From my point of view on the menu Mission looks fairly fusion - it's just that the customary emphasis is reversed from the American side to the Chinese side. So it appears a bit what one might imagine a Chinese restaurant might like to do, if they'd heard about interesting "American" cuisine and wanted to incorporate ideas from it onto their menu. Whatever the case may be; I'm certainly intrigued by the reviews, and with the prices being what they are, how can you lose anyway? What's the queueing situation like? I assume nightmarish? I want to make sure my timing for that takes into account the wait.
Speaking of fusion, I went ahead and on the strength of the recommendations, made an EMP booking, but the discussion on Annisa vs. Blue Hill is making me ask myself some questions. I definitely LOVE middle Eastern food in all its derivatives (my father was Iranian), and the positive comments on Annisa now have me second-guessing the EMP decision. Have I made a terrible mistake?
On the mid-range options btw, one I've seen lots of positive comments about is Torrisi. Any opinions?
1): Particular dish? Maybe not that extreme. But I do have a strong fondness for sausage, and really good pancakes would also be well-received. Scrambled eggs I kill for, if done well, but almost nobody ever does (they tend to be done over a griddle rather than in a pot, which creates chopped omelette IMHO)
4) Yes, with more feedback it's becoming clear that EMP, in spite of what the guidebooks say, is more American than French. I'm strongly leaning towards it at this point.
7) Mission Chinese looks interesting from their menu. Amero-Chinese fusion. Could be fun. I'll give it a try. Anybody else any comments on that?
I've been keeping to the Manhattan board, because I'll be spending most of my time there (it's where I'll be working), and my hotel's there as well. At the outset I did mention I'd be open to other-boroughs options, but this was mostly with a mind to if there was a "must-try" off the island, I'd give free rein to those who thought it should be mentioned. Realistically most of my visits will be in Manhattan (although following the recommendations I'll probably go to Brooklyn for pizza).
My most-recent comments weren't about diversity of *food types* or *cuisines* as such - but rather a feeling I'm getting that what's normally done in NY, *within restaurants of approximately the same cuisine and market segment* (I'll explain that below fully) is that various different places are tried and compared, without any particular expectation that the results will be vastly different or that there will be huge, noticeable differences in quality, but that it might come down to nuances and personal preference.
Cuisine should be self-explanatory, but by approximately I meant within categories that people recognise; i.e. by now most people recognise the difference between Northern or Southern Italian, or between Cantonese and Szechuan Chinese, but I wouldn't expect people, say, to distinguish between Emilian and Lombard, or between Chiu Chow and Hakka.
Yes - the type 5 covers a really huge space, because of course the mid-range restaurant is the "bread and butter" of the industry. I'll see if I can make a list of possibilities; shouldn't be too hard. I do get the impression as you imply that in this category the outer boroughs can be more fruitful in terms of price/performance ratio, within this category. We'll see what's feasible in terms of transport. I'm certainly capable of scheduling things to the split second if required.
Again, this is interesting and very illuminating. Now I understand why my previous experiences in NY felt slightly underwhelming. My feeling is that the "top" places I'd tried were excellent but that step away from truly world-class, and what you say suggests that, by inevitably leaning away from very fixed-menu establishments, I was, without realising it, subtly biassing my choices towards establishments with fewer world-class ambitions.
It's easy to understand the economic reasons why many (most in this case) top-end restaurants are opting for the fixed-menu approach; it makes the whole problem of costing and of revenue calculation a far simpler proposition altogether. I'm somewhat *personally* disappointed that most of the really best establishments are choosing the "safe" option, but maybe that's the hard market realities of NY.
A comment that's telling here is "but the individual dishes are offered at inflated prices". Reading comments on TripAdvisor as well as Chowhound, and also from personal conversations, my impression is that typical American expectations of reasonable prices to pay for a la carte are unrealistically low, when you reach the truly world-class. The prices mentioned in the Chowhound article to me do not seem *at all* inflated - merely the going rate once you reach the pinnacle. The price of labour, not to mention top-quality ingredients, for world-class cuisine is really quite high and - what do people expect? - if you want the best, you have to pay. A lot. Apologies if I seem to be overcharacterising here - I'm not saying everyone is like this but that *as a group* American price expectations are lower.
In a broader context, hearkening back to your comments about breakfast, I'm getting the distinct impression that, contrary to my imagination that NY would be a place where, by virtue of population size and hence diversity of opinion, there would be a similar variation in restaurant styles, in fact, it's a city with strongly homogeneous market dynamics, with respect to the types and styles of restaurants that can survive. That suggests a fairly powerful local consensus, across a broad range of different restaurant styles, market segments, and cuisines. In turn I should probably rethink my approach.
Usually what I do in any city is try to "single out" establishments for excellence, authenticity, iconic status - or some other criterion of outstanding merit. I get the impression that in New York what one may instead have is a huge pool of places of approximately equal standing (at any price point) where the *fundamental* differences are relatively small and the actual distinguishing characteristics come down to fine points. So what people do is try a large number of different places, and compare notes. Am I accurate in feeling that this is a better approach?
With respect to the "top-end" place (price here makes more than one not a feasible proposition) I think I'm leaning towards EMP at this point. Will report on whatever I choose - for everything.
Minetta's burger is interesting - although of course not at that point in the "cheap-and-cheerful" type 7 place; it's more of a type 5. Might try though. I'm avoiding Spotted Pig simply because coming all the way from England to go to...a gastropub is sort of the reverse of taking coals to Newcastle.
Yes - it's quite easy to make one's own great breakfast at home, particularly since you know what you like, but that's not really the point, is it? Nor is it even a meaningful option when travelling, of course. But you do bring up an interesting point regarding market expectations - which may make my search as you imply, difficult compared to what it might be in other cities worldwide whose inhabitants have more conservative views on breakfast.
The problem with bar-area ordering, in many restaurants, is that the food on offer is less ambitious, drawn from fairly limited menu relative to what you'd get in a full-service a la carte dining room, and may not be executed with the same attention to detail as that in the main room. At least I've seen this in the past. I also get the impression that from a point of view of external reviews, this is not what people are citing when they consider best-of-the-best, so it may not be a fair comparison anyway. What would be relevant is a comparison of a review specifically of the bar menu against top-flight main dining room competition elsewhere.
I'm equally baffled by your statement "if your 'whole outlook on fine dining doesn't agree with the fixed-menu concept.' These two seem completely at odds". That sounds like you're saying that truly fine dining must *necessarily* be prix-fixe. Huh? That doesn't make any sense to me. There are many restaurants, worldwide, at the pinnacle of fine dining, who offer a la carte (to give 2 examples, Il Pagliaccio in Rome, and Can Fabes in Catalonia), so maybe you mean something else? Can you explain?
Absolutely an "artisan" burger isn't *necessarily* better - you have to have somebody who's carefully thought through the bun recipe to make sure it creates the right result for a burger. A brioche, for example, is I think completely in the wrong direction altogether. (I'm a sesame seed person, if you must know). Thicker patties generally would be well-received, particularly as I prefer burgers rare, thus the thicker, the rarer. Very flavourful meat is a huge plus - my experience is that good grass-fed beef is a LOT better than competing alternatives, although it has to be good - there are plenty of well-meaning people selling grass-fed beef that's too lean, or just not particularly flavourful. No cheese (this is one of my can't-haves). As mentioned before, toppings are rather beside the point; until the patty and the bun have been mastered from my point of view everything else is largely immaterial - except insofar as it could make things worse, if truly bad.
Hmm! That's not something I was able to find - all my sources suggested it was open on Saturday. OK, good to know. If I'd known at the time I might have gone on Monday rather than to the Antica Trattoria Della Pesa which is where I went that day for lunch.
My experience of Grom is that generally the flavours range from good to outstanding, but a bit as you say, it depends upon which you choose. The blueberry is the only sorbetto of theirs I've had - it was very good indeed, they use a special technique to concentrate the flavour, by incorporating condensed blueberry paste, which is made just like tomato paste, by very slowly reducing mashed blueberries over low heat. I tend to go for their ice creams generally; overall at any ice cream shop I have a distribution that tends to go chocolate 50% of the time, hazelnut 25% of the time, either blueberry (if available) or frutti di bosco (if not) 20% of the time, and all other flavours 5% of the time. As you can see I have strong favourites...
The hazelnut I had when in Milan was OK, perhaps not sublime, but the ice cream on the whole was far, far better than a lot of other recommended places in Milan.
A lot of the cognoscenti seem to use peach as their "benchmark" flavour - is there a reason for this? Or just personal preference on your part? I use chocolate as my benchmark flavour because it's the most difficult to do right, requires careful formulation because of the high fat content of chocolate, and is best done with a high-quality chocolate, which only a few shops actually do.
Indeed, the distinction between a "breakfast" and a "brunch" place isn't a hard wall - the categories, of course, shade into each other. But in terms of leaning:
Breakfast places lean towards the classics, with minimal adornment or "twists" - bacon/sausage and eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, that sort of stuff. Brunch places tend to be more creative and their menus may be somewhat "thin" in simple, traditional breakfast foods.
So again, let me be clear, I'm looking for a breakfast-type place, the kind that opens early and can be reasonably expeditious, and serves the classics done skilfully and with top-notch ingredients, not creative and/or unusual dishes, or reinterpretations of classics.
Strangely, I don't have much free time per se - I just maximise the use of the free time I do have, and schedule things with military precison so that I can achieve the most in a given trip (it's actually a work trip for me)
Didn't know that about NY style pizza - which I've always assumed to be something of a hybrid between Roman-style (thin, crisp crust, minimal tomato sauce, in relative terms, toppings are central) and Neapolitan (puffy crust, lots of tomato sauce, toppings much less important and classically ommitted). Will schedule in a visit to the places you mention; some day when the work schedule has a fairly open "slot" for 2+ hours. Is there any rationality in killing 2 birds with one stone by trying both in the same trip (broadly, they're in the same general direction - and don't worry, I have a bottomless pit for a stomach)?
I understand the point about bagels, in fact, in general, this could apply to any bread. BUT, my way of approaching these sorts of things NEVER focusses on the peripheral objects until the central, basic object has been maximised. *Somebody* is going to be making a better bagel. The article is interesting. Pictures help - being an experienced breadmaker I can tell a lot from them, even if a first-hand inspection would be better. The best in terms of appearance looks like Absolute Bagels. And the judgement also further hints at this - in general, the better the bread, the worse it ages, so that good bread must be relentlessly fresh (which is, for instance, the secret of most of good bakeries in France; a baguette there will rarely be more than about 30 minutes old). I think I'll try Absolute.
World's 50 Best is to some degree marketing, like many "best-of" lists - so like anything else their judgements need to be taken with a grain of salt. All the guidebooks list 11MP as "French", which isn't encouraging. Per Se is also typically listed as French.
However, for me, a much more serious problem is their prix-fixe format with very limited choice. That tends to backfire with me badly, partly because I do have specific food limitations, partly because in addition to definite limitations I have strong likes and dislikes, partly because my whole outlook on fine dining doesn't agree with the fixed-menu concept - because food is an intensely personal experience, that suggests a strong element of personal choice. (But please, let's not get carried away with philosophical debates about food. In the immortal words of Zaphod Beeblebrox, "we want to eat, we don't want to make a meal of the issues." If you want to discuss it *privately* with me, OK, but send me an e-mail.)
Will look into the places you mention for 5. Yes, the St. John nearly epitomises the ideal for that category of reasonably priced, maximum-quality restaurants. I provided a list of restaurants and what I thought of them partly so that people might get a "flavour" of what I tend to like and dislike - but do you or others need more examples to get a better sense? I'm happy to oblige if necessary.
Seems unfortunate that so few burger specialists, anywhere, place any attention to the bun, except in a nostalgic sense. I'd love to find one where the bun and the patty were both of maximum standard.
Thanks to all on the coffee recommendations - I have enough now to canvass the candidates on successive days of my visit.
First, apologies that my scope of interest actually includes more than Manhattan. I saw a cryptic message in another post referring to a "best of" board but that doesn't appear in the category list; I couldn't find it; the only options that seem to be available are "Manhattan" and "Outer Boroughs". It's as if never the twain shall meet - as if almost nobody going to New York will have an interest in visiting places possibly in BOTH areas.
However for practical purposes I think I can assume most of the places of interest for me will be in Manhattan (it's where I'll be staying, and spending most of my time) - although I'm quick to point out that convenience to where I happen to be at the time is NOT! a consideration in the slightest; I'll gladly travel anywhere reachable by subway, regardless of how out-of-the-way it is. So feel free to recommend outer-borough places, as you see fit.
What I'd like particularly to find:
1) A *really good* breakfast place; NOT!!! brunch orientated, I mean breakfast.
For context, here's a very brief summary of some places I tried last time:
Gotham B&G (as an example of type 4): It was very good, my type of place in many ways - but I would say borderline great as opposed to clearly world-class great.
Ah, so can you confirm that this establishment is still in operation? When I was in Milan a few days ago, I went by it to find it shut - and ringing (on an earlier day - Saturday, to be exact) suspiciously gave no response. It had the feel of a situation where a restaurant might have abruptly shut down - but I was never able to confirm this.
It's not precisely full-authentic Milanese (there is a Sardinian slant), but provided you can live with occasionally cavalier service, I found that Papa Francesco (adjacent to the Galleria) offers a good balance of affordability and reasonable quality. Nothing that will blow you away here, but it sounds to me that you're not necessarily wanting that; just somewhere to have a meal above really basic cheap options.
It's also worth dropping by Grom, just around the corner, for ice cream.
Isn't it the case, though, that the recommendation to stay away from *cured* salami is made with respect to ones containing nitrates or nitrites? If so, you should be aware that most hams (prosciutto) and some salamis in Italy do not contain nitrates or nitrites. So you shouldn't necessarily assume that prosciutto or salami are categorically excluded, although if your grasp of Italian is poor it may be difficult to get a direct answer out of people as to whether a given product does or does not have nitrates or nitrites. I should also mention that you can sometimes identify these on labels using their e-numbers : E250 (sodium nitrite) and E252 (sodium nitrate).
Ok, I'm back now. My visit was interesting, for very interesting reasons. Here's the rundown from the food point of view.
I arrived Sunday morning. Went straight from Centrale station to relatively nearby Pave for brioches and a coffee. The brioches were very good, but it will be said that slight bit less ethereal than Cristalli di Zucchero. Heavier and more rustic. The atmosphere was strangely Scottish or perhaps Scandinavian. Coffee was on the better side of acceptable, but I've had much better.
On Sunday, my plan had been to try Trattoria Milanese for lunch, which seemed to be open from what I could tell by looking at guides, sites, etc, but in fact was very definitely shut. Can anyone confirm whether they're shut in a more permanent sense? When I tried calling to make a booking (on Saturday), the line kept ringing with no answer. Suspicious. I ended up in the Navigli area and, with Premiata Pizzeria already my target dinner choice, decided that the expedient thing was to do it for lunch instead. I took both a pasta (a simple tagliatelle al pomodoro e basilico) and a pizza (con salsiccia e salame piccante). This is, of course, much more typically Neapolitan than Milanese, and in fact I didn't think either was anything special. The pasta sauce was more like a passata, completely smooth and textureless. At least the basil was fresh. Competent but no better than you'd find in a million places. The pizza was again uneventful. Their oven isn't hot enough; the result was doughy and slightly undercooked. The sausage wasn't the best either. On the whole while I didn't feel like the food was dismal or unacceptable, I didn't find anything special about it either.
Late in the afternoon I went to Grom for an ice cream; Grom is - what can you say? - Grom. Good, sometimes inspired, but not always. The hazelnut I got here was in the "not always" category, although still not too bad.
Trattoria Milanese showed no more signs of life in the evening, so I went with a recommendation straight out of the Time Out guide, corroborated with good reviews on TripAdvisor: Papa Francesco. It helped that it's in a central location close to my hotel (and very close to La Scala) which meant that if there were some fundamental problem with it I could change plans without further logistical complications. Time Out needs to do their research more thoroughly. They call it "Milanese" in cooking style, but in fact it's a Sardinian specialist with some Milanese dishes in there as well. Bizarrely, I'd just come from Alghero, which made it quite strange to see all the dishes I was used to there showing up on a menu in Milan. It's clear, from my experience, that they do the Sard stuff a lot better; I split my order between a Sardinian dish - a mussel soup (zuppa di cozze, although billed as zuppa di cozze e vongole) - it was excellent an absolutely typical; I felt transported back to Alghero; and a Milanese one: Ossobucco con risotto alla Milanese. This was less achieved. The ossobucco itself came (shock, horror!) with tomato sauce over it, and it was less falling-apart than it could be. The risotto was OK, and bursting with saffron flavour, but hadn't been cooked optimally (slightly undercooked), although serviceable.
Then the bizarre part began. I ordered a panna cotta all'caffe. But instead I was brought a plain panna cotta. When I enquired about this they said they were out of the coffee version. Fine, but why didn't they say this at the time I ordered? I tried to explain this concept but they seemed genuinely mystified - as if typical practice is that if what the customer orders happens to be out, the proper way to proceed is to substitute randomly with something else, rather than saying they're out. As it happened, the panna cotta was fine anyway, so I took it, but the whole experience was surreal.
Monday was on the whole a more successful day. I started the day with coffee and brioches at Pasticceria Martesana. A bit of a trek from the city centre, but this is the quintessential Milan experience, delivering what you expect: an achingly modish, trendy space filled with stylish women and business-suited men scoffing brioches that are much closer to the Cristalli di Zucchero standard than Pave was. CdZ still is that marginally better, but these were very accomplished and the coffee was very good, if still not perfect.
Lunch saw me go to the place consistently listed as the most authentic traditional in Milan: Antica Trattoria della Pesa. My prime target here was the Costoletta alla Milanese. But to start I took as antipasto Culatello allo Zibello, which was good but not the height of excellence. Not really wanting risotto this time, I got another version of tagliatelle al pomodoro e basilico, the principal interest lying in the fact that the pasta was billed as being fresh and hand-made. That it was, but the sauce was no better than mine of the previous day, and in fact considerably worse, the basil not being really fresh. Still, all would have been forgiven if the costoletta had been excellent, but...it wasn't. Somewhat overcooked, lacking in flavour, and with poor frying technique (they didn't use a hot enough pan, thus the breading was soggy and somewhat greasy), I really got the feeling this was something I could have had anywhere. I don't really see where Antica Trattoria della Pesa is getting their reputation from, unless there is a very radically different treatment for regulars.
Late in the afternoon I located a truly great coffee at Bastianello, one of the elegant caffes in Piazza San Babila. It was easily the finest I had while in Milan and contends very favourably on a national scale. They also have an interesting aperitivo selection if you're interested in that.
Luckily, as fortune would have it, my quest for authentic Milanese ended up fulfilled, from a perhaps-surprising source: the high-end choice. Acting upon a recommendation from an Italian friend, I went to Cracco. He's known for experimental and bizarre stuff, but in fact, the menu also lists most of the traditional Milanese staples. So I ordered:
and in addition they brought as additional dishes:
Let me first deal with the additional dishes - each of which were "free", although the actual price of these is clearly absorbed into the (expensive) alla carta prices.
The canapes were all excellent; some were sublime. I remember particularly one with a jellied pate atop bread with a pistachio, and a chocolate bread with salmon caviar. The fritti were world-class. Cracco is masterful at frying. The crispness level was unbelievable, the flavour impeccable; I could have eaten this all night, as a sort of aperitivo. The caper mousse wasn't really my thing; I'm not especially fond of capers, but the texture was lovely and I can't criticise it. The quinoa polenta, though, was troublesome. Quinoa is better done slightly dry, like basmati rice, and while tomatoes do indeed go magnificently with quinoa the sauce here had an odd, difficult-to-place flavour. If ordinary maize polenta had been used, or if the dish had had a drier consistency, it could have been a real winner. As it is it needs some tuning. As for the end-of-meal sweets, I'll comment on that a bit later.
Now on to the core of the meal. As you can see, it's possible to go for a traditional Milanese meal, which, after the disappointments of earlier I was very much in the mood for.
The bresaola was unbelievably good. Powerful in flavour, silken in texture, never too dry, and it came with a lovely rice salad interspersed with flowers; the flavours really came together and I must say I found the whole thing delightful.
The risotto. Was. Definitive. Canonical. Perfect. I dare say this must be considered the reference standard for all of Milan. The texture was ideal, the rice perfectly cooked, the bit of marrow in the centre impossibly unctious, the saffron unmistakeable and generous. You just can't get better than this, and the quantity is meaningful rather than tiny and precious.
The costoletta did make a departure from the canon, in format only (cut into cubes rather than a single on-the-bone slab) but as I've mentioned already Cracco really excels at frying so like the risotto it was world-class. Not at all overdone like Antica Trattoria della Pesa, and with lovely flavourful veal. I would like to see more quantity; this was the only dish of the evening where portion size veered towards the precious, but again I feel like I've experienced costoletta as good as it can ever get. Cracco could improve the presentation if they want to, by ensuring that the traditional bone is left attached to the cubes, and plate it with the bone standing upright like a mast; the effect would be very stylish. They served it with a mix of courgettes which formed an ideal contorno without distracting.
And then you have the pudding. Here I did go for the unusual - in part because I had to try something chocolate, in part because it piqued my interest. This is an example of a dish which works, but in a strange "the sum of the parts is more than the whole" way. You can't really take in the flavours simultaneously, so they reveal themselves in stages, the chocolate coming on first and with a flavour and a texture that is simply divine, the caviar appearing last, and surprisingly cleaning the palate for the next chocolate taste. I won't say that it was the best chocolate concept I've ever experienced, but it was worth the (expensive) experience.
Furthermore, the mignonettes and other sweets immediately following acted as a sort of "second dessert". The chocolate pieces were especially good, with the truffles real winners. It should be noted however that Cracco could improve these still further by sourcing from Dolci Liberta in Busto Arsizio, who are probably the finest chocolatiers in Italy for both truffles and chocolate-covered hazelnuts. In fact, I'm going to write them with my specific recommendation.
But as you can see, the upshot of all of this is that Cracco is not just a place for experimental, unusual dishes but a very good choice if you want the *ultimate*, no-compromises-whatsoever traditional Milanese meal, although of course this comes at a price.
That same evening, I also ventured out to Gelateria Marghera, a good way west of the centre, with a reputation for superb ice cream. The crowds would suggest something special but honestly I didn't see what the hype was all about, the chocolate I selected being only good, not great. I get the feeling great ice cream may be challenging to find in Milan.
Finally, as I was leaving Tuesday morning, I also managed to snatch colazione from Marchesi. This is a bar-pasticceria that, from look and character, would seem more at home in Rome than Milan. But the product is definitive. Their brioches were a solid second to Martesana, and the coffee was better. At rush hour, when I was there, it's jumping. The location in the city centre also makes it more convenient than Martesana, and thus as a default choice perhaps the one of the 2 to choose.
A few other notes:
Peck, the deli, is legendary but I think less impressive than, e.g. Dallmeyr, the awe-inspiring deli in Munich on the other side of the alps. They have a completely irrational system, furthermore, where items on shelves need to be handed over to the people behind counters, while you pay separately at a separate till, then pick up the items afterwards. I defy anyone to come up with a defensible argument for this system.
Ernst Knam has a strong reputation in chocolate, but could be better. If you have the time, rather go up to Busto Arsizio to the aforementioned Dolci Liberta.
The area around Via Spadari is a good food nexus, with Peck, Cracco, Cafe Peck, and Giovanni Galli all in the same place. In fact, I found that venturing outside the centre didn't really yield much reward for the additional distance travelled or time taken; other than Martesana, I'm not convinced it's worth the effort. Or at least, exhaust the central choices before venturing further afield.
Il Pappagallo is the type of institution that many foodies tend to avoid, because it falls into the category of Known Quantity. It's not the place to come to if you want cutting-edge cuisine or trendsetting creativity. Also, it's not the place to come to if you want friendly, informal service and setting, the feeling of being "in someone's home". The atmosphere is definitely classic and formal.
But, if what you're looking for is absolutely un-reinterpreted presentations of the classic Emilian dishes, done in the classic way, with high quality throughout, it's a great choice. It's where to go to get a reference point on the traditional cuisine of the region.
It's not cheap, relative to what you get. Don't expect amazing quantity-for-price ratios or sensational must-try dishes that justify any price. However I would say that for the quality on offer, the prices are reasonable, so long as you have *realistic* expectations on what a fine restaurant in an affluent area of Italy will cost.
If you've been to London, an almost perfect analogy is Simpson's on the Strand. Nobody is going to give it any awards these days, because it doesn't break any new ground in terms of the restaurant experience, but for a traditional British roast it's very hard to do better. Same thing for Il Pappagallo.
Second the recommendation for Tapac24. Interestingly, they only have menus in Catalan and English, not Castilian.
However it should be noted that Barcelona is less tapas-focussed than many other Spanish cites. So here's a few other places worth considering:
Cheap and cheerful: Mam i Teca, C/Lluna, 4. VERY dodgy neighbourhood (watch your wallet - pickpocketing is rife in Barcelona) but great food at a reasonable price. Zero atmosphere, though, and only a few tables.
Mid-range: Cafe de L'Academia, C/Lledo, 1. Probably *the* most romantic restaurant in Barcelona (and a contender for world champion). Impossibly atmospheric location in the centre of the Barri Gotic. Food is all exceptional. It does get busy; book.
High-end: Comerc 24, C/Comerc, 24. Carles Abellan's more formal restaurant in the city. Classy atmosphere. Excellent and expert service. The food is world-class, with prices to match: expect to spend over €100 a head. Booking advisable.
I would probably do the splurge dinner in Barcelona rather than Venice; although I've not been to Venice, all reports suggest that the majority of restaurants are indifferent and that true excellence is rare. Definitely not so in Barcelona; there are many excellent choices. I'd say therefore go for Comerc 24.
Also, for ice cream while in Barcelona, go to Tomo II. C/Argenteria, 61 is the most central but C/Vic, 2 is the original. They are much better than the competition.
Speaking of which, that's one of my can't miss places in Bologna: Sorbetteria Castiglione, Via Castiglione, 44. Awe-inspiring ice cream. But your friend probably knows that already.
As mentioned, 10:30 is much too early for lunch in Rome (or for that matter, most places worldwide). But you can have the Italian-style breakfast of your dreams at Cristalli di Zucchero, Via di San Teodoro, 88. They simply have the best cornetti anywhere, and the coffee is excellent too. (I actually usually go to their main, slightly larger branch in Via di Valtellina 114, but that's too far for you.)
It's a bit too bad that you didn't schedule time for lunch; it's the main meal of the day in Rome (dinner is typically lighter and less formal, perhaps a pizza and some antipasti) but presumably you have booked museum tours or other things that preclude reconfiguring your schedule.
Ora D'Aria is indeed lovely, but I read from the "more local and authentic" line that it might not be the type of place the OP is looking for. Now, Marco Stabile is one of the foremost proponents of Tuscan and regional cookery, but at the same time what you get at Ora D'Aria, while regionally sensitive, is quite different from the typical regional specialties - at minimum they represent reinterpretations or "twists" on the Tuscan theme. What you're getting here is fine dining in the style of the most critical food connoisseurs; a genuine luxury restaurant in every way.
I think "upper-middle high" isn't a realistic description. At a typical €100 per person, without wine, there is no way for anyone but people in very upper income brackets that Ora D'Aria can be considered upper-middle high. *Fairly priced*, though, definitely. In this calibre of food that type of price is the going rate, maybe even slightly on the more-reasonable side of things. You're buying a once-in-a-trip experience which will be worth it. Ora D'Aria is easily in another category (both on price and quality) from almost every other restaurant in Florence except the Enoteca Pinchiorri.
Book in advance is probably good advice, but I'll note that I got a booking for a Saturday at 9:00 pm ringing at 6:00 pm on the same day. I may have been lucky though.
If you do go, expect sublime food - but not necessarily the Tuscan classics, done in the classical Tuscan way.
Florence: I'll give 3 possible choices for local, authentic
Low-budget: Il Magazzino, Piazza Della Passera 2/3. They specialise in tripe and other such offal, although they have plenty of other choices if that's more than you can stomach (sorry for the pun). Piazza Della Passera is one of the more atmospheric Florence piazze.
Mid-range: Sostanza, Via della Porcellana, 25 r. I went for the Bistecca which is well-regarded; they also have a death-defying chicken. Shared seating. The natives will amaze you with their appetites.
Expensive: Buca dell' Orafo, Via dei Girolami, 28. Very authentic, very high quality. The restaurant is tiny considering the number of people they fit in. Booking essential. Might be a bit hard to find; the entrance is underneath the Ponte Vecchio and goes down into a basement. Somewhat inconspicuous signage. It should be noted that the Buca is by no means the most expensive place in Florence, though, not by a long toss.
All 3 are within easy walking distance of your hotel. The Buca is almost at your door. Sostanza is the furthest, but it's not even a long stroll away.
One clarification, worth mentioning: Roscioli, the bakery, and Roscioli, the wine bar/deli are not the same places (although I seem to remember they are under the same management). The wine bar is on Via dei Giubbonari, 21, basically the main street into Campo de Fiori. The bakery is on Via dei Chiavari, 34, a side street not far away. So one can't be missed (wine bar/deli) the other (bakery) is easily missed unless you know exactly where it is. Just so you're not confused.
With the bakery, as with the wine bar, I think there are better, in particular as mentioned Forno Campo de Fiori. The Forno itself has 2 different places, on opposite sides of the street in Campo de Fiori. One is the classic bakery, with a wide variety of (really excellent, pick one up!) breads. The other is the pizza bar, basically doing pizza al taglio; you tell them what type (bianco, rosso) you want, the amount (in grams), they give you a slice as specified. However the Forno is shut in the afternoon 'till about 5. I don't know what time you're arriving, but that might be a bit late if you eat dinner early. Then again, I think "when in Rome..." applies - think about dinner sometime around 9 or 10-ish in the evening.
It seems to me that it really depends on your expectations vs. Roman expectations. Here's the thing: Romans are really no different from anyone else in that when it comes to *local*, *authentic* cuisine they are almost always looking for something good-value (large portion size, cheap price, reasonably made), rather than high-end - because if they want the best of "home" cooking they'll get it...at home. If they want something genuinely high-end, they are typically looking for something more experimental and un-traditional.
So even the more "traditional" high-end places (e.g. Il Convivio Troiani, Agata e Romeo) will diverge from rigorous authenticity in the name of creativity and interest. That's not to say you won't find variations on traditional dishes; you will, but generally modified at least to some degree to add some sort of "twist". In some ways, the price of this - which is true world-wide - is a sort of homogenisation of top-end restaurants, so that their regional character diminishes and restaurants ever approach a generic "international" style, but this is the impact of human expectation.
As long as you're in the city for a few days, there's no conflict between choosing local and authentic one day, high-end and experimental another. I'd definitely go with one "high-end" place - if I have to choose one it's definitely Il Pagliaccio - and then find at least one place that's rigorously authentic, and have the best of both worlds.
Hi all, next month I'm taking advantage of a return flight connection in Milan to finally see more of the city than just passing through it. As you might guess, I'd like to find something about the food while there. If you've seen my requests before, you'll probably be aware of my typical profile, but here goes anyway.
First, I want to state factors that absolutely do *not* matter in choosing where to eat, because peoples' priorities are often different and stating what you don't care about broadens the scope.
I do not care about the price. Be careful - it means that yes, cost is no object, but on the other hand it doesn't mean high cost is specifically desirable, which is often the connotation attached to "cost is no object". It means that it really doesn't matter whether the place is 10€/head or 100€/head; that's immaterial.
I don't care about having particularly friendly or congenial service. As long as they take my order and get me the food to the table, they've done the critical part.
I don't care about whether a place is "undiscovered" or a universally-known institution. On the one hand, I don't get any particular satisfaction out of the feeling I've found somewhere completely off the tourist radar; on the other hand I don't have any particular need to have eaten in somewhere "iconic" (Again, this doesn't mean that I'm looking for something between the 2 extremes; either extreme is also perfectly fine)
I don't care about atmosphere, bar scene, tourist quotient, or other elements related to the overall "feel" of the restaurant. It doesn't have to be like a stereotype of expectations of Milan, or Italy, nor for that matter completely undistinguishable from any restaurant anywhere else.
And I note also that it's my strong belief that none of these factors need have any *necessary* impact on the food. Which hints at what I do care about: I'm looking for the best quality food possible, excluding all other considerations. A restaurant which makes no compromises when it comes to what they put on the plate - and this doesn't mean luxury ingredients necessarily; it means that whatever they do use, they make the best. A pizza, for example is hardly luxury unless you do something unusual and bizarre, but they should start out from the most flavourful, high-protein wheat flour they can find, use the sweetest, reddest tomatoes possible, etc.
So here's what I'd like to find:
1) Somewhere serving classic Milanese dishes; risotto and costoletta are the critical ones. Osso bucco would be interesting too. Possibly 2 restaurants if possibilities exist. They should be unswervingly authentic.
2) A great place for morning brioches (usually called cornetti further south). My reference standards here are Cristalli di Zucchero in Rome and Luca Mannori in Prato. That level of excellence. They MUST use all butter; no marg or other vegetable fats allowed.
3) Somewhere high-end for a celebration meal. I've been debating whether in fact to abandon that while in Milan and instead go to my favourite standby in Rome (where I'll be the night before) - Il Pagliaccio - but the idea of trying something new that represents the elite of Milan is appealing.
4) A great caffe. Coffee quality here is everything. If this can be combined with 2) great, but I'm happy to go to one place for the coffee and another for the brioche, if ultimate quality is found in 2 different places.
At least 2 other "random" choices, representing the best Milan has to offer; I'd prefer Italian cuisine, though.
Thanks for any suggestions. I'll report comprehensively on my return.
Saturday: Snack: Lo Zozzone, Via Del Teatro Pace 32. Almost a standard choice by now, but their pizze/sandwiches have an excellent quantity/quality/value quotient.
Dinner: I'd avoid Roscioli. Was not impressed, quality only reasonable, better options exist. What's your priorities for this? Proximity to Campo de Fiori? Relative informality? Price? Type of food served? I have various possible replacements in mind but need some parameters.
Sunday: Lunch: Also don't overlook Le Mani In Pasta, (Via dei Genovesi 37) since you're going to be in Trastevere. Superb pasta, especially the seafood ones. Nice secondi too. Atmosphere almost a cliche it's so nice. Friendly service.
Dinner: I like to do evening walks around the area just west of Piazza Navona, but that's because I like action, crowds, and life. And for a quintessential Roman experience go to Da Francesco; easily recognisable by the huge crowds invariably outside waiting for a table. Atmospheric piazza, great pizze, friendly locals. You do have to be prepared to wait about an hour for a table though. Pre/post dinner drinks will be trivial; you could stumble into almost anywhere there (though beware, there are a LOT of tourist traps around here)
Monday: Morning: Absolutely do NOT miss, and you could go either Sunday or Monday, Cristalli di Zucchero for cornetti. Quite simply the best in Rome, or possibly anywhere. The crema is awe-inspiring. I have a work colleague whose flat is almost adjacent to the one on Via di Val Tellina, 114, which is far out of the centre (take the #8 tram), but don't fear, there's also one much more centrally placed on Via di San Teodoro, next to Santa Maria in Cosmedin (and the Bocca della Verita). And there's something so nice about doing breakfast the Roman way. The coffee, by the way, is almost as good as the cornetti, although for coffee the place to go is Caffe Sant' Eustachio near the Pantheon.
Lunch: Don't forget that lunch is the main meal of the day in Italy. It's worth finding one of the really traditional sit-down restaurants and having a really good, classic Roman meal, if you're in to that. One of the "usual suspects" - Armando al Pantheon - is a very reliable and excellent choice.
And finally once you're in the Pantheon area generally, the warren of streets just to the north hold the strongest concentration of good ice-cream shops in Rome. Giolitti, Grom, and San Crispino are all within a few paces. (There are several others there as well of good quality). My personal favourite is the old institution, Giolitti, (and yes, in spite of being out of fashion, the ice cream is still very good indeed) but you have to be prepared for the fact that getting your ice cream is something akin to a blood sport. The others are more relaxed.
Hmm; it's really too bad I didn't see this earlier; I go to Alghero every year on a workshop, and have become fairly familiar with the town. For the benefit of others who might be looking here in future, here's what I've found.
1) It's really too bad you didn't try Andreini; you have to ignore, I think, the "overrated" comments, or rather apply the filter that understands that, whenever a restaurant acquires a high reputation, and particularly a Michelin star, there is always going to be a group of people who cry overrated. The reasons for this are complex but a large proportion of them are unrelated to the actual food on offer. I've never failed to be impressed with Andreini, and while it's expensive compared to a run-of-the-mill restaurant, compared to other Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy (which typically run at 80-100€/person, it's astonishing value, especially if you choose the lunch special.
2) Al Tuguri is another one worth trying. If service is more important to you than the food, or if at any rate anything less than the type of service that makes you feel like a cherished friend leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth, then you should prefer Al Tuguri over Andreini because the service at the former is charming in every way.
3) Il Pavone and La Lepanto have had strong reputations for years. The food there won't blow your mind, nor is it anything particularly sophisticated, but for a reasonable meal on the better side of quality and prices that, while still not cheap, aren't splurge level, they're worth considering.
4) The best ice cream, by far, is Gelateria Arcobaleno, in a very prominent position in Piazza Civica. The one downside is that they tend to shut earlier in the evening than the other gelaterie in Alghero. You do have to be selective though because a lot of the others are really quite poor.
5) The same can be said for a large number of other restaurants in Alghero, in common with most other towns and cities, especially ones with a tourist slant. If you just make a random selection, you're likely to be disappointed. Some sources are particularly unreliable - such as TripAdvisor.
6) Note that the places I've mentioned are all well-known. Again, that's going to be typical of a small town like Alghero; it's unlikely that you'll have any real "discoveries", in the sense of somewhere wonderful but unknown in the guides, simply because it's too easy to comprehensively canvass the area, and the good places will quickly make themselves apparent, everybody will know who they are, and that sort of ends that.
Hi, we do have our differences but I think are not as divergent as it may seem.
You mention "I don't think they are being unrealistic", and neither do I. When I said that "many" "came in with unrealistic expectations", I just mean that there is a group of people who have, or seem to have, an idée fixe about what a restaurant should be like, in a particular country or region or market segment or whatever, and if the reality is different from their expectations, are much more disappointed that what, really, was warranted based on what they actually experienced.
"But don't underestimate how much it has meant to people to be treated hospitably wherever they went in Italy as a fundamental part of their dining experience"
"I simply do not accept that theory that differential service is the norm in Italy." Please understand that this is not what I am saying. Again, what I am saying is that, based on conversations with Italian friends and (inevitably limited) personal observation, it seems the probability of differential service in Italy is somewhat higher than it is in some other countries - which is not the same as saying it's over 50%, or even a particularly high figure. But it's a possibility that does exist, and - what I'm trying to get to here - is not *necessarily* an indication of any particular disdain on the part of the restaurant staff towards some customers, merely of somewhat different cultural expectations.
I think here I should clarify some points I've made because I can see there is a danger of reading in implications which I don't intend.
"It's not surprising that so many people have "disappointing" meals in Italy" - here many does not mean most. I don't think a majority of people have disappointing experiences. But there is clearly a contingent who do - these are the "many" who I suspect are coming in with unrealistic expectations, or for whom at least expectations are often a factor in the disappointment.
Note that by contrast the subsequent sentence: "many, if not indeed most, restaurant-goers actually evaluate restaurants..." DOES carry the possibility of being most, although that's not certain, because without hard data in front of me it's impossible to say with certainty. This comment, however, applies not specifically to restaurants in Italy but to the general approach as to how people think about restaurants.
"Most people are doing the right thing, I believe, by valuing an eatery by the overall experience of dining there than by simply "best food" on the plate" (your comment) - here I have to disagree, at least in part. I do think it's important and necessary to distinguish best food on the plate irrespective of other considerations (such as service, price, ambience etc.) because it's a basic benchmark of absolute quality. I think it's fine to identify restaurants by the overall experience, but when this is done, it should be made very clear that the opinion is being made on the totality of the experience rather than the food per se. Likewise I don't think food quality should be downrated for things such as poor service, even if the problems were egregious. This can go into the *total* opinion of the restaurant, and should do so indeed, but I think where possible people should be clear about what they're going to get. Similarly, a restaurant with charming hosts and an extremely pleasant atmosphere needs to have it noted if the food is good but not great. On the other hand no praise should be withheld from a restaurant that actually manages truly *great* food with all the other positive attributes.
"Rather, they are the ones who are most adept at managing their image." It is important to note that by this I do NOT mean necessarily in a cynical or commercial way, i.e. restaurants for whom image is everything and quality is not a priority. It's perfectly possible to be able to cultivate a good image (both in the actual experience and in reputation) while at the same time upholding the highest standards of quality and actually caring in a positive way about the customer. Indeed, among the ones with good reputations, this is probably what is happening, because image alone will only take you so far. However, a restaurant that does excellent food but whose "look and feel" isn't so immediately attractive will have a harder time attracting attention, and indeed I've seen some quality restaurants apparently fail for precisely this reason. They had great food, but just never got much custom because they didn't look like the type of place you'd necessarily expect good food to come from and didn't spend too much effort on promotion.
"Notwithstanding, there *are* cultural differences between Southern Europe and Northern Europe (or America)." Here it is critical to understand that in the paragraph that follows there is ABSOLUTELY NO implied value judgement about the relative merits of different social attitudes. So that if I characterise, broadly, Northern and Southern cultural norms as different - that's what I mean: different, not necessarily better or worse. However, I think it is pointless to deny that there *are* differences at a cultural level: indeed, this is something to celebrate: let us not get into a world of one homogeneous culture. Equally, however, I do not mean to infer that cultural norms apply either to all people in a given cultural milieu or to any specific identifiable person. Thus you cannot take, e.g. any one Italian and any other Brit and be able to say that the Italian will favour friends and family whereas the Brit will be strictly first-come-first-served. I'm looking at effects that apply at a statistical level, across populations, as opposed to at a person-by-person level. It doesn't even have to be a majority of the population. It only has to be that the proportion of the population that acts one way versus the other is higher, relative to the proportion of the population, averaged across all people in the world, who would act in this way. How this works in practice in the restaurant world is that as a customer, coming into a restaurant in Italy, it probably makes sense to be more prepared for the possibility of differential treatment, and not to be overly perturbed by it, than it would in e.g. America, although it would not in general be possible to predict in advance specifically which restaurants might work in this way.
My main point, though, was still the last sentence of the reply: "...it CANNOT be inferred that regulars-first restaurants are serving, to regulars, better food that could be had at *any* other restaurant in Rome" - precisely because it's a random statistical distribution, there's no necessary correlation between food quality and treatment, so if differential treatment does bother you, simply go elsewhere; there are plenty of choices and some of them will be equal in food quality to the ones where for you the type of service received ruins the totality of the experience.
"It does seem to me that there has become this idee-fixee among travelers to Italy that the ultimate dining experience to be had in Italy is the hole-in-the-wall eatery without a tourist in sight, where you will be feed piles of amazing cheap food by adoring hosts."
Hear hear! This is a point that was dying to be said. Seen in that light, it's not surprising that so many people have "disappointing" meals in Italy: they came in with unrealistic expectations.
More broadly, though, I find that many, if not indeed most, restaurant-goers actually evaluate restaurants not in terms of the absolute quality they got, but rather by the degree of match between the overall *experience* they had while there, and some idealised "template" of what a restaurant "typical" of the given country or region would be like. So the ones that get good reputations are not necessarily the ones serving the best food; rather, they are the ones who are most adept at managing their image. It's also possible to overestimate the limits of the possible: it's unlikely that a fairly basic pasta dish is going to be a revelatory culinary experience (although actually this sort of overestimation is more rampant in the high-end restaurants like Il Convivio or Agata e Romeo where people convince themselves they're about to be transported to the third heaven). At the end of the day, food is food.
Notwithstanding, there *are* cultural differences between Southern Europe and Northern Europe (or America). In multiple discussions with Italian and Greek friends I've seen that the culture is more relationship-orientated, and so there is a tendency to reserve the best of everything for friends and regulars. A discussion came up about butchers. They were explaining how the best of the spring lamb, or the best cuts of beef, wouldn't even be on view at the butchers; they'd be "reserved" for friends and family. When I explained that in England it would invariably be first-come, first-served, and that if you walked in as a complete stranger a few minutes before an old regular, and asked for the top bit of meat, you'd get it, they really had difficulty adjusting to the concept. It's different ways of looking at what's fair. Preferential treatment for regulars, from a Northern/Anglophone viewpoint, may seem fundamentally unfair, but at least in the eyes of some Southern Europeans, the *reverse* is true: how can it be considered "fair" to treat an old friend in the same way as some random stranger you will probably never meet again?
That said, there are restaurants, in Rome as elsewhere, that are more focussed on their regular clientele and are someone dismissive of one-off (or first-time) diners, and ones that are not - and who will provide a great meal no matter who walks through the door. To give a pair of concrete examples I get the feeling that Matricianella is one of those regulars-first restaurants while Le Mani in Pasta is an everyone-welcome establishment. However - and I think this is the critical lesson to draw - it CANNOT be inferred that regulars-first restaurants are serving, to regulars, better food that could be had at *any* other restaurant in Rome - there's nothing "magical" about their cooking and if you believe that you're simply falling prey to the mystique of exclusivity.
OK, the report from the actual trip.
In the event, I went to Buca dell'Orafo. Having a Florentine friend along more or less sealed the choice. The steak was definitely the real thing, the right cut, no twists in the cooking. It was extremely good, although I think there is still room for even better. The same friend is promising to take me to Cecchini's next time. In truth my memory suggests that Sostanza's was better, but this would require a side-by-side comparison. Everything else at the Orafo was excellent, though, and I had a pappardelle all'agnello which was *exactly* the sort of primo I was looking for, which I would have been unlikely, I think, to get elsewhere. Still the search continues however.
I did try Forno Ivana. It seems to me easily possible to do better. The crust was exceptionally thick and crunchy, exactly what I like, but overall it was a bit generic, really; a bit more density and a higher-protein flour (the bread at the Buca dell'Orafo was better) would have helped. Great bakeries in Florence must exist, much as they must in other cities in Italy: it always seems good restaurants have found good bread sources. But these same sources seem frustratingly difficult to track down in themselves. Or is that the way the bread business is in Italy? Is the entire retail market so utterly price-sensitive that the real quality bakers focus exclusively on wholesale trade accounts?
Ok, gianduja will be found on offer from countless companies in Turin. It's worth knowing how to pick out the winners from the losers.
First the base product: giandujotti.
One company you should go for, in fact on all fronts, is A. Giordano. Get the hand-formed giandujotti, which in addition to good flavour have a unique, slightly sticky texture very different from other gianduje and well worth experiencing. Be careful with these in the heat; they're VERY oily and will ooze badly if it's hot
Ignore comments on the commercial status of Venchi. Yes, it's a fact that they are a large commercial concern. But the fact remains that their gianduja is of a completely different class of excellence than almost everyone else, artisanal or not. This is the reference standard against which all should be measured, and if you can get their dark gianduja in addition to their milk, you'll have tried essentially the ultimate in gianduja achievement.
Guido Gobino is interesting to experiment with an alternative. Personally, I find it a bit too sweet and not as good as the above 2, but it's interesting to compare.
I am not impressed with Guido Castagna. But others, in fact, many other chocolate experts, love it. So perhaps you should be the judge. He has a dark gianduja using Chuao chocolate which is worth trying for the experience.
Domori should be better. Their plain chocolate is world class. But the gianduja is not. Too sweet. I wouldn't get it.
You next ask about spreads. Giordano makes a good one. Here also Guido Castagna has a superb variety "55+". Venchi's Cuor di Cacao used to be the best, but then they suddenly and inexplicably started using olive oil in the recipe, which diminished it from the best to merely good. Guido Gobino's uses butter, which makes for an indescribably smooth texture but also perhaps a bit too much sweetness. Actually perhaps the best these days comes from Slitti, not even in Piemonte but it Toscana. However it seems almost insulting to visit Turin and not get a local product.
Also must-try: cremino - layered gianduja, which comes both flavoured and unflavoured. Venchi's is excellent, Giordano is also superb and has more flavours to choose from.
As a "one-stop-shop" I think you can see that Giordano has the best density and quality. What ever you do, though, don't assume that *any* chocolatier that looks artisanal will be good enough; there are clear winners and also-rans. As has been pointed out, many are simply using product bulk-made by a large third-party producer. So choose carefully.
Yes, I didn't mean that my vision of the ideal would actually contain tomato paste. What I meant is that the density of the *flavour* should be similar to what one might expect by the combination described. All too often tomato-based sauces come out insipid and lacking in flavour, usually because the tomatoes weren't of the utmost quality or weren't ripe.
The Bucatini insistence might not be true, necessarily, of what would happen in Amatrice, but here I'm thinking of what happens in Rome, where bucatini has become the "canonical" pasta to use. I'm thinking, in other words, of the ideal as interpreted through the Roman method.
I have to disagree with that evaluation (my field of expertise is a bit different: chocolate, but the practical implications in terms of experience would be similar). My visit to Il Pagliaccio was utterly memorable and world-class. Nothing was less than good and some dishes were transcendent. However, like most top-rate restaurants, some will be disappointed and there are defensible reasons for this.
Portion size is less than what you would get at a typical Roman restaurant, although not necessarily small relative to the size one tends to find at other top-end restaurants worldwide.
Prices are extremely steep, and it is indisputably a fact that in other towns in the world you can have a meal of equal quality for much less. Top-end restaurants in Rome seem on the whole to come with an extreme price premium.
There is a mix of more traditional and more adventurous choices on the menu. The more adventurous choices do come with a higher level of risk: the *conceptual success*, as opposed to the *execution* of some of them is marginal. Execution was always near-perfect, but some ideas work better than others. I think common sense is called for: each person knows what they like and would be advised to try things that to them sound like they'll work.
As noted it's quite different from the typical Roman menu, so if you're looking for something traditional it won't be the best choice.
Ultimately what it will probably come down to is the value-for-money proposition: at the prices you can expect to spend it's the kind of place from which you will expect nothing less than a revelation. And because tastes differ, this level of experience isn't something a restaurant can reliably achieve with a random customer. Too much will depend on personal preference. You'll either be transported (I was) and be thinking about when to go back again, or not, and be thinking never again.
However I do maintain that the only way to find out is to try - as is the case with any truly top-end restaurant - so it's worth doing. Just think of it as something you budget for and don't come in with preconceived expectations.
Can you tell me how close it was in overall character to my idea of the ideal Bucatini all'Amatriciana, which would be like this:
The sauce: dense, thick, strongly tomatoey; something like what you might get if you combined fresh, peeled, cored, seeded, and drained (i.e. removed of the excess thin liquid you get) tomatoes with a good dollop of tomato paste.
The guanciale: large, striplike bits, maybe half-earthworm size, with a powerful, porky flavour, and plenty of fat to give them a tender, supple consistency, in sufficient quantity overall to ensure several bits per fork.
The bucatini: Bucatini and no other shape, i.e. like very thick spaghetti with a pinhole in the middle, with that unique flavour of wheat semolina and very pure water, supple on the fork yet firm in the mouth, without any hints of either crunchiness or mushiness.
I've been on a search of the ultimate Bucatini all'Amatriciana in Rome; Antico Arco is hyper-upscale relative to the "normal" sorts of places that you might expect to find this dish but perhaps for that very reason might be ultimate. I've also seen reports that Il Convivio Troiani has an ultimate version as well. For similar reasons it might be worth trying them; but it would seem like ridiculous overkill to try both on the same visit.
Yes, there was a ban, and you're right, I've thought about this as a possible reason why some places may still be serving a non-Fiorentina cut - a legacy from those days. However, the simple fact that a place would choose to stay with the non-Fiorentina cut even after the ban was lifted indicates to me that inertia won out in that restaurant's case over obsession, which is almost immediately a major negative.
However the case isn't so clear-cut as that (excuse the unintentional pun), because it's quite conceivable that, even after the ban, many restaurants were finding that even with Fiorentina back on their menu, a substantial demand existed for a different steak cut. In that case, they'd have to be business idiots to remove it from the menu, as long as the classic cut were on there as well. But it seems reasonable to suppose that now it should be perfectly possible to find a Chianina Fiorentina; some menu listings aren't unequivocally unambiguous on this point, which makes me wonder.
All of this is just pure conjecture though. Does anybody have hard facts or experience on the quality/character of the restaurants I've listed as candidates?