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Dec 14, 2013 07:40 AM

Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia: a late report (l-o-n-g) and plans

We had travelled in October-November 2012 on a food-and-wine-focused tour of Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna, and had relied heavily on the many posters on CH who take the time to share their knowledge --- in this instance, especially, allende and barberinibee. I had posted reports on Piemonte, had intentions of posting on ER as well --- but a frantically busy period at work right after returning intervened (always happens to me after time away). As time went by, a detailed report seemed less and less meaningful.

Seems relevant again as we are in the process of quickly putting together an impulsive visit to ER and Lombardia during this Christmas break. Figured perhaps even such a late report can at least serve as a token of our gratitude to the posters who had helped us and, especially, to two hosts whose extraordinary hospitality we will never forget.

Dal Pescatore was our first port of call in this part and, based on the suggestion on their website, we stayed at Palazzo Quaranta Hotel at Isola Dovarese. Had communicated beforehand with the Hotel owner, Signor Malaggi, to arrange a taxi to take us to the restaurant and bring us back, as we would surely end up having a bottle of wine each. We were told the taxi wants 50 euros for round-trip and that makes little sense: the restaurant is only 6 kms each way. We still wanted the cab: this was going to be the most expensive meal of the trip anyway.

We check in: a beautiful hotel situated on a lovely piazza, a real palazzo, huge rooms, frescoes on ceiling, and a totally modern stylish bathroom!
It starts raining and taxi doesn't show up. Signor Malaggi says he would drop us off, get the Santini family to ring him when we start on dessert and then come and pick us up. That turned out to be near midnight and we later found out he woke up from sleep to pick us up on a night with wild weather! Next morning we tried to add the 50 euro to the hotel bill that we would have paid the taxi anyway, but Signor Malaggi wouldn't hear of it. Grazie, Signor Malaggi!

The meal was memorable in many ways. We have never seen that level of gracious service involving every member of a family. Had one of the degustazione; requested substituting the venison with the duck (for we get superb venison where we live in Sydney and often cook a tenderloin of venison when entertaining), no problem, of course; a plate of vegetables in place of something ... it came as an extra course at no charge. We thought the lobster and the risotto were the best dishes. We asked where the saffron in the risotto came from ... oh, from the garden, picked by nonna. We hinted maybe they should let their customers know that ... and, after that, we were told about the origin of each produce. The wine list, as expected, was great. Our decision to stay away from Barolo (having spent the week before in Piemonte enjoying superlative aged Barolo) meant it was hard to find competing quality. Met the entire family, including nonna. On the whole, a memorable (and a memorably expensive) experience, but if truth be told, we prefer a somewhat lower-key service, like that in, say, Il Cascinalenuovo in Piemonte, that's knowledgable and attentive without being hyper-attentive and hushed. Nonetheless an experience we would like to repeat once more.

Next stop was Modena where we had a reservation for dinner at Osteria Francescana. This was meant to be our other big-name restaurant and an altogether different style of food from all of the other places on this trip. And it was indeed a very interesting experience. The chef patron, Massimo Bottura, took the order himself. We asked what might be on the "sensations" menu ... "oh, impossible to say, depends on what we think up in the experimental kitchen". OK, maybe we will stick to the "classics" (that are at least described, although in an impressionistic way) ... and he quickly said he can add one item from the "sensations" menu. The first two courses were a tempura (described as a "tempura" on the menu) and a lacquered eel dish, and very good they were. When Signor Bottura returned to our table, I asked, out of curiosity, what the source of (what I thought was obviously) Japanese influence in his food was. Although I had not realized it was a provocation, Signor Bottura was offended. He held forth on how eel was a part of the local food for centuries (no doubt true), his grandmother used to prepare it (lacquered to look like a teriyaki sauce, although it wasn't?), how what I might call dashi has various meat bones (in addition to the items that make a traditional dashi, something we make quite often) and is really a broth ...
And he had just been to Sydney and how it is Sydney that's obsessed with Japanese food (partly true), how it is impossible to find uniquely Australian food (not true except in the sense that modern Australian cuisine, like Californian cuisine, is ultimately derivative), how Mark Best is the only chef in Sydney thinking about a uniquely Australian cuisine (also not true; Best is a highly talented chef whose "philosophy" of food happens to be closest to Bottura's, among the chefs in Sydney). But we thought a celebrity chef who is so fiery about food, so ready to engage with his customers so passionately at so many levels, must be rare and remarkable indeed. Back to the food there. For us, the course that was a revelation was a tasting of Parmigiano Reggiano at different *temperatures* --- 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 C. There is a recent New Yorker piece on Bottura that is very interesting and of course, being a New Yorker piece, very well-written. However, the two dishes written up there were the two most "constructed" and those were our least favourite. It is clear from the New Yorker article (and indeed Signor Bottura's descriptions to us) that much thought has gone into their construction.

We had written to Hostaria Giusti in advance to try for a lunch reservation (for the day after Francescana) and had never heard back. We were going to go to another place but then, just in case, asked the receptionist at the hotel if she could call them about our reservation. And before she could finish spelling out our name, it was clear they in fact *had* a reservation for us, and apparently had replied to us! Delighted, we went, had a very simple meal --- so simple it is almost hard to describe --- but excellent in every way. Even the Lambrusco (which I confess I have always thought of as a bit of a joke) they served was pretty good and went very well with the food. A pity that, of the four tables in the restaurant, one was a no-show, one had only person, and the other two had a couple each --- so, five altogether. The sign outside said "Completo". Afraid they have some software issue, whereby they think responses to booking requests are being automatically sent but they are not being received.

The next two nights were spent in Bologna. Although this was going to be a food-focused trip and everything I had read on CH suggested Bologna was over-rated on that score, I felt we had to go --- for I have been there before and my wife has never been and it is such an endlessly fascinating city.

Wanted a light dinner after Giusti, went to Trattoria Anna Maria. Our first mediocre meal in this trip --- maybe even slightly worse than mediocre. Shared a plate of vegetables and had tagliatelle al ragu. Suffice to say that, IMHO, there is better freshly prepared tagliatelle available in more than one Emilian restaurant in Sydney (e.g., Pasta Emilia).

Next day we decided to take our cue from a recent UK Telegraph interview with Fred Plotkin on Bologna that barberinibee had so kindly posted when I was looking for advice for Bologna. Had a light lunch at Giampi e Ciccio: good without being special. Dinner at Carminetto d'Oro and it was an order of magnitude better. We had pretty standard fare: salumi, tortellini in brodo, cotoletta, and a plate of vegetables --- we really don't like a meal without vegetables --- but they were prepared well.

Wanted a light lunch the next day as we were headed to da Ivan for dinner. Somehow, we didn't want to take a risk and went back to Carminetto d'Oro. A nice shared plate of grilled vegetables there along with good tagliatelle al ragu.

We will always remember the dinner and the stay at da Ivan for the extraordinary hospitality of Ivan. Shared a plate of culatello, each had stinco di maiale, and shared the cheese board --- all superb. It was our last night in Italy and we wanted another good Barolo. We recall it was an excellent one (afraid can't accurately remember what it was), and before the cheese course came, we had already finished the bottle. I asked if we could have a half-bottle of something less exalted or if he had something suitable by the glass. My Italian (or Ivan's English) wasn't good enough for that communication. A fellow diner was pressed into service as an interpreter. When Ivan understood, he laughed and went to his cantina and came back with a magnum bottle! We started to protest ... that was a miscommunication ... Ivan calmed us down, then proceeded to go to every guest in the dining table and pour a taste from the bottle, an excellent aged Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and came and sat down at our table with half of the magnum left, poured a glass for himself, and left the rest for us.
He talked about his family in Italian (of which we understood only a fraction); asked about us and we spoke in English (of which he understood only a fraction). Nonetheless, I think we largely understood each other. Needless to say, he refused to take any money for the extra bottle of wine when we checked out next morning.

Next day we went to La Buca just a short distance away. It was one of the humblest and most memorable meals of the trip. Following allende's advice, we had ordered some culatello and tagliatelle con culatello and prete and mariola for us to share --- simple and divine. We had to be careful with the wine ... for right after lunch, we had to drive to Malpensa to catch our flight back :(

The food and the wine are still fairly fresh in my mind, but I know they will begin to fade at some point. I am sure, however, we will always remember --- with gratitude and fondness --- the extraordinary hospitality and warmth of Signor Malaggi at Palazzo Quaranta and of Ivan at Hostaria da Ivan.

Hope nobody suffered through the entire report ... but now feel less guilty.

In this thread below, will seek some advice on our upcoming trip to ER, Lombardia and a bit of Veneto ... maybe tomorrow

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  1. Great, great report! That's my friend Ivan. He'll do it every time. Also glad you liked our dear friends Nadia and Antonio... and Miriam's prete and mariola and tagliatelle con culatello.

    Thanks so much again for writing up this part of the trip.

    1. Thank you for a beautifully written and thoughtful write up on your trip. Your report on Dal Pescatore and da Ivan brought back great memories. We have not been back to either for a number of years because of our reluctance to drive. We'll definitely consider doing it this coming April.

      1. I had a great time reading this report. Having been to Dal Pescatore, Hosteria Giusti, and spending a few days in Bologna, I enjoyed revisiting the dining experiences we had there. Thanks for the memory.

        17 Replies
        1. re: rrems

          Thanks for the kind words: allende, PBSF, rrems.

          Of course I have learnt a lot from the experience reported in the posts by all of you.

          allende, the great success of that trip was largely a matter of following your wise counsel, down to the individual dishes!

          PBSF, do hope you get to go back to dal Pescatore and da Ivan in April --- special food, special wine, and such special people.

          The upcoming trip (23 Dec to 3 Jan), still being planned with some haste, through parts of Emilia-Romagna, Lombardia and Veneto, is not as solely food-and-wine-driven as last year's trip was, but food and wine will certainly be one of the key focus.

          Driving to Parma from Malpensa and staying there 23--25 Dec. At our request, the very helpful owner of Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati has booked us at La Buca for pranzo di natale! I see that da Ivan and Locanda Mariella are closed Monday and Tuesday (23-24 Dec). Up for suggestions for the 24th (23rd will surely be too jet-lagged after a Sydney-Milan flight). Signor DRP at the hotel has suggested Trattoria Santa Chiara in Parma. We're considering Antica Corte Pallavicina. Weather permitting, of course.

          The rest of the plan is still evolving ...

          We know we want to spend at least two days in Padova (Capella degli Scrovegni, Basilica di Sant' Antonio, Galileo's digs), and while there, thinking of going to the high-end Le Calandre in Rubano one evening.

          Also know we want to spend two or three days in Mantova. And, preferably, a day in Ferrara and a day in Cremona. And a night in Concesio by Brescia with the idea of going to Miramonti l'Altro.

          Our first pass at this, based on a search of CH posts, and assuming availability of a table at the restaurants mentioned below, looks like
          Parma (La Buca, perhaps Antica Corte)
          26: Ferrara (Trattoria la Rosa at Sant'Agostino)
          Padova (Le Calandre one evening)
          Mantova (Il Cigno on Sunday, Osteria Ai Ranari on 30th, happens to be open, and perhaps Aquila Nigra for cena di San Silvestro)
          1 January:
          Concesio (Miramonti l'Altro)
          Back to Milan, drop off the car, and find a place near Malpensa for a morning flight on the 4th

          Makes sense? Other ideas? Many thanks again.

          1. re: jihba

            Interesting trip Jihba. From a food standpoint, not as interesting as your Piemonte and ER trip, but very good nonetheless.

            Before I get to the comments, just let me mention that my wife sent on your comments to Da Ivan. She thought they would enjoy seeing them. Here is what we just got back from them (I've deleted our names). Clearly, they were happy you wrote what you did.

            Ciao … e ...!

            Grazie, grazie tante per la bella notizia del blog!

            Nella speranza di rivedervi presto, vi auguriamo serene feste ed un anno nuovo felice.

            Un grande abbraccio

            Barbara e Ivan

            Here are comments in no special order and then one suggestion. Definitely Miramonti l'Altro. We haven't been in a few years, but no reason to think that it's changed. Over the years we've probably been there a dozen times, by ourselves and with friends. It has always been excellent. One of our favorites. NB There is a cheese trolley second to none. Actually two trolleys. Save a lot of room or as my wife often does, have cheese for the main course.

            You've got Mantova down perfectly. Osteria Ai Ranari is a very basic trattoria, and we really enjoy it. We've been going to Il Cigno for 35 years. A "high class" trattoria, excellent food, wonderful physical space, very good wine list. Aquila Nigra is just the type of place for cena di San Silvestro. A one of a kind room (as you'll see), good food and wine, very good service, a bit formal but not too much. I do hope you're staying at Casa Poli in Mantova. It is an excellent place, lovely owners, great service, low key, in the best possible location (just outside of the pedestrian zone so there is no problem with your car; they have a garage). Shame about Mariella and Da Ivan.

            Here is another suggestion re Ferrara. As I've said, we really enjoy the city for a day. Trattoria la Rosa is good and we very much enjoy it, but don't go out of our way to go there.

            Why not go out to The Marshes east of Ferrara instead. You can stay out there for the night and eat, or just go out for the day and eat. Here, in part, is what I wrote earlier this year about La Zanzara. Since then it has gotten its first Michelin star. At this time of the year, there will be game as well as fish. We plan to go in February and have two meals there… dinner with only game and then lunch the following day with only fish and shellfish. Again, I’m always a bit reluctant to recommend a place we’ve only been to once, but in this case it was so good and the people so clearly professional (and friendly and nice), that I’m taking the chance. If you plan to go and want to stay overnight, we’ll give you the place we stayed at and the place we’re going to stay at this coming trip.

            La Zanzara near Volano. For the first time in a few years, we were deep in the Bassa Padana. The area runs east of Ferrara, right to the coast (think Bassani's L'airone, more so than Il Giardino dei Finzi Contini) and it is marshland and nebbia and nebbia and marshland.

            I don't want to get too excited about a first time experience because so many times the restaurants do not subsequently hold up, so let's just say that the meal at La Zanzara was one of the best we've had in the last dozen years and next to our first time at Da Bardon in Piemonte, the biggest surprise in the sense of what we could possibly have expected, to what it was. We figured it would be just fine. It turned out to be fantatsic.

            La Zanzara is in the middle of the marshes (and it has an appropriate name although there were none the day we were there) near the hamlet of Volano. It is listed in the Gambero Rosso under Codigoro. An unimposing farmhouse structure, the interior is refined rusticity (perhaps a dozen tables and an enormous fireplace) and an oasis of spectacular fish and seafood, fish and seafood which is, of course, different from what we get here on the Tuscan coast.

            Run by the Bison family, one son and daughter is in the dining room, the other son in the kitchen and parents as well. The freshest ingredients, simply cooked, well seasoned and beautifully plated (without being fussy). Very intense flavors! A simply fantastic, very reasonably priced, wine list of whites (and reds) with the brother in the sala, Samuele, extremely knowledgeable about the wine (and the food).

            My description really can't do justice to the food. This was every bit as good as our three favorite places on the Tuscan coast and in some ways the cooking was better. It just blew us away. Whether it was the the insalata di pesce, verdura, crostacci e molluschi to start ; the two pastas: spaghettoni con intingolo allo marinara and the agnolotti ripieni di pesce bianco salsa di zafferano; Piovra allo spiedo (we've never had octopus this tender) and the filetto di dentice con asparagi di Mesola... it was all spectacular. Desserts were excellent. And there was a lot more on the menu to try, which we intend to do.

            As I said, one of the best meals in the last dozen years... and we've had a lot of great meals.

            1. re: allende

              You are a veritable walking encyclopaedia on restaurants in this part of Italy (maybe other parts and other countries too ...). Thanks for the comments and the suggestions.

              First, it was thoughtful and kind of your wife to send on the relevant comments to Da Ivan: my thanks to her. I had fully intended to write a long note to Ivan in English and then try and append a shorter version in Italian. A problem with ambitious plans is that they often remain unexecuted --- and that's what had happened.

              Indeed, Casa Poli is the hotel we have booked in Mantova --- thanks to your recommendation in a post, and reviews at a hotel booking site.

              One of our thoughts in planning this trip is concern about unpredictable weather during late December--early January. We figured an autostrada is safer in case of a snow storm or an icy patch. We included Ferrara not only because the city and its food are of interest but also because it is on the route following autostrade from Parma to Padova. La Zanzara sounds wonderful and we are very tempted indeed. But it is an hour from Ferrara according to Google map while la Rosa is just under 30 minutes. So, if the weather is really good we'll try for it; if it is foul, will try for L'Oca Giuliva; and in an intermediate case, maybe Trattoria la Rosa! Thanks again for the tip on what seems like another excellent find.

              Turns out Miramonti l'Altro is only open for lunch on January 1, pretty much the only day we can go there. That's fine --- just means we proceed to Cremona after lunch (rather than stay near Brescia) and gives us an extra night in Cremona.

              And that does open up the temptation of re-visiting Dal Pescatore. (And, as Oscar Wilde would say, I can resist everything but temptation ...)

              I know from your posts that you've enjoyed going to Le Calandre quite a few times. Would you know if there is a bus or some other public transportation to get there from Padova if we make it a lunch reservation? (I am assuming there will be nothing after dinner.) Thanks.

              Had some other foodie questions ... but it's nearly 2 am in Sydney and have an early morning --- will have to do another time.

              1. re: jihba

                There is a public bus Number 10 that starts from the train station to Rubano. From the train station, it goes down to the center of the city and then turn right at the corner of Piazza Garibaldi and via Giusseppe Verdi, then head almost a straight line to Rubano. (if you are staying at a hotel and plan to catch the bus around this area, check with the front desk if this is the exact intersection where the bus turns as we tend to use landmarks and familiarity rather than street names.), The stop is right in front of the their restaurant Il Calandrino. Le Calandre is behind it. Both times, we just ask the bus driver to let us know to get off at 'Le Calandre' and they understood. The return is a marked stop across the street. I don't know how late the bus run since we've only taken it for lunch. It is easy and takes about 10 minutes from the center of town and about 15 minutes from the train station. A round trip will save at least 20 euros over a taxi. Don't know if you have a car or not; there is parking for the restaurant.
                We love the restaurant. The ambience is very different from Dal Pescatore, more urbane, simpler, just one small modern dining room. Both times at lunch in April, it was very quiet; we were the only table once and the last time, two other. Wasn't a problem for us.

            2. re: jihba

              When in Padova, you must stop at the beautiful Caffe Pedrocchi, Via VIII Febbraio, 15, for a Caffe Pedrocchi - a wonderful hot drink that will be perfect at that time of year!

              When leaving Padova and driving to Parma, we had a wonderful lunch at Trattoria Tre Scalini on Via Castelo in Montegalda. They had a wonderful rolling "salad bar" cart where you could choose what veggies, etc. you wanted on your salad. Fantastic pasta as well. We followed lunch with a stop at Fratelli Brunello grappa distillery on Via G. Roi in Montegalda. Not sure if they are open to the public (we were with a guide who had pre-arranged an appointment) but it would be worth a try!

              If you can, squeeze in a stop at Giardino Giusti on the outskirts of Verona.

              In Parma, we enjoyed breakfast each morning at T Cafe, around the corner from your hotel (where we also stayed). One evening we had a nice easy dinner at Orfeo on Via Carducci - we had pizza and veggies for a change of pace - after a stop for aperitivo at Gran Caffe Orientale on Piazza Garibaldi. Both are within walking distance of the hotel.

              We had a Fantastic dinner at Trattoria ai Due Paltani on Via Budellungo in Coloreto, about a 15-20 minute drive from the hotel. Here is my diary entry about the dinner:

              If you have seen a cartoon of an aardvark that comes upon an anthill, takes a deep breath, and then inhales the whole thing, you would have an idea of how the Chai family inhaled our amazing cured meat extravaganza! Seriously, an amazing dinner. We started with a plate of pancetta and parmesan. Now, the only way I had ever had pancetta was thickly-sliced and fried, then added to pasta, included in sauces, etc. But, we have learned to trust Guido when he suggests a local specialty, so we ordered the pancetta. It arrived on a platter with chunks of aged parmesan, very thinly sliced similar to prosciutto. I thought “ugh, there is a lot of fat on that pancetta” but kept my mouth shut and tried a piece. Hahahaha – it was fantastic!!! It was served with some lovely aged balsamic for the parmesan (one of the best food pairings ever invented). We also ordered torta fritta, which were little bits of fried dough that were still hot when they arrived at the table so when a piece of torta fritta was topped with a piece of pancetta some of the fat from the pancetta melted - bellissimo! Oh, we also had plates of prosciutto and salami to round out our cured meat overload, paired with Lambrusco – the “Italian coca-cola”. Although you wouldn’t want to drink Lambrusco every day, it was a perfect accompaniment to the salty and fatty meat! After the meats we had some pasta – Big J and M had agnolotti en brodo and J and I had tortelli di zucca. Both were very good. The restaurant is famous for its tortelli di zucca (there was a large display of green pumpkins at the entrance) and it is deserving of its reputation. I had a debate going with Guido as to whether or not they had added sugar or amaretti to the filling because it was so sweet, but I lost – nothing but zucca in the tortelli! As we were leaving the restaurant, the chef came running after Guido, asking if something was wrong since we were leaving without ordering a “complete meal”! Luckily Guido had the excuse that we are Americans who just can’t eat as much as the Italians!

              *Disclaimer - this was only my 2nd trip to Italy and my food experiences were rather limited. I would now happily eat a plate of lardo! And Guido is our Italian guide that my in-laws use for our Italy trips.

              We also had a very good meal at Ristorante Cocchi in Parma. I still kick myself for not ordering the Bolitto Misto!

              We had a tour and lunch at Antica Corte Pallavicina and cannot speak highly enough of the meal - one of the top lunches we have had in Italy. We will definitely be returning and will stay the night next time.

              Not sure if it fits in your driving route, but we also had a great lunch at Trattoria di Cognento in Campagnola Emilia - we were definitely the only non-locals in there and I still remember the kale and parmigiano ravioli and the "soffritto" that was served on the side. The chef explained that the soffritto is made of lardo, onion and tomato passata which is cooked for 5 hours. Just fantastic.

              1. re: ekc

                Thanks PSSF and ekc for the detailed responses. CH is such a great source of information!

                We will have a car, PBSF, but prefer to take public transport so that we don't have to worry about driving after consuming a fair amount of vino! And your clear description suggests that's eminently doable for Le Calandre.

                Thanks for all the great tips, ekc, in Padova, on route to Parma, and in Parma. We will no doubt try out some of your suggestions.

                Foodie question:

                200 grams of dried porcini mushroom we bought in Alba last year, produced by Inaudi, is the very best dried porcini we have ever seen --- in Italy or outside. The box had pieces of 3--5-inch long cream-coloured dried mushrooms, not some shreds of shrivelled brown things one sees outside of Italy (and often in Italy). Bought a number of times in the past in Italy --- from market stalls in Firenze, shops in Milano, ... --- but nothing like that quality.

                Inaudi seems to have outlets only in Piemonte. Anybody knows other good sources of dried porcini mushroom in the Parma-Ferrara-Padova-Cremona circuit?

                One can buy online from Inaudi, although the website leaves a lot to be desired, and ask them to ship it to a hotel we are staying in .... Too complicated ...

                But the discerning, knowledgeable and sharing CH members likely have much better ideas.

                1. re: jihba

                  We usually buy them by weight in the markets where they are sold loose - you can choose your quality and don't have to deal with hidden inferior dusty or dirty bits as in packaged product.

                  1. re: jihba

                    I would email inaudi and ask them where you can buy their product in Parma, etc.

                    1. re: ekc

                      Thanks, ekc: sensible advice.

                2. re: jihba

                  Hi Jihba. I can add something on Parma which you might find helpful. Personally I would give Trattoria Santa Chiara a miss. The food is decent but it's a bit soulless and geared to tourists/business visitors. There are better restaurant options in the centre e.g Cocchi, La Greppia, La Forchetta. Tribunale, Antica Cereria, Osteria del 36, Osteria del Gesso and Il Norcino are less formal and the food is reliable. There's also a great Sardinian place, Sa Marjoga, if you fancy a rest from tortelli. For me, the better options are outside the city. As well as Mariella's, da Ivan, Ardenga etc there is Trattoria Milla in Sala Baganza (15 mins by car), which is wonderful - they do a very good guanciale in vino rosso and the cooked-to-order zabaione is incredible. You will be strong-armed into sampling the home-made digestivi on your way out. Antichi Sapori is also well worth the 10-minute drive as is Ai Due Platani. Of course, as you have discovered, the out-of-town places may not be be open on Christmas Eve. Good luck. Some lnks:
                  Del Gesso:
                  Antica Cereria:
                  Il Norcino:
                  Antichi Sapori:

                  Regarding your question below about dried porcini, you will find them easily in Parma. The porcini from Borgo val di Taro, 60km from the city, are regarded as the best in the region. Look for the "Borgotaro" label or buy them loose in town.

                  1. re: Parmasam

                    Hi jen, thanks. I should have clarified that, prior to buying the dried porcini in a box from Inaudi (that was plainly of exceptional quality), we had always bought it loose from markets or specialized shops; for whatever reason, we had never found anything as good.

                    Grazie, Parmasam, for taking the time to write an incredibly helpful response. With 3 days in Parma, the list gives us a lot of options by way of restaurants/trattoria. And thanks for the great tip on porcini from Borgo val di Taro!

                    Two questions about buying Parmigiano-Reggiano. Last year in Parma, we had bought a kilo of excellent 100-month old version from Gastronomia Garibaldi and had it vacuum-packed. Are there better places in Parma? Or does it make sense to buy it from a great trattoria like La Buca (where I expect they would be willing to sell it from their cantina, although not sure)?

                    Thanks again.

                    1. re: jihba

                      I'm not sure I have the expertise to answer that one, Jihba, as I've never seen P-R for sale that's more than 60 months old! However, I do buy a fair amount of the younger stuff, and the delis (particularly Garibaldi, Verdi or the Prosciutteria all sell top-quality P-R. Sorelle Pichi on via Farini and Casa del Formaggio on Via Bixio (over the river in the Oltretorrente) are also good bets. They will all sell it to you sottovuoto (vacuum-packed). I don't know about buying from a trattoria but it's worth a try.

                      1. re: Parmasam

                        Thanks again, Parmasam for the list of places. Maybe it was 60-month old and became 100-month only in my mind!

                        1. re: jihba

                          Going to be a ridiculously long-winded report on some places in ER, Lombardia and Veneto ... so, first, a summary: the two totally outstanding meals were at Miramonti l'Altro and Locanda Mariella; a fine pranzo di Natale at Antica Corte Pallavicina; a great return visit to La Buca; an interesting and enjoyable evening at Le Calandre till the last 5 minutes but with an upsetting ending; not a single disappointing meal.


                          Drove into Parma from Malpensa after a 30-hour flight from Sydney (including a 9-hour layover in Singapore) around noon and were surprised ourselves that we wanted lunch! Walked over to Trattoria Tribunale, which many CH posters like. Had an excellent and a highly enjoyable lunch --- no doubt the excitement of the first day of the trip made it more special. Excellent culatello, although we had had and later were to have better versions, and torta fritta. [Aside: the torta fritta here especially resonated with me, as it is close to being a rectangular version of a speciality of Kolkata I grew up on. "Luchi", the "ch" pronounced as in "check", is simply not available outside Bengal, and typically at the top of the list when expats from Kolkata are asked what food they miss.] A primo of tortelli di erbette and a rich braised coniglio as secondo with a large plate of verdure alla griglia. The wine list only had the varietals and neither the producers nor the vintages; but that seemed in keeping with the style of the place and the bottle of Dolcetto d'Alba we had went well with the food. Came out delighted with the lunch and delighted to be in Parma.

                          We had found in Piemonte and ER last year that we don't really need dinner if we have a big lunch, and crashed early.

                          For lunch on Christmas eve, called various places on Parmasam's list and on other lists, but after the sixth "Siamo chiusi" response, gave up and settled for the hotel's recommendation of Trattoria Santa Chiara. Parmasam would be happy to know that, at least on that day, the place was not catering to tourists at all. All others in the room were known to the staff and greeted with hugs and kisses. The owner handed us the menu but said "Traditionally, we don't eat meat today," and proceeded to tell us what we should have. A special of pesce spada crudo (that he described as a carpaccio) as antipasto, linguine con scampi e verdura croccante as primo, and piattto vegetariano as secondo. We were not sure about the antipasto and primo. After all, Parma is not known for its seafood while the fish market in Sydney is the second largest in the world (after Tsukiji inTokyo), and we are particularly spoilt as our local fishmonger is the retail arm of the supplier to a majority of the top restaurants in Sydney. In the end, decided to go with the recommendations. I had selected an Arneis from Piemonte from the wine list but the owner virtually overruled it and said we should try a Trebbiano from Malvasia (not on the list) instead. We liked his style and so that's what we had. Turned out that the swordfish wasn't a carpaccio at all; each of us had a substantial single slab of the fish, maybe 1/4-inch thick, drizzled with olive oil, a few crushed peppercorns, and a salt mill offered on the side. The bloodlines should have been more carefully removed in a crudo, but otherwise it was fine. The fantastic linguine was certainly the highlight, with pieces of barely-cooked scampi, the textural contrast of the verdura croccante, and olive oil that was redolent of scampi, likely infused with scampi heads. The piatto vegetariano was very good, as we find it always is in the places we go to in Italy. The wine, by itself nothing special, matched the food. Based on our solitary experience on what was clearly a special day at the restaurant, it was a good choice.

                          Bought some formaggi and vino to tide us over till the midnight mass at the Duomo. Awakened before dawn on Chrstmas day by the sound of chanting, looked out of the window to find a crowd gathered, candles lit, waiting to be led into the Battistero by the priests. Joined them for what was a beautiful candle-lit service in the magnificent building with glorious acoustics.

                          Polesine Parmense:

                          Had decided to leave Parma on Christmas day and go to Antica Corte Pallavicina for pranzo di Natale and stay the night there. Rather a unique hotel, an old building converted into a luxury inn, but still a working farm. The pranzo, a set menu, began in a room with a large table covered with huge platters of culatelli, many types of salumi, magnum chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and waiters coming through with tiny plates and bowls with morsels and spumante from Antica Corte's own vineyard. We knew a big lunch was ahead of us and exercised great discipline ... The lunch in the dining room began with superb 42-month old culatello. The fixed price included matched wines but the wines were fairly ordinary. We were in a celebratory mood and, after a glass of spumante to accompany the culatello, decided to pay for a bottle of a 2008 Barbaresco Gallina to accompany the other courses. It was explosively fragrant, but still very primary. A primo of anolini in brodo was followed by two courses of secondi --- a large bollito misto and a tracchinetta disossata con i marroni. They were all excellent. And, to finish, a granita and pancioccolato e pannetone gelato. Had started at 1 pm; by the time we finished, it was almost dark outside and we could barely move ... Next morning we were asked where we had gone for dinner!


                          Hadn't finalized our plans for Ferrara --- the thinking was we would try La Zanzara for lunch if the weather cooperated and we could get there in time. The weather was OK, but we had lingered walking around near Antica Corte (escorted by the hotel's boisterous dog, Bol) and it was well past 2 pm when we reached Ferrara. Made a reservation for l'oca Giuliva for dinner and walked out from our hotel looking for a wine bar for a bite. Came upon a house where a plaque proclaimed Copernicus lived for a year and went to the enoteca housed there. Ordered a cappellacci di zucca to share with our glasses of wine, and taken aback by the high quality of the cappellacci. It was only later that I saw that the place, Al Brindisi, is rated highly by many posters on CH.

                          We liked the feel and the food of l'Oca Giuliva, a somewhat updated city trattoria. The best two dishes were a primo of maccherone giallo d'uovo e calamaro and a secondo of terrina di anguilla (wrapped in a cabbage leaf, shaped to resemble a snail, with two micro bread sticks sticking out ..,). The dolce of pampepato rivisitato was "revisitato" with a big-R ... A fine evening overall.


                          Next stop Padova, where we stayed two nights. The lunches were just little things picked up at the stalls in the market that Plotkin describes as the second best in Italy (after Bologna). For the first evening, we picked a place from Gambero Rosso: La Finestra. The couple who own the place speak excellent English; they lived in NY and has family there. Great antipasti of strudel di radicchio tardivo and capesante arrostite con carciofi and a good primo of risotto con zucca. Only the secondo of piovra in umido lacked distinction. Had selected a Friulano from FVG, but the proprietress said "Why don't you try a Ribolla?" A grape we had only had a couple of times before, more-rounded than the typical Friulano and a good recommendation.

                          After too-short a time permitted to admire the incredible frescoes of Giotto at Cappella degli Scrovegni, headed out to Le Calandre for dinner next evening. They strongly recommended their classic menu degustazione for first-time visitors and that's what we settled for. A white wine was appropriate for the first 4 courses and we sought a recommendation. After a bit of discussion of what we like, the sommelier suggested a 10-year old Ribolla Anfora by Josko Gravner. Was the most interesting wine (though not the very best) of the trip and an excellent recommendation for the food. The menu is prominent on their website, so won't describe it in detail, but broadly, most of the preparations were actually quite traditional and very good indeed, but presented in a way that I suppose passes for playfulness and wit. But playful in a way that makes you suspect they take themselves very seriously. And its advantages are not clear. For example, their capuccino di seppie al nero has cuttlefish cooked in its ink at the bottom of an elegant-looking glass and topped with pureed potato. The resemblance with a cappuccino is perhaps amusing, but must be a hindrance to taste (good though it is) --- it constrains the way you can combine the two. The dish of the night for us was the risotto allo zafferano con polvere di liquirizia. I am actually rather inordinately proud of the saffron risotto we make at home with riso carnaroli or vialone nano (if combining with small local crustaceans that we call "bugs" in Australia!) and saffron threads from a great Iranian brand called "Black Pearl". We almost never order it at a restaurant anywhere as it is rarely made ab initio or with such high-quality saffron. Here it was part of the degustazione and superb. The Initial reaction from the first spoon was ... much too rich and the saffron overdone, but the liquorice balanced the saffron, somehow made the dish a little lighter and the quantity was well-judged. (Last year we also had a superb and more delicate saffron risotto as part of the degustazione at Dal Pescatore.) They make a big fuss about the Battuta di vacchetta with tartufo bianco (must be eaten with your hands ...), but we had had better versions with superior tartufo bianco in simple trattoria in Piemonte last year. We wanted a glass of red with the two meat courses and none of the 6 wines available by the glass really appealed, and the sommelier said "if you are each having a glass and choose a bottle up to 100 euro, we can do that by the glass." That's what we did, although have now forgotten what it was.

                          We were sitting, having finished our dinner, content and genuinely amused by the antics at the next table with a random timer as part of their order of a "chocolate game" ... when a waiter came with the bill (knew it was going to be by far the most expensive meal of the trip) and announced "service is not included"! Had never happened to us in our 10 trips to Italy over a 25-year period and what must be well over 200 restaurants, and this in a GR tre forchette/ Michelin 3-star place! Thought we should verify just in case, asked for the menu back, no mention anywhere. Pointed that out and he said ... oh, quite common in Italy. Really? Where does one find these restaurants? Oh, Venice. Been to Venice many times, including weeks-long stay, has never happened. Then, he starts saying maybe he put it the wrong way, we don't have to pay. No chance we will pay but want to talk to the floor manager about this. Then a more senior guy comes, give him a credit card and ask him about it. The response is "Oh, he is from Venice. He made a mistake." This non sequitur infuriated me further. What does that mean? Venetians are generally error-prone? Or waiters from Venice in the employ of this group are prone to this particular error? By now my voice has started to rise ... and a really senior guy in a 10K suit comes out, says this should never have happened, a bad mistake, ... here is my card, write to me when you go to Venice or Paris and I will personally organize a dinner at our restaurant ... throughout talking only to my wife (who is American and white while I'm neither) ... As I was beginning to get even more agitated by these content-free statements, came to realize I was way over-reacting to trivialities, he was not talking to me sensing I was too angry to placate ... and gradually calmed down.

                          Thinking back can't figure out what provoked the anger --- was a trivial matter after all --- but still exercised as I write this ...

                          The irony is that we had in fact planned to thank the sommelier at the end and see if there is a graceful way of leaving some money as a token of appreciation ---something we hadn't done in Italy before and likely would give offence at, say, Dal Pescatore.

                          On a lighter note, we were offered a big bag of goodies. Didn't want to take what seemed like bribes but they said we should take something as a gesture of goodwill ... took the smallest item. The little packet of truffled confectionary was damn good ... should have brought the entire bag home :)

                          Have run out of steam ... a report on Mantova and the two best meals of the trip will follow.

                          1. re: jihba

                            Another great report.

                            Will look forward to hearing about Miramonti and La Mariella tomorrow. I can't remember anyone else going to those two and reporting here. Two of our favorites.

                            How was Casa Poli? Sorry you didn't get to La Zanzara. Something to look forward to next year.

                            1. re: jihba

                              I'm glad that Parma worked out for you.If you come again let me know and I will be happy to take you out to one of the country places (I was in London at Christmas getting my Indian and Turkish fixes). I have a theory about the olive oil at Santa Chiara - could the fishy additive have been lobster roe? I say this because I had shellfish with a delicious olive oil/roe kind of emulsion at another restaurant in the city. Did you track down the porcini?

                      2. re: Parmasam

                        Hi Parmesam,

                        If you had to choose between La Forchetta and Ai Due Platani. We are staying in the centre not far from La Forchetta but wondering whether Ai Due Platani is worth the cab ride. Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.