My boyfriend and I just spent 10 magical days in Italy and I thought I'd share some of our finds.
Night 1: Canuleia in Lucca. A cute little restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area. It was recommended to us by a Lucca native as many of the restaurants in old Lucca tend to be quite touristy. I recommend the gorgonzola phylo http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... , shrimp and eggplant phylo http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... and the burrata stuffed shells http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... .
Night 2: Our friends were renting a house in Lucca www.villabaldaccini.it , the owner of which is also a chef. He cooked a really inspired meal which we ate under a tent http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... near the newly constructed pool. The website says the house is a B&B, not sure if that's still the case, but worth checking out if you're looking to stay in the area. He made a Tuscan soup which was really incredible http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming..., great zucchini ravioli http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... and a nice steak http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... . He also makes his own olive oil http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming....
Night 3: Acqua Al Due in Florence, Via della Vigna Vecchia 40r. This restaurant was recommended by a foodie friend who had lived in Florence. It was quite touristy, complete with a cheesy placemat http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... but my friend swears Italians love this place and come from as far away as Rome to go there. It was a good meal but we actually found the recommended (and raved about everywhere) pasta tasting lacking. We rated the 5 pastas as we ate them and they ranged from A- to C. However, the blueberry filet http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... was truly unforgettable (though I should mention that my bf thought it was too sweet). It was tart and delicious and complemented the perfectly cooked steak exactly. I would go back again just for that. Their house wine was excellent too http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... .
Day 4: Tamburini in Bologna, Via Caprarie 1. After reading reviews of this place on Chowhound and other sites, I was picturing an open air market where you can try a little of everything. In reality it was very similar to many of the stores right near it. I'm not sure how Tamburini enjoys a cult status. The meats and cheeses we sampled were fine but nothing out of the ordinary and the prepared food was downright bad.
Night 4: Valentino in Lido, Venice, Via Sandro Gallo 81. We got into Venice quite late and were pretty tired after checking into our hotel on Lido. I looked for some recommendations on Chowhound but couldn't find any. Also, it was Monday so many places were closed. We finally ended up at Valentino, on our conceirge's recommendation. It was a decent meal for its randomness. The seafood platter http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... could have been fresher, but the black fettuccini with scallops was quite good http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... .
Night 5: Corte Sconta, Castello, Venice, Calle del Pestrin 3886. This was a Chowhound recommendation and it was really great. The menu is purely decorative, the waiter tells you what they have that day. We had two pastas, gnocchi with seabream and mushrooms http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... and black spaghetti with clams and mussels http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... and the mixed grilled fish platter http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... . Until this point, it was the best meal we had had in Italy (it would later be surpassed by the best meal we've ever had anywhere ever).
Night 6: Back to Lucca and pizza from a local Lucca pizza spot. Nothing to report.
Night 7: Bottega Del 30, Villa a Sesta, Castelnuovo Berardenga. We stayed in Radda in Chianti because it was near a restaurant recommended by my bf's co-worker who said he had had the best meal of his life there. We were skeptical only because it seemed like such overblown praise. But Bottega Del 30 really is that good. The place is beautiful, a stone cottage in a fairytale little hamlet called Villa a Sesta. Arrive 10 minutes before your reservation and take a stroll around. The apple trees, the little winery, the architecture, just perfect http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=villa... . But nothing could overshadow the food. The best description I could come up with is that it's French style cooking with Italian food. I photographed every dish we had http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=40169... . My favorites were the lamb chops topped with truffles and the outstanding ravioli (spinach, ricotta, with an egg in the middle topped with black truffles, unreal). I can't wait to go back. The chef also offers a cooking school which I'm definitely doing next time.
Day 8: La Scaletta, Piazza della Scala, Rome. We arrived in Rome and felt like we needed to have some pizza. A friend who lived in Rome recommend a pizza place in a cool area called Piazza della Scala. Not very touristy and a cute area in which to spend some time. The pizza was very, very good http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... , I'm from Brooklyn and a total pizza snob and while I maintain the best pizza in the world is still in Brooklyn, this place gave many BK pizza spots a run for their money). So good that we came back the next day to try the pasta. It was the only place on our trip that we visited twice.
Night 8: Tratorria da Gigetto, Via del Portico d'Ottavia, 21a-22in the Jewish ghetto, Rome. The same friend recommended this place. He's Jewish, we're Jewish and the place is supposed to be Italian cooking with a decidedly Jewish flavor. We had had a long day and so went for serious comfort food here. Fried zucchini flower, fried artichoke and fried rice balls to start http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... . The rice balls were my favorite. The eggplant parm was very good too.
Day 9: Back to La Scaletta, this time for pasta. The risotto with asparagus and mushrooms was very good http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... but the pasta dish (I can't remember what it was called) with zucchini and tomatoes was incredible. We practically licked the plate.
Night 9: Ristorante Montevecchio, Piazza Montevecchio 22a, Rome. For our last night in Italy we had a recommendation from the same person who recommended Bottega del 30. Unfortunately, this place didn't compare (although, admittedly, expectations were very high). We did some more fried foods http://www.flickr.com/photos/alarming... , which were pretty good. The octopus appetizer http://flickr.com/photos/alarmingnews... tasted very fishy which was a problem for me. The pasta with eggplant was great, the pasta with seafood could have been fresher.
On another note, and not to sound all NY-snobbish, we sampled gelato everywhere we went in Italy and felt that the best gelato we've ever had remains Grom on the upper west side (Grom is actually Italian but we didn't get a chance to have any in Italy though we walked by one in Bologna) of Manhattan. Our two runner up favorites were in Rome: San Crispino (though tiny portions, clinical setting and what the hell is up with having no cones) and Giolitti (Via Uffici del vicario, 40), which was a much more interesting place with other desserts too.
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