I’m back…in ITALY! This is my month filled with great gastronomic adventures with Tuscan Women Cook.

Two planes, three trains (one by mistake!) and one taxi and I’m in Modena with an opportunity to explore a new, delicious part of Italy. It’s a foodie mecca and home to the #1 chef in the world, Massimo Bottura. I’m looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep tonight and hitting the ground running tomorrow with a full day food tour of Modena and Bologna.

After unpacking into my AirBnB flat, I collapsed for a short afternoon reposino. Refreshed, winning my personal jet lag competition, I taxied to the outskirts of Modena to Antica Moka, a Michelin-starred restaurant run by a family passionate about fine Italian cuisine.

As I was seated in what felt more like an elegant home than a restaurant, I realized this was my very first solo fine dining experience. Until this evening, I could never justify spending the time or money eating a meal of this gastronomic magnitude alone. No more. I’m here in Modena and I’m worth the splurge. Of the seven tables set, mine was the only one with one place setting. I shook off any self-conscious feelings and settled into my Table for One as others arrived around me.

I enjoyed my view and the opportunity to keep my own pace through my six-course seafood tasting menu served by a meticulously efficient server who struck a perfect pace in serving and clearing my table. There were lovely, luxurious touches, from the way she slowly poured the perfect amount of delicious olive oil to changing out my napkin to a dark taupe one for dessert. And here’s something I thought I’d never say: this tasting menu was too much. Everything was beautifully plated and delicious but it felt like the courses were never ending. As much as I love fish, things got pretty fishy around course four. I took my time, was careful not to finish everything and loved watching (and eavesdropping) on the guests around me. The two businessmen seated to my right who ordered and consumed FOUR different bottles of champagne, the double date across the room where the men and women took turns walking out between courses to smoke, and the two men in the corner in animated conversation who looked like Richard Gere and Mandy Patinkin (if they were Italian and impeccably dressed).

Towards the end of my meal a disheveled, large, elderly woman shuffles into the dining room in what appears to be slippers and an oversized black nightgown. It turns out she is Nonna Anna Maria, the chef and owner.

She comes to my table and we have a warm exchange with the help of my server who kindly translates. I tell her that I traveled all the way from California to taste her food and she breaks into a loud, unself-conscious laugh and insists on hugging me. As I leave she comes back out to say good-bye, asks to pose for a photo with me. She then asks that I post it on my Facebook page; talk about a clash of social culture.

Back in my AirB&B bed, I fall asleep around midnight to the sounds from the street of bustling cafés and bars teeming with laughing, drunken guests below.

What a long, delicious journey today has been.