Here are our thoughts on our dining, lodging, and a few other hopefully relevant experiences during our recent more than five-week (April-May 2022) time in Northern Italy (Piemonte, Portovenere, Florence, Bologna, Venice, Verona, and Lake Garda). Since there were so many meals on this trip, some of my notes may be a bit shorter than the ones I used to prepare. As I have said before in my previously posted dining notes, we certainly are not professional critics, but we do eat well and think we know what is good. As always, please feel free to take the comments below with a grain of fine truffle salt.
As an initial matter, other than some rides arranged by our first stop, the wonderful Hotel Castello di Sinio, we used “Daytrip” (https://mydaytrip.com/) for our city-to-city transportation throughout Northern Italy. We found it to be a very good and comfortable service. This was our first trip for which we did not rent our own car and did not get on any trains and instead relied upon the Daytrip network of very good, safe, friendly, and knowledgeable local drivers and their luxury cars. We prepaid for all of the rides, and everything worked very well. While I generally enjoy driving, we found it eliminated the stress one occasionally encounters on vacation when renting, driving, getting lost while driving, or trying to find your hotels in the crowded and ofttimes bewildering historic centers where they inevitably are located; not to mention the waste of then parking and storing the rented vehicle in each city until you head out for the next destination. In addition, we actually made friends of a few of our drivers. We highly recommend this service and will use it again.
The Langhe in Piemonte
Stayed at Hotel Castello di Sinio, in Sinio. Highly recommended, a beautiful place run by a wonderful lady, Denise, and her warm and highly competent team. They will help you arrange whatever you’d imagine in the area: drivers, winery tours (well-known and not so well-known), farm tours, a nearby hazelnut factory tour (which we would recommend), “non-salted” truffle hunting, etc. Their attention to detail and to our stated interests was amazing. We loved staying there, the room was great, the building itself is amazing, the grounds are beautiful, the location is perfect, the other guests are interesting, and the dining is truly terrific, including the beautiful breakfasts. In fact, after more than five weeks spent in Northern Italy, and after eating some truly great meals in quite a few amazing restaurants, we think our dinner at the Castello was by far one of the best meals we had. Denise is a passionate, highly skilled, and creative chef, with fantastic local sourcing, and her and the team’s attention to marvelous food and warm service is first-rate. The wine list is filled with very fine local wines, including smaller and less well-known producers. We enjoyed some fine 2018 Mauro Veglio Nebbiolo “Angelo” and a 2012 Aurelio Settimo Barolo with our dinner, and a few very fine, handcrafted, locally-tweaked cocktails were downed during our stay. We definitely would return.
La Gemella, in Barolo. Lunch. We enjoyed a terrific meal here. Upscale and elegant presentation of regional dishes, very well prepared and delicious, and they have a very good wine list. We had a 2018 Giacosa Roero Arneis. We would return.
Osteria dell’ Arco, in Alba. Lunch. Very popular with locals, casual atmosphere, terrific food, friendly service. Very good dishes included wonderful amberjack crudo, vitello tonnato, and their “40 egg yolks” tajarin with sausage and tomato sauce and agnolotti del plin pastas. We would return.
Trattoria Dai Bercau, in Verduno. Dinner. Definitely a locals’ place, in a very small town, and this is a very casual and cozy little restaurant; however, it had a surprisingly impressive multicourse menu (on blackboard) with interesting choices, and everything, from the traditional pastas to the hazelnut torte dessert, was well-prepared and delicious, and they had a very good wine list. We might return.
Vinoteca Centro Storico, in Serralunga d’Alba. Lunch. What a fun place! Super friendly, passionate owner, amazingly broad and deep wine list, very good food, colorful décor, and lots of very happy diners. When Xiaopei told the owner she’d like only vegetables for lunch because she’d already eaten too much in our first two days, he laughed and said, “Welcome to Piemonte!” We enjoyed a very pleasant 2018 “house” Barolo by Trediberri. We definitely would return.
Massimo Camia, in Barolo. Dinner. Our first of a few Michelin-starred places on this trip. It was good, with some very good dishes and a well-matched wine pairing. But, overall, it felt a bit strained and somewhat “off” and it just was not that wonderful or special in our opinion. We would not return.
L’Osteria del Vignaiolo, in La Morra. Lunch. Terrific! Granted, we ate with a very local friend from a well-known nearby winery, and that might have contributed to some of the fun; however, I believe everything we ate would have been just as delicious and the service just as friendly had we reserved the table ourselves. Outside is beautiful, with great views, and inside is very cozy. We drank (finished) a terrific bottle of 2009 Barolo “Specola” from Figli Luigi Oddero, where we earlier that day had been tasting our happy way through an amazing lineup. A great restaurant, and we definitely would return.
Bovio, in La Morra. Dinner. Our experience here was perfect. We had a very nice table by the windows to take in the amazing view (we had reserved more than two weeks before), we were treated like family, the staff spoke English well, and we had a really great evening. The room is lovely and lively, the wine list is astounding (when our server handed it to me, I looked at its telephone book mass, lifted it, and laughed, and she said with a big smile, “I’ll be back in an hour”). I chose a 2013 Riserva Barolo Bussia from Giacomo Fenocchio. The food was delicious and really beautifully presented, and the wine service was both professional and friendly. We definitely would return.
Osteria More e Macine, in La Morra. Dinner. Casual, and very crowded, we ate in the downstairs dining area. The service was friendly and efficient, but a bit rushed, probably because they were packed. We enjoyed a 2018 Carlo Revello Barolo. The food was very good, in a high-quality, home-style way. We might return.
Portovenere and Cinque Terre
Stayed at the Grand Hotel Portovenere. A grand hotel indeed, perfect location in the heart of this beautiful little town; with a wonderful room with a great view; very caring, helpful, and super friendly staff; and very fine dining, from great breakfasts to a first-rate dinner to a terrific little cocktail bar and terrace, all with truly warm and attentive service. We very much enjoyed staying here and would definitely stay here again if in the area. The town itself is lovely, with amazing views in all directions, lots of small streets, hills to climb, historic structures to explore, good shopping, very good dining, and it’s a short and fun ferry ride to and from the various close by Cinque Terre villages. We drank lots of Vermentino, and particularly enjoyed those from Poggio Paterno, il Monticello Groppolo, Zangani Mortedo, and most of all, La Piccarda from Fratelli Giannarelli.
Palmaria, inside the Grand Hotel Portovenere. Dinner. Easily one of the best dinners in town. Creative, beautifully presented dishes of the finest local produce and seafood. An imaginative menu with elegant preparations that set it apart from virtually all of the other restaurants in town. Very skilled chef and very delicious food, and the friendliest staff anywhere. Just a real treat, and we definitely would return.
Trattoria Da Oscar, in Monterosso (one of the Cinque Terre). Lunch. Recommended by a friendly local shopkeeper, after she gently shook her head to the first restaurant option I pointed to on TripAdvisor, and said, “Before was good,” to a second possibility. We were happy with her suggestion! Friendly, quick, perfectly prepared mussels and a dish of the amazing local anchovies (which I must say not only are a big deal in the area, but also are really good). A very good casual place for excellent seafood. The various pesto dishes also looked good, but I was trying to behave myself. We would return (and I’d order some pasta with pesto next time).
Ristorante Portivene, in Portovenere. Dinner. Creatively prepared, beautifully plated, terrific local dishes, made with the best ingredients and served by exuberant and friendly staff. This was the other of our best dinners in Portovenere, with not only first-rate seafood and pasta, but prepared by an obviously talented and imaginative chef and pastry chef. Everything was really very good and the service was super friendly, and made us feel very welcome. Dinner was so good that we returned the next day for lunch; so, yes, we definitely would return.
Trattoria Tre Torri, in Portovenere. Dinner. The food was very good, with nicely plated and delicious pastas and wonderful local seafood; but, frankly, the service was a disappointing, head-scratching combination of a harried and, in my opinion, not particularly friendly owner and an unenthusiastic staff. We probably would not return, despite the delicious food.
Cappun Magru, in Manarola (another of the Conque Terre). Lunch. We planned to have lunch at Trattoria Dal Billy, which had been recommended to us. It was closed, so we looked around, and very happily ended up here, a tiny, unassuming, casual, slightly out of the way place that looks like it deals mostly in takeout from the counter, with only a few tables inside. In fact, it’s an actual gem! Very kind and enthusiastic family/staff, amazing and unassuming dishes, super fresh local produce and seafood, and a surprising hyper-local wine list. We definitely would return.
Torre di Venere, Portovenere. Supposed to have been dinner. A disappointment. I wish I could discuss the food or the ambiance or the staff, all of which were reputed to have been very good. However, because the owner chose to close the restaurant for the evening without any notice and ignore and cancel all reservations – not even to our nearby hotel, an obvious source of much prior business, who had made our booking weeks before – we were unable to have dinner here. It is one thing to have an unforeseen problem and feel compelled to close for the evening. But, if that is the case, to provide no notice whatsoever of the decision, and to leave people with longstanding reservations scrambling for a replacement dinner restaurant in a small town on a busy night, is not acceptable in my opinion. Even days later, after our hotel investigated, they only were told that there was some “private event.” No further explanation was provided to the hotel. If the owner does not care, then I’ve no interest in trying to return, and I’d suggest careful thought before going.
Trattoria da Iseo, in Portovenere. Our replacement dinner location after we unexpectedly found our reserved restaurant dark and closed. This is a fun, slightly crazy place with a friendly atmosphere and some of the best and freshest seafood to be found in the region. I say “slightly crazy” (in a good way) because it seemed a little chaotic, with timing just a bit off, likely because the kitchen is small and busy preparing really good food. It was filled with large local families having a noisy, good time, which was fun to witness. We had terrific seafood and pasta, all very high quality and super fresh, prepared expertly. It may not be the smoothest operation, but it is fun and friendly and the food is great. One of our best meals in town. We would return.
Trattoria La Marina, in Portovenere. Lunch. Another of the similar looking seafood restaurants that dot the harbor area. We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch, with friendly, efficient service and good food, including the local mussels and oysters, which we found in general to be a bit too briny and salty, tasty shrimp, and nice pasta. We probably would return.
Stayed at the Degli Orafi Hotel, which had been recommended to us by a fellow traveler/ food and wine enthusiast whose opinions I trust; even more so now. Ideal location, steps away from the Ponte Vecchio, the Piazza della Signoria, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Gallerie Degli Uffizi, the Galleria dell’Accademia, the Museo Galileo, and pretty much everything else in the city’s ancient, walkable heart. The building itself is an amazing and beautiful historic structure, the staff was friendly and helpful, the room was good-sized and well-appointed, the breakfasts were wonderful with kind and attentive service in a beautiful, frescoe-ceilinged room, there’s a quite good rooftop bar, and it has a lovely library room. We really enjoyed our stay here and we would return. We are happy to recommend it!
Cibrèo Ristorante, in Florence. Dinner. This was a sentimental choice for our first night in town as we have very fond memories of a dinner here many years ago. Sometimes, returning to such a place can be disappointing (cue Thomas Wolfe), but it certainly wasn’t here. Sadly, the longtime owner and chef, Fabio Picchi, had passed away recently, but, happily, his effusive son, Giulio, clearly is maintaining the high-quality experience, which includes as ever the tableside explanation of the menu. Everyone was super friendly, the atmosphere is lively and warm, the wine list is impressive, and the food was just really good and very well-presented. We enjoyed excellent pasta, pigeon, and lamb dishes, and a very nice 2017 Le Ragnaie Vigna Vecchia Brunello. We also had wonderful desserts, including a terrific chestnut flour meringue cake. We definitely would return.
L’Ortone, in Florence. Dinner. A gem of a restaurant and a terrific experience. The atmosphere is warm and friendly and you can see into the kitchen area, which makes for an even better time. The young lady taking care of us was quite funny. We learned a while ago that one of us - the Chinese one - thinks “al dente” pasta is a little too chewy and perhaps should be cooked a little longer so it’s a bit softer. Thus, I’ve learned to ask the server in Italian restaurants to prepare my wife’s pasta, “Non al dente, a little bit more cooked, un pò più cotta.” This night, when I said this, our server, with a twinkle in her eyes looked intently at Xiaopei and slowly said, “I will forgive you because you are not Italian.” That being said, the two pasta dishes we ordered - homemade egg spaghetti with tomato sauce and burrata, and homemade strozzapretti with a lamb ragu - were seriously and truly wonderful and when I said to our server that these were some of the best pastas we’ve had, she looked at me and said, “Even though it is overcooked?” We also decided to go for the one kilo bistecca Fiorentina, which was terrific, obviously very high-quality meat, perfectly prepared. They have a very good wine list, from which we chose a 2017 Mastrojanni Brunello. We definitely would return.
Ristorante Sabatini, in Florence. Dinner. Very good food but … overly slow and somewhat inattentive service, and a feeling that this – a well-known and highly recommended place – might be a restaurant that time and “buzz” recently have passed by. It is a spacious space and it was not busy at all, and it seemed, to us, just a bit unloved and faded. The food was very good (no issues there at all, everything really was wonderful), and we enjoyed a nice bottle of 2016 Querciabella Chianti Classico. It is hard to know if this simply might have been an “off night,” but a restaurant this renowned probably oughtn’t have off nights. In any event, we probably would not return.
Bar at the Hotel Savoy, in Florence. Repeated afternoon visits for cocktails. Another sentimental location for us, although it has been extensively remodeled since we had our very first Negronis here quite a long while ago. This is a “fashionable” bar, being part of a luxurious hotel, but it’s not trendy or super busy or precious, which suits us just fine. It has a fantastic location, where you can sit inside or outdoors and watch the throngs walk by, the service is friendly and the drinks are very well-prepared by experienced bartenders happy to discuss ingredients and recipes. Food also is available. We really like this place (and recommend it leaps and bounds ahead of the nearby tourist-wallet-sucking Gilli).
Trattoria Ponte Vecchio, in Florence. Lunch. Located in a very busy touristy area, even by Florence standards, and I instinctively was somewhat hesitant; however, it was very close to our hotel, we were hungry, and it had been recommended to us by a good friend. Despite it being very crowded with, let’s say, other non-locals, the two pasta dishes we ordered were actually very good, and the service was friendly. We might return.
Ristorante Logò, in Florence. Dinner. Our meal here was wonderful. A place on the “other side of the river,” it definitely is worth the walk across the Ponte Vecchio and past the Piazza dei Pitti. It quickly became evident that this would be a fine meal. Started with Prosecco and then three whimsical and delicious amuse-bouches: a potato-tomato roll, ricotta and pistachio mousse, and a Cacio e Pepe Lollipop. Then, octopus for Xiaopei and a chickpea humus and cod “sphere” for me. Then, the delicious pastas, tagliatelle bianco with truffles, and ravioli with guinea fowl and mushrooms. The mains were pork filet with tonnato, and duck breast with hazelnut. Yum! This was creative, skillful cooking, everything was delicious and elegantly presented, and we enjoyed very friendly service. We enjoyed a nice bottle of 2016 La Lecciaia Brunello. This place really should be much more popular! We definitely would return.
Frescobaldi Firenze, in Florence. Dinner. Our last dinner in Firenze of this trip. We found from the impressive wine list a fine Tuscan white (2019 Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia), and our starters were terrific, a raw artichoke and red prawn salad, and the best beef tartare I’ve ever had. Period. Anywhere. There, I said it, it was the best! We then ordered our pastas, tagliatelle with tiny lobsters, red pepper, and tomato for Xiaopei, and pappardelle with turbot ragu and aged ricotta for me. Our waiter somehow made a mistake or misheard and brought me a plate of lovely tagliolini virtually covered with truffles, instead of the pappardelle I had requested. Oh, the horror! He and the manager apologized repeatedly, and we just as repeatedly said, “It’s okay, it’s okay, we’re actually quite happy to have it!” (Plus, we had the impression they’d toss it if we sent it back.) We very happily devoured it and, thereafter, the pappardelle once it appeared. I said, after they apologized yet again for the mix up, “If this was the worst mistake of the day, life is truly very good.” So, we had 3 instead of 2 pastas, and each really was great. Our main was a very nice filet of branzino and grilled artichokes, more than enough for both of us after the “great pasta mistake.” They brought us a plate of cantucci and glasses of Vin Santo to end a wonderful meal. It is a place much warmer and friendlier than its classic appearance might indicate, and we enjoyed ourselves very much. We’d definitely return.
Stayed at the Art Hotel Orologio, another very well-located hotel, in the heart of the old city center and easy to stop in and out during the day as you wander around this most fascinating and historic city, a favorite of mine. Friendly and very helpful staff, the room was very nice and had a nice view, the building itself is old and interesting, the breakfasts were delicious, and we enjoyed staying there and would return.
Trattoria La Mela, in Bologna. Lunch. While waiting for our room at the nearby hotel to be ready, we enjoyed a very good, casual lunch around the corner in this small, friendly, family-run restaurant, which had been recommended by the hotel. We had some salads, a very fine handmade pizza, and a tasty bowl of the local specialty, tortellini en brodo, a dish I’ve always loved, and this was to be just the first of many happily consumed bowls while we were back in Bologna. This was a very good bowl! We would return.
Al Sangiovese, in Bologna. Dinner. A casual, cozy, friendly, noisy with locals (I’m fairly certain we were the only non-Italians present), traditional sort of place, where the owners obviously love wine, and lots of Emilia-Romagna’s version of Sangiovese is poured along with plates of very delicious, hearty, regional cuisine (wonderful pastas!). I would say it was not particularly “special,” but we really enjoyed ourselves with the very friendly owners, the warm and inviting atmosphere, and the wonderfully prepared local food. We would return.
Osteria del Podestà, in Bologna. Lunch. It was raining fairly hard and we were hungry, so I asked for lunch suggestions from folks inside a nice aromatic little grocery, overflowing with tortellini and salumi. They sent us here, a small, rather casual place, without much atmosphere, but with an inviting menu of regional dishes. We ate inside. The service was efficient, if not particularly warm, and the pasta dishes were very good indeed. The tortellini en brodo was great, as was the really delicious gramigna con salsiccia (gramigna is a hollow tubelike pasta, here in a visiually attractive combination of green (spinach) and plain, in sausage and onion sauce). There are other places that have better, warmer service, but we enjoyed a very nice lunch here. We might return.
L’Arcimboldo, in Bologna. Dinner. This was a great dinner! Slightly formal appearing atmosphere, but warm and friendly service, and terrific, creative, imaginative takes on traditional Bolognese dishes, with very attractive presentations. There obviously is a very skilled and thoughtful chef at work here. We enjoyed a really good modernized version of tagliatelle (an attractive coiled on the plate presentation) with mushrooms, including heaps of morels; an amazing dish of tortelloni and artichoke under a nice pile of local salumi; a fantastic plate of cannelloni stuffed with duck, hazelnuts, and raspberries; and an interesting sounding but terrific in execution dish of pigeon and scallops. A very good wine list as well. The menu was filled with other dishes we’d love to try and we would definitely return.
Nu Lounge and Bar, in Bologna. After dinner cocktails. And now for something completely different, a Tiki bar in medieval Bologna. Very enthusiastic and friendly bartenders and staff, interesting menu, quite good drinks with creative and fun presentations, loud but good music, and lots of fun. Very enjoyable, and we would return.
Trattoria Gianni, in Bologna. Lunch. Suggested by locals, and located down at the end of an easy to miss alley, this place was magic. Once we found it, I went inside to see if we could have a table. The lady apparently in charge told me they were full, and now that I could look around, they plainly were, and asked if we could return a little later, “perhaps around 2pm?” I said, “Of course, but your sign outside says you close at 2.” She said, “My husband is the chef and I am the owner and you will eat and don’t worry about the clock.” We returned as instructed, and it was wonderful! Great food, warm, fun atmosphere, obviously friendly owner and staff, nice wine list, and they are busy because they deserve to be. We would return!
All’Osteria Bottega, in Bologna. Dinner. A very good dinner (again, I know), which we ate outdoors, with some of the best pasta I’ve had, and please keep in mind for reference purposes that Bologna is great pasta headquarters. I started with Maltagliati (which means “badly torn pasta”) with veal ragu and asparagus - and watched in action a very cool, gigantic, megaphone-shaped Parmigiana grater which I now want. Xiaopei had a very interesting pasta dish - handmade rigatoni with giblets and an “unlaid” egg. We shared a roasted guinea hen and finished with some great aged pecorino, and drank a very nice 2015 Costa Archi Sangiovese Ravenna. I must say that the service was a bit less warm than I would have preferred; nevertheless, the food was great, and we would certainly consider a return.
Osteria Angolo Degli Orefici, in Bologna. Afternoon drinks and snacks. Based on how kind and warm and friendly everyone here was, we recommend it! To be clear, we did not eat other than an amazing house-made dessert, and we had afternoon cocktails; and the way they and the dessert were crafted plus the way we were treated tell me all likely is good here.
Antica Osteria Le Mura, in Bologna. Dinner. Our final dinner in Bologna of this trip. A slightly upscale place, preparing very fine food, with interesting choices between traditional or modern, creative versions, paired with exceptionally friendly service. We had a cuttlefish “salad” with mint and pea cream; a beautifully presented “tartare of Dentice” (similar to sea bream); perfect tagliatelle with ragu; the amazing local balanzoli pasta, which are lovely spinach green and tortellini-like; delicious gramigna with sausage sauce; and a very fine desert. They had a very good wine list, from which we selected a really nice 2019 Roero Arneis Riserva from Angelo Negro. In essence, this was a first-rate, yet still somewhat casual dinner, where everything was delicious and, even in a city of delicious, this stands out with its very skilled and creative preparations of traditional dishes, served by very warm and friendly folks. We enjoyed our dinner here very much and we definitely would return.
We stayed again at family favorite Hotel Ca’ Pisani, a very nice and very friendly “artsy” small hotel in the less crowded (i.e., far fewer tourists) Dorsoduro district. The folks here are as nice and helpful as can be, the breakfasts are wonderful, the rooms are comfortable, pleasant, and interesting, and the location on a quiet street not far from the Ponte dell’ Accademia is a perfect base for exploring this most fun to walk around and lose yourselves city. We are happy to recommend this hotel.
Taverna San Trovaso, in Venice. Dinner. We love this place, discovered by brother Marshall and Diana during our 2018 visit to Venice. To me, it’s precisely what we want in a potentially sensory-overwhelming city like Venice: Away from the really large crowds because it is located in a less busy neighborhood; it’s “local”; it’s friendly and cozy, with warm service and really good, simple food, like first-rate pizzas (some of the best I’ve had, seriously) and fresh and well-prepared local seafood; all with a fun, happily noisy, and casual vibe. With our pizzas, we enjoyed from their short but interesting wine list a very pleasant 2019 Vaona Valpolicella Ripasso. And then, because the large and friendly table of apparent regulars next to us insisted we try what they all were drinking, we had some crazy delicious and creamy after-dinner drinks made from lemon gelato, vanilla gelato, and vodka. I don’t know it is called, but it is a scrumptious liquid dessert and I recommend it! We definitely would return. In fact, we did a few days later for lunch.
Antiche Carampane, in Venice. Dinner. We have mixed emotions about this place. It came highly recommended and thus we had high expectations. Overall, the food was really good; however, it was the first restaurant in our extensive Italy dining experience where we felt a bit rushed by the rather “efficient” lady taking our order, and we were not alone in that impression as we noted from our next table-mates, as well as from recent on-line reviews. The seafood and pasta dishes all really were wonderful, don’t get me wrong, and the pace did begin to slow down after a while. Nevertheless, it was not a sterling experience, because it felt somewhat tense, and we are not sure whether we’d return.
Osteria alle Testiere, in Venice. Dinner. It is not a secret that this casual appearing restaurant, another family favorite, is exceptional. (Note that it is very crowded, with tables quite close together.) The dishes were superb, with the very freshest, high-quality local seafood they can find each morning at the nearby Rialto market, as well as perfectly prepared pastas. The staff is efficient, but friendly and helpful, and the owner, Luca, treated us like old friends. My wife and I wholeheartedly enjoyed the parade of amazing dishes: calamari and chicory salad, crudo of langoustines, ravioli with asparagus and red tuna ragu, gingered clams, fresh red prawns, John Dory filet, grilled prawns, and steamed mantis shrimps. In addition, in our fortunate experience, Luca sometimes enjoys fun excursions into after dinner Amari tasting or, that night, new regional gins. An altogether great time was had and we’d definitely return.
Al Covo, in Venice. Dinner. This is another of Venice’s (let’s be honest) perhaps not that many very good seafood restaurants, standing out from the crowd of average places catering to day tourists. Here at Al Covo, you are treated well, and dishes of the freshest seafood and delicious house-made pastas are served in a casually elegant fashion. We enjoyed a “salad” of mantis shrimp and prawns, a plate of beautiful, raw red shrimp, spaghetti with clams, tagliatelle with asparagus and peas, lump crab with its roe, and a really delicious “seared Sardinian red tuna ‘tataki,’’ along with a nice 2019 Filippi Turbiana Verona Trebbiano from their fairly impressive wine list. It was a very nice dinner, and we would return.
Vini Al Bottegon (also known as Schiavi), in Venice. Cicchetti and spritzes. Part of Venetian drinking culture includes these small, very casual and unassuming little neighborhood “bars,” where locals and tourists hang out in the late afternoon/early evening to enjoy a variety of small bites (think of it as Italian tapas) with several glasses of wine or of course the ubiquitous Aperol (or other aperitivo) spritzes. What such places may lack in super friendly, warm, “take all the time you need” service, they make up for in efficiency, variety, and deliciousness. Our family favorite, in less crowded Dorsoduro not far from our hotel, is this place, which apparently has been there forever. Despite the less tourist-thronged nature of the neighborhood, it still can get crowded inside depending on time of day, and you want to be able to order fairly quickly as you stand before the displays of little sandwiches and other treats, because the owners have other folks waiting to be served. Drinks are made very quickly and are quite good. We tend to find space to stand in the back, and always stop by.
Ai Mercanti, in Venice. Dinner. Our final Venice dinner of this trip. A wonderful place, sort of hidden away, and definitely worth the search. Great, and unique, pastas, including house-made mint fettucine with tuna bottarga and peas, and a lovely plate of paccheri carbonara which I must say I found so insanely good that I did something I do only very rarely – I had it a second time, as my dessert! We also had a terrific octopus dish and a quite tasty veal skirt steak. It was a great dinner, served by very friendly and helpful folks, and we would definitely return.
We stayed this time at the stately sounding Lords of Verona, which is an apartment style place in the most perfect location, in the lovely, lively, and famous Piazza del Signori (with its imposing statue of Dante), with very good outdoor-dining restaurants a few steps from the entrance, and dozens more restaurants mere minutes away. The building is quite old and historic and has been renovated within to provide very modern apartments, which are cleaned and resupplied daily, and we feel we must mention the bathroom’s wonderful shower. The staff is great, very friendly and helpful, and we highly recommend this quiet and peaceful place as the perfect base from which to explore and enjoy Verona.
Trattoria Pizzeria Impero Verona, in Verona. Lunch and takeaway. This wonderful place with outdoor dining is a few feet from the Lords of Verona doorway within Piazza del Signori. The charming and very friendly owner greeted us like long lost friends, the menu is extensive and loaded with many enticing and delicious choices, the salads and pizza and pasta dishes and drinks were very good, and I found it hard to imagine a more comfortable place to relax and enjoy lunch after our arrival in town. It also is open for dinner, which I am sure would be wonderful, and the takeaway service (a few days later we opted for another pizza and a bottle of Valpolicella) is terrific, with real plates, and bottles of balsamic and olive oil if desired, to be returned the next day. They also own the gelateria next door, which was excellent as well. A very good restaurant indeed, and we would return!
Archivio, in Verona. Cocktails. A real gem, a great little, casual bar with passionate, friendly, and very skillful bartenders carefully crafting perfect classic, modern, and new drinks. We loved it and returned during our stay in Verona. If this were in my neighborhood, I’d likely be there quite often.
Hosteria 17, in Verona. Dinner. A very nice small and casual restaurant serving excellent and interesting dishes of local cuisine with friendly and efficient service. We enjoyed a very nice bottle of 2019 Corte Moschina Valpolicella Ripasso with our dishes of radicchio with burrata; squid ink spaghetti with lobster, shrimp, and crab; an amazingly delicious pistachio lasagna that I continue to think about; a veal shank; and pan-seared shrimp with rocket and pesto. And a fabulous, never to be forgotten pistachio semifreddo dessert that seems to be a house specialty, a dish so very good that I couldn’t help but recommend it to other diners nearby. A really great dinner, and we would definitely return.
Caffe Dante Bistrot, in Verona. Lunch. This was a perfect place to stop for a relatively quick and light lunch during a downpour. The friendly and helpful staff, while busy with serving others, scrambled to rearrange the outdoor tables and umbrellas and did a very good job getting us seated where we would be dry. We had a fine 2020 Tommasi Lugana and a dish of some very tasty grilled vegetables and a delicious pasta dish - agnolotti del plin filled with lamb with a fava bean and pecorino sauce. A very nice place and we certainly would consider a return. (Actually, we did return, another afternoon, for a few nice Spritzes and to relax with a dear local friend.)
La Cantina Del 15, in Verona. Dinner. This is a casually elegant place we visited in 2018 and liked very much, and we again had a very good dinner here. This time we enjoyed some excellent pasta dishes – paccheri with baby octopus and pappardelle with duck ragu – and Brado (a particular type of Tuscan “wild pork”) ribs with polenta and potatoes, along with a very good bottle of 2018 Speri Valpolicella Classico Superiore Sant’Urnano. Service was friendly but felt a bit rushed, probably because the place is very busy and the staff is small. We likely would return.
Sottoriva 23 Ostregheteria, in Verona. Drinks and lunch. This is a favorite of ours in Verona, because one of my very favorite bartenders anywhere, our friend Valentina, is there. It’s worth finding even if it is a bit outside the main touristy hubs, located along the river across from the famous ruins of the Teatro Romano. They don’t advertise themselves as a place for great cocktails, but I think they should, since it not only is a great wine bar and a very good restaurant, but they also have a real star working the bar there, making very delicious drinks, both classic and invented, skillfully and with passion. The atmosphere is warm and casual, the service is friendly, and the food is very good. We enjoyed an excellent lunch there, with a simple but perfect starter of anchovies, butter, and burrata on lightly toasted bread, and a really wonderful and memorable pasta dish, tagliatelle with pesto, “cheese cream,” prawns, and pistachios. Their pizzas look fantastic but, unfortunately, we didn’t have room! We’ll surely have some pizza next time, since we definitely would return.
Restaurant Il Desco, in Verona. Dinner. Another of our Michelin-starred meals, in a very beautiful and elegant restaurant. I must say that the menu’s selection process was a bit confusing to us, and I found the initially officious explanation of how to order somewhat off-putting. However, after we discussed with our server the significance from my perspective of the inclusion of the word “possibly” in the menu’s sentence, “… are to be intended possibly for the whole table,” things soon were resolved. We then ordered as we wished, and a quite good dinner experience commenced. As expected, each dish was beautifully plated, dutifully described by the servers, and thoroughly enjoyed. The meal was delicious and impressive, as it ought to be given the reputation, we enjoyed chatting with the owner/chef, and we (and he) found certain of the other guests rather entertaining. All in all, it indeed was a very fine dining experience. However, given the initial attitude shown, and the fact that there are lots of other great dining options in Verona, I am not at all certain we’d return.
Antica Amelia, in Verona. Lunch. We were brought here for lunch by a dear Veronese friend, who said she had wanted to try it. It’s a charming little place that looks like it could double as a beautiful home furnishings shop. We enjoyed some very nicely made aperitivos made from Sardinia’s popular “Mirto” liqueur, and then a few wonderful dishes – passatelli (a pasta prepared like gnocchi, but from bread crumbs rather than with potatoes, and parmigiana, eggs, and water) which was deliciously served with bottarga, leek, and lemon, and an amazingly good sous vide prepared lake trout, as well as a very fine tiramisu for dessert. We would return, especially to try the dinner there.
Osteria Macafame, in Verona. Dinner. This was our final dinner of this visit to Verona. The whimsical yet interesting attitude of this casual little place is summarized in their small outside sign: “We are against War and Tourist Menu.” This means the dishes are proudly traditional Veronese, and while the menu itself offers no English translations, the owner is quite friendly and ready to help you, if needed, work through some of the less familiar dish descriptions. We had a very good dinner of skillfully and imaginatively prepared versions of traditional dishes, including a simple but elegant plate of anchovies with smoked burrata (which I’d not had before and it really was super delicious), some wonderful tagliatelle with a ragu of rabbit and duck, and perfectly cooked beef tagliata, all of which paired well with a bottle of 2017 Albino Armani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. The owner brought us some local grappa to end the meal. This was a very enjoyable meal, and we would return.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Fasano (not to be confused with the several kilometers away Grand Hotel Gardone), in Gardone Riviera. This truly is a great and grand hotel, befitting its name and history, with very comfortable rooms, elegant lobbies and public spaces, beautiful views and grounds, fine restaurants (including the terrific Il Fagiano) and dining rooms, a very good terrace bar (La Terrazza), and some of the friendliest and most gracious, helpful, and competent hotel staff we’ve encountered … anywhere, from the wonderful concierge, Stefano, to the others at the reception counter, the chefs, the servers, the exceptional bartenders, the folks cleaning and maintaining the rooms and the premises, to the bellmen and the doormen. It simply is a first-rate hotel, we had a terrific time there, and we’d love to return.
Trattoria Agli Angeli, in Gardone Riviera. Dinner. A wonderful choice for dinner. Very friendly folks serving very good food. We were greeted warmly, the room was attractive, and we were made to feel at home quickly. The enticing menu was explained (after we were asked if we would like that), and there were so many options of delicious sounding food. Our pasta dishes (straccetti with lamb ragu, and raviolaccio with Tombea cheese, veal, and truffles) were great, as were our fish dishes (branzino and turbot), and the preparation and presentation were surprisingly elegant. All in all, a very fine, small local place with delicious food. We would return.
Ristorante Lido 84, in Gardone Riviera. Dinner. Our final Michelin-starred dinner of our trip, and while everything was delicious and very skillfully prepared from the finest local ingredients, it still felt somewhat strained, despite the polite friendliness of the service. Sometimes, and this could just be me, I feel that a place may be trying a little bit too hard, recognizing that of course it might be due to the unspoken but ever-present pressure to maintain or even add to that star. Regardless of my very minor misgivings, I will say it certainly was the best of this trip’s Michelin-starred dinner experiences. The setting is lovely, right on the lake, and the dishes were wonderful and creative, a procession of beautifully and skillfully presented, but too small portion-sized, deliciousness: “Imperial blue prawns” with green apple and ginger; braised cauliflower with mushrooms and anchovy; tortellini with guinea fowl; a truly complex and unusual “sweet and sour” dish of mallard hearts, rabbit kidneys, cuttlefish roe, and mussels; a delicious, beautifully roasted local lake trout; wild deer sirloin with vermouth, cardamon, and Jerusalem artichoke; and, from a very enticing selection of desserts, an excellent caramelized pear with lime and honey ice cream. This was followed by some rather unusual small desserts, both of which were hand cut with some tableside fanfare into small bite-size lengths – a quite tasty peanut butter candy and a green, tube-shaped substance that we enjoyed although we still don’t know what it was. The dinner’s course-by-course wine pairings were very good, with each presented and explained by the very enthusiastic and knowledgeable sommelier. These included Vigna del Vulcano’s Lacryma Christi Vesuvio Villa Dora, 2017 Vigneto di Popoli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Vigne Surrau’s Sciala Vermentino di Gallura Superiore, 2016 Les Petits Riens Comptine d’ Automne (a very elegant and light Pinot Noir), 2015 Rabaja Barbaresco Riserva, 2019 Vigneti Massa’s Costa del Vento, and to finish the meal, 2017 Schloss Gobelsburg Auslese Gruner. I’d be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic, house-baked breads. All in all, it was a very fine and enjoyable dining experience, albeit one with servings on the too small size (even when we ordered a la carte) and a tiny but noticeable – at least to me – feeling of some unavoidable pressure to impress. We would consider a return visit.
Il Fagiano, inside the Grand Hotel Fasano. Dinner. Our last dinner of our traveling time in Italy. While it has no Michelin star (yet), this was a fantastic fine dining experience, one of the best meals of our trip. It is a beautiful and elegant room, and the service is that wonderful combination of precision and warm friendliness, perhaps due at least in part to the fact that we already were familiar with some of the servers from our other experiences in the hotel. The terrific breads that kept on arriving were freshly baked inhouse and were accompanied by quite delicious and interesting local olive oil. The dishes were, frankly, amazing, and beautifully presented, including some beautiful amuse bouches; followed by lamb and asparagus in a “ramen” sauce; veal tongue with kohlrabi and plum; a dish of “green buckwheat”; a perfect dish of pasta with smoked potatoes and local lake pike; sea bass with “wild garlic” and a goodly amount of truffles; pigeon with pear and chicory; and then an assortment of truly delicious small desserts. To add to the enjoyment of the meal, we chose, instead of a wine pairing with each course, a cocktail pairing, each one prepared and then described tableside by the very talented and creative bartenders at the hotel’s nearby La Terrazza bar. We believe this restaurant and its very talented chef deserve to be much more popular, and we are confident they will be as the word spreads. Had we known just how much we would enjoy our dinner, we likely would have spent more than one evening dining there. We certainly would return!
La Terrazza, at the Grand Hotel Fasano. Cocktails and snacks. Terrific outdoor bar in the Grand Hotel Fasano’s beautiful terrace area overlooking the grounds and Lake Garda. The passionate, inventive, and very friendly Rama Redzepi runs the hotel’s bars and is a fine bartender and educator. His team is comprised of several other very friendly and skillful bartenders and servers, and Xiaopei and I enjoyed great cocktails, glasses of Amaro, and accompanying snacks over the course of our stay. The bartenders all are ready to discuss ingredients and techniques, and will suggest something different and creative, or go ahead and prepare fine versions of classics. And everyone, every time, greets you warmly. One afternoon, after I noticed a display of bottles of Amari that were new to me, I had a wonderful tasting experience, discussing, sampling, and learning. We thoroughly enjoyed having such a special place, with its perfect Lake Garda view, to relax and enjoy very good drinks and snacks during our stay at the hotel. The hotel also has a very nice indoor bar, the Gin Lounge.
Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel & Conference Centre. We stayed here (and not for the first time) at the end of our trip, as it offers unbeatable convenience when it is time to fly home, and has very nice rooms and a good restaurant.
Thank you for taking the time to read through my latest opus. I hope at least some of it proves helpful.