Ferrara or Mantova
Only have time for one of these cities...which would you pick and where would you eat for a casual good local meal?
I recently ate at Antica Trattoria Volano in Ferrara and loved every bite. I had the pasticcio di maccheroni, a Ferrarese classic, and it was more than I dreamed it would be! I also ate for a secondo a dish of mixed mushrooms over polenta, and the individual mushrooms were so perfectly cooked, that even though it was melange, every mushroom retained the unique flavor of its type. It was served over a polenta that was the only polenta I've ever eaten several bites of, not only one.
I was having lunch by myself, and if I had been with someone, I would have begged them to order a pumpkin and mostarda stuffed pasta, another specialty of the region. I probably should have asked for a bis or tris of primi. From looking at the menu, it seems to me that the restaurant serves all the Ferrarese classics.
Volano is casual, but it veers toward business casual. i felt perfectly well dressed in my department store slacks and sweater (it was autumn), but whatever goes with flip-flops probably wouldn't be right for here.
I second Antica Trattoria Volano. Here is a link to an old post from when I ate there.
However, between the two cities I would pick Mantova. Granted I visited Ferrara once, in July, but I think Mantova has a better combination of eating and sightseeing options. In Mantova I have enjoyed Due Cavallini which is a Slow Food pick. They do a really nice tortelli di zucca, and if you want a traditional dish of the region the bolliti misti is available. Owing to the name, I suppose, you can also find horse on the menu. The restaurant is rather large and they have a nice outdoor garden. If you go in the summer you might want to remember your repellent.
I also enjoyed Osteria Dell' Oca which also serves traditional Lombard food. It's been a few years so take this with a grain of salt but I think the food here aspires to add just a touch of flash to the traditional preparation. I had a risotto with some sort of sausage or cotechino. My wife had the tortelli di zucca. For desert there was a boozy sbrisolona. Be sure to try out this Mantovan specialty cake/cookie. The prices were a little high but the folks there were nice. Of the two I suppose the food of Osteria Del' Oca is bit better but for value Due Cavallini is superior. While in Mantova be sure to try something with mostarda. You also have great sites with the Ducal Palace and Palazzo Te along with the Basilica of Sant Andrea. If you have some Italian get a tour and see the relic of the Holy Blood. Enjoy.
Antica Trattoria Volano
via Volano, 20, Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna 44123, IT
Via Salnitro, 5, Mantova, Lombardia 46100, IT
Osteria Dell' Oca
Via Trieste 37, Mantova, Lombardia 46100, IT
I've spent a great deal of time in both Mantova and Ferrara and both are wonderful places to visit. That being said, Mantova is the more interesting. The city itself has been "passed by" and has retained the feeling of what cities must have been like 60 years ago. A great pedestrian zone (Ferrara has one as well) and of course the Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo Te. A great hotel as well... The Casa Poli, just outside the pedestrian zone, with its own garage which is a must in Mantova. As far as Due Cavallini and Osteria Dell' Oca, eh... not worth going IMHO.
If you want to eat the traditional food of Mantova , excellently prepared, with a very good wine list, a wonderful owner in a great setting (right in town), I would choose Trattoria Cigno. No question I would go there before any other restaurant in town. Next on my list would be Aquila Nigra's more casual place La Porta Accanto. Same food as Aquila Nigra, but informal, compared to the huge space, in an old palazzo, with a few tables that is the one star Michelin Aquila Nigra.
In Ferrara, my first choice, and sadly the only choice IMHO, is L'Oca Giuliva and even that is just a good restaurant, nothing special. To have the wonderful food of Ferrara, you really have to go to one of the good restaurants in the countryside.
great post, as always. What country restaurants around Ferrara do you recommend?
We really liked Mantova. Found a place to park our car but it wasnt so easy. The city is really evocative and has great church and secular architecture, art and an intact, centro with a lot of street life, active markets, . Seems like lots of good food options too and a distinct local cuisine with fresh water fish, rice and other local ingredents. Allende, have you tried Ochina Bianca? we chose to have our single dinner there and were pleased.
Even tho we saw the major cultural sites in mantova over 1-1/2 days I would like to return.
Via Finzi 2, Mantova, Lombardia 46100, IT
I would pick Mantova. I have only spent one day in each, and when I was in Mantova it was some kind of free admittance day for Italians or maybe EU citizens, so it was a bit over-run. But it is full of great stuff to see, Palazzos Te and Ducale etc and I would like to see it without the crowds. I could have easily spent more than one day, but I am particularly interested in Isabella d'Este/Gonzaga. We didn't end up eating anywhere spectacular bc we did not plan ahead and ended up at a spot on the main piazza - great people watching, but food was nothing special. Ferrara seemed busier with more just regular business/school activity than Mantova. There were very few tourists around. We did the duomo, the castle, the P. Schifanoia (frescos) and P. Diamanti. I think a full day here was enough. If you like reading up on the history of the area and Mantova and Ferrara in particular - try bios of Matilda, Isabella d'Este, Lucretia Borgia. Fascinating ladies. And oh my goodness, best pasta ever in Ferrara at Al Brinidisi - supposedly the oldest osteria/wine bar/something. Its a bit of a hole in wall in alley right beside duomo - get the cappellaci with zucca. to.die.for.
If you are going down towards Modena - a few years ago I had a great multi-course lunch-like-nonna-would-make at Villa Gaidello, an agristourismo outside Castelfranco Emilia. Mixed anitipasti, tortellini, tortelloni, roasted chicken/potato, fried cream, homemade walnut liquer, etcetcetc. I think it was about $35-40 a head back then, Lambrusco included. Allow at least 2-3 hours. They also arranged a tour of a small family run balsamic producer.
41013 Castelfranco Emilia Modena, Castelfranco Emilia, Emilia-Romagna 41013, IT
I've not been to L'Oca Giuliva in Ferrara but my impression has been is that it is not a "casual" restaurant but an upscale one with some formality, even at lunch time. Maybe the OP will clarify what's being sought in the way of "casual" or maybe Allende can offer more information on the ambience at L'Oca Giuliva. My impression may be incorrect.
L'Oca Giuliva is as casual as they come. In nice weather, sit outside at tables under the arches.
It says it's a ristorante, but it's really a very casual trattoria, with an excellent wine list, well prepared food and a good ambiance. Nothing upscale about it.
Via Boccacanale di Santo Stefano 38, Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna 44121, IT
By far our favorite restaurant in the countryside around Ferrara is Trattoria La Rosa, in Sant'Agostino, about 15 miles from Ferrara. http://www.trattorialarosa1908.it/pia...
Wonderful, simple well prepared Ferrarese food, an owner who is passionate about the food and the wine (a great wine list for a trattoria). Read the menu of the dishes listed on the web site and start weeping or actually start drooling. Tortelloni di zucca alla Ferrarese (ripieni solo di zucca e conditi con ragù di carne); Fegatelli di coniglio saltati su spinaci a vapore; Pasta al torchio di casa con "finanziera" di faraona e tartufo nero.
Menu changes all the time. Clearly what is posted is the late fall menu (all the truffles). We've been there in the winter and spring as well, and it's always seasonal.
Bed and breakfast as well, though we haven't stayed there (nor have we seen the rooms, although they look good on the web site) because we prefer to be in Mantova (wonderful hotel the Annunziata).
Hope this helps.