I lean towards the finer things in life. I blame it on some odd gravitational pull over which I have no control. Upon arrival at Hotel Manzoni in Milano, I walked left out of my hotel and stumbled upon one of the city’s most divine restaurants: the very chic, exquisitely classic, impeccably serviced Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone.
The palazzo is blissfully quiet, and lunch in the open air between the main restaurant and the bar/salumeria is a welcome respite after a day of shopping for some, a morning of business meetings for others. Families come with children, husbands with wives, women with their girlfriends, people with potential clients; quite simply, chic Milanese who know a thing or two about ambience, Italian food, and the importance of una bella figura.
I introduced myself to Diego, the head chef, and was given a little tour of the palazzo. Once inside the courtyard, a visitor may veer right to pick up dried pasta, a box of Italian cookies, fresh seafood, cheese, or ready-made Italian classics. Perhaps they will make their way down the terracotta tiles towards the dark-wood bar for a negroni. On the other side of the outdoor seating area, which is adorned with colored drinking glasses that add a further hint of modernity to the property, is the dining room. Ancient statues sit on crevices on the stone wall. Banquettes have leather seating, and some tables sit directly next to the cave. The vino selection is quite impressive. Furniture is mixed with old pieces that have been collected over the years. The kitchen is as classic as the dining areas; ingredients lay waiting in silver saucers, vine tomatoes and fresh herbs are piled in beautiful white bowls, and bread stays moist under thick linens as the chefs prepare for dinner service.
I returned later in the day after a few hours of running around la citta. I was tired, cobble-worn, and jet-lagged. After a whole day without food, I looked forward to picking something out from the salumeria, a ready-made seafood dish perhaps. Unfortunately everything was already put away by the time I arrived. So Diego, gentleman that he is, made me something special in under 10 minutes: homemade pasta with pesce mista. I carried the plastic bag back to my hotel, and not until I plopped down on the lounge sofa did I realize that Diego had actually wrapped the dish like a present: wrapping paper, ribbon, and all. I opened it as delicately as if it contained a Fendi, not a fettuccine. I inhaled the fragrances of Italy. In those first few seconds I was back on the Amalfi Coast, having frutti di mare at the top of Positano. Properly prepared seafood dishes in Italy have a genuine quality of the sea about them. The mussels are plumper, the calamari is more tender, the sauce smells like Diego went swimming in the Mediterranean and brought a bucket back to Milan. Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone is a prime example of la bella figura, the Italian philosophy of always exuding beauty, emphasizing aesthetics, presentation, and proper behavior. There is a reason why the most chic, most tasteful Milanese choose this spot as their go-to. It is Milan, perfectly wrapped, complete with paper, ribbon, and an exquisite bow.