Umbria, Florence, Lake Como, Milan Belated Trip Report
One of my CH pet peeves is people who ask for recommendations and then never follow up. Even though it is long overdue, I wanted to recap some of the highlights from our Italy trip last year. With a new baby at home I finally have some downtime to pass along our impressions of the places which we can still vividly recall.
Unfortunately we did not use any of the recommendations in Umbria or Tuscany. We stayed at Casali di Monticchio in Allerona Umbria. The food was absolutely incredible here. The owner’s young son (Bernardo) is an extremely talented chef. He gets much of his produce and meat from the farm onsite at Monticchio (they also produce olive oil and honey and were preparing to start with wine in the near future). We let Bernardo make up a menu for us every night according to what was fresh and were never disappointed. From the best osso bucco we have ever tasted to a simple egg and truffle dish, we could have eaten at Monticchio for weeks on end. All the dishes used the highest quality ingredients, were fresh and inventive. Portions were reasonable and even traditionally heavy dishes were imparted with a light tough by the chef. I almost forgot to mention the home made rolls and bread which was a treat served with their richly flavored house olive oil. Unfortunately we only had a few days, so we took all of our dinners at Monticchio rather than venturing into the countryside. My wife also greatly enjoyed a cooking lesson with Bernardo during which she helped to prepare some of that evenings meal. The setting at Monticchio equals the food, and I would strongly suggest stopping in for dinner if travelling the area.
While touring the beautiful hill town of Orvieto we randomly chose Taverna Cavour for a late lunch. The tasty pasta, fresh salad and family run atmosphere here was just the thing to settle us into our trip.
From Umbria, it was on to Florence, which has always been one of my favorite places in Italy (shocker!). We found our favorite place of this trip just down the block from our hotel on Borgo San Frediano. On Via Santo Spirito, there is a restaurant on the corner called il Santino Bevitore. Next to the restaurant is a very small enoteca (il Santino) run by the restaurant owner’s son. We stumbled in one day while exploring the area. It is a wonderful place to relax while he slices meat and cheese, and pours some wine. This is the perfect place to stop for an afternoon snack after walking through the Boboli Gardens or just enjoying the city. The son plied my wife with champagne at her whim and had her graduated from the sliced meats to succulent headcheese in no time. We stopped for a snack and rest, and stayed for hours instead.
In our previous visits to Florence we had never had a meal at the famous Trattoria Sostanza (il troia) on Via Porcellana. We went for the late seating and really enjoyed the company at our communcal table as well as the food. The bistecca alla fiorentina and pollo al burro that we felt were mandatory to order lived up to the hype here and other places. That bistecca is the one I now dream about while wishing there was non-stop air service between Boston and Florence.
Based on recommendations, we tried Il Pizzaiuolo for pizza and found it largely forgettable. We have yet to find good pizza in Florence. I am thinking we should stop looking and just focus on all the other great food there.
My wife was very tired one evening and wanted a change from Italian food (crazy woman), so we tried Momoyama right across from our hotel. We were extremely happy with the sashimi and nigiri at this Japanese establishment. The fish was fresh and well prepared; and the Asahi served was the good stuff from Japan. We also enjoyed the atmosphere, service and sake at this hidden gem.
Of course we hit Grom at every possible opportunity while in Florence. When in Manhattan recently I saw that Grom has opened there. I did not have a chance to stop, but I hope it has translated well on the trip across the Atlantic. I am craving a Cioccolato and Stracciatella right now!
After sadly departing Florence it was on to Lake Como where we spent a few days in Tremezzo. On the recommendations here we went to Ristorante Balognett for pizza and were very happy to have paid for the car ride up to the restaurant. The pizza was excellent and the service even better. This more than made up for our pizza experience in Florence. The owners were still incredulous (but appreciative) that people were making there way there based on internet reports.
I do not readily recall our precise order, but we enjoyed the food and atmosphere at Bar Gelateria Helvetia in Tremezzo as well. Most other meals in and around the lake were unfortunately unremarkable and unmemorable, though we do remember be treated with particularly nasty service at Bar Sanremo in Bellagio which was one of the lowlights of the trip. The service at Bar Sanremo was certainly the outlier from the hospitality we generally receive in Italy. That place is a tourist trap and best avoided.
Poor weather and a subpar experience at our hotel promoted us to leave Tremezzo early and spend a few nights in Milan before departing. Happily our hotel was within walking distance of Peck, which is an incredible showcase of the highest quality foodstuffs. We browsed every level and returned to our hotel with some excellent wine, cheese and meat to enjoy (after enjoying a hot chocolate at Peck).
While in Milan we enjoyed an excellent lunch at Paper Moon on via Bagutta. It was part restaurant, part pizzeria and all excellent. The special of the day vitello tonnato was particularly memorable. The restaurant had a lively atmosphere and seemed to be packed with Milanese business people on their lunch hours. Of course we managed to hit Grom several more times while in Milan!
As always, all the CH suggestions were helpful and appreciated. We moved around a lot during our two weeks in Italy, but that was mostly as we knew it would be different next time with our (then planned) little one along for the ride. We will likely rent a villa somewhere and settle down for a bit. Bologna might be the perfect introduction for our daughter. Maybe next year when she is on solid food…
Thanks for the report! Whenever you're back in Florence, try the pizza at Boccanegra - Via Ghibellina 124/R. Just next to the fancy restaurant (which is delicious), they have turned their small wine celler into a cantinetta, and serve wood-fired pizza. A friendly, casual atmosphere with a younger crowd, and great pizza at a great price.