We just got back from a lovely trip through the Emilia part of Emilia-Romagna and the adjacent part of Liguria. As usual, recommendations from Chowhound, even quite old ones, were very helpful, so huge thanks to everyone who takes the time to post their own reports - I'm trying keep it up with my own. It’s getting harder and harder to get fresh intel here, which makes me sad, but luckily Italian restaurants don’t change that fast.
We really enjoyed Bologna, both as a city and a place to eat. I know it’s not on the top of everyone’s lists, but it’s been one of our favorite Italian cities so far. It’s beautiful with all the old porticos and has a laid back, friendly vibe. I highly recommend a stop – we could have stayed longer than our 3 days. Here’s where we ate:
He offers mortadella sandwiches, sparkling wine and not much else - and lucky for us, he excels at both. For €10 you get a crunchy, savory roll, slightly irregular, pillowy soft on the inside, stuffed with mortadella and toasted for just a bit of browning on the edges plus quite a nice glass of bubbly (rose or white) - a perfect snack for us, just off the plane. I really wanted to get a second round, and probably should have. I definitely want another one right now!
Pescheria Pavaglione in Mercato di Mezzo
Unlike Pigro, which was slightly busy but calm, Mercato di Mezzo was packed. We had another less good glass of Franciacorta, a pretty good skewer of shrimp and squid, and a middling fritto misto that didn’t seem as fresh. It cost more, was hectic as could be, and wasn’t anywhere as good as Pigro, but we did get some interesting black (squid ink?) rolls with our plates that were fun.
This wasn’t one of absolute our favorite meals, but we still had a lot of nice food and I’d recommend a stop here, as have many ‘hounds before me. Go hungry, because it ended up being a huge amount of food. We started with a piatto misto of lardo (delicious with some excellent black pepper), equally excellent lonza with a complex, fruity, funky, smoky flavor that I’d never gotten before from a lonza, some ok prosciutto, some buttery mortadella and a plate of incredible raw salsiccia balls with the same great black pepper (this is a must get here). We also had some great marinated artichokes. We found the bread in the region to be bland and texturally boring, and this place was no exception. Then we had a very unique, but maybe not the most successful tagliatelle with onions (an old historic recipe, I think). It was a little bit like the French onion soup of pastas – cooked down white onions as the condiment for the pasta – but it needed a hit of acid or some of that great pepper for balance. We finished with a plate of sweetbreads with peas and favas on a bed of creamy sauce (this was well cooked and enjoyable but not a wow dish), and a huge plate of pigeon with mushroom and spinach which was really great, perfectly cooked, hugely rich and yet not sweet the way game birds can sometimes go. I’ve never had such a nicely cooked game bird, actually. Another highlight of the meal was a bottle of local orange sparkling wine from a producer I didn’t know – I told the somm what we liked and he nailed it (even with my horrible Italian).
I was trying to mix it up with some old CH recommendations and some new ones from other sources (Eater, Google), and while Eater served us very well with Pigro, Oltre was just ok. To start, we had a very average vitello tonnato, and a mortadella mousse that really didn’t have any mortadella flavor at all – just a creamy mousse with little chunks of mortadella in it. Maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be, but it was disappointing. The pastas fared better, like a meat tortellini with 24mo parmesan cream sauce that was excellent in both texture and flavor but a bit rich and off balance after a whole bowl, and a ricotta ravioli with butter, favas and anchovy that could have had more anchovy for my personal taste but was well made nonetheless. My partner loved his fior di latte dessert, which was more like a very eggy flan with a burnt caramel sauce.
Drogheria della Rosa *
This Chowhound recommendation lived up to all the hype. We started with their good-enough-but-forgettable antipasto of a frittata, a bit of cheese and salami. Their pasta, though, I will be dreaming of for months. Given the number of somewhat-too-rich or otherwise-nice-but-lacking-balance pasta dishes we had on this trip, the ravioli with squash blossoms here really stood out. It was simple but sublime – ravioli filled with two cheeses (not sure what) and topped with the blossoms and their wonderfully lemony sauce – I could eat it every day forever. The tortellini in brodo was also excellent, the filling super flavorful and yet contrasting that of the broth (is one beef and one pork, we thought?). A tagliata with just oil, salt and pepper as a main was also perfectly prepared and very enjoyable. My partner enjoyed his dessert (and the drink that came with it). My one quibble was that perhaps we ordered too little food, because the portions here seemed smaller than elsewhere but not any cheaper.
For us, this did not stack up with the other restaurants in town or elsewhere. The lasagna was yummy and indulgent (but not anywhere as good as da Ivan below), and the cheese ravioli in a creamy ham and porcini sauce was also pretty good, though a lacking some balance (my common refrain), but the grilled sausage main we had was disappointingly dry, and the pomodori gratine were just terrible, like airplane food. There were plenty of locals in attendance, so maybe we just ordered wrong, but I’d give this one a pass.
As a wine bar, Faccioli is excellent. We had a lovely local bottle recommended by the proprietress according to our interests, several tastes by the glass, and actually bought some bottles to take with us as the prices were nice vs the US. The food is not destination worthy, but it’s there if you need to soak up a little too much wine. The smoked eel was quite nice but overpowered by the toast it sat upon. The smoked provolone and pickled zucchini focaccia was somewhat dry and not nearly as good as focaccia can be – I would skip that for sure. The mortadella was good, just nothing extra special.
For a late night bite, you could do worse than Nicola’s. The toppings were all very good – the right quality in the right amounts. We had a speck and arugula, and a capricciosa. The dough was nice, in a chewy Neapolitan-esque style (not runny in the center), but was somewhat undone by an overwhelming coating of semolina that did add a nice crunch, but also made it a bit too dry and rough as it cooled. When the pies were fresh, this didn’t bother us much, but reheating leftovers later, the crust was almost inedible, so bear that in mind and do not plan on takeaway.
The plain and hills between Parma and Piacenza:
We had some of our best meals here, and the scenery up in the hills is absolutely stunning (the plain is less so, except at golden hour). You definitely need a car to do it justice, but most of the driving is very easy if you avoid the larger towns and cities. We used Castell’arquato as a base simply because I found a nice Airbnb there, and the medieval town looked charming (it was). There were times driving through the hills where we wouldn’t pass another car for nearly an hour, and we basically had the town of Castell’arquato to ourselves.
Trattoria Cattivelli, Monticelli D'Ongina
I made the mistake of having our first day in the area fall on a Tuesday, when ALL the restaurants in Emilia like to close. I had planned on visiting Hosteria Giusti, but even 2.5 months in advance and on a Tuesday, they were already overbooked. Cattivelli, fortunately, had room for us. I don’t know that I would drive way out of the way for it, but if you are anywhere between Piacenza and Cremona, it’s worth a stop. We had a nicely pickled and beautifully presented eel (much better than Storica Faccioli), and budino of local cheese with asparagus, the most delicate and masterfully crafted tortellini with ricotta and spinach in butter (I still can’t fathom how they made that tiny braid down the side), a black rice timbale (must have been squid ink) and sturgeon with fennel and orange. The timbale was the best thing we had, just full of flavor, with an excellent shrimp sauce reminding me of a French crawfish sauce and pleasantly toothsome rice. Everything was well executed and service was kind.
Acetaia Villa San Donnino, outside Modena
On our way to Cattivelli, we enjoyed a tour of the balsamico facility here (we were the only ones there), and would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the aging process and what makes the actual DOC product different from the rest of the stuff they sell as balsamic vinegar. Prices of the vinegars they sell were also very fair.
Voltone, Castell’arquato *
I was not expecting to find great food in the quaint little medieval section of Castell’arquato where we stayed, but I can now highly recommend Voltone. We really enjoyed our meal and the local wine selection was the best we found anywhere. We started with culatello with marinated pears, then had a nice shrimp and asparagus spaghetti alla chitarra where the pasta was the star – thicker than the usual, but very good and toothsome – and a pisarei e fasö that blew my mind. I don’t usually love beans (though I encounter them enough because my partner does), and certainly thought beans and pasta would be carb overkill, but the tomato component made it work perfectly, and the gnocchi being visibly indistinguishable from the beans was fun. I was completely won over by this dish. Then we had an excellent guanciale, the best main we’d had so far in the trip, and a simple slow cooked veal that was nicely cooked but lacking something, maybe just pepper. Our waiter was very sweet and enthusiastic, and was able to make a great wine recommendation for me despite my terrible Italian AND his very challenging accent. If you are exploring the area for wine, this is a must stop (Ristorante da Faccini just outside of Castell’arquato was also recommended to us along these lines by a winemaker, but we didn’t make it there).
Locanda Mariella, Fragno
We had some hits and misses here, but I did really like it and would go back if we were in the area (I think perhaps we ordered wrong). Having now been through both Emilia and Liguria, I can say that Mariella’s cooking leans more to the Ligurian side of the hills, despite being in Parma. The meal started incredibly strong with perhaps the best dish of the whole trip - a rabbit salad on faro with fava bean and mint pesto. The rabbit here was better prepared than I’ve ever had it – unbelievably moist and tender, light, super fresh, and the faro salad was the perfect complement. After reading more menus in Liguria, I think this may have been a take on cappun magru with rabbit vs fish, because La Brinca has something similar on their menu by that name. Then we had their testaroli with cavolo nero (again, Ligurian) and a tagliatelle corti with sweetbreads and chocolate (a dusting of bitter cocoa), which were very unique to us, but maybe more interesting than delicious. I’m sure the testaroli were traditional, but I do wonder if the chocolate tagliatelle were. These were followed by an outstanding salmon with crispy skin, rendered imperfect only by virtue of the addition of some morels that didn’t work flavor-wise with the fish but were easy to avoid, and a braised veal guancialino over polenta that was very homey and simple (maybe a little too much so). I wish I had not been driving, as I would have liked to have explored their wines (not that much local, but an excellently curated, natural-leaning collection). My partner enjoyed his strawberry rhubarb bavarese.
Da Giovanni di Cortina, Castell’arquato
The atmosphere here was a little stuffy and French-styled for our taste, but we did have a few good dishes. The crudo plate was expensive but the best one we had of the trip (I cannot resist a raw shrimp), and the cuttlefish ink fagottini pasta stuffed with fish with a sweet leek cream and cavolo nero was excellent – one of the better stuffed pastas we had in terms of flavor, technical skill and presentation. But the gnocchetti with clams was terrible – greasy and tough gnocchi made of breadcrumbs – I wouldn’t be surprised if they were supposed to be that way traditionally, but they were awful after the lovely gnocchi at Voltone. And the lamb ribs were just ok, not worth the price. We did have a nice bottle of wine from the list (not a very regional list – mostly other parts of Italy and France), but overall this place was just not for us.
Il Cerchio, Collecchio *
This was outstanding from start to finish, and I highly recommend you give it a look (found it via a Gambero Rosso article, I think). We started with one of their signature pandiro’, with prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, parmesan, a super bright tomato sauce on a rich, crispy crust that was more focaccia than pizza (or almost Pizza Hut deep dish crispiness, in a good way – or a really amazing sfincione, but less spongey). The flavors were all vivid and clearly high quality. Scallops with bacon, roe and nori were delightful – perfectly executed but the sum of parts. Their “annolini” is nearly tied in my mind with Drogheria della Rosa for the best pasta of the trip – the flavors were explosive and it was super rich but managed to be balanced (so rare in this area) as well: a super truffley parmesan sauce with runny eggs and asparagus. It just had maybe a tad too much sauce. Even richer still was a parmesan risotto, so cheesy and intense it was overwhelming to eat, so the chef gave us a balsamico concoction he’d made with tomato to drizzle over it and THAT was divine. We also had a nice Lambrusco sorbet, and a frozen chocolate soufflé with whisky sauce. As much food as we had, this was also relatively one of our cheaper meals, and one of the best. The chef and staff were also very sweet, and clearly appreciated that we were enjoying ourselves.
Ciaolatte Farm, Borghetto
We went for a tour here of the Parmesan cheesemaking facility and the farm before our lunch at Il Cerchio, and while it was fun and informative, and everyone was very friendly, I did think it was overpriced at €35pp, considering the prices of our other tours (wine, balsamico, culatello) were all less than half that or free. Still, they give you a late start (9 vs 8), do the tour in English and were responsive via email. You do get to actually see the cheese being made and have a small tasting at the end. I’d say you’re paying for convenience above all.
Trattoria La Buca, Zibello
Because I’d read so many reviews of this place that complained of the small portions for the prices, I rationalized that I could do this and Da Ivan in one day. I was not able to finish all we (over-ordered) here, but my partner did. Their culatello was nice, my partner’s favorite of the trip. Their ricotta cheese anolini in ragu was balanced, yummy and homey, if a little simple (not at all a bad thing). My partner opted for the pasticcio di maccheroni which was quite the experience – basically maccheroni in a meat ragu encased in sweet pound cake. It kinda worked and was super rich, but did taste just exactly like what it was. He was hoping for another experience like the time we had the pigeon bastilla (an almost curried pigeon pie topped with cinnamon and sugar) in Grenada that was life changingly good, but this was just so-so. We were, however, really impressed with the prete (super salty but very unique) and the trippa – the kind of homey dishes done right that you hope for at a place like this. The tongue (yes we ordered 3 mains – too much) was less so, nicely cooked but the flavor of the tongue was completely obscured by a heavy sauce. Despite not drinking much, this was one of our more pricey meals in the area, so the reviews do not lie about that. Still we enjoyed ourselves.
Antica Corte Pallavincino, Polesine Parmense
We came to see the culatello museum and had a little snack here. Their lardo was delicious (I’ve never known myself not to like that though), and the culatello was good (maybe a little fruitier here than the other places), but the star was the salami di felino. If this hadn’t been our last day in the area, I would have gone on a hunt to find more of this. Great flavor and soft texture, one of the best sausages of that style I think I’ve ever had. As for the culatello museum, it was interesting for sure, but the culatello cave itself was surprisingly off-putting, and I’m the kind of person who loves a cave, loves eating all manner of animal parts and is not squeamish. The smell was not appealing, there were little bugs flying everywhere and the culatelli are just not easy on the eyes. It felt like what it was: a dark basement full of slowly rotting corpses – more horror movie than appetizing stroll. My partner agreed. Still, I would recommend it as a stop. The grounds are very pleasant for a stroll, and you can also see the pigs. And the cows, horses and peacocks.
Hosteria Da Ivan, Fontanelle *
If anyone is choosing between Da Ivan and La Buca, let me just cast my vote for Da Ivan – this meal was fabulous – soulful local food executed at a high level. We had a mixed antipasti to start, with the best prosciutto of the trip and some very nice culatello, heavenly fried cheese, two flavors of spreadable lardo on fried polenta (also heavenly), and a passable giardiniera. Then I had the most perfect, platonic ideal of lasagna in my life. It was cheesy but balanced, with browned crispy edges, a perfect ragu… it tasted like I would imagine a much fancier restaurant might make lasagna (except that I’ve had the lasagna at Del Posto, and liked this better). We also had a stracci di pasta with peppers, anchovies and taleggio that was just ok – we really enjoyed the peppers, but the pasta itself had a denser, harder texture that was less pleasing than the lasagna. A huge portion of carne cruda followed (very simple and flavorful), as well as a fantastic cheese plate with the dreamiest creamy blue cheese that ate like drinking nice madeira and one of the better pieces of taleggio I’ve ever had. To cap it off, we had the best dessert of the trip: a Greek yogurt lemon sorbetto with kiwi, banana, and dried apple – so perfect and refreshing. The couple who run the place also just couldn’t be sweeter. This is a MUST do in the area.
As an aside, this day made us realize we’re really more prosciutto people than culatello people. Folks talk about it like it’s the living end, but we just weren’t that wowed by culatello. It doesn’t have the unctuous texture of a good prosciutto (like the one here at Da Ivan), nor does it have the depth and complexity of a jamon serrano de bellota. So do not sleep on all of the other delicious pork products in the area, like the salame di felino and of course the prosciutto – there are many porky delights to enjoy here!
We stayed in Santa Margherita Ligure, with day trips to Genoa, the Cinque Terre, Portovenere, Portofino and Camogli. I had already lowered my expectations for the coast, but we did have some really excellent food here as well (and some terrible food). I know no one will heed this advice (I wouldn’t), but if you are considering the Cinque Terre, just don’t. It’s not that pretty or charming, it’s overrun with tourists even in the shoulder season on a day with no cruise ships in the area, the food is meh, and there are so many better places to spend your time. Stick to the Portofino peninsula or other surrounding areas. And above all else – stick to ONLY Chowhound recommendations when in touristy areas! (Google has proven itself to be fine where the overwhelming population is locals.)
Karalis, Santa Margherita Ligure
After getting negged at La Brinca, Da O Battj and U Giancu for a Sunday lunch reservation (even months in advance in the case of La Brinca), I went with the top rated Google restaurant in the area. The pictures looked great, glowing reviews on Tripadvisor and it was packed when we arrived, so I thought it would be a safe bet. Most of what we ate here I won’t even go into because it was bland (octopus) or worse (a foul crudo), but the ravioli with raw and cooked shrimp and seafood fregola stew were pretty decent, and we had an interesting Sardegnian pastry filled with cheese and topped with honey for dessert. It ended up being one of our priciest meals and second to worst. I definitely regret not progressing through my list of SML Chowhound recommendations for my 4th choice.
Cucina di Nonna Nina, San Rocco *
Luckily the next day I had a reservation at Chowhound stalwart Nonna Nina. I can happily report that it is still GREAT. We started with an artichoke carpaccio – sliced thinly, marinated and topped with shards of Parmesan – delightful! This was a nice foil to their focaccette al formaggio, which was not exactly like focaccia col formaggio from Recco, but more like that than like typical focaccia. It was a puffed up pastry of fried dough somewhat like an oversized empanada with a bit of very runny, lactic cheese settled into the bottom – and it was divine. Their ravioli di pesce was a big change from the pastas of Emilia – not eggy and pristinely constructed, but charmingly homey and doughy-soft, with a savory fish filling and dressed in a light yet full flavored fish, tomato and garlic sauce. They also made one of the most brightly flavored pestos of the trip. It had something in it that actually made my mouth a bit numb the way too much celery does, but it was delicious anyway. Their rabbit alla Ligure was nice fatty dark meat, very good but different from the outstanding rabbit at Mariella, and dressed with olives and pine nuts. It reminded me of the rabbit we had at the excellent Il Cucchiaio di Legno, near Orta San Giulio. We had a great bottle of local red recommended by the waiter, and sat in their sun room, overlooking Camogli. Everything about this meal was perfect and we would love to return. It was also very affordable.
Da O Sigu, Camogli
After a little walk out to the Batterie (a great little hike where we hardly passed a soul) and drinks at Da Muagetti (great views all around), we walked down to Camogli for dinner as suggested by many of you here. While Da O Sigu wasn’t as amazing as Nonna Nina, it’s still a solid choice, and served us probably our best local wine of any Ligurian restaurant. Their seafood crudo was miles better than Karalis, with good flavor all around, but not as great as Giovanni. We had a somewhat forgettable but fine spaghetti with anchovy, and a fantastic trofie with clams, asparagus and bottarga that was packed with clam flavor and not overwhelmed by the asparagus. Their mixed grilled seafood was just ok, with particularly good squid. But being right on the water at sunset was blissful.
Ostaietta Genovese, Genoa *
Just when I thought I would never trust Google again after Karalis, we hit one of the best and cheapest lunches of the trip. If you are in Genoa, and don’t mind a slight walk outside the center, absolutely GO HERE. Also, if you go, walk over to the riverbed and stand on one of the bridges to enjoy the show below – feral pigs! And old ladies feeding them day old focaccia! Back to Ostaietta… they are executing meals at an incredibly high level here for an unbelievably low price. I don’t know if it’s their “thing”, but the day we visited, the specials were all unexpected twists on typical recipes, like a trippa di polpo, made to look and taste a bit like the classic Italian tripe in red sauce, on farinata. So clever, and it was by far the best octopus we had on the trip – tender and flavorful. Or a tagliata di tonno, seared to a thick crisp crust on the sides to look like a steak (actually I would be very impressed if any steak had so good a crust), but raw in the center, with a balsamic sauce that was not too sweet and a few leaves of arugula. We were just giddy over these two. Our starters were equally good but a little less playful – a nice gnocchi with amberjack ragu (not as soft as the gnocchi later at La Brinca but in a very good fish sauce) and squid ink trofiette with tomatoes, calamari and bottarga (also deliciously pleasing in a homey way, with nice texture to the pasta). With this, we had a bottle of their house sparkling white. Guess what this cost? €20. Total. For the whole meal. I don’t know how they do it, but if I lived in Genoa I would be here on the weekly if not daily. Know if you go – they take reservations via SMS, and I think it’s cash-only.
Trattoria delle Grazie, Genoa
Another good value and pleasant meal (not quite as outstanding or cheap as Ostaietta), at the very charming Trattoria delle Grazie. We started with some stuffed mussels that were good but nothing special, and finished with fried anchovies three ways, which was likewise. But in between we had a really great tagliatelle neri with baccala sauce and delicious mandilli di saea with pesto. Service was very friendly and the room was beautiful. I was also won over by the note on their menu: “Meno internet e piu Nebbiolo” (the menu was very seafood heavy, but the wine list very Nebbiolo-heavy – which I wouldn’t have expected, but honestly I’d rather drink that too, so). The bottle we had was very gently priced. This was also a Google recommendation. I actually wish we’d had more time to eat in Genoa, as there were several interesting places mentioned on Chowhound that I’d have liked to have tried, and the city didn’t strike me as dangerous or unpleasant, the way some people talk about it, like Naples (then again, I really like Naples – but agree it’s super sketchy). Seemed like just another Italian city. Next time!
We did a short hike down from Campiglia to Portovenere, and then took a boat along the coast to get the flavor of the Cinque Terre without actually spending much time in the towns during the tourist rush, and if you’re going to go for a day, that’s how I recommend you do it (having now also been to the towns). The hike to Portovenere was beautiful and we only passed a handful of people, all going the other way. There were certainly tons of tourists in Portovenere, but nothing like the actual towns of the CT. I just wish lunch had been a little better – it was only ok. I did like the place though, apart from the food. A caprese with anchovies was nice in theory, but marred by unripe tomatoes. Some gamberi rossi gratinate were fine as little bites but not memorable. The gnocchi I had was in a pesto sauce, but the pesto was cooked, so the flavors were muted. And what sounded like a creative dish – carbonara made with fish stock, didn’t taste anything like a carbonara or like fish. I’ll give them credit for being very nice and serving the best bottle of Franciacorta of the trip, but meh.
Another highly rated place on Google and Tripadvisor that was lousy in person - probably the worst meal of the trip. Their whole wheat tagliatelle with seafood was fine enough, but the focaccia, shrimp crudita and trofiette with almond pesto and squid were all failures, especially the bland trofiette. I saw others leave most of that dish behind as well. The view was not that great from the terrace, so I found little redeeming here.
Trattoria Concordia, Portofino
This was a quality meal, despite being in a touristy town (thank you Chowhound for the old but still good recommendation). We started with a nice rendition of sarde all’agro (more agrodolce than just agro), but the showstoppers here were the pastas. We had one of the best pestos of the trip, on lasagna noodles, and an unforgettable crab spaghetti with a rich and decadent crab flavor (it was the little crabs you can just eat whole, shell-on if you wish – so no labor required). We finished with a solid dish of baked fish – nothing amazing, but well prepared – with potatoes, olives and tomatoes. It was a somewhat pricey meal, but not horrible considering that we were in Portofino. Overall we thought Portofino was thoroughly worthwhile – not too covered up in tourists, undeniably beautiful, easy to access from SML – unlike the Cinque Terre. We took the first ferry to San Fruttuoso from SML in the morning (it was full in SML, but 90% of the people left at Portofino on the way), then returned via ferry to Portofino after half an hour of just looking around an empty San Fruttuoso. We walked out to the Portofino lighthouse after lunch for a drink (great view), then walked back to SML along the coast road. It was a perfect day.
Da O Battj, Nozarego, Santa Margherita Ligure *
I would recommend a meal here based on the view alone, but add in the legendary scampi, and I’d consider this a must-visit in the area. We started with an uninspiring mixed antipasto, but the kitchen immediately redeemed itself with a delightful plate of ravioli stuffed with greens and herbs in a savory, flavorful walnut sauce (a 180 from the tasteless almond sauce at RioBistrot), and of course those scampi alla battj. The sauce was not just your typical lemon butter sauce – it had a deep, rich umami flavor tinged with sweetness like you’d get from a miso or dashi (though I’m sure it was neither of those things). I could not stop licking my fingers despite being in a white tablecloth restaurant, then again, we were also given bibs. We tried their gamberi violeti as well, and they were fine, but if you’re here, go ahead and have everyone get their own portion of scampi for secondo – no need to diversify. But beware, this was not a cheap meal. Also FYI, a taxi down to SML from here was €20, but if you don’t mind a very early 7:30 reservation and care to take in the view from the church across the street for a few minutes (and we were NOT the first party to arrive, having done just this, by the way), you can arrive by the last bus of the day for €1.50 in about the same amount of time. I think a walk up that same hill would leave you pretty sweaty.
Cappun Magru, Manarola
This is a very cute little lunch spot with boatloads of charm and very nice proprietresses. We arrived right at noon, which was a few minutes too early for the full menu despite what their facebook says, but we enjoyed their namesake dish (this would be great on a hot day), as well as a lovely ravioli in a cheesy asparagus sauce before catching the bus up the hill for a hike. They had a really nice selection of local wines as well. They don’t do dinner (unless you want to dine at 4), but this is the only place in the Cinque Terre that I feel I can really recommend as a foodie stop (and I wouldn’t make it a destination – only if you’re already there in Manarola – which was the prettiest town as well, by the way). I wish we could have sampled more of both their menu and wines.
Trattoria dal Billy, Manarola
This was worlds better than RioBistrot, if you’re looking for a dinner in the Cinque Terre. I can see why it’s popular – the portions are sized for Americans (enormous) and the staff was very English-friendly. Nothing was bad at all, just didn’t blow us away. If you want to eat here, be sure to reserve (and request a terrace table outside). After a few drinks at Nessun Dorma across the way enjoying their view (best one on the coast), we started with the most ridiculously large antipasto spread I’ve ever seen here – a true abbondanza of at least 12 plates of various fish and seafood preparations, half hot half cold. All were good, better than the antipasti we’d just had at Battj, but nothing amazing. The squid ink ricotta crepes were memorable, as was a white fleshed fish served with stewed fruit, and sardines with fennel instead of the usual onion and raisin preparation. Then we shared a GIANT plate of pink tagliatelle with lobster (the whole lobster). It was totally yummy (not as great as the crab spaghetti at Concordia), but so large that it got cold before we could finish it (May 2019 in Liguria was uncommonly cold and rainy). Those two menu selections were so huge that we were rightly cautioned not to order a main. If someone made me return to the Cinque Terre, I wouldn’t mind coming back here. The one good piece of advice (other than “don’t eat there” or “don’t go there”) that I got about the CT was that it’s much nicer after about 6pm when the mass of tourists have left and it’s really just people staying the in town or having dinner. This is true. Although I won’t say it wasn’t fun relentlessly mocking all of the people taking 200 selfies (sometimes with their drones) while we had our drinks at Nessun Dorma.
La Brinca, Ne
For our last real meal, we finally made it to La Brinca on a Saturday afternoon. I feel like I need to come back here again to really explore the menu – there were just too many really unusual things! Loads of very old historical recipes from the area. The wine list was also impressive (and enormous), and their very enthusiastic somm gave us a nice, quirky recommendation based on our requests. We started with mixed antipasti that I will fail horribly to describe or even name accurately, but with a little forensic help from their website: a dollop of coarsely mashed potatoes with cavolo nero (Il Prebugiun di Ne), a chewy chestnut pancake (La Panella), a tempura-like fried borage leaf, another fried green pancake that might have had cheese in it (Torta di Riso - I think), fried acacia (or borage again?) blossoms, a raviolo fritto, a couple slices of rustic sausage with a rather dry Pan Martin, another lighter and thicker potato pancake with onion (Baciocca) and an absolutely delicious crispy-chewy pancake (Frisciulle / Testaieu) with an intensely flavored pesto sauce (incredibly delicious, but my partner found the pesto overwhelming on a whole plate of gnocchi). Then we also had a dish from the 1300s – because how can you not? – Torta Lavagnexe con salsa verde Leonardesca. It was a baked casserole type loaf in a thin pastry, served sliced, with eggs, chicken and pears inside – and was good, just like the rest of the antipasti. This was followed by gnocchi with pesto (excellent gnocchi, best of the trip, with a very roughly blended, chunky pesto made in a mortar with maybe a bit too much oil – I liked it but it overwhelmed my partner), and a green taglierini in mushroom tomato sauce (a little simple but with an interesting chewy texture to the pasta). We finished with the wild boar, slow cooked, with a unique but subtle spice profile, maybe nutmeg? It was a very nice meal, but I will say it was more intellectually stimulating than it was fundamentally delicious. Not a bad thing (we may have ordered wrong as well) – and I would definitely return.
Focaccia in Piazzetta, Recco
We didn’t have room for yet another meal, but I couldn’t leave the area without trying the famous Focaccia col Formaggio from Recco, so we stopped by this popular take away spot. By the time we got it home, it had steamed a little, but it was still good: a super thin lightly chewy crust that got crispy at the edges with a runny fresh cheese center, almost like an Italian quesadilla, but with a thinner crust and on a much larger scale. It was different from the puffed variety we loved at Nonna Nina, but I would happily eat it again (hopefully fresher next time).
Overall it was a great trip and I’d recommend all three areas – Bologna, the hills of Parma and Piacenza and the area around the Portofino peninsula. I certainly did not want to come home!
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