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Food experiences from recent trip (Milan, Bellagio, Bologna, Florence)

This was our 2nd trip to Italy (1st trip 4 years ago) and we returned to some of the same places (longer in Bologna and back to Florence). Really appreciated the Eat Florence app and had great success with all but one of the suggestions (Golden View) and Fred Plotkin's book. I had noticed on this forum's comments that it was more difficult to now find great food in the larger towns/cities and that you might have more success in smaller places. For various reasons our trip was confined to travel by train so our destinations were larger (but we had day trips to Padova and Lucca - loved both places). We did notice a difference in the quality of food at some of the places we had gone to 4 years ago in Bologna and Florence....perhaps the economic difficulties are starting to show up in this regard/and so many of us tourists means a different focus? Enjoyable food was found at Ristorante Barchetta (Bellagio), Restorante Teresina, Ristorante La Traviata, and Trattoria Anna Maria (Bologna), Trattoria Quattro Leoni, Cipolla Rossa, and Pugi's (Florence). There was a sameness to the markets, except the one in Padova which was lovely. I live in a part of the world where the selection and quality of local ingredients (fruits, vegetables, meat, fish...) is first rate and the diversity of restaurants excellent so if nothing else, it gave me a new appreciation for what I have at home. These experiences aside, Italy offers so much to enjoy and savour so I will return but with perhaps different expectations ...

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  1. Its wonderful you came back to share your reactions. I think one factor that may enter in is that a revisit can rarely match up with the glowing memories of an initial visit to a city or place. The impact of our first visit to Italy was great - the pleasure is still there but you cant beat the eye-opening effect of a first visit. Its natural to have more of a critical eye on a return.

    Id be interested in hearing more about the markets - and their "sameness", also perhaps about dining experiences you didnt enjoy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jen kalb

      "I think one factor that may enter in is that a revisit can rarely match up with the glowing memories of an initial visit to a city or place. The impact of our first visit to Italy was great - the pleasure is still there but you cant beat the eye-opening effect of a first visit. Its natural to have more of a critical eye on a return."

      I agree 100% jen kalb.

    2. Thanks for reporting back in. These comments - as well as the ones you left on Eat Florence - help so much! Sorry for your bad experience at Golden View. I have to say, you're the first person to report back in negatively. But even you only really criticized the service, saying the food was ok. The four times I've been there the service has been excellent, with the servers going out of their way to make me (a single person) feel comfortable.

      But everyone has a different experience! Which is why it was so great to hear from you here.

      www.elizabethminchilliinrome.com

      1. Any recommendations on places to eat in Padova? We'll spend the last 2 nights of our next European adventure there, towards the middle of June. Also, what day was market day?

        1. It is true that first impressions can be the best!

          I think some of our biggest disappointments were in Bologna (and others on this site had said that Bologna's reputation as the food capital of Italy was possibly no longer the case). Tamburini was a disappointment as was Eataly. The indoor market, Mercato dell'Erbe had less to offer than we expected as well. After some larger lunches, we searched for lighter evening meals, be it sandwiches or cheese, bread, fruit options; it was more difficult to find quality sandwiches at some of the same places we had been to before (ie Robiglio in Florence); more bread, less filling.

          In Padova, we only had time to eat at one of the outdoor cafes surrounding the fruit/vegetable market and I can't remember the name but it was just okay. With more time there, I would definitely try to purchase cheese, deli meats, bread and fruit to enjoy somewhere. The market seems to be open most days in the morning and later in the week in the afternoon as well. It is quite lovely!

          9 Replies
          1. re: ClaireLS

            I agree that architecturally, the Mercato Piazza delle Erbe in Padua is beautiful. It has more stalls selling horsemeat than any other markets that I've been to Italy. As for Bologna, Tamburini is more of an artifact/museum and the Bologna Eataly is better as a general bookstore than food. But the other food shops in that area are interesting, especially Simoni and the various butchers. The Mercato delle Erbe on via Ugo Bassi. is somewhat depressing, mostly produce stands, a few cheese shops and empty stalls. I do like the busy deli (the service personnel in starch white shirt, tie and straw hat) and the candy store right outside the main entrance. On the whole, I like Bologna very much.

            1. re: PBSF

              As I've said here many times before, people who are interested in food, really interested, are making a huge mistake in thinking that Bologna is the place to go. Thirty- five to forty years ago it was the case. Certainly not in the immediate past. It is a tourist trap with regard to food and wine.

              If you want to eat the great food of ER, and it is great, the restaurants in the countryside are the places to go.

              1. re: PBSF

                As a cook and fruit lover, I find the produce in the Mercato delle Erbe in Bologna to be more flavorful than much of what is generally around the quadrilatero, which admittedly is the much better photo-op. There is only one small produce vendor I found in the quadrilatero whose produce had memorably great flavor, but I found in the Mercato delle Erbe a lot that is selected with care. But there are fruttavendola all over Bologna, outside the famous markets, who have marvelous offerings. (I was warned vendors in the Mercato delle Erbe short-weight.) For a deli in Bologna, I like Simoni but think Bruno e Franco is best (on the via Oberdan, with the terrifically good coffees at Terzi nearby). I find Tamburini depressing, but they take better care of their cheese than the more beautiful-looking La Baita does, and Tamburini sells an addictive pinzi. For buying fresh passatelli and other fresh pastas (including ones of Ferrara) Atti & Figli is the best in the quadrilatero, but again, there are fresh pasta vendors all over town, some quite modest and no-name, that are very good. Melega in the quadrilatero is fascinating for sampling mostarde. Don't eat horsemeat, so can't provide recs.

                I think Bologna's restaurants are disappointing for a foodie, but Bologna is to me still a great place to shop as a cook. Raw ingredients can be outstanding compared to other destinations where I've shopped and cooked in Italy (and unfortunately I've yet to be able to shop from the market in Padova, which is very pretty to look at.) I never leave Bologna without carrying painfully heavy bags of produce and pasta home with me on the train.

                I think the problem for people visiting Italy who take food very seriously is that they are persistently steered to photogenic places over flavorful ones, whether that be the Tuscan countryside over the Piemonte countryside, Venice over Padova, or Tamburini and its neighbors over the less famous neighborhood vendors in Bologna whose stuff is better. That happens even when they specifically ask for food over photo-op.

              2. re: ClaireLS

                ClarieLS,

                Where did you eat in restaurants in Bologna?

                I have very little affection for sandwiches anywhere in Italy (with the exception being crescia sfogliata in Le Marche). I would never recommend to a sandwich-lover that they visit Italy. For my tastebuds, France has it all over Italy when it comes to bakery goods of most any sort, including breads to make "quality sandwiches."

                As for Eataly, it is over-hyped, no matter which of the chain's locations you go to in the world.. It was built to suck in tourists, and I am glad the one in Bologna is amputated and small.

                1. re: barberinibee

                  We ate at Restorante Teresina, Ristorante La Traviata, and Trattoria Anna Maria (twice) and brought coffee beans home from Terzi. I appreciate the comments of those of you who live there. I think it is sometimes difficult to be a traveller, balancing walks and sights with authentic food opportunities. Your are correct about the French and their sandwiches; my two visits to Paris provided many opportunities for great 'take-out' including sandwiches. As I must eat at regular intervals to avoid migraines, I am sometimes forced to go with what is handy (hence looking for sandwiches ) rather than holding out for something better but perhaps not immediately accessible. And it is a lovely goal to think about staying somewhere with some basic kitchen amenities to try a bit of the shopping and cooking opportunities....Padova does come to mind for that.

                  1. re: ClaireLS

                    Sorry, I now realize I missed the mentions of where you ate in restaurants in your first post. I'm glad you found the food enjoyable there. (I've never eaten at La Traviata.)

                    Chowhound deletes posts if we talk too much about anything other than restaurants or specific menu items -- and it really is a woeful limitation when it comes to trying to help visitors to Italy have fantastic food experiences. Not only does a visitor need to contend with the strict opening and closing hours of restaurants and food vendors, much of what makes Italy a great food destination happens beyond restaurants, or requires knowing what the restaurant experience is in Italy so it works for you, not against you (like, never 2 restaurant meals a day, perhaps spending the night at a great restaurant, don't go expecting variety in menus, etc). Also, it very much helps to know in any Italian city where you can quickly get food off-hours near the historic attractions other than a stale sandwich. Just in general, travel is hard on the stomach and body and figuring out how to eat well as part of one's travels is a lot more complicated than have a list of highly recommended restaurants and "must-taste" foods.

                    Padova does sound like a great place to be able to do some simple cooking so hope you have that chance some day.

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      We had a delicious meal at Teresina. My first course was a lovely concoction of fall flavours - pumpkin in particular. My pasta was with large prawns - also quite good. My partner also had pasta with a meat style sauce (although not Bolognese) and he enjoyed it very much. Interestingly enough at Eataly, my partner had minestrone soup for lunch and he thought it was the best he had ever eaten. I didn't fare as well with my selection.

                      1. re: ClaireLS

                        I have heard before that the soup at Eataly in Bologna is good. Did the pasta your husband ate at Teresina come with crumbled sausage and perhaps a touch of cream? It's one of the popular meat sauces of the region, usually served with a twisty macaroni type pasta called gramigna, but also sometimes with a hearty "priest-strangler" (strozzapreti). It's fairly addictive and I prefer it to the traditional ragu.

                        1. re: barberinibee

                          Late November is in any case not the best moment for markets, except maybe in Sicily or Puglia.