Italy report: Florence, Bologna, and Milan (long)
Back from the trip and five pounds heavier!
As usual, I'm bowled over by the consistently high quality and general deliciousness of the food in Italy... I didn't have a meal that was less than damned good. That said...
Trattoria Quatri Leoni: Very tasty and a great value! Fresh tagliarini with shaved white truffles was around $9 and sooo delicious. Stewed wild boar with polenta for me and grilled beef breast with green sauce for my husband were delicious as well. With house wine the meal came to under $60.
I Toscano: Simple food, pleasant service... Spaghetti alla Anatra (duck sauce) was rich and earthy. My veal chop was tender and simply grilled. My husband had the daily risotto, a very light seafood preparation, and broiled grouper, which was incomparably fresh... 1/2 bottle each of better white and red wines, antipasti of ham and salami, coffee and grappa, came to around $80.
Nerbone: (food stand in the central market) We ate lunch here every day! Ribollito for two, boiled beef panini with green sauce, and 1/2 carafe of house wine were about $9 total... I can not tell you how good those sandwiches were! If you have ever had a Chicago-style Italian beef, you have a vague starting point... but the bread is crusty and tender and fresh, and the beef is succulent and perfectly seasoned, and the sauce is piquant and garlicky. I am still thinking about those sandwiches...
Trattoria Garga: Good, but not a favorite. I had the much lauded Pasta Magnifica and roasted lamb. My husband had ribollito and a second course that I can't recall... with house wine and strawberries for dessert, the bill was around $130, which I felt was not the best value, especially compared to other places we ate. When we got back to Chicago the new Saveur was waiting, which featured Garga on its cover. I was frankly a little surprised that Saveur found this restaurant to be such a stand-out.
Osteria De Benci: MMM, tasty! Another antipasto of ham and salamis. My husband had the better meal, with pasta with sea urchins and a huge Florentine steak. I had a less distinguished pasta with sausage, followed by an excellent HUGE roasted pheasant. A delicious raspberry tart, coffee, and nocino closed the meal for less than $70. I thought this place was a bargain.
Da Ganino: This place is pretty frequently written up and I'd say the food was about what I expected it to be. Very well prepared, simple, and slightly more expensive than it should have been. The frito misto and tiramisu were particularly good.
Trattoria Enzo e Piero: This place was my favorite. It was SOOOOOOO good. I had both specials. The risotto with chestnuts and roasted pigeon was unusual and delicious to the point that I seriously considered not letting my husband taste it. The osso bucco was out of this world. The veal was tender but very flavorful with good texture and body. I ate every edible scrap and dug out the marrow. My husband had yet more tagliarini with truffles ($6!) and a mixed grill that he reported as excellent... with dessert, coffee, nocino, and a $20 bottle of wine, the check came to $60. Unbelievable. I can't recommend this place highly enough.
Montegrappa Da Nello: Delish! The salad of raw artichokes, white truffles, and parmesan is really unusual and piques the appetite, which is helpful, since the food to come is rich and plentiful! My husband had the veal special, which was a breaded cutlet covered in white truffles and cream sauce... he had the house pasta as a first course, and it was seriously the best pasta I've ever tasted. Big, resilient papardelle in a rich, meaty, sauce with a strong hint of anise. My pasta, the daily special, was good but very salty. I followed up with two roasted partridges... dessert was not even an option. With a half-bottle of house wine and a much needed digestivo, we waddled out of there for around $100.
Bitone: This was the only place we visited that disappointed me. I had high expectations based on lots of good reports from travellers and locals alike. The restaurant itself was beautiful and much fancier than the average Italian restaurant. The food failed to impress, however... it wasn't bad, by any means, but it was a little mediocre. I had risotto with "fall flavors" which included (to my surprise) pieces of brocolli and carrot that tasted as if they had been frozen. My filetto with green peppercorns was fine-- I just wanted it to be better than fine. My husband had the house tortellini, which were covered in a somewhat gloppy saffron sauce. His beef with artichokes was frankly weird. The house wine was delicious, which was reflected in its price... I actually don't know how much the meal cost because I chose to have my husband look at the bill rather than be irritated by it myself. But it was a lot. Interestingly, this place has a Michelin star... it was rather french-ish, come to think of it.
Il rifugho di ghittone: (I think I am mispelling this. The translation is the Glutton's Retreat.) Tasty. I was really tired, though, and don't remember everything... I had spaghetti with Botarga and a pizza. I can't remember what my husband had. The meal was good but I wouldn't call it a destination reaturant, unlike...
Ristorante da Ilia: My second favorite place. Packed to the gills and lively, this place offered truly terrific food. We started off with sweet parma ham with a vague flavor of nuts. My husband had risotto with a MOUND of shaved white truffles. Really divine. He followed up with grilled monkfish, perfectly charred on the outside and tender inside. It was seasoned with rosemary, which my husband was initially somewhat suspicious of but declared delicious. I had freshly made raviolli of spinach and sage. SO GOOD! Then I had a pan-friend baby chicken with salty, crispy skin. The chicken was tender but had the muscular texture of a chicken who has lived his short life outside of a cage... it was terrific. Since it was our last night, we splurged on an interestingly spicy bottle of Nebbiolo. Zuppa Inglese, tiramisu, coffee and grappa all came to around $130. Not cheap, but worth every bite. I would definitely go back!
Hope this is of interest or assistance! Liz
Liz, I'm sorry for your experience at Bitone. I was last there about two years ago and it was superb. I assume it's the same chef/owner but still, I'm sorry that your experience didn't match my memory.
Curiously my wife and I just returned from Milan, Florence and Umbria on Sunday. Our last meal was at Milan's best restaurant, the two star Aido e Namia. There were at least four reports on this board that raved about it along with comments and ratings in Gambero Rosso, Guida d'Italia and others. We had two appetizers, two pasta courses, two entrees and (embarrassingly) three desserts. There wasn't a single one that we thought was better than passable.
With a bottle of Cepperello the bill was $440 for two and this did NOT include the $75 white truffle pasta which had half the amount of shavings as the $25 white truffle pasta I had two nights before at Parione behind the Excelsior in Florence (which also had an exemplery ribbolleto and bisteca(sp?).
Anyway, there are those on this board who will react to my comments in the same way that I did to your's about Bitone, with disappointment. The chef/owner was everpresent in the dining room as was (then) the exuberant chef/owner of Bitone. Still I am certain that you shared a similar disappointment in Bologna that we did in Milan at a restaurant that was expected to be among the highlights of the trip.
I am sorry for both of us.
re: Joe H.
The restaurant, Il Postale, that we went to in Umbria and I reported on below was superb, just superb. Certainly some of the best dishes that I've had. Having said this I know we will go back. It may be two or three years but we will go back. I know the novelty and sense of adventure will not be there as it was the first time. Still, somehow, I doubt that it will completely live up to my memory or the expectations it will have fostered over this time.
Pariole on the other hand is owned by the man who owned di Vinus two years ago which I also raved about on here. He sold di Vinus, opened Parione taking most of the staff with him and he hasn't missed a beat. Every bit as good as my memory. But this is more of "if you're grandmother cooked Tuscan and was a seriously good home cook" type of food. Which, for us both times, was absolutely perfect.
re: Joe H.
My wife and I were back at it in early February and it was nowhere near as good as our trip in early December. In fact their bisteca which, at di Vinus (his previous restaurant) had been extraordinary, was no better than decent. A dish of linguini with white truffles was still excellent but the riboletta was disappointing. On both visits the restaurant was crowded and the owner was there. I would guess that he has changed chefs since even the bisteca was given a different presentation, on a plate rather than on a bed of arugula on a wooden platter.
Sorry to hear this was so disappointing since our last visit was also.
Ah - Enzo e Piero! Wonderful.. Our hotel owner recommended it for lunch - it was terrific. Got there before the crowd and had a chance to speak to the owner, his daughter and his son.
I loved the Central Market, too. If you are a food person, its a must! Much nicer that the Central Market in Rome. Venice's market was amazing, too.
I remember the sandwich place you were discussing in the Central Market in Florence. What caught my eye were those amazing rolls. Never tried one of their sandwiches because we were there very early in the morning. Great all silk ties right outside the door - $5.00!