I know this is the Italy thread, but the first few days of my trip were in Barcelona, so bear with me. I promise to get to the good stuff! Three years ago, I lived in Barcelona for a summer in Placa Reial. This time, prior to our Italy Extravaganza, my family and I rented a flat for four days in El Born, near the corner of Laietana and Princesa, before we hopped on a cruise to Venice.
Sat. Sep. 7 BARCELONA
• Lunch @ Taller de Tapas: I know it’s touristy, but it was right below our flat, and we were hungry. I refused to cross the square to Sagardi, as I hate filling up on bread for lunch. I had the foie gras on toast and shrimp skewers with mayo. It was quite good. Service was fine, and a table by the window or in the square makes for great people-watching.
• Dinner@ Tapac 24: One of my favorite restaurants from when I lived In Barcelona. We sat at the bar and got the grilled cheese with truffle spread, McFoie burgers, beef with mushrooms, the oxtail, and bravas. All excellent, just as I remembered, and with great, fast service. The bravas are especially good. The fries are extremely light and almost airy, and the mayonnaise and red sauce ontop work wonderfully well together. Even better, they do not drown the fries or make them soggy. Still one of my faves.
Sun. Sep. 8 BARCELONA
• Lunch @ Bar de Pla: Another favorite of mine. I’ve been dreaming about going back to get the oxtail ravioli with foie. It was just as I remembered – deep fried ravioli filled with shredded oxtail and topped with two slices of foie in a wonderful sauce. It’s very rich, but if you like that kind of stuff, you’ll love this dish. It’s been on the menu since I first visited the restaurant over four years ago (before I even lived in Barca). The tuna tartar was a bit different than what I’m used to. It was overly sesame-y. The cannelloni with wood-ear mushrooms was to die for though.
• Dinner @ Euskal Etxea, Sagardi: They’re great, as always – but filling. Trick is to just eat the good stuff ontop of the bread. Terrific crowd at Sagardi – mixture of locals and tourists, lots of booze flowing, and fresh food constantly being brought out. Euskal Etxea, which is just a few blocks away, had similar fare and a more local crowd. Darker ambiance and certainly not as rowdy, as Sagardi, but still great.
Mon. Sep. 9 BARCELONA
• Dinner: Sagardi AGAIN.
Tues. Sept. 10 BARCELONA
• Lunch @ Taller de Tapas: We were very tired and decided to go here again since it was right below our flat. Not sure why, but the food this particular day BLEW MY MIND. It was insanely good. The steamed clams were divine (sopped up the juice with lots of bread), the steamed mussels were outstanding (more sopping of juices with bread..), the grilled foie with onions was wonderful, and the prawns in the rocket salad and avocado were so sweet it was like eating candy. Despite being touristy, they know how to do food well, at least if you order the right stuff.
• Dinner @ Hisop: I’ve been longing to go, and it didn’t disappoint. Wonderful ambiance, beautiful interior, and attentive staff. I had the tasting menu. First course was baby squid with yuzu. It was excellent. Second course was sardine tartar with mustard gelato. The gelato was exquisite, but I have never been one to like sardines. Anchovies, yes, but sardines, not so much. Third course was sliced tuna on a hamburger roll. It was creative, simple, and tasted like the sea. The fourth dish was definitely my favorite – raw prawn meat with marcona almonds and sliced black truffle – heaven. Fifth was perfectly cooked mullet (though I think it was actually goatfish) topped with a fried zucchini flower. The main course was tender lamb with rosemary and some sort of a kaffir-type cheese. The dessert was a watermelon, cucumber, & basil slush, with marinated olives rolled in powdered sugar. Chef Oriol Ivern was kind enough to come outside to meet us, which made for an amazing conclusion.
**Sep. 11 – Sep. 18: CRUISE**
Thur. Sep. 19 COMO
• Dinner @ Hotel Villa Vittoria: Seeing as how the roads of Lake Como are mind-blowingly scary to drive at night, we decided to stay at our hotel for dinner. The restaurant is downstairs in a tavern/cave setting. The wait staff was the same people who checked us in and took our luggage, suggesting a very cozy environment. I started with the lemon and basil (NOT pesto) risotto; it was the BEST risotto of my life. I would eat it every day if I could. Not sure what was going on, but it was insanely good and perfectly cooked. My second course was the lake whitefish with rosemary. The portion was laughably small (like eating a fillet from a sardine or smelt), but the flavor was no laughing matter. It was some of the best fish I’ve ever had, and the ratatouille (which I normally don’t like) was amazing as well. So much flavor packed into a little pile of chopped veggies. Dessert was semifreddo with apple brandy, which was very nice. The house wine was also wonderful – both the red and the white.
Fri. Sep. 20 COMO
• Afternoon @ Lunch in Mennagio: On this day we toured the towns of Como along with the rest of the tourist masses. Ended up eating at a small joint in Mennagio. I had fettucini with porcini. It was passable but very meh.
• Dinner @ Hotel Villa Vittoria: Same place, same food, except I had pasta with seasonal mushrooms (same as lunch, but much, much better). I also treated myself to the risotto again. So good.
Sat. Sep. 21 COMO
• Lunch: We ate at Foxtown in Switzerland. Nothing memorable.
• Dinner: Decided to try a random Osteria. Big mistake. Food was almost inedible. Should have stuck with the hotel.
Sun. Sep. 22 LIGURIA
• Dinner @ Concordia in Portofino: At the suggestion of our hotel manager, we checked out Concordia in Portofino. Good decision. The food was outstanding. We were the only customers, aside from two Italian fishermen who caught the day’s catch for the restaurant. The antipasti plate wasn’t my favorite, but good lord, the pasta with olives and capers was some of the best pasta of my life, and the branzino! The branzino was in a “green” sauce but which was actually just lemon and (I believe) thyme. It was - without question – the best fish I’ve ever eaten. The flavor was out of this world. Dinner concluded with panna cotta with caramel sauce – it was very, very good panna cotta.
Mon. Sep. 23 LIGURIA
• Lunch in Manarola @ Trattoria Dal Billy: Another restaurant I’ve dreamed about returning to. I visited it with a friend three years ago. Despite the unpleasant hike to the top of Manarola to get there, the views alone are worth it, but so is the food. We had anchovies with lemon, spaghetti with pesto, vongole with homemade tagliatelli, and veal with lemon sauce. All were outstanding. The anchovies with lemon are insane. It’s like eating healthy candy. So good. The tagliatelli was perfectly cooked and wonderfully chewy (in the good way!). ALL tourists, but who cares – the food was top-notch.
• Snack in Vernazza @ Il Pirata: Another repeat… I remember their watermelon granite and almond cookies, but, alas, due to the fall season, they had no granite left and they were out of cookies. We indulged in some very good panna cotta and canolli, but it just wasn’t the same without the granite or the almond cookies.
• Dinner in Monterosso @ Belvedere: My BIG screw-up. I tried to go three years ago at lunch to get the seafood pot, but it was only offered for dinner, so I had to wait until now. Bad move. The service was about the worst you could imagine, and the food was barely passable. The seafood was obviously pre-cooked and just plopped into the urn-like ceramic pot for touristic effect. The lobster tail was a joke, the fish was clearly skate wings (not the swordfish they claimed), and it was just an overall bad experience. Avoid.
Tues. Sep. 24 LIGURIA
• Lunch @ Angolo 48 in Santa Margharita: Couldn’t find anything else, so just stopped by here. Wonderful decision. The food and service was great. My vongole with cherry tomatoes was some of the best vongole of my life, and the parmesan on my rocket was, WITHOUT QUESTION, the very best parmesan I’ve ever eaten. Strongly recommend.
• Dinner @ Hotel Riviera: We tried to go to Concordia again, but it was closed. Our manager insisted we try his hotel’s food. We did, skeptically, but it was actually very good. The fish (sea bream), done Ligurian style with pine nuts, was not as good as Concordia, but was perfectly cooked and still very satisfying.
Wed. Sep. 25 FLORENCE
• Dinner @ Sostanza: I finally got to return after 3 years, and it was as festive and terrific as ever. Sadly, they were out of the butter chicken, but the sautéed porcini, bistec Florentine, and raspberries with lemon for dessert were all great. Steak was a bit tough (just as it was the first time I was there), but still extremely flavorful. I chewed that thing to the bone! The standout, though, was the artichoke omelet. OMG. It was one of the top 5 things I’ve ever eaten in my life. Almost revolutionary.
Thur. Sep. 26 FLORENCE
• Lunch @ Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori: I started with the tagliatelli with duck ragu, followed by the veal with porcini. The pasta in the duck ragu was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was very tasty. The veal was not quite what I expected (the veal looked more like oxtail..), and didn’t arrive hot. Service was great, and the place is cozy.
• Dinner @ Cippoli: A bit underwhelming. The place was dark and red and not very appealing, but the food reviews pushed us to go. We ordered pasta with walnut pesto which wasn’t great and some bland soup. I personally had the pasta with fresh black truffles, however, and it was very good.
Fri. Sep. 27 FLORENCE
• Dinner @ La Giostria: The service was impeccable, the staff dedicated, and the food top-notch. The gratis starters of pate and veggies was amazing, especially the eggplant. The steak was divine. I figured that since the previous night I had pasta with black truffles that tonight I’d have the same but with white. Not the best move. I don’t believe white truffle season had fully arrived yet, and the flavors of the fungus reallllly struggled to come through. I felt like I was just eating a very expensive fetuccini alfredo.
Sat. Sep. 28 FLORENCE
• Lunch @ Obika Mozarella Bar: Their burrata makes my top 10 list of favorite things I’ve ever eaten. Maybe it’s because it was mostly cream haha, but it was redic good.
• Dinner @ Osteria Porcellino: Forgettable.
Sun. Sep. 29 FLORENCE
• Dinner @ Grotta de Guelfa: BIG surprise. Just below our flat, this place did not seem to be a tourist trap at all, as it was teeming with locals who knew and chatted with the staff. The place has a wonderful ambiance, and the food is absolutely top-notch. We ended up going three nights in a row. I had tagliatelli with lemon which was rich, but the lemon cut through it to make it absolutely wonderful. I also had a side of grilled porcini caps, which were also excellent.
Mon. Sep. 30 FLORENCE
• Dinner @ Grotta de Guelfa: So good we returned. I had the veal with porcini and it was excellent.
Tues. Oct. 1 FLORENCE
• Lunch in Siena: We tried to get into Taverna di San Giuseppe in Siena but it closed 5 minutes before we arrived ☹. We ended up going to the small café down the hill below it for some good carbonara and cacio e pepe coupled with some atrocious service.
• Dinner @ Grotta de Guelfa: Convenience is a virtue, so we returned yet again. I had the mushroom soup and the grilled porcini caps. Again, both were excellent. The onion soup though, stole the show. Hands down the best onion soup I’ve ever eaten. Their house wine is also great.
Wed. Oct. 2 FLORENCE
• Lunch @ Odeon Cafe: The service sucks, and food isn’t much better. I received the wrong salad, which included rancid walnuts and slimy lettuce. My risotto with porcini was pretty good, but nothing special.
• Dinner @ Dei Frescobaldi: We went here on the advice of our apartment manager. The place was packed and we didn’t have a reservation, but the maître d’ kindly took our name and offered us complimentary glasses of prosecco while we waited. We ordered the mushroom soup, tagliatelli with black truffles, and turbot fillet. We had to wait over an hour for our food to arrive. The mushroom soup was absurdly expensive and nothing special. The pasta was very good with a generous helping of truffles, and my turbot filet was absolutely divine – perfectly cooked and seasoned, but the portion was laughably small for the price. One tiny half fillet. Good food, but just not worth the price.
Thur. Oct. 3 FLORENCE
• Lunch @ Ristorante L'Antica Scuderia in Chianti: Across from the old monastery is this incredible restaurant. They grow their own food and apparently hunt their own porcinis and truffles. I started with burrata, arugula, and truffles. The black truffles were shaved on so heavily that I couldn’t see the burrata! It was basically eating cream and truffles coupled with the peppery bite from the arugula. For my second course I had the tagliatelli with truffles. Again, I could not see the pasta because of so many truffles! It was out of this world. We also had eggs with truffles – a great pairing. But the show-stealer was the grilled porcini caps with, I believe, a species of nepeta mint. The caps make my list of one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Tender & flavorful, the grilling brought out the porcini flavor perfectly. Service was also great.
• Dinner @ Tre Panche: I thought by the evening I would be all truffled out, but I decided to punish myself and my wallet one more time. We went to Tre Panche, and it was a site to behold. The restaurant is tiny, with only 3 tables. You sit with people you don’t know (like Sostanza, among other places). They treated us to a starter of tomato and pâté on bread, but not before taking our orders, so I ended up ordering more pâté. These starters were good and different, but not my favorite. For main courses, we had the ravioli with truffles, risotto with truffles, and vongole. The amount of truffles was even more absurd than at Scuderia. The pasta and risotto were divine but soooo rich and heavy. You better be hungry to go to a place like this, or you could be overwhelmed. The cheesecake has sort of a cult following, and it came out piping hot. It was more of a custard than a traditional (a la cheesecake factory) cheesecake. It was still great. Not one of the BEST meals I’ve ever had, but I’d still recommend it.
Fri. Oct. 4 ROME
• Dinner @ Roscioli: The restaurant has a great vibe, but is very compact. The buratta with sundried tomatoes was quite different than any buratta I’d ever had before – not bad, just different. My carbonara was excellent, and the crispy bits of pork cheek in it were SUBLIME… I would have liked to have had more! The cacio e pepe was fine, but a little too cheesy, and the grilled veal was flavorful and tender. The potatoes that accompanied the veal were, without question, some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had. They were small whole potatoes, crispy skin on the outside and basically like mashed potatoes on the inside. I could eat them all day. My dessert of melted white chocolate with cereal (the white chocolate was supposed to be like the milk in cereal) was inedible. Too sweet and a bad combination of flavors. It didn’t work. The biggest downside was the service. Our waitress was rude and uninterested, and it took forever to get the bill. I’d go back, but only for the potatoes and some of the crispy pork cheeks.
Sat. Oct. 5 ROME
• Dinner @ Ai Fienaroni: We stumbled onto this restaurant while trying to find another, and it was a good thing we did. The food was outstanding. We had swordfish with grilled porcini (the special), pasta with cicoroy pesto and shrimp, and roasted potatoes. The swordfish was perfectly cooked, and paired well with the porcini. The pesto pasta was so complex and wonderful. It had great flavor and the shrimp were insanely succulent and sweet. Maybe it’s a Roman thing, but just like Roscioli’s the potatoes here were to die for.
Sun. Oct. 6 ROME
• Lunch @ Osteria de Fortunata: We met up with our friends who live in Morlupo (outside of Rome) for a day of walking around campo di fiori. We ended up having lunch here, where they hand-make the pasta in front of you and there is no menu. The shtick of the restaurant is to try and create a traditional, rustic Italian joint, and they did a pretty good job. We had spaghetti with porcinis, carbonara, cacio e pepe, and cudo (oxtail). All were very good. The pasta itself was exceptional, though the sauces didn’t exactly blow me away.
Mon. Oct. 7 ROME
• Dinner @ Ai Fienaroni: We finished our trip where we knew we would be wined and dined with only the best. We ordered the fried artichokes, which were both amazing-tasting AND beautiful. We also had more potatoes (great as before), pasta with edamame, tomatoes, black truffles, and olive oil, and their seafood pasta specialty in a white wine sauce. All were simply outstanding. The chef there really knows what he is doing, and the service was wonderful as well. The interior of the restaurant is white with colorful paintings, making for a bright, enjoyable experience. Strongly, strongly recommended.