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Restaurants & Bars 8

Trip recap: Valtellina, Alto-Adige, Venice, Milan (and a few others)

miss_anthrope | Dec 7, 201710:06 AM

We returned from our three-week trip at the end of September and somehow a couple of months have now gone by and I’m just getting around to positing a recap. I do really need to thank all on this board for your help and amazing insights. I read so many posts, and tried to soak up as much of your collective knowledge as possible. It has been a great planning tool and then acts as a motivator to get me to try and plan the next trip

This past trip was a bit of a hodge-podge. Initially I booked a short trip for Mr. Anthrope and I to attend a wedding. We considered going to Abruzzo and started making plans, but then I was invited to the Mostra della Cinema so we decided to extend our trip, cancel Abruzzo and go to Venice. And *then* the trip was extended again as I had to be in Milan for work. Not complaining in the least, but really, this wasn’t the trip we would have planned if we had three-weeks to putz around Italy with no obligations.

After our wedding we drove through the Valtellina, to the Dolomites down to Venice. It was a really amazing experience and I can’t wait return to continue to explore the areas around Merano, Trentino, Bolzano and Cortina d’Ampezzo again.

Altavilla (near Sondrio)
In trying to plan our trip we knew the route we wanted to drive but were unsure when we’d leave Como and how energetic we’d be. So in looking through the Osteria guide I found Altavilla, which seemed to be about where we thought we could be our first night from Como. From the start the service was friendly and welcoming. When we were seated in the dining room we were the only two non-Italian speakers there. I was a little nervous conversing that much in Italian – but that was just my insecurity, as our server made us feel instantly welcomed. We had a rather long discussion, in my medium Italian, about local wine and what we’d like to drink. We decided to star with a glass of franciacorta and then settled on a bottle of Grisone Sassella Riserva. This was his recommendation after discussing what we were thinking of eating and it was an excellent choice. It was fruit forward, but delicate, and had good amount of mouth-watering acidity. We started with an order of lardo and an order of ricotta & local cheese crostini. The lardo was phenomenal, creamy with just the right balance of fat, salt and a hint of sweet. The ricotta was creamy, the local cheese was really quite good, pungent and earthy but didn’t stand up to the lardo. We then moved on to a pizzocari and gnocci. In hindsight, we should have shared the pizzocari but hey, we were on vacation. Mr. Anthrope ate so much I thought he would burst! I had some gelato after but Mr. Anthrope was too full so our server kindly suggested a Bràulio. Which was a great way to cut through the pizzocari!!! We both really enjoyed our evening at Altavilla

Kohlern
Mr. Anthrope had booked us a few nights at Gasthof Kohlern outside of Bolzano. This is a very lovely hotel with spa and would highly recommend (typical German breakfast full of fresh yogurts, muesli, fruit, breads, meats and cheeses was heavenly). We ate one night at their restaurant with was included in the room price. The room is stunning - can’t beat a wall of windows overlooking Bolzano - yet warm and comfortable. We selected to start with a glass of local sparkling wine and then ordered a bottle of Lagrein Riserva from Abtei Muri (grapes from the same mountain). The lagrein was quite juicy and full bodied, good for a cold rainy night. The meal started with the antipasti buffet which was rather large but had a good mix of vegetables, local salumi, cheeses, breads and all things pickled. The second course was a simple pasta al pomodoro and followed by grilled veal chops. We finished the meal with an olive oil cake & schwarzwälder kirschtorte (or something similar). Since we just needed to walk upstairs at the end, why not sit by the fire and have a sweet wine? In general, for the meal, while there wasn’t much individual choice for what you could order, it was a nice experience to be able to eat a solidly good meal (and then have a drink + after dinner drink) and just walk upstairs to sleep. The room was elegant and lovely it was overall I would return the next time we are in the Bolzano area.

Rifugio Fuciade (Soraga, near Passo San Pellegrino)
After a day in the mountains and hiking we stayed at Fuchiade and took advantage of the gorgeous scenery (could listen to those cow bells all day!) and was happy with our experience there. The rooms were very simple and small yet charming and comfortable (we had the most incredible view of the mountains from our bathroom!) and the food was memorable. We started the evening with a Trentio DOC which was crisp and as expected. There was clearly an English menu but I believe they gave us both an Italian menu as I was (trying to) communicate in Italian. We ended up way over ordering, but alas. We started with an antipasto of salumi and cheese – local speck was delicious and a version of soprasatta was almost headcheese like and funky and delicious. Unfortunately this was about triple the size we expected. Mr. Anthrope was excited to have his first canederli and was not disappointed. The canederli were light yet packed with flavor, the broth was reach and tasted of speck with the right amount of salt and savory. I ordered a risotto of frutti di bosco, deep purple in color with dried and steamed raspberry and blueberry’s on the top, it had an almost shocking presentation. The berries gave just a hint of sweet but did not overpower. While mine was unique and delicious, and I’m happy to have tried, I have to admit I was a bit jealous of the canederli. My mistake was ordering an enormous secondi with polenta and mixed meats. By this point I was almost too full but the copper pot of stewed goodness called us in. While it was tasty, we didn’t even come close to finishing, We washed all this down with a Dorigati Diedri Riserva Toroldego which ended up being a nice choice on that almost freezing evening

Venice

As I mentioned our trip was a bit of a hodgepodge and after the Alto-Adige/Trentio we were off to Venice. After arrival and settling into our AirBnB we decided to eat something before what we knew would turn out to be a death march through the Biennale. Our apartment was very close to Campo Santa Margherita, and I had been to Osteria alla Bifora many years ago and thought Mr. Anthrope would appreciate the atmosphere for a casual-ish lunch. They weren’t very crowded and we sat inside away from the blazing sun outside (it was quite a transition to go from freezing temps in the Dolomiti to an inferno in Venice!). I ordered Mr. Anthrope a glass of prosecco and myself a soave and then went to selecting some cicheti. We had some cured meets & cheese, a selection of grilled vegetables but the hit was the “saor”. Mr. Anthrope love the gamberi in saor so much he ordered another helping. We had a comical conversation with the server (owner?) who was gregarious and friendly. Not fancy in any way, but we loved it for what it was

Schiavi (Dorsoduro)
After the inevitable trudge through the Biennale (and the heat!) we met a friend at Schiavi for a drink and some more cicheti. We took a selection outside and stood on the canal for a nice long chat with our friend. Highly recommend for their wide selection of wines and some really fun cicheti. They have a great selection of wine by the bottle as well as a pretty good selection by the glass. They were quite busy, but I was able to have a quick discussion about wine selections and tasted an interesting variety.

Locanda da Scarpa (Cavallino, Venice)
The most random (and maybe even one of the most memorable…) meals of the trip was an evening with family and friends at Locanda da Scarpa in the Cavallino. My cousin was staying here before going to the Mostra della Cinema with us. As an Italian, I don’t think he could justify the crazy expense of the hotels in the Lido and somehow he found this place. He wanted us to stay there with him, but somehow it seemed far too remote for our few days in Venice. But, Mr. Anthrope and I reluctantly trekked out there on evening to meet him before all of us going to a very late screening on the lido.

The place is not fancy at all and is tucked off a small road. It is about as far removed from the crush of tourists in Venice as possible. Upon arrival there was a lot of discussion about a lot of things and it seemed a bit chaotic. I was trying to follow and then realized that the issue was that they weren’t really open yet. My cousin was being a little pushy as we were on a short timeline; we had to leave at a specific time to take the ferry, etc. etc. Finally all sorted itself out and they explained that that evening they had spaghetti alle vongole, followed by a fritto misto di mare – that was it. Before arriving I had been resigned to just whatever happened, we were meeting my cousin, and along for the ride, etc. etc. Not loving spaghetti alle vongole and being in such an out of the way space, I reached for the prosecco and sat back. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I have to say that the spaghetti alle vongole was one of the best dishes of the trip. It was hands down, the best version of this I have ever eaten. At first I just thought I was hungry and then realized that our whole group was silent – 5 people just quietly shoveling spaghetti and clams into their mouths. What followed next was a mountain of lightly fried fish, shrimp and vegetables. While inelegant it was very tasty. We shared 2 bottles of prosecco and the price for 5 people was 100 EUR

Now, in no way I am endorsing a trip to seek this place out, but simply recapping my strange dining experience of this trip. But… if for some strange reason you happen to be in the Cavallino area of Venice for a rushed evening in the summer, you could do worse….

Venissa il ristorante (Mazzorbo)
Mr. Anthrope had one single request for our whole 3 weeks of traveling - to have a tasting menu lunch at Venissa. Really he wanted to stay there too. We took a vaporetto to Burano and walked around a bit and then walked across to Mazzorbo. The location is rather idyllic and tranquil with the hushed sounds of water lapping and breezes. After a few days with the crowds in Venice, the Biennale & mostra della cinema, it was a needed respite to arrive at Venissa. The dining room is sleek and elegant yet still welcoming and comfortable. We were seated at a table close to the open patio doors overlooking the vineyard and enjoyed the cool breeze and view to the courtyard for the whole meal. In the hours we were there, we saw only a dozen or so people walk by! We chose the 7-course menu and Mr. Anthrope chose to have the accompanying wine paring while I chose to have a few individual glasses (150 EUR per person for the 7 course menu + 70 EUR wine paring + my wine). I feel a bit badly as my memory of all we ate has faded a bit. I’m almost 100% sure we took home a menu and wine list and now I can’t find it anywhere! I didn’t write any notes specifically since we had a menu. BLERG.

The meal started with a few small bites brought to the table each in a whimsical display. One was a little fried ball of fish on a dish of snail shells; another was a crisp shrimp wafer with a pickled (fish?) served on a small piece of wood and a tiny little “taco” served on a taco shaped stand. All very fun. The first courses were paired with a lovely sparkling wine from the Alto Adige. This is where my memory of the individual dishes has unfortunately faded. There were two interesting pasta courses, the highlight being the fermented tamarind tortellini, heavy cream and angostura. This was paired with a Valpolicella Superior. Then followed by increasing innovative fish dishes, including a foam of cream with a lush pile of roe/bottarga on top. One of Mr. Anthrope’s wine paring was a glass of the Venissa wine. Truly a unique, almost, orange wine and we inquired about purchasing a bottle but at 120 (or 140) EUR for 500ml, we decided to pass. The desserts were as playful as the first courses – I loved that they presented two homemade gummy bears which burst with flavor when you bit into them.

It was a huge splurge and I am happy that we went, but I would have likely been just as happy to eat at their café and spend far less. I recognize the creativity that went into all we ate, but it was a little bit overly precious and fussy for me. That being said, I’m a lucky woman who got to spend the afternoon eating and drinking with her partner. It was a one time experience and I’m glad we went.

La Bitta (Dorsoduro)
Our last night in Venice I made a reservation at La Bitta. I had eaten there 5 years ago or so with a colleague and really enjoyed it. The evening turned out to be cool and rainy so tucking into this cozy trattoria felt like a good choice. Upon sitting down Deborah mentioned that the pasta with porcini was particularly good that night as she had just gone and purchased the day prior. After listening to our order, Deborah suggested an interesting wine from Piovene Porto Godi, a Tai Rosso. Wasn’t what I had expected, but it was a bit more simple than I had wanted an acceptable accompaniment. I know that I started with a primi but for the life of me I can’t remember and Mr. Anthrope had a carpaccio di manzo affumicato, served with a small salad and balsamico reduction. The beef was tender, and had just the right amount of smoke. I chose the tagliatelle with porcini and Mr. Anthrope had a gnocchi with gorgonzola. The porcini was a great choice, the mushrooms were delicate yet almost meaty and had an amazing flavor. We had a few porcini dishes during our time and this one was the best. The gnocchi dish was not quite as successful. The gorgonzola was delicious, but adding that to gnocchi was a little bit too heavy for my taste. But, I could imagine really liking this dish on a very cold night. We had wanted to get a secondi since I knew that La Bitta is known for their meat dishes and the rabbit and the veal all looked very good on other tables. Unfortunately the first and second courses were a bit heavy and we just couldn’t order any more meat. We finished the meal with a panna cotta, which was creamy and heavenly. One of my favorite desserts of the trip.

After Venice we had just over a week until I had to be in Milano for work and I wasn’t about to go back to the US to travel back to Italy! We decided to visit a friend in Brescia for a few days and then spend a few nights in Lago d’Iseo before going onto Milano. Our few days in Brescia involved mostly cooking at home but we took a few small trips day to Lago di Garda and to Mantova

Retrobottega, Mantova
We had an impromptu lunch in Montova at Retrobottega after strolling around the city. We started with a plate of salumi, grana padano (naturally!) and local mostarda di mantova – a sample a selection of local specialties. Then we each ordered a plate of tortelli di zucca with butter and sage. It was a nice simple and relatively quick lunch.

Osteria di Mezzo, Salò
Another last min. lunch decision after spending the morning doing some simple walks around Lago di Garda, we stopped into Osteria di Mezzo on the recommendation of our friend. The restaurant is tucked into the back of the ground floor of a building in the old section of the city. There are no windows in the dining room, but the ceilings are vaulted and high which makes for a spacious feeling. The service was pleasant and attentive. We shared an antipasto of mixed lake fish, grilled, mouse, etc. – it was all nice, but in the end a little bit underwhelming. Then we shared a pasta with seasonal vegetables & grilled fish, a plate of fried local lake fish and pesto and a pasta con bottarga. The fried fish and pastas made up for the antipasti and we were able to linger over a bottle of Monte Lupo Lugana and chat with our friend

When we arrived in Brescia our friend mentioned that she wanted to take us to her favorite restaurant and said she’d made a reservation on Sunday at 8pm. We said fine – again, we’d just be along for the ride. This friend isn’t a person who likes to eat out much and doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on restaurant planning, so I didn’t think too much about this evening. Really, after a few weeks of traveling, Mr. Anthrope and I were just happy that someone else was making decisions and that we’d be spending time with a dear friend. Then she casually mentioned the name, La Madia, and I happened to get out the Gambero Rosso + Osteria d’Italia guides and was very surprised!

La Madia, Brione
If I had to choose, this was my favorite stop of the trip. The restaurant is seemingly on the top of a mountain in Brione and about a 30 min drive from Brescia. We arrived late (see below) but were warmly welcomed regardless. Our server was very attentive and friendly – she made sure that we understood the dishes we ordered as some had ‘fantasy names’ but wasn’t in the least overbearing. After discussing our desire to start with a franciacorta with our server, we selected to start with a “Nudo” from La Fioca, was an excellent choice - natural, no added sugars, crisp and dry, yet with enough flavor to stand up to the first courses.

We were given an amuse of “aperitivi” in what appeared to be test tubes. Little aperitivi of interesting flavor combinations such as rhubarb and celery -- a little pallet cleanser to start. Mr. Anthrope ordered the ricotta gnocchi and I started with a risotto of seasonal vegetables & braulio reduction. At first glance the gnocchi seemed plain and basic, but upon eating they were light yet exploded with flavor in your mouth. The risotto was the most brilliant green color, almost to the point of artificiality. It was cooked perfectly and was sweet at first and had a solid bitter aftertaste from the Bràulio. Mr. Anthrope did not like this at all as he’s not a fan of the bitter flavor, but I loved it. The flavor was completely unique, yet the risotto was creamy and comforting. Our friend chose to start with stewed tomatoes in a lemon broth. This dish was sublime, the tomatoes were flavorful and the broth was lush, yet light, with a tart lemon bite that really balanced the sweetness of the tomato. A real highlight! We then followed with the manzo all’olio and a grilled beef with juniper sauce. We were told the manzo all’olio was typical of the region so we thought we would try. For me the flavor was really great but the beef with sauce & polenta was too heavy for me that evening. However, I found the other beef dish to be delicate, yet the savory sauce really accented the flavor of the beef nicely. We also ordered carrots which were served in multiple different ways – fun presentations of carrots 3 or so ways. They had a local wine from Ome by the carafe which went nicely with our main dishes. At this point I had eaten too much but we shared a small panna cotta with both sweet a savory herbs (very nice & just tart enough) but star of the end of the meal was the fermented coffee (was this hipster Brooklyn? ). Whatever the fermented coffee was, it was amazing and refreshing way to end the evening.

La Cantina di Manuela (Milan)
The final leg of our trip was in Milan. I had a few days of meetings and on our first night Mr. Anthrope and I met my colleagues at La Cantina di Manuela. I have been lucky enough to dine with this group on a few occasions and it’s always been a great experience. This was no different. The dining room is lively and pleasant, we were seated at a round table in the corner and it was nice to be a bit secluded. When you walk in you are met with two walls of wine so I knew the wine list was going to be ridiculous! We had a spirited discussion about what to drink who would order what and it was just fun to flip through a list like that. We settled on a Lagrein from Zemmer in Alto Adige.

We started with a large antipasti of saulmi, cheese & little puffs of fried bread (i think). All the salumi was good but there were a few cheeses from lombardia which were outstanding and really made for a great starter. I had risotto with duck ragu and Mr. Anthrope had pasta with chingale. The risotto was creamy and lovely (yeah saffron!) and Mr. Anthrope was really happy with his as well. We all ended up sharing a group of desserts, i don’t remember all that we had, but i liked the millefoglie the best and then a grappa. Overall it was a really enjoyable evening. I wouldn’t necessarily send someone here for the food, but it was a great place to linger with friends//colleagues, drink interesting wines, traditional foods and enjoy being in Milan.

Osteria del Treno (Milan)
I can honestly say that this was a great experience to end our three weeks in Italy. The previous night we had gone to the Navigli for an aperitivo and then ate at the home of some friends. I was feeling rather sad that we were going to be leaving in a day and somehow couldn’t decide on where to eat (or what for that matter). I had made two reservations and canceled for various reasons, waffling on where I wanted to eat. A few years back, I had eaten lunch, solo, at Osteria del Treno and had a lovely experience. We happened to be walking near there in between my meetings and I stopped in at lunch and asked to make a reservation for that evening and voila! It was very close to our hotel and ended up being a rather rainy night, perfect!

We immediately had a good rapport with our server, I misunderstood something he said in Italian and responded saying who knows what -- hilarity ensued. I think it was something about ordering wine - who really knows. I started with tortelli alla bietole, the pasta was thin, so much so that it almost appeared misshapen but the flavor was amazing. There was just enough bitterness to cut through the sauce, the pasta was what I would dream of being able to make - really a favorite of the trip. I almost wouldn’t share with Mr.Anthrope. He started with paccheri which were lovely, but not my tortelli. We moved on to ossobuco and the galletto. I felt that i had to have a typical Milanese dish and was really pleasantly surprised. Part of the fun conversations with our server were about wine. They steered us away from a bottle since our mains were so much heavier than the starters. We had the house white to start and then were served a red from Emilia (sorry I don’t have it here…)for the secondi. It was interesting but really balanced - enough acid to work with heavy dishes and a good amount of fruit/sweetness. We finished with a sfogliatina, some gelato and a moscato. Mr. Anthrope like the sweet wine so much he ordered another glass. We skipped back to the hotel to pack and after a really lovely meal almost forgot how sad we were to fly home the next day

*******

I almost didn’t want to add this, but here’s the end, actually the beginning…We flew into Rome (since the original plan was to travel to Abruzzo & easier to keep the inbound flight) and spent our first night there. I have been to Rome a few times in the last few years, but I was mostly alone so some of my dining choices had been based around eating alone. Since Mr. Anthrope had one night in Rome we decided to try Cesare al Casseletto. Unfortunately, I was really disappointed and overall it wasn’t a great experience. The service was really gruff, actually downright rude; it was to the point where I felt like we were an intrusion. I speak serviceable Italian but the server wouldn’t engage (not in Italian, or in English for that matter). We weren’t given a wine list, I had to ask twice, and then it was sort of tossed on the table. We were never told of the specials, but when a table of Italians was seated next to us the same server listed them off to them in great detail. The meal was overall okay, we started with but not nearly as good as I had expected. Maybe I was jaded by the service? Maybe we were too jetlagged? But the combination of less that amazing food and hard to stomach service made this unfortunately the most disappointing meal of our trip. I understand that people love this place and maybe I would give it another shot, but only if I had already exhausted all the other places I’ve loved in Rome.

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