I’ll leave the Piemonte trip to its own thread as this turned out to be long enough as it was. There were definitely some terrific meals. Sometimes it was just enough to have a big lunch and a very simple dinner or vice versa so not every meal was intended to be some incredible fare but in the end I think we did quite okay and enjoyed pretty much every place we went to. Since the trip was long I thought it maybe easier to summarize and not necessarily provide things in order necessarily.
Roscioli: Could not recommend this more highly. Simply an incredible place. If you have an apartment you could go there for all manner of dried goods, cured meats, cheeses and wines. Dining there is fantastic. The burrata (as mentioned here other times) is other-worldly. We had lunch and dinner here and ranged from ham plates, tuna pastas, meatballs, steak fillette and chose from the deep Italian (and European in general-they have a terrific selection of Champagne) wine list. Incredibly well run operation. The food here is stunning. It was hard to choose what to eat because every single thing sounded amazing.
Il San Lorenzo: Very high end pretty much 100% seafood restaurant. Modern, stylish decor. Dishes that blew us away were the shrimp "carpaccio" and the seared tuna (so unbelievably dark red that it looked and tasted more like beef than anything else and incredibly perfectly prepared). Excellent and deep wine list. Service was very nice as well. Only thing I would mention is that a) they started us in the back room which is a smoking room and while they had no trouble seating us elsewhere b) they don't have the ventilation system to handle the smoking that goes on back there and especially by the end of the evening the smell of cigar and cigarette smoke was definitely noticeable and we were about as far away from the smoking room without being downstairs as was possible. I would still go there as the fish dishes were magnificent but I can see being put off by it if you are particularly sensitive to smoke.
La Pace de Palato: This is a lovely little place a couple blocks off of Piazza Navona. We were there on a Sunday night and it was pretty quiet (although on April 25th it had 15 people waiting to get in but then again so did most places) with mostly an older clientele. Food was quite good. An excellent (and different) carbonara, lovely meatballs (not in a red sauce but a very tasty brown sauce) and a terrific filet. Service was warm and generous. They were playing the radio but it actually was a good station with an interesting mix of music, just the few times they had ads were weird. All in all though we had very good food, nice service, decent wine and a good time for sure.
Trattoria Fiametta: Ate there the night we got in when we just wanted to walk around a bit, stretch our legs, eat something easy relatively early in the evening. This fit the bill. Just ate around the menu a bit and finished with a pizza that was quite good. We enjoyed the nearly 100% Italian (there were a couple of priests/fathers/clergy) there that were not all Italian but...) crowd and the service was homespun and earnest. Wine list is what you should expect but there were some nice choices and they are very reasonably priced (2009 Rinaldi Nebbiolo for 24 euro).
Vinoteca Novecento: For those of you unaware April 25th is a national holiday in Italy. It seems that everyone in Rome eats out that night. Every, every, every place was bursting at the seams from the Trastevere on up. We had eaten lunch at Roscioli that afternoon so we weren't dying for dinner and it was a beautiful, warm evening and it was fun to wander the city. We decided that we would know where to stop when we saw it. A bit NW of the Pantheon we stumbled onto this little place that had a handful of outdoor seats and wasn't crazy busy. Turns out they have an amazing wine list of older wines for very attractive prices. We had a 1994 Sandrone Barolo and a 1992 Elio Altare Barolo for 85 and 125 euros respectively. The Sandrone was good, the Altare was brilliant. Had a plate of meatballs and a zucchini in white sauce lasagna (both for 9 euros) that were quite nice. The owner was incredibly generous and the service was wonderful. If you’re looking for some older, well-priced wines this would be the place. A total hole in the wall.
Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco: Lovely place on the south side of the river. Tightly packed tables in an old, beautiful building. Terrific salad, cinghiale pappardelle (of course), a lovely and deft spaghetti pomodoro and a thinly sliced steak and arugula salad. Nice bottle of Brunello although the wine list is quite small. Very good service and a very relaxed and easy atmosphere.
Il Santo Bevitore: A large restaurant. This was a partial miss I would say. The food was good but the portion control was crazy. My risotto (a pumpkin risotto) and the pasta dish we started with were full on entrees. I mean like gigantic. We had to stop eating them so we had any chance of eating the secondis we had ordered. Likewise they were hugely portioned. The beef tartare was easily 16 ounces of beef. It also started out quite a bit too cold. Once it came up to temperature it was delicious. Beautifully seasoned and had fabulous texture. I had duck 2 ways and the confit was really, really dried out. The breast was very good but again, a lot of it. A very popular, noisy and briskly paced site. I think had we negotiated the menu better we would have had a terrific meal. I would add that this was one of the few restaurants in Italy we ate at that I would not describe as incredibly well lit.
Trattoria Garga: Got this as a last second recommendation from a friend. After going there I Googled reviews for it and it definitely gets some very, very mixed reviews so take what I have with a grain of salt as some peoples’ experiences have clearly varied. Got there around 9:45 on a Saturday night and they were banging but very warmly and graciously said they would have a spot for the 2 of us. We were in the front room and could see most of the restaurant and people as they came in. Literally, if we had sat there with water the experience would have been worth it. I am pretty sure we were the only 2 Americans in the joint and that this was a locals place and the owners knew virtually every person in there. The place is eclectically decorated for sure but it works with the vibe of the restaurant. It was fun and loud and people were having a great time. We weren’t terribly hungry and ordered a salad and linguine with porcini. We ordered a bottle of Gaja Barolo and they were out of it and the guy sitting next to us happened to be the Gaja rep for the restaurant so he immediately starts busting the owner’s balls about not ordering up when he is out. Good stuff. Many comments about this place have been written about it being expensive. Our salad was 14 euro but was huge, fresh and smartly composed and the pasta was 25 euro but it was a huge plate of pasta with more porcini on it than pasta. The two of us splitting it barely finished our portions. I can see if you ate there at 7:30 on a Tuesday (for example) how this place might not work. I doubt the food is perfectly consistent and I can see the service at those times being a bit much especially when the place is just tourists and not locals. Our food was very good, the wine service was great (decanted, glasses seasoned, etc.) and the service in general was warm and efficient. The people-watching was outstanding. If we hadn’t been somewhat done in by a crazy man who made us drink with him until 2 in the morning the night before and were too tired we would have closed the place down.
Trattoria 4 Leone: For us Oregonians this was a warm day, probably close to 80. After wandering around doing the sightseeing (cough, shopping) thing we were just looking for a shaded place for a light lunch and some white wine. This is in a very small pizza surrounded by very narrow streets so it was quite cool in here. Had a delicious salad of spinach, pine nuts, avocado and pecorino with an arugula pesto on it. The polpo salad was also quite good. Folks around us were getting medium to giant beef filets that looked interesting. Some other stuff that came out (risotto was just a bowl of rice) looked odd but this fit the bill for the needs of the afternoon.
Se-sto: This is the bar/restaurant on top of the Westin (Excelsior) Hotel. The service is amazingly bad, the drinks amazingly expensive, the music they play inside is oosh, bad and I have no idea about the food. However they do have one unbelievable view up and down the river. And the sunset we got was just one of those perfect, incredible sunsets. No other reason to go there that I know of but it is a damn good reason.
Santa Margherita Ligure:
Vineria Macchiavello: Terrific little winebar/restaurant. Also the best wine shop I found in the area. We weren’t super hungry and just split salad and a couple of pastas but they have a pretty wonderful selection of wines. The wines are priced “to go” and if you have them at the restaurant they basically add a 15 euro corkage. Their wine service is very good and we had a 2005 Produttori del Barbaresco that totaled out at 45 euro (so, 30 euor if you take it with). We got the last two-top in the place and they routinely turned away twosomes the rest of the night when they had four-tops open. I have no problem with this practice just mentioning it here for informative purposes.
O Magazin: This is probably the best dining experience we had in Italy. I realize that’s saying a lot but whatever. I would eat there every day if I could. Of course that would require living in or near Portofino (I’m down with that idea). First of all it is “down aways” from the center of town which is to say it is about 200 yards from the piazza on the water and there are only a couple of businesses located beyond it. It is very small, seating maybe 20 inside and another 12-20 outside depending on the weather. We ate there twice and the second time it was very rainy which definitely cut out 4-10 seats for them. The polpo salad was sublime. Perfectly cooked octopus with lovely little potatoes, a few excellent olives and some olive oil, lemon on the side, warmed perfectly. We had polpo salad several other places and this was pure heaven. Amazing. I had peche verde (sea bream) and peche quattresso (I’m sure that’s wrong, but anyways) which was essentially snapper in a red sauce. Both were perfect in every way. The fritto misto is excellent and has the best calamari I have ever had on it. And as good as everything was the pappardelle Portofino stole the show both days (we basically had it as dessert). Perfectly cooked house made pappardelle in a magical tomato crème sauce. I can still smell and taste it. Utterly, stupidly perfect. Then, of course, you are sitting on the water in Portofino and you don’t want to ever leave.
Winterose Vineria: A little winebar down the walk from O Magazin. After we walked all over Portofino we had about 40 minutes before the water taxi showed. Had a glass of wine here. Excellent selection of wines to take and a pretty high end selection of wines by the glass. The owner is very gracious and the “plate” they routinely give with the drink order here is a large plate of 2 high end cheeses, 2 high end cured meats and a bowl of very delicious olives. It should be a 12-15 euro plate. We were blown away and also not very hungry but were more than happy to, apparently, almost eat it all.
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