My girlfriend and I recently returned from a trip to Italy. We ate very well and wanted to share.
We started in Rome at the Trimani Wine Bar. This is a sort of upscale bar with some very good small plates. The cured meats were great as were the lamb meatballs. The bar focuses on higher end wines and has a very nice wine shop attached.
That night we ate one of our best meals. The restaurant was called MATRICIANELLA and was recently featured in a NY Times article called "The Bounty of Rome." The carbonara was the best I've ever had with the crispiest pork cheeks and very sharp cheese. This was followed by a truffled pasta with a very rich sauce and a truffle taste so strong that it probably could not be found in the US affordably (the dish cost 15 Euros here).
We spent the next night at Fattoria Dei Barbi, one of the top producers of Brunello Di Montalcino. The rooms was very nice and our stay was made infinitely more pleasurable by Angela, one of the few English speaking staff members. Barbi also cures its own meats and exports them throughout Italy. For dinner, we started with the meats and then went to a tagliatele (sp?) with wild boar. We shared a hen braised in vin santo that was slightly sweet but much more savory than you might think. The service was superb and my girlfriend (who fortunately speaks fluent Italian) had a great conversation with out waiter about the pros and cons of Italian vs. French cuisine. This night was really about the wine though. We had a bottle of their 1995, which they say is one of their best years. I'm not a great wine writer and cannot do it justice here. It was wonderful. Order it if you see it anywhere.
Our next stop was Siena. This was the least impressive of our nicer meals and I mention it only because we found the rec on Chowhounds. The restaurant is called Cane e Gato (dog and cat). It is unbelievably romantic and the service superb. The food was to close, I felt, to French or refined American. A creamy potato leek soup was followed by a piece of beef with red wine and mushrooms. Don't get me wrong, these are delicious dishes but not what we hoped to eat in Italy, and certainly not for these prices (the meal came to about 175 Euro, expensive for us!). Not a wasted night at all but very heavy and not what we were in the mood for.
The next couple nights we stayed in Chianti. We had pulled a rec from the Babbo website for a place called Sfizio in Gaiole in Chianti. This was an amazing meal. The restaurant is family run and the dishes rustic and satisfying. This antipasti platter was the best of the entire trip. Amazing chicken livers and lots of other things. We had ravioli with truffle and finally tried Bisteca Fiorentina. The meat was much more rare than most American steak houses serve it and it was wonderful. That's the only time I have had the dish so this might always be the case but I loved the simplicity of the pepper and olive oil. This dish is about the great meat and not much else. It just doesn't need much else.
Next was the coast. We hiked thorugh the Cinque Terre. The food here is mostly seafood and reminded me quite a bit of the simple fresh fish of Maine. Nearly every restaurant had a platter of mixed grilled fish which was wonderful. A lighter style of food. The local wine was not very good but Vernaccia (the white wine from San Gemingano) is readily available.
Next we ate our last high end meal of the trip. L'antica Tratorria in Colle D'elsa. This was very good. The restaurant serves tartare and a wonderful risotto with tons and tons of fresh pureed herbs. This food was a little closer to the style of Cane e Gato but much better executed. Now that I think about it, it's possible we just needed a change of pace and this was it.
We returned to Rome and had our last dinner at Da Armando al Pantheon. I had eaten here a few years ago and loved it. It has a very nice energy and a mixed crowd of hungry people. Service was very good and the pastas wonderful. This is closest in style to the meal we had our first night in Rome. The truffle pasta is also very good here.
What a wonderful trip! Can't wait to go back.