Valpolicella region review (including Lake Garda)
Just recently returned from the Veneto region, specifically the East coast of Lake Garda (Bardolino region) and Valpolicella (staying in Fumane).
Following the advice in Fred Plotkins book we stopped in Bardolino on our way to Fumane to have lunch at an agriturismo called Costa d'oro. The location is idyllic surrounded by vineyards and green hills with the lake to the west. The restaurant is fairly large, and we were only one of two tables for lunch. The proprietor was very friendly as I had been speaking with him via google translate over email for a few weeks. They have a lovely outdoor setting if the weather is nice and the tables inside are typically white tableclothed. The menu is enhanced by the wine list, which highlights of course the Bardolino variety, including their own vineyards (which you can taste on site as well). I opted for some fish as by this point I was getting a bit meated out. I had been wanting to try some sardine (never had before) and order the bucatini with sardine. I was expecting fillets as that was my interpretation of the menu (obviously incorrect). I would guess they were canned instead, but it was still an enjoyable, simple rustic dish with well balanced salt and fat. My main was a fresh lake trout, it was whole but filleted and grilled skin down with rosemary and olive oil. Nice light flavouring over all. At the end of the meal the owner took us through his grappa collection, not my favourite but my SO enjoyed it, he would have even more if he wasn't driving!
We also made a stop at the Olive Oil museum and Frantoio Veronisi olive oil producers. The former you can tour the old processes and see wooden presses then taste and purchase many products including some beautiful olive tree wood products. At the latter it is just tasting of the various olive oils and other food products they make. Both had a nice selection of various oils for every taste, I am by no means an oil aficionado so cannot comment on the qualities here.
We stayed at Corteforte winery and agriturismo in Fumane in the heart of the Valpolicella region. There are three rooms within the tower of the old building. The winery is about 20 years old. The rooms are nicely appointed keeping the old world charm with antique, or antique looking furnishings. The restaurant on site is very good, with an impressive novel-like wine list. It is called Enoteca della Valpolicella and it is a combination of rustic and elegant. The server was very wine savvy and paired our dishes well for us, although we would have been happy to spend a bit more on our red with our mains. The restaurant is owned separate from the winery, so there is no pushing of their wines onto you (although the Corteforte Amarone is probably our favorite that we tried). Lots of seasonal local items on the menu. We opted for white asparagus and squash blossom firsts, both well executed. My SO had the duck (not sure how local that was), well prepared but a little overcooked. I had osso bucco over polenta, it was a bit pedestrian considering the cost, tender but under seasoned. Best part was the marrow, which surprisingly they did not have a small enough spoon for. Overall the atmosphere and service were very impressive the food was enjoyable verging on wow in some dishes, okay in others, price was moderate to expensive.
We spent our other evening in Sant' Ambrogio at Al Covolo, this was one of the most memorable meals of our trip, the food was great, but above that it was the most welcome we felt of any restaurant. The chef and owner were the only 2 there serving (only a few tables to take care of) and the chef spoke a bit of English, the owner almost none. The owner still made an effort to check on the meal, and to try to speak with us. On top of that, I had the best pork tenderloin I may have ever had, so tender and moist, I believe it must have been brined before it was braised in Amarone. We actually sat around afterwards "conversing" with the owner and he gave us a tasting of the various grappas he carried. He was so friendly, it made a lovely meal extraordinary.
I loved this area of Italy and would head back anytime. It is filled with small family wineries, many agriturismos, quaint villages, picturesque views of rolling hills, and most important lots of unique restaurants.
I would think your duck was local in the that part of Italy. Ducks and duck dishes are ubiquitous around all the lakes and watery parts of the north.
I very much enjoyed reading about how the friendly proprietor made a "lovely meal extraordinary."
I'm not a huge fan of Bardolino wine but I quite like the little town of Bardolino which, in addition to a very pretty church, has several old-fashioned cafes at the lakeside near the docks that serve huge crystal goblets of vividly colorful sooper-dooper gelato creations, with whipped cream, cherries, paper umbrellas, the works. It's worth going just watch the kids and grandmothers dig in. If you ever return in warm weather, you might enjoy joining them.
I am a little puzzed by your saying that you spent your "other evening in Sant'Ambrogio at Al Covolo" because I can't figure out where you spent your first evening in Sant'Ambrogio or when you got to Sant'Ambrogio.
Bardolino was not my favorite either, although I am always interested in trying new varietals. Luckily many of the prices in Italy are so much cheaper than at home, that we can 'splurge' on the best that the winery produces in some cases (which for Bardolino seemed to top out at about 18 Euro).
sorry for the confusion, I can blame it on jet lag now that we are home. We were in the region for 3 nights, staying at Corteforte, but ate a forgettable meal in the village of Fumane (out of desperation as many of the restaurants are closed on Mondays), then I reviewed the meals for the other 2 nights. We drove to Sant'Ambrogio for dinner on our last night.
re: Hungry Karen
I am not sure if the Enoteca uses the outdoor space for seating, if they do it would be simple but nice. They are definitely open for lunch and I would say it is more expensive than Al Covolo, but I cannot say by how much, because we had expensive wine at Al Covolo so the bills were fairly even. I don't know if Al Covolo is open for lunch or if they had outdoor seating, unfortunately the weather was not good enough for al fresco dining when we were there. If you feel like the drive (and a very beautiful one) you can head to Costa D'oro in Bardolino, they had a gorgeous patio and vineyard, you can stop at the olive oil museum along the way. There was also a wine museum that we ran out of time for.