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Jun 19, 2006 05:18 AM

Milan - avoid Trattoria Milanese, enjoy Il Ciak in Rome, find a mystery near Vaprio D'Agogna

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Milan – Trattoria Milanese, update.

For the education of an English hound will someone please tell me who is Rick Steve? Whoever, I fear, judging by a small survey at our shared table, that he has done for the Trattoria Milanese in Via Santa Marta. In fact, I suspect I must have missed the announcement that the street has recently been declared part of the union. The linguistically talented waiters not only speak English, they even understand the customers trying to speak Italian.

That said, the food was fine, if not actually exciting. Well flavoured and pleasantly saffron-scented Risotto Milanese and safely cooked but enjoyable fegato and rognone with trevisano. Cotoletto Milanese was, I am told, chewy. House red, a Barbaresco, seemed very fairly priced at 2.15 euros a ¼ litre and was very good indeed. (2 people, 2 courses each, ½ litre house red, a beer and a litre of water for 75 euros.)

A restaurant near Vaprio D’Agogna

Of probably no use to anyone is a recommendation for a restaurant about an hour west of Milan. It had no apparent sign but we drove off the main road into a courtyard, walked into a serious dining room, and were given some very serious food: a tartare of tuna with what may well have been tuna roe and this was followed by a simply stunning risotto, a specialty of the house, that was served with a truffle jus. The fillet steak that we ate afterwards was also very good but probably just ordered by our host to offer broadest appeal. A rich and complex bottle of 1999 Amarone, that may well have been ordered for the same reason as the beef, wore it’s 15.5% alcohol with great subtlety and undoubtedly caused a slight loss of focus in the afternoon. (A three hour traffic jam back to Bergamo and a missed flight did though dent the immediate enthusiasm to return.)

Rome - Il Ciak

This really did what it said on the tin. Quiet, friendly and understated. The only mistake was comparing the Banfi Montalcino with the Brunello after a couple of refreshing beers and then being unable to resist the carafes of cold grappa and limoncello left at our table with coffee. Crostini of mushroom and a liver pate were much more interesting than the salumi though I enjoyed finding a lead pellet in what I took to be wild boar though that does not seem a good way to dispatch so large a beast. Papardelle Cinghiale was enjoyable in the way that pasta always is but lacked real oomph. Bistecca Fiorentina stole the show; cooked beautifully rare, a light crust on the outside and the creamy taste of the fat in every mouthful. At 158 euros it was not cheap but the price did apparently include a magical and instantaneous transfer back to my hotel and a very loud alarm clock.

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  1. Rick Steves is an American travel writer whose books usually focus on lower priced hotels, restaurants etc. I think lots of people find his books to be the Holy Grail.

    It's a bit difficult understanding why you say to ignore Trattoria Milanese but then go on to praise the food. I had a good meal there about 8 years ago. Finding that street is part of the fun of the evening. The restaurant across the street was equally fine and very similar.

    Thanks for the other tips.

    2 Replies
    1. re: zuriga

      I also cannot quite make out what you're trying to say about TM, but I was there not too long ago and had a very good meal indeed. In fact the wine I ordered (a sforzato that the waiter recommended--he had no trouble understanding my Italian) was so fairly priced that it turns out to be the same price at the restaurant that it was in a wine store in town.

      1. re: James G

        The food was fine but not so good that I would rush back. Finding it was fun but I had walked past so many places with lively Italian customers and intersting menus that I was disappointed to eat in an environment one up from a package holiday hotel. I would rather have been where the locals have moved on to now that TM is on the Rick Steves circuit.

    2. I wrote about Rick Steves in the guidebook roundup on my blog:

      And while we’re on the subject of useless, let’s talk about Rick Steves. You might have seen this nerdy nincompoop with a backpack on TV, on one of his “through the back door” programs. The Steves formula is very odd. His guides seem to be aimed at people who want to think they’re adventurous, independent travelers while being told exactly where to go. If you have 14 days to spend in a country, Steves can tell you where to go, where to stay, and how to account for every minute of your time. He doesn’t bother with superfluous information about cities or hotels that are not on his very short list of picks. I find this approach anathema, since for me a good deal of the fun of travel is the research. A Steves recommendation can be a gold mine for a good, small hotel. Forget about trying to get a reservation at the excellent Hotel Castex in the 4th arrondissement of Paris; it’s always booked up months in advance by Steves followers (and I think this has driven the prices up). I secretly suspect Steves’ popularity has something to do with a strange fetish–that there’s an entire class of people who get off on being told where to go by a nerdy white guy.

      1. the most relevant point on Rick Steves is that food (other than for sustenance) is just about the lowest priority in his guides and consequently places recommended by him are going to be besieged by non-food oriented tourists. A bad recipe for getting a good meal.

        1. I was there a couple of years ago, food was good if a touch pricey. Had the Risotto Milanese and the Osso bucco, no complaints.

          The thing about any sort of guidebook or blog or sites like this one, is that it will definitely affect the flow of customers to places.