My wife and I recently returned from a vacation in the Val di Gardena and other parts of northern Italy. We had some wonderful meals along the way - many thanks to those who posted recommendations. As I pull together my notes, I will post about some of our dining experiences. For now, I'll start with our first two meals in Europe, with more to follow.
We arrived in Munich in the afternoon and had one night there. At the recommendation of a chowhound post, we tried the Austernkeller, a restaurant specializing in seafood, which suited us because my wife does not eat meat. The space is very dramatic. One enters down a narrow staircase, which opens into a cavernous cellar that appears even bigger because the entire rear wall is a huge mirror. The pillars supporting the structure break the room up nicely, creating some privacy. We came in at about 9 p.m. on Friday night, without reservations, but the host greeted us nicely and promised to find us a table within 20-30 minutes. We sat at the bar and had drinks accompanied by bread and butter, olives, carrots, and celery stalks. All very nice and very comfortable, and the host managed to seat us after only 10 or 15 minutes.
The meal was also very good. We began with soups, which were piping hot and delicious. My lobster bisque was rich, creamy and very flavorful. My wife raved about her tomato soup, and our friends fish soup was delicious. The range of entrees was extraordinary. The menu even included Miami stone crabs, whose virtues the waitress praised extensively. We even had to enlist the hosts assistance (and dictionary) to identify some of the fish offerings. There were relatively few simply grilled items, however. The emphasis was on French style things with sauces. My wife and our friend both had the simple, grilled fillet of sole, with vegetables on the side. I had Norwegian salmon in a cream sauce with capers. The fish was very fresh. The sauce was fine, but not exceptional.
The wine list was not extensive, but we had a very nice sancerre recommended by the waitress.
Along with a shared dessert (a very good chocolate cake), coffee, mineral water, and drinks at the beginning, this came to 150 euros. It was a very enjoyable meal in a nice setting, though perhaps a bit expensive for what it was.
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The next day, after a fine hotel breakfast and some random but satisfying noshing at the Viktuelenmarkt, we drove to the Val di Gardena. We stopped for a quick and predictably uninspiring wurst and gulaschsuppe at a roadside restaurant just outside Garmisch. We then proceeded through the Brenner pass to Bolzano, where we were meeting a friend arriving on a late train.
Following a recommendation from Fred Plotkins book, we had dinner at Fink, located is right in the center of town, between the Christmas market and the Piazza delle Erbe. This trattoria has a very nice atmosphere- you enter through a bar filled with locals, and there is a no-smoking section. Again, we arrived with no reservation but were received in a very pleasant way. The place was full, and I think that we were the only tourists. I had the set menu. This, for 17 euros, included a platter of local mixed cured meats (speck, bressaola, prosciutto, and two kinds of salami I believe that one was made with wild boar), spinach gnocchetti (made from wheat, not potato), roast lamb with very nice roast potatoes, and a hot apple strudel. I was very satisfied with this meal. My companions went for a lighter approach. My wife and one friend had vegetable soup, followed by spaghetti with a basic tomato sauce with basil. Another friend had only a Milanese cutlet. We drank a carafe of a local red wine, probably made from grauvernatsch grapes. This was light, fruity, and very pleasant. Everyone was happy. Though not exceptional, Fink is a convenient, reasonable, and solid option in the center of Bolzano.