My wife and I took a trip throughout northern Italy and wanted to follow up on a lot of the CH recs that we read about through this forum. As a whole, it was an incredible experience and we’re very appreciative for all the guidance we received from fellow CH’ers.
A little about ourselves. We are a couple that eats primarily in the Philadelphia metro area. Our resource is mainly Eater news. We have eaten the entire Eater38 before. My favorite restaurants are Vetri in Philadelphia and Babbo and Ippudo in New York City.
Trattoria Del Gallo, Rovato
This was our only restaurant that was selected solely from the Slow Food guide with no internet information. On our way to Mantova from MXP, we were famished and this was close off the highway. We enjoyed traditional salted sardines, charcuterie, gnocchi, agnolotti, and lamb. This was a great start to the trip and comes highly recommended as this area didn’t seem to have a plethora of choices. The dining room was quite empty for lunch service and the lamb was outstandingly aged in flavor.
2 antipasto, 2 primi, 1 secondi, 2 glasses of wine ~60 euro
Teatro delle Birre, Mantova
Just a little snippit about this place. I am a beer geek and neither of us are not wine enthusiasts. I didn’t expect to attempt to drink any beer in Italy, but this place had a fantastic selection of BFM and other unusual craft European beers. Check it out if you’re in Mantova.
Antica Osteria ai Ranari
First in the dining room, we set out here to try Mantovan specialties. A bacalao salad in pesto, raw shrimp on black rice with burrata salad, horse stew, pike, and chocolate sausage. Everything here was better than expected, albeit with the burrata dish being a strange combination. This place seems to be rated as “average” on CH and I suppose it did fall into the middle of the pack. If you’re in Mantova, once again, there doesn’t seem to be any restaurant as good as this one in it’s price point.
2 antipasto, 2 primi, 2 secondi, 1 dolce, 2 bottles of wine ~100e
Acetaia di Giorgio, Modena
Absolutely no pressure to buy, even though we did. Fantastic tour. Friendly family. Can’t recommend more highly. Pricing of vinegars is on the website. We purchased the regular 12 year for ~35e and the juniper wood 12 year ~45e
Clinica Gastronomica Arnaldo, Rubiera
We wound up in Mantova and here because many of the restaurants we wanted to go in ER were closed. Hosteria Giusti said they would be on vacation during this time, but we stopped by the front butcher and it sounded as if they were cooking in the back. Frankly, the description of this restaurant did not sound particularly appealing, but they have a Michelin star (for whatever stock you put in that) and they have a package deal for 150e to stay at the hotel and tasting menus for 2. Being a bargain hunter and with few other options available, we chose to take the chance. Needless to say, we were unimpressed. All of the antipasti was quite bland, the pasta was the worst of the trip, and the boiled meats were…well boiled meats. I enjoyed being able to eat unusual cuts of meat and the humor of the stodgy food cart service, but we just can’t recommend this place unless you have a situation like ours.
150e for lodging, mixture of antipasti, primi, beef tenderloin, boiled meats, and 2 dolci + 25e for wine
Grana D’Oro Farm, Cavriago
A vacche rosse Parmiagano Reggiano producer. Booked a tour far in advance, but never got the confirmation as for whatever reason, my email server kept bouncing back their emails. Even though they received about a thousand emails from me, they still received us with unparalleled hospitality. They allowed us to visit the cows, which was short, but then they allowed us to visit their production facility. This was an experience you would definitely never have anywhere in the United States. Everyone was so excited to share with us as we were genuinely interested in the process as whole. I’m sure much more interesting and engaging then a larger, commercial tour.
Hostaria da Ivan, Roccabianca
This is where we started, shall I say, our tour d’allende. We had reservations, which were promptly confirmed via emailed and decied to book a room quite last minute on booking.com. Ivan doesn’t speak much English, but there’s no doubt that he’s a great host with a fantastic personality. The dining room only had 3 dining tables on this evening and I’m pretty sure that we were the only ones staying the night. There was a bit of a disconnect in our order (he didn’t think we wanted secondi and we thought we were getting 2 bottles of wine, not glasses), but other than that, the meal was awesome. The antipasti here was beyond decadent: lard fried polenta with melon balls of spreading lard, pickles, charcuterie. Primis were agnolotti, traditional lasagna. Secondi of pork liver and Piemontese braised beef. Dolci of something ice cream-like covered in hazelnuts and drizzed with cherry liqueur. Afterwards, Ivan took us to his sensorium. We woke up to the most splendid breakfast, which Ivan carved us more prosciutto di parma and multiple shots from his gorgeous Faema.
100e for the room 125e for antipasti, 2 primi, 2 secondi, 1 dolci, and 8 glasses of wine
Trattoria La Buca, Zibello
The seminal temple of culatello. We stayed here as well. Miriam does not appear to be in the kitchen anymore, but she was at the front of house greeting everyone. Started with the charcuterie sampler of culatello, salami, and spalla cotto. The portions of this were quite small by comparison to Ivan, but the addition of the spalla was quite nice. Agnolotti “La Buca,” which were served in a red sauces and the traditional Tagliatelle con culatello. The pasta here was quite good and the Tagliatelle con culatello was amongst the best of the trip. They had truffles, but being that it was September this did not seems like the correct season. Beef tongue and roasted duck and potatoes. The tongue was perfectly cooked and the roasted meats had extremely good crispy skin. We had the traditional egg custard dessert with liquor and 2 grappes.
Antipasti, 2 primi, 2 secondi, 1 dolci, 2 bottles of wine, 2 grappe ~125e
100e for the room
We ate a lunch and a dinner here because we enjoyed lunch so much. The hot polpo and potato salad was stellar. Perfectly tender and huge portions for the very reasonable pricing. Even my wife loved the farrinata, which was very surprising as she doesn’t usually like plain flavors. For dinner we had a braised beef with pepperonata, which was predictable, but the fish terrine was stellar. Very larger portion of sardine, tomatoes, fish, polpo all very well cooked. If you don’t feel like venturing out, I would recommend this place for multiple meals without issue.
Osteria Veglio, La Morra
We went for dinner as we stayed close in La Morra. We would recommend this for lunch as the views are stellar, but they disappeared quite quickly into the night. Opened with a raw veal sausage and parm crisp. Primi was a poached egg over porcini mushrooms and carne cruda. Carne cruda was larger chopped and underseasoned, but topped with parma so that was different then the others we would have in Piemonte. Primi was a very underwhelming (and underseasoned) parpadelle with sautéed onions and veal agnolotti. The agnolotti was probably my wife favorite dish of the trip as the demi-glace was incredible. Secondi was a very well done veal prep and another underwhelming eggplant parm. There were some hits and misses in here. For convenience to La Morra, it can’t be beat, but I would either order differently or choose another restaurant.
2 Antipasti, 2 primi, 2 secondi, 1 bottle of wine ~100e
Osteria La Torre, Cherasco
We had read prior to leaving, but after having made reservations that there had been a change in the chef here. We decided to keep our reservations given some positive reviews. Chef gift of chicken salad over a balsamic reduction. I didn’t quite understand this chicken salad: underseasoned and lacking general flavor, but the big gaff was the acrid balsamic reduction. Antipasti was a sampler of: baked onion, which was cheesy and delicious and a good cold veal breast with vegetables, and a baked egg. My wife had veal tongue with fried veal face balls. Primi was rabbit agnolotti and chicken liver tajarin. Both were good, tajarin was better. Secondi was a salt cod braised in milk and snails and tomatoes. Dolci was a chocolate pudding with fruit and meringue. The problem with this place was that many of the sauces used in different dishes we the same. There was sweet red sauce in many of the dishes and the cheese cream sauce used in the cod dish was the same as the one used in the onion dish. We can’t recommend going to this restaurant. Granted it’s one visit, but we definitely would never go back. Diner beware!
2 antipasti, 2 primi, 2 secondi, 1 dolci, 1 bottle of wine ~100e
La Coccinella, Serravelle Langhe
This place is REALLY far from La Morra in not a particularly pleasant drive (winding), so it might be better suited for lunch. Everyone here spoke English and this was definitely the favorite of the service we received. It was casual, but they were very attentive. We chose to do a land and seafood tasting menu. The wait staff chose our items as this menu contained a lot of Italian words which we had not been familiar with. The land antipasti consisted of: a tart topped with tomato and anchovies, a terrine of tomato, a trio of tuna, vinegar salad, and cheese sauce, and an onion soufflé. The sea primi was a Bluefin tuna and raw shrimp crudo terrine and a zucchini soup with roe and squid. Primis were a seafood agnolotti with fresh tomato and olives in seafood stock and a piped cod with linguine and shrimp. Secondi was a mixed seafood grill and baby goat over cannellini beans. Dolci was the classic chocolate bar with Barolo granite and a semifreddo. Almost every dish here was perfectly executed and very interesting. The piped cod dish was one of my favorite of the trip and the tuna terrine was some of the best raw seafood I’ve eaten. On another note, the ice cream place next door has a lever espresso machine, which was unfortunately the only one I saw throughout the entire trip. Definitely stop by for coffee!
2 tasting menus and a bottle of wine ~125e
Ristorante Belbo da Bardon, San Marzano Oliveto
Not nearly as hard to find, make a reservation for, or eat at as it seemed in the reviews. Everyone spoke English and it was in the middle of nowhere, but not difficult driving. Outdoor seating, but no views. Antipasti sampler of veal with tuna, a much better carne crudo then Veglio, a salad with tasteless black truffles, and an egg terrine covered in tomato sauce. We should have just ordered a full portion of carne crudo as it was definitely the best of the bunch. Primi were a spinach pasta with cream and walnuts, which seemed to be a popular order, but the star of the trip for us was the tagliatelle con funghi. The mushroom depth was amazing in this dish and it made me regret even more not ordering it a few more times before. Secondi of Barolo braised loin ribs with roasted vegetables and Finanziera is a dish that shouldn’t be missed for the offal aficionado. My first time eating cockscomb. Secondi was peaches in Asti, just as refreshing as it seemed. Highly recommended.
2 antipasti, 2 primi, 2 secondi, 1 dessert, 1 bottle of wine ~100e
Il Centro, Priocca
A very unassuming building from the outside, but you walk far to the back and realize that this place is much more formal of a setting. It wasn’t necessarily our preference in terms of the formality or service and the dining room was a bit quiet as well. The presentation of dishes was much more what we are accustomed to in our American dining both in portion and appearance. We decided to get the tasting menu which was: 3 antipasti, primi, 2 secondi, and 2 dolci. Antipasti was a carne crude, which was by far the best of the trip and breaded rabbit filets over salad, and a sweet and sour pork leg. Well seasoned and excellent garnish elements. The rabbit was a bit underwhelming. The pork leg was as advertised, but something that I would expect at an Asian restaurant. The plin at Il Centro is pure: not overdressed with butter. This dish just oozes confidence in the quality of the texture of its pasta and delicate flavors that are inside. My wife didn’t understand the delicate nature of the dish (she much preferred Veglio’s demi glace), but these are the culinary moments I really enjoy. Secondi was a bit of a translational error for me. I ate what I would consider a chicken fried Piemontese steak with salad, which I wouldn’t have ordered had I known it would be breaded. The meat flavor was deep, but not as pronounced I would have expected compared to most of the other dishes we had had on the trip. Not worth the supplement on the tasting menu for us. My wife got a snail soup dish, which was too delicate for even me. Dolci here was the best of the trip, with the classic chocolate hazelnut peach and a duo of dark and white chocolate mousse with fresh figs. Additionally, the parting petit fours are numerous enough to be dessert on their own. This is a meal that is difficult to value for us. It wasn’t our favorite meal of the trip, but it was definitely the most expensive. It offers a more formal dining experience with “prettier” food, which if that is what you are looking for might be worth the up charge. For us, it was not and thus not viewed as good a value as Bardon and Coccinella.
2 Tasting menus and a bottle of wine 175e