After the previously discussed ordeal at the Italian embassy, we had worked up a sizable appetite and were ready for some pizza and pasta. Luckily, I had anticipated the need for some authentic Italian and, with a rare burst of foresight, did some research before leaving Saigon. My search brought me to Mediterraneo, located near our hotel at 23 Nha Tho in the heart of Hoan Kiem District.
To be exceedingly charming in a city bursting with charm can prove to be difficult, but it was hard not to be taken aback by the quaint beauty of Nha Tho Street. It's lined with boutique eateries and cute shops filled with high-end hand-made goods and is a perfect locale for a languid afternoon spent window shopping. The end of the street runs into the courtyard of the towering Saint Joseph's Cathedral. Mediterraneo is pretty hard to miss with it's bright blue sea-faring exterior and cozy open-air second-floor balcony complete with traditional bleach-white furniture. (The facade is a tad more Ionian than Adriatic, but that can be excused).
Upon sitting down and ordering a carafe of house red wine and our meals, we were brought a lovely basket of freshly baked bread-sticks, flat bread, and rolls. Especially unique and delicious was the Sardinian-style crispy flat bread baked with rocks of sea salt and fresh rosemary.
I ordered a classic Mediterranean ensalata to start with. Fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, boiled eggs, potatoes, and leafy greens - all slathered in a homemade honey dijon dressing - made for a hearty sheepherders' delight. Gavin prefers simple salads and was bemused by the inclusion of potatoes and egg, but I found it to be a perfect choice for a brisk afternoon with an oaky red wine as a complement.
I ordered one of the several vegetarian pizzas on the menu with eggplant, spinach, zucchini and plenty of cheese. I drizzled liberal quantities of chili oil over mine and enjoyed every mouth-watering bite. The crust was razor thin, yet remained crisp under the thick layer of toppings. A proper wood-burning oven can clearly work wonders under competent hands in Hanoi's temperate climate. It was the best pizza I've had since we were last in Italy.
Gavin appropriately celebrated with a Northern standard from his family's hometown - the classic Tagliatelle Bolognese. The homemade pasta was pitch-perfect and the meat sauce had a light, whimsical character that enhanced the fresh noodles rather than drowning them in acidity.
Our meals were superb. The only problem was that our swollen abdomens let out a surly groan at the very thought of dessert! However; we managed to fit in an espresso before heading back out into the chilly elements. Props to this spot - I am going to gingerly amble out onto a flimsy limb and say it was the best Italian I have had (and may possibly ever have) in Asia.