Alas, and all too soon, yesterday afternoon I stepped out of Parma’s crisp winter sunshine to join the Ryanair throng being herded into smaller and smaller spaces in the Giuseppe Verdi International Airport. After a couple of hours spent in Ryanair’s inflexible plastic seats, being pummelled with offers of overpriced newspapers and snacks and lottery tickets to win more Ryanair flights, we landed in the damp and balmy midwinter London darkness. Where in my 2+ hour train+tube journey back across town I had plenty of time to reflect upon the leisurely 10 minute taxi ride to the airport in Parma, and to meditate on my last 24 hours there, which included visits to two of my favourite restaurants in all the world.
For lunch, I went to La Croce di Malta, where there is always something imaginative to be found in the vegetable starters. This time it was a sformato di zucca – a juicy and seasonal pumpkin and potato cake, larded with mushrooms and mozzarella, and sprinkled prettily with Parmigiano-Reggiano. One bliss was followed by another: polpo (octopus) with potato mashed with celery and a pleasingly crisp and bitter little side salad freckled with salt.
In the evening, I made a happy return to Ristorante Mosaiko where Davide di Dio still works his magic in a cozy corner of Oltretorrente, and whose 30 or so seats are seemingly filled by boisterous diners night after night. The twist here is the chef’s integration of his Naples roots with his training in the kitchens of Australia and Japan, so he’s very strong on seafood, and it’s the only place in Parma where you can find sushi – sometimes grilled – and wasabi in and among the Italian dishes. And he does make a mean dessert.
Here we have insalata di polpo e patate alle olive con involtino di gamberi croccante e wasabi mayo (octopus salad with olives and potatoes with a crunchy prawn roll and wasabi mayo), followed by Branzino in carrozza alle olive con patate, carciofi e salsa al marsala (sea bass with potatoes, olives, artichokes and Marsala sauce): in carrozza is something usually done with mozzarella, a kind of grilled cheese sandwich, but here it was so very much not that, and had a bit of ginger and sesame seasoning, and a bit of zucca (pumpkin) for sweetness and colour.
I might have been tempted by the carpione (salmo carpio) but luckily did not know enough about it to order it, and now I read that this species that had been introduced to Lake Garda is critically endangered. Italy (like anywhere?) is not the home of sustainable seafood and I suppose all I can do in my next life is always remember to take a dictionary and a seafood list with me. Anyway the dessert was not endangered although perhaps my waistline was as I ploughed through the Delizioso pralinato, as I think it was described: a chunk of chocolate surmounted by a kind of airy coffee custard and zabaione (or might it have been white chocolate?) fluff, topped with chewy praline nuggets and a drizzle of warm chocolate.
If I had a few more stomachs I would have had the Petto d’oca arrosto al miele limone (goose in lemon honey) and the Tartare di branzino e salmone affumicato in casa con mousse allo zenzero e parmigiano e granita di mela verde (tartare of house smoked sea bass and salmon with ginger and parmigiano-reggiano and green apple granita) and not least the Astice scottato al pepe verde con riso basmati e lattuga all’arancia (seared lobster in green pepper sauce with basmati rice and lettuce-orange salad). All I can do is hope not to have to wait another four years before I return.