As usual, we had another fantastic time eating our way around Italy thanks to some great tips from all the folks here on Chowhound, so thank you to everyone - and especially to Allende, whose posts on this region I've been following for years - Piemonte's been on my wish list for a long time. Here's where we ate, and what I'd recommend to others (* = recommended):
Lake Orta / Alto Piemonte:
This area is covered less here on CH, so we dug into recommendations from other sources, with varied results. We ate some good stuff, we ate some bad stuff. This is a place you visit to enjoy the natural beauty (a short hike up around Mottarone was lovely, as was just strolling around Orta San Giulio) and the Nebbiolo, and not so much the food - at least that's how it went for us.
Il Cucchiaio di Legno, Orta San Giulio (just outside of town), Lake Orta *
We stopped in here after our flight and a short stop at the overlook at Madonna del Sasso on a sunny Saturday, and the place was packed with families. This ended up being one of my favorites for the area because of their great wine list, especially by the glass (out of Coravin) - definitely the best btg list we encountered in the Alto Piemonte area, covering both local wines and selections from the south of Piemonte. They'll even pour you something with a little bit of age (the wines badly need it, and it surprisingly was hard to find elsewhere). The food was all good in a well-executed, homey way, with occasional points of particular culinary inspiration like the risotto (which was studded with bits of radicchio and pungent sage, as well as a local cheese that I'm forgetting), the lardo, the grissini (probably the best of the trip) and the rabbit (with marjoram and olives, it was assertively floral and herbal in a capricious way, if not poetic - like the bunny's last romp through the garden). Their onion focaccia, pasta al ragu and braised veal were also solidly yummy in a "grandma cooking" kind of way - simple, classic, but not super memorable. They went a little off the rails creatively with their carne crudo, which was sitting in a pumpkin puree and topped with toma cheese and hazelnuts - it just didn't come together, and later with some mini macarons that just tasted like soap. But those were easy to forgive as service was warm, and the overall meal a delight. I would highly recommend a stop here, just don't let your GPS decide how to arrive (down a tiny, winding road that you have no business being on while jet-lagged), and be sure to reserve (SMS to their phone worked great). As others have noted, it's a set menu, no choices to make other than wine and dessert.
Osteria San Martino, Crabbia, Lake Orta
Not as good as Cucchiaio (but in a similar homey style, and a tad more expensive), we had a decent mixed antipasto plate here, a nice tagliatelle con funghi porcini (extremely basic pasta, just buttered, but incredible mushrooms), a mediocre ricotta plin (oily and under salted - a little brown butter would have worked wonders here, but we didn't encounter it once the whole trip), and a pretty good but very, very salty baked toma cheese wrapped in ham and served with vegetables that were middling except for the zucchini. I can't say I'd really recommend the place as a destination, though it does very well on Tripadvisor in terms of the area (almost as well as Cucchiaio), and service was very friendly. If you are already in the town of Crabbia, ok.
Olina, Orta San Giulio, Lake Orta
This was a recommendation of our airbnb host (I highly recommend his apartment, but am less enthusiastic about the food), and as I walked by I noted they specialize in natural wine (which I happen to like), so we thought we'd give it a try for a light meal. A plate of grilled porcini was a very good call - they were perfect, aromatic, scantly dressed with a bit of salt, parsley and oil. But the grilled squid and octopus was unremarkable, a little chewy, in a sweet tomato sauce with basil gelee, and smoked trout with the unexpected accompaniment of what seemed like apple butter and nuts was good enough, if a little weird. Overall, the meal was fine, not really worth a stop unless you're already here and hungry for more than wine bar fare.
La Motta, Orta San Giulio, Lake Orta
Another recommendation of our airbnb host, and equally meh, but definitely much more popular with the tourists (it was packed; Olina was half full, if that), was this cute little place, slightly up the hill from the main square. We had a deeply mediocre pastry antipasto trio, followed by one of the better pastas so far - tagliatelle with shrimp and raw cuttlefish - that had a phenomenal seafood aroma and fantastic cuttlefish, though the shrimp were a little overdone and the pasta itself a little dry. We finished with a very good, medium rare, tender, mineral-y piece of veal that would have been absolutely delicious had it not been surrounded by nasty, slimy mushrooms and flavorless cabbage (mushrooms and cabbage are two of my favorite things - I consume them by the pound - and I could not eat either of these). Like Olina, this meal was halfway to good, but just didn't get there - but with higher highs and much lower lows. Ultimately I'd stay away from this one.
Pane & Vino, Orta San Giulio, Lake Orta
We had a couple of glasses of wine here with a little plate of meat and cheese as an aperitivo (i.e., free) one night, and the quality and generosity of the charcuterie and cheese was such that I would have given it another go for a larger meal, but it was then closed every other night we walked by. I think in the shoulder season places just shut down during the week, as we also tried to go to a wine bar called Al Boeuc that was perpetually closed. I did not love the wine selection here at Pane & Vino, nor was I really impressed with the only other wine bar that was open on the main square, Re di Coppa. I wish that Il Cucchiaio di Legno had a wine bar area - I'd have walked all the way back up there.
Locanda di Orta, Orta San Giulio, Lake Orta *
This was our one splashy expensive meal in the area, and it was one of the best, but you'll pay for it. It was also more inventive vs classic. Service was excellent. I'll skip the amuses and go right to the bread - which was awesome, and we ate way too much of it. They're sourcing it from a local artisan who makes it with native yeast fermentations and heritage grains. There was a whole wheat and a raisin, as well as a delicious focaccia that was more biscuit-like (Southern American biscuit, not UK cookie) vs gluteny. My partner wanted me to dump it all in my bag and run home, it was that good. Then we had a starter of foie gras, peach and shrimp crudo that I just loved (the peach was more tart than sweet, and perfectly balanced the sweet shrimp and the foie), and another of eel, which for me was unfortunately marred by a too-sweet sauce, even though the texture on the eel was amazing - almost burnt but not. I would have loved just the eel on it's own. For primi, we had a unique cold spaghetti with caviar, scampi crudo and yuzu, a high end take on pasta salad, which again I loved, as well as a fava bean cacio e pepe, which was interesting - but not great. The fava overwhelmed everything else, obscuring any "cacio e pepe" flavor that may have been there - it just looked like cacio e pepe, but green. The fresh pasta texture was great. For mains, we had a nicely crisped maialino - totally inimpeachable, but what you expect - and kidneys with mushrooms. The mushroom sauce on the kidneys was so, so good, and they were perfectly cooked, much better than the only other times I've had them (in Chinese restaurants), but I'm coming to terms with the fact that they may just not be for me. Then I had a nice cheese plate, and my partner had a strawberry soup that he liked very much.
Overall, eats on the lake were not that impressive. Here's what we had closer to the wine growing zones:
Latteria Zamarco, Lessona *
We were the only people in the place on a Monday afternoon except for another couple of Americans, who also must have been visiting wineries. Service was friendly and attentive. We started with some good bread with a selection of lemon butter, goat cheese, and olive oil with fleur de sel (which I mention since in most places we just had bread by itself, especially further south, or occasionally just plain butter when further north). Everyone here gets the standard but very good antipasti selection, which today was a super tender chunk of octopus (a vast improvement over Olina) on purple potato mash, a yummy stuffed baked onion that tasted like Thanksgiving, and a wedge of quiche with some green vegetable I'm forgetting (it was forgettable). Then we had a super soft, pillowy gnocchi (think Hearth gnocchi) with fonduta, herbs and sour cream which was great but could have used just a pinch more salt or a bit more punch to the sour cream or the cheese, and a risotto with bagna cauda sauce that was both delicious and inventive when you got the bagna cauda, but a little boring if you got a bite without it. But the best thing we had was a "mille foglie" of thin slices of tongue and head cheese that was pan seared quickly and then stacked with zucchini and carrot (no pasta, no pastry). This was incredible - so rich, great textures, great flavors. While the place felt family run, there was a higher level of creativity and execution here vs comparable places on the lake - they aren't just relying on captive tourists. It was one of the best meals we had up in this area, and while not 100% perfect, one of the few to which I'd return. I found this one on Tripadvisor, by the way. Sometimes the roll of the dice is worth it.
This was a very old recommendation of Allende's so we checked it out with the caveat that we had no recent word on how good it still is. It was good enough, and service was quite fancy (and friendly), but I wasn't impressed by anything past the antipasti. They had some nice spiral rolls in the bread basket that reminded us of Parker House rolls in texture and flavor, and the amuse of a tomato bread soup was very good - it even had a slight kick of spice (unlike everything else in the region). I loved a gamberi crudo with avocado and celery - it had a lovely sweet shrimp flavor and a dusting of fragrant black pepper that was so delightful by itself, the avocado was actually rendered unnecessary. But my agnolotti was just ok, with the filling texture being a bit grainy (I think it was a mix of roasted fowl), and the gravy-like sauce a little dated and dull, though the pasta texture itself was nice. My partner's paniscia was also just ok (it reminded me of jambalaya, and was also a bit dated in flavor - we felt we could make a better one at home). If you visit, come hungry, because you will be served seconds of your primi halfway through - which is nice since the "refill" warms up what's left on your plate, but way too much food. The only other place I've experienced this kind of service was in Lyon at a bouchon.
Another area you visit for the nature, not the food. Still, some of it was ok, especially if you like lardo.
Trattoria degli Artisti, Aosta *
Just when I was starting to worry that I was going to be disappointed by the classic regional foods on this trip, this place came to the rescue. We started with a mixed antipasti plate that was mostly simple vegetables and very good. The potatoes were a delight (must be the French influence because potatoes elsewhere were mediocre) lightly dressed in anchovy oil and herbs - I could have eaten a pound of these. The carrots were also a standout (and I don't usually care for carrots), with a nice little bit of char, but there was also lardo on toast, eggplant, zucchini, prosciutto, green beans, bresaola, and a curried turkey with almonds (!). My partner rolled the dice on more pastry - this time a puff pastry smothered in fonduta and larded with sausage - and surprise, it was really pretty good. I'm not going to lie - it had a Velveeta vibe, but not in a bad way, and the pastry texture was crisp and lovely, unlike La Motta where it was kinda stale. Then I had a really tender venison stew that while super duper homey (it looked deeply unappealing on the plate), was actually deliciously flavorful, and it came with an unusual polenta that was drier than I'm used to and spiced a bit like holiday stuffing. My partner had risotto with lardo and cabbage that was equally nice - super rich, with big slices of lardo hidden under the rice, and the cabbage so assertively cabbagey (so good), it really balanced the lardo well. This place gets high marks from me for doing simple, hearty, mountain food well.
Rifugio Bertone, above Courmayeur
What a beautiful walk up here on a fall day! Unfortunately they were already out of polenta by the time we got here, so we had to enjoy our beef stew (simple but pretty good, tender, flavorful, likely done in a white wine vs red wine like the venison at Trattoria degli Artisti) and sausage (just ok, probably better with the polenta, in a tomato sauce), with some mediocre bread. The cheese and meat plate was also just meh - we actually didn't even finish it. However, the walk up here on a nice day was SO nice, and the stew solid, and the service friendly, that if you get your butt up the hill fast enough to actually get some polenta, I'd recommend this (for the person who likes hiking, or looking at mountains).
Vecchia Ristora, Aosta
In contrast to Trattoria degli Artisti, this place was more upscale, with slightly more creative updates on classics, and prices to match. We started with a nice bread selection - like rolls with various herbs, olives, tomatoes, anchovies. A carpaccio of shrimp, mackerel and salmon with fennel, blood orange and olive oil was perfect, though the terrine of bollito misto was a little dull - the meats were perfectly tender, but the parsley lemon sauce was just ok. A very tender, mild capretto (just the slightest hint of gamey funk - could have been lamb) was nice but too scant a portion since it was accompanied by very dull steamed green beans and peas and a potato puree that weren't really worth eating. A seafood carbonara, which had a lovely seafood aroma, was a little to sweet on the palate and totally lacking the "carbonara" aspect. Overall, this was again underwhelming once we got past the antipasti, and pricey for the food served. The space, however, was beautiful.
La Bottegaccia, Aosta
Another winebar where we had a small meal. A plate of roast beef on salad greens was perfectly nice, but the caprese salad was awful (I guess they don't get the wonderful September tomatoes we get, since these were like airplane food). They seem to have a lot of wine by the glass, and were quite knowledgeable about it, but it was hard to get a server's attention, so we only sampled a couple.
La Kiuva, Arnad *
We stopped here for a wine visit, but ended up trying some of their meats and cheeses as well in the little restaurant they have here on the property, and everything was really quite good! Their lardo was especially delicious (the town has a DOP for lard). We did not have any of the cooked food, but for meats and cheeses, this is not a bad snack if you're passing through, and I adored their sparkling rose - in fact I regret not bringing some home.
Southern Piemonte / Barolo zone:
Here I stuck exclusively to the well trodden paths of Chowhound posters, and food was definitely a step up. Thank you all for the good advice.
La Torre, Cherasco *
First off, some lovely by the glass options here. 2009s instead of just 2013s - now we're getting somewhere (it's not like going to Maialino and having something from the '90s but, I'll take it). Nice bread plate. We had to have the snails to start, since we were in Cherasco, but the preparation was unexpected, since i've only ever had them broiled or steamed - these were breaded not unlike okra and fried with onion rings. Wow, those onion rings were delicious. The snails were good, not great, with a soy-based dipping sauce. The tajarin here was indeed good. (But I should have saved my euros and had it with sausage ragu. I got them with the truffles, which underwhelm me 100% of the time - in Italy, in Croatia, in NY - but I thought, ok last chance, if I don't love these truffles, I just don't love truffles. And there you have it. I just don't think truffles are worth it. Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes, I love. Truffles... they're fine. They do smell nice. Not €40-100 nice. I'll spend my €40-100 on a mountain of porcini instead.) But the plin - these erased the memory of the bad plin from Osteria San Martino, and eclipsed the tajarin. Great texture, served simply with a dusting of parm on a cloth napkin. And the finanziera was delicious. Everything in there tasted just like what it is, and they tasted good - liver, heart, sweetbreads or brains (not sure), tripe or some other innard - yum. We also had a cheese plate, but I think the word I think means "stinky cheese" in Italian actually means "aged cheese" to Italians, so the selection leaned a little more all-aged than I'd have preferred - but that's my fault. Thumbs up this place. And it was packed.
Belbo da Bardon, San Marzano Oliveto *
This place was also packed. We started with the carne cruda, which was simple but compelling - I think it was really just the meat and a touch of salt, with olive oil on the side to add if you like. No creative fails, like at Cucchiaio di Lengo. Good but not destination worthy. Then their tagliatelle with hen of the woods and porcini was huge and delightful - again, very simple. (I obviously don't really know what I'm talking about, but while the menu said tagliatelle, it looked and felt just like the tajarin from La Torre - I suppose the words are interchangeable around here, but I did see menus with both words on them.) Anyway, nice texture, nice mushrooms. The plin here again were excellent, with more flavorful filling than La Torre, but would still not be the best of the trip. We tried to take the advice of avoiding the meat carte and the secondi, but we just had to have the tripe, and I'm glad we did. What a fabulous texture and abbondanza of stomach parts - not just the usual honeycomb tripe we get in US Italian restaurants. The sauce was a little too sweet for me because it was very carrot-heavy, but my partner loved it, and it was still a great dish overall. Now to the cheese plate here - I am not sure if I was just having a hypersensitive nose day, or if they just have some particularly aggressive cheeses and bacteria in that cellar, but each one absolutely reeked of something - sometimes something good (parmesan turned up to 11; extremely lactic aged firm cheese; super buttery hard cheese), sometimes something bad (moldy cellar walls / cork taint / TCA on a soft fresh cheese; animal poo, not even "barny" or "sauvage" animal scent but just plain old literal poop and nothing else on a hard cheese, and this is coming from someone who likes barny, gamey aromas) - anyway, it was an adventure. I was impressed that I was served something that I found too funky - I would have said that's not possible (this is not so much a complaint as a caution to others). And I didn't even ask for stinky cheese this time. As an aside, we unfortunately planned this reservation quite early in our stay in the Barolo zone, which I regret, knowing that I really should have taken Allende's advice and asked to buy some of their bottles to take with us. I saw things here that I never found anywhere else - including at the winemaker's cellar - but by the time I realized that those bottles were only here, I couldn't get back to beg to buy them. So, plan this one at the END of your visit to the area.
Trattoria Marsupino, Brigalia *
I have to agree with everyone that this place is great. A lovely combination of family charm and fine dining. If you like your wine, they were the only place we visited that served out of Zaltos. Unfortunately at lunch it was a little empty - only one other couple visited when we did. We started with a delicious amuse of mushroom veloute with a very bright, good olive oil, and a spongy cube of cheese and vegetable frittata. A baked onion stuffed with taleggio and sausage was nice (lovely stinky taleggio), but not the best stuffed onion of the trip. Then I had possibly the single best pasta of the trip - their tajarin with sausage ragu - a perfect version of a simple, homey dish, but nothing tired or dull about it: tomato based sauce, good balance of flavors, lovely pasta texture, I could eat this every day. I did not want to share. But I had to share, because my partner had potentially the other best pasta of the trip - their ravioli with sea bass. The flavor on the filling of this ravioli had a brightness and intensity unlike any of the other filled pasta we'd eaten, complemented by a light, fresh tomato and butter sauce - delightful. After these two pastas, the secondi were a bit of a letdown - nicely textured but sort of boring veal sweetbreads draped in lardo over very sweet leeks with some just ok creamed potatoes, and a kinda meh rabbit with the same potatoes and barely-there chanterelles (the rabbit at Cucchiaio was more memorable). But, they pulled out a win with the best cheese plate of the trip (for me), and a memorable hazelnut ice cream "torrone" with marsala egg nog cream (for my sweet-toothed partner).
Osteria Veglio, Annunziata *
What a nice experience here. The patio was not open but the people watching was good (a full house), the service was nice and unobtrusive, and the food was outstanding. We started with a nice amuse of salsiccia di bra (fresh sausage) with fig. Then we had a series of showstoppers, like a whole roasted veal tongue with agrodolce veggies - this tongue was the best I've had period, anywhere, and though the veggies were far too sweet for me, they were easily pushed to the side to enjoy the tongue. The texture was divine. We also had a starter of baby squid, potatoes and mushrooms which was excellent, with great slightly smokey potatoes, a nice earthy surf and turf thing from the mushrooms, and of course the squid. My partner found it a little too salty, but I love salty, so I was in heaven. Their agnolotti del plin was in fact the best of the trip, with great texture and filling flavor, again slightly salty but really good. A vegetable lasagnetta was less successful but interesting - a cross between lasagna and calzone that was great when you hit the cheese filling, but just ok when you only got a bite of veg (broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, etc). Then came the tripe gratinee - so much better than the other tripe at Bardon, with a more aggressive tripe flavor but less carrot, more balance, and of course cheese - really, really good. The big letdown was the fried porcini special. I was so excited for this and was expecting a pan fry, but they were breaded and fried like a schnitzel - very dry, bland, sauceless, nothing to accompany them, monotonous to try to eat. In fact I did not eat it - my partner did. Yet overall, and especially if I wipe the mushrooms from my memory, this was the best meal of the area.
Trattoria La Coccinella, Serravalle *
These were very nice folks, I see why people like this place. I think that perhaps it would be an overall second favorite in the area for me after Veglio. It was busier than Marsupino, but by no means full at lunch. We started with a terrine di coda di vitello that had a good veal flavor, and was accompanied by a very nice onion marmalade, but could have used some herbs or something to brighten it up - it was just a touch dull (we love the style of head cheese with a bit of green in it). Better was a delicious salad of sliced duck breast with seirass (that ricotta-like cheese), pickled apple and greens - a nice combo, sort of a play on roast beef, so much so that I wouldn't have known it was duck had I not read the menu (not a problem). Their seafood lasagnetta - with scampi perched on top - had a great presentation, as well as a finer pasta texture vs the lasagnetta at Veglio, and was very rich from the bechamel, with a funky seafood note (like they used the brains, etc.) - in a good way. Theirs was definitely a more successful version of the dish. But for me it was not as good as their seafood tagliatelle - the fresh pasta had a nice texture and very seafoody flavor/aroma, and was studded with small pieces of baby squid, shrimp and shaved zucchini - it was at once refreshing and impossible to stop eating. Another top pasta of the trip. For secondi, I had the roast lamb rib roulade with sage (which tasted like Thanksgiving meets Easter - good lamb flavor), with a baked onion filled with lamb innards. I was impressed with the super funky filling here and the best baked onion texture so far. My partner had the cod with olive and fennel, and raved about the texture - it was also a very pretty presentation. He also had a nice granita of Barolo Chinato with a gianduja chocolate log filled with hazelnut cream - quite a fancy preparation that he enjoyed very much.
Il Centro, Priocca
And now for the disappointment. I have to sadly disagree with just about every other poster here - Il Centro was just not good. At first I thought it was purely because I'd come down with a bad cold that morning and was feeling poorly and couldn't smell, but my meal that evening at Trippa was outstanding under the same (or worse) circumstances, so I can't even give them that break. It's the priciest and fanciest of the five restaurants we visited in the area, so you'd think the service would be the best, but no, the wine by the glass was served way too cold in a glass that could have been better (Marsupino beats them here by a mile) and the btg choices were very limited (La Torre beats them here). I ordered one Barbaresco that I knew, only to be poured another because I suppose they had not updated the list, and it was oaked. I didn't bother to complain from lack of energy and inability to smell it anyway. The high point was the bread (anchovy bread!) and the amuse - a thin slice of ripe tomato wrapped around tuna, a crispy rabbit-filled "egg roll", and a nutty, creamy cracker sandwich. Everything else was blah in the extreme. We started with the egg in fonduta (which the menu had as plural "eggs", but there was just one on the plate), which was ok but monotonous - like eating a bowl of queso dip with a spoon. We also had a more creative concoction of layers of proscuitto crudo and (I believe) a beef crudo, served over a hazelnut butter with chopped hazelnut. My partner found this interesting, but to me it tasted and felt like peanut butter on ham, which just do not work. A plate of gnocchi with mushrooms was probably the best thing we ordered, but miles away from the gnocchi at Latteria Zamarco - they had a nice potato flavor but were a touch too sweet, and the mushrooms were too small and too few. Their tajarin con ragu was the finest cut of any we'd had so far, and super rich in egg, but the ragu itself was dull, boring, vastly inferior to the ragu at Marsupino - it tasted outdated, sad. I was excited to try another finanziera, and while they cooked all the parts well, again, the sauce was just a dull, gloppy gravy - it really deflated any oomph the dish might have had. La Torre's beat it by a mile. Between all this and the perfectly tender but way too sweet veal cheek in fig sauce that my partner had, I just pushed around food on my plate for an hour. Someone in the kitchen knows how to cook everything correctly, but they need a new saucier or something to inject some excitement into what are very tired dishes here.
I expected Milan to be a culinary letdown after Piemonte, but we actually ate pretty well.
Trattoria Trippa *
This place is a strong contender for the best meal of the trip for me, and turned the day around after that depressing meal at Il Centro. Their namesake fried tripe was awesome - it had a nice textural difference between the super crisp outside and the plush fatty inside, was quite salty and really good - the best fried tripe I've had, although it could have used some sauce or brightness from a hit of lemon juice or something. Their sausage ravioli - even after all that delicious plin in Piemonte - was possibly the best stuffed pasta of the trip (the ravioli at Marsupino gives it a run for its money). It not only had a great sausagey filling flavor, it also had a nice pasta texture, fresh but kinda toothsome, and while it was dressed just in butter, it needed nothing more. We also had some nicely executed roasted marrow bones, and a whole roasted head of baby lamb - which was interesting, but a bit simple and not all parts cooked the best way since they cook together (brains, tongue, cheek, etc). Their vitello tonnato was very good - the veal was great, the sauce creamy and savory, but not as tuna-y as some renditions of this dish I've had, and while it was probably too much sauce it was tasty nonetheless. It was also refreshing to emerge from a Nebbiolo-heavy couple of weeks with a nice bottle of orange wine from Emilia Romagna (which was great with the rich, fatty food). Service great as first, but then unfortunately ignored us for 45 min as the place turned scene-y (girls thronging the kitchen to take photos with the chef), which didn't bother me so much, but really pissed of my partner. I'm willing to forgive them, purely since I enjoyed the food, but I don't think I'd ever get him to go back there.
Pizzeria Sorbillo, Milano
We ended up just grabbing pizza after we tried to go to BYS Milano but it was unexpectedly closed. While both pies were good, they did suffer a bit from the Neapolitan-style wetness in the center, and were a little lacking in color/char on the underside. The outer crust, however, was very good. I don't know that I'd recommend a visit here if you have good pizza in your hometown though. I'd have any number of my local NY pies before this.
Mes Amis, Milano
There were a bunch of families having a nice Saturday night meal here during our visit - a full house. We started with an amuse of fried shrimp in a really good potato puree, followed by a truly delightful carpaccio of sea bass with sliced, in-season grape tomatoes that was simple but just right (however I think the fish was probably blanched or poached first - it was white not translucent). We also had a somewhat simple starter of grilled squid and shrimp where the shrimp overdone but did have a pleasant grilled flavor. Then of course I had to order the ridiculous flaming pasta cheese wheel - which was super fun. It was very creamy and parmesany, with somewhat recessive sausage chunks; a homey dish that was good but not amazing, with a slight toasty note from the flames, in an enormous portion. More fun to see than to eat. Much better was an equally large plate of squid ink gnocchi with a pesto that had a profound seafood flavor (though the texture was not as great as Latteria Zamarco's). Their pork loin was cooked well and was quite tasty on its own, but was served with kinda basic green beans (though I like green beans) - there was nothing to fault here but nothing special. Overall, the food here was not transcendent, but it was all solid and service was nice. If it were in Orta San Giulio or Aosta, I'd give it a glowing recommendation. But ultimately, with all the choices in this city, I don't know that I'd trek out here again. If you're staying nearby, I'm sure it's a great choice for the neighborhood.
I'd planned to go to Aromando Bistro for brunch but it was also unexpectedly closed, so we ended up with pizza for lunch for the second day in a row. While the pizza here was better than Sorbillo (thin crust, but cooked longer, so it wasn't mushy in the center), it was not revelatory in any way, and the place was swarmed with kids, so it was far from a calm meal. Also there were much better wine options at Sorbillo. I can't say I'd really recommend a stop here either, unless you too are shut out of another restaurant in the area.
Taglio, Milano *
We had meant to hit aperitivo time here, but turns out we actually showed up for "tourist dinner time", which ended up being fine. We started with a really delicious amuse of tuna on toast, as well as a good bread basket with some nice focaccia and country bread. Their octopus salad was excellent, with tender octopus, yummy tomato olive oil sauce, celery and tomato. It would have been a stand out dish in any city we've ever eaten in. We felt we had to have some Risotto Milanese in Milan so we had theirs - it was fine, exactly as I'd imagined (I can't imagine it being revelatory). We also had their very Sicilian-tasting eggplant lasagna (it definitely had that distinctive dried/concentrated tomato paste taste), simple but very good, and a good break from the northern flavors for me. Their fish and chips - really a tempura of squid, cod, bell pepper, potato, eggplant, broccoli - was good but not great, and just what it sounds like. The service was attentive and friendly, and was notable for a very "American" water service - we drank the water, they brought us refilled carafe. Drink. Refill. Repeat. Very nice to feel hydrated! Ultimately the menu was a mixed bag, but I'd recommend this place - I'd be interested to see what else they can do, and try more of the charcuterie.
Latteria San Marco, Milano *
This place seemed like a classic must-do, and we were staying less than a block away so we had to do it. We went for lunch and had to wait about half an hour, then sat in a tiny cramped table that reminded me of being home at NY, eating on the LES. But the food - it was great! Talk about grandma food, this is how you do it. I think their rendition of fresh tagliatelle with fungi porcini might actually end up being my favorite of the trip for it's outstanding mushrooms - so good. The pasta itself was simple buttered handmade tagliatelle (like Osteria San Martino), but it really worked and hit the spot in a homey, simple way. I could have eaten three large portions of this. Also delightful was their orecchiette with sugo Pugliese - it was so simple but surprisingly good, with more of that very concentrated, southern dried tomato sauce flavor, with a good hit of spice (very welcome since we love spice and very little of what we'd eaten for two weeks was spicy) and a dusting of parm - we inhaled it. My partner then had the eggs fried in butter with bottarga - it was just what it sounds like, and was pretty good but small (but so rich). I had their salsicia all'agro - a pair of great pan-browned, still-pink-in-the-middle fresh sausages, like a sage sausage we might have in the American south, cooked in vinegar (NOT agrodolce), which gave a nice lift and digestibility. I really enjoyed this, so much so that I want to try to make sausage this way at home. Everything was really good and they were nice folks, but it was kinda pricey for what it was, and service-wise, my dishes came out way later than my partner's (like he was already done with the eggs when my sausage came, and they served several other tables together while I waited). Still, it is legitimately a must do.
Rovello18, Milano *
We had a really enjoyable evening here, with great wine. On the white side of the list, they seem to specialize in Friuli, particularly the orange wines, and they had a great selection. Food didn't start off quite as strong as the wine though - anchovies with butter and toast were just like it sounds - unfortunately they were salted not fresh anchovies (I was thinking boquerones, oops). But the xistorra sausage with crispy fried polenta - this was great. A soft sausage from Spain, with a strong paprika flavor and juicy texture, paired with crunchy polenta cut in sticks and fried, kinda like steak fries. Delicious. We then checked another box with their risotto al salto - though their version was a trio of crispy fried cakes of risotto smothered in cheese sauce. While they were good (rich), I didn't eat much of it, though my partner enjoyed them. I was thoroughly distracted by the gnocchi with mushrooms and taleggio - salty but perfect, soft gnocchi, with great, great porcini and chanterelles, and just a hint of cheese, I absolutely loved them. Their marquee dish is a Veal Milanese Tomahawk Chop - a giant fried veal steak on the bone that my partner found to be better meat than a chicken fried steak and better fry than a schnitzel, but for me it was a little dry and could have used a sauce or other accompaniment. The sausage and the gnocchi alone with some wine would have been the perfect meal.