Sorry, away for a few days ...
Now that I know a bit more about your backgrounds, would change some of my suggestions.
No compelling reason to go to Mr Wong for someone who frequents Fook Lam Moon etc in HK.
I would still go to Spice Temple. In may ways, it is an Australian take on (trans-)Chinese food, by a great chef (Neil Perry) with a deep and encyclopaedic understanding of Asian food. There are touches that are clearly inauthentic (such as Jalapeno peppers) but they generally make sense.
Talking of Neil Perry, you may want to look at his high-end Rockpool, newly relocated. (Haven't been there, can't comment first-hand).
Similarly if you have just been to Spain, no reason to go to Movida.
Every degustation we've had at Sepia has always included the Japanese stones at the end --- not aware of an extended version, but I'm sure any restaurant would be happy to supplement their degustation on request (at a price of course).
I must say burger is not my thing: so, haven't had either the Rockpool or the Minetta burger. But really enjoy comparisons like that --- and assumed you are a burger aficionado; if so, should be fun.
Somewhat of an aside: To the more general point about the quality of Sydney produce in an international comparison (taking off your query about the quality of Wagyu). I think the quality of produce is orders of magnitude better than in NYC. [Spent 4 years in the city's backyard; spend about a month a year now, in West Village, with full cooking facilities and do cook quite a few meals.] The quality of seafood (broadly defined), lamb and beef I think is comparable to France and Italy; but poultry, pork, vegetables and fruits are nowhere near as good as in France or Italy. We --- and others we know who care a lot about food --- go to one butcher for lamb, another for beef, a third for poultry, a fishmonger (our local one is fantastic) or the fish market for fish, a cheesemonger for cheese, a fruit and vegetable shop ...(no, not different ones for different kinds, except for Asian shops for Asian-style vegetables!) I try hard each year in NYC, without success, to find places of comparable quality.
Given your interest in food, I think it may make sense to make a point to visit a few produce places. Since you spent 3 months in Sydney, you no doubt know the fish market (the second largest in the world, after Tsukiji in Tokyo) --- may be of interest to your wife? This may sound strange, but the butcher shop Victor Churchill in Woollahra is well worth a stop, almost like a candy shop! (That's where we buy our Blackmore Wagyu sirlion as well as intense dry-aged beef.) Although you obviously won't want to buy meat to cook, you can perhaps try a little oxtail pie. The (primarily Italian) cheese shop Formaggi Ocello in Surry Hills is excellent and here you can try a selection of cheeses, with wines to match if you like.
As mr gimlet says, you need not have a degustation at any of the places you are going to (except at Sixpenny, and at Sepia on weekends), if that's what you want. I would still go for it at some of these places --- because I like small amounts of many things rather than a large amount of a few things, but that's a matter of preference.
Sagra is a great neighbourhood place; the problem, though, is that the menu is a bit too small, especially, the two secondi! If you are after a good casual Italian, I would recommend Vini. Any day is good, but each Tuesday, they do a 4-course $50 dinner representing a region of Italy that's usually interesting. (Across from it is a wine bar owned by them, called 121 BC (after the great Roman vintage!), that's very good for a glass of wine and a bite.) Another casual place owned by them that I think is very good is Berta (more Mediterranean than purely Italian).
The two best Italian restaurants (we are talking mid-range+) in Sydney now in my opinion are Pilu at Freshwater (that I've mentioned) and Ormeggio at the Spit. The two old guards of Italian food in Sydney, somewhat old-fashioned but still very good, are Buon Ricordo and Lucio's (the space at Lucio's a showcase of superb Australian art, as great artists had adopted it).
I have done dinner at Marque many times but never the lunch. I imagine it will be in the same style. For the price, worthwhile.
At mid-price range, I think the Japanese places are well worth exploring. Unlike NYC, where by law all raw fish must have been previously frozen, almost all sashimi and sushi you will get in Sydney is totally fresh. Would recommend Ume in Surry Hills, Hana-Jurin in Crows Nest; if you don't mind a place that's bound to come across as weird (the locals have deserted it for reasons I don't understand; so, any fellow diner will likely be businessmen from Japan), the very best is Yoshii.
I'm almost as interested in wine as I'm in food. If you are into wine at all, it is useful to know vintages to look for and to avoid. 2010 and (especially) 2012 have been superb vintages, almost uniformly; 2011 has been one of the worst in living memory (except in Margaret River). On many restaurant wine lists now, you will find 2012 Rieslings from Clare Valley; they are superb. (These are dry Rieslings.)
Darley (not Darling) Street Thai, under David Thomson, I believe was the best Thai *restaurant* anywhere, including Bangkok. This is before Thomson was poached by the King of Thailand! I regard Thomson's Nahm as the best restaurant in Bangkok. (This is *not* to say that's the best food in Bangkok, which is in little street shacks, where most of the locals eat.)
IMO, Longrain, in its first couple of years, still with quite a few staff trained by Thomson, *was* the best restaurant outside Bangkok.
A good mix of places overall, I think. Some comments on your choices and a few suggestions below.
Among the high-end places, your choices (Quay and Sepia) are arguably Sydney's two best restaurants now. At Quay, it is true that all tables have a good view (some better, of course, but all good) --- I wouldn't give up a meal at Quay because the view from the table wasn't a bit better. That said, no harm in making it clear that you are from overseas and the view would mean a lot to you.
On the mid-range places (mid-range, at least in cost --- in which, as examples, I'm including Sixpenny, Longrain, Porteno, Billy Kwong, Fix St James, Cafe Paci ...), I'm a bit less confident about your choices. Among the ones you mention, I would certainly keep Sixpenny, an excellent restaurant working with local produce and with a real neighbourhood feel. Also Cafe Paci, a highly innovative restaurant, as long as you understand that it is a "pop-up" restaurant with a warehouse space. Including the bar side of Rockpool Bar & Grill in mid-price, seems like a fine idea to compare the burger with the one in Minetta Tavern!
In addition, among mid-range places, I would vote for Spice Temple for (trans-)Chinese --- a very Sydney restaurant, of which I don't know an equal (or even a substitute) in NY. [If you go, you must have the steamed eggplant and also the tea-smoked duck breast as two of the small cold dishes; then maybe beef in fire water or three-shot chicken ...]
Another Chinese restaurant --- Mr Wong --- although not unique to Sydney (Hong Kong has places somewhat like this), is very good and likely to interest you because it is high-quality Cantonese food, less common in NY. [If you go, you must have dim sum to start and then a half portion (enough for two) of the roasted duck (not the Peking duck, just the roasted duck).
I think Longrain, unfortunately, is not what it used to be (the best Thai restaurant in a city outside Bangkok). Sydney's best Thai are now casual places --- like Spice I Am that you mention --- certainly the very informal 90 Wentworth Ave location is the one to go to; Chat Thai, House Thai, Home Thai are some others. Should try some Thai --- the best Thai in Sydney is better than that in NY.
As this is your wife's first trip, I would have chosen a couple of iconic Sydney places with great views. My favourite is Pilu at Freshwater, a superb Sardinian restaurant (go for the 7-course degustation for a long Sunday lunch); Iceberg in Bondi is quite reliable.
I would also recommend Movida, a Spanish tapas place --- reserve well in advance if you want a table, the walk-in bar is good and has the full menu.
If you two are into small bars, an astonishing number has cropped up with a change in licensing laws. Would suggest Love Tilly Divine (very close to Cafe Paci) as a wine bar, but there are many, many others.
Enough for one post!
Going to be a ridiculously long-winded report on some places in ER, Lombardia and Veneto ... so, first, a summary: the two totally outstanding meals were at Miramonti l'Altro and Locanda Mariella; a fine pranzo di Natale at Antica Corte Pallavicina; a great return visit to La Buca; an interesting and enjoyable evening at Le Calandre till the last 5 minutes but with an upsetting ending; not a single disappointing meal.
Drove into Parma from Malpensa after a 30-hour flight from Sydney (including a 9-hour layover in Singapore) around noon and were surprised ourselves that we wanted lunch! Walked over to Trattoria Tribunale, which many CH posters like. Had an excellent and a highly enjoyable lunch --- no doubt the excitement of the first day of the trip made it more special. Excellent culatello, although we had had and later were to have better versions, and torta fritta. [Aside: the torta fritta here especially resonated with me, as it is close to being a rectangular version of a speciality of Kolkata I grew up on. "Luchi", the "ch" pronounced as in "check", is simply not available outside Bengal, and typically at the top of the list when expats from Kolkata are asked what food they miss.] A primo of tortelli di erbette and a rich braised coniglio as secondo with a large plate of verdure alla griglia. The wine list only had the varietals and neither the producers nor the vintages; but that seemed in keeping with the style of the place and the bottle of Dolcetto d'Alba we had went well with the food. Came out delighted with the lunch and delighted to be in Parma.
We had found in Piemonte and ER last year that we don't really need dinner if we have a big lunch, and crashed early.
For lunch on Christmas eve, called various places on Parmasam's list and on other lists, but after the sixth "Siamo chiusi" response, gave up and settled for the hotel's recommendation of Trattoria Santa Chiara. Parmasam would be happy to know that, at least on that day, the place was not catering to tourists at all. All others in the room were known to the staff and greeted with hugs and kisses. The owner handed us the menu but said "Traditionally, we don't eat meat today," and proceeded to tell us what we should have. A special of pesce spada crudo (that he described as a carpaccio) as antipasto, linguine con scampi e verdura croccante as primo, and piattto vegetariano as secondo. We were not sure about the antipasto and primo. After all, Parma is not known for its seafood while the fish market in Sydney is the second largest in the world (after Tsukiji inTokyo), and we are particularly spoilt as our local fishmonger is the retail arm of the supplier to a majority of the top restaurants in Sydney. In the end, decided to go with the recommendations. I had selected an Arneis from Piemonte from the wine list but the owner virtually overruled it and said we should try a Trebbiano from Malvasia (not on the list) instead. We liked his style and so that's what we had. Turned out that the swordfish wasn't a carpaccio at all; each of us had a substantial single slab of the fish, maybe 1/4-inch thick, drizzled with olive oil, a few crushed peppercorns, and a salt mill offered on the side. The bloodlines should have been more carefully removed in a crudo, but otherwise it was fine. The fantastic linguine was certainly the highlight, with pieces of barely-cooked scampi, the textural contrast of the verdura croccante, and olive oil that was redolent of scampi, likely infused with scampi heads. The piatto vegetariano was very good, as we find it always is in the places we go to in Italy. The wine, by itself nothing special, matched the food. Based on our solitary experience on what was clearly a special day at the restaurant, it was a good choice.
Bought some formaggi and vino to tide us over till the midnight mass at the Duomo. Awakened before dawn on Chrstmas day by the sound of chanting, looked out of the window to find a crowd gathered, candles lit, waiting to be led into the Battistero by the priests. Joined them for what was a beautiful candle-lit service in the magnificent building with glorious acoustics.
Had decided to leave Parma on Christmas day and go to Antica Corte Pallavicina for pranzo di Natale and stay the night there. Rather a unique hotel, an old building converted into a luxury inn, but still a working farm. The pranzo, a set menu, began in a room with a large table covered with huge platters of culatelli, many types of salumi, magnum chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and waiters coming through with tiny plates and bowls with morsels and spumante from Antica Corte's own vineyard. We knew a big lunch was ahead of us and exercised great discipline ... The lunch in the dining room began with superb 42-month old culatello. The fixed price included matched wines but the wines were fairly ordinary. We were in a celebratory mood and, after a glass of spumante to accompany the culatello, decided to pay for a bottle of a 2008 Barbaresco Gallina to accompany the other courses. It was explosively fragrant, but still very primary. A primo of anolini in brodo was followed by two courses of secondi --- a large bollito misto and a tracchinetta disossata con i marroni. They were all excellent. And, to finish, a granita and pancioccolato e pannetone gelato. Had started at 1 pm; by the time we finished, it was almost dark outside and we could barely move ... Next morning we were asked where we had gone for dinner!
Hadn't finalized our plans for Ferrara --- the thinking was we would try La Zanzara for lunch if the weather cooperated and we could get there in time. The weather was OK, but we had lingered walking around near Antica Corte (escorted by the hotel's boisterous dog, Bol) and it was well past 2 pm when we reached Ferrara. Made a reservation for l'oca Giuliva for dinner and walked out from our hotel looking for a wine bar for a bite. Came upon a house where a plaque proclaimed Copernicus lived for a year and went to the enoteca housed there. Ordered a cappellacci di zucca to share with our glasses of wine, and taken aback by the high quality of the cappellacci. It was only later that I saw that the place, Al Brindisi, is rated highly by many posters on CH.
We liked the feel and the food of l'Oca Giuliva, a somewhat updated city trattoria. The best two dishes were a primo of maccherone giallo d'uovo e calamaro and a secondo of terrina di anguilla (wrapped in a cabbage leaf, shaped to resemble a snail, with two micro bread sticks sticking out ..,). The dolce of pampepato rivisitato was "revisitato" with a big-R ... A fine evening overall.
Next stop Padova, where we stayed two nights. The lunches were just little things picked up at the stalls in the market that Plotkin describes as the second best in Italy (after Bologna). For the first evening, we picked a place from Gambero Rosso: La Finestra. The couple who own the place speak excellent English; they lived in NY and has family there. Great antipasti of strudel di radicchio tardivo and capesante arrostite con carciofi and a good primo of risotto con zucca. Only the secondo of piovra in umido lacked distinction. Had selected a Friulano from FVG, but the proprietress said "Why don't you try a Ribolla?" A grape we had only had a couple of times before, more-rounded than the typical Friulano and a good recommendation.
After too-short a time permitted to admire the incredible frescoes of Giotto at Cappella degli Scrovegni, headed out to Le Calandre for dinner next evening. They strongly recommended their classic menu degustazione for first-time visitors and that's what we settled for. A white wine was appropriate for the first 4 courses and we sought a recommendation. After a bit of discussion of what we like, the sommelier suggested a 10-year old Ribolla Anfora by Josko Gravner. Was the most interesting wine (though not the very best) of the trip and an excellent recommendation for the food. The menu is prominent on their website, so won't describe it in detail, but broadly, most of the preparations were actually quite traditional and very good indeed, but presented in a way that I suppose passes for playfulness and wit. But playful in a way that makes you suspect they take themselves very seriously. And its advantages are not clear. For example, their capuccino di seppie al nero has cuttlefish cooked in its ink at the bottom of an elegant-looking glass and topped with pureed potato. The resemblance with a cappuccino is perhaps amusing, but must be a hindrance to taste (good though it is) --- it constrains the way you can combine the two. The dish of the night for us was the risotto allo zafferano con polvere di liquirizia. I am actually rather inordinately proud of the saffron risotto we make at home with riso carnaroli or vialone nano (if combining with small local crustaceans that we call "bugs" in Australia!) and saffron threads from a great Iranian brand called "Black Pearl". We almost never order it at a restaurant anywhere as it is rarely made ab initio or with such high-quality saffron. Here it was part of the degustazione and superb. The Initial reaction from the first spoon was ... much too rich and the saffron overdone, but the liquorice balanced the saffron, somehow made the dish a little lighter and the quantity was well-judged. (Last year we also had a superb and more delicate saffron risotto as part of the degustazione at Dal Pescatore.) They make a big fuss about the Battuta di vacchetta with tartufo bianco (must be eaten with your hands ...), but we had had better versions with superior tartufo bianco in simple trattoria in Piemonte last year. We wanted a glass of red with the two meat courses and none of the 6 wines available by the glass really appealed, and the sommelier said "if you are each having a glass and choose a bottle up to 100 euro, we can do that by the glass." That's what we did, although have now forgotten what it was.
We were sitting, having finished our dinner, content and genuinely amused by the antics at the next table with a random timer as part of their order of a "chocolate game" ... when a waiter came with the bill (knew it was going to be by far the most expensive meal of the trip) and announced "service is not included"! Had never happened to us in our 10 trips to Italy over a 25-year period and what must be well over 200 restaurants, and this in a GR tre forchette/ Michelin 3-star place! Thought we should verify just in case, asked for the menu back, no mention anywhere. Pointed that out and he said ... oh, quite common in Italy. Really? Where does one find these restaurants? Oh, Venice. Been to Venice many times, including weeks-long stay, has never happened. Then, he starts saying maybe he put it the wrong way, we don't have to pay. No chance we will pay but want to talk to the floor manager about this. Then a more senior guy comes, give him a credit card and ask him about it. The response is "Oh, he is from Venice. He made a mistake." This non sequitur infuriated me further. What does that mean? Venetians are generally error-prone? Or waiters from Venice in the employ of this group are prone to this particular error? By now my voice has started to rise ... and a really senior guy in a 10K suit comes out, says this should never have happened, a bad mistake, ... here is my card, write to me when you go to Venice or Paris and I will personally organize a dinner at our restaurant ... throughout talking only to my wife (who is American and white while I'm neither) ... As I was beginning to get even more agitated by these content-free statements, came to realize I was way over-reacting to trivialities, he was not talking to me sensing I was too angry to placate ... and gradually calmed down.
Thinking back can't figure out what provoked the anger --- was a trivial matter after all --- but still exercised as I write this ...
The irony is that we had in fact planned to thank the sommelier at the end and see if there is a graceful way of leaving some money as a token of appreciation ---something we hadn't done in Italy before and likely would give offence at, say, Dal Pescatore.
On a lighter note, we were offered a big bag of goodies. Didn't want to take what seemed like bribes but they said we should take something as a gesture of goodwill ... took the smallest item. The little packet of truffled confectionary was damn good ... should have brought the entire bag home :)
Have run out of steam ... a report on Mantova and the two best meals of the trip will follow.
Thanks, ekc: sensible advice.
Thanks again, Parmasam for the list of places. Maybe it was 60-month old and became 100-month only in my mind!
Hi jen, thanks. I should have clarified that, prior to buying the dried porcini in a box from Inaudi (that was plainly of exceptional quality), we had always bought it loose from markets or specialized shops; for whatever reason, we had never found anything as good.
Grazie, Parmasam, for taking the time to write an incredibly helpful response. With 3 days in Parma, the list gives us a lot of options by way of restaurants/trattoria. And thanks for the great tip on porcini from Borgo val di Taro!
Two questions about buying Parmigiano-Reggiano. Last year in Parma, we had bought a kilo of excellent 100-month old version from Gastronomia Garibaldi and had it vacuum-packed. Are there better places in Parma? Or does it make sense to buy it from a great trattoria like La Buca (where I expect they would be willing to sell it from their cantina, although not sure)?
Thanks PSSF and ekc for the detailed responses. CH is such a great source of information!
We will have a car, PBSF, but prefer to take public transport so that we don't have to worry about driving after consuming a fair amount of vino! And your clear description suggests that's eminently doable for Le Calandre.
Thanks for all the great tips, ekc, in Padova, on route to Parma, and in Parma. We will no doubt try out some of your suggestions.
200 grams of dried porcini mushroom we bought in Alba last year, produced by Inaudi, is the very best dried porcini we have ever seen --- in Italy or outside. The box had pieces of 3--5-inch long cream-coloured dried mushrooms, not some shreds of shrivelled brown things one sees outside of Italy (and often in Italy). Bought a number of times in the past in Italy --- from market stalls in Firenze, shops in Milano, ... --- but nothing like that quality.
Inaudi seems to have outlets only in Piemonte. Anybody knows other good sources of dried porcini mushroom in the Parma-Ferrara-Padova-Cremona circuit?
One can buy online from Inaudi, although the website leaves a lot to be desired, and ask them to ship it to a hotel we are staying in .... Too complicated ...
But the discerning, knowledgeable and sharing CH members likely have much better ideas.
First, it was thoughtful and kind of your wife to send on the relevant comments to Da Ivan: my thanks to her. I had fully intended to write a long note to Ivan in English and then try and append a shorter version in Italian. A problem with ambitious plans is that they often remain unexecuted --- and that's what had happened.
Indeed, Casa Poli is the hotel we have booked in Mantova --- thanks to your recommendation in a post, and reviews at a hotel booking site.
One of our thoughts in planning this trip is concern about unpredictable weather during late December--early January. We figured an autostrada is safer in case of a snow storm or an icy patch. We included Ferrara not only because the city and its food are of interest but also because it is on the route following autostrade from Parma to Padova. La Zanzara sounds wonderful and we are very tempted indeed. But it is an hour from Ferrara according to Google map while la Rosa is just under 30 minutes. So, if the weather is really good we'll try for it; if it is foul, will try for L'Oca Giuliva; and in an intermediate case, maybe Trattoria la Rosa! Thanks again for the tip on what seems like another excellent find.
Turns out Miramonti l'Altro is only open for lunch on January 1, pretty much the only day we can go there. That's fine --- just means we proceed to Cremona after lunch (rather than stay near Brescia) and gives us an extra night in Cremona.
And that does open up the temptation of re-visiting Dal Pescatore. (And, as Oscar Wilde would say, I can resist everything but temptation ...)
Had some other foodie questions ... but it's nearly 2 am in Sydney and have an early morning --- will have to do another time.
Thanks for the kind words: allende, PBSF, rrems.
Of course I have learnt a lot from the experience reported in the posts by all of you.
allende, the great success of that trip was largely a matter of following your wise counsel, down to the individual dishes!
PBSF, do hope you get to go back to dal Pescatore and da Ivan in April --- special food, special wine, and such special people.
The upcoming trip (23 Dec to 3 Jan), still being planned with some haste, through parts of Emilia-Romagna, Lombardia and Veneto, is not as solely food-and-wine-driven as last year's trip was, but food and wine will certainly be one of the key focus.
Driving to Parma from Malpensa and staying there 23--25 Dec. At our request, the very helpful owner of Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati has booked us at La Buca for pranzo di natale! I see that da Ivan and Locanda Mariella are closed Monday and Tuesday (23-24 Dec). Up for suggestions for the 24th (23rd will surely be too jet-lagged after a Sydney-Milan flight). Signor DRP at the hotel has suggested Trattoria Santa Chiara in Parma. We're considering Antica Corte Pallavicina. Weather permitting, of course.
The rest of the plan is still evolving ...
We know we want to spend at least two days in Padova (Capella degli Scrovegni, Basilica di Sant' Antonio, Galileo's digs), and while there, thinking of going to the high-end Le Calandre in Rubano one evening.
Also know we want to spend two or three days in Mantova. And, preferably, a day in Ferrara and a day in Cremona. And a night in Concesio by Brescia with the idea of going to Miramonti l'Altro.
Our first pass at this, based on a search of CH posts, and assuming availability of a table at the restaurants mentioned below, looks like
Makes sense? Other ideas? Many thanks again.
We had travelled in October-November 2012 on a food-and-wine-focused tour of Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna, and had relied heavily on the many posters on CH who take the time to share their knowledge --- in this instance, especially, allende and barberinibee. I had posted reports on Piemonte, had intentions of posting on ER as well --- but a frantically busy period at work right after returning intervened (always happens to me after time away). As time went by, a detailed report seemed less and less meaningful.
Seems relevant again as we are in the process of quickly putting together an impulsive visit to ER and Lombardia during this Christmas break. Figured perhaps even such a late report can at least serve as a token of our gratitude to the posters who had helped us and, especially, to two hosts whose extraordinary hospitality we will never forget.
Dal Pescatore was our first port of call in this part and, based on the suggestion on their website, we stayed at Palazzo Quaranta Hotel at Isola Dovarese. Had communicated beforehand with the Hotel owner, Signor Malaggi, to arrange a taxi to take us to the restaurant and bring us back, as we would surely end up having a bottle of wine each. We were told the taxi wants 50 euros for round-trip and that makes little sense: the restaurant is only 6 kms each way. We still wanted the cab: this was going to be the most expensive meal of the trip anyway.
We check in: a beautiful hotel situated on a lovely piazza, a real palazzo, huge rooms, frescoes on ceiling, and a totally modern stylish bathroom!
The meal was memorable in many ways. We have never seen that level of gracious service involving every member of a family. Had one of the degustazione; requested substituting the venison with the duck (for we get superb venison where we live in Sydney and often cook a tenderloin of venison when entertaining), no problem, of course; a plate of vegetables in place of something ... it came as an extra course at no charge. We thought the lobster and the risotto were the best dishes. We asked where the saffron in the risotto came from ... oh, from the garden, picked by nonna. We hinted maybe they should let their customers know that ... and, after that, we were told about the origin of each produce. The wine list, as expected, was great. Our decision to stay away from Barolo (having spent the week before in Piemonte enjoying superlative aged Barolo) meant it was hard to find competing quality. Met the entire family, including nonna. On the whole, a memorable (and a memorably expensive) experience, but if truth be told, we prefer a somewhat lower-key service, like that in, say, Il Cascinalenuovo in Piemonte, that's knowledgable and attentive without being hyper-attentive and hushed. Nonetheless an experience we would like to repeat once more.
Next stop was Modena where we had a reservation for dinner at Osteria Francescana. This was meant to be our other big-name restaurant and an altogether different style of food from all of the other places on this trip. And it was indeed a very interesting experience. The chef patron, Massimo Bottura, took the order himself. We asked what might be on the "sensations" menu ... "oh, impossible to say, depends on what we think up in the experimental kitchen". OK, maybe we will stick to the "classics" (that are at least described, although in an impressionistic way) ... and he quickly said he can add one item from the "sensations" menu. The first two courses were a tempura (described as a "tempura" on the menu) and a lacquered eel dish, and very good they were. When Signor Bottura returned to our table, I asked, out of curiosity, what the source of (what I thought was obviously) Japanese influence in his food was. Although I had not realized it was a provocation, Signor Bottura was offended. He held forth on how eel was a part of the local food for centuries (no doubt true), his grandmother used to prepare it (lacquered to look like a teriyaki sauce, although it wasn't?), how what I might call dashi has various meat bones (in addition to the items that make a traditional dashi, something we make quite often) and is really a broth ...
The next two nights were spent in Bologna. Although this was going to be a food-focused trip and everything I had read on CH suggested Bologna was over-rated on that score, I felt we had to go --- for I have been there before and my wife has never been and it is such an endlessly fascinating city.
Wanted a light dinner after Giusti, went to Trattoria Anna Maria. Our first mediocre meal in this trip --- maybe even slightly worse than mediocre. Shared a plate of vegetables and had tagliatelle al ragu. Suffice to say that, IMHO, there is better freshly prepared tagliatelle available in more than one Emilian restaurant in Sydney (e.g., Pasta Emilia).
Wanted a light lunch the next day as we were headed to da Ivan for dinner. Somehow, we didn't want to take a risk and went back to Carminetto d'Oro. A nice shared plate of grilled vegetables there along with good tagliatelle al ragu.
We will always remember the dinner and the stay at da Ivan for the extraordinary hospitality of Ivan. Shared a plate of culatello, each had stinco di maiale, and shared the cheese board --- all superb. It was our last night in Italy and we wanted another good Barolo. We recall it was an excellent one (afraid can't accurately remember what it was), and before the cheese course came, we had already finished the bottle. I asked if we could have a half-bottle of something less exalted or if he had something suitable by the glass. My Italian (or Ivan's English) wasn't good enough for that communication. A fellow diner was pressed into service as an interpreter. When Ivan understood, he laughed and went to his cantina and came back with a magnum bottle! We started to protest ... that was a miscommunication ... Ivan calmed us down, then proceeded to go to every guest in the dining table and pour a taste from the bottle, an excellent aged Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and came and sat down at our table with half of the magnum left, poured a glass for himself, and left the rest for us.
Next day we went to La Buca just a short distance away. It was one of the humblest and most memorable meals of the trip. Following allende's advice, we had ordered some culatello and tagliatelle con culatello and prete and mariola for us to share --- simple and divine. We had to be careful with the wine ... for right after lunch, we had to drive to Malpensa to catch our flight back :(
The food and the wine are still fairly fresh in my mind, but I know they will begin to fade at some point. I am sure, however, we will always remember --- with gratitude and fondness --- the extraordinary hospitality and warmth of Signor Malaggi at Palazzo Quaranta and of Ivan at Hostaria da Ivan.
Hope nobody suffered through the entire report ... but now feel less guilty.
In this thread below, will seek some advice on our upcoming trip to ER, Lombardia and a bit of Veneto ... maybe tomorrow
We very recently tried two of allende's four recommendations to you: Da Ivan and La Buca. They were spectacularly good. Our lunch at La Buca was one of the simplest, almost humble, yet one of the very best of many memorable meals over a two-week period of food-focused travel through Piemonte and Emilia Romagna. The dinner at Da Ivan was also great, and the wine list even better. At both these places, it is very interesting to make a point of seeing the cantina.
I seem to recall from one of your posts that you are also from Sydney. They will be thrilled to know that: at these two places, outs was the only non-Italian table; and though they get some American tourists, visitors from Sydney generated animated conversation.
It sounded like you already have a place fixed in Reggio Emilia; if you have a spare night in the area, I highly recommend staying a night at Da Ivan's. The place is merely comfortable; what is extraordinary and unforgettable is the warmth and vitality of Ivan as the host.
We felt we hadn't kept enough time to explore Parma --- architecturally, an inexhaustible city. By way of food, the kilo of 78-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano that we bought at Gastronomia Garibaldi to bring back was probably the best food purchase we have ever made to bring home.
Just to let you know, allende, that your recommendations for ER (of restaurants and of dishes!) were equally successful. Will post the ER report soon too.
One general point I thought may be worth mentioning. We have found, in this trip and others, we enjoy the meal most when we keep in mind the idea of *relative* superiority. The quality of beef, lamb and all kinds of fish that we get in Sydney is superb (in my opinion, an order of magnitude better than in NYC). But pork, poultry, some of the gamier meat (coniglio,, piccione) and vegetables in Italy are clearly far superior, as are of course all the infinite varieties of pasta. The dishes we end up being somewhat less impressed with even at good places --- e.g., the tagliata of veal at Veglio this time --- are usually the result of ordering without thinking of this. (Not that the veal was not good but not markedly superior to what we can get.)
Thanks, jen. What was really remarkable was that, even though not on the menu, most of the places served a plate of contrasting vegetables, cooked three ways! Some delicate ones raw, some blanched and some lightly roasted/grilled. The plates at Il Centro, Da Renzo and Veglio were the best, good enough to be one of the highlights of the meal at each.
Thanks again, allende, for all the wonderful suggestions, not only of restaurants but also of particular dishes. In our last two days in Piemonte, we did manage to fit in Osterio Veglio, La Torre and Il Cascinalenuovo. And all were excellent in their own ways.
We had a very pleasant lunch at Veglio. The food was very good: especially, del plin cotto in brodo e serviti al tovagliolo and the plate of vegetables, some cooked some raw. The service too was warm and welcoming: when we asked if they might have a particular wine in a slightly older vintage (an Altare Lange Nebbiolo from Arborina), they went to look in the cellar and came back with a choice of two older vintages and charged the same price as the listed (much younger) vintage.
For lunch the next day at La Torre, we had a bit of a problem with the recited menu. Unlike Da Bardon, where the choices were recited separately for each course, here the whole menu was recited at the start. That makes sense from the point of view of planning the meal, but with our command of Italians, so many choices posed a challenge. Nonetheless, it turned out the order worked quite well. A fantastic dish we have never had before (or since) stood out: a polenta gnocchi. We later regretted not ordering the lumache, as we discovered while walking through Cherasco that the town has a month-long snail festival!
At dinner at Il Cascinalenuovo, we began with a split-order of allende's recommendation: the mille foglie. It was the antipasto of the trip! The agnolotti del plin were also superb. The very warm service by the father-and-daughter team made the evening more special; the daughter (Alice), being fluent in English, was primarily looking after us, with the father (Roberto) advising on the wine list. The wine here surprised us (had left the choice to Roberto, with some indication of a price point and wines we have enjoyed): a 1990 Barbaresco. Didn't know Barbarescos aged so well.
In thinking over all the meals in Piemonte, we find it easier to rank the dishes we enjoyed the most than ranking the restaurants. Our favourite antipasto was the mille foglie at Cascinalenuovo; the favourite primo the cappeletti di faraona at Da Renzo; the favourite secondo the egg and cheese dish with tartufo bianco at Da Renzo, primarily for the quality of the tartufo, closely followed by the cognilio al forno at Da Bardon; Da Bardon had the best wine list of the trip by far. We also greatly enjoyed the vegetables: we often especially requested a plate even when not on the menu and invariably the quality was superlative. We are not big doci people; so didn't have them unless we had the degustazione and included dolci.
It is only when writing the above that it seems that Da Renzo and Da Bardon were probably the two we enjoyed the most overall; but Il Centro and Il Cascinalenuovo were also almost equally special.
Grazie mille, barberinibee: very kind of you to take the time to locate and post the links. We'll look through them tomorrow morning before heading out to Torino.
I dare not enter the Cinema museum when we are in Torino for only a day ... for I am a film buff. (When I was an 18-year old, I had made a documentary film for a regional tv in India; but inability to raise funds for a full-length film ensured a short career!) I recall that, looking through some thread, I had noted a reference in one of your posts to Abbas Kiarostami's tribute to Arezzo played out on the rearview mirror of a car in "Certified Copy"; knew I had spotted another film buff.
Thanks for the Palazzo Madama trip and for sharing your reservations about the Quadrilatero district.
The salone is certainly off our agenda now. And some chocolate shops are certainly on: Gobino and Peyrano kept coming up when we looked. Will make an attempt to spend time looking in some of the historic shops, as you suggest.
We are in fact carrying the (entire) Plotkin book. (BTW, I knew some of his writings on opera, but didn't know about this book before I saw a reference to it on your post.) I am also carrying a copy of a NYTimes "36 hours in" Torino piece from June this year. Haven't really had a chance to look at either --- will have to do on the way.
The way we have eaten the last 7 days, it will do us no harm to go without a full meal in Torino. We were keen on the cafes and the bars for a sense of the atmosphere, not so much for the free stuff :)
Thanks again for taking the time.
Thanks very much, minchilli, for the post: was very useful. We had decided to focus on the city of Torino rather than the Salone (after all, there are other such festivals, but the city is unique). But, somehow, it had not occurred to us that all good restaurants will be full. So, as you say, good thing we are planning to focus on cafes and bars. I suppose we have to fight crowds there too ...
Thanks for the Bordo tip.
Enjoy the Salone!
Thanks, Villasampaguita, for your advice. We will make a point of seeking out the Quadrilatero Romano area.
We will be in Torino on Saturday. Thanks for alerting us to it. Will look through the program later, but do you recommend it highly, bearing in mind we only have 24 hours in Torino?
Our plan for Torino was to try various cafes and aperitivo places rather than go to restaurants for lunch &/or dinner. Does that make sense?
Haven't really done a search on Torino on CH yet ... So, may come back with questions if we don't find the info in previous threads.
Hello again, allende,
Turns out we have a booking at Osteria Veglio tomorrow --- kind of by mistake. (We had asked the owner of the house we are renting if she could book four restaurants for us and gave a couple of fall-back options, including Veglio; looking through her email, I see she has booked Veglio as well.)
We have to call them anyway to postpone the time to 14:00. If you think La Torre is an order of magnitude better, we could ask if cancelling Veglio at such a short notice will inconvenience them. (We would normally give a restaurant at least 24-hour notice if we cancel.)
Tomorrow our main plan is to drive through (and walk in) Barolo and La Morra and also to stop by the enoteca in Grinzane Cavour that a few posters have spoken highly of. We won't quite linger at lunch as we have been doing.
We don't have set plans for Friday. Any area we should focus on driving through? Food-wise, we were leaning towards trying for a dinner at Cascinalenuovo (driving back on the Autostrada is straightforward); we could go to La Torre for lunch instead, but don't think we can handle both.
A very enjoyable lunch today at All'enoteca, but quite a different experience from the other three places we have tried in Piemonte. We had opted for the "short surprise menu" of 5 courses, with a request for the piccione with tartufo nero as the secondo. We could not come up with a counting system by which we had fewer than 9 courses (not counting stuzzichini). 3 antipasti (well-described upthread by Powers), 2 primi --- two different types of ravioli, one with roast meat, one with "liquid" pesto ---
Every course was excellent; maybe not traditional but certainly produce-driven and flavour-driven. And excellent value at 70 euros, especially so with the extra courses. Our only mildly critical observation was that one does see a similar style of food in Sydney and New York --- the two cities we know well --- and, no doubt, in Paris and London too; so, it felt a bit closer to "global food" (for want of a better term).
When searching through threads to see what we can find on Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna, I had thoroughly enjoyed, and learnt much from, your many posts. If I may say so, they strike me as models of good writing (in addition to being also highly informative).
I am afraid the only thing I know about the tour group is that they arrived in an alarmingly large bus. Turned out it was a group of only about 20 (or 25 max); they were speaking in Italian --- so, I presume either from Italy or perhaps the Italian part of Switzerland; mostly couples, some I imagine retired, others a mix of 40 and 50+.
To preserve the purity of this thread, I will hold my queries on the possibilities in ER to a more suitable thread and hope to learn more from you and others.
Time now to head out for the Wednesday market in Asti that Fred Plotkin (a book that I first learnt about in your post) rates as the fifth best (!) in Italy --- after Bologna, Padova, Genova and San Remo.
Thanks for the suggestion of La Torre. More later ...
Apologies if this gets posted twice ... the first attempt seemed to glitch out ...
Thanks very much for the two quick responses: saw them just before heading out to Da Bardon. And was able to take full advantage of your advice with great success --- both on procuring wine and the walk after lunch.
In fact, it had begun in an unpromising way. As we approached Da Bardon, to our consternation, a large tour bus pulled in precisely at the moment we were about to turn in to their driveway. We considered leaving right away after tendering our apologies. Indeed, if it were not for the out-of-the-way location, the lure of the wine list and your strong recommendation, we would have done precisely that. We entered after waiting for a few minutes. And it took only another couple of minutes to realize that the presence of the tour group (a party of Italians) was not going to make any difference.
The food was both simple and superb: shared the two antipasti of a vegetable flan and a cotechino with a silky potato puree; then a primo of ravioli del plin; cognilio al forno and a brasato al barbera as the two secondi. But of course it is the wine list that is truly extraordinary. Hard to keep to one's notional budget with a list like that. Had a 1996 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi de Boschis --- very good indeed.
As I continued to study the wine list long after our wine had been served, at some point the owner came with an extra copy of the list and said, in charming English, "for you to take home". And *that* gave me my break to ask if I could also take some wine home. After a moment of surprised silence, he beamed: "how many bottles?" Finally, settled for two 1996s --- Scavino Bric del Fiasc and G, Conterno Cascina Francina -- and two 1999s --- Altare Arborina and Ratti Roche. [For each vintage, the first was my choice from my limited knowledge and the second the owner's recommendation.]
The walk you suggested (in fact, the road we had taken from Alba on the last stretch to the restaurant) was excellent --- pretty and peaceful.
Thanks for your suggestions on places in ER: more later on them.
Thanks for the tip on the cantina. We haven't managed to go to Barolo yet (plan to do so on Thursday). We will stop by then; we still have room to take two more bottles. Don't know Barolos enough to deconstruct "modern" applied to them: do you mean a "new-world-style"? We had figured that, as you say, I wouldn't have much luck getting old vintages from a winery that we happen to walk in to for the first time.
Tomorrow we are looking forward to a lunch at All'Enoteca that we know you like a lot.
@P H Rodgers
Thanks for taking the time to respond. Il Centro would probably have been the perfect place to look for wine to take home --- the prices there were even more friendly than at Da Bardon (which were still very reasonable). If we had known that the owner of Il Centro also had an enoteca, we would have surely approached him. Not knowing that, we were afraid that they may find the idea somewhat offensive --- after all, they have the wine carefully stored to serve as something complementary to their food. But Priocca is not that far from Alba and we would consider going just to the enoteca to see what might be available.
In my first post here, and in our first trip to Piemonte, wanted to thank the many posters on this board for their dedication to sharing their knowledge. Special thanks to allende and Villasampaguita for their frequent posts sharing their passion for the food and wine of Piemonte.
Although we have been to Italy seven or eight times and have generally sought out good restaurants (relying on Gambero Rosso's cuisine score --- for we cannot really read Italian --- and Michelin), the focus of all previous trips were art, history and nature. This one is meant to be a two-week trip through Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna centred on food and wine.
We had a couple of particularly busy months at work leading up to the trip and had not had the time to do the background "research" we would have liked. But the searches on CH proved to be so informative, we feel we have access to expert research.
We arrived in Piemonte this past weekend, and have rented a house near Alba (in Scaparoni) for a week. This was the weekend of the Bachanal. Although thoroughly jet-lagged, walked about for some 6 hours on Saturday. The truffle market was fun and the evening had the atmosphere of an old village fair. Didn't buy any truffle, but did buy some superbly fresh pasta and porcini mushroom to cook.
The plan for the rest of the week is to go for long lunches, then walk about for an hour or two to work off a bit of the food (more importantly, the vino) before driving back; and, if necessary, a "home"-cooked light dinner.
So far, two great successes. A wonderful lunch on Sunday at Il Centro in Priocca. The menu degustazione had 3 antipasti (the cod particularly good), a primi (tajarin, with tartufo bianco at our request), a secondo (a very rich veal cheek), dolci. They also served a plate of seasonal vegetables at our request: so good that it was very nearly the highlight. As has been mentioned on this thread, an amazing wine list. Had a superb 1997 Elio Grasso Barolo at a price so reasonable for the quality that it was mildly baffling. We didn't even think about dinner.
Today (Monday) a fine long lunch at Antica Corona Reale in Cervere. The highlight was the secondo: an egg and cheese dish redolent with tartufo bianco, showing how good the combination is for trapping the aroma of truffle, compared with topping pasta or crudo with sliced truffle. As others have remarked, the wine list is not in the same league as the list in Il Centro. But an elegant 2004 Silvio Grasso Barolo from La Morra matched the food well. (We were debating between that and a 2004 Luciano Sandrone when the very helpful Japanese waitress described the difference in a precise lucid jargon-free way.) Cervere struck us as an uninspiring town (e.g., compared to Priocca) on what seemed to be a truck route, and walking about wasn't really pleasant.
We have a lunch reservation at Del Belbo Da Bardon in San Marzano Oliveto for tomorrow and at All'Enoteca in Canale on Wednesday. Beyond that, we don't have anything booked. Over the last two days, saw a disadvantage of long lunches: one doesn't get to do much else while there is light. But don't see an alternative, as we are not keen to drive at night after (what could be) a bottle of vino each on roads that are unfamiliar to us. So, will probably take a break on Thursday and then try Il Cascinalenuovo in Isola d'Asti on Friday.
Then, on to Torino on Saturday to enjoy the aperitivo scene. And on to Emiiia-Romagna on Sunday for 5 days. Tentative plans are for dinners at Dal Pescatore (although not in ER), Da Ivan, and maybe for something different, Osteria Francescana. Does this plan make sense?
One question of the experts. We are keen to take 6 bottles of Barolo back, ideally ready-to-drink bottles from great vintages like 1996, 1997, 2001. In the shops in Alba, didn't see anything older than 2004. Is there a place one could buy old vintages? Could one ask, e.g., Il Centro if they would be willing to sell wine (at their listed price) to take back?
OK, already too long a post ...