Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Italy >
Apr 10, 2012 12:00 PM

Completely Unplanned ER Trip -

Just booked a flight in and out of Milan for 2 weeks in July....hard to find a starting point of where to stay because of the vast diversity of Italian regional cooking.
We have two things we know we must do:
1) Emilia Romagna- Modena, Bologna surrounding area
2) Beachside town - we know we want to relax on a beach and stay in a nice hotel in the town..

I have read the other ER boards have found some great posts on these few restaurants in ER, Da Ivan, Da Amerigo, and Locanda Mariella so at least now we have three meals planned.

We will have a rental car so logistics shouldnt be an issue. Both my wife and I speak Italian and have spent some time touring the major cities but we are looking for a real off the beaten path experience for restaurants, hotel (or agriturismo), and coast.

Thanks for the help!!!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. One piece of homework you will probably need to do for yourself is check whether all your wish-list restaurants are open in July.

    Also, by a "beachside town" are most interested in staying in the Emilia-Romagna? Once you are in Parma, it is not far to drive to coastal Tuscany or coastal Liguria. Also, the section of the Adriatic coast that belongs to Emilia-Romagna is not all that long.

    1. it seems like you made some good choices. Not trying to discourage you, but having visited this area twice during the month of July I have to say that its not the best season for these towns (inside the cathedrals its cool enough) and their rich food. The country restaurants seem like a good plan, although down in the Po plain it is sticky, sticky. Humid subtropical is the climate zone. Maybe you should look into finding a lodging in the Appenine foothills to find a breezy place to stay.

      Milan is also not an attractive July destination, though the restaurants are open.

      My recollection is that Rimini is sort of a culinary dead zone and judging from our quick in and out, not a very appealing town, but there are other areas on the Romagna/Marche coast (including Ravenna) which might be better - or you could follow bb's alternative suggestion. Or or you could go up into the lakes (we spend this time on Garda) for some refreshment.

      10 Replies
      1. re: jen kalb

        Of the three country restaurants mentioned, only one, Da Ivan, is in the Po Plain. I totally disagree with Jen Kalb's description of the "sticky, sticky. Humid subtropical is the climate zone" comment. In fact, it is anything but humid. In the Po Plain, it is extremely dry at that time of year, hot and dry. May is humid, July is dry.

        @ FoodExpression. I was the person who originally posted (and continue to comment) about Da Ivan, Amerigo and Mariella. They are all exceptional country trattorie, even though they're thought of as ristorante.
        We have been going there for a long time, over and over again (in fact we'll be at Da Ivan in a few weeks), and they are the epitome of what the countryside around Parma ( for Da Ivan and Mariella) and Bologna (Amerigo) have to offer. IMHO, the places are so much better than anything you can find in the two cities.
        All the places have caring owners, wonderful food and excellent wine lists in very comfortable settings. When you come home from Da Ivan after eating the culatello that Barbara and Ivan serve, you'll be a changed person :)

        1. re: allende

          hopefully OP will be more comfortable than we were, perpetually looking for shady spots! Really looking forward to another report on these outstanding places.

          1. re: jen kalb

            Allende, These types of traditional trattorie are the just the kind of places to eat that we are looking forward to. We will certainly be contacting the restaurants beforehand to confirm that they are open.

            Also, coastal or lakeside what towns specifically are great foodie towns? We are thinking Portofino maybe? Maybe somewhere on the Adriatic Coast? We are in need of some rest and relaxation so any suggestions for a resort town will be greatly welcome.

            We have both been to Cinque Terre and its beautiful and all but we found it to be overwhelmingly overrun by international tourists. We are looking more for the true italian vacation destination within Italy. Beaches are a definite thing we would like to incorporate. Hopefully it is near enough to the ER region as we dont want to drive too far south as our departing flight is from Milano.

            Thanks again for your help. Much appreciated.

            1. re: FoodExpression

              Portofino is a wonderful place, but somewhat overrun in July. Then you have the fact that you have to get off the peninsula, in order to get anywhere. That is a really problem in the summertime. It's a shame because while Portofino and Santa Margherita are not food towns, there is lots to do with food around that area e.g. Chiavari which is a wonderful food town, and there are others... and Liguria and Ligurian food is special. But R&R probably not because of the problem in getting around... and it is a real problem.

              Furthermore, there is only rocky beach on the peninsula, not very much sand, and in fact in most places, no sand.

              The Adriatic? Very low base in most places, overrun by tourists. Nor far from the Cinque Terre is Forte dei Marmi. By far the best beach on the Italian riviera and very few non Italians (except for the fact that the very rich Russians are coming). It is not a food town, but it has a few good restaurants, including a very great one, Lorenzo. It also has the advantage of being very close to places that care about food, Lucca and Pietrasanta and to a certain extent Viareggio for example. It is also one hour away from our second favorite Tuscan fish restaurant, La Pineta, right on the ocean, in Marina di Bibbona. I've written about both Lorenzo and La Pineta on this blog.

              You might consider Forte.

              One other thing to consider in the Parmense countryside is La Buca in Zibello. I have written about that extensively. It is very near Da Ivan but a totally different experience.

              Hope this helps.

              1. re: allende


                Do you have favorite places to eat in Pietrasanta?

                1. re: barberinibee

                  Lots of restaurants in Pietrasanta, none of them special. The best known is Enotecca Marcucci, with a great wine list, okay food and sloppy service. Do not go.

                  Just outside of town, within 2 km. is Da Beppino. Good Tuscan trattoria. The restaurant we like the best, by far, within 5 km. of the town is La Dogana, between Pietrasanta and Camaiore. Go.

                  But then again, why bother when a few km away is Lorenzo in Forte dei Marmi. GO!

                  1. re: allende

                    Thanks. When you mentioned Pietrasanta as a place that cares about food, I got curious. I hadn't seen it mentioned before on this board (or maybe I missed it), and it is a town that is interesting in other ways.

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      When I mentioned "cares about food", it was with the thought of a good farmer's market, good butchers, two very good wine stores, an excellent bakery, unusual for a very small town in the very north of Tuscany. In town, in terms of restaurants, while there are many, there is not one that is interesting in any way.

                      In what ways is the town interesting "in other ways"?

                      1. re: allende

                        Stone sculpting, contemporary art galleries, local architecture, that sort of thing not allowed on Chowhound.

              2. re: FoodExpression


                I live not far from Portofino and consider it a culinary disaster zone! I warn friends who travel to Italy to stay with me to make sure they time a visit to Portofino NOT to coincide with a mealtime. Anywhere with a pretty view of the seaside one ends up risks disappointing food. But Portofino has a plethora of absolutely bad food. Surprisingly bad food. You think: "Why is this food so bad?"

                Of course it is a very pretty place to come into by boat, but not a pretty place to eat. And in July, "somewhat overrun" is -- well, an understatement! It is mobbed with cruise ship tourists and yacht-show-offs and gawkers. In February it can be pleasant.

                I sometimes suggest to food lovers in search of swim and sun that they might enjoy pretty Sestri Levante plus Chiavari. Sestri Levante has TWO sand beaches and great train connections, plus plenty of parking and some decidedly good Ligurian eats, and also good coffee, sweets and other summer treats., and foodie-land Chiavari is the next town over. It is rather hard to find an adequate hotel in Chiavari, so Sestri Levante has a whole range, plus some nice casual eateries itself (the all-octopus Polpo Mario is a personal fave). In combination with the easy train ride to Chiavari for farinata at Luchin makes for a special spot. Sestri Levante and Chiavari are italian sun-and-swim towns, without any Rick Steves tourism, Russian zillionaires or cruise-ship daytrippers. If you end up choosing the Italian Riviera for food and sand, I recommend investing in David Downie's Food and Wine of Genoa and the Italian Riviera, which covers the whole coast with some excellent tips for food lovers for not only restaurants but bakeries, places to buy kitchenware, etc.

                Sestri Levante makes for a fairly easy shot to Milano by train or car -- certainly as easy as anything on the Adriatic. (And you can drop in to Portofino for a peek should you care.)

                I have nicer cultural memories of Rimini than jenkalb does, probably because I went in winter and therefore could focus on the Roman, Vasari and Fellini sights. I never saw the beach and most of the designer label stores were closed. But I had a disappointing meal at a recommended seafood eatery. I cannot vouch for anything culinary about Cesenatico but I hope someday to visit.

                I also hope to someday visit the locations mentioned by allende, and I'm not discouraging you from choosing them. They could be fab. But there are also sand beaches near Chiavari if you would like Ligurian food.


        2. Two other restaurants we went to in the Parma area and loved were Trattoria ai Due Paltani on Via Budellungo in Coloreto and Trattoria di Cognento in Campagnola Emilia. I am pretty sure I posted a report about the trip (in 2010). Cognento was a charming “country” trattoria with a couple of different rooms, one of which was surrounded by windows that allowed you to look out at the grounds surrounding the restaurant. After lunch when we went back to the car, we noticed that there was quite a nice “park” (for lack of a better word) with benches and a gazebo, etc. that would be wonderful for outdoor dining in the nicer weather.

          17 Replies
          1. re: ekc

            So all of those recos sounds wonderful. Here's the thing we want to do some r and r on a beach so what say you of this itinerary. We fly in and out of Milan. Drive to Ligurian coast, either sestri levante or visit small towns near genoa, ie towns near Savona, (Fred plotkin has a few great reviews). Then head to ER for the country side experience.

            We r so excited for the trip. Wil certainly post pics of travels. Thanks Again for the advice.

            1. re: FoodExpression

              In July you are better off using trains to get to restaurants on the Ligurian coast south of Genoa since parking is next to impossible. Can't speak to train accessibility of Fred Plotkin's recommendations for the coast between Genoa and Savona since I don't know which restaurants you are thinking of in which towns. A car can be acquired later in La Spezia.

              1. re: FoodExpression

                You said earlier "Beaches are a definite thing we would like to incorporate. " I'm afraid you're not going to find them anywhere near Savona unless you like very narrow beaches, mostly composed of rocks and a little sand rocks, and overrun by Italians coming for a few days.

                1. re: allende

                  When I say beaches i mean we would like to stay in a coastal community that is considered a resort town. We want the town to have good food, nice walking centro, access to somewhere that has a chair with an umbrella so we can toast our wine and pasta filled bodies in the hot summer Italian sun, and also some nice hotels. Is that something that Savona, Chiavari, or any of the Ligurian coastal towns have? Maybe it may make more sense to go a bit farther to the Tuscan coast where there is a more something of this nature?

                  So far this is the itinerary that I am thinking. From Milan, head south towards Liguria through Piemonte...stop in a town or two there for 4 days. Then onto the "beaches" in Liguria for another 5 days. Then head to ER for the final 4 days to either Bologna, Modena, and/or other Paramese towns and to some of the restaurants that have been discussed prior.

                  Too ambitious? Any town that may fall into this criteria that anyone has been to?

                  1. re: FoodExpression

                    In Liguria, that's about all the seaside towns offer -- what you describe. Matching superior food with this is a challenge, because there is so much foot traffic, a lot of restaurants don't need to try hard to stay in business. Captive audience.

                    Others know more about the coast between Genova and the French border, or the Tuscan coast. In my experience of the Italian Riviera between Genova and the Tuscan border, Sestri Levante matches good food plus easy access to special food (short train ride to Chiavari) with the other things you say you want. I'm not pushing you to go to Sestri Levante because I don't know the entire coast! I'm just telling you my opinion of the stretch with which I'm most familiar.

                  2. re: allende

                    How is ER faring with these disasters? Are you there now? Hopefully all is well and there was not too much collateral damage where you are from.

                    1. re: FoodExpression

                      I was there on Friday at Da Ivan. Not much damage from the first quake, although people were shaken (no pun intended). This second one appears in some ways more severe. Many of the towns that we've gone to and know well (Mirandola, San Benedetto Po , Carpi) on the way to eat in Quistello during the past 30 years, were hard hit. These are places where life in general is a struggle, where people have to work very hard to earn a decent living. You hate to see this thing happen anywhere, but especially not here.

                      Thanks so much for your concern.

                      1. re: allende

                        Well its good to hear that there wasnt too much damage throughout the ENTIRE region. Ill certainly call some of the hotels (in Bologna, Mantua, Da Ivan) to make certain that they are also fine.

                        Where did you go in Quistello and how was it? Ambasciata?

                        1. re: FoodExpression

                          We have been to Ambasciata more than 50 times since we first started going in 1982. We were Romano Tomani's first American customers, a fact that he would tell everyone, much to our embarrassment, whenever we were there. We would also see him in New York when he would cook at Le Cirque and became really good friends with him.

                          There was no one better than Romano. He was the person that, for us, had the greatest "feel" about food and the greatest sense of what a meal should be.
                          We went there every chance we could and always came out of the restaurant having had a truly wonderful meal. We took many friends there and sent a lot of acquaintances there. Everyone we sent just couldn't believe what a kind, giving, generous person he was... and what a great meal they had. He was unique... really.

                          Unfortunately, things have changed, not with Romano who remains a wonderful person, but with a certain other person there who, if I may describe him as such, is a "clown" and does much to destroy what used to be a wonderful atmosphere during the meal. The Italian guides have recognized it as well, as have other Italians that we know here in Italy.

                          With incredible reluctance, after our last two times there, we've decided to stay away, hopefully not forever, but for a while.

                          For the time being, we'll just have to live with the fondest of memories of Romano and all the simply incredible times we had with him.

                          1. re: allende

                            Point is well taken. Its very true that proprietors that care and pay attention are what make restaurants great. But it is the same on the negative side that any one person can be the demise of a restaurant.

                            1. re: FoodExpression

                              Starting to get a bit nervous about over-doing it. Italy is not really about DOING things its about dolce fare niente right?

                              Here is our final itinerary its looking exciting but i fear it may be too much. The wife and i are not so great at the sitting at the same hotel/resort for too long but this may be a bit much. We will be there for a total of 14 days.

                              Fly into Malpensa and drive directly to :

                              1) Stay in Alba -3 days

                              dining in at least 2 of these places Da Renzo in Cervere
                              Cascinalenuovo, Il Centro in Priocca, and Da Bardon.
                              Osteria dell Arco, Il Cascinalenuovo in Isola d’Asti,
                              Osteria Veglio

                              2) Then driving to Sestri Levante for 3 days
                              dining in Polpo Mario and Luchin in Chiavari

                              3) Then driving to Bologna for 3 days
                              not sure where to dine yet in the city. Would like to eat in the city as finally we will not have to drive after our late meals because we are in the centro.

                              4) Then one night at Da Ivan, eating here of course.

                              5) Then staying in Mantova for 3 nights, eating at Dal Pescatore and not sure of other meals.

                              6) Then final night at Al Sorriso in Soriso. Then depart Malpensa.

                              I am thinking now that this is way too much driving and that is going to prevent us from experiencing the culture of these towns. I would like to stay at the beach longer and maybe skip a night in Bologna? Maybe skip Bologna all together? I have always wanted to see Bologna as Ive traveled throughout other major italian cities and have heard wonderful things about the food, history, and architecture but maybe I will be barely skimming the surface by being there for only three days anyway? So maybe just skip altogether?

                              1. re: FoodExpression

                                For what it is worth.

                                Da Renzo, Il Centro and Cascinalenuovo are very similar and very different from Da Bardon, Osteria Veglio and Osteria dell Arco. Don't understand at all why you would go to dell Arco.

                                If this were my first trip, for restaurants, I'd first go to Da Renzo and then Il Centro, in that order... or maybe not that order :). For trattorie, in order, I'd go to Da Bardon and then La Torre in Cherasco. Osteria Veglio only go for lunch.

                                As much as I love Da Ivan, would prefer to eat and stay at La Buca in Zibello (full disclosure, both the owners of Da Ivan and La Buca are very good friends of mine). There I would start with culatello and spalla cotta, then either tortelli di ricotta, or tortelli di zucca (or if Miriam has a special lasagna that day, I might consider it). For a main course a must is the mariola and the prete. That is the best way to eat at La Buca the first time.

                                Mantova: stay at Casa Poli; really there is no place else 25% as good. In the city eat at Acquila Nigra's trattoria next door "La Porta Accanto" or the more upscale trattoria which we've enjoyed for 30 years Il Cigno (full disclosure, the owner is a friend) or the very good downscale osteria, Antica Osteria ai Ranari ( A lot of people in Mantova will tell you to eat at Due Cavalini. Go at your own risk.

                                If you can go to Dal Pescatore at lunch, it is more fun than in the evening, but if not the evening is great as well.

                                If your interest is food and wine, skip Bologna. There are all these other places around Bologna and around Parma that are much much better. In fact, there is no comparison.

                                1. re: allende

                                  We are already booked for Casa Poli...I suppose its not going to be too much running around.

                                  Thanks for all the food tips. 80% of the restaurants that I have chosen have come from you.

                                  BB...thanks for your help about Sestri....

                                  1. re: FoodExpression

                                    You seem like you have a good balance now. Im supportive of minimizing your driving miles and back and forth and minimizing after-meal driving. There was a recent thread about Dal Pescatore where the writer stayed at a B&B nearby. That might also be something you want to consider on your way back toward Milano, instead of driving back to Mantova.

                                    You will just have to feel your way. I mentioned before (and was disagreed with) that E-R and the Lombardy plains can be hot and muggy in the summer - hopefully you will get better weather than we did on our last two trips. We wilted in Milano, particularly. If this happens, and hopefully it wont, y you can always escape northward to the lakes and hills, along with having nice long lunches in your restaurant destinations!.

                                2. re: FoodExpression

                                  Hard to answer your travel questions here, because Chowhound discourages all talk except food talk.

                                  However, I think I am allowed to say this:

                                  You shouldn't drive to eat at Luchin in Chiavari. Take the train. Polpo Mario is in Sestri Levante, so thats another day when you can skip driving.

                                  Put Da Ivan ahead of Bologna, not after. (Go from Sestri Levante to Da Ivan.)

                                  I would spend one less day in Mantova rather than give up on seeing a place you've always wanted to see. For eating in Bologna, I would recommend Giampi e Ciccio, Da Gianni and Teresina.

                                  I'm not sure I could eat a big meal at Al Sorriso and then get up early for a plane departure.

                                  Personally, I would re-order the trip, to put my stomach in a better position to enjoy the food. I would go directly from arrival in Milan to Bologna by train for 2 nights, to avoid the stress of having to drive jet-lagged. After 2 nights in Bologna, I would pick up a car the next afternoon after 4pm and head to Da Ivan for dinner. Next day I would go to Sestri Levante for 3 days, then to Piemonte, then to Al Sorriso, then Mantova. (I would want to get rid of eating an Al Sorriso meal the night before departure). After 2 nights in Mantova, I would spend the last night in Milan -- where there are fun places to eat.

                                  Another way to do it would be to go to Mantova directly upon arrival by train, rent a car 2 days later, head to Al Sorriso, then Alba, then Sestri Levante, then Da Ivan and finish up with 2 nights in Bologna (drop the car) and then train to Milan (50 minutes).

                                  1. re: FoodExpression

                                    I don't disagree with Allende's assessment of skipping Bologna if food and wine is your only interest in being in the city.

                                    1. re: FoodExpression

                                      I wouldn't skip Bologna either. The countryside restaurants might have better food and a certain generosity but the city has plenty to offer in terms of history, food, architecture, people watching, cafe scene. window shopping. It is one of my favorite medium size city in all of Europe.

                    2. So we are leaving Monday for the trip and we are completely over the moon that we are going to be in Italy in a few days. Thanks you to everyone who contributed to this thread so far as your recommendations are the instruction as to how we have comprised our itinerary.

                      Will update with pics and stories!

                      34 Replies
                      1. re: FoodExpression

                        So reporting on day two herein Alba. Food so far has been very good. Last night was dinner at Lalibera. Started with a vitello tonnato and vitello crudo. I am still not sure how i feel about this dish as tuna mayo on top of a rare sliced cold veal just is a bit foreign to me but being it is a specialty of alba i will def try it again. Crudo was fantastic with just a drizzle of local oil and salt. Pasta was the highlight if the meal. Mezzomaniche ( similar to a smaller rigatoni) with a light tomato, anchovy, caper sauce with bottarga shavings. Not sure how piemontese this dish was but was still fantastic. Secondo was a wonderful baby lamb chops roasted with rosemary. So simple yet so delicious. Also ordered a glass of barbera d'alba and the waitress left the bottle on the table so by the end if the meal i ended up drinking slighlt more than half the bottle. Funny thing is when the bill came she only charged me 5 euro for wine. Not sure if this was customary but definitely a nice surprise. Overall i would certainly return as there were many other dishes on this menu i wanted to try.

                        Lunch today was at il vicoletto in alba. Pasta was very good. Ravioli del plin with a zucchini flowers sauce. Secondo was certainly forgettable as was a roasted guinea fowl that was dried out and tasted like it could have been cooked the day before.

                        Tonight we will be going to la torre in cherasco. Will update with pics when we return as i believe i am unable to upload pics with iphone.

                        Also i do believe that since we were on an overnight flight to malpensa then drove 2+ hours to alba that our bodies and taste buds have not returned to normal yet. So food and wine dont taste as good as they should yet.

                        1. re: FoodExpression

                          I look forward to your feedback from Liguria (and am grateful for this too!) Drink LOTS of water.

                          1. re: barberinibee

                            Okay so:

                            Dinner last night at La Torre was execellent.
                            Antipasti- vitello crudo- better than any steak tartare ive had in france
                            And fried stuffed zucchine flowers on a bed of fontina fondue. Sounds too rich but was so delicate that it worked.
                            Primi- risotto w barolo and mushrooms. Perfectly aldente creamy and salty. Finally another light dish of fried pigs feet. So tender and meaty. Thankfully for all the acidic wines of the region otherwise this would've been way too rich. Actually all of this was way too rich and since it was our second night in town that's how we learned our lesson. we actually had a problem sleeping from such heavy food so late at night.

                            Lunch was osteria veglio- antipasti- salmerina- poached fish served cold with wonderful citrus vinagrette. Wife had a pasta ( mini rigatoni) with burrata and pesto ( almonds, sun dried tomatoes, capers). I never had such a pesto but is certainly something we will steal for our home cooking.
                            Finished with a cheese plate as we needed a break after previous night.

                            Dinner tonight was another homerun.

                            Cascinalenuovo. Allende hope you dont mind but proprietors asked us where we heard of their restaurant and we gave them your chowhound name and mine too.

                            Raw sicilian red prawns with a homemade prawn toast. Mind blowingly greAt seafood. Living near nyc ive had seafood at some of the best restaurants and this is right there with them. Then had a mille foglie of veal tongue and duck liver. Again awesome E. finshed with a croaker fish with a tomato fish broth. Fish was overcooked but they get a pass bc rest of meAl was so perfect. Could have been bc head chef was cruising the dining room but again still a decent dish.

                            Overall food in piemonte has been a 10 out of 10 and thanks everyone, particularly allende for these wonderful choices.

                            Also we shipped a few cases of barolo home today from Fonatanafredda and Borgogno. B. of such heavy food and wine we r ALMOST glad to leAve and go to the beach. ALMOST

                            1. re: FoodExpression

                              So happy that the three places, Cherasco, Veglio, and Cascinalenuovo were enjoyable.

                              Don't mind in the least that you mentioned to Roberto and Walter my screen name. They've been very good friends of mine for over 25 years.

                              I must tell you that am very impressed that you didn't let the recitation of the menu at La Torre throw you and that you ordered the fried pigs feet. That's something that most non Italians wouldn't do.

                              Am also impressed that you ordered the mille foglie (nice and rich, huh) at Cascinale. My favorite dish there, but again, not something that would typically be ordered by a non Italian.

                              Enjoy the rest of your stay in Italy.

                              1. re: allende

                                Thanks for the credit. So we just got to sestri levante today and am do excitef to be eating lighter food. I started today our first lunch at Angiolino. What a great dush of a crudo of red prawns again and tuna with the roe. We then shared a " foccacia" but wasnt like any ive had before. It was a thin dough that was light as air that was stuffes with a runny mild cheese almost like a runny ricotta and pesto genovese.

                                I think we are going to be eating just fine. Truthfully i think our bodies need a break from the heavy duty eating. Sestri, and our hotel, so nice we may even stay here a few more nights and steal a night or two from bologna.

                                1. re: FoodExpression

                                  I am so happy to hear you are enjoying your stay in Sestri Levante. The thin foccacia you ate is foccacia col formaggio, and I'm glad you found a good version because it is actually the star speciality of a town several kilometers north or Sestri, and unfortunately not-so-good versions is the norm elsewhere along the coast. The mild "runny" cheese is stracchino, which almost literally means "stressed", because it is rather low fat cheese classically made of milk from exhausted cows who have been climbing the local steep terrain, which isn't very rich grazing ground to begin with. Historically, the dish is served without pesto.

                                  You will also find a plain pizza-bread type foccacia, also much flatter and thinner than the fluffy stuff from Puglia. That plain foccacia, too, can vary wildly in quality and it is a subjective thing as to which foccaceria's version you might like best.

                                  Where are you staying? I almost chose to live in lively, beachy Sestri (I ended up in the hills elsewhere), and the light food of Liguria is one of the topmost regions I live in this region (along with the beauty of the colorful contrasts and the sweet climate of course!). In Bologna, don't forget it is perfectly acceptable to have proscuitto and melon as a main course. For lunches, I like passatelli in brodo rather than a heavy pasta, and many eateries (like Bistrot 18 on the via Claveture or Olivo on via San Vitale at the piazza Aldrovandi) serve big bowls of fresh salad for lunch (insalatone), and Teresina on the via Oberdan has a lovely romantic courtyard for dinner and nice fish dishes (reservations essential). Trattoria Twinside has lighter meals (if not lighter prices) and a wonderful beer and wine list. And there are of course many cafes and wine bars serving cold plates of very good cured meats and cheeses.

                                  If the Ligurian sun gets to be too much, make the short train trip to shady, breezy Chiavari. The portico-covered heart of town is away from the beach (walk toward the foothills). It has a wonderful cafe scene all evening long, and Luchin's farinata is a unique taste treat. Get there early to snag a table outdoors under the arches, away from the wood-burning ovens. Anybody in town can point the way there.

                                  1. re: barberinibee

                                    Thanks for the heads up tips for when we go to bologna. We did Luchin In Chiavari it was very good however i couldnt help but feel overwheming sense of diluted authenticity as its somewhere that is on everyone's tourist radar. The waiter was awful coming to our table and asking us if we had menus. We said no so he did a short glance around and then started firing off a few dishes they had. By the way they have a full menu. He was just too lazy to get a copy. Anyhow farinata was very good but I have to imagine there are other places doing it with less of a I don't give a shit attitude.

                                    We are sort of slowing Down our eating pace thus far, but not really. We are staying in hotel dei castelli. Lovely views of the town and great private beach area.

                                    We ate last night in a small town call Bargone in Casarza Ligure. They were having a festival of stawberries. There was music, food, dancing, and of course strawberries. It wasn't anything amazing but was just neat to see the whole town come out for the event. We ate Porchetta, handmade pasta , troppi I think with pesto alla genovese, Mussels with garlic, and polenta ai funghi. Food was okay but obviously it wasn't all about food.

                                    So reporting on some of the other memorable meals here. We ate at il polpino the other night. One of the three family restaurants of polpo Mario, il polpino, and cantina del polpino. Il polpino was my favorite of the the three. They serve food in the style of the old poor kitchen dishes called testaiu. They prepare the same dough which is just flour water and salt with 4 or 5 different preparations. As pasta, called testaroli, served cheese and oil, or funghi porcini. Then grilled spread with an amazing pesto genovese then as grilled vehicle for salumi. Finally served grilled with. Nutella. This restaurant was an all you can eat and they will keep serving you food as much as you would like. Wine or beer is also included in copious quantities all for 17 euro.

                                    We also ate at the Cantina and had the focaccia of sestri levante again which was unbelievably good.
                                    We also did polpo Mario. The typical prep of polpo was great and very simply prepared.

                                    Also we were lucky to be in sestri levante on Saturday when they had the market. A few great stalls were serving roasted meats. I have never had Assado before. It was a huge Porchetta like piece of meat only it was veal. We also had the salumi and cheese guy make us a few small sandwiches of prosciutto and fior di latte. We also were in chiavari on Saturday where they had a very similar maket with an even better looking stall serving roasted meats. I bought lots of bottarga to smuggle home with me as it costs around 30 use per lb back home.

                                    1. re: FoodExpression

                                      I'm so sorry to hear you got poor treatment at Luchin. I've never seen another non-Italian there -- Chiavari is seldom on anybody's Riviera tourist track -- so I'm guessing it was just crabbiness. I actually don't think you could have gotten equally good farinata someplace else, especially in July, unless maybe you went to the very blah city of La Spezia or made the trek all the way to Genova. Glad your less-than-stellar experience of Luchin didn't stop you from returning to Chiavari to enjoy its weekend markets.

                                      Glad to hear you went up into the entroterra. Handmade pasta you ate in Bargone s "trofie". Testaroli may be my very favorite pasta. so I'll have to give it a try Il Polpino. Don't know which kind of foccacia you were referring to that you ate at the Cantina -- a flat, dimpled salty bread or a melted cheese between very thin sheets of dough, but if it was the cheesy latter, it is known as a specialty of Recco, even when served elsewhere.

                                      I don't know where the roasted meat carts are coming from, but they are not native to the region. I live here and have never had asado here (but it's also true that Liguria sent an extremely high number of native sons to Argentina as emigres, some of whom returned.)

                                      1. re: barberinibee

                                        The focaccia at cantina was the thin sheets of dough with the runny cheese inside. I'm a huge fan of that and will try to duplicate when I return home. Thanks again for all the great recs. we will be trying balin tonight in sestri. We have taken many pics of food and will update soon.

                                        1. re: FoodExpression

                                          Here's a wonderful youtube made by Manuelina in Recco showing you how to make foccacia col formaggio. (You have to outwait the one minute of gabby introduction, but do note that the flour used is from Canada.)


                                          The real challenge is to get the dough sufficiently elastic so that it can be stretched to near transparency. Another challenge will be to find an adequate substitute for stracchino.


                                          And two other recipes for the dish, in English:



                                          1. re: barberinibee

                                            So tonite is our final evening in Italy and we are staying and dining at Al Sorriso. Since my last post we have Eaten like I could have never imagined. From Giampi e ciccio and Serhei in Bologna, to da Ivan in fontanelle, to Ai Ranari in Mantova this has been a trip of truly memorable meals. I will update this week with more pics and input of each experience as I am posting from an iPhone and have twice accidentally deleted my post and it takes way too long to retype.

                                            Thanks again to everyone that has added to this thread that made these last two weeks possible.

                                            1. re: FoodExpression

                                              It is delightful to hear back what seems to be a report that you enjoyed your meals at Giampi e Ciccio and at Serghei, and I'll try to check back to get the full report once you are at a true keyboard. I am certain others will want to know the details as well. You certainly lucked out weatherwise as well. at least in Liguria if not elsewhere.

                                                1. re: barberinibee

                                                  From Sestri Levante and Giampi and Ciccio in Bologna...
                                                  Asado of Veal, Testaiu from Il Polpina with pesto, Foccacia from Cantina del Polpino with straccino cheese, and tagliatelle with mortadella from Giampi and Ciccio.

                                                  Giampi and Ciccio was a wonderful trattoria meal. Simple, inexpensive and extremely comforting. Giampiero and his wife Paola were so friendly that we felt as if we have known them for years. This is the style of restaurant that I love. Casual, fantastic rustic food...if I could criticize anything it would be for them to have more than just house wine. Other than that the place exactly what we look for in trattorie.

                                                  1. re: barberinibee

                                                    Light "Foccacia" from Cantina del Polpino with straccino cheese

                                    2. re: FoodExpression

                                      Here are some pics from the Piemonte leg.. in order....ravioli del "plin" from il Vicoletto in Alba, cold marinated Salmerino from Osteria Veglio, crudo of prawns with homemade shrimp toasts and veal tongue and duck liver mille foglie from Cascinalenuovo in Isola D'Asti.

                                      Each one of these dishes was better than the next.

                                      1. re: FoodExpression

                                        These are from Da Ivan...I must say that this was by far the best part of the trip. The food here was more honest and delicious than anywhere that we ate throughout anywhere in Italy. I enjoyed this meal 30 times more than I enjoyed our meal at Al Sorriso, even with their 3 Michelin stars. The meal was extremely reasonable priced and I cannot get over how wonderful of host Ivan is. The wine list is fantastic. The prices are extremely reasonable considering the quality and level of attention paid to the food.

                                        There was also plenty of culatello enjoyed during this meal.

                                        Allende, I completely understand why you return here as I want to make a separate trip back to Italy just to eat here again.

                                        First dish is polenta fried in lardo with two kinds of whipped lardo, one with basil, and one with rosemary. They were spreadable and melted the second they touched the crunchy hot polenta.

                                        Next was what i believe from my poor understanding from what Ivan was saying is the curd of the parmiggiano with pancetta then pan fried. By the way pancetta in Parma is absolutely nothing like the stuff we get here. A very sad realization.

                                        Next is homeade ravioli stuffed with cheese and herbs. The were folded so as to look like little basil leaves. These were better than the similar prep of this dish then we had at Al Sorriso. Then was a homeamade spinach pasta with tomatoes and cheese on a creamy island of taleggio fondue.

                                        1. re: FoodExpression

                                          Lastly was a crudo of beef. I may be so bold as to say that this is the best place that I have ever eaten at in my entire life.

                                          1. re: FoodExpression

                                            Al Sorriso was quite disappointing. I am not sure if it was an off night or if it was just that this is where the restaurant is these days. Food was good however for the price I dont think I would ever return. Our meal cost us 550 Euro although we did get a 99 Bricco Rocche Barolo that was 160 euro but still too expensive. . I believe you are paying for the Michelin stars. Again all the courses were fine but nothing that really made me too excited.

                                            This best dish was this porcini mushroom that was just simply roasted and stuffed with a duxelle. I do not believe that when you pay for this kind of restaurant that they are entitled to an off night.

                                            We were there on a Sunday night and were the only table in the restaurant all night long. Also chef Valazza was not there that night so maybe that was why the food was not very enthusiastic.

                                            If i knew to expect his I would have eaten at Da Ivan another night where as that meal cost us 120 euro WITH wine.

                                            1. re: FoodExpression

                                              Also our meal at La Buca in Zibello was fantastic as well. I went easy as we knew we were going to Da Ivan for dinner. Starter was culatello, with some parmigianno and their homemade apple mostarda. Then had the stinco di maiale which was one of the best pork dishes that I have ever eaten in my life.

                                              1. re: FoodExpression

                                                Thought you would enjoy Da Ivan and Zibello. Glad you did.

                                                Places like this are why people who only stick to restaurants in the cities of ER, miss out on the some of the most delectable eating in the region. Trattorie, that really care about true regional food, in preparation, recipes and sourcing of materials and in both cases with wonderful wine lists at very reasonable prices. And... as an added attraction wonderful people, Ivan and Barbara at Da Ivan and Miriam, Laura and Luca at La Buca

                                                We've been going to Da Ivan for more than 15 years and La Buca for almost 35 and they remain timeless in the best possible ways.

                                                1. re: FoodExpression

                                                  So much enjoyed your wonderful reports and glad that your eating experiences turned out so well.

                                                  I only have two questions (1) what is the dish right above, and how was it cooked?
                                                  (2) was the testaroli served on the upside down plate as shown in your pic?

                                                  1. re: FoodExpression


                                                    Thanks for adding so copiously to the info pool on the Italy board. Only one question: Did you eat at Serghei, or no?

                                                    When I looked at your pic of your tagliatelle at Giampi e Ciccio, I was reminded of those tourist books that try to simplify eating in Italy down to kindergarten rules like "don't ever eat where you see a red-checked tablecloths in Italy." In fact, I've even seen statements made like "you wont' find any restaurant in Italy with red-checked tablecloths."

                                                    Your pastas at Da Ivan look dreamy. And yes -- isn't cured meat in Parma a revelation? We don't even get that in Liguria. One really must go there.

                                                    I have to admit my jaw dropped when I saw the tab for your Al Sorriso meal. I've never eaten there, probably never will, but what a pity they didn't send you over the moon.

                                                    1. re: barberinibee

                                                      Allende, Its comforting to know that Da Ivan has been doing the same great things for so long. Hopefully there is no impetus to change what is seemingly very special. Ivan took my wife and I into his Cantina after dinner and we shared a wonderful bottle of beer that one of his friends brews. NUT I believe was the name of the beer. Anyhow...we cannot wait until we return.

                                                      Jen, Right above is the stinco di maiale at La Buca. Miriam, the owner explained to us that the pork leg was boned out and cured in November...then simply just boiled in plain water. It was extremely flavorful and tender. Normally i eat around the fat on these kinds of meat but the layer of fat around the outside was so meltingly tender salty that i ate every last bit of it.

                                                      Barberini, It is quite unfortunate that most peoples' experiences of cured meats will forever be limited to domestic american mass produced deli meats and even just proscuitto di Parma (which is still fantastic). The quality and flavor of those meats that I tasted in the Paramenese country side truly have forever changed my outlook on salumi. Tonight I will be taking my 2 Kg piece of culatello purchased in Zibello that I successfully smuggled home to the states to a family members' house that owners a meat slicer and will be indulging in culatello one last time.

                                                      Our trip to Italy would have been a completely different ( and not nearly as tasty) experience if it werent for all three of you.
                                                      Thank you and if you are ever in New York I can offer you as much assistance as you would like.

                                                      1. re: FoodExpression

                                                        Thanks for the explanation of the stinco - it looked like a cured meat, (as it was) and I had been expecting something else.

                                                        Just to mention that the Italian store in the Chelsea Mkt, Buon Italia, and also I believe Di Palo in little Italy have been known to carry culatello from time to time. Not that it will be as good as what you sampled in the Bassa Parmense but its there. (dont think I ve seen at Eataly). On our visit to Lombardy last year we made a point of including a salumi plate in all of our restaurant meals away from the home base, and the range was extraordinary. Luckily, I was able to get a culatello fix in Cremona (on the other side of the Pojust a few miles from where you were)

                                                        1. re: jen kalb

                                                          Yes we drove through Cremona on the way to Mantova as Ivan recommended to take the more local scenic route. Also, I wonder if the variety of culatello that may be at Di Palo or Buon Italia is the DOP certified. I was speaking to a man that owns a salumeria in Bologna on via Indipendenza and he was saying that there is lots of culatello out there that does not come from those proper regions that are along the PO. He says that if they do not have the DOP stamp then they are most likely not as good and are imposters. Im curious now to see and next time im at one of those two stores I will check it out.

                                                          1. re: FoodExpression

                                                            Your hunch is correct in that they are not DOP (the presence of a "stamp" really doesn't matter; some are stamped, some not) because the FDA is certifying only a few mass produced "culatello" plants in ER (not really culatello at all). This is the only "culatello" allowed into The States.

                                                            Culatello, the true culatello from in and very near Zibello, tastes very different from the "culatello" produced elsewhere. In fact, all culatello tastes different depending on where it is aged. For example, as you saw, the culatello at La Buca tastes very different from that of Da Ivan, even though they are aged just a few kilometers away.

                                                            Have fun with that culatello tonight. That took guts to get it in and it'll be well worth it. Hopefully, your other family members will appreciate it as much as you will.

                                                            1. re: allende

                                                              Im glad at least the traditional curing methods for culatello and related produts in their humid basements have not yet been stamped out in the bassa. I keep hearing that there is pressure under EU regulation to modify. Ive not bought the products actually for sale here since I was dubious about turnover, etc (same issue with the high priced pata negra when Ive seen it) but it would be interesting to see what food expression thought with the smuggled stuff as a basis for comparison. I guess the same issue exists for this product as with other cured meats where only the biggest agribusinesses are getting their products through (except for the occasional below the radar item at a local italian store)

                                                              1. re: allende

                                                                It certainly was even better since I understood the risks involved with getting it here. Funny story, when i was coming through customs my wife and I were selected to have our bags searched (1 out of every 30 persons). The person searching our bags asked us, do you any meat in these bags? We said no....joked around with the guy so as to distract him...he eventually stopped searching after opening one of our bags....we were so nervous but we made through undetetected!

                                                                I will certainly update when I make it to NYC and try the culatello at DiPalo's. Its actually a friend of mine who's parents own the deli so at least ill get the real scoop on the culatello.

                                                              2. re: FoodExpression


                                                                I'll take you up on that offer of advice for Manhattan. I have to pass through in a few weeks, and it is always tough finding places to enjoy (especially in August). I have a special bias for good food AND a peaceful atmosphere. I eat all cuisines, but the longer I live in Liguria, the more I prefer light and fresh. with and emphasis on fish and veg.

                                                                If you did eat at Serghei's and are moved to report, I'm sure many others who are planning trips to Bologna would find it useful since Serghei's is listed in almost all the guides. (If you didn't eat there, the menu doesn't vary much from Giampi & Ciccio, and while I have grown fond of the famously not--smiley brusque owner, no two ways about it that G&C makes for the warmer experience.

                                                                1. re: barberinibee

                                                                  Serghei's was great. We had the tortellini in brodo, tortelloni with sage and butter, and the tagliatelle bolognese. I had a nasty cold that day so unfortunately it was difficult for me to taste all the foods but everything was great from what i can remember. I didnt find the man who owns Serghei to be exceptionally rude. I did detect his cold side as anyone with a popular restaurant would be when oblivious foreigners come in and dont attempt to understand or appreciate local customs.

                                                                  There was a table behind us of two young foreign students who only spoke english. And they so very eloquently (in English) were asking him questions about the menu...what is your specialty? what do you recommend? Differences between tortelli and tortellini? And the owner was very helpful and patient with them. I think its when people blatantly disregard customs and dont show respect local traditions is when he can be rude.

                                                                  Regarding your trip to Manhattan, here are a few recommendations for restaurants ranging from pricey to cheaper...I am assuming that you do not want to eat Italian food but if so i have a few good places for that as well. I tend to go more on the ethnic side when eating out in NYC as thats more of something that i wouldnt prepare at home.

                                                                  POK POK - thai fast casual restaurant with superior ingredients and fresh, bright dishes-inexpensive
                                                                  Mayahuel- tiny restaurant with small plates of food that complement the bar's focus which is Mezcal cocktails. Very inventive mexican Mezcal is a liquor made from a type of agave plant, similar to tequila

                                                                  Spotted Pig or Breslin - Both restaurants of Brit expat April Bloomfield...fantastic ingredients with a focus on farm products
                                                                  Breslin is famous for lamb burger with feta cheese.

                                                                  Boulud Sud- Daniel Boulud - famous french chef opened a sort of mini-Eataly where he serves some fantastic basque and french country appetizers at a stand up bar. We usually pop in when we are in the area for a plate of jamon Iberico and a glass of beer or wine.

                                                                  Shake Shack - a few locations in NYC- best is one in Madison Square Park. You get your burger and sit down at a park bench or table.

                                                                  Momofuku Ssam Bar- no reservations here ..if you go do so at an off hour as it will be mobbed. Pork buns and anything on the menu will impress.

                                                                  Takashi- For a real food experience. If you can get a reservation. Pricey but certainly dishes you have never had. Yakiniku style Japanese where you grill your food right in front of you over open charcoal. Things like grilled lambs tongue or sea urchin and monk fish liver appetizers. I havent been here but am very eager to go. Have only heard positive things from foodie friends.

                                                                  There are truly and endless number of amazing restaurants in NYC. All depends what you are looking for. The asian menus seems to be on the lighter side as they favor vegetables and fish dishes. If you tell me what neighborhood you will be in I can recommend places that will be in your vicinity.

                                                                  1. re: FoodExpression

                                                                    Thank you very much, Food Expression! I am glad you found Serghei's to your liking.

                                                                    I very much appreciate your Manhattan recs. I will study them all carefully and, closer to my trip, will meet up with you again -- I hope! -- on the Manhattan board. I tend to think my appetite and willing to travel for food will be affected by the weather as much as location (I'm staying midtown.) So when I am closer to traveling and can look at forecasts, I'll know more. Again, many thanks!