We just got back from a trip through the Dolomites/Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy (starting a bit outside it in Salzburg, Austria, then continuing to San Cassiano in the Alta Badia valley, then Bolzano and Trento, and finally Verona in the Veneto). I got a lot of good leads here from the ‘Hounds, but the area in general is pretty sparsely covered (compared to the rest of Italy), so I thought I should post some updates to places previously mentioned, and perhaps add some new places of interest. Overall it was a fantastic eating trip, so big thanks to everyone (especially allende!) for all your advice and insight. If you would like tips from the Salzburg portion of the trip, you can find them here on the Europe board:
Here's where we ate in the area, with my favorites first... please forgive any errors of memory when it comes to the menus. Overall eating in San Cassiano was fantastic (best of the whole trip); I feel like we couldn’t have picked a more delicious or beautiful valley. The hiking was also outstanding.
I loved just about everything I had here, notwithstanding its bipolar interior design – you enter though a sleek nightclubby downstairs (complete with DJ) and proceed to an upstairs dining space that looks like my mom decorated it for Valentines during a weird Ansel Adams phase. But have the tortellini and you'll forgive them. I liked it so much we came back a second time. They excel in slightly upmarket interpretations of local traditional dishes.
We had and loved:
**A great tomato salad with their own fresh cheese and a sprinkling of olives – the cheese was lovely and the briny olives really made the dish
*A fried testina di vitello served over green beans, which was another great pairing (although I enjoyed it more than the SO who thought it had an overwhelming sauce
)***An amazing tortellini di vitello, which was rich and unctuous, but was bizarrely garnished with truffles, foam and gold leaf, all of which were superfluous (I can only assume that they are rightly very proud of their tortellini, and want to show it off?)
***Another amazing tagliatelli di bue with mushrooms and dried tomatoes, which was every bit as good as the tortellini, and
*Lamb in a nut crust served on a minted eggplant puree with sundried tomatoes – the mint and eggplant were really unique and perfect for the lamb, but evoked the Mediterranean more than the mountains.
We also had:
*A cavatelli with various fruti di mare which was tasted nicely of the sea, and anywhere else would have been quite good, but just nowhere near as good as the tortellini/tagliatelle
Canederli in brodo with fried onions – the broth and onions here were great but I’m just not a fan of the bread dumplings of the region, even if these were better than the ones we had in Salzburg
A plate of very traditional cajinci (like ravioli with cheese and spinach inside in butter) topped with foam, which wasn’t bad but just wasn’t stellar – the flavor was perhaps a bit too traditional as it tasted just like the version I had up the hill at rifugio Biotch
*A yummy dessert of plump canederli filled with gianduja, which recalled an adult version of “Snowballs” with the flavor of a doughnut from Doughnut Plant and the texture of cheesecake meets angelfood – nothing like the texture of the ones in the soup, and
Krapfen di mele, which were essentially empanadas de manzana, and while they were fried just right, they were just ok, not great.
Many thanks to allende for this suggestion, and the mention of the “Linenberg” Lagrein which was also probably the best bottle of the trip.
Pre de Costa:
While Sieia tries a little too hard with their décor, the signora at Pre de Costa gets the cute Tyrolean look pitch perfect, and is the perfect hostess. This was the favorite of the SO and very nearly got a second visit itself. Portions were larger than La Sieia, flavors a bit more purely traditional and prices lower. Again, thank you allende!
The standout dish here was:
***The spatzle, which was unlike any other we’d ever had – unbelievably soft, like gnocchi, but the same traditional spatzle shape. We had it with porri and speck, and the SO particularly loved the prominent fresh onion flavor of the porri.
We also enjoyed:
*A very pumpkiny, sweet (but not too sweet) zuppa di zucca
*A nice carne salada with arugula and parmesan
**Tagliatelle con ragu di cervo, which was studded with peppercorns and just oozed homemade, and
*Kaiserschmarren, which struck me a bit like the lovechild of pancakes and funnel cakes, but was saved from being overwhelmingly sweet by some tart mirtilli berries. (Beware this is an enormous portion)
I also thought the Teroldego Rotaliano they have by the glass here was excellent.
Wine Bar at Ciasa Salares:
This would have been a strong competitor for the SO’s top pick, mainly for the cacio e peppe, but also for the wall of scotches that we sat alongside. It’s a bit more upmarket than Pre de Costa, like La Sieia. After the SO got into a conversation with the waiter about the scotch wall, he brought him a very impressive freebie Macallan Masters Edition which elicited silly love-struck comments from the SO like “I want to have a torrid affair with this.” Plus they drove us home after, which was very nice.
As far as the food:
***The cacio e peppe here is crazy good – “exquisite” says the SO. I would love a plate of this right now.
Gamberoni with pineapple, celery and scallop – the seafood was perfectly cooked, but the pineapple was weird, and not ripe, and the very tasty scallop was a bit of an afterthought to the dish, not integrated at all
**Spaghettoni con pomodorini e melanzane, which was very tasty but not in the same class as the cacio, and
Maialino di latte – not the best rendition of suckling pig – the skin wasn’t remotely crisp, which is really the point of the dish to me.
Wine Bar and Grill at the Rosa Alpina:
The food here was all nice, and perhaps its just how we ordered on this occasion, but I didn’t feel like anything was particularly special, or like anything I couldn’t get at home. However, unlike the other three above, it was the only restaurant that ever had more than two other tables dining with us in this last week of the summer season (there was one other table at Pre de Costa, one other at Ciasa Salares, and two both times at Sieia), which certainly says that someone else out there likes it!
*Beef tartar 2 ways – one with olive oil, and one with a creamy cheese and parmesan crisps, the latter of which was very good (probably because the fresh cheese in this area is so good)
*Foccaccia with burrata, arugula and prociutto, which was tasty but just like it sounds, perfect ingredients
Ricotta gnocchi with a cheese sauce and mushrooms – here the gnocchi were a bit heavy to have been made of ricotta, and big for our taste, plus the mushrooms were a bit sparse, and
*Vanilla gelato with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin sauce, which had a beautiful green color for some reason (maybe pistachio oil?), and benefited from an addition of salt to bring out the pumpkin seeds (we added the salt). This was the most interesting thing we had here.
Per allende’s suggestion I had the **polenta con formaggi e salsiccia, which came with two different delicious grilled slices of cheese atop the polenta. Both the sausage and the polenta – especially those cheeses, were better than the version below at Biotch. The SO had a juicy pork chop accompanied by some very salty potatoes. Very simple food, and certainly the meats shine here.
Purely on location alone, you absolutely must at least visit Biotch – the view was incredible, and service very friendly as well.
*A nice platter of speck e melon
A huge plate of homemade cajinci (the tyrolean ravioli with spinach and cheese – tasty, but a bit simple in terms of flavor to have a whole huge plate of it to yourself), and
*Polenta e formaggi con salsiccia e funghi – the cheese here was too heavy and didn’t melt well, but the rest was good, and the funghi were plentiful, though if we had this to do over again, we’d save the sausage and polenta for Scotoni.
We also had a bit of apfel strudel, which was a little more bready and dry than I prefer but did have a nice flavor. The food wasn't outstanding, but good enough that this would be the first refugio I would return to (location location location). I could sit on their terrazza and sip wine and nibble ham forever.
Also, I can’t fail to mention how stellar the breakfasts were that we had everyday at our residence, Lagacio. Tons of local artisan cheeses and meats, wonderful breads and cakes, many healthful yet tasty granola, fruit and yogurt options, eggs to order, fresh juices and smoothies – by far the best breakfast of any hotel I’ve encountered. I would have eaten more elsewhere in the area if I hadn’t been stuffing myself at the Lagacio everyday. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. Plus the kitchen in our apartment was the best stocked of any I’ve ever seen – Wusthof Classic knives in a rental apartment?! Fabulous.
Also the little store across the way, Delizius, was a great place to stock up on local wines and something to sate my chocolate cravings.
We stopped here for a couple hours between our train and bus connection to get some speck from the Bernardi shop recommended in the Fred Plotkin book. I would say its some pretty worthwhile speck! A slight bit drier than some of the other speck we had along the way, but with a deeply savory flavor that reminded us a bit of smoked salmon, with a complexity that hints at the flavor of good jamon (nutty, buttery). They are also apparently known for their goulasch, which we did not try.
Coming after our trip to San Cassiano, Bolzano was a little bit of a come down. With the exception of Signaterhof, I don’t think it really warrants a foodie trip of its own, but if you’re already there, there are still some solid places to eat.
We had meant to hike from the Renon cable car to the highly recommended Patscheiderhof, but a nasty bit of rain ruined our plans, and we had to reschedule for the next day, when it was unfortunately closed. So we hiked to Signaterhof (a slow food pick) instead. First, I highly recommend the cable car transport method – it was the most unbelievable view. It was maybe an hour's hike to the restaurant, not including a detour to see the earth pyramids, all downhill and easy, then another hour and a half back down to town. Signaterhof sits across from a tiny church overlooking the valley below, and its porch is a great place for a lazy lunch and a bottle of wine on a sunny day. The signora here was very nice, and the food was outstanding traditional fare. Allende, if you haven’t been here on your way to San Cassiano one year, you should swing by, I think it’s right up your alley!
The absolute standouts were:
***Gnocchi con finferli, which were so tender and ethereal, with delicious and abundant mushrooms and shaved cheese -- the perfect, simple gnocchi, maybe the best I've ever had
***Guancia di manzo with polenta, mushrooms and cabbage, which had a great sauce with fennel seeds, falling-apart beef, polenta that tasted like thanksgiving cornbread stuffing and sweet cabbage. This was heavenly!
**A really interesting sorbetto al sambuco that had great herbal notes without being too sweet and a mousselike texture.
Other lovely dishes we had:
*A tomato soup with an olive bruschetta, which was delicious
*A tagliata di manzo on a bed of arugula whose simple flavors were just right and perfectly cooked, and
A semifreddo con fruti di bosco
This place was very popular – we were lucky to have gotten in just before the rush – and the food and ambiance was pretty enjoyable. It smelled great in there – like really old wood beams, and I suppose it probably is very old, but they played the craziest mix of American 90s hits, like Technotronic, C&C music factory and the Bangles, all night. We actually found that very enjoyable too. I’m not the biggest beer person, but we had a couple of their house selections (a weisen and a dunkel) and thought both were very good. We split one hulking *artisan meat plate, with some pretty tasty ribs and sausage, a pork shank with great crispy skin but that wasn’t all that flavorful, some surprisingly good steak fries (I’m usually not a fan but these were really crispy and they won me over), and some likewise surprisingly mild horseradish sauce, all served on my mother’s (again with my mom, I know – but its like she’s been sneaking off to the Alto Adige decorating things) beloved Blue Danube pattern china. I wouldn’t say this is a place to go out of your way for, but if you are in Bolzano, its worth a stop.
This place was beyond popular – it was a lunchtime madhouse. But I have to give the amazing waitstaff credit, they were getting it DONE. It seems every day at the strike of noon every blue collar laborer in Bolzano and an equal portion of tourists head to Cavallino Bianco, plomp down at a communal table, and put these ladies to work. And its very belly-filling, workman-pleasing food.
*A plate of beef goulasch with polenta that tasted and looked almost exactly like southern-style grits (of which I am a fan), and
*A trio of: spinach risotto that tasted a bit more like regular rice than risotto, but did have a nice spinach flavor, spaghetti alla contadina, which was fresh and light, with bits of pork and tomato, and probably the best of of the tyrolean style giant bread dumplings of the whole trip – this one was moist, light and dotted with herbs. This was the kind of plate that looked like it was going to be awful when it was set down before you, but kept surprising with flavors.
Everything was good, not great, but it was certainly worth it for the experience, and I did cast a very envious eye at my neighbor’s plate of “gnocchi” with mushrooms, which looked delicious and I suspect were actually strangolopreti based on their long shape (after reading about them in Plotkin's book, I looked for them the whole trip, but never got to have them). I should mention it was also incredibly cheap.
The one real bummer of Bolzano, a place I would not send you to, is Vogele. This is what I get for reading reviews of restaurants on tripadvisor! They love it! And the place was packed. I really should know by now to only trust Chowhound, Slowfood, and Gambero Rosso shrimp ratings, but info on Bolzano was so hard to come by, and I wanted to try something a little more dressed up. I suppose I did like their testina di vitello (the SO did not), and the canederli dessert with tart stewed plums was a good reprise of the La Sieia version, but the rest of the meal, from the nuclear-hot yet too sweet and drowning-in-oil ravioli di zucca, to the tough weinerschnitzel, to the tough meatballs, this place was a whole lot of overpriced meh. I was raised to never leave food on my plate, and I left this food on the plate. Nuff said.
I wish I had had more time to explore some of the restaurants outside of Trento, but alas, we were without a car, and only did a daytrip here by train from Bolzano. The overall flavor of the town is much more Italian, so if you prefer Italian to Austrian fare, or just like lounging around a piazza Italian-style, by all means stop here rather than Bolzano.
We stopped here for lunch, alongside a pack of well dressed Italian businessmen who clearly know what they are doing when it comes to lunch. Il Libertino specializes in wine, and they had many good options by the glass, and a helpful staff willing to help you find a nice pairing.
**A Pisoni brut rose spumante that was lovely with both:
*An elegant coniglio in porchetta (rolled and served sliced on a salad, it almost tasted like head cheese and was delicious), and
**A gnocchi with smoked trout and truffles (super soft gnocchi, fabulous smoked fish, creamy dreamy sauce)
The SO had:
**A deliciously funky, Riesling-like Kerner with:
A vegetable crespelle (which was perfectly nice but nothing special), and
**A fabulous pinot nero from Sardegna (which he claims is the best pinot he has ever tasted) with:
***An even more fabulous pappardelle con ragu bianco di coniglio – this was a truly outstanding plate of food, with toothsome, thick, homemade noodles, and simple, perfectly savory rabbit.
With due caffe after the meal, our 4 dishes and 4 glasses of wine in this elegant little osteria came out to 60 euro, which for the quality, I found an incredible bargain. I would love to come back again and again, to get to know all their well-selected wines over perfect plates of pasta.
Le Due Spade:
As mentioned elsewhere, this was little bit of a downer after the well-executed simplicity of Libertino, but there were definitely some highlights. It just didn’t live up to all of the good things I’d read about it, and for the price, I wanted to walk out wowed. I will say that the tiny, ancient dining room oozes charm (this one you should reserve – its pint sized), the waitstaff was very pleasant, and we had a very enjoyable Sanct Valentin Blaubergunder recommended by the waiter that was definitely the best Blaubergunder of the trip.
An amuse bouche that I have already forgotten! Oops. And complementary prosecco.
*A bread basket – this was very good and was warmed by a candle underneath the pot holding the bread – charming!
*A trio of octopus, which was actually 4, not 3, and started with the best bite of the meal – octopus in a basil foam served in a martini glass – really fabulous, then progressed to a rather boring octopus with potato, a simple octopus bruschetta – which was saved only by its smokey bread, and an unusual (for us) octopus gelee, which was quite tasty.
*A similar progression of fruti di mare, which again commenced with a delicious mix of shrimp, fish (I forget the fish – all white fish are the same to me unfortunately, and this one was white) in a zesty white wine froth in a martini glass, then another white fish (my apologies to the fish) in a mushroom mustard sauce, which was unusual but rich and interesting, an awesome gazpacho with scampi (but scampi are always awesome – I had to exert a lot of self control here not to tear into the head like the crawfish-sucking southerner that I am, but we were in a “nice restaurant” so I did not), and sarde in saor, which tasted like basically every other version of the dish I’ve ever had, perhaps with a touch more citrus and more delicate sardines. It was just ok.
**A trio of lobster pasta, that started off with a bang with a mindblowing ravioli of lobster in tomato sauce (the lobster flavor was cranked up to 11), followed by a lobster cannelloni in béchamel, which was tasty but lost a bit of the lobster (anything covered in béchamel tastes good, but also mainly just tastes of béchamel), and finally mini lobster canederli which didn’t taste a bit like lobster to me but weren’t bad. The problem with all these little tastes is that they’re so little – I wanted a big, truly osteria-sized bowl of the ravioli, and the octopus in the basil foam, and to skip the rest.
Deer with polenta – its not that it was bad, it was just boring, and we really expected more from a place like this. This was the dullest plate of venison of the whole trip, and yes, the sides were duller still. The SO did like the polenta (again, it tasted of thanksgiving cornbread stuffing). I felt very bad for him that I had my lovely (but tiny) lobster ravioli and he had this.
A variation of figs – note that just about every second dish on the menu is a variation of something (figs, octopi, lobster). This variation came in the form of a fig strudel and a pistachio semifreddo with figs and cream. It was just way too sweet in both variations and completely lacking balance/complexity.
Carrot cake with truffles and mushrooms – we had to get this, it was just too crazy sounding. Unfortunately it did not really deliver on flavors or come together in a compelling way. There was very little carrot flavor to the cake (tasted like a corn muffin to me), and while the mushroom sauce eaten alone did taste of mushrooms, it brought nothing to the whole, and the truffles were completely obscured. Dessert was the one part of the meal I would call downright bad.
We had some really unique dishes in Verona; I would certainly recommend a stop here, just beware the hoards of tourists. It was a bit of a shock after the calm of Trentino-Alto Adige, and even Salzburg.
Osteria del Bugiardo:
We stopped here for a liquid lunch of valpoliccellas, and had a nice cheese plate with onion, pepper and fig marmellatas, and a not very good plate of polpette e verdure. Everyone else was having the roast beef, which is what we should have done. It’s a great, friendly little place for wine, but the food is nothing special, and there are loads of tourists, so don’t feel like you found a secret spot! There were a smattering of locals too at least.
We were incredibly lucky to walk in early and get a table here – everyone after us was turned away. It’s quite the hot spot. The word on chowhound was to get the sliced meats (they have them beautifully hung on the back wall to tempt you), so we did – and this is what you should do. The other dishes we had were passable, but we had much better versions of them elsewhere, so if possible, stick to the meats.
***Sliced porchetta (herby, juicy), guanciale (this hung the moon for me – so decadently piggy), finocchina (a great fennel sausage), and their own housemade prociutto crudo (which the SO adored – it was indeed very worthwhile). I wished we had gotten even more meats! It was all great.
Bigoli con anatra – this was nothing special, and the bigoli weren’t really even bigoli – more like spaghetti
Pastissada de caval with polenta – this was our first horse, and if we’d just had this, I would say stick to beef. We couldn’t tell if it was gamey, or if they cooked it in a wine that was a little off, and the polenta cakes with it were a but dry.
*I probably wouldn’t have ordered this, but they had a Texas-shaped (?!) trophy that proclaimed their Tiramisu the best in the world, so I had to try. It was actually quite good, ladyfingers absolutely drenched in espresso, a rich, creamy flavor (not just whipped), but I’m not sure I’m ready to say it’s the best in the world.
The chowhounders seem to love this place, but I found it overpriced (it is within spitting distance of the arena). It was nice to have some seafood to change it up a bit though, and the place is beautiful. If you come, stick to the seafood.
*Fantasia di pesce affumicato – which was interesting though measly for the price tag. Smoked salmon and smoked swordfish (I think) were laid on a bed of greens and radicchio, drizzled with 25yo balsamic and topped with curls of… butter! But the butter actually really worked – it brought it all together.
**Tagliatelle nere con seppie – an excellent homemade pasta with nice texture and a generous amount of sepia. It had nice of-the-sea flavor, but I was personally drying for some pepperoncino to add to it. Too far north for that!
Gnocchi con fonduta di tre formaggi e nocci – the SO had this and it was a little too plain, with little to no cheese flavor. Close your eyes and it actually tasted more like mashed potatoes and gravy!
Things started to really look up for traditional Veronese cuisine when we hit Bersagliere. If you want the classics in a slightly more dressed up atmosphere (see Al Duomo below for a dressed down version), I would recommend it.
*Sage Tortellini – very delicate and homemade, with a nice sage flavor that didn’t overpower
**Bigoli con anatra – we tried this again and we were very pleased we did. These bigoli were thick and wonderfully toothsome with a great, fatty sauce of duck.
**Pastissada con polenta – oh my, this was worlds better than the version at Pompiere! The horse was a heartwarming stew with generous chunks (just like any good slow cooked beef you might have – texas chili, carne guisada, goulash – no need to fear the horse), and just falling apart, on top of creamy-centered grilled polenta cakes, that really tasted of the grill.
Baccala con polenta – the SO had this, and reports that it smelled better than it tasted, that the texture was good but the flavor wasn’t there.
An apple tart with an unnecessary drizzle of chocolate
This was my favorite in Verona. The ladies who run it are lovely and pastas are delicious, just don’t expect anything fancy. It’s the kind of place where you order off of a chalkboard – simple and cheap. Good house wine as well as valpolicella options by the glass. And ladies, do not use the restroom here. Trust me.
***Bigoli con le sarde – if you love sardines like I love sardines, this is a bowl of heaven. It was amazing, super-fishy savory goodness over thick bigoli with cherry tomatoes and almonds. I wanted five more bowls, and this was a big bowl. I should have just come back here for every subsequent meal. This and some ripasso, and I was in heaven.
***Macceroni con tastasal e mascarpone – this was also lovely; the sausage had a nice hint of warm nutmeg, and the SO now has plans to make all his cream sauces with mascarpone just like this.
Sfilacci di cavallo con salat e grano padano – this was basically shredded horse jerky over a salad, quite interesting, certainly something I will never find anywhere else, but maybe not something I would order all the time
This is a very popular little winebar – again we were lucky to get a table. The food was good but nothing outstanding. We enjoyed the atmosphere, and it seems like a good local watering hole.
**Crespelle con ricotta e verdure, which was really delicious, certainly the best thing we had. It was perfectly cooked, and managed to be both very eggy and very cheesy.
*Lasagna, which was nice enough and a pretty classical execution, but I have to admit to a preference for my SO’s lasagna.
*Salumi misto, which was also very tasty but nothing to go out of the way for – nothing like Al Pompiere
We wanted to like this family-run, slow food place better than we did. If you’re at this end of town and hungry, it’s not bad, but I wouldn’t call it a destination. We did really enjoy the temperature at which they served their house red – it was chilled almost like a lambrusco, and was pretty good.
Tagliatelle di quattro stagione, with mushrooms, ragu, marinara and chicken livers all served separately on the side, for you to add as you like. It was an interesting concept, but didn’t come together that well. The mushrooms and marinara were probably the best elements. I did see several tables after us order this, so it must be a specialty.
**Tagliata con rucola e grano padano – this was perhaps the best rendition of this single dish (by a slight margin) of the trip. It had a very nice char on the outside, perfectly rare in the center.
Risotto di amarone – which was a bit boring for us, though it had a nice al dente texture
Taverna di Via Stella:
This is yet another Verona restaurant, like Pompiere, that filled up incredibly quickly, as soon as it opened at 7:15. I supposed it just must be the sheer number of tourists in this town. There was only one dish was we really loved here.
*Bigoli con le sarde, again, since I loved it so the last time. This version was a tad too salty even for me and lacked some of the balance of the Al Duomo version (it looked like it was literally just bigoli and sardines). But I really love sardines, and the bigoli were the thickest so far, so it gets a star.
**Cassarecci con zucca e salsicce, which was fabulous, with great balance and perfect pasta – worlds better than my oversweet pumpkin ravioli at Vogele.
Calamari ripieni con polenta – this was a little flavorless, so much so that I still do not know what it was filled with as I didn’t know the word on the menu in Italian.
Polenta con formaggi Veronese, which the SO liked, but it was way too much polenta for just one person. It was three kinds of polenta, each with a different local cheese mixed in.
Overall, it was a really great trip for food. Thank you to all the hounders who post about their trips here -- we never would have eaten as well without you.
Via Dietro Pallone,1, Verona, Veneto , IT
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