We recently spent time in some of Northern Italy. Thank you to the many of you whose posts on this forum helped us immensely. Our food-related notes follow below, although of course we suggest you take them with the usual grains of salt.
Verona, Rubano, and In Between:
We began our jet-lagged trip with a day and a night in Verona. We had gelato at a few stops. Gelateri Ponte Pietra (Via Ponte Pietra, 13) was pleasant, but our favorite gelato stop in Verona was Savoia (Via Roma, 1b); they had interesting and rich flavors. In the mood for pastries, we had a nice visit to Pasticceria Barini (Corso Porta Nuova, 8), including trying their recommended speciality and the baci di Giulietta (Juilet’s kisses). Later in the day we had a less interesting or successful stop for pastries at Pasticceria Castelvecchio (Corso Castelvecchio, 21), so we wouldn’t recommend it, although maybe it was too late in the day for the pastries to still be sufficiently fresh. Too ignorant to recognize that it was a chain, we had a smattering of chocolates from a Venchi store. They hit the spot, but generally we found them a bit too sweet and not as satisfying as later chocolate stops (discussed below).
Dinner was at Al Pompiere (Vicolo Regina d’Ungheria, 5). The salumi and cheese were enjoyable, particularly as the latter was paired with a spicy apple jam. The pastas were good, including the tagliatelle, and particularly the tomato sauce that accompanied the gnocchi. But the second courses were very unfortunate. My wife’s lamb was tough, overcooked, and lacking in flavor. My calf liver was no better than what I try to make at home, coming out uninteresting and lacking any frying (for which a cooked liver seems to yearn). The only enjoyable part was the accompanying poletna. The desserts were nice though, particularly the mille-feuille.
The next day we drove slowly towards Rubano, stopping in Vicenza, Marostica, Bassano del Grappa, Castelfranco Veneto, and Treviso. Very pleasant towns with nice chocolate and pastry stops. (Unfortunately our memory fails us on specifics.)
Dinner was at Le Calandre. Once again, this was the favorite food and restaurant experience of our trip abroad. Nothing was a miss, and some items, like a linguine and beet risotto were home runs. Remarkably, the one item we did not like last time at the restaurant, a lobster spaghetti, was provided to us complimentarily, and amazingly, the problems in the dish were fixed. As mentioned in prior posts, the service was perfect for our tastes.
We spent the next day in Ferrara and Ravenna, and none of the food stops, including mediocre piadini, merit mention here.
The following dinner was at Da Gianni in Bologna (Via Clavature, 18). The room was cute, albeit very very bright (so, not very romantic). The tortellini en brodo and tagliatelle bolognese were both on point and warming, but not the best of our trip. Same for the salumi starter and the secondi (lamb and a pig, we believe).
Lunch the following day at Osteria Bottega (Santa Caterina 51) was our favorite meal in Bologna. The salumi was very enjoyable, and we had some of the better pastas of our trip here, including a perfect pumpkin ravioli and an on-point lasagna. No space or time for secondi or dessert unfortunately! We wish we did!
Dinner was at Via Serra (Via Luigi Serra 9 / b). The environment and service were fantastic and comfortable. But the appetizers were straightforward and not too interesting, tasting mainly of fried cheese. (The mains were good but not memorable.)
A few notes regarding snacks in Bologna.
We had the candied chestnuts and Atti & Figli (Via Caprarie, 7), but were not that taken with what tasted like just a pile of sugar.
Gelateria Gianni (in front of le due torri) was a pleasure, as it presented the most interesting different and original gelato flavors. We also enjoyed some flavors at Il Gelatauro (Via San Vitale, 98). But our favorite stop in Bologna (and perhaps the whole trip) was Cremeria San Stefano. It helped that it was open late, but the flavors were wonderfully rich and perfectly sweet (and paired well when stuffed inside a fresh-tasting and lightly-salted focaccia).
Modena, Parma, Zibello, etc.:
Lunch the following day was at Hosteria Giusti. Perhaps due to our lofty expectations and the press regarding Giusti, we were a bit underwhelmed with the actual food. The gnocco was fine, but we had better gnocco at other stops. The minestrone fritters were good, but left us feeling mainly the sense of eating fried food and little else. The pastas and secondi were similarly enjoyable, but not the best of our trip. We were satisfied with the stop, but would not make a trip back here.
In contrast to lunch, dinner that evening at Hosteria Da Ivan was one of our favorite (if not favorite) meals of the entire trip. Everything here from soup to nuts (note: the meal lacked soup and nuts) was wonderful. Particular favorites were the gnocchi with mushroom sauce, the culatello plate, and the lasagna. Changing the trend of disappointing secondi on the trip, the tartare/crudo and my wife's pasta kept the good food coming. And the zabaglione dessert was the perfect combination of hot, sweet, and alcoholic. Ivan was incredibly friendly and wonderful, perhaps more than any other host. He chatted with us (despite our broken Italian), took a photo with us, and even showed us the kitchen. We would come back in a heartbeat.
We started the next morning with a tour at Antica Corte Pallavicina. As others have said, it is a charming spot and very fascinating to tour the culatello basement. The staff was wonderful and the tasting afterward was very pleasant. There were no other visitors on our tour, which made it more special (and almost eerie) when we were left alone in the cellar for a period of time!
Lunch at Trattoria La Buca was a pure delight. Our culatello as well as the pasta with cooked culatello was wonderful, while my wife enjoyed the pumpkin ravioli. Our server (an older woman with red hair and glasses) was incredibly welcoming, thankfully encouraging us to order additional pasta dishes. Dessert, particularly the zuppa inglese, was a perfect end to the meal.
Dinner at Ristorante Angiol D’or (Vicolo Scutellari, 1) in Parma was a pleasant surprise. Being right next to the Duomo, we were suspicious it was a tourist trap. But we had wonderful culatello and torta fritta. The veal tartare was nice, as were the pastas.
Lunch the following day was at Dal Pesactore. The staff, service, and people were all wonderful. The Santini family made us feel welcome, comfortable and special. They even, at their insistence, warmly invited us into the kitchen to meet (and get a photo) with Nadia. Given how pleasant and wonderful they were, it pains us to say anything negative about the establishment. But for those considering going, we did find the persistent few flies around our table off putting throughout the meal. (It smelled as if the outdoors had been freshly-fertilized, and they freely permit people to go in and out of the restaurant into a courtyard for a smoke break, hence explaining the flies in the dining room.) We had one of the longer tasting menus. None of the dishes knocked us off our feet (as at Calandre, for instance), but none were disappointing, save for a lobster dish that lacked much of any taste beside raw-ish lobster. The desserts in particular were very straightforward and uninspiring. In sum, the service and staff are wonderful and feel special, but we would opt for La Buca or Da Ivan before returning here.
Dinner that evening was at Osteria La Torre in Cherasco. What a fantastic dinner. We enjoyed the tajarin with sausage ragu, as well as some sort of white truffle pasta.
The following day had us touring south of Alba. We had a very pleasant cheese sampling at Giolito, and purchased some wonderful cheeses we enjoyed later. We also had a pleasant salumi stop in Bra. Returning to Cherasco, we got some Baci di Cherasco at Ravera; they perfectly hit my desired combination of nuts and dark chocolate. They also had some sweeter but still delicious bars of hazelnuts and chocolate. Moving to Barolo, after a tour at WiMU (the wine museum inside Castle Falleti), we did some wine tasting and purchasing, including at a nearby shop in Barolo. The Castello de Grinzane not far way proved a nice spot to enjoy some of our wine and chocolate (notwithstanding the signs discouraging picnics).
Dinner was at La Bottega del Vicolleto (Via Bertero, 6) in Alba. We ate here only because we were staying in Alba and did not want any night time driving. The setting and food were fine, but nothing remarkable.
In marked contrast, we finished the evening with perhaps some of the best gelato of our trip at Gelateria La Romana (Corso Italia, 2a). After being pointed here by a local, we were overjoyed by the perfectly sweet and creamy gelato as well as the interesting flavors.
The following day was a Barbaresco wine tour.
Lunch at Belbo da Bardon was fine, but a bit underwhelming. Given all the praise on CH for Belbo, we were surprised by how it seemed a step down in food quality from most of our other meals. The breadsticks were remarkably stale. Our server accidentally served us pasta before our antipasti. (Also, as a point of clarification, one person here once wrote the pasta is “unlimited;” we were not expecting as much, but the pasta instead is brought out in a serving plate, from which they provide a normal and limited amount of pasta.) We enjoyed the pasta, particularly the deceptively simple plin. But I’m not sure it was better than any other trattoria or restaurant we visited. Our secondi were a bit of a let down. The sampling of 3 meats I had ranged from tasting like day-old holiday roast beef to an improperly cooked (too tough) pig rib. My wife’s finanziera was fine, but nothing remarkable. Interestingly, our server then asked us what the finanziera tasted like and explained neither she nor many people she knew have had it, which surprised us, given we thought it was a regional specialty.
Dinner at Osteria Veglio (Frazione Annunziata, 9) in La Morra, however, was fantastic. We now understand why it is one of Allende's favorites in Piedmont. The room, the staff, and the food were all wonderful. There were no lowlights.
The next day was lunch at Il Centro in Priocca (Via Umberto I, 5). The eggs with white truffles was one-sided, under-seasoned, and boring. But everything else delivered, including the carne cruda. And the family were wonderful hosts.
We began with dinner at Del Cambio. What a mistake. Yes, the room is rather opulent and the service staff are good. But this was the worst food of our entire trip. We ordered one of the longer tasting menus. Everything that came out of the kitchen was usually over salted or disproportionately salted. It seemed that whoever was preparing our food was having a torrid love affair with sea salt crystals, just haphazardly dumping them on all our food. We did not complain at first, assuming perhaps we did not appreciate the appropriately salty palate. Then we received a scallop dish that was so unappetizing we could not finish it, as the scallops were some of the worst we had eaten in years: not fresh, overcooked, and nearly as tough as hockey pucks. My wife was reduced to quietly yelling to me in her best Gordon Ramsay voice, "these bloody scallops are rubbery!" The wait staff noticed that we left most of the scallops and insisted on a replacement of shrimp in a hazelnut sauce. Perhaps this was prepared by someone else in the kitchen, as it was the only dish that was consistently and appropriately cooked and salted (even if otherwise unremarkable and not dynamic). Most every dish was either monochromatic or a poor take on creative food. For example, we were provided a “lasagna” that substituted the pasta out for salty (no surprise) seaweed. It tasted as if something my healthy friend would make if trying to serve an uninspired low-carb pasta. When the kitchen wasn’t failing at creativity, it was delivering one-dimensional dishes, including desserts so straightforward and uninspiring it made us wish we had instead gone for mediocre gelato. In short, this is the only stop on our entire trip that we would specifically advise against visiting.
Lunch the next day consisted of sampling various sweets around Turin, including the bicerin at Caffe al Bicerin. The chocolates at Guido Gobino were nice, albeit generally not too inspiring. In contrast, Giordano Chocolates (Piazza Carlo Felice, 69) was our favorite stop of the day, and perhaps chocolate on the trip. The proprietors were wonderfully warm and helpful and the chocolates were uniformly interesting (and rich!).
One stop of the day was simply disgusting: Peyrano-Pfatisch (Corso Vittori Emanuelle II, 76). We walked into a store with no other customers present. We asked in our best (albeit imperfect) Italian for recommendations, specialities, or favorites. In perhaps the only time in our lives when any Italian has treated us poorly, the women working there laughed at us. They then turned around and ignored us. We could not believe it. We left empty handed and made a bee line back to Giordano.
We enjoyed the gelato at two Alberto Marchetti stops (one on Corso Vittori Emanuelle II, the other on Via Po). They had a very nice zabaglione flavor as well as an interesting white chocolate with caramel and crunchy hazelnut. We tried the ice cream on a stick at Pepino (Piazza Carignano, 8), which claims to have invented chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick. It was fine, but if you want such an item, we strongly suggest “Alter Ego gelateria” on Via Po, just across from Marchetti. They do a much sweeter, rich, and interesting take on ice cream on a stick that we thoroughly enjoyed.
While in Turin, we had enjoyable but not overly memorable dinners at Consorzio and La Badessa.
A late dinner at Victoria hit the spot. We went here only because we had very few options at 11:45 after the opera, and the staff was warm and open, with fast service. Unfortunately the risotto was too watery and the tartare was under seasoned. Our other dinner in Milan was at Pisacco, which was better, but less traditional, including with a very nice saffron risotto.
While in Milan, our favorites worth mentioning were the chocolate-flavored gelati at Chocolat (Via Giovanni Boccaccio), delightful pastries from Sugar (via Vincenzo Monti), and wonderful prosciutto and cheese from a local market near Sugar.
Thanks again to the many of you who directly and indirectly helped us plan this trip!