We rented an apartment in Verona, hence the greater number of Verona restaurants listed; all the other restaurants were lunch stops during day trips, except Milano where we stayed the last weekend.
Ristorante Antico Tripoli, Via Spagna 2, Verona, tel. 045/803.5756 (no note of closing day) (very near Basilica di San Zeno). This is a very attractive restaurant in a renovated stable large space nicely broken up with gauzy white curtains here and there. It stars a huge open hearth where most of the cooking occurs over wood coals ask to be seated near the fire unless you are there in very hot weather. I had an amazing fish carpaccio (three kinds of fish, each marinated in a different dressing to achieve a sort of ceviche effect) followed by revelatory baby lamb chops cooked to perfection over those coals and accompanied by roasted potatoes and an eggplant caponata that was both fresh-tasting and incredibly rich and luscious. Lovely service. Would go back in a heartbeat. Fairly expensive.
Ristorante Calanova, Via XX Settembre 13, tel 045/8008309, closed Tuesday all day and Wed lunch. Very modern, minimalist yet luxe décor. All seafood menu. Amuse of mussels which were alleged to be fabulous. Starters were smoked swordfish (very good) and julienne of squid (did not try but pronounced delicious). Main courses were a fabulous filet of bronzino with thinly-sliced potato scales that had crisped up in the oven, tiny tomatoes and baby rosemary, and giant prawns (said to be excellent). Desserts good too. Excellent, solicitous service (we were the first ones there and we noticed that almost immediately after we sat down the music changed to a selection of classic American show tunes and jazz; when the restaurant started to fill up with locals the music changed over to classical how hospitable can you get, to greet guests with their own music?). Expensive.
Trattoria Al Pompiere, viccolo Regina dUngheria 5, tel 045/8030537, closed Monday lunch and all day Sunday. The big deal here is their incredible selection of salumi (cured meats). A corner of the small restaurant is devoted to shelves of the stuff, together with a gleaming slicer, all presided over by the boss of the restaurant (we dubbed him the slicing chef) who also seemed to be the father of the main waiter. We asked for a selection of the salumi for a starter the waiter asked if we wanted ham only or everything everything we said. (Turns out ham in this case meant what we Americans think of as prosciutto and what Italians call prosciutto crudo. You are going to get pork of some sort when you order salumi.) The first time we got lardo, sopressa, porchetta, and prosciutto the slicing chef delivered them and told us where each was from. Each was the best of its kind wed ever had the sopressa was particularly amazing melt-in-your mouth tender we flagged him down and asked him to repeat where it was from. Di nuoi he said, jabbing his finger at his chest. Wow. Ravioli filled with caramelized onion and tagliatta (sliced beef) with potatoes and baby salad were also excellent. Second time there we asked for a selection but please include the sopressa di vuoi. The slicing chef showed up this time with his sopressa (another poke in his chest) plus a flight of Parma hams: crudo, cotto and pancetta excellent again. They also have an amazing cheese selection which we did not explore, but similarly the cheese waiter will put together a selection for you and discuss it at great length when he delivers it. This is a small place and packed at lunchtime reservations are essential. Moderate to moderate plus.
Trattoria di Via Stella, via Stella 5c, tel 045/8004824, closed Monday. A casual spot popular with locals for Sunday lunch. Some of the very best beef I had on a trip full of good beef in this case sliced over rucola salad, the warm beef a lovely contrast with the crisp greens. Pastas also good. Moderate.
Trattoria allIsolo, Piazza Isolo, tel 045/594291 (no note of closing day). A small, family-run place near our apartment and providentially open on Sunday evenings. A Slow Food selection and appropriately enough most or all of their offerings are stews and braises. I am blanking on starters but the osso bucco was delicious. Moderate.
Ristorante Aquila Nigra, vicolo Bonacolsi (near Palazzo Ducale), Mantova, tel 0376/327180, www.aquilanigra.it , closed Sunday and Monday. This was very possibly my favorite meal on the trip although it had very tough competition. From the very warm welcome when we entered right through to the warm farewell when we left everything was perfect. The host apologized for not having much English (it sounded good to me) and explained that our waiter had very good English, as indeed he did. Much discussion of the menu ensued. I started with pheasant and went on to guinea fowl you might think it would be repetitive but they couldnt have been more different. The pheasant had bitter greens, a citrus dressing, pomegranate seeds and bits of orange just heavenly. The guinea fowl was served with a rich reduction and was among the best Ive ever had. No dessert thanks meant we had to get by with a selection of 4 different tiny sweet morsels with our coffee meringues with whipped cream, lemon tarts, something chocolate, something strawberry. Expensive.
BERGAMO (CITTA ALTA)
Ristorante Gourmet, Bergamo Alta, tel. 035/43.730.04, closed Tuesday, www.gourmet-bg.it . This was dinner our first night so Im a bit hazy on it but it started with an amuse of olives stuffed with anchovies and baby artichokes, both right out of the frier and delicious and crispy. I had a smoked swordfish starter that really set the standard for that classic it was sliced impossibly thin and was fresh and tender and delicious. A large and excellent bone-in ribeye followed. It was a very nice restaurant populated by a mix of well-dressed tourists and very casually-dressed locals, including a large table of what looked to be an athletic club of some sort. They do have about 9 or 10 rooms which would be well worth looking into what a great weekend getaway this would be if you lived in Italy. We stayed at the Albergo San Lorenzo nearby which was basic but good.
BASSANO DEL GRAPPA
Ristorante al Ponte, via G. Volpato 60, Bassano del Grappa (just upstream of the old bridge on the west side of the river) tel 0424/219274, closed Monday all day and Tuesday lunch. We lucked into a gorgeous sunny day and ate al fresco with a stunning view. My starter (translated on the menu as trout and his eggs) was a delicious grilled filet of trout with a cold vinegar-flavored zabaglione liberally garnished with large red roe. The roe was somewhat tough but the flavors were amazing and overall this was a great dish. Starters were pork braised in milk, pigeon, veal cheeks and roasted baby goat. All 4 were excellent. This was what I would call superior home cooking, relying on perfect ingredients, quite simply prepared. Husband and wife wait staff provided very nice service and the wife went above and beyond after lunch, calling the tourist office for us to determine which Palladian villas in the vicinity were open that afternoon. Highly recommended. Slightly OT: coffee at a café in the square at nearby Maróstica ranked as our most scenic coffee stop and the cheese shop in the square was the best cheese shop experience any of us ever had once the proprietor understood we were interested in local cheeses he all but adopted us and stretched my Italian to its limits explaining what was on offer everything he sold us was heaven.
Also had quite good to very good but not especially memorable meals at Caffé Garibaldi in Vicenza, Hotel Bella Vista in Riva di Garda (where we consciously opted for gorgeous view over great food but ate fairly well anyway), Ristorante Belle Parti in Padova (the business lunch 3-course menu at 20 euros is a steal), Trattoria Valtellinese in Bergamo Basso and in Milano at Ai Mercanti, Assassini (gorgeous room) and Nabuco. (See separate report on Modena.)