Po Delta, east of Ferrara
Last June, we went to La Zanzara (near Volano and Codigoro, very close to The Adriatic) for the first time. It was a wonderful dinner. I wrote about it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/904606
We went back for dinner on Saturday evening and then lunch on Sunday. As good as it was last year, it was even better this time.
The Bison family gets it. They use the freshest ingredients, cook the ingredients exquisitely, bring out the intensity of flavors from the ingredients, combine textures, plate the dishes pleasingly but not fussily… and serve. What comes out of the kitchen at La Zanzara is just about perfect, at least from our now having sampled many dishes. What more could one ask of a (mainly) fish and seafood restaurant in a simply beautiful setting... both the physical setting of the interior and the fascinating surrounding area of the marshlands. Well, you could ask for warm knowlegeable people and the Bison family has it in spades.
One son, Samuele, handles the dining rooms. Another son, Sauro is in the kitchen with his father and mother. What they cook is ethereal from the antipasti through the desserts.
It’s hard to describe how pleasant the physical layout of the dining room is. Soft colors, comfortable chairs, well spaced tables (but not too far apart), a fire in the huge fireplace, soft jazz in the background; every so often, you hear the ducks quacking in the lagoons outside. If one wanted to construct the nearly perfect dining room physical setting, this would be it! All in a house surrounded by lagoons.
Samuele knows his food and really knows his wine. He personally knows many of the producers on his list because they’ve been to the restaurant. The restaurant was full both times (two different rooms seating a total of about 30), but it was obvious that he knew how to make time for each table, to chat up many regulars (more than half the tables) and explain both the food and wine to those who were there for the first time. He reminds me of my friend Antonio Santini at Dal Pescatore, 30 years ago. The service, with Samuele’s sister in charge, is flawless, but very relaxed and unobtrusive; nothing stiff or formal. One feels very comfortable in that dining room.
And did I mention that Samuele is passionate about wine!? Nine out of ten people are going to drink a white, but for those who want a glass of red, he’ll open two or three bottles during the meal (as he did on Saturday evening) that appeal to him and that he hopes will appeal to you (if not, just ask for something else and he will gladly oblige). On Saturday, he opened a magnum (perhaps two) of 2008 Ca dei Frati Ronchedone; a 2006 Storchi Neroduva; and a 2006 Teran ( I forget the producer) from the border of Friuli and Slovenia. These are wines we never would have tried and while they weren’t Barolo,Brunello or Barbera, they were very good. For a white we drank the 2011 Muller-Thurgau Sofi from Franz Haas. To finish off lunch, we drank the Vaca Mora amaro from Poli.
For dinner, we both had the risotto di caccia di Valle con salsa noce moscata: meat from four different ducks (folaga, germano reale, mestolone, alzavola). The risotto was made from scratch and the meat was wonderfully gamey. The dish was perfectly cooked. Then Piovra (octopus) allo spiedo con erbe; as tender and as flavorful as when we had it in June. On Sunday, agnolotti ripieni di pesce bianco; pasta fresca con le canocchie; anguilla di cattura cotta alle brace; misto di pesci cotti alla brace. Dolci included: schiacciata di ricotta di pecora alla casalinga e salsa di mele; bigne caramellati con salsa mandarino; morbido tepido al cioccolato fondente; millefoglie con salsa caramello.
The care and skill in everything from the pasta, to the saucing, to the grilling of the fish, to the desserts, show the hands of maestros in the kitchen (thank you Elio, Vittoria and Sauro).
In our mind, if you want one of the best meals you’ll ever have anywhere near the Adriatic, if you’re in Ferrara (45 minutes away), Ravenna (an hour) or Venice (an hour and a half), this is THE place to go.
We know your dislike with anything to do with the Michelin. You've made that very clear in prior posts..
I look and say that's irrational. We don't go to places simply because the place has a Michelin star. That's foolish. We also do not not go to a place that has a Michelin star simply because it has one. That's foolish as well.
We went to La Zanzara last year. It had no star. We went this year and it is very much the same place as last year, except that it got a star. The star has nothing to do with the restaurant from last year to this year. If you had gone there last year and liked it (although I don't understand your comment "it is no doubt the place to go"; you haven't been there so how do you know it is "the place to go."), why wouldn't you go there again this year? Perhaps I'm wrong, but that seems to be irrational.
It's always the restaurant that counts. Not the Michelin stars, not the rating in the Gambero Rosso, not the rating in L'Espresso, not the wonderful review in the Osterie d'Italia. The proof is truly in the pudding.
People are going to miss out if they follow your advice. For example: one of the most enjoyable restaurants for us in Piemonte is Il Centro in Priocca. It didn't get its first star until two years ago. Absolutely nothing has changed in those two years. Enrico and Edile are still the same modest people. The food is the same, as is the wine list. The prices are the same. Would we not go there simply because it has a star? If that were the case, we'd be missing out on a wonderful place and as well as many other places in Italy.
For example, on Friday we'll be at another place where we have been more than two dozen times over 12 years. It got its first star two or three years ago. Is that any reason to stop going? We think not.
How nice to be called irrational and foolish for simply posting on Chowhound a fact about a restaurant! I provided the link so that others reading could have more information, and I still think they deserve to have the information as much as they deserve to have yours. I'm not saying in any way that the house-made mayonnaise at La Zanzara isn't fab. I don't know. I didn't discourage anyone from going there. (I doubt anyone but you has been reading my past posts on the France board.) I'm not offering advice. Most people here have plenty of experience with Michelin star restaurants and upscale places (including Dal Pescatore). They know what to do with this added information in terms of their own preferences.
But travelers to Italy can end up missing out too if they follow your advice under the impression that this restaurant is THE experience one should have of the food and eateries of this area. Perhaps you didn't mean to have it come across that way, but even in your second post you seem to be attempting to frighten people into believing that unless they eat the food at La Zanzara while in the area they will be totally missing out. (Hey, let's create anxiety about dinner!) If nothing else, it simply defies belief anyone could know all the possibilities in a neighborhood of several hundred kilometers in several directions.
I can't express my values any better than how Marcella Hazan did in the New York Times some years back:
"When my family and I ate out in the Italy of my youth and early decades of my marriage, we would look for any plain trattoria where we could find the kind of cooking that was closest to what my mother and father were putting on the table at home. The person making the meal may have been the owner or his wife or his mother, or someone working in total anonymity. He or she was never referred to as the chef, but as il cuoco or la cuoca, the cook.
"This was the old world of Mediterranean family cooking, a world where satisfying flavors had been arrived at over time and by consensus. That world hasn’t disappeared, but it has receded, making room for a parallel world, one where food is often entertainment, spectacle, news, fashion, science, a world in which surprise — whether it’s on the plate or beyond it — is vital. This is the world of chefs."
I suspect you will now swear to us that the family Bison is precisely the old world family Hazan described. But (call me foolish) I don't believe Michelin gives out stars to the kind of cooking and plain trattoria Hazan describes (and I've looked at La Zanzara's website). I guess I think it is foolish to think it does. It is fine to cite a single restaurant in Piemonte and say getting a Michelin star didn't change that one a whit. Rather ignores all the restaurants where just the opposite happened. But again, people are obviously free to choose their own eating adventures! But even ignoring the higher price tags, they might want all the info they can get about what the totality of the dining experience might turn out to be. And that includes how Michelin rates it in its extremely popular, much-followed guidebook.
I've no problem with your enthusiasm for this place and I wish its owners all success, but there are lots of fish in that Adriatic sea from Venice to Ravenna and inland to Ferrara and beyond. La Zanzara -- Michelin star or not -- Is a certain category of restaurant, and glorious as such a restaurant may be for you, not everybody is looking for that. Exemplary food in that area exists in other categories at no loss of quality of ingredients or flavor or cooking skill.
I wasn't frightening anyone. Lighten up!
All Michelin starred restaurants are not alike. You would know that if you went to some of them, particularly those in remote places in the countryside.
We don't go to Michelin starred restaurants because they have stars. We don't necessarily reject them because they do. You obviously feel differently, so we disagree.
I try to describe places that we like. These places are all over northern Italy. The places have certain characteristics which are important to us. In some prior posts, I've explained in detail what these characteristics are. If people want to go, that's fine. We think they are great places. If they don't want to go, I have no vested interest. The places have nothing to do with whether they are in the Michelin or not. We don't pay attention to that... at all. In the past, we've heard from and met many people who have liked some of places. That's why I post: so that some people will go to places they otherwise would not have gone to. That's what I'm looking for here as well i.e. to have a place described in detail so that we might want to go there; places that we otherwise might not have known about.
Why don't you write some reviews of particular places you like, not in the Michelin or any other guide. You don't seem to do that.
You said: "But travelers to Italy can end up missing out too if they follow your advice under the impression that this restaurant is THE experience one should have of the food and eateries in this area to the exclusion of other experiences. " I didn't say anything of the kind; please don't put words in my mouth!
Actually, travelers to Italy can end up missing out if they follow your advice and not go to any restaurant mentioned in The Michelin.
You simply don't listen, not on the French board and not here. You were the one who told people not to go to Michelin starred restaurants. I just point out that in my mind that's foolish because, as we've seen from La Zanzara, if this were last year it wouldn't have had the star and you wouldn’t have made the comments you did... and nothing has changed from last year to this.
I'm just giving my opinion on a particular restaurant. Perhaps others will go and enjoy it. You won't go. That's fine.
You may not believe that the Michelin gives out stars to places that Hazan described, but your experience is obviously lacking. Michelin has given stars to places such as Marcella described since they gave stars (two) to Peppino Cantarelli's "shack" in Busseto in the 1960s. It gave a star to Nadia and Antonio Santini when Dal Pescatore was nothing much more than a simple country place on the banks of the Oglio.
Currently, it would appear that you haven't been to places like La Pinetta, Il Centro, La Zanzara and many others. You haven't been there because as you mentioned, you don't go to places noted in the Michelin (and perhaps other guides). Until you do, until you actually eat in a place, I think it's wrong to criticize a specific restaurant because you don't have the knowledge to do so. Looking at a web site doesn't count as an experience.
Do you have the same problem with The Osterie i.e. not go to a place with snails? Those places are very different from others in the guide. Do you have the same problem with places in the Gambero Rosso that have gamberi? Do you not go because those places are different from the others listed?
As far as Marcella goes, she was a very good cookbook writer. However, her taste buds were terrible because of the chain smoking.