Rome, Milan, Verbania Report
Just got back from a week-long trip to Italy and thought I would report on some of the restaurants we tried in Rome, Milan and Verbania. When choosing restaurants we had the following criteria: open (not always easy in early August), dinner for 2 needed to cost 100 euros or less, more "traditional" versus modern menus, and few tourists/not a lot of English spoken was a plus. We had advance reservations for 9 pm or later for all of the dinners. Please forgive my Italian spelling below - I tried to take note of what we had eaten each evening but after a few glasses of wine I'm sure I flubbed some of it.
In Rome the best meal both in terms of food and fun atmosphere was at Felice a Testaccio (via Mastro Giorgio 29). We had a 10:15 reservation on a Tuesday night and it was hopping - there was a line outside on the sidewalk. For primi we had cacio e pepe (the best of the trip) and amatriciana, and for secondi involtino (fabulous) and swordfish (not sure why my husband chose this, but it was good). Dessert was a divine chocolate ricotta tart. There was a menu translated to English, but our waitress only spoke Italian. Definitely off the beaten "tourist" track.
We also ate a nice meal just around the corner at La Fraschetta di Mastro Giorgio, which had been recommended by a local. Their patio was beautiful and it was fun to eat outside surrounded by Italian families. We had an antipasti of mixed cold meats and cheeses that was delicious. For primi we had spaghetti with chicory, which I loved, and a carbonara that was a little on the salty side but otherwise good. For secondi we had lamb chops and fried calimari (not sure why...might have been the wine!). Again, no spoken English but there was a translated menu.
In Milan we had a nice meal at l'Osteria del Treno. We chose to be seated on the patio, which was rather on the hot side, and we were next to an obnoxious group of English-speaking tourists, alas. The food was quite good; the are part of the Slow Food movement. For primi we had a tagliatelle with pumpkin flowers, zucchini and mint that was great along with ravioli with apples and ricotta cheese. Both were unusual combinations that worked, especially with the fabulously silky pasta. Secondi were good but not spectacular, boiled beef and zucchini and mushroom flans with a side of grilled mixed vegetables. For dessert we had apricot sorbet and a chocolate mousse. Again, there were translated menus but our waitress did not speak English.
The second meal in Milan was a bit of a disappointment. The Osteria Vecchi Sapori (via Carmagnola) was quite a challenge for us to find, as the area around the Garibaldi train station is undergoing a tremendous amount of construction. However, we made it on time for our 9 pm reservation. On the plus side, there were definitely no tourists, no English menus, and the wait staff did not speak English. It was a fun neighborhood with lots of young people out at bars, etc., and the decor of the restaurant was interesting. However, the food was not amazing. We started with primi of tagliatelle with black truffle and a pasta like gemelli with buffalo mozzarella, tomato, and basil; both were good and the portions were enormous - I could have stopped there. For secondi we had a salad of beef tartare, mozzarella, greens, marinated artichoke hearts and the two saddest tomatoes I have ever seen in Italy...nowhere near ripe. The other secondi was veal cutlet milanese, which was not tough (often a problem with this cut), but with quite thick breading, and a side of roasted potatoes. Again, this was enough food for about 6 people. Dessert was a nice tiramisu. The main problem, though, was that the staff completely ignored us (and the several tables around us) for the whole meal. Two of the waitresses spent much of their time at the back of the half-full dining room texting on their phones. So, I would not be jumping to go back.
In Verbania we had a great light lunch at the Osteria del Castello in Intra. One of us ordered a caprese salad with divine buffalo mozzarella and the best tomatoes of the trip and the other ended up with a dish of fried eggplant, mozzarella, tomatoes, and few other vegetables that someone in our large party must have ordered but no one claimed. Yum! They were extremely friendly and the waitress easily handled our large and unwieldy group.
We are hoping to go back one day to try the many, many other restaurants on our list in Rome and Milan. Thanks to everyone on this board for posting! Your posts made us much more educated diners and led to some wonderful experiences in Italy.