Today, I want to share two very important lessons I've learned as it relates to seeking out the local experience while traveling. And how these lessons led me to one very special restaurant called Di' Vino Bacco.
Firstly, people in the restaurant and bar business, especially thus more senior, typically know the best places to eat and drink. Therefore, being friendly to them and getting to know them can provide special benefits. Secondly, living in NYC opens many doors when traveling abroad.
To illustrate this, I think back to my first trip to Milan in 2008. On my first night, I asked my hotel for a recommendation for dinner. They reached into a drawer with stacks upon stacks of business cards and handed me one without much consideration. I was suspect of the recommendation, but given my jetlag I proceeded to the restaurant hoping for the best.
When I discovered the recommended restaurant was completely empty at 8p on a Thursday, I knew to keep going. Luckily, I stumbled upon a bar down the street called Nottingham Forest and stopped in as the place had a lovely ambience. A chat with two folks at the bar turned into a introduction to the owner of the establishment (all in English thankfully). Once I got to know him, I asked him a very simple question, "if you could eat anywhere tonight in walking distance, where would it be?" Without any hesitation, he recommended Di' Vino Bacco.
10 minutes later I was on my way. I loved the appearance of the restaurant right away as it was a small spot with an authentic charm. However, I can't say I was given the warmest greeting from the host. Maybe it was a language issue, maybe they just expected a full house and I came without a reservation. However, I persisted and I was shown to a table.
They lacked English menus which was a positive sign in my mind as this meant they catered to locals. The host attempted to take my order as my waitress and I just couldn't break the language barrier. Come to find out, the host was the owner and his English was just as bad as my Italian. As we suffered through a fractured conversation, he asked me where I was from. When I responded NYC, his expression beamed with delight. He went on to tell me how much he loved NYC. It seemed he was trying harder to communicate with me. Thankfully, he understood, "bring me the best." And that's just what he did... Amazing food and great wine came my way.
The owner's name is Rocco and his brother, Vittorio, is the chef and they are from Sicily. After dinner as the restaurant emptied out, I was asked to stay as Vittorio and the sous chefs spoke decent English. We moved to the bar and the drinks flowed for hours. Lots of laughs after lengthly translations. The next night I went back for another amazing meal. After dinner Rocco and Vittorio took me out on the town to their favorite spots. I go back to Di' Vino Bacco each time I'm in Milan and consider them both dear friends. This is what I call Locally Experienced!