Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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Milan Is Much More Than Just a Bad Airport
Thursday, July 27, 2017 -- My first visit to Milan was probably a lot like yours: Uneventful and brief. Make that very brief.

The wife and I hopped an overnight flight from New York/Kennedy and arrived in Milan with plenty of time to make it into town for lunch. Two hours after ordering our first bottle of wine and a couple primi (a classic risotto Milanese and a pasta) we were back in our rental car and headed to Lake Como. Our flight home was from Rome, not from Milan. So in two weeks in Italy we did not spend another moment in Italy's finance and fashion center.

That was in October, 1986. Milan's airport--and I can't even recall if it was Linate or Malpensa--was not, shall we say, the most welcoming introduction to the home of my ancestors. Even with that accommodating wine and the fine luncheon fare, Milan's centro storico seemed loud and overcrowded, just the kind of vibe we were escaping back home. Why go back?

More than 30 years have now passed and I've changed my mind about Italy's second-largest city. We both have. Maybe business travelers, to whom Milan is far from an important destination, should, too.

Our two-week trip to Italy last month both began and ended in Milan--not due to airline scheduling, but by choice. Okay, sure, flying into Malpensa started out as a low-fare play. Months earlier my wife had scored a sweet two-fer deal from JFK to Milan on Emirates and figured she'd build an itinerary around that. (I had nothing to do with the planning as the whole trip was a surprise birthday present.)

She says the plan was never to spend more than a night or two in Milan because, you know, 30 years ago. But then friends joined the party and started making plans of their own. These plans grew to include a Sunday night performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni at La Scala, a hallowed place I never dreamed I could visit, let alone sit in a center box.

If you enjoy such things, and appreciate the classics in music history, do yourself a favor and visit La Scala. It's beautiful. You miles-rich business travelers could even do what Martin Deutsch once did: Fly in for the weekend to catch a show.

The opera, I should mention, was a birthday gift from the very dear friends who met us in Milan. As was a night at the Grand Hotel et de Milan, a short stroll from La Scala. Should you ever wish to treat yourself to a bit of luxury while in Milan, I doubt you can go very wrong at this extremely classy and very nicely run hotel located in the city center.

Of course, you could always burn Marriott/Starwood, Hilton or IHG points for a Milan stay. And if you have World of Hyatt points, get yourself over to the Park Hyatt Milan. The rooms are gorgeous, the management top drawer and the breakfast will make you weep. It sure made me teary eyed. I mean, really, how many buffets have you been to that have a slice-your-own mortadella station? Sono in paradiso!

The more hours we all spent getting to know Milan the more we liked it and the more interested we became in knowing it better.

Did you know that Leonardo's Last Supper is in Milan? Well, it is. Tickets should be secured in advance. Or if you haven't planned ahead just hook up with one of the tours at the museum. You'll pay more but at least you'll get in to see it.

And no visit to Milan should be without a visit to the Duomo. It's Italy's biggest cathedral and took centuries to build. Even if you don't want to go inside the church you still owe it to yourself to see it from the outside.

I speak from experience here. Because every time my companions and I made plans to venture inside the Duomo we always found something better to do. Once it was to go searching for Milan's little-known canals. Known as the Navigli, the canals were constructed centuries ago so that marble could be transported from the mountains in order to build the Duomo. Who knew, right? Only two of the five canals still exist, but some neighborhoods along them are, dare I say, sort of Brooklyn hip.

Mostly, of course, we occupied our time getting to know Milan's food scene and in no way were we disappointed. Peck is on a par with the finest food shops that I have ever visited. I insist--that's right, insist--that you stop in, if only to gawk and feel inferior for coming from the land of chicken nuggets.

As for restaurants, I'll give you four:

IL SALUMAIO DI MONTENAPOLEONE Try and get a seat in the lovely courtyard outside. Order the Veal Milanese.

TRIPPA TRATTORIA It's the hot new place in town and reservations can be tough. Order the specials because they're the best things on the menu. Our resident Italy maven, Erica Firpo, reviewed Trippa several months ago.

GIACOMO MILANO RISTORANTE The 90-plus-year-old Giacomo doesn't cook anymore, but he does stroll the dining room and he's a bella figura treasure. The food is old world classic and very good.

HOSTARIA BORROMEI You must have the following: Spaghetti with sea urchin; fresh anchovies with warm bread and fresh butter; fried calamaretti; and paccheri with yellow tomatoes, zucchini flowers and red prawns. You're welcome.


This column is Copyright 2017 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.