Cornetto Chronicles: Haiti Caffe

In New York, and in Bristol to a certain degree, I constantly look on urbanspoon, yelp and chowhound to keep up on the best places to eat.  I scour message boards for good croissants and eagerly look for reviews of places that I’ve passed by on my way to somewhere else.  This might seem dull to some people, but for me there is little more exciting than the search for a new place to eat.

You can’t discover new restaurants in the same way in Italy; it’s one of the things I’ve had the hardest time adapting to.  Milan may satisfy the urge to consult the internet for the latest and greatest, but only to a very small degree.  The Italians aren’t as internet crazy as the Americans or the British and while it’s a quality I appreciate, it leaves me feeling antsy.  How do I know if this is any good?  Do I resort to trip advisor?  Sure, there are some year abroad blogs that can help and a few other Americans who have blazed the trails, but if you want an Italian’s opinion on local restaurants you are, by and large, out of luck.

I’ll pave the way for the Pavese brioche scene and tell you that, should you find yourself on Corso Mazzini, Haiti Caffe (or is it Caffe Haiti? We may never know) isn’t worth your attention.

When I went, it was a chilly fall morning in Pavia, overcast but pleasant.  I wanted a small, cozy place that would feel comfortable and home-y.  Then I passed Haiti Caffe, which had an awning boasting the cafe’s establishment in 1948.  It looked small, warm and inviting, with a smattering of seats tucked into the back of the bar.  After a few moments of deliciously awkward deliberation, I walked in and headed straight away to sit down.  After only a few moments, the barista came over and took my order, before returning to his post behind the espresso machine.  After a short wait my cappuccino scuro and brioche “vuota” arrived.

They were attractive, though there was an unpleasant sticky coating on the outside of the brioche and those unfortunate sugar crystals sprinkled on top.  I didn’t let that get me down.  I took a deep breath to remind myself to enjoy this moment in this warm cafe on this Saturday morning in Italy.  I stirred the chocolate into my cappuccino and licked the schiuma off the spoon.  Delightful.  I ripped off a bit of the dense, dense brioche and dunked it into the coffee.  Delightful.

I’m beginning to think that Italians have paired cappuccini and cornetti together because one without the other doesn’t quite taste right.  This coffee, I am nearly certain, was made with robusta beans and nearly undrinkable without some mitigating feature.  The cornetto, when dunked in, sucked up the bitter flavor allowing you to taste more coffee and less what-is-that.

I happily dunked and sipped when I dared, watching as more people floated into the cafe, took a seat and breakfasted with a cappuccio e brioche.  Then I hit it.  This wasn’t a plain cornetto they had given me, it was filled with marmalade.  I bit into the sticky, smooth marmalade with disappointed trepidation.  It didn’t work well for dipping.  I take this as a sign that every one gets their cornetti confused, even the people who work in the bars.

Overall, the experience was pleasant but the quality was lacking.  The flavors in the coffee and brioche weren’t right.  I will always want a plain cornetto instead of one filled with marmalade.  I will never want a coffee that demands sugar to be palatable.  While Haiti Caffe was a comfortable spot, I doubt I’ll be back on my Saturday morning adventures.  If I do return, it will be to try that coffee with pistachio cream.  I’ll bet that mitigates the robusta flavor.

Do you like to look for new restaurants/places to go online or do you enjoy just going somewhere without reading what everyone else thinks?

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