Restaurants & Bars

Milan, Lake Como, Liguria, Florence - September 2017

hucklecat | Sep 26, 201704:27 PM     2

A few notes from my 2+ weeks in Italy. Piemonte specifics here: https://www.chowhound.com/post/piemon...

I spent a busy week in Milan for work and my free time was mostly a blur of aperitivo-hopping, consuming as much prosciutto as possible, and adapting to the city's daily routines, such as the afternoon rush to the espresso counter and the narrow window during which dinner is acceptable. I didn't visit any noteworthy restaurants, but here are a few (mostly boozy) highlights from my stay:

G.B. Bar (so friendly despite the crowd!) Join the busy lunch queue, and enjoy your tasty sandwich outside the Chiesa di San Fedele, watching the well-dressed Milanese on their lunch break.

Ciacco Gelato Senz'altro: multiple visits here for the dairy-free flavors. Ingredients are labeled, all delicious (pistachio! fig! chocolate!)

Cantine Isola: This is what I want every wine shop to be. Unbelievably popular spot for aperitivo in Chinatown, yet despite the hordes of visitors, they are so friendly and helpful in pouring you a glass of wine (or 4) you will enjoy, and in nice stemware to boot. Lots of nibbles to taste at the bar, or grab something from the Chinatown shops nearby (I enjoyed the bao from across the street at Paolo Sarpi 25)

Radetzky Cafe: Just a really fun aperitivo, great crowd

Bicerin Milano: Lovely wine bar with a nice bottle list, good service, and cozy surroundings. They do have a small dinner menu, but I just had cured meats. Reservations recommended.

Mag Cafe: delicious cocktails along the canal in Navigli, busy, don't expect attentive service

Rita: very cool cocktail place for aperitivo in Navigli - busy, hip crowd

Next, we hopped in a Fiat Panda and headed up to Gravedona, with an unplanned detour to Valtellina.

I'd recommend planning out where you want to stop for meals along Lake Como. We were too busy trying to decipher Italian road signs and remembering to use the clutch, so unfortunately, we randomly chose Dervio for a stop. After a confusing, unfruitful interaction at Crotto del Cech, we ate quick sandwiches at a cafe and continued on.

Valtellina: A prelude to Nebbiolo-vacation-Piemonte. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a wine-fail because (again, unplanned detour!) the enoteca in Sondrio, Il Tabernario, was closed when we arrived. The info center will give you a list of wineries, but you're on your own to make appointments; don't expect to drop by. The drive along the narrow, alpine Strada del Vino is breathtaking, though. And hey, you might just randomly come across a town that shares your name, and thoroughly confuse the locals by taking lots of pictures.

Gravedona: a lovely little quiet town, not a lot of dining options. Unsurprisingly, they eat dinner earlier here than in Milan, so we kind of missed out. Instead, we made our own little aperitivo with Valtellina and cured meats from the grocery store. I would have liked to try dinner at Cantina & Bottega (via Grisogoni 8) - it's a small wine shop and restaurant, with an organic / natural focus. Rather than focus on local wines, they have a small selection of wines from across Italy that are organic / natural / biodynamic. The kitchen smelled great and they are vegetarian / vegan friendly. Go early or make a reservation to ensure they cook enough food for the evening.

sigh... love at first sight of those Barbaresco vines
My dining notes: https://www.chowhound.com/post/piemon...

We picked up some local plums and dolcetto grapes from the Priocca Sunday market and drove straight from that final lunch at Ristorante Il Centro to Fiascherino, in between Lerici and Tellaro. Having given up a good part of our day to enjoy the Corderos' hospitality one last time, we arrived in Tellaro just in time for a sunset aperitivo at Bar La Marina. A beautiful spot to watch the waves, which were rough that evening.

I wasn't fully prepared for how hyper-local the cuisine can be in Italy, and how quickly the regions change as you travel through. My soul--and stomach--were still pining for Barolo and tajarin and I had a hard time getting into the seafood scene for dinner. Through pure inertia, we ended up at Il Fico Trentacareghe (via Fiascherino 7, Tellaro) because it was located inside our hotel. This turned out to be a serendipitous lack of decision! Elia runs the kitchen, designing 3 tasting menus each evening (30, 40, or 50 EUR) all made from freshly-caught local seafood, whatever they caught the night before (prawns, fish, mussels, etc). You can also choose a la carte. They greet you with a glass of prosecco and a stuzzichino and then you make your selection. The menu is only in Italian, but the service is wonderful and they patiently explain everything to you, sometimes with the help of Google Translate (particularly useful for the local fish species). They were also awesome at accommodating my dairy allergy. Armando guides you through the wines -- mostly local (vermentino, Cinque Terre DOC), with a few other Italian options that pair well with the food, including dessert wines and digestifs. You really feel a passionate sense of place through the people and the food at this restaurant. We enjoyed it so much, we immediately reserved a table for the following night and were delighted with new menus and a warm welcome.

In the Cinque Terre, we did a wine tasting at Buranco in Monterosso (Armando wrote down a few wineries to check out). They weren't as engaging in conversation about their wine as I would have liked, but the setting was absolutely beautiful and I highly recommend creating a flight of their Cinque Terre DOC dry wines and the Sciacchetra. Generous pours and they prepare a nice plate of local snacks for you.

On our way to Florence, we took the scenic route at our innkeeper's suggestion and stopped in Montemarcello for lunch at the adorable Caffe della Ragazze. Limited English, small menu of homemade regional specialities and local vermentino in a beautiful piazza.

We said arrivederci to the Panda and spent 3 nights in Florence. To be honest, this was the most frustrating segment of our trip: food was mediocre, wine was uninspired, tourists were everywhere, and museums were such a hassle, even with the expensive Firenze Card. Now I really wished we had another day in Tellaro, especially since the sun had finally come out and the sea was calm. Very few food highlights to mention:

Semel (Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 44 in Santa Croce): Tiny little sandwich shop with a small English menu at the entrance and a very friendly proprietor. Delicious sandwiches on unsalted Florentine bread. I particularly liked the squid + zucchini.

Vini e Vecchi: Reservations a must. A little chaotic, but our best meal in Florence. Our favorites: pappardelle with duck, fried zucchini flowers, ribollita.

Cibreo Trattoria (next door to their Caffe and Ristorante): No reservations. Be prepared for lots of tourists who are disappointed that there's no pasta. Local specialties, very patient waiters who explain what everything is. Solidly prepared dishes. The soups were standouts. No memorable wines.

And that was that! Currently home and scheming a way to return...but probably not to Florence.

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