Thanks so much to everybody who helped me plan our trip to Italy. I'm reporting to be helpful but I'm certainly no food critic so forgive me if I'm not 100% clear or I mess up Italian here and there. I just want to pay it forward since I get so much great info from others!
Da Michele - classic naples pizza experience. Felt touristy because of julia roberts picture on 3 walls, but many italians were there also. They only have marinara or margherita and no wine, just beer. Shared tables worked out because the Italians at our table told us to order the double mozarella, one for each of us, which we would not have known. So inexpensive - pizza was 5 euros each. Wow I was really impressed by how different pizza in naples is from anything I've ever had. It's humongous, soupy and kind of seems undercooked in the middle. The fresh cheese looks like little separate puffed up coins, not the all over blanket cheese we're used to. We really liked it but I was frustrated by how quickly it got cold as I tried to eat it with a fork and knife. Looking around I noticed other Italians didn't seem concerned about that. I think maybe changing temp of the pizza throughout the meal is part of the experience. But I like hot pizza.
Scaturrchio - pastry, cakes etc Bourdain went here on No Reservations. There is a coffee bar in back so it's good for your morning coffee and pastry before heading to see sites in historic center. Delicious pastries and not expensive. We got 6 pastries to go for 10 euros.
Sorbillo - pizza recommended on chowhound and by our concierge. It's near tourist attractions so convenient for lunch. They have the more usual array of toppings (unlike michele). H had margherita and I had funghi. Margherita was very good but my mushrooms were bland. I think this place is in guide books because I heard English a lot, but again there were more italians than tourists there from what we could tell. The service wasn't friendly but it wasn't bad either. I would recommend it for the same traditional style (like michelle). I tried cutting it in triangle pieces this time and that enabled me to eat more while it was hot :) Pizza again was so cheap - 5 euros.
Generally I just want to say that info I got on Positano not being a great place to eat were definitely correct. We didn't have any bad meals but nothing knocked my socks off the way it has in other cities. However I do want to say how friendly everybody was in our experience. Every place offered complimentary tomato bruschetta and limoncello. :) BTW, every place I note the bill it includes wine, water and cover.
La Tagliata: recommended by chowhound and our driver. We took advantage of the free shuttle to the restaurant which is about 20 minutes situated above the town of positano. The shuttle is great (saved around 20 euro taxi both ways) but that's your first tip that you're not going to be the only tourist there. This is a family owned place with very friendly staff. We met the entire family when we walked inside. There is a 35 euro set menu and it's a great deal for the amount of food they bring out. They bring a huge antipasti/vegetable course, pasta course, meat course and dessert. Food was good - highlights for me were the sautéd vegetables (I asked and he said it was the flower of the cabbage) and the pasta with broccoli. I did not care for the meat course but H liked the sausage and the beef. No seafood seemed odd to me but I've read on these boards that it's not terribly unusual.
The thing about this place is every table but one were tourists. At first this was a little scary for us but after spending more time in Amalfi and around I realized that's it's almost impossible to eat somewhere without hearing English. The towns aren't that big so there just aren't a ton of undiscovered places, and the ones that have better food are known and end up attracting all the visitors. I've read that, if you go further away, that could change. But we like many others couldn't make it to Cetara or further down the coast. So I think that, at least based on our experience, hearing lots of english and even having a menu that's translated doesn't mean deadly tourist trap.
Da Leone: We got stuck in town for the day (instead of Capri...bummer) bc of bad weather so we made the best of it and walked around. Worried about eating so close to the tourist area in town we headed back out to da leone for lunch. I liked the ambiance there - it's a little more upscale - although other posts about it feeling like palm beach are right on. Everyone there was speaking italian which we thought was a good sign. We had pasta with squid and H had pasta with broccoli and clams. Both very good. Complimentary bruschetta with fresh tomatoes to start. A 17 euro bottle of wine* and tirimisu ended us up with 56 euro bill. I would recommend this for a slightly more elegant feeling meal. I would also note that Italians there were eating items not listed on our menu which made me feel like there was more than just what was listed on the menu.
* at this restaurant we asked for vino della casa (house wine) and they orought out a bottle of wine, not the usual carafe. We asked to be sure they had brought the correct wine and they said "yes, this is our wine." Later we got our bill and it was 17 euros. This was definitely a tourist trick because there were Italians drinking the usual carafe at another able. I think we should have been more persistent when they brought the bottle out and insisted on table wine,, not the wine of the house.
Barilloto del nonno: For dinner we went here based on chow recommendations and our driver. The octopus salad here was my favorite. Very clean and light. Also the ubiquitous complimentary tomato bruschatta was good. H had spaghetti with clams and mussels in light tomato sauce and I had spaghetti with claims in white wine and chilli oil. Both were good. The owner basically talked with us our entire meal which we enjoyed bc we like learning about contemporary italian life and politics. You must have the amazing chocolate cake here. It's like an undercooked brownie. Yum.
Bar Panza: While touring the cost we stopped at this bar in the main square of Amalfi. It was a cold day so I ordered ciocollato fondente. This is not typical hot chocolate. It's like a melted chocolate bar. When I first ordered it the waiter thought I wanted chocolates but I told him in italian I was asking for the drink and he again asked me if I knew how strong it was. He wanted to be sure I knew what I was getting myself into! :) H and I couldn't finish the one cup we ordered because it was sointensely thick and rich, but it was worth it. Delicious looking pastries and jelly candies there also.
Cumpa Cosimo: lunch in Ravello at this place recommended on chowhound and by our driver. We ordered marinated anchoivies (delicious), vegetable soup and H had mussels with tomato broth. Everything was good. The matron of the house gave us complimentary tiramisu which was very nice.
After too many days of rain and cancellations we rushed out to Florence. I'm so glad we did! I love Florence, the sky was clear, and we always eat well. :)
Bar above the westin excellsior (what's the name?): This was a new place for us so we went for drinks before dinner. The views at night are spectacular and the bar feels very modern and cool for such an old city. Well worth it for the views.
Sostanza: We love this place because it's exactly our taste when traveling in italy. Small, traditional trattoria with a small menu of items they do best every day. Shared tables and little fuss. The inattentive staff doesn't put us off - it somehow feels more real. Even though they get lots of non-Italians they haven't translated their menu. Maybe this is why I was put off in positano by their translated menus and English speaking staff? I'm used to having to struggle a little! Anyway we had the famous floretine steak for two - bistecca alla fiorentina - spinach with lemon and then my favorite fragoline with sugar and lemon. I have never seen fragolini in the US. I adore them for their texture and sweetness. We put down the entire kilo steak like champs and it was absolutely delicious. I think they overcooked the filet side a little (we like it rare) but they probably did that thinking we're Americans and would prefer it that way. Not sure. The bill was 91 euros because the steak was 55 and we had a large table wine.
Gelateria alla carraia (other side of ponte alla carraia): really creamy and delicious. Had my favorite nicciola (hazelnut)
Mario's: This small lunch place is basically the reason we ran up to florence. We adore it. I go to Mario every time I visit. I love their friendly staff and rustic small authentic feel. Tortellini pasta with meat sauce is my favorite, but the ribollita is dense and beautiful also. Got there 20 minutes before they opened and they let us sit inside and wait. On one trip we ate there so many times that they actuallyinvited my entire family to eat downstairs in their private wine cellar. It was such a treat!
Gelateria Neri: My favorite gelato place for more exotic flavors, I had the ricotta and fig and the rice. Sooo good. H had the nicciola which was also great.
Generally, I always try to find a bakery for a piece of torta della nonna when I'm in florence. It's delicious and this time I found it at the inside market near San Lorenzo.
Perilli: Recommendation by chowhound on the carbonara thread. I was worried because it's listed by fodors so I thought it might be super touristy. We arrived at 7:30 and they weren't open yet. Strolled around and returned closer to 8 and there were two people already seated inside. This turned out to be our best meal of the trip. The carbonara was the best I've ever had for sure but also the best pasta of the trip, maybe of my life. The yellow color is different than I'm used to - I would guess because the egg yolks here are a stronger yellow. It's creamy and perfect with rigatoni (my fav pasta). H said he would have prefered more bacon in his but I think that's just because they split a bowl into two portions at the table and he ended up with less. After that we shared ossobucco with peas and an artichoke. The ossobucco was delicious and tender with ample marrow. H, who doesn't like peas, couldn't get enough of these. And the artichoke was great - slightly minty with lots of olive oil. For dessert H ordered tirimisu and I had fragoline with vanilla gelato. I love those fragoline! Only snag of the meal was actually paying the bill (67 euros) which took 40 minutes.
Dagnino: favorite pastry/coffee shop with an emphasis on southern italian sweets. It's a nice place to stop for coffee and a pastry.
Nonna Betta: lunch in the jewish ghetto for fried stuffed zuchinni flowers and fried artichockes. Also ordered the taglietelle with artichoke and botarga and H ordered falafel wrap. The zucchini flower was golden brown and stuffed with cheese which we both really liked. The fried artichoke wasn’t my favorite. A little too crispy and not a ton of flavor. H loved the falafel – it has a yogurt slightly tahini tasting sauce on it wrapped in a kind of flour tortilla. I have always wanted to try botarga since I saw it once on a TV food show, but alas I did not care for it. I was surprised because I don’t mind fishy things and i enjoy cabiar. But the combination of fishy and sticky was not working for me.
Roma Sparita: Recommended on Bourdain’s “Layover” for cacao e pepe. We like going to travestevere for dinner when in Rome because it’s quiet and feels a lot less touristy.. We had prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, fried stuffed zucchini blossom and Cacio e pepe. The pasta was awesome! For dessert we had creme caramel and fragolini with whipped cream. BTW, the same thing happened here with the wine that happened at da leone. Again we asked for red house wine and they brought out a bottle of wine, not the usual carafe. We asked to be sure they had brought the correct wine and they said "yes, this is our wine." In this case it was only 8 euros so we didn't complain, but I was annoyed that they took advantage of us again because I saw Italians with carafes when we left. I think the problem is we asked for house wine instead of asking for table wine. But that shouldn't really be an issue because we got the right wine every other place we ate. Oh well
Now I am off to detox! Need a few carb-free days to fit back into my jeans. But it was worth it :)