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Mostly Tuscany, some Rome/Milan/Florence, Sept/Oct 2013

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Milan area:

We were in Milan proper for two lunches, Obika and Le Vigne in Navigli district. Navigli was a little too scruffy, "up and coming" for our tastes and Le Vigne was probably the worst meal of the trip. Obika of course has the view of the duomo from the top of Rinascente but we weren't wowed by the food.

Out in the direction of Malpensa and beyond:

Osteria San Guilio in Bellinzago Novarese. Almost impossible to find, so I might recommend going for lunch instead of dinner. Although, the way we found it was to look for lights on in any of the spooky semi-abandoned buildings. We had the 30E set menu, amazing antipasti spread with pickled veg, various cured meats. Pasta and risotto (fine but not rave worthy), suckling pig for main (again, fine), nice small assortment of desserts (almond semifreddo, mint panna cotta, chocolate mousse). Add house wine for 10E and we were very happy. All Italians, friendly, family atmosphere. The owner offered to help us with our selections in English.

Osteria Il Gatte e la Volpe in Oleggio
We didn't reserve ahead but they were able to fit us in. Solid, simple cooking. "Torta" with proscuitto and cheese was a lovely version of "grilled cheese". 50E total.

Birrificio Italiano in Lurago Marinone
Perhaps one to consider on your way back to Milan area from Como. We had great beer and great food at this wonderful casual brewery. My husband raved about the pork "stinco". There was a waitress who was happy to explain everything to us in English. Menu is on a chalkboard in Italian so bring your reading glasses and your translation guide in case she isn't working.

Also, for all you cheese enthusiasts out there, we enjoyed the tour of the caves and tasting at Luigi Guffanti in Arona, on Lago Maggiore. We emailed the day before to reserve (but they would probably prefer more notice). Amazing Robiola and Gorgonzola.

Piedmont:

We drove to Da Bardon outside San Marzano for Sunday lunch and it was very nice. The younger staff members speak English. Menu is recited and we never saw the wine list, we were just brought a red that we sort of vaguely communicated to the owner in our very poor Italian. Great cheese cart. I would definitely go if in the area. If this is early in your trip you should buy a couple of bottles from their great wine selection to take with you. 140E total, but 40E was wine and 25E was truffle supplement.

Florence:

Lunch at 'ino, which was convenient to Uffizi area but I didn't really care for the bread, too floury and hard. Quality ingredients and a very tempting list of sandwiches. I also appreciated that they had Baladin cider, yum. So perhaps worth a try for you to see if you like the bread.

Osteria Personale, 40E per person for "tasting" of 3 dishes. No pasta in sight, interesting wine list, great cheese for dessert. Would definitely return for something different and modern.

Il Santo Bevitore, 89E including 36E wine, very nice antipasti (9.5E) with cheese and meats, green salad with potatoes and beans, burrata ravioli good but not great. Husband had spicy nduja pasta which he enjoyed. Felt like they were really geared for the tourist trade.

Siena/Tuscany:

Dario Doc in Panzano, informal, somewhat hapless service (wine carafe appeared but no glasses, never got bread, meat not cooked to order, etc.). Basically, hamburgers with assorted accompaniments and sauces. It was very good despite all the blunders, we sat outside on a nice day. We met a couple later in the week who had eaten at the "Officina" and raved, so that may be more to your taste, it just didn't match our schedule (limited hours). Hard to know where to go once you arrive in Panzano as the entire street is "Dario land". Study this map before you go! http://www.dariocecchini.com/home/ben... The sign for the "Doc" was actually across the street in front of the entrance to "La Solociccia" so the unhappy woman on the phone had to shoo us away in the right direction. Just follow the sound of AC/DC blaring from the butcher shop....

Enoteca I Terzi
I ordered burrata to begin which was good but unfortunately it was served with underripe out of season tomatoes. I also had the pici with ragu which was very good but also very rich. Maybe better to split this plate. We liked this place because it felt local, and not necessarily catering to the tourist trade. Lovely wine list. Would probably try again as it felt comfortable and I probably just mis-ordered. Husband had a "smoked carpaccio" with gorgonzola sauce to begin and a nice well cooked steak (not bistecca fiorentina but a smaller cut).

San Desiderio, 72E
I had the cod with chickpeas and a percorino cheese mousse to begin. Husband had mushroom soup to being and what he called "assorted pig parts" for main. This was after our apertivo at Miccoli (see below) so our tastebuds were probably just jaded but we weren't wowed.

Antica Osteria da Divo, 139E
This one left us sort of shaking our heads. The chef was at the door to greet us (why isn't he in the kitchen cooking?). Three different servers asked us if we wanted water--but still none appeared until server #4. The tables are small and set with such large placemats and chargers that you have to sit at the outside edge of the square table. And then the charger plates are not removed, and some of the serving plates wobble around while you're trying to eat. I was put off by the fact that I ordered the wine but it was brought to my husband for tasting and approval. I saw this happen in other restaurants so maybe just an Italian thing. Starters we had were nice, my husband had gnocchi with truffles and I had a nice ribollita. Mains were less appealing, my guinea hen in balsamic was just too sweet, thick and unpleasant (at 24E!). Husband was not enthused about his lamb. Just not a great experience for the price point.

Aperitivo at Antica Pizzicheria Chigiana de Miccoli Antonio, Via di citta 93
An astoundingly good platter of cheese and meats with bread and assorted tapenades. Plus an amazing bottle of Brunello. They will plate it up for you on a wooden board and they have little ledges outside where you can perch with your wine and snacks if the weather is fine. 20E for food, wine additional. Just look for the shop with all the meats hanging from the ceiling!

Our favorite gelato of the trip was in San Gimignano at Dondoli, the one with the "world champion" signs in the Piazza della Cisterna. Hard to choose a flavor as the shop was so jam packed with people. And this was in October, so I can't imagine what July and August look like. Anyway, I would suggest going with whatever fruit flavor you can see through the scrum.

Osteria il Teatro in Cortona, rainy miserable day and we drove a long way but we were pretty happy with our experience here. One of the best pici dishes we had, ragu with mushrooms so it was a good balance. Not as impressed with the duck main. The women's bathroom was a little frightening as there was a doll on (almost) every available surface. I really regret not taking a picture.

Gattavecchi in Montepulciano. I read ziggy's review and was intrigued. I emailed them but didn't receive a response in time so we just showed up and luckily they were able to accommodate us. We had the bruschetta platter and wow it is overwhelming for two people! We shared some pate with the table next to us and we barely had room for our next course. Amazing, would go back in a heartbeat.

La Bandita Townhouse Cafe, Pienza, I had the most wonderful porcini pasta here. Everything else was very solid. Hilarious waiter. Just a great vibe. Highly recommended. God if you have the chance to stay here DO IT.

La Porta, 100E. Husband's app was cinta sinese proscuitto with pecorino cream and fresh truffle. He was in heaven. The rest of the meal was pretty unexceptional. Given all the hoopla, I expected more.

Il Pozzo, S.Angelo in Colle, great spot for lunch if you are out Montalcino way. We probably had the best table as I could look out over the hills and watch the clouds and thunder roll by. A table from the Brunello Consortium appeared to be at the next table doing a tasting so we thought that was a good sign. Nice ribollita (zuppa di pane) and pici with your choice of sauces.

Cheese farms:
We did the tour and tasting at Corzano e Paterno between Florence and Siena, and we also went to Il Casale cheese farm outside Pienza. DO NOT use GPS to get to Corzano, use the directions on their website (use GPS if needed to get to the starting point of Bargino). I almost gave up trying to find them multiple times, but we finally found them. Wow, it's a journey. But we had a great (private) tour with Silvia. They were harvesting grapes when we were there so we saw some of the winemaking in action. The animals are at a different part of the farm. Lovely cheese but I thought the tastings were a little small for the price (18E). Still, a great experience if you're up for a bit of an adventure. Il Casale is a bit of a multicultural (german/italian/english) hippie-ish enclave, they allow camping onsite and the lunch is very casual at communal tables and mostly vegetarian. Salad, soup, cheese, dessert. I had hoped for more of a tour rather than just lunch but there was a miscommunication with our hotel who booked for us. 50E for 2, including house wine.

Trattoria da Fiorella, Pienza, 100E 1 antipasti, 2 primi, 1 secondi, 1 dolci
Family run and very nice. I had lamb grilled with rosemary and it was probably my own fault that I didn't care for some of the more obscure "parts" that were served to me. Leaner pieces were very enjoyable. Husband loved the panna cotta with berries and he said this was the best pici of the trip.

Rome:

Renato e Luisa, 76E without wine
Primi pasta with anchovies and tomatoes, very good. Service somewhat harried due to very large (20+) party of Germans on the night we were there.

Glass Hostaria, 150E without wine
Bluefin sashimi with peach kimchi starter; and lamb loin main, perfectly cooked. All flavors very subtle. The most fabulous dessert of the trip, goat cheese rolled in pistachio with fresh strawberries and the tiniest little meringues. Just well prepared and lovely. Actually we rarely had room for dessert elsewhere, so make of that what you will.

Roscioli, 65E without wine: 1 antipasti, 2 primi, 1 secondi.
We were in the basement/back room, can't imagine sitting up front where the deli counter is, with the constant flow of people coming and going. Husband thought his pasta was a little too far on the al dente side. Maybe we were just pasta'ed out (last meal of trip) but we weren't blown away. Burrata with tomatoes was very good, though. Waitstaff friendly if spread a bit thin. Fun to look at all the wine on the shelves.

Osteria dell'Ingegno, Piazza di Pietra, we had a nice lunch here on our way around town (and ducking out of the rain). Nice salad and a wonderful pasta with zucchini and smoked cheese that my husband was reluctant to share. Nice selection of wines by the glass.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful food tour we had with Hande (www.vinoroma.com) on our last day in Rome. A great morning in a great neighborhood.

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  1. You mentioned wine a few times and in fact said that at da Divo you ordered the wine but it was given to your husband to taste. It's clear that you care somewhat about wine (although you never mentioned any that you drank).

    Am curious... why didn't you look at the wine list at Da Bardon?

    3 Replies
    1. re: allende

      Hi allende, for whatever reason, we were not offered the wine list at Bardon (and didn't know enough to ask). This was our first trip to Italy and, trying to respect the local traditions and not knowing very much italian, we deferred to what seemed "expected"--in this case, it seemed that the owner wanted to pick something for us (because we were obviously tourists, perhaps?). In hindsight, I just wish I would have been more inquisitive about what our options were.

      And, it just became too overwhelming to keep track of most of the bottles we had. I cobbled together the notes above from our dinner receipts--most of which just specify wine or bar separately. Next time, more detailed wine notes, I promise! :)

      1. re: millerla

        For anyone else in this situation, just ask for the la lista per il vino. They'll understand.

        At Bardon, and any of the restaurants that I've recommended, nothing is "expected." If you're polite to the staff, you call the shots.

        In this case the owner asked, I'm sure, if you wanted to choose or if you wanted him to choose. No reply... he chose.

        Again, curiosity...if you didn't see the list, how did you know that Bardon has a great wine selection?

        1. re: allende

          Above and beyond its reputation on this board and elsewhere, in the lobby area I guess you would call it, there were many shelves full of wine that I perused while we waited. There were many interesting, local, and unfamiliar wines. With the caveat that we are new to Italy and its wines so maybe others have different opinions of what is on offer.

    2. Thanks so much for the great and detailed report from your trip. So helpful to all of us here in Italy, and of course to travelers.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed Osteria dell'Ingegno, which is a favorite lunch place of mine.

      And also happy to hear you liked Osteria Personale as much as I do. I actually haven't been there for over a year, so good to hear some positive reports.

      www.ElizabethMinchilliInRome.com

      1. Thanks for report. We will be in Southern Tuscany next year and your notes from the restaurants you visited in that area will be very helpful. We are staying in Montepulciano, so visiting Gattavecchi seems like a no-brainer. Thanks again!

        1. Fun read. Thanks for taking the time.

          Hey, how great was Gattavecchi and that platter. I cant eat regular boring bruschetta after this one. While you were there have you met Lilian the cook? I have Reggaeton music in my head as I type this. Scroll down here to see Lilian and the crew (and the dish)... http://wp.me/p2zSmJ-Ep

          I also thought my Roscioli Carbonara was too al dented. We've eaten pastas all over Italy, but that was a new level of al dente for me.

          And what a great finish touring with Hande. Something I must do when I come back

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ziggy41

            Roscioli's pasta is like that because it is made with Spaghettoni from a pasta maker called Benedetto Cavalieri (wonderful quality, perhaps they have it at Eataly), these spaghettoni take like 20 minutes to cook in boiling water and still after 20 minutes they have that al dente consistency.
            Funny story about Roscioli's carbonara, it is considered Italy's best, yet their chef is from Tunisia, no fancy cooking schools, just years of experience in Roscioli's kitchen (the way it should be).

            1. re: thetfoodie

              Interesting re roscioli. I'll look for it in Eataly here in NYC and cook it for say 40 mins? ;) Dont get me wrong I still finished that Carbonara, but my pasta obsessed family wasnt too fond.
              Re Milan, probably our least favorite dining in Italy, but it was in August just for a day. Good to know that we didnt miss much ;)

              PS. I just posted about our top 10 Tuscan eats with some of the places mentioned in this trip report.... http://wp.me/p2zSmJ-XQ

          2. Terrific report! That bathroom at Osteria il Teatro in Cortona is quite an experience.

            www.gillianslists.com

            1. Excellent report!
              After 5+ years living in Milan, I still struggle when I have to take guests out for dinner and they want to eat Italian, it's really difficult to find a good, appropriately priced restaurant in this city, and everytime we go to Obika I keep thinking "there's got to be something better than this" (besides the view, as you wrote), still haven't found it...
              Of course, you just have to leave the city, even 10 km. outside Milan are enough and you'll start finding the real deal.
              Greetings from another burrata lover