Thursday, February 23, 2006

Food fun, Olympic Style

Now, you would think that in a country that is known for it's cuisine and wines they they would pull out all the stops when they are in the world's spotlight...
Sadly, either they have been pulling the wool over our eyes for years, or they just don't give a crap.

I'm not sure what I was expecting...
First, I'm not a big fan of Italian food to begin with.
True- I make a mean lasagna, and I enjoy the occasional meal at Carrabbas, but by and large, I'll take barbeque or chicken wings over pasta and red sauce any day.
Second, I'm not sure the Piedmont (Northwest Italy) is exactly known for it's gastronomic delights as much as southern Italy.
What I can tell you is that most non-catered meals have been a relative disappointment when it comes to flavor and content. As for catered meals, that is a completely different kettle of fish...or chicken, and we'll get to that in just a minute.

Restaurant food, especially in Sauze d'Oulx and Torino, has been a disappointment. I think the guy that knew where the garlic was growing died and didn't tell anyone where the stash was... All the food has been pretty bland- with one notable exception.
A restaurant called Sugo's down in Sauze d'Oulx has been a treat every time we have been there. They specialize in two things, Bruschetta and Pasta. And because they concentrate on that, thay have it down to a science. They had 15 or so variations of bruschetta with differing combinations of parma ham, spek ham, mozzarella, gorgonzola, walnuts, cream, olives, tomato, and othe savories. The pasta is served family style- Big pots or dished piled high with different types of pasta. We tried a penne with beef, garlic and peppers that was just fantastic. Another one we tried was a tagliatelle with wild boar meat, garlic and chilis. Really an excellent choice. The guy that runs the place, Mauritzio (Maurice, or Furgeson, as I called him) is always willing to make a change or exception since the pasta is cooked fresh when you order... So if you wanted the wild boar sauce on farfalle instead of tagliatelle, it is no problem.

Other places have been very hit-or-miss...
Right next door to Suga is a place called del Borgo... Great cream of tomato soup- but the mushroom soup was poor. I expected more from their pizza, as it had come highly recommended. Alas, the two different evenings we went there, I was not exactly carried away. The best thing there was a chili oil we got them to bring in order to liven up our pizzas. The scoville rating wasn't very high on it, but it there was some good flavor to it.

Miraviello is right next to the hotel, they specialize in crepes, but the ones we tried were overcooked, or the ingredients were overpowering... Mark had a crepe with mozz, gorgonzola and an olive tapanade that was just overpowering... My Brie & Speck was ok, but very light on ingredients.

Godfather's restaurant was a disappointment- after we made our choices the owner came over to our table and tried to change everyone's mind... Mark & Jeff wanted pizzas, Mike & I wanted ribs. Il Padrino came over to push his pasta trio... ravioli, lasagana, and penne. "It is the best in Italy."
It's the best because it was cheap and already cooked... All he has to do is serve it, so it is a low cost-per-serving. A winner when it comes to the bottom line.
Well, he was able to sway Mark and Mike, and in the end they were really disappointed about it. I ordered the ribs, and they brought a t-bone steak that was still bleeding (more than normal). I sent it back and asked for my ribs, and they were a sad study in bovine anatomy. To say it was all flavorless would be an undestatement...
and to cap it off- this was the place that wouldn't serve coffee after our meal..."I don't serve coffee", the owner said, "because I don't like coffee."
How does this guy stay in business?

Paddy McGinty's is the Irish bar in Sauze. Fortuitously located directly across from our hotel, it is one of the "crawling distance" bars that, even better, carries Captain Morgans Rum.
On a sign outside they tout their various cuisine... Thai, Indian, Mexican, Chinese...
It is somewhat misleading... Just because you carry frozen spring rolls, that doesn't mean you are serving Thai. Ditto for Fajitas (especially curry chicken fajitas) as the height of Mexican food.
Chinese... I don't remember what the Chinese dish was, but I'm sure it was very marginal.
Now, truth be told, I had the BBQ ribs and they pretty tasty. And Ivan the GE Guy had a t-bone that was outrageous. But...
On the other hand, there is something to be said for truth in advertising.
On the menu they have potato skins...
The menu reads "Deep fried... Hell.. Here, you read it...

Look there... Fried potato skins, cheese, bacon bits.

Now- I'm thinking a TGiFridays kinds thing...

What came to the table, however. was a bit of surprise.

Does this look like deep-fried potato skins to you?

Overall, so far the food has been disappointing.

Want to make a billion dollars?
Open a Chinese restaurant in Sauze d'Oulx.
And bring some garlic.

Now- Apart from the slice of hell that is the local restaurant scene, the catered food here is atrocious.
Even worse tasting, food that is supposed to be warm or hot is cold, the cold food is hot, things are either burnt or raw, and are almost universally bad.
I believe the best food I had was at the IBC (International Broadcast Center) in Torino for breakfast one morning... They were making pancakes with Canadian maple syrup. By far the best meal I have had here.
And don't get me started on the BBQ spare ribs that were covered in a nice marinara instead of BBQ sauce.
Sad, really.

The other bizarre thing is the catering crew they have at the venues (BDY and SDO at least) are world-class when it comes to playing with food. As they stand there waiting to slop a scoop of cold scrambled eggs on your plate, they are continuously moving the food around the chafing dish. Scoop scoop, scrape scrape, dig dig... And give them a pliable media like mashed potatoes and they start ot get creative. A sculpture of the NBC peacock in macaroni & cheese, the Olympic rings in scalloped potatoes.
One guy at SDO is a real winner... He'll capture one of the pressed-and-formed pork cutlets with his tongs, then suspend it from one corner, gently shaking it until the piece breaks off, then he eats the little piece. Truly bizarre.

There have been several articles on how bad the food is here...
From a piece on

-CNN Story-

...Russian bobsledder Nadezda Orlova didn't need words to describe what she thought of the food -- she just gave a thumbs down.
Her physiotherapist, Alexander Kluykov, said he feared the food could affect Orlova's performance.
"She wants to eat, but she can't," he said. "When you eat something it must taste of something, it must smell of something."
In the prefabricated tent that houses the cafeteria, American skier Ted Ligety, who won gold in the combined, left a plate of pasta with tomato sauce half finished on the eve of the giant slalom.
"The food here is actually not so good," he said. "The highlight this week is that they installed a machine for ice-cream bars."

The really telling comment from this piece...

Not everyone was critical of the cooking.
"I think the food is good, especially the Chinese food," said Polish bobsledder Mariusz Latkowski.
Then he added: "But I'm sad there isn't a McDonald's here."
(Usually there is a huge McDonalds in every Olympic Village.)

This piece is actually on the food in the athlete's dining rooms in the Olympic Villages, so I can tell you that the stuff for us production peons is exponentially worse.

The games are drawing to a close. Time to start branching out.
There has to be good food somewhere.

Hungry the Jay out-

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