My husband and I spent 5 days in Venice and 9 in Bologna last month, and because of the wonderful information we found on this site, we would like to share our impressions as well. I cannot wax poetic about food the way many can on Chowhound, I just don’t have the talent, but here are our opinions:
Since there is no city on earth more identified with the sea than Venice, we focused on seafood for meals the first 5 days. We are a bit of a hard sell since we live close to one of the biggest fishing ports in the USA and are very accustomed to fresh fish. The very best meal we had in Venice was at Alle Testiere, a small, 9 or 10 table restaurant on Calle del Mondo Novo in Castello. The fish was very fresh, prepared in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways and the service was patient (even my travel Italian is pretty bad) and expert. We had a nice, cozy lunch at Osteria da Carla, a very small place near Piazza San Marco, and great pizza outdoors at Il Refolo on our first day. We would also recommend Antiche Carampane and Al Fontego dei Pescatori. Our second best meal was at Vini di Gigio (highly recommended) and the only flop of the entire two weeks was Trattoria Sempione – bad food, bad service and way, way too expensive for the product. The best gelato? Il Doge in Dosoduro.
We went to a number of fine restaurants in Bologna, the best of which was Franco Rossi – elegant, old world style service (I can’t for the life of me remember the last time I was handed a “ladies menu” without the prices), truly excellent food (despite at least one post to the contrary on the web) and a wonderfully romantic atmosphere. We would return in a half of a heart beat. Second best was a totally opposite experience. Antica Osteria Romagnola was much more a trattoria than a fine restaurant, but again, the food was outstanding and the service warm and welcoming. We had the best pasta with clam sauce there of the entire trip, Venice included. Perhaps the best of my life. Also recommended: Al Pappagallo, Battibecco, Drogheria della Rosa, and Cesarina.
A short word on gelato, an obsession of mine. I have always believed the best ice cream in the world was in Florence. I was wrong. It’s Bologna. Il Gelataurio and GROM were truly outstanding, but the hands down winner, for creaminess and intensity of flavor was La Sorbetteria Castiglione on Calle Castiglione, as fate would have it, right around the corner from our hotel! It is so difficult to experience such a great pleasure knowing the odds are not with you that you will ever experience it again. Oh well…
Modena, one of our day trips by train form Bologna, was a bit of a bust because, although it rained about 30% of this trip, this was the one day we really got soaked. Also the cathedral, one I was really looking forward to seeing, was covered in scaffolding and none of the façade was visible. This being said, this dreary day included arguably the most memorable experience of the trip – lunch at Hosteria Giusti, often described by celebrity chefs as the best restaurant in Italy. We are not about to argue with them. Up there with the White Barn Inn in Maine and Carre’ des Feuillants in Paris, this was one of the 3 best meals of our lives. We were cold, wet and hungry when we arrived at Salumeria Giusti about 45 minutes before our reservation (it is essential to make reservations as much in advance as possible), just to get out of the weather and buy some balsamic vinegar. After making our purchases we informed them that we were also there for lunch, and despite the fact that is was well before 1:00, we were cheerfully ushered back through the store into a room with 4 tables that looked every bit like the family’s private dining room. Our host was very friendly, talkative and informative, showing us the restaurant’s write up in Mario Batali’s cook book when we mentioned his name. As in all the places we visited in Italy, they were very gracious regarding splitting orders for Americans just not accustomed to eating 3 courses at lunch (uno for due), but they also offered half portions so each of us could have something different for each course if we chose to. Wonderful sausage and proscuitto appetizer, tortellini in brodo straight from heaven, pasta with duck ragu. For the secundi, I had cotechino, fried sausage with a sweetish custardy sauce. I am not a huge sausage fan, but I ordered it because it was the house specialty, and I’ll try almost anything once, and it was literally phenomenal. My husband had veal cheeks. I know it sounds “unusual” but this generous portion of slowly cooked beef in a wonderful gravy was beyond belief. What a wonderful experience. We made it a point to meet the ladies of the family who run the kitchen – we just couldn’t leave without giving our compliments. If you are in Modena, run, don’t walk, to Hosteria and Salumeria Giusti.
My Bologna shopping tip: for wonderful cheeses, vacuum packed for home, La Baita Formaggi, Via Pescherie Vecchie 3A