Lugano - Olimpia, Al Porto


One of the first things I did when I visited Rome at the turn of the millennium was to pay homage to the Trevi Fountain. Popular legend has it that if one tosses a coin over the shoulder and into the fountain, one will someday return to the eternal city.

Like many of Rome’s historic monuments, the fountain was undergoing restoration during my somewhat untimely visit. It had been drained and the only way to get a glimpse was to peep through between tall wooden panels that restricted any access. In any event, I turned my back on this unexpected obstruction, threw a 50 lire over my head, and crossed my heart...praying that the coin would somehow land in its intended destination.

Perhaps my coin never made its way into the fountain, or perhaps the legend was just that, a legend. Many years have since gone by, and this, here in Lugano, was as close to Rome as I had managed so far.

Needless to say, a trip to Italy for a gourmand invariably evolves around gastronomy. My trip to Rome was no exception. It was not long before I developed an affinity with la cucina italiana. In particular, the risotto with porcini mushrooms made quite an impression on my taste buds. So when I spotted this dish on the menu here in Lugano at the Ristorante Caffè Pizzeria Olimpia, I ordered it without hesitation. Just thinking about the risotto, I could almost feel the velvety porcini melt in my mouth like butter...

“Ecco il risotto ai funghi porcini,” announced the waiter as he set down the plate in front of me.

“Buon appetito,” said the older gentleman sitting next to me with a mischievous grin. He must have been reading my mind. :-)

Without further ado I began. True to my memory, the porcini imparted that opulent heady and meaty aroma, giving a wondrous grace to the creamy wine sauce that caressed each grain of the Arborio rice. The combination of the soft porcini and the al dente rice lent a rich texture to the dish. The grated Parmigiano added yet another distinctive dimension to the already full-bodied flavor of the sauce. To me, this is one of those dishes that are as comforting as they are scrumptious, and as substantial as they are exquisite.

As much as I would have liked to linger over the risotto, I did have to catch a train back to Zürich. Glancing at my watch, I quickly began heading toward the train station. Lugano is, after all, Swiss and not Italian. In the land of the Rolex, the Swatch and the cuckoo clocks, the rail system runs...well, like clock work.

I made my way through the old town of Lugano, resisting the urge to stop and admire the many sienna- and ochre-colored buildings that line the narrow walkways. As I passed by the Grand Café Al Porto, a most luscious charlotte in the display window silently called out to me. Spellbound, I stopped and marveled at this luring creation that looked almost angelic. I took out my camera even though I was about to miss my train. After taking a couple of shots, I turned around and noticed two more tourists waiting behind me, cameras in hand.

When I arrived at the train station, it was already five minutes past the scheduled departure of my train. Looking in the direction of the platform, I noticed many passengers standing about. Could it be? I began to feel wishful... Just then an announcement came on the air—the train to Zurico had been delayed by 20 minutes.

Must have been good luck from that “rainbow” in Lucerne, I thought to myself with a smile.