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3 nights in Bologna and one in Milan

Help! I am leaving on Friday for a car trip through northern Italy and France. I have all of my hotels and inns booked, and haven't dealt with our meals. Not a good place to be since we are all about food and not so much about sightseeing. I will be with my wife and 2 sons (14 and 18). we are from Manhattan, so 4 star restaurants aren't our goal. We love to eat lunch and dinner at authentic local places. we also love to search out markets and local flavors. We will have a car, so we can travel from the "bases" I noted in the title to this post. Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated.

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    1. Be sure to do "Search this board" searches for both Bologna & Milan. There have been a good number of comments on both cities here over the past 6-12 months and you should find many helpful suggestions.

      If you are spending 3 nights in Bologna, I would recommend a day trip or two to nearby cities such as Modena, Ferrara and Parma. Again if you search for those names, you will find many prior comments & suggestions.

      The Tamurbini food shop in Bologna and the Giusti food shop in Modena are two true shrines of Italian food.

      1. If you are leaving on Friday and you live in Manhattan you have time to go to a bookstore and buy Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler. Xerox the pages for where you are going. Fred Plotkin, I think, has a special feeling for Bologna and spends a fair amount of time in Milan. He has recommendations in all price categories, and formal and informal eateries.

        1. As the others have said, there is a lot of stuff on the board for this region. Last week, I got back from two weeks in Italy - the best meals I had, were on the three days I was in and around Bologna.

          Here are the threads planning that trip:

          In that region, I dined at:
          * Trattoria della Gigina in Bologna
          * Osteria di Rubbiara (near Modena
          ) * Arnaldo's Clinica Gastronomica - http://www.clinicagastronomica.com

          All were excellent. I think my most memorable meal of the trip was at Arnaldo's.

          I strongly agree with the recommendation from barberinibee to pick up Fred Plotkin's book. Read as much of the introductory chapters as you can before you leave, then Xerox or cut out the sections for Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia. But I would add, cut out the food glossary at the end of the book. I found that very valuable and took it with me into every restaurant!

          3 Replies
          1. re: thomco

            Clearly, with a car, Da Amerigo in Savigno, 20 miles west of Bologna. By far the best trattoria within 50 km. of the city. Puts Rubbiara to shame and unlike that place has two owners who care what the customers want to eat, rather than what he wants them to eat.

            1. re: allende

              allende is correct that Osteria di Rubbiara has a fixed menu each day. Plotkin writes that you should expect to find this in osterie. He writes: "This, I believe, is a positive thing: I would rather have an inspired chef using the freshest ingredients than one who may be tiring of making the same old standbys."

              I agree with Plotkin. To suggest that this practice demonstrates that the owner does not care what the customers want is ridiculous. Most customers know this is how Osteria di Rubbiara serves meals, so therefore, they ARE getting what they want.

              I had an excellent meal at Rubbiara (http://www.acetaiapedroni.it).

              I went there on the recommendations of fellow chowhounders who also had good experiences there. allende apparently has a different view, which is good to hear. Perhaps Pedroni was having an off day? However, if you search the board you will find his opinion in the minority.

              1. re: thomco

                The Rubbiara patron is clearly a character who rubs some people the wrong way - Allende's is not the first complaint Ive seen online. For a person with limited experience in the food of the region (like me) a limited menu is not a bad thing - everything is new and interesting, and the Pedroni "take" and approach is as valid as any other - I may get more out of accepting a recommendation or menu than by making free choices. For a person with wide experience of the regional cuisine, new dishes and more selection might be preferable.

                Osteria di Rubbiara aside,I am really glad to have an additional great choice pointed out near Bologna (Slowfood agrees with Allende in rating Da Amerigo high and Michelin has given it a star http://www.viamichelin.it/web/Ristora...

          2. Hi there - I just got back from my first trip to Italy, including three nights in Bologna. I also live in Manhattan and it sounds like your attitude is the same as mine going in - e.g. looking for non-fancy local places that cook well. So let me share the places I dined at. But first let me tell you, relax - it is almost impossible to go wrong in Bologna. There do not seem to be alot of tourists, and businesses would not stay open if they didn't serve excellent food.

            Caminetto D'oro - Via de' Falegnami, 4
            - Highly recommended for food, but not as 'local'. This was our first dinner in Italy. We were a little worried that the displayed menu had English subtitles, but we decided to try it anyways as we had heard good things. This was probably the most 'fancy' and least 'local' of the places we went to in Bologna. About half the people seemed to be tourists (but not conspicuously so), but there were definitely locals as well. Having said that, the meal was possibly the best we had. I had the pasta (pappardelle?) with seasonal wild mushrooms, and it was one of the biggest highlights of the trip. I have never tasted mushrooms quite like that before. One problem I found with dining in Italy is that the secondi never seemed to match up to the primi - this isn't saying anything negative about their secondi, it's probably just that I am somewhat used to good meat and fish prepared well and much less used to delicious pasta and risotto. Having said that, this restaurant was the closest to being an exception, as the rabbit al forno with seasonal vegetables was absolutely superb. Being our first night in Bologna, my wife had the tagliatelle Bolognese, and followed it up with an extremely fresh fish fillet (branzino?) - both were excellent, while not quite matching the high bar set my those I was lucky in choosing. We finished it off with a very good medley of three chocolate desserts. As for prices, I can't remember exactly but I think we only paid 110 euros or so for two primi, two secondi, a bottle of wine, and dessert and espresso. That is, a little pricier than the local trattorias, but not much so, and certainly way better than what you'd pay in New York for much less impressive food.

            Trattoria del Rosso - Via Righi, 30,
            - Recommended for great casual food with the locals. We stopped by here for lunch. The atmosphere was very much loud, bustling, and quick service - they take your order and get your food to you quickly, and leave you the bill and you pay up front. Although probably more relaxed for dinner, it seemed like a great place for lunch. As for the food, the pasta dishes here were incredible. I had the gramigna con salsiccia. Apparently this is a Bolgnese specialty - small tubular pasta in a sausage ragu. The ragu was incredible, and the pasta perfect. My wife got a tortellini stuffed with some kind of meat which may have been the best tortellini I have ever had. Again she got it with a bolognese ragu, and the consensus at the table was that her tortellini served with my salsiccia might be the most perfect dish imaginable. We ordered some second courses that were good but nothing special - I had some fried lamb and my wife a caprese salad. The pasta was the highlight of this place - the thought that we could get two incredible pasta dishes with a half-litre of wine for 20 euros was awe-inspiring.

            Trattoria Meloncello - Via Saragozza, 240
            - Reccomended for food, local casual fare, service. We made the trek out here on recommendations we had heard - it was about a 15 minute walk from the city wall to the west. We took a cab back for about 10 euros, which I would recommend as the walk was fairly uninteresting. The server (owner?) was incredibly nice and talkative in English to us. I can't remember what my wife had for a first course, as everything paled in comparison to my ravioli with butter and sage. I have often cooked italian foods, such as veal saltimbocca, and I could never quite understand their love for sage. Now I do. The sage I had here, worked perfectly into the pasta, was a revelation. It is so hard for me to pick a favorite course I had in Italy, but this was definitely top three. Oh yes, I now recall my wife had a tomato-based gnocchi - I suppose a poor choice considering we don't usually love gnocchi, but then again I didn't love sage until my course. Oh well, it was still good, just not life-altering. For seconds, I asked for a recommendation and the waiter/owner suggested the rabbit dish - i'm not quite sure how it was prepared, but it involved combining rabbit with prosciutto and vegetables and grilling the whole thing, and serving under a rich sauce. It was good, probably not as good as the rabbit I had had the night before, but they were really different preparations. My wife had some very good meatballs, which I think were served ala Bolognese (again). All in all, three good meals and one sublime meal.

            Trattoria Trebbi - Via Solferino, 40
            - Recommended, just a good casual local trattoria. There is no entry for this day's lunch as we randomly decided to daytrip to Venice, as I had never been - nothing against Bologna of course, which we loved. As such, we were looking for a place near our hotel and this very local-looking place seemed just the spot. The pasta was good, as always. I had a tortellini dish served with prosciutto and asparagus - delicious, although perhaps not mind-blowing as a few others I had. My wife, on the other hand, had a very strange dish of tagliatelle in style unlike anything I had ever tasted - I believe it may have been called 'galletta' or something along those lines. Anyways, it had an incredibly interesting spice to it (nutmeg?) that was unlike anything we had ever tasted. I had a hard time deciding how I felt about the dish, but was very glad we had ordered it, and certainly it was of high quality. For seconds I ordered some thinly sliced veal, and my wife basically chose from the menu at random and was served something akin to mozzarella sticks. Neither was particularly great, but we were used to first course surpassing the second by now. We always joked that my wife would order two pasta courses next time, but for she never ended up doing so.

            In addition to the places we went to, I would recommend checking out Drogheria Della Rossa (Via Cartoleria, 10) - I tried to get a reservation here after coming back from Venice in the evening, but it was absolutely overflowing.

            2 Replies
            1. re: littleneck12

              I think that perhaps in subsequent trips to Italy, your chances of being pleased with your secondi will improve if you stick to ordering highly local dishes, in season. Mozzerella and branzino are not "native" to Bologna, and I think of lamb as best in early spring.

              You joked about eating two pasta courses, but I also love pasta dishes, more than I do most secondi dishes, and I often feel that the Italian food I love most is the food I eat when I am hungry. I now usually split a secondo with my dining partner if I've had a pasta course. Otherwise, when a lot of food arrives after I've just relished a rich pasta, it just doesn't seem appetizing, as it might if I were truly hungry.

              1. re: barberinibee

                Nearly everything I ordered in Italy was a local speciality (e.g. rabbit twice in Bologna, beef in Florence, pesto and seafood in Ligura). It was my wife who ordered a few things that weren't regional, given her irrational aversion to some of the courses offered - I wasn't about to give her a foodie lecture. As for the fried lamb, there were only a few secondi offered at that trattoria for lunch, the most popular of which seemed to be melon and prosciutto. It is not like I was missing out on some local specialty.

                It didn't have to do with being hungrier, I just found the first courses much better throughout all of Italy than the second courses. I know that I am not the only one who holds this opinion.

            2. For a somewhat fancy place, we loved Il Pappagallo. Wonderful food, fine service and a beautiful atmosphere. Very reasonable for the quality. A classic. Meloncello was very disappointing, partly because it is so out of the way, but mainly because the food is so ordinary and the prices not justified (there is no written menu and the choices are very limited). We spent about the same amount at Da Gianni, and got much better value. Excellent food, great atmosphere, and right in the center of the old city. A very popular spot and deservedly so.

              1. A lot of these are very good suggestions and I endorse the fact posters agree to disagree on certain places. I just have a few additional thoughts for nycatty35. First is that your visit to Bologna MUST include an extensive visit (a whole morning, really) to the city's markets. They are described in Italy for the Gourmet Traveler. They date back more than 800 years and the food sellers are incredibly knowledgeable and proud of what they have on offer. Know that you are not allowed to touch fruit and vegetables, as that is considered unhygienic. Rather, indicate with your fingers how many peaches or bananas you want. You will be asked whether they are to be eaten now (Da mangiare subito?) or in a day or so. You will find that a smile and hand gestures go a long way. When you buy cheese or prosciutto or mortadella, know that 100 grams (3-1/4 ounces) is un etto. 200 grams (6-1/2 ounces) is due etti. Think of 250 grams as about half a pound and you will be able to order properly. Wander the market gathering food products (including bread, fruit, cheese, pork products) and this makes for a noble lunch. Note that Tamburini, a store in the market, is not to miss. They do fantastic roasted chicken (pollo arrosto) and other poultry and pork and veal. They also have excellent lasagne verdi bolognesi which you should ask them to heat (riscaldare, per favore). No other pastas here or in stores should be ordered and heated. Save those for restaurants. And in some Bologna or Modena restaurant (such as Giusti) be sure to have tortellini in brodo -- heaven in a bowl. One poster said he/she likes pasta so much that one is not enough. In Bologna you an order a bis (pair) or tris (trio) of pasta in which you will get 2 or 3 classics. One place that specializes in this is Trattoria Anna Maria. And may I gently ask that if you are driving through Italy, don't cut the book up....you might detour to, say, Padova or Mantova (both amazing cities) and if you left those pages home you won't know what you are missing. You will not need the car in Milano (or Bologna, for that matter--walk everywhere) but from Milano you might wish to drive up the eastern shore of Lago di Como to experience the lake and then continue to Chiavenna, a town in the alps with great food, wine and scenery. Have a great trip...Fred

                3 Replies
                1. re: Fred Plotkin

                  Difficult to choose among Trattoria in Bologna. We are going in early September, and debating among Gigina, Anna Maria, which Fred mentions above, and Serghei (all of which are in your book, Fred). Also going to Osteria Francescana for one of our few "modern" meals. Will definitely spend time in market and try Tamburini's lasagna verdi!

                  In Milan, have reservations at Aimo e Nadia, as well as Savini, but wonder if two fancier restaurants is the way to go (will dine at Da Mino later in the trip)?

                  Rest of trip should be gastronomic paradise, but we are very worried about our weight! In Rome for 5 days for a conference, but squeezing in Matricianella and Il Convivio. Sostanza in Florence (and the market and lots of gelato, of course), and Il Pizzaiulo (anyone been recently?), .as well as the wine bar, Pitti Gola Then onto many of the Emilia Romagna and Lombardia restaurants discussed in the board (and in Fred's book!): Osteria Rubbiara, Arnaldo (Fred, any reason you do not mention in your book -- the people on the board seem to love it), Il Cavallino Bianco and hopefully in Borgo Taro for porcini on the 9th, if they have begun harvesting (any comments?), Porta Mosa in Cremona, then Hotel Laurin in Salo, with a final lunch stop in Santo Stefano before Da Mino

                  I will try to be good and post trip reports following return!


                  1. re: hksteve

                    Acetaia Pedroni is a jewel of a family run business. We have never had a less than stellar experience there.; the Coniglio,Faraona, salume, and house made pastas are truly a reflection of the love the sweet nonas in the kitchen incorporate into these cenone.Franca, Giuseppe's wife, who attentively supervises in the kitchen, produces menus that reflect the true meaning of "Traditional Osteria". Her daily offering is made from the freshest of ingredients expertly prepared, and abundantly served.

                    Granted Giuseppe is a little "out there", but his son, Italo, brings a wonderful balance to the father's antics.
                    Where else can one purchase a legitimate Extra Vecchio "Cesare" 50 year old Balsamico?
                    I salute the tradition and dedication of the Pedroni family!

                    1. re: hksteve

                      We love Bologna and spend time there every year. Regarding the trattorias in Bologna, I have not tried Gigina, but have been to both Anna Maria and Serghei.

                      We were horribly disappointed with a dinner at Serghei; There were very limited choices recited by the proprietor and the food came out within SECONDS of ordering, so it was either prepared in advance or microwaved? He took our order, went over and yelled it into the kitchen and they walked out with it immediately. This was even the case with pastas, making us quite suspect and providing for a rapid and not well paced meal. The food itself was more or less flavorless, greasy and wholly forgettable - perhaps our least favorite meal in Bologna. All served in a rather shabby -and not in a good way- hot stuffy little windowless room with heavy draperies. The total was about 110euro for 3 courses with barely decent wine - far too overpriced for the poor experience. A big letdown as we had high hopes and it is listed in Slow Food.

                      Trattoria Anna Maria is another story. An airy and elegant antiquated dining room with great old school type waiters and the grand proprietress herself sometimes about. There is a big window down the street on the way to the trattoria that features staffers of Anna Maria making her pasta fresh every day. And the pasta is amazing, perhaps the best pasta itself we had in Bologna. Light, delicate, it just melted when it hit your tongue. They have a reasonably large menu with many selections, the secondi were also very good, but the star at Anna Maria is the pasta! About 80euro for lunch for 2 with 3 courses & wine, which we felt was quite fair for the quality of ambience, service and food.

                      For other recommendations, we love Meloncello. We visit for lunch and enjoy the long walk back under the porticoes past the old mansions on Via Saragozza. Or you could work off lunch and make the serious trek up to the San Luca Church. You must make a reservation as they turn people away nonstop who do not have them. They also DO have a printed menu, it is by the front door on the right on the wall. They make daily specials and prefer to recite them and help with recommendations for your benefit. The gentleman waiter, Gabrielle, is not the owner, and he speaks excellent English and can help you with all ordering. They have delicious pastas here, tagliatelle con ragu, tortellini, gramigne con salsicce, etc. The secondis are also good, two usual specials being polpettini con pisseli and the veal spezzatini. For wine, they bring you to a little room off the dining room to make your selection, another quirky charm. Try to sit in the front room, the back paneled room is not as atmospheric. This is a cozy, warm place with a infective comraderie and hearty cuisine. About 70euro for 2 courses plus wine.

                      Drogheria della Rosa is an interesting trattoria for dinner. It packs in a lively theater crowd and the proprietor, Emanuele, is always there and the consummate host. He is a bit outrageous and prone to some crazy antics, but it is all in fun. Try to sit in the front room and dine after the theater lets out for the theatrics begin later at night. Food is very good, they start with an unbidden plate of antipasti of excellent prosciutto or coppa and mortadella with parmigiano and glasses of prosecco. They pour prosecco here like it is water. Emanuele himself may tell you the specials and take your order, he speaks good English. Pastas are fresh and somewhat more modern for Bologna. Secondis are also very strong here, meats and fish are excellent and sourced from the best suppliers in Bologna, Emanuele will tell you all about it if you ask him. Dinner for 2 is about 100-120euro with a good wine & 3 courses, quite a reasonable value for such a fun, lively and buzzy place with great food.

                      Ristorante Grassilli is near the center of town and is a nice dark paneled dining room with a chef that has a bit of a french bent, as if things were not rich enough in Bologna! Open for Lunch and Dinner, the pastas are good and they are generous with the truffles here! Secondis are also good, especially the cotoletto bolognese with either turkey or veal. Formal-ish service is polished and fine. Meal for 2 with wine & 3 courses about 100euro.

                      If you have not had enough beef in Florence, try Ai Butteri, just outside of town center on Via Agosto Murri, a short walk or a cab ride away. They are a Tuscan restaurant that specializes in bistecca fiorentina, and it is sublime here. A rustic room with dark wood, high ceilings and somewhat of a hunting lodge feel, bustling with people devouring their steaks. They make an amazing tagliatelle chinghiale pasta that has the wonderful tastes of Tuscany redolent with rosemary and boar. A family owned place with Dad in the back cooking and if you don't want your meat rare or barely medium rare, you will have to beg Dad to do it. Pricier due to the special Tuscan beef, dinner for two with pastas and splitting a huge steak and wine, 135euro.

                      For seafood try Re Enzo, near town center on Via Riva de Reno, a change of pace when the heavy Bolognese dishes become too much. They keep fresh stock on all things aquatic and make great pastas and secondis with them. A bright plain room, but warm friendly service but no English spoken. About 80euro or more, depending on your seafood selections, for 3 courses & wine.

                      Antica Osteria alla Romagnola near town center on Via Rialto is a special find. A larger place with inviting hosts greeting your arrival. Lighting is dim and romantic, the food is somewhat modernized bolognese/romagnan. They have a large plate of antipasti that arrives unordered and you will be charged for it-so be aware! But is is fantastic and abundant and everyone takes it; Prosecco is poured, ricotta with piadinas, grilled polpi, cecis, scampi, baby polpis, meats, olives and more, whatever is fresh and seasonal. Fresh homemade pastas are not only meat based but also have seafood for lighter fare. The secondis are substantial and hearty; brasato and vitello parmigiano fonduta con tartufi are our favorites. The Bolognese love this place, so be sure to reserve as it is always packed. Dinner for 2 with 3 courses and wine 115euro and well worth it for this romantic upscale supperclub type of establishment with great food.

                      Regarding Tamburini, please be aware that it is a really just a large delicatessen. They have a small room in the back that is essentially a cafeteria, and I regret I do not think it is the best place to enjoy a meal with the bounty of fantastic places to eat that are in Bologna unless you are on an tight budget. Even then, I would think it a better idea to obtain some meats and cheeses there or other foods in the markets for a cobbled together alfresco lunch like Mr. Plotkin suggests rather than make Tamburini itself a dining destination.

                  2. In Bologna, I enjoyed Da Cesari. A very simple, homey kind of place with great food. I don't remember specifics but we were treated well and ate well. I also remember many Italian families eating there. As for Drogheria Della Rossa, I loved it and highly recommend going if you can. It would be great to get a table outside if the weather is amenable. I might get thrown off of the boards for saying this but on the same trip when I went to Drogheria Della Rossa I also went to Hosteria Giusti in Modena and I liked the former more. I thought the food was comparable (some things better, some not) and the atmosphere better, more lively and with more Italians at DDR.