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Dinner in Lombardy

In celebration of the second annual Italian Expo happening this weekend at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the Hotel Granduca hosted a dinner event featuring a menu inspired by the Lombardy region in northern Italy. So what's a dinner like in Lombardy? It's three hours of delicious food, fantastic wines and raucous laughter.

The meal started with sweetbreads breaded in buckwheat polenta topped with Brescianella cheese and candied tomatoes and served in a Spumante white wine sauce. I've had bad sweetbreads before, which is like chewing meat-flavored bubble gum. So though I was a bit wary of this appetizer, I soon was pleased to find I'd worried for naught. These sweetbreads were richly tender with a mildly sweet flavor that melded well with the strong cheese, earthy greens and tart tomatoes.

Next they served saffron risotto Milanese topped with grilled bone marrow and sprinkled with liquorice powder. The creamy saffron broth seemed indulgent at first but soon took passenger seat to the wonderfully grilled marrow. The marrow, or "butter of the gods," was marinated and grilled until a crispy exterior formed, giving it the appearance of being deep-fried. Though it seemed to be dwarfed by the amount of risotto, only a small bit of marrow was needed in each bite to make me happy.

Then came the sautéed quail served over polenta made with Taleggio cheese and a mustard sauce. Taleggio cheese is one of the oldest cheeses in the world, dating back to the 10th century. Confession: the lonely leg bone protruding out from the deboned bird seriously tempted me to pick it up and tap into my inner caveman. Instead I stood up on my chair to get a birds-eye photo of the dish.

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The last savory entrée before the dessert was veal tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto and served with "taroz" and "mostarda di Cremona." Taroz is a mixture of potatoes, beans and green beans seasoned with butter and cheese. Mostarda is a sweet mixture of fruit, ground mustard seeds and grape must. The "di Cremona" indicates the style of mostarda originating from the city of Cremona in Lombardy.

For dessert, everyone had nougat flan drizzled in delicate chestnut honey and sprinkled with edible flower petals. It was still delicious and surprisingly light.

For more information about the Italian Expo this weekend, visit www.italianexpo.us.

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