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italy trip report (long)

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I’ve been using this site extensively in the past both for trips and when I recently moved to montreal, and finally decided to contribute something. For those of you counting I used the search function at the top right of the screen and found lots of old information (sorry couldn’t resist almost ever useful topic post I found had at least one reply of this nature :) ) Seriously though thanks to everyone who contributes regularly on this site the info was very helpful!

We spent 16 days hitting up the standard spots (2 nights Venice, 1 Florence, 5 Tuscany, 3 Amalfi, 4 Rome) as it was our first time to Italy. Were looking for a good mix of local small places and high end restaurants. I consulted MBFant and Janes Lists, Michelin guide, what I could understand of Gambero Rosso, tried ordering Italy for the Gourment traveller but it didn’t arrive in time, and mainly this site.
I’m going to try to be critical, especially for the more expensive restaurants because I find that they all too often get glowing reviews that are not at all discriminating when it comes to choosing special meal- so please excuse me in advance, not trying to come across as a snob but for people on a budget (even a generous one ) having as much info as possible is always a plus before dropping 400E on dinner. Also, we are not overly wealthy by any means and have skimped on accommodations throughout this trip to afford some of these meals..anyways getting to it

In Venice we had our hotel breakfast, had a very light lunch at Café Florian, and went to the Met restaurant. The food was quite good, seemed very original rather than traditional Venetian food but clearly had local flavours. The room was quite nice, well decorated and with good service. Food was presented very well, the dishes that stood out were a eel/swordfish/pigeon main and a really rich tiramisu pudding desert. Wine selection was excellent, had a couple of very nice desert wines from the region by the glass. The only downside to the meal was the couple brought their 2 year old toddler to the restaurant for a 3.5 hour late evening meal , he was crying and screaming on numerous occasions and I think the restaurant really could have done a better job of handling the situation (they essentially did nothing, nor apologize to the other guests)

We were only in Florence for a short stop to see Uffizi, and David, ate at Trattoria Due G. This meal was pretty much as described in the recs, great classic pastas, Tuscan mains, friendly people, we enjoyed ourselves.

In Tuscany we ate at our hotel the first night (Terre di Nano-excellent accommodation just outside montepulciano fyi). It was homemade spaghetti and roasted boar made by the friendly lady who runs the place served on the terrace with a lovely view, nothing mind blowing but a great simple Tuscan experience. The next night we ate at La Porta in Monticchiello. They have a nice view towards Pienza, great place to watch the sunset. More traditional Tuscan dishes, the food was good but certainly not great, place is probably too busy for their own good as the service was lacking. Wine selection was good, we had a nice bottle of Brunello and a few glasses of Nobile as this place was only a 30 min walk through the countryside. Driving around southern Tuscany we stopped in Radicofani, we stumbled upon La Grotta, a great little restaurant right in the centre of the old town. We were the only tourists here but was still quite busy at lunch. The pasta was great, felt like a very authentic experience. Just outside Montalcino was the restaurant Boccon di Vino (watch out putting into your gps, it will send you to sant’angelo in colle, as will viamichelin) one of our favourites from the trip. They have a beautiful view, overlooking vast Tuscan fields. I had a great pasta with beef main, my partners dish was also excellent, a very light fig based desert was well done, and a great wine selection. The service was flawless and friendly. There prices were very reasonable also, I would recommend anyone in the area to try and make a stop here. The following day ate in Volpaia, had a great meal in a small restoraunt in town, good food, the mille-feuille desert was memorable. We had lunch at Arnolfo on our forth day in Tuscany. It is a small, beautiful room with two windows overlooking a valley, very classic Tuscany with elegance. There were only 4 tables dining, the head chef came out and introduced himself, a very courteous gentleman. We both ate the contemporary tasting menu. This was the sort of meal that flowed so beautifully that it is hard to really recollect the exact courses, sufficient to say taste, flavours and presentation were awe inspiring. The service was flawless. This was one of the top dining experiences I’ve ever had, easily comparable to top tables in Paris and surpassing anything I have had in New York , and most certainly deserves a 3rd Michelin star imho. Of all the expensive restaurants on our trip this was the clear favourite. If you are even considering one splurge meal on your trip do not miss out (we also found it a nice break from mostly repetitive menus elsewhere in Tuscany) Although a tough act to follow Le 2 Forchette del Chianti, a casual resto with lighter dinner options was a great choice much later that evening, we shared the cheesecake as others have recommended and it was excellent. We were not overly impressed with Ristoro di Lamole although I think we may have been simply tiring of the same cuisine, there is nothing particularly off-putting about it, however nothing really stands out either except for the view. We made a couple of stops in L'Antica Delizia were not disappointed either time, great gelato.

After driving down from Tuscany to the Sorrentine peninsula we had our biggest disappointment of the trip, Don Alfonso. This is a restaurant that was been acclaimed pretty much everywhere, including here, NyTimes a couple of times, Michelin, Gambero Rosso, F. Plotkin’s book, every travel guide etc. The room itself is very nice, a bright white walls well decorated, good silverwear/stemwear, but that is pretty much where it ended for us. We ordered the tasting menu. Of what I remember, there was an unimpressive tasting amuse bouche, a smoked fish and a consume pasta that were both good, guinea fowl was decent, duck with banana sauce that I did not enjoy, a swordfish course that was far too strongly seasoned and overly salty, a nice selection of cheeses, and a traditional cake with a lemon based sauce for desert which was terrible. The petit fours were also subpar. There is no question that they use great local ingredients, however the tastes and flavour combinations were simply off to bad in most of the dishes. There was very little effort in terms of presentation, I’m assuming that they were going for simplicity to match with the white walls etc but clearly there was no art precision or time required to make these dishes (we were 4 courses into the meal within 50mins). The service was very poor, servers had poor attitude and seemed forced. Cutlery was missing for several courses, a wine list was not provided after we finished our champagne and were already eating the 2nd course, the sommelier offered little in terms of suggestions. The two maitre d’ (the chef’s wife +son) was constantly coming by each table to rave about each dish, which may have been enjoyable if they were actually good but in our case it came across as especially annoying. Then a few glairing errors, my partner left about half of her guinea fowl dish the server was very eager to take her dish away which she was ok with, however, he also took mine as I was eating it (ie fork in hand mouth full and unable to complain) – I was stunned. At the end of all of this, the bill is presented, the waiter hands the cc machine with the tip choice already selected “a tip for our service?” (as he had done to the two other tables in our room) never before in any fine establishment have I ever been verbally asked for a tip, and none was left. A tour of the wine cellar was declined. It is hard to find a negative comment about this restaurant anywhere (except tripadvisor for what its worth) yet I cannot fathom that this was simply an ‘off night’ . Has anyone else ate here recently??
After some careful discussion we decided not to let one night change our plans for the rest of the trip, and continued to Taverna del Capitano for lunch the following day, and were glad we did. It is a gorgeous setting right over the sea, the interior is slightly more modest, still fine. We ate a huge variety of fish all perfectly prepared and very fresh, with an excellent scampi lemon risotto,a fried pasta encrusted fish, and a hot stone fish course really standing out. For desert we had variety of citrus flavoured deserts including the same type of traditional lemon cake and petit fours, both of which were excellent. Service is not overly formal but still excellent and friendly. The chef was very friendly and greeted us after the meal. The complexity is not as ambitious as don alfonso so a fair comparison is difficult, but the overall meal experience was so much better that my partner could not resist telling the chef- who seemed to smile knowingly.
We had a lunch in Amalfi the following day at da gemma, it was a great spot, more citrus and lemon flavours and well prepared fish, modest prices, seemed like a great recommendation considering the number of tourist traps in town. For our last night in Amalfi we drove up to Ravello and ate at Rossellinis. The hotel itself was very imprsssive with very nice views looking down over the coast. The dining room in the basement had a very rustic feel, they had live music playing which was surprisingly tasteful. I had a well prepared cod dish that was quite good, the real highlight was a lemon soufflé desert that was simply scrumptious. The service was excellent. The wine list was a bit overpriced if I recall correctly. It should be said that despite the tasteful room the place had a bit too much of a ‘hotel restaurant’ kind of atmosphere.

In Rome for our last 4 days we wanted to get back to more casual eating (atleast before the last night). We used the EatRome app on the ipad with the gps and just walked into whatever was close, none of the restaurants really stood out, but they seemed like a lot better alternatives to many, many tourist traps (ie “no frozen food here” sign) . Osteria dell'Ingegno was probably our favourite, Bir & fud was fun, 'gusto was ok, Grapollo d'oro zampano was a miss (burnt lasagne and bad service), Palatium was nice but we didn't eat much. It was nice to sample wines from all the regions in Italy, many of the wine bars we visited had great by the glass selections. We tried 5 or 6 gelato places, all were excellent. Pizzarium and Roscioli pizza were both amazing, defiantly one of the culinary highlights of the trip.
For our last night we dined at La Pergola. It’s a bit of a trip away from central Rome, but not far in a taxi. There are great views over all of Rome, although you can really only make out a handful of buildings from this far. The room is full of a nice art collection, with interesting pieces throughout. The stemware/silverware was as expected for a restaurant of this calibre. The flooring is an aged blue carpet, and the wood lattice panelling around the windows looked like it belonged in a patio set, and the glass panel room divider at the entrance is akin to something you would see at an American pizza joint . In fact aside from the view the décor is probably the worst 3* Michelin restaurant I have been in . While clearly these criticisms are overstated, in short, I found that the atmosphere, well nice, was not world class. Wine selection was excellent, we had a half bottle of Barbaresco followed by a half bottle of Brunello, I’m not well informed enough to comment on the wine prices but they are certainly much cheaper than we would have paid in Canada. I had a veal starter, the fagotelli (best pasta I have ever had), pigeon, and the grand desert (an assortment). The food was excellent, very carefully prepared, flavours were complex and very carefully nuanced yet remained light, clearly the work of a very exceptional chef. Service was good, not flawless, the level of professionalism simply isn’t the same as I would expect in an equivalent French or even NYC 3* Michelin. Ironically our Italian fine dining experience ended the same way as it began, shortly after our first course a couple with a young child was sited next to us in a fluorescent green high chair provided by the restaurant. The child had a portable DVD player and was listening to cartoons at a loud volume. I requested to be moved to another table, and we were accomidated with understanding 10 minutes later. At least here the maitre’d asked him to turn it off, the family complied after the 3rd request, at that point the child threw a temper tantrum, screaming and proceeded to run around a couple of tables, chased by his father, thankfully by this point we were on the opposite side of the large restaurant and could simply laugh about it. While the food was certainly excellent, I left mildly disappointed with the restaurant, at this price point dining out for us is about the whole experience. If you want to taste highly refined Italian cuisine, certainly come here, but if you are budgeting this as a ‘once in a lifetime’ dining experience, look elsewhere.

A few other thoughts:

Have others had similar experiences with young kids in expensive restaurants? I do not have children myself and find that parents seem to get so used to loud children that they can just drown it out, then they say "oh don't worry he/she is is great at restaurants." Is it too much to ask to say no very young children at high end restaurants? I'd like to here what others with children thinking about this because clearly i have a bias.

Aside from the high end restaurants and Boccon di Vino we were served stale bread throughout our trip. Clearly Italians are capable of making very nice bread, why can't it end up on a table in a mid range restaurant, is there an explanation for this?

My partner and I wanted shared the costs of the restaurants so we alternated paying as we often do at home, we found it very amusing the looks of confusion we would get. Typically, she would ask for the cheque, it would be brought to me, she would place her visa, they would return with the machine to me. She wasn't sure whether to be offended or just laugh but we mostly chose the later.

Hope this helps someone!

Tim

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La Pergola
Via A Cadlolo 101,, Rome, Lazio 00136, IT

Roscioli
Via dei Giubbonari 21/23, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT

Ristoro di Lamole
via lamole, 6,, Greve in Chianti, Tuscany 50022, IT

Met
Riva degli Schiavoni, 4149, 30122 Venezia, Italy, Venice, Veneto , IT

Rossellinis
via San Giovanni del Toro, 28, Ravello, Campania , IT

Da Gemma
Via Sasso 11, Amalfi, Campania 84011, IT

Pizzarium
Via della Meloria, 43, Rome, Lazio 00136, IT

Arnolfo
Via XX Settembre, 50, Colle di Val d’Elsa, Tuscany 53034, IT

Taverna del Capitano
Porto di Brenzone, Via Lungolago,8, Brenzone, Veneto , IT

Trattoria I Due G aka 2 G
Via Bernardo Cennini, Florence, Toscana 50123, IT

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  1. Thanks for taking the time for make such a lengthy & detailed report. I am sure it will be of great use and interest to others going forward.

    1. I am dismayed by your report of a child wielding a noisy electronic device at La Pergola. I'm sure my husband would have ripped it bodily from his sticky little hand long before a third request became necessary -- not that I am recommending this hypothesis. What was their nationality? Perhaps they were guests at the hotel, not that that should matter.

      Since I am the author of two reviews of Don Alfonso (not recent) in the New York Times travel section, you may be referring to my work, but in both articles you may have noted that my real love was Taverna del Capitano, and I'm glad to know it's still wonderful. You should also have noted a decline in enthusiasm from my first visit to Don Alfonso to my second. But it should certainly not have disappointed to the extent you describe.

      7 Replies
      1. re: mbfant

        I am thinking OP might have been at La Pergola the same night katieparla was - she also reported a noisy 2 yo. (unacceptable for me)

        1. re: vinoroma

          Dont know whats happening - its a clearly unacceptable situation - perhaps the restaurants are being caught flat-footed by this new type of boorish patron behavior? If it was a loud adult drunk, they would know what to do.

          1. re: jen kalb

            Babies and toddlers in restaurants is a hotly debated topic among Italians as well and not only for Michelin three-star restaurants.

            I can only think that the parents were hotel guests and possibly HHonors Diamond members to boot.

        2. re: mbfant

          The couple in the Met were French, I think the couple at La Pergola were Italian, I also assumed that they were hotel guests. We dined there just this past Saturday, not sure what night katieparla was there but hopefully this isn't happening too often!

          There was another article that was very glowing from the late RW Apple listing Don Alfonso as one of his top 10 favourite restaurants in the world, but his visit was also probably not recent. Perhaps Michelin got it right when they took away a star. In retrospect I guess should have read yours in more detail, but I got distracted by your excellent report of Taverna del Capitano which led us there-and did not disapoint.. so thanks!

          1. re: tdiddy23

            Dissatisfaction with Don Alfonso is nothing new - quality seems to go up and down - two comments by one of my favorite (tho scarce recently) writers on the Italian food scene, from 1999 and 2001
            http://www.dine-online.co.uk/santagat...
            http://dine-online.co.uk/alfonso.htm

            On the other hand, the Iaccarinos are tireless in promoting the food of their region and obtaining recognition for its quality and that of the local food products.

            So glad for all of your great reports!

            1. re: tdiddy23

              I always went to restaurants anonymously, Apple, I believe, did not, which can account for a lot. After my "missions" to Taverna del Capitano, we returned at least a couple of times to stay at the little hotel and brought our kayaks -- still our gold standard for brief vacations.

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              Taverna del Capitano
              Porto di Brenzone, Via Lungolago,8, Brenzone, Veneto , IT

              1. re: mbfant

                My partner and I dined at Don Alfonso in 1999, and though the food was very enjoyable (I still remember the rack of baby goat) and service excellent, I did not feel it merited the three Michelin stars it had then. It gave me the impression, which I still have, that Michelin has lowere expectations of restaurants outside France, or that they are simply less knowledgeable about cuisines other than French and therefore more easily impressed.

          2. Hey Tim, I don't know what happened to my reply here because I posted an empathetic response the other day. So sorry to hear about your experience at la pergola and Don Alfonso. I was at La Pergola on wendnesday night. I enjoyed the food itself and the service was great but the shrieking two year old nearby was awful and I wanted to chuck that high chair off Montemario. Of course not with the child in it, as she roamed freely around their corner of the restaurant for the second half of the meal. I was quite put off by the kid's presence. It is completely inappropriate to admit a two year old to such a restaurant and it is disrespectful and arrogant of parents to bring one.

            I'm with you on Grappolo d'Oro Zampano and Gusto. And Roscioli and pizzarium are two of my favorite spots glad you made it there.

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            Roscioli
            Via dei Giubbonari 21/23, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT

            1. Thanks so much for checking back in with this long, detailed and thoughtful report back.

              The high chair episode at La Pergola is horrific. I'm assuming it was the same child both nights you and Katie went, and that the people were guests at the hotel. I'm thinking that they may have been VIP guests. No excuse.

              You're not the first person to tell me recently that they have had a bad experience at Grappolo D'oro. I'll be taking that into consideration, trying it again, and then will adjust my recommendations.

              And 'Gusto is what it is. I'm curious though , which part of 'Gusto did you eat at? Because I quite like the Osteria, and Tati 28 is also very good. But I'm not a fan of the Pizzeria. The restaurant used to be very good, but I haven't been there in a while.

              Glad you had a good meal at Trattoria I Due G, in Florence, which is one of my favorites for this type of place there.

              Again, many thanks for your considerate feedback.

              www.elizabethminchilli.com

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              'Gusto
              Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 7, Rome, Lazio , IT

              1 Reply
              1. re: minchilli

                It has been quite some time since the restaurant part of 'Gusto has been any good. the pizzeria is the pits and the osteria is still ok.

                tdiddy23 and i were there on two different nights. he went on saturday and i on Wednesday night. the offensive table was made up of British tourists (baby, parents, grandparents). I presume they were hotel guests. they were definitely not VIPs

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                'Gusto
                Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 7, Rome, Lazio , IT