Buenos Aires to the Piazza Venezia, then along the Corso Venezia to the San Babuino, the Galleria, and the Duomo. I had in mind the trattoria we like in via Santa Marta, but others felt it was just too far away, and by now it was almost noon.
Our Marta, almost equally santa to some of us, suddenly remembered a restaurant she knew on the Piazza Mercante, only a street away from us. We looked at the menu, looked at the fish on ice displayed inside, talked to the man in charge, and decided it would be fine. Fifteen minutes to stroll the neighboring streets; then it would be noon and we could sit down.
It didn't take long to decide on the menu: all four of us would share a huge platter of pinzimonio, raw carrots, Treviso, fennel, radishes, tomatoes, with oil and vinegar and salt to dip them in; then risotto alla Milanese, based on a tasty chicken stock, nicely colored and flavored with saffron, cooked to exactly the right degree: the rice just a tiny bit grainy at the center of the kernel.
I asked for a panna cotta for dessert; I can't resist it. We were surprised when a crème brulée appeared in its place. No, signore, c'e una panna cotta , the waiter insisted; it's how it's done here; it's our own recipe. Well, it was an okay crème brulée, though I've had better. But it wasn't what I'd wanted. Still.
Dolcetto da Piemonte in carafe
Al Mercante, Piazza Mercanti, 17, Milan; tel. 02.8052198