VERONA - Emilia Romagna - Lombardia
That is a wonderful part of Italy for good eating. There are so many cities to visit - Mantua, Modena, Bologna, Parma, Ferrara, etc.
Be sure to do a search on this board (and on the International board as well for older posts) for all the cities. You should be able to access a good number of prior posts.
In Bologna, a visit to Tamburini (one of the best food shops in Italy) is a must. You can eat a casual lunch there as well .
In Modena, a visit to Guisti (another wonderful food shop) is also mandatory. There is a small dining room there that serves a formal meal at lunch and is supposed to be excellent. It has been written about on this site. Reservations are a must.
In Verona, I had a wonderful dinner many years ago at Osteria Fontanina. It is across the river, not far from the Roman theater (not the Roman arena).
You might also want to pick up a copy of the Slow Food guide to the Osterias of Italy when you get there. It is published only in Italian, but it is not too hard get the info you need from it, even if your Italian is nominal.
Giusti is wonderful. Unfortunately, the owner died a few months ago but that should not have changed the kitchen. Booking essential. One of the best young Italian chefs Massimo Bottura of Francescana is also in Modena. His restaurant is the opposite of Giusti which is quite traditional. He is part of the new wave of international chefs which includes the Spaniards. 2 or 3 michelin stars with very sophisticated food and ambiance.
Now I can answer my own question - thanks to all for the SlowFood Osteria book suggestion - a hands down winner.
Lake Garda - Desenzano - Hotel Piroscafo and La Contrada Restaurant, both recommended by Slow Foods - both total winners. Don't miss either. I still dream about their Amarone risotto and wine recommedation.
Also in Desenzano well worth a lovely dinner is Croce d'Oro up near Via Gherla and Piazza Garibaldi - still in the historic district of town but nicely away from the tourist lake side - wonderful hosteria.
Desenzano - Gelateria Gina on Via A Papa in the main square for thick and sticky lush homemade gelato and old time local drop in feeling for cafe and "brioche".
Verona - for nostalgia sake returned to I Dodici Apostoli - still wonderful after all these years - just wonderful.
Venice - Slowfood/Chowhounders rec for Anice Stellata in the "ghetto" section of Venice a winner on both counts - wonderful seafood risotto and the most special part of Venice - quiet and serene and off the tourist beaten path - need to explore Hotel Due Mori in the same area.
Milan: Cafe A Less - wonderful serve yourself buffet - constantly replenishing savory fare - all you can eat and you can eat a lot of this wonderful array of crudites and hot dishes.
Peck's Gourmet winefood store in Milan off the Piazza Duomo for everything you ever want to take home from Italy - with the warning that you can buy some of their balsamic vinegars at the airport duty free so you can carry this precious stuff with you as carry one rather than risk it in your checked luggage if you purchase it ahead of time -- but the really old stuff, the $125 stuff is not available at the airport. Please don't forget and take this stuff with you and have it get confiscated at security if the Italian guards are not friendly (which luckily they were as I (ooops) forgot my lovely boxed package from Pecks contained liquid ..........gulp, dumb, dumb, dumb but an Italian security guard appreciates culinary devotion leading to brain glitches and allowed me to take it back to check in rather than take it away from me -- which I doubt would have happened passing through CGD -they would have taken it for themselves!
Not sure if you were able to find a Slow Food Guide in English, but not to worry, you can figure it our pretty easily. We had a hard time finding one in the states before our trip, so we made the bookstore our first stop upon arrival in Milan. We literally ate our way through Emilia Romagna and the Veneto using nothing but the SFG.
We stayed a week in the Valpolicella region in a small town called Fumane. We drank lots and lots of Amarone and ate incredible food. Valpolicella is (IMO) an extremely underrated region of Italy. The Amarone are abundant, very reasonably priced, and the places you find them at have incredible food.
Hands down one of the best meals I have ever had was at the Enotecca della Valpolicella. It is in Fumane.
Definitely check out the slow food guide for Valpolicella region.
Also, we did a day trip up to the top of Lake Garda and back, and although we did eat lunch at a SFG spot, it wasnt stellar. I got the impressoin the lake area was more about the beauty of the lake and surrounding areas than the food, but I could be wrong. It also seemed like the closer you got to the top the more touristy (catering to Swiss and Germans) it got.
If you do spend some time in Parma, you could certainly try the Corrieri Restaurant in Via del Conservatorio, just off the main Piazza Garibaldi. For lunch, the Sorelle Picchi in Via Farini is one of my favourites but get there by noon or you will find there is no space left fro you. Otherwise you could do a foody tour of some of the factories producing parmesan cheese and the parma ham. There is a company you could try contacting for this firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Verona, we really loved Bottega del Vino (Via Scudo di Francia 3). I ate a pasta dish of bigoli, the fat regional pasta, with a duck ragu that was -- to borrow the rating system of the Michelin guides -- worth a detour. We ordered Amarone with our meal, and the decanting procedure was quite a show. I believe the waiter/somelier poured some wine back and forth between two wine glasses three times before he would even allow us to take a tasting sip. Then, he used multiple decanters to repeat the process with the rest of the bottle.
Incidentally, there are two rooms in this restaurant, each with very different character. The front room is bright and hectic; the back room is darker and quieter.