Posts Tagged ‘foodie’

Exploring Venice, Italy: Lunch on the Island of Burano at Trattoria da Romano

 

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Charming interior of Trattoria da Romano

If you’re looking for things to do in Venice, Italy taking a day trip to one of the nearby islands is a must. The colorful island of Burano, known for it’s brightly painted houses and fine lace is an excellent choice.

Burano has a few well regarded restaurants, making it a great destination for lunch time excursion.

The only way to reach Burano is by boat. I traveled with friends on a private water taxi arranged by the concierge at Bauer il Palazzo which got us to Burano in about 35 minutes. Water taxi is very fun way to travel!

Time lapse of water taxi ride from Venice to Burano

We had a fabulous lunch at Trattoria da Romano, which came highly recommended to us by an American who is an Italian scholar and part-time resident. Booking reservations ahead of time is a must.

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Canals and colorful buildings of Burano

Trattoria da Romano makes a world famous risotto which won raves from Anthony Bourdain, who featured the restaurant on an episode of No Reservations.

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Smiling water at Trattoria da Romano

Burano has only 2,800 full time residents, most of whom work in the fishing industry. When you come here, you’re coming for seafood! We ate our meal family style, with sardines and branzino for the table.

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My friends contemplating the menu at Trattoria da Romano

The highlight of the meal was the seafood risotto, which will please any foodie. I am not normally a fan of dishes that include squid ink, but the seafood risotto won me over. I’ve been dreaming about it since tasting it for myself.

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Seafood Risotto at Trattoria da Ramano

We ordered both the Bourdain-approved seafood risotto, as well as the traditional risotto. While not much to look at, both were seriously next level. The seafood risotto was black but not overly so. It was so good, we contemplated ordering another round for the table.

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Sardines for lunch at Trattoria da Romano

The spaghetti with clams was also quite flavorful and perfectly al dente.

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Spaghetti with clams

We also heard great things about Gatto Nero Restaurant, but we did not dine there ourselves.

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Picture of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards on the wall at Trattoria da Romano

Be sure to check out the photographs on the wall near the bathrooms at Trattoria da Romano. They are a fascinating look at the history of this family owned restaurant and it’s guests.

Via San Martino Destra 221, Burano – Venezia
Phone 041 730030
Via Giudecca, 88 – 30142 Burano (Venice Italy)
Tel. +39.041.730120

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Lummi Island in 21 Bites: Chef Blaine Wetzel’s Pacific Northwest Tasting Menu at the Willows Inn

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Smoked sockeye salmon

Chef Blaine Wetzel has put The Willows Inn on Lummi Island on the Pacific Northwest’s culinary map. Wetzel, a native of Washington state, has an impressive number of awards to his name considering he’s barely 30. He was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2012, and won the James Beard award for Best Rising Chef in 2014 and Best Chef Northwest in 2015.

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The lobby at the Willows Inn

Chef Wetzel’s tasting menu, Lummi Island in 21 Bites, is known for being almost entirely local. It’s also one of the toughest reservations to get in the Pacific Northwest. The Willows Inn seats only 26 and does one sitting per at 6:30 pm. The hotel is closed for a few months in the winter, so getting a reservation during the prime summer season can be challenging. I couldn’t make it happen last summer but got a reservation for June 2016.

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The  cottage at the Willows Inn

Known for it’s super locavore focus, almost everything on the menu is farmed, foraged or raised on or near tiny Lummi Island’s nine square miles.

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Charming details at the 100 year old Willows Inn

The Willows Inn even offers guests tours of the local farm where most of their produce is grown, making it an intriguing foodie destination in the San Juan Islands.

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Craftsman charm at the Willows Inn

Lummi Island is reached by a 10 minute ferry ride from Bremerton. With a population of less than 1,000 residents, little Lummi Island is punching way above it’s weight class in fine dining.

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Pacific Northwest charm at the bar

The evening started with cocktails around 5:30. I had the Pineapple Weed Fizz ($14), made with with pineapple weed gin, egg white and chamomile bitters, which was refreshing in the hot weather and inspired. I liked the lack of formality in the service. It was top notch, but relaxed.

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Mason jars on display in the bar

The meal started with small bites in the bar. First up was a crispy crepe with golden char roe. It was beautiful.

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Left: Flowers and candlelight right: cocktails with fresh garnishes

In honor of National Donut Day, intriguing smoked cod doughnuts were served next. The third course was a standout for me– Kale leaves with black truffles. Next were small bites of roasted sunflower root and green rhubarb.

Willows Inn smokehouse action video

At this point we left the bar and sat at our table, where we were served native oysters in a juice of watercress followed by lightly cured rockfish in a broth of bones.

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roasted sunflower root

The vivid hues of the turnip stems with caramelized razor clams were followed by a Lummi Island “tostada” made with wild herbs served on crispy mustard greens. It was colorful crunchy goodness.

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Kale leaves with black truffles

Stewed porcini mushrooms were served next and, for me, they were the standout course of the evening with their delicate texture and savory umami goodness.

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Scenes from a tasting menu

Dungeness crab served in a puree of pine nuts came next. This delicate yet satisfying dish was followed by a rare seasonal treat of local salmonberries served with petals of Nootka roses. Not overly sweet, the berries were very flavorful and bursting with color. It is a memorable dish.

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Stewed porcini mushroooms

Pacific Northwest staples of smoked sockeye salmon and a seared skirt of razor clam came next. I was starting to lose steam by the time the halibut and lovage arrived.

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Left: Turnip stems with caramelized razor clams Right: Native oysters in a juice of watercress

I found some more room for the wheat bread with pan drippings, but couldn’t muster the strength for the aged leg of venison, which was the last of the savory courses. Epic meals can be too much for me.

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2010 Golden Grape Semillon was part of the wine pairing

The toasted birch branches (served as a tea) were much appreciated with it’s earthy heat acting as a bit of digestive before the dessert courses.

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Seared skirt of razor clam

While I tend to favor savory over sweet, the desserts at the Willows Inn were exceptional and light. Grilled strawberries were served with fresh chamomile in a pleasing combination.

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Green rhubarb

Candied green pine came next, followed by pumpkin seed fudge which was shockingly light and flavorful. I almost asked for seconds.

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Crispy crepe and golden char roe

Wine pairings can be ordered with dinner for $90, or a juice pairing for $40.

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Native oysters in a juice of watercress

The wine pairing focused on the Pacific Northwest and skewed towards the whites, which was appropriate for the seafood-centric menu. I must confess I am not a white wine lover. While I normally adore wines from Oregon and Washington, I thought the wine pairing was the meal’s one misstep. It was also a bit surprising since the cocktails were so good.

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Left: smoked cod donuts Right: Dungeness crab in a puree of pine nuts

If you can’t get a reservation at the Willows Inn you can try checking out Blaine Wetzel’s cookbook, Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest.

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Lummi island “tostada” (wild herbs and crispy mustard 

The Willows Inn also serves breakfast and lunch.

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Left: salmonberries with nooka roses right: grilled strawberries and fresh chamomile

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toasted birch branches tea

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Pumpkin seed fudge

The Willows Inn

Menu $175
Wine pairing $90
Juice menu $ 40

Address: 2579 W Shore Drive
Lummi Island, WA 98262

Phone: (360) 758-2620
Toll Free: (888) 294-2620

Email: reservations@willows-inn.com

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Is the 320 € Vegetable Tasting Menu at Arpège Paris Worth It?

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 The colorful amuse bouche

After seeing chef Alain Passard’s Arpège, a three Michelin star restaurant in Paris, featured on the PBS show I’ll Have What Phil is Having, I was curious. Is it possible to make a truly spectacular vegetarian meal that justifies the 320 € set price for a tasting menu that only uses seasonal produce?

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Beetroot sushi flowered with geranium and Kalamata black olive

Fortunately my husband and a few of my foodie friends were alway interested in finding out. We booked a reservation and went to Paris to check it out for ourselves.

One thing I despise is how at some fine dining restaurants in Europe the woman is handed a menu devoid of prices. I was disappointed that Arpège, which is so groundbreaking on so many levels, went the “women don’t get to read the prices” route. Not only is this sexist, but it left me out of the conversation about some of the other items on the menu (such as the Aiguillettes of Chausey Lobster lobster for 165 €) which was a bummer, and misguided since I was only blogger at the table.

But I quickly got over the menu slight as soon as the amuse bouche arrived to brighten up the monochromatic table at the restaurant. They were vibrant, delicious and highly refined. I was convinced Chef Alain Passard was onto something with this Spring in the Garden menu. The staff which was so friendly I think they would have happily handed me the menu with the prices if I had asked.

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Mesclun with hazelnut praline Mibuna, mizuna, choho…

The first course, beetroot sushi flowered with geranium and Kalamata black olive, was perhaps the most memorable of the evening. It was creative yet sublime and highly flavorful. The beet was as silky as sashimi and the velvety olives were a nice contrast to the rice.

Next up was course was a mesclun salad with hazelnut praline Mibuna. While this was one of the more basic looking dishes, it was definitely next level because of how flavorful it was and it’s lovely combination of textures.

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Fine multicolored vegetable ravioli vegetable consommé

I’m not much of a cook, but my friend, Felix, is. He tried to place the flavors in the third course, the fine multicolored vegetable ravioli in vegetable consommé. The broth had some umami earthiness that he attributed to mushrooms. The ravioli had a nice bite as well.

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White asparagus from the Sarthe region with olive oil and Timut pepper

The fourth course in the tasting menu was white asparagus from the Sarthe region served with olive oil and Timut pepper from Nepal. This was perhaps the most straightforward of the courses served yet still delicious. I like perfectly prepared asparagus, and this course worked in a traditionally refined fashion.

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Louise Passard’s “Parmentier” with kasha grains

On to the next course, which as described as “Louise Passard’s ‘Parmentier’ made with kasha grain.” I found this to be the least memorable course. While it was good- everything was good- I think the wine pairings were starting to catch up with me at this point and I was getting a bit full.

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Palco spinach with hazelnut butter and laurel butter

Next up was Palco spinach with hazelnut and laurel butter. This course looked a bit like baby food but boasted bold and sophisticated flavors.

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Vol-au-vent with Côtes du Jura wine, peas, turnip, and mangetout peas

The next course, a puff pastry vol-au-vent with Côtes du Jura wine, peas, turnip, and mangetout peas was perhaps the most beautiful of the evening. The perfectly froth and vibrant greens stood out and the puff pastry was both delicate and satisfying. This course left clean plates all around.

Spring cabbage stuffed with nettle leaves and fresh thermidrome garlic

The eighth course was spring cabbage stuffed with nettle leaves and fresh thermidrome garlic. This visually resembled the beautiful previous course and was perfectly seasoned, yet not as memorable as the previous course. I think the puff pastry added that magical French carb factor.

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Arlequin Jardinière with Argan oil, young carrot, kohlrabi, Selma fennel

I was getting uncomfortably full by the time the ninth course arrived. It was artful, colorful and delightfully complicated Arlequin Jardinière with Argan oil, young carrot, kohlrabi, and Selma fennel. This was satisfying to my eyes as well as my taste buds.

Garlic crème brûlée with candied lemon

Portions were appropriately sized for a tasting menu, but I decided to bow out of the first dessert course, a garlic crème brûlée with candied lemon. I’m never a fan of the texture of crème brûlée and was losing steam. My friend, Thomas, said this was “the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.” This is saying a lot as Thomas is seriously well-traveled foodie. Maybe I’ll save room next time.

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Crispy millefeuille with candied rhubarb garden angelica

The next course was also sweet, a delicate and crispy millefeuille with candied rhubarb garden angelica. It was delicate but not as memorable or as visually appealing as the savory and umami courses.

I was fully tasted out so the final course, a post-dessert of sweets including macarons, biscuits and caramel. This is the point in the meal where I always seem to forget these epic meals come with multi-course desserts. To me it seemed like overkill but I lack a sweet tooth and never require multiple desserts. I forgot to photograph it.

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Chef Alain Passard came to greet us after our meal (photo credit: Felix Kam-Chung)

After our meal Chef Alain Passard came out to greet us and he is charming and truly an artist. So was the 320 € Spring in the Garden vegetable tasting menu worth it? For me it was a firm “yes”, as much for the experience for the food. It was definitely eye opening to see how creative and refined a vegetarian meal can be. I would order the beetroot sushi and vol-au-vent again if they were available a la carte. When the bill arrived we all agreed we were glad we came.

2016 is the 30th anniversary of the restaurant and there is much to celebrate at Arpege. But you don’t need to bring a jacket to celebrate. Arpege breaks almost all the rules and there is no dress code, not that anyone showed up in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s lovely and upscale but not in the least bit stuffy. The service was friendly and vegetarian tasting menu justified the 360 Euro price of entry. I can’t eat epic meals like this often and I’d like to return to Arpege in another season to see how chef Alain Passard masterfully handles winter vegetables or perhaps check out the 165 € lobster from the a la carte menu. Now if I can only get a menu with the prices on it….

Arpège Restaurant

84, Rue de Varenne
75007 Paris
+ 33 (0)1 47 05 09 06

The Restaurant is open
from Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner

No valet parking.

Reservations : arpege.passard@wanadoo.fr or online via web-site booking form.

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Where To Eat in Chianti: La Cantinetta di Rignana

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The antipasto and Italian Rosé at La Catinetta di Rignana

Located about an hour’s drive outside of Florence, La Cantinetta di Rignana is the sort of place that inspires “I want to move to Tuscany” dreams. Arriving at this hard-to-find restaurant in the rolling hills of the Chianti region feels like being transported to the set of a Bertolucci movie.

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The Tuscan villa that houses La Cantinetta di Rignana Ristorante

Our driver had to call the restaurant twice for directions since the signage in Greve is a bit misleading. But the logistical stress dissolved the second I set eyes on the rustic chic villa that housed La Cantinetta. It’s just plain dreamy. But La Cantinetta di Rignana’s curb appeal is only one of it’s charms.

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Views of Chianti country at La Cantinetta di Rignana

The Tuscan fare is fit for foodies. For good reason, this  restaurant is popular with Italians and tourists alike. It’s got fantastic Tuscan farmhouse atmosphere, incredible views of the rolling hillside, and delicious food. Props to my foodie friend, Charlie, who arranged for our group to have lunch here. We were all seated at long rustic farm table when we started sipping the Italian Rose.

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Views of Tuscany from La Cantinetta 

Charlie ordered for the table, and due to my position as a latecomer seated farthest from the kitchen I missed bruschetta course entirely. My fellow diners raved about it. But I never sweat skipping the bread in Italy. If I’m going for carbs, my preferred form is pasta.

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In the kitchen at La Cantinetta di Rignana GIF

Next up was antipasto. While usually this course is not the most exciting, the perfectly ripe melon at La Cantinetta made the prosciutto & melon combo seriously next level. Paired with pink wine, I felt seriously relaxed for the first time on this trip.

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Perfectly ripe melon and prosciutto

Next came the pasta, which was sublime. Everything was served family style, and the fettuccine was served with a generous amount of truffles and sausage.

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They do not skimp on the truffles at La Catinetta di Rignana

I was completely full after this course and had no idea that the the house speciality at La Cantinetta is the secondi: platters of grilled meat including chicken and pork ribs.

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The cinghiale (wild boar sausage) was the standout dish

The platter of grilled Tuscan meats looked and smelled fantastic, and I made room for one delicious pork rib.

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Roast Tuscan meats were the secondo (second course)

The last course was the standout–cinghiale, wild boar sausage served grilled simply with herbs and lemon. I had one bite, and then found room for a few more. It was exceptional.

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We washed it all down with a lot of Rosato (Rosé wine)

Rumor has it La Cantinetta di Rignana has fabulous desserts but we skipped the course entirely. I still feel I got the complete Tuscan Feast experience.

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The atmosphere at La Cantinetta di Rignana is stuff of Tuscan fantasies

La Cantinetta di Rignana is considered one of the best restaurants in Tuscany, so reservations are essential. Also allow extra time for getting lost in an attempt to find the restaurant. It’s all part of the experience.

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 A cozy seating nook at La Cantinetta di Rignana

La Cantinetta di Rignana made for a memorable meal that was well worth the effort to get here. It’s a great choice for a special occasions.

La Cantinetta di Rignana Ristorante

Loc. Rignana
50022 Greve in Chianti (Fi)
Tel. +39 055 852601 | +39 055 8560200 | +39 347 4534884

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Trattoria Sostanza: Where The Locals Eat in Florence, Italy

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The unassuming exterior of Trattoria Sostanza in Florence

One of the most memorable meals I had on my most recent trip to Florence was chicken. Chicken is hardly ever memorable, but the Butter Chicken at Trattoria Sostanza is exceptional. If you don’t believe me, just read Rob Lowe’s endorsement of it on the photo on the wall.

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Butter chicken sizzling in the kitchen at Trattoria Sostanza

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More butter, this time on the homemade tortellini

My friend, Charlie, discovered Tratttoria Sostanza asked he asked someone what they would pick for their last meal and was told, “I’d go to Trattoria Sostanza in Florence and get the veal chop.” So Charlie went to Trattoria Sostanza and ordered the veal chop and some other of the house specialties, including the homemade tortellini and the Butter Chicken (petti di pollo al burro).

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Trattoria Sostanza’s perfectly browned butter chicken at the table

“How do you tell someone that their pick for their last meal is wrong? The veal chop was delicious but, dude, the Butter Chicken is so much more memorable,” Charlie told me before taking me to dinner at the so-charmless-it’s-charming trattoria favored by locals.

The chicken arrived at the table still sizzling

I love a good hole in the wall and Trattoria Sostanza fits the bill, with walls plastered with white subway tiles and decorated with random photos (Neil Patrick Harris, Machu Picchu, Rob Lowe). Trattoria Sostanza isn’t about atmosphere, it’s all about the food. That’s why it’s packed. It’s totally Italian and slightly loud. And they have perhaps the best chicken in all of Italy, if not the world.

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Rob Lowe speaks the truth: Best Chicken in Italy

I have no idea what era Rob Lowe this headshot is from. West Wing, maybe? The guy is Hollywood’s Dorian Gray. This also makes me wonder if celebrities travel with a bunch of headshots on them?

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Random photo of Machu Picchu added to the charm of this restaurant

Foodies visiting Florence will adore Trattoria Sostanza’s authentic charm and delicious food. It’s not the place for you if you insist on a fabulous view. But if you go you absolutely must try the Butter Chicken… even if your preference is for the veal chop. Meals are served family style so it’s easy to try a few different things.

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The unassuming door of Trattoria Sostanza

Trattoria Sostanza

Via del Porcellana, 25/R

50123 Firenze, Italy

Tel: +39 055 212691

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