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Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna suggestions?

I will be travelling in Northern Italy late June - early July, with 10 days at a conference in Gardone and about a week travelling to/from there, probably From Milan. We've never visited Milan so this will probably mean a couple of days in that City, and have spent little time in the north outside of the Veneto... Thinking about Bergamo, Mantova and one or more of the cities in Emilia-Romagna as stops. We have been in Parma but these other places will be new to us. Ive been poring over Slowfood, Italy for the Gourmet Traveller, etc. - we tend toward well done regional food as opposed to highly innovative stuff - any suggestions of especially rewarding stops???. Im hoping for some wonderful long lunches!

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  1. On October 10, 2001, R.W. Apple wrote a lengthy article about an hostaria in the Emilian countryside named Da Ivan. After reading the article, I have always wanted to visit the place, but have never had a chance. You can find the article at nytimes.com and decide for yourself whether it is worth a visit.

    It is located in Fontanelle, not too far from Parma.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DavidT

      Cremona is also a town well worth visiting. I was there 10 years ago, so I am having a hard time remembering the names of places where we dined. I remember having some very good meals and seeing some first-class food shops there. Check your Slow Food guide for recommendations.

      1. Don't miss Mantova. There's great food shopping and a few restaurants that seem right up your alley. I really liked Trattoria due Cavallini. For Emilia Romagna you should book your table at Giusti now. Don't overlook Ferrara which has some good traditional restaurants as well. The only downside is that the specialties of this region tend to be heavy and aren't the best summer fare but I'm sure you'll deal.

        1. In Quistello near Mantova--L'Ambasciata. Near Modena- Clinica Gastronomica di Arnaldo(awesome Bolliti Misto cart). Also Dal Pescatore

          1. thanks much for all of the recommendations. I am sure I am overthinking and over-researching this trip majorly. what ever happened to just letting things happen, just seeing an appealing place and walking in, especially in Italy?
            Our itinerary is Busseto, Parma, Rubiera (near Modena), Mantova, Gardone Riviera (10 days with local side trips) Bergamo (with day trip to Milan) and, I think Oleggio nr Malpensa for last night.

            I havent yet reserved or planned for the following so I could still use suggestions:
            Sunday lunch/dinner in or near Parma
            Monday light lunch Parma/Reggio Emilia area (we are at Arnaldo that night and the following)
            Mantova - Wednesday dinner
            in Mantova or between Mantova and Gardone (s.w. side of Lake Garda) - Thursday lunch
            Gardone/Salo/Brescia area lunches
            other good lunch destinations, both sides of Lake Garda, Bardolino etc reachable by boat or car
            Trento - Sunday lunch
            Bergamo (Monday and Tuesday nights)
            Milano - Tuesday lunch

            thanks again!

            6 Replies
            1. re: jen kalb

              We had a truly memorable dinner 2 years ago at La Rucola, in Sirmione on Lake Garda. One Michelin star but we thought it was worthy of higher praise. Beautifully presented food, bold flavors, great reasonably priced local wines (if they still have Bradisismo, order it), fine service. They are also open for lunch, but I'm not sure if they are closed on any days. The website does not list hours.


              1. re: jen kalb

                We were just in Mantova on Monday and my friend's colleague who grew up there recommended Fragaletto (sp?) on Via Academia. The place was packed with locals (it was a holiday here), the food was fantastic featuring lots of Mantovan specialties and great wines too. Everything was delicious, I can't recommend it highly enough.

                1. re: stkorn

                  thanks for the recommendation on Fragoletto. Its come up on lists elsewhere too. What did you have that you liked??

                2. re: jen kalb

                  Just got back from Milan. My two favorite lunches were at:
                  Latteria San Marco (Via San Marco 24).
                  Trattoria degli Orti (Via Monviso 13).
                  Both excellent, though a little more expensive than the average trattoria.
                  You may wish to buy a copy of the Slow Food Italy guide now printed in English: Osterie &Locande D'Italia A Guide to Traditional Places to Eat and Stay in Italy by Slow Food Editore. Great guide to inexpensive quality places to eat. Real Chow material.

                  1. re: Biroldo

                    thanks for the reccs. Just one day to visit Milan and I am wondering whether we will even sit down for a meal....and where.

                    I really like the slowfood guides. When I compared my english book side by side with the italian food only edition, I realized there were fewer restaurants and winebars in the former than the latter.

                    1. re: Biroldo

                      I love this book. it's got a permanent spot on my nightstand.

                  2. If you want to make the drive up to the eastern side of Lake Maggiore, then check out the tasting menu at Il Sole di Ranco. It's a nice hotel, too. You'll sit outside, overlooking the lake, and have one of the finest meals of your life. When I was there last, it ended up costing about $120 per person for the 12 course tasting menu. Absolutely incredible.

                    1. Also just back from Milan and the Bologna area. In Milan, I highly recommend L’Assassino, Via Amedei 8
                      Da Giacomo, 6 Via Pascale Sottocorno
                      Hosteria Borromei, Via Borromei 4 (lovely covered patio for lunch)
                      Nabucco, via Fiori Chiari 10 (near the Brera)

                      Do NOT go to Al Pont de Ferr, Ripa di Porta Ticinese 55 in the Navigli which is listed in Slow Food. I had read many good reviews, but it must have changed hands as the food is horrendous and the service is to match.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: drbbaldwin

                        I completely agree with the bad news about Al Pont del Ferr at Navigli.

                      2. We just got back from a long weekend in Bergamo, and I thoroughly recommend La Colombina, an osteria serving rustic food just outside the old city walls (on Borge Canale, I think, near the Colle Aperto). It was the best place we ate in the city - don't miss the stuffed pasta (casoncelli) which is a speciality of Bergamo and served pretty much everywhere. We also had a great salume platter, which came with the obligatory polenta (I don't much like polenta and thought my visit to Lombardy might change that - it didn't!).

                        Also fun for a very cheap lunch is the Cooperativa Citta Alta, just off the main street in the old city. At lunchtimes it's full of Italian office workers, and in the evenings there are lots of families until about 10pm, when it fills up with students. Incredibly good value and tasty food.

                        We also liked Da Franco (also on the main street). Huge portions and pizzas from a wood-fired oven. We didn't have time to go, but Sole on the corner of Piazza Vecchia also has a good reputation.

                        The only place we didn't like was Da Mimmo - a very well-established restaurant which was packed to the rafters when we went on a Saturday night. We had a reservation, but were put on a terrible table in a corner, and virtually ignored by our waiter. They were very busy, but we weren't made to feel very special. Half the staff were surly teenagers, which didn't help. The food was actually quite good, but it just goes to show how important atmosphere is.

                        Oh, and Bergamo is stunning, by the way. They're having a heatwave in Italy at the moment (34C on the day we left), so if you're going in the near future don't plan too much!

                        1. For Milano, no problem if you don't have time for lunch in a restaurant. There is a great little place near the Duomo that does these amazing "panzarotti" which are like little stuffed pizzas with a variety of fillings, but my favorite is the simple one with mozzarella, basil, & tomato. It's called Luini and is on a side street off the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele (which is the main shopping street that runs alongside the Duomo). The side street on which it's on runs between the big Rinascente dept. store & galleria manzoni (i think). If you're there around lunch time, you'll see a long line of locals. There's no where to sit inside...it's just counter service, but everyone just sorta hangs out & eats. It's unforgettably yummy & cheap!

                          I agree with GreedyGirl in that Bergamo "Citta Alta" is a stunning place! Some of my husband's family is from that area and we have always had good food experiences there. Like greedygirl said, you must try the casoncelli pasta...it's so yummy...little stuffed pasta with butter, parmesan, sage, pancetta & cheese! There are a couple of really good places walking along the main street in the old town, just before you get to the main piazza. Sorry, but I can't remember the names...I think you might see the Slow Food sticker in the window, however.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: msmarabini

                            Oh, it is so very nice that you know Luini !!! oh, yes, I completely agree that its panzarotti are great and a smart back-up solution to avoid lunch and prepare brain and body for a very delicious dinner.
                            As we're talking about it, but not because it is a big deal, the name of Galleria is Vittorio Emanuele.
                            By the way of Manzoni, a very central street, nice to walk along, is Via Manzoni, whose starting point is from the square where there is the famous Scala.

                          2. OK we are back and Im going to put my trip report here, probably in pieces. Our itinerary was a circle out of Milan, with stops in Busseto, Parma, Rubiera (incl Modena) Mantova, Gardone Riviera, and Bergamo (we ended in Oleggio but did not plan ahead and consequently could not get in at our desired last night stop the cat and the wolf there) This was LOW season and in a heat wave so ideal in some respects but not others.

                            Our first meal was at Il Cavallino Bianco, in Polesine Parmense, in the Bassa Parmense ("Lower Ground" near Parma. http://www.acpallavicina.com/cavallin...

                            This is the low-lying steamy area near the Po where the legendary Culatello is made. "The Horse" is a long standing Inn on the banks of the Po that serves primarily its own pork production and also offers fish from the river. We ate in a tavern type area (I think its call Il Tipico di Casa Spigaroli)- they also have dining rooms and outside eating areas - it looks like for many local parties. In addition to being recommended by many writers this place was a favorite of the local parma hounds writing on tolasudolsa.com so we chose it over da Ivan and al Vedei, the other main contenders for this meal., though there were many - dozens of dining choices for this area of devoted eaters of the pig.

                            Well, we ordered a first course of a selection of their meats, tagliatelle with culatello, tortelli with chard and cheese and secondo of storione (sturgeon). When the meats came out, with some dry-ish bread (a theme of the region) we knew we had a problem, because it was a huge board just covered with cuts of culatello, along with 5 other cured pork products of their production, Iincluding strolghino and mariola, two soft textured salami products and I think coppa. I immediately went back and cancelled one pasta course because we just didnt have the capacity to handle this much food. Lesson - order 1 for 2 when ordering these salumi plates. The culatello was sweet and delicious, itself well worth the trip - the tortelli were lovely and delicate, sturgeon was perfectly cooked with some vegetables and herbs not the least wooly or dry like some of these firm fish can be, very good. We drank their house lambrusco, which was I believe made on the property, and finished with coffee and a glass of their very fine sburlon (quince) liqueur. boy did I rue not buying a bottle to bring home but I wasnt ready to start lugging souvenirs after the very first meal. thanks to Fred Plotkins book for giving us this perfect intro to our trip.

                            Busseto is a lovely little old town, the homeplace of Verdi of course. We stayed but did not eat (despite its good rep) at the Il Due Foscari hotel there - in the town are a couple of places for more casual eating that looked really promising - Sapori di Bassa ("Taste of Lower") is a food shop specializing in cheeses and the local meats that is right off the main square, facing the side of the church, a big favorite of the local website, but just closing as I arrived on Sat night. There is also a casual restaurant on the main street not far s. of the square called I think Verdiana where crowds of locals were eating platters of the local cured meats with pickled veg, green sauce to dip their dry bread in. both looked like they would have been good alternatives if we had wanted more than a drink that night.

                            Day 2 was a Sunday so we headed for Parma because of closing day-hour issues irrelevant to a food site. Summer Sundays in Italy are for spending in country restaurants over leisurely meals, but we had to see the cultural sites that day.. Luckily, Trattoria del Tribunale was open and serving so after deathmarching around finding other places closed, we were able to rest and enjoy a pleasant meal including a delicious plate of salumi including the parma ham this time, gnocchi with asparagus (fine gnocchi but not my fave sauce) and a sweet and sour country salad with fried porky bits, rather like a very good spinach salad. We drank a nice bottle of malvasia, the local white with this and enjoyed it.

                            Stayed that night at Country House (Agriturismo) Leoni, recommended by Hornvixen here and elsewhere. Very nice people, and we took and very much enjoyed their tour of the cheese factory and farms the next day (Up to 25E per person tho, for the tour and a cheese and wine snack after). The factory was one of the highlights of our trip.
                            the sunday night we were not very hungry but they opened up the shop on the farm and sold us a very fine salami and a bottle of their lambrusco for next to nothing. With some scrounged up bread and an apple this made an excellent inexpensive dinner. the salami accompanied us through our journey!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Oh, dear Jen, I read your notes about Cavallino Bianco and I could not agree more. In few hours, I am leaving from my home to go thereat, Polesine Parmense, as at 7pm, at Antica Corte Pallavicina, it will begin the "Festa del Culatello" with guided tour to the farm and then a very delicious dinner at Cavallino Bianco prepared by the chef Massimo.
                              I wish that tourists can understand and feel better how great and smart place it is to taste the best Italian cooking.

                            2. trip report part 2 - Rubiera (Arnaldo's Clinica Gastronomica)
                              Our third stop was at Arnaldo's/Aquila d'Oro, a comfortable ancient inn in the pleasant town of Rubiera, about 15 mi west of Modena. The hotel is a great civilized stop the restaurant is extraordinary, As others have explained service is partly on carts and partly a la carte. For us, the goal was to get a sampling of the classic emilian dishes, and this meal served wonderfully for that. You have a choice of ordering particular dishes or sampling from the carts. Torta fritta (or gnoccho frito), fried dough that is a little like pie crust is first served, along with bread. I thought it odd to serve this cold, and separately from the antipasti, but thats the way they do it.

                              Here's a link to their site - http://www.clinicagastronomica.com/ri...
                              One gets the feeling the menu is basically unchanging and perfected

                              We chose an antipasto sampling to start, which gave us some of everything on the massive antipasto cart, including stellar prosciutto di parma and other salumi sliced in front of us, as well as samples of cheeses, a mushroom/celery/parm salad and other items including the reggio specialty erbazzone, a flat greens-stuffed bread. Mostly wonderful, just a couple of items fell short of deliciousness for me.

                              For a second course, we decided to order and share a "tris" - a plate with three homemade pasta specialties - we chose the gnocchi with butter and parmigiano-reggiano, their specialty, spugnalato, a delicate and creamy layering of ethereal pasta besciamella, mushroom sauce and cheese, and tagliatelle al sugo d'estivo, delicate noodles in a subtle and difficult to analyze vegetable-based sauce. The gnocchi were merely very good gnocchi, but the other two dishes were uniquely interesting and the spugnalato just wonderful in its combination of flavor and delicate texture.

                              After these large courses we moved onto the secondi - my husband ordered (this was a 93F day!) the bollito misto, which of course I could share - I called over the vegetable cart and ask for them to compose me a salad and was delivered a fine large salad made with balsamic vinegar (NOT Tradizionale) - there was really not much else in the way of cooked vegetables on that cart, by the way - mostly in the realm of crudites, and some steamed green beens which the next table ordered with the same treatment as my salad.
                              Now, that bollito misto was fascinating - the broth I believe was made with capon , and what we were served was pieces of beef, tongue, zampone cured ham, chicken and some bready dumpling, - this was accompanied by their honey mostarda, a fiery regional fruit sauce flavored with mustard, and green sauce. this last surprised me with its fresh delicate flavor, and lacked the sharp flavors I had expected. It was very good, and I particularly loved the tongue - this from a person who has not sampled tongue since childhood, with its wonderful beefiness. The mostarda was particularly good with some of the richer meats, we were converted.

                              At this point we were extremely "complete" however I decided to look at the dessert cart - I was fixated on the pear with zabaglione that michelin mentions, so we had that, and some cherries, in season and regional. Very good but not worth the added stress on my digestive tract!

                              I failed to mention the very highclass lambrusco they offered as their house wine, the extremely cordial service and welcoming, convivial atmosphere. we were surrounded by all sorts of groups, including a group of workmates and a couple of older men who held hand with the very well dressed "daughters" who accompanied them.

                              the one thing I greatly regret was not sampling their cappelletti in brodo - I had a fixed idea that I would not want these, with their hot soup, but then saw them delivered to every table. I then rationalized that I could try the dish next day at Giusti's but they were not on offer there. If you go to Arnaldo's, dont make that mistake!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: jen kalb

                                Arnaldo clarification - we were converted to a liking of mostarda - it was a great condiment with rich meat. I didnt quite get the green sauce - it was good food in itself, would have been good with bread, but it didnt really set off the meat.`

                                The next day, lunch at Giusti in Modena, another fascinating town. We got our res online, I printed out directions on viamichelin, no problem getting there at all. 3 tables occupied, all outoftowners on our day. Im going to be brief because I lost a carefully written post on this - the salumi platter with torta fritta/gnocco frito was terrific - all the meats were delicious/top notch (tho all the meats we had everywhere in emilia were top notch - here, the heat and extra grease of the gnocco frito brought out an extra degree of flavor.
                                We had two primi, both fresh cut pasta, both with lightly tomatoey sauces - fine but a little disappointing after all the anticipation of this meal- my shrimp sauce reminded me of some of the tomatoey seafood sauces of venice. Capelletti were not on offer. We then shared a cold pork dish that was exquisite, along with a salad. The pork was extremely tender came apart in strings, probably shoulder. It was cooked with fresh bay leaves and other whole spices that gave it a lovely fragrance. We ate this lovely dish very slowly - it was not browned, and seemed like it might have been braised in oil or its own fat.

                                Dessert was a slice of their famous cherry tart (cherries were in season and Vignola just down the road). It was extremely intense, jammy and tart - the pastry was just a subtle casing, not a flaky, buttery foil to the filling. Not very sweet, not very rich, and lacking in salt. All in all, not a pastry for American tastebuds. Some gelato would have set it off nicely (and I am a lifelong opponent of ice cream with pie.Probably should have gone for the gelato with balsamic, as the neighboring table did.

                                As a result of this large lunch, we had to give up our second dinner at Arnaldos - we dined on some lovely grapes, bread and a bit of our salami and beer (for husband). I also regretfully gave up my plan to visit the Osteria di Rubbiara and their Acetaia the following day - another large, long lunch would have just killed us. So, regrettfully we left the beautiful, civilized province of Emilia and travelled on to Mantua.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  ah! You made it to Arnaldo's, and it's great to have your insights! I too, remember how difficult it was to eat so much (but also so very difficult not to)

                                  I just wish we made it to Giusti's, but hopefully next summer. Thanks for sharing jen.

                              2. Next stop Mantova - an ancient and interesting town. We stayed at a B&B in the centro for our one night - cuisine in that corner of Lombard features fresh water fish from the Mincio, horse/pony/donkey dishes, rice and the grana padana cheese produced nearby.

                                We chose Ochina Bianca for our meal - a slowfoodish place gone upscale, it specializes in local cuisine and the very fresh highgrade seafood that seems to be the default choice for locals eating out and wanting a change from their local cuisine in both Lombardy and E-R. We started with lucchio in salsa, pike served in a sweet and sour, cold preparation. It was very delicious and refreshing. We then diverged on the second course - Husband ordered a pasta with asparagus, and seafood, I went for the risotto alla pilota con salsicca, not a risotto per se but a glistening mountain of perfectly cooked vialone rice grains mixed with delicious fresh sausage fragments and perhaps butter, very simple and excellent. For our secondo we shared an order of fritto misto, very well done and offered as their specialty. It was a very good rendition but nothing we could not have had in Venice, Amalfi, etc. I regretted that pick. However, the locals were making similar picks - an adjoining table ordered platefuls of luscious looking steamed scampi, off menu. I wished I had been sitting at that table!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  Thanks for suggesting Ochina Bianca. My husband and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary there in July and loved it.

                                  1. re: snyders1

                                    Im so glad to hear it and congrats on your anniversary! What did you eat?
                                    I htink there is a lot of good eating in Mantova.

                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                    After Garda, we moved on through Brescia (great town, time for only a quick salad-pannini lunch to Bergamo. One of our wonderful experiences of the trip was observing a group of students, sitting in a streetside cafe, consuming large platters of prosciutto and toasting and singing to a new "dottore" with bottle after bottle of prosecco. what great joie de vivre and cameraderie. Fair number of bengalis and other mideastern/asian folks in this town (its very prosperous) - even saw a bengali grocery with snake gourd and bitter melon.

                                    We rented an excellent apartment on Borgo Canale for our two nights in Bergamo http://www.lafavorita.info . There is a B&B explosion in Bergamo now because due to its proximity to MIlan, there are cheap flights down from UK and elsewhere in No. EuropeWe were a bit unfortunate in our timing because Monday and Tuesday are closing days for most of the town's restaurants and La Columbina on our street was closed for vacation. HOwever, given the fact we were still recovering from our Garda eat-a-thon this might not have been so bad. We ate in both nights. The components for our meals were purchased in the Citta Alta where there were several great stores. First, the bakery, Tresoldi (I think it has two outlets at the two ends of the main street up there as well as in the lower city) offered several fine breads. DO NOT go to the spiffy looking forno nearby with personal pizzas, etc - the bread there is cottony and totally bogus.
                                    We purchased our meat, cheese and wine in two excellent shops -
                                    L'Alimentari di via Tassis in new (a spinoff of an older family store in the lower town) its just a little ways from the Piazza Vecchio going toward Colle Aperto
                                    http://www.lalimentari.it/. the young owner spoke quite good english and sold us some lovely cheeses and a good local wine (very fine selection.
                                    At Gastronomia Mangili, Via Gombito 8, the lovely owner sold us some very nice culatello and cheese, and a good quality sbrisolana cake which my office mates enjoyed the following week. also a nice wine selection. there are a couple of good fruit stores along the Via Gombito/Via B. Colleoni - we enjoyed the one toward the Colle Aperto end, where we bought some amazingly full-flavored tomatoes (I think the campanian kind) lobloing with a point on the end, some excellent porcini to take home and fine grapes.

                                    We splashed out for a lunch at Colleoni dell'Angelo - which is a very fine restaurant indeed - http://www.colleonidellangelo.com/ITA... -
                                    At this point my memory is shaky - I dont remember every dish, but they served a very nice amuse of burrata with a green sauce; my husband' would barely give me a taste of potato and funghi porcini cake with black truffle sauce - we made the mistake of ordering a whole fish in a salt crust - it was delicious in a bland, plain fish way, but cost the earth - much better to have ordered the pricy but cheaper (I think 35E) and wonderful looking seafood plateau we saw at an adjoining table or one of the meat dishes. I couldnt resist dessert - fantastic rasberries brulee - grilled under heavy cream with the sugar crust - no eggs - and served with a white chocolate sauce which I added sparingly. I am still trying to reverse-engineer this dish - superb. Petit fours and coffee followed. A wonderful meal, but I do regret that fish and the depressing effect of the bill (which I did not see) on my husband. As the other post up this thread further indicates, Bergamo is very worth a visit foodwise.