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Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Thanks Michaelspont. I try to include a little backgroud information about what I like and what I'm looking for in my reviews for this reason. When you (hopefully) post about your trip to Sardegna, others will benefit no matter your "credentials."

Aug 29, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Thanks allende and Michaelspont, interesting stuff. Allende, just a tip, but if you "reply" directly to posts you are reponding to, such as Michaelspont's above, it may make things easier to follow. This thread may soon become rather large.

Aug 29, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Thanks tabata. I find it interesting that the difference between dried and fresh mushrooms is not considered in the same way that say, cured meats would be on the menu. I would be disappointed to receive Serrano ham if I had ordered Prosciutto, and yet the flavor difference between dried and fresh mushroom would arguably be more dramatic. Just an observation.

Zucca Mantovana. Those will become available here in Florida soon so I'll get started on trying to reproduce what I had. It might take me a few tried to get it right, but I have a target to shoot for now. I wish I could have tried a few more examples of the dish though!

Aug 29, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

We didn't order that fish, sadly. I beleive the fish was served on a bed of potato chips.

Aug 29, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

If I can hold up, I'll get through them all eventually. Thanks.

Aug 28, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Tortelli of course, not ravioli as I misstated.

No, there was not even a hint of spiciness in the filling. The amaretti explains the texture. These were mildly sweet. I thought perhaps the texture was the local pumpkins but now I have a hope of replicating it in the US. Thank you.

Aug 28, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Wonderful, I wish only that my stomach had been larger! Thanks tabata.

Aug 28, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Well thank you. In my defense it is hard to take a bad picture around lake Garda. :-)

Aug 28, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Antica Locanda Del Falco, Rivalta

This ristorante is found within Rivalta, a tiny speck of a town protected by a castle located south of Piacenza. The castle and town have been in the possession of the same family, the Landi, since the 14th century. In the 1960’s the Count decided to restore the town and open it for business, as it were. The first thing that strikes me as we arrive on a rainy evening is how pristine and well maintained everything is, a clear sign of private ownership! It feels like we have walked into a “brand new” medieval village. The village consists of our hotel, a church, two restaurants, a handful of shops, a row of apartments with yearly leases, and of course a beautiful castle and gardens. I believe the hotel is operated by the Count and all the other businesses are run under leases.

There is another ristorante in town, the more upscale La Rocchetta, which is well reviewed. I found it interesting to note that a couple of days later during our private tour of the dairy and farm at Antica Corte Pallavicina, our guide (Giovanni?) lit up when I mentioned staying in Rivalta. “Did you eat at del Falco”? he asked eagerly, seemingly regretting he was not a part of that meal. He was also happy to hear we were headed to La Zanzara later, as “chef Massimo is friends with the chef there.” La Buca also got a nod of approval. He was not so interested when I mentioned Ai due Platani and Amerigo dal 1934, although he knew them and tried to be polite. Little did I know.

After settling into our beautiful room, we took the long way around the village and walked about 50 meters to del Falco. We had been looking forward to dining in the beautiful courtyard, but the light rain was threatening to get heavier and we were resigned to eating indoors. The inside is divided into two rooms, the front room being very warm and attractive. We were led to the second, a more plain and quiet room and were seated in the back directly by the kitchen. This wouldn’t do, it’s never nice to find that a months’ old reservation earns the worst table in the restaurant! I requested to be moved to the front room, and we were – just like that. This was by far the most drama we had on our trip, :-) A very boring trip – drama wise!

When we had first entered we were greeted by a somewhat dour hostess, which I think often has a lot to do with the language barrier we present. This mood was compensated for by one of the chefs. During the meal I asked our friendly efficient server about the excellent picked vegetables. Well instead of answering she went to the kitchen and called out chef Yurika, a charming woman who was more than happy to go into the details of the recipe for the pickles and wrote it down for me. We spent quite a long time speaking with Yurika, and she seemed happy to have a chance to practice her English, which she had not had a chance to use since learning it in China 18 years ago. I could have spoken with her forever and she was so polite that she would have acquiesced, but I didn’t want to keep her out of the kitchen all night. The mysteries of the amazing goose she cooked for me will remain mysteries for now.

The wine list seemed extensive to me with the majority being from Piedmont. I tried to stay with a typical wine and went with a 2011 Mascarello Barbera d'Alba Scudetto which we were happy to have tried.

1) Octopus over greens. (The picture is totally out of focus, but its enough to get the salad idea) Simply cooked, very fresh, and tender. Fantastic octopus but what is with the avocado? Is this a regional fruit?
2) Coppa, salame, prosciutto and lardo, all excellent, as to be expected, served with:
3) Pickled vegetables. Mild and each had a good texture. Got the recipe from Yurika for this one because I figure it had to be easy enough, and it is.
4) Tortelli with ricotta and spinach, and tagliolini in porcini mushroom sauce. The tortelli was “wafer thin” and delicious. The tagliolini was served with dried porcinis, not what we were expecting or wanting, nonetheless very good as a dish. Is it normal not to indicate whether mushrooms are dried or fresh on a menu?
5) Garganelli with rabbit. Excellent subtle flavors. Lemon confit used to great effect. For me the bread crumbs detracted mightily, just a quibble.
6) The star of the show and maybe the trip, roast goose with apples. Really just goose as the apples merged with it. Just look at it – perfect. Think of all the good things one could say about goose, and it was in there. I made Yurika blush when I told her how much I thought of this.
7) A couple of Gorgonzola cheeses with honey.
8) A nice pastry (also made by Yurika, is she the only one in the kitchen?). However, my wife and I both agree we do not like this yellow cream which we encountered a few times. There was Chantilly cream underneath which made up for the lack of sweetness in the yellow cream. What is that yellow cream?
9) Three semifreddos. Not too sweet.

On the strength of my goose alone, I could recommend this place. The garganelli with rabbit was very fine as well - excepting the bread crumbs which is only a personal preference I guess. I would love to return with a group so I could taste off of everyone’s plates. Local beef, suckling pig, sturgeon, veal – so many things I’d like to go back for.

Aug 28, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

"Because we do the very same things at home"

Bingo. This is exactly what drew me to La Buca in the first place. If we had friends in the region willing to cook with us, we may not have dined out at all!

Aug 27, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Locanda delle Grazie, Grazie di Curtatone, Mantova

After spending the morning in Verona, the easy thing to do would be enjoy lunch there before heading towards Piacenza, but we had a fully powered Ford Fiesta at our disposal and we intended to take full advantage of that fact by stopping somewhere along the way. I had changed our plans to skip a couple of days in Mantova, so I thought a quick drive-by of the town to see Palazzo Te could justify a lunch at Locanda delle Grazie, in Grazie di Curtatone just outside Mantova.

Some time after this lunch, I felt the beginnings of a certain melancholy. I had originally planned on trying 5 dishes, was talked into 6, but somehow managed to try just 3 pasta dishes.(!?) Jetlag was catching up to me I guess. The two that I ordered were absolutely perfect examples of what we had come to Italy seeking – simple food, simply prepared, transcendent. How could I not try the cotechino, a local sausage talked up by our wonderful hostess Danielle, especially with the Cotechino Festival a few days away, when 12 tons of the stuff is eaten? The simple risotto “alla pilota”? The fish that everyone, in fact – everyone, at the restaurant besides us was ordering? Oh, what an unfinished meal at this amazing restaurant!

Flashback to our honeymoon 20-something years ago and to the only restaurant we visited twice on our two-week trip, a pizzeria in Rome. We were there for pizza of which only three were listed on the menu: margarita, sausage, and eggplant. Well since we were typical Americans, we thought it only proper to ask for both sausage and eggplant on the same pie. Well, the waiter was taken aback. No one had ever requested this; he wanted to please us but he was not sure if such an order was possible. He went to the kitchen and spoke to the pizza-tosser just around the corner. It was a perfect moment (and perfectly embarrassing) as the pizza man, with a giant disk of dough in his hands mid-spin, leaned way back so he could get a look at us, thought about it, and nodded his assent to our waiter. Well, needless to say that pizza was one of the best things we had eaten in our lives up until that point, so we came back the next day to try a pizza with just eggplant. We both agreed there was no comparison – the sausage had detracted from the flavor of the delicious eggplant and the whole pizza – by a lot! To us at that time it was a revelation, but ever since it has been my guiding principal in my own cooking, and was what our return trip to Italy was all about.

The two pastas I ordered at Locanda delle Grazie reminded me of that simplicity. The pumpkin ravioli tasted like – pumpkin! The tagliatelle with duck tasted like – duck! Still an inspiration to me. Yes, there were other ingredients used. I didn’t ask about the pumpkin, but I assume maybe a little nutmeg, maybe a little sage, maybe a little fruit. I did ask about the duck however, one of the most flavorful I have ever eaten, and Danielle brought me out a little packet of the two spices used to cook the duck since she didn’t know the names in English. Cloves and pimento seeds. (I would further guess a little orange) But none of these flavors came out in either dish. Only pumpkin. Only duck. Spices used to balance flavors, not create them. This is still what I choose to believe “Italian” cooking is all about, and it is fully on display here.

My wife ordered off-menu, the tagliatelle with mushroom. The most flavorful porcinis of the trip and a fine dish in its own right. We also watched every other table receive their fish, which was filleted and served tableside.

Our hostess Danielle spoke some English, enough for us to get by (mostly – see the regrets above about not ordering enough!) and brought us out a very interesting organic table wine made by her friend nearby, a Corte Pagliare “Sabbioneta Ancellotta” that we really enjoyed, although my wife needed a few sips to overcome the newness of it. Throughout our meal Danielle was a pleasure and the entire staff was cheerful and appropriately familiar with everyone. Once again I was “recognized” when we arrived and called by name after I let slip my accent. I would say this was my second favorite place of the trip for the simple food I was looking for and the best for pasta, regretfully all that we tried. Maybe as much for what I did not get to try as for what I did.

1) Mushroom – cheese added after the fact
2) Pumpkin
3) Duck
4) Tableside fish that everyone was eating, why not us?!

Aug 26, 2015
walker42 in Italy
1

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Caffe Filippini, Verona micro-report

We spent one night in Verona to see Aida, a very nice little play. In the early morning we walked all over the old town and found a random place to sit for coffee, Caffe Filippini in Piazza Erbe. Worth a mention just for the surprise factor of ordering two “croissants” which turned out to be extremely fine sweet pastries, one plain and one with cream. Did we happen upon the most delicious pastry shop in Verona? Probably not, and I can now just imagine the delights we missed.

Aug 25, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Thanks Ziggy, you must have just eaten. :-)

Did you eat in Castelletto? There was another restaurant there, Da Umberto, that caters to larger groups, I think wedding groups in particular. We passed by and saw some pretty incredible looking seafood platters being shared.

Aug 25, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Would that I had the time to eat like a local, alas!

As it was we had a most memorable meal at La Buca. Your two recommendations look like the kind of places we would also love, thanks.

Aug 25, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Maso Palu', Brentonico, Lake Garda

After an active morning of walking around Mt Baldo to burn off our delicious breakfast from Alla Fassa, we made the beautiful drive around and up the mountain to Brentonico on our way to Maso Palu'. Along the way we marveled at the huge line of cars heading into Torbole from the east at noon on a Sunday. The line was backed up to at least 1 ½ to 2 hours – bottlenecked at a small roundabout in town. Heading north we were crawling for only about 10 minutes, but it was the most scenic traffic jam I have ever been in! It was Sunday and we wanted a big Sunday mid-day meal as we would be skipping dinner in Verona. I had run across Maso Palu' early on but thought maybe it was too far out of the way on our drive to Verona, but Jen prompted me to reconsider and I am very glad she did, not just because the meal was very good and fun, but because the drive through the mountains was more spectacular than I had thought it would be - particularly coming down the mountain on SP208 after lunch.

Again, I was greeted with a cheerful “Robert!” when I asked the hostess if she spoke English (she did). This is a ristorante and looked to have about 6-8 servers working the tables, but once again the atmosphere was festive – mostly groups of 6-10 – and the service was generous and welcoming throughout. The meal is fixed price, 25 Euro for the all-you-can-eat feast, with and extra 10 Euro tacked on if you opt for three additional secondi. (Who wouldn’t?) This includes the house-labled wine, (in this case a Spagnoli Merlot from Vallagarina, a stone’s throw away) an open bottle of which was waiting on the table when we were seated. A very nice house wine.

The courses are served in a mix of family-style and on individual plates, and sometimes a mix of the two as a waiter may come by with a fresh batch of the prior or next course and plop down a serving on your current plate. More of anything can be had for the asking.

In the photos:

1) A bit of tomato soup to begin.
2) Polenta with black truffle cream with three beef tartars (hidden by the cheese). Two of the tartars were described as types of local cattle which I’ve forgotten the names of, and the third slightly larger one was described as “beef.” The two local meats were excellent indeed, as good and flavorful tartars as I have had. I will remember the earthy flavor for a long time. The “beef” tartar was bland, definitely a contrast but not one to my liking.
3) An odd pairing, but I get the point. The two cups of polenta filled with a fish sauce had a very strong and fresh flavor. Something new for me and I enjoyed mine. The jar contained a very very sweet potato salad. Fresh and good if you like the sweetness, but way too sweet for me. Most of the other tables finished theirs off, which reminded me briefly of the mountains in North Carolina, where traditional gatherings include everyone taking their insulin shots before dinner. :-)
4) Again, somewhat oddly after a cold potato salad, a casserole of scalloped potatoes with perhaps Asiago and a gamey meat. New flavor to me and very good in a simple, picnic food sort of way. I saw lots of seconds of this being requested.
5) Orzotto with mushrooms, I believe it was. One of my favorites of the trip. Very simply, just an addictive texture and creaminess. Again, lots of seconds of this were going around, but I held off in an effort to try everything.
6) Two giant gnocchi with cheese, butter and a local purple flower. Delicious in every way. I have never had such large gnocchi but the texture was firm throughout. Try as I might I could not taste the purple flower’s contribution to the dish, even after munching on them separately.
7) Pasta (paccheri?) with a hint of gorgonzola and nuts. At least that is what I remember it tasting like. Decent but not exceptional at all.
8) The first secondi – pork with potatoes. So far not a fan of the pork I had. Like Il Ridotto the pork was bland and the sauce uninteresting.
9) Venison in a venison reduction. This is one of the best dishes on the trip for me (along with so many others!) Deep rich flavor, tender juicy meat.
10) At this point I was stuffed, but our server really would have none of it, and slipped me a tiny portion or their roast beef. I’m not a fan of the dish, and this one did nothing to change my tastes.
11) For dessert, a white chocolate bomb which completely caught me off guard in its sophistication. Also incredibly delicious.
12) My wife got more along the lines of what I expected, also excellent. Ice cream with fresh berries. Fresh berries!

We were offered unlimited digestifs, and I tried small sips of some. The house grappa was good, but the others I tried were not. I saw better liquors available, for an added charge I suppose.

Of course with such a wide range of courses, not everything will appeal to everyone, but for me the beef tartar, orzotto and venison, supported by excellent gnocchi and desert, teamed up to create a perfect Sunday supper.

The last picture is a typical scene on the drive down the mountain.

Aug 23, 2015
walker42 in Italy
1

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Osteria Al Pescatore, Castelletto, Lake Garda

After a wonderful afternoon around the lake, we enjoyed a scenic walk of about 300 meters from Locanda Alla Fassa to Osteria Al Pescatore. Another husband and wife team, Livio in the front and Rosaria in the kitchen, Al Pescatore is set in the tiny harbor of Castelletto which is filled with colorful and photogenic rental fishing boats. In the photo above Livio waits for us next to our empty table which was not set up for us as there was a strong wind that evening. When we entered and I greeted the hostess with my American accented “bona sera,” her eyes lit up and with a huge smile greeted me with “Robert!” OK, way to make me feel special. Livio speaks no English and when I pantomimed that we would like the table outside (after a brief pause to make sure we knew it would be very windy) he had his crew spring into action to set the table for us with some wind breakers in place and some creative tablecloth hold-downs. Hey, I saw those other folks eating outside, how bad could it be? Luckily it turned out beautifully and the wind died down soon after we sat.

The best way to describe the meal here is to imagine dining at an old friend’s home who happens to be throwing a dinner party. Towards the beginning of the meal I could see that Livio was pained that he could not speak English and I was doubly regretful that I did not speak Italian. I could tell the happy conversations he was leading amongst the other tables inside were about everything including the food, hometowns, the day’s activities, good movies, you name it. At first I was seriously under the impression that the restaurant was full of his old friends. As the night wore on he felt more comfortable speaking with us through his waiter, who spoke some English, and eventually he got to speaking to us freely, and somehow we didn’t mind that we couldn’t quite understand most of what he was saying, even the bit of poetry he recited to us.

No menu here, so we sat back and ordered a house-labeled wine (ca Rugate San Michel Soave Classico) and relaxed. The courses were, as in the photos below:

1 - Lake trout crudo – very good
2 - Trio of fish – The fried char was on the tough and chewy side, not so good. The minced lavarello with cinnamon was outstanding and one of our favorites of the trip. The third was also lavarello I believe and was tender and good, but not as memorable.
3 – Lasagna with smoked lavarello. This was wonderful and came very close to the type of lasagna I learned to make in The Splendid Table cookbook, with very thin noodles and a béchamel sauce carrying the fish. Close to great.
4 – Bigoli with sardines, raisins (sultanas) and pine nuts “Al Pescatore.” Worlds away from the Bigoli with bottarga we had in Venice although shooting for the same target. The noodles here are thinner more like spaghetti and not al dente, letting the nuts and raisins provide a textural contrast. The sardines had an upfront flavor which kept the brininess in check. My wife is not a fan of the brine, and I was able to eat both delicious portions with no palate fatigue.
5 & 6 – Lakefish (perch?) baked in paper with vegetables. Served wrapped. Simple and good but not special to me.
7 – Poached Peach with a sugary pit. Beautiful dessert, exactly what I was looking forward to in Italy. A ripe peach with a clever “pit” of brown sugar confection. One of my favorites for its simplicity.
8 – Panna Cotta with berries. Typical example, good.

During the meal we were treated to warm and efficient service, and halfway through Livio got on a microphone and introduced all of the tables to each other. Earlier we were doted on by one of the staff when she found out we were from Fort Lauderdale, her favorite place in the world(!) It was a celebratory atmosphere the entire night. After desert the digestifs started flowing. About a dozen bottles were brought out and multiple pours were encouraged. I had a couple of grappas and sherries and a nocino pushed onto me (with no protest whatsoever) while we lingered, and was encouraged to keep going. Nothing to write home about, but of course they were all gratis so the value was unbeatable. It was hard to say goodbye. One very enjoyable evening in a beautiful setting. Great “osteria” food with a few “plusses” thrown in.

Aug 22, 2015
walker42 in Italy
2

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Alla Fassa, Castelletto, Lake Garda

First, the back-story, skip ahead for the reviews. My wife and I spent our two week honeymoon in Rome and Florence more than 20 years ago, which is the last time we have been in Italy. At that time, I had been cooking at home for a few years, teaching myself from Fanny Farmer and The New Basics and a few Sunset books, and eating out where we could afford to –more often than we could afford to. Our trip to Italy in the early 90’s was an awakening which changed everything I had known about food. We spent one year after returning to Fort Lauderdale looking for a meal that could approach what we found in Rome and finally found it. One night, a $100 meal for two in Fort Lauderdale finally equaled a $25 dinner in Rome. (This was 20 years ago).

This could not go on. The newlyweds had other expenses besides food! So I invested in a couple of cookbooks and decided to figure it out for myself, since in those days real food seemed to be a mystery to any restaurant in Florida that we could afford (well, except for the Keys – but oddly enough the situation has reversed itself and it is these days when it is a challenge to find decent food in the Keys). The two books I bought, were Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” and more importantly to me, “The Splendid Table – Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food” by Lynne Kasper.

If there is any question as to why we travelled to Emilia-Romagna on our second trip to Italy, “The Splendid Table” is the answer. If there seems to be some dispassion towards some of the dishes I ate in that region, it is the fault of that book and the time I have enjoyed with its recipes. Simple traditional food can often be delicious (I have figured out how to do that myself!), but it is the simple becoming transcendent that we were seeking. We found much that was delicious and thankfully a bit that was transcendent on our trip.

Food is not the whole story though. The other joy in our trip 20 odd years ago was the hospitality of our hosts. Many restaurants seemed just as excited to have us as guests as we were to be there . . . a revelation still today for an American! On this trip we were lucky to dine at many such places.

Lake Garda

Alla Fassa, Castelletto

This was not on our original itinerary as a dining destination even though it is well reviewed on Trip Advisor. I was able to reserve a room here only a couple of months ago because, happily, the Inn at Alla Fassa opened in June of this year. I think next year it may be harder to reserve a room on such short notice. I originally chose to stay at Alla Fassa because it is within walking distance to Al Pescatore, a slow food pick for dinner. We had intended to dine for lunch somewhere else on the way from Venice, but happily(!?) a traffic jam on the highway changed our plans and we headed straight to Alla Fassa for lunch. This is a family run place with mom and pop in the kitchen and the son and daughter running the front. Looking forward to a large dinner, we limited our lunch to a starter and pasta each. Due to the heat, we stayed with an icy-cold Bastianich Ribolla from Fruili, no complaints.

Our server went over the menu describing the fish, and apologized because although usually the trout is caught from the lake, on this day they had to buy trout from a nearby lake some 15 km away. A promising start and we hadn’t ordered yet! My wife had pears with a gorgonzola cream to start. Too much cream for us but the pear was flavorful, and when the excess cream was scraped away it was really a good dish. I started with a cold fish salad: lavarello with cabbage and balsamic. Normally I do not enjoy cold cooked fish, but this was tremendous. The fish, besides having a wonderful mild flavor, had a firm and creamy texture that held up perfectly chilled. The freshness of this dish really came together and is a memorable one from our trip. A great start to our road trip! To follow we each had a linguine, hers with a mushroom cream sauce and mine with lake fish. Both very fresh tasting and well balanced. We did not ask what mushrooms were used but it was a nice chance to have something other than the porcinis which seemed to be much used this time of year. We would have liked to try more but needed to save our stomachs for dinner. Had we known about the baker at this time (the mother I believe) we would have at least shared a desert.

In the morning we were served breakfast outside of our room on the lakeshore. We were anticipating something akin to a typical European hotel breakfast and were hoping to have a hearty appetite for our Sunday lunch later in the day, so we asked for just a couple of croissants and coffee. Good thing they ignored us and brought a full spread of what was a fantastic breakfast with some of the best pastries I have ever had. The salumi was good and came with very fresh burrata, soft cheese and wonderful fresh breads and jams. I would have been happy with this but then there was the pastry plate with perfect plain and chocolate croissants and a white peach tart which has now equaled for me a warm Kouign Amann I had at Dominique Ansel in NYC a few years ago. They mentioned to us that the white peach tart is their specialty and I see it is for very good reason. I would make every effort to pick a few up if passing by in the summer, or better yet stay overnight and enjoy the genuine hospitality and professionalism of the Locanda as well. It’s funny how many things I’ve read about Lake Garda state that it is difficult to find an excellent meal there. Well either we were very lucky or more likely, that kind of claim is very silly.

Aug 22, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

Osteria Bancogiro dinner, Venice

This falls into the category of “Can not yet recommend,” which means just that. We had some mediocre food and some that was not to our taste but in this case, especially after a looong day of travel, we did not get to try quite as much as we would have liked. Also, circumstance intervened and although Bancogiro was originally scheduled for lunch, our airline decided that we should spend the morning and afternoon in Madrid on an unexpected layover. Excellent tapas-hopping ensued in Madrid that put any follow up meal at a disadvantage.
We did enjoy a cold bottle of Meroi 2012 Pinot Grigio from Fruili. Even though it was 10pm it was still around 80 degrees – welcome to our new normal for this trip. We started with the cheese platter and the burrata with tomatoes and anchovies. The cheeses were good but unexceptional save one (I forget which one!); the burrata not so good, maybe it had been in the fridge a couple of days, and the tomatoes flavorless. The anchovies helped a lot, thanks anchovies! To follow we had a couple of pastas, the “milder” taglietelle with scallops, and the “stronger” bigoli with muscles and bottarga. The bigoli was actually not bad, with the very thick bigoli and the muscles holding up well texturally to the briny bottarga. A one-note dish though, so I would suggest a half portion if possible. The taglietelle was less successful and nearly as briny (perhaps shrimp/fish heads in the stock?). Forget about the scallops and various other sea creatures that we were told inhabited the dish, the flavor was brine. The location was excellent as expected, and we enjoyed our meal but not so much the food, if that makes sense. We had finally arrived in Italy after 24 hours of travel! (The story of our air travel could use its own thread).

Il Ridotto lunch, Venice

Lovely place, lovely service, and beautiful looking presentations. Looking at the pictures now is reminding me of the tastes of each of the three appetizers, with a scallop and pureed vegetables, fish cream, and something not as memorable under that purple chip. All were subtle and good and had us looking forward to the second course. The fish was “ronco,” similar to a Florida grunt I think. It too was briny for my wife - evidently a flavor much in demand in Venice - and slightly dry but with delicious skin. The pork was unexceptional and I found myself looking towards the sweet purple cabbage on the plate over the pork. For desert I had a couple of grappas from Capovilla (I had originally planned to visit the distillery but it was closed when we would have been in Bassano). I probably tried 30+ grappas on this trip and I am confident the Capovilla were my favorites.

Antico Pizzo Risorto, Do Spade, Osteria Antico Dolo

In the evening, we walked around trying various drinks at random and sitting for a gelato in Campo Santo Stefano before heading to Dorsoduro to look for interesting food. So many places were closed but we found a place to share a rather uninspired pasta while enjoying a blast of A/C before moving on. Then on to San Polo to try some cicchetti. Again, many places were closed, but we found Osteria Antico Dolo, good grappa but not good cichetti unfortunately, as may be discerned from the photo below, best to give it a pass for the food. We found the good stuff at Do Spade but by then it was too crowded and way too hot to stand inside for long, so we walked a block to Antico Pizzo Risorto a block or so away.

This was a great surprise, although I ate only a small amount. I had fantastic crudo of lagoon fish (two different types of bream that our waiter called “bosega” and “dabrina” as far as I could tell) and some unfortunate tuna and salmon that were mixed in with the good stuff. I had asked the waiter to bring me a sample of crudo, so next time I will not make that mistake. My wife had a decent but undercooked (to our tastes) pizza margarita. Looking at other diners it seems like great fish was being served in a simple fashion. No doubt this place gets very good fish, but just make sure to stick with local fresh produce. Mostly Italians were here although the service was slick and set up for other tourists as well. Should I return to Venice I will definitely return here to dig through more of what I saw based on the dozen bites that made a memorable visit. The house grappa here like in all of the places we visited in the Veneto was very good.

Pictures. Above - burrata at Bancogiro. below:
1 - Bancogiro
2 - bigoli with muscles and bottarga
3 - taglietelle with scallops etc.
4 - Il Ridotto trio of starters
5 - Il Ridotto pork
6 - Il Ridotto fish
7 - Cichetti platter at Osteria Antico Dolo
8 - cheese platter at Bancogiro

Aug 19, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Trip report - Veneto and Emilia Romagna driving tour

We had a great time on our driving vacation around the Veneto and Emilia Romagna in the first part of August. The goal this trip was to enjoy straightforward regional cuisine and wine. At almost every place listed below, we ate at least one dish that made a very strong impression and surprised and delighted us. Typically we slept where we ate dinner (or close by in the case of La Zanzara) and had lunch or snacked between the stops. This trip was nine nights, eight different hotels or B&Bs. First the list, in order of which I would most heartily recommend based on just one meal at each.

Highly recommended:

La Buca Zibella
Locanda delle Grazie (near Mantua)
La Zanzara (Codigoro, east of Ferrara)
Locanda del Falco (Rivalta Trebbia, south of Piacenza)
Maso Palù (Brentonico – just east of Lake Garda)
Alla Fassa (Castelletto)
Antica Corte Pallavicina (Polesine Parmense) – the wife would put this at #1
Al Pescatore (Castelletto)

Recommended:

Bollicine & Tortafritta (Vigoleno)
Antico Pizzo Risorto (Venice) – for local fish only

Can not yet recommend:

Il Ridotto (Venice) beautiful looking dishes though!
Amerigo Dal 1934 (Savigno, near Bologna)
Ai due Platani (near Parma)
Bancogiro (Venice)

I will be writing as time allows about each restaurant, with photos of most dishes that we tried. For now let me just put down a few thoughts.

First – so many thanks to Jen and allende, parmasam and the many others who over the years have helped so many. Next, I was curious most of all if La Buca could live up to the seemingly mythical reputation it has built on this board. Well I have discovered the answer and it is yes. When I visit this area again, God willing, I will plan at least a night at La Buca in order to sample more of their offerings but especially the culatello, which was served to me with fresh figs this time. I was able to try only 5 dishes and it was not enough.

In the hospitality department, Al Pescatore and Maso Palù delighted us in making us feel like old friends. Even had the food not been exceptional (for the most part), I would return to these two in a heartbeat to enjoy that kind of service again. La Buca, Alla Fassa, and Locanda delle Grazie were also a joy. In a more polished way, La Zanzara and Antica Corte Pallavicina proved up to snuff with excellent and warm more formal service (although there were some stumbles at Antica Corte Pallavicina).

The two biggest let-downs were Ai due Platani and Amerigo Dal 1934. Ai due Platani served bland dishes and had chaotic service and at Amerigo, sitting next to two other tables of Americans (the only we time we ate with any Americans outside of Venice) I feel we were quite possibly served summer truffles of a low quality based on the fact that they had no flavor at all. Maybe I shouldn’t have known better, but I had delicious summer truffles at Maso Palù. They did use alot of them, however.

Highlights:

Culatello, snails, and prete at La buca, and finally great simple bread!
Pasta at Locanda delle Grazie
Crudo at La Zanzara
Goose at Locanda del Falco
Peach tart and other baked goods at Alla Fassa
Local beef tartar, venison, and orzotto at Maso Palù
Risotto at Antica Corte Pallavicina
Lasagna at Al Pescatore
Faraona at Bollicine & Tortafritta
Lagoon fish crudo at Antico Pizzo Risorto
Gelato with Balsamic at Amerigo

Aug 18, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

If we decide on piadina in Ravenna, we'll probably just stop wherever. Right now I am looking at Antica Bottega di Felice for lunch. I've heard they have a good craft beer list, which like a good wine list, points to a respect for food.

Jul 19, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

Thanks for the heads-up(s). That will be tough at Amerigo if it is a hot day, but I really do not see an alternative without having to drive. At least they have a fan in the room!

Now I'm thinking of lunch at Osteria dello Zingaro in Parma(?), and maybe spending the whole day in that city before heading to Amerigo dal 1934 for dinner.

Jul 15, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

Well, Zanzara just confirmed our reservation. I booked a balcony room at Locanda Del Passo Pomposa which is less than 10 minutes away and is right near the highway back to Venice airport. We'll spend the morning at Pomposa Abbey before the 1 1/2 hour drive to the airport. So for us La Zanzara is perfectly convenient coming from Ravenna. It seems La Zanzara would be impossible to get to without a car.

In Ravenna we will eat a quick lunch for convenience, but I will do my best to find a good place to do that.

Jul 15, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

AI Ranini was one I was looking at based on the recommendations here. It is open Tuesday but I'm not sure about August. Today, however, I made the decision to save Mantova for another trip (not in August). Instead of 2 nights in Mantova, from Parma we'll be stay one night at Amerigo 1934, daytrip to Ravenna, spend the night in Comacchio and have our final dinner at La Zanzara, should they by chance be open mid August. Hope to hear back from them soon, and hope to be able to confirm allende's recommendation.

So we won't be treading much new ground for the board, I think three places I haven't seen highly recommend here. Should be a great trip!

Jul 12, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

Did you email them? I can not find an email address for them, do you have it? I guess they are open mid-August, that's good to hear.

Jul 12, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

Hi Marleygirl,

I called 0521 645626 and made the reservation with someone who speaks excellent English. Good luck, mid-August is a nightmare. Whenever I find a decent restaurant that is open, I have a small celebration.

Jul 11, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

OK, I’m getting down to the nitty-gritty, but I still have a few holes left – mostly because of August closings. If anyone sees any room for improvement, I will listen with the upmost attention. Thanks again for the help, I have revised my itinerary accordingly.

To recap – we’re a couple in our 40’s picking up a car for a week after a brief stay in Venice. One night stays only, although I’m now leaning towards both of our final 2 nights in Mantova before catching our flight out at 2pm from Venice.

2 nights in Venice – two lunches: Osteria Bancogiro and Il Ridotto, and 2 evenings of cicchetti bar crawls.

1 night in Castelletto on Lake Garda – lunch at Alla Grotta in Lazise, dinner at Al Pescatore in Castelletto

1 night Verona – two lunches: La Fontanina and (Antica Torretta or Al Duomo), quick dinner before the opera somewhere?

1 night in Rivalta Trebbia, south of Piacenza – Locanda del Falco

1 night at Antica Corte Pallavicina Relais - lunch at Bollicine & Tortafritta in Vigoleno, or at Trattoria del Ponte in Alseno depending on our how things work out. This is a tough day for the area as most recommended places are closed on Tuesdays.

1 night Parma – lunch at La Buca Zibello, dinner at Ai due Platani. This is the only dinner where we will have to drive after the meal. Not ideal, but a short drive.

1 (or 2?) nights Mantova – the problem here is that many recommended places are closed for August.
While driving from Parma, we’ll lunch at Locanda Stendhal in Colorno or La Locanda delle Grazie, if either are open in August, or at ArteGusto in Gazzuolo if they are not. I have had no luck contacting Stendahl or delle Grazie. Dinner(s) are still open, at least one will be in the city if we stay two nights.

(maybe) 1 night Arqua Petrarca – lunch at Hostaria San Benedetto in Montagnana, dinner at La Montanella in Arqua Petrarca.

Questions:

A memorable place to get a "quick" (under an hour) dinner before the opera in Verona? A great wine bar maybe?

What about Parizzi in Parma? I’ve read many times here that the best food is a short drive from the center, but haven’t read anything about Parizzi on this board. We have reservations at Ai due Platani, but walking to dinner in Parma rather than having to drive will add one star to the food quality, in my book. Cocchi is too far to walk to from the Cathedral as well.

I’m happy enough with everything except the last day and night. Maybe there is a better option than Mantova or Arqua Petrarca for our “farewell” dinner? Our flight the next day from Venice is at 2pm. Moving hotels is not a concern, but excessive drive-time is.

Thanks!

Jul 11, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

Thanks pastahound, for the "anti-recommendation" for La Filoma. It looks like I may only plan one meal in Parma, so I made a dinner reservation at Ai due Platani. I was thinking breakfast at a salumeria the next day, and we'll have lunch on the way to Mantova; Stendhal is a good looking choice, but I also found Artegusto in Gazzuolo which looks interesting as well. They evidently have a pool that we can swim in after lunch (after waiting 30 minutes to digest, of course).

http://www.artegustosanpietro.it/inde...

Jen, a little miscommunication. I’m trying not to mention much about our non-food plans, but believe it or not, we have some! :-) At the moment I’m planning lunch on the lake at Alla Grotta in Lazise and overnighting in Malsecine (not Riva) with dinner at Al Pescatore. Early the next morning we’ll drive to Riva del Garda and bike to Lake Ledro and Pregasina, then a large late lunch before heading to Verona, where we'll grab sandwiches for the opera. A long day, yes, but I know Aida well enough to know when we can take a couple of catnaps. ;-

)

Sant'Allessandro looks great, thanks. It is a good fit with our current plans. I do not have the slow food app as I had technical difficulties downloading it, I’m doing the old fashioned way (well, the new old fashioned way of scrolling through the internet). I had been looking for a good place just above Tenno for a view and for a quick walk through Canale, and there may be a couple of choices: Agritur Calvola looks promising but it may have just bench-style seating which isn’t a good idea after biking all morning, and Acetaia del Balsamica Trentino. I had come across Maso Palu, which looks appealing but is a bit of a (perhaps unnecessary) detour.

http://www.acetaiadelbalsamico.it/#_=_

http://www.agriturcalvola.it/#_=_

Jun 15, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

Thanks for the idea Jen, I did send them a text, but I’m thinking they may not receive it. I’ll ask our hotel in Parma to give them a call for us. I’ve got the Fred Plotkin book on order.

I’ve tweaked the itinerary and now have and now will be spending a night in Riva del Garda instead of Bassano del Grappa. Switched the night in Vigoleno for a night in Mantova, and will be staying in Padua the last night before flying out of Venice. I should be OK with the great recommendations I’ve found on Chowhound, except for a few bits:

I’m thinking of two weekend lunches on the lake: Alla Grotta in Lazise, and Osteria al Pescatore in Castelletto. Any opinions? Dinner anywhere within 10 miles or so of Riva del Garda (anything North?), maybe take a special atmosphere over special food in this case, unless there is a hidden secret place in the Riva del Garda area I have not come across.

Thursday on the drive from Parma to Mantova, a stop for lunch is in order. We can go to Ai due Platani or somewhere on the way, or even in Mantova. This is a pretty big area so obviously lots of options, and I’m hoping for a memorable destination-type meal somewhere along the road. If Locanda Mariella is open it will quite a detour but I’ll consider it unless there is a comparable option on the way to Mantova. (If Mariella is open, maybe Wednesday dinner could be squeezed in here, although we are overnighting in central Parma).

Any recommendations outside Mantova on the way to Padua that would trump a lunch in Mantova?

Thanks again.

Jun 13, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

I did reach Locanda Mariella, but it seems no one there speaks English. If anyone knows or can easily find out if they are open on Thursday August 13, I would be forever indebted and will tip a glass of wine in your honor should they be open.

Jun 10, 2015
walker42 in Italy

Need recs for 7 day driving tour from Veneto to Emiglia Romagna

Thanks allende, but after a couple of calls, the nice woman who answered the phone (at least I think she was saying nice things as she talked an awful lot and I don't know a lick of Italian except, fortunatly, "dieci minuti") was able to get Luca on the phone who spoke excellent English. They are closed for summer holiday from near the end of July - the 21st or the 28th, I forgot which, sorry - reopening Wednesday August 12.

I could not reach Locanda Mariella by the phone number on Google etc. The line did not seem to connect. Any help here as to whether they are open for lunch on Wednesday August 12 would be much appreciated; if they are not we'll be driving in a different direction.

Jun 04, 2015
walker42 in Italy