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Apr 19, 2014 06:05 AM

Cooking/Eating in Sicily, Tuscany, Amalfi

Mr. CG and I are planning a kind of bucket list trip to Italy in May and, of course, one the most important aspects of our trip revolves around food. We will be traveling in Sicily, Amalfi, Naples and then renting a villa in Tuscany for two (2!!) weeks.

We have not yet settled on exactly where in Sicily or Tuscany we will be so this may help us narrow it down.

There are so many cooking classes offered in those areas, I am sure some are much better than others so I wanted to hear from Hounds about where you have taken cooking classes in those regions and what you loved or hated about them. I am a pretty accomplished home cook (not a professional) and I write a food blog. Mr. GC is a willing participant.

In addition, if there are not-to-be missed restaurants or street food that you could recommend, I would be thrilled.

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  1. As noted in another blog here Acquapazza in Cetara on the Amalfi Coast is a do-not-miss.
    We had our best meal in Sicily at la Capinera in Taormina with a best bottle of wine too - a Fiano di Avellino from Exultet.
    BTW I am ex-restaurateur. I rarely sleep in a fine hotel, but I can always find the best restaurant for miles. I do my homework. In Italy the best guides to restaurants are Veronelli, followed by l'Espresso IMO.

    14 Replies
    1. re: collioure1

      Veronelli died ten years ago. Is the food guide still being published? If so, how recently?

      L'Espresso? Not IMO. Too many inspectors seem to be on the take from the descriptions that we've read over the last 30 years. But, we continue to buy it every year anyway:)

      1. re: allende

        Yes, he did, but I still believe that guide the best. I would never hesitate to reserve at a restaurant to which Veronelli awards a heart (e.g., Meloncino in Cortina, the only restaurant where a course was so good we reordered it).

        Michelin will often lead you to frenchified Italian cuisine which just doesn't work, esp with Italian wines. Anyhow in Italy I want real Italian food. Although I live in France, I’d like to eat my last dinner in Italy. There's nothing like the real thing.

        I happen to look at a number of guides before I come to Italy. Haven't had a bad meal there yet and I spend less than I used to. Always look for regional cuisine.

        Who's better in your opinion?

        1. re: collioure1

          Hi collioure1

          The question I asked is whether the guide is still being published. What is the year of your Veronelli guide?

          When was the last time you were at Meloncino? I spend a lot of time in Cortina, so am really curious. What other places in the region do you like?

          What other guides do you use besides L'Espresso and Veronelli? And, of course, what are the places in Italy do you enjoy. What are the places that you like to eat your last dinner in Italy?

          Looking forward to hearing from you.



          ps which guide is better? Well for our money, Gambero Rosso, where the inspectors seem not to be on the take as much as L'Espresso and certainly Osterie d'Italia.

          1. re: allende

            Online I can only find a Veronelli restaurant guide as recent as 2012 whereas their wine guides are current. I don't have a copy of the restaurant guide (I did a long time ago when we came to Italy more often) but I have found their references on the web when I wanted them.

            I haven't been in Cortina in ages, but I do see that Meloncino is still there and highly regarded. Frankly a place that good is unlikely to disappear. I think I read that they have changed locations. Spaghetti alla rucola. Killer!

            I do see the reviews/ratings of Gambero Rosso which is a new guide for me. It can be one of the two positive references I require before I reserve a table in Italy.

            I don't know about reviewers "on the take." Here in France I depend almost exclusively on Gault et Millau. It's very dependable. Frankly I don't know how they keep such accurate and timely tabs on so many establishments, but Gault et Millau has been a godsend for me since the 70’s. I spotted Michel Bras in the 1978 guide but couldn’t get there until 1993. I’d had the right idea for 15 years. That restaurant is worth the detour to get there though the roads are much better now.

            And now we have Trip Advisor which gives the customers’ views. I've been traveling in Europe for 40 years now, and I just know how to read between the lines of these reviews. In fact I even know when they are wrong - one night in Colmar after a very good dinner I asked why the restaurant was only rated a 12. The owner brought out the correction page for the guide. Soon thereafter Gault et Millau.awarded Chef Schillinger a gold key.

            I rarely drive the same road twice and I rarely go back to the same places. I love regional cuisine, good local wines, the history, the antiquity, the traditions and the people we meet. This year we’re going from Assisi to Cinque Terre via Tuscany. That’ll just about complete Italy for me, and I’ve been all over France, save the Berry and the vast wheat fields in the north though I will finally see Lille next month.

            I don’t know if I answered your questions as well as you would have liked, but I answered them as well as I could. And if I ever get near Cortina again, we’ll meet for dinner you know where.

            1. re: allende

              I love just about all of Italy. However, I think Venice really stands out, and I am taking wife #2 there on a little honeymoon next year. Regions? Tuscany and Campania stand out.

            2. re: collioure1

              colloure1, do you have any favorite spots for regional cuisine in Palermo, Noto, Syracuse, Positano, Capri, Naples?

              1. re: chicgail

                Sorry, no. I didn't like our meal in Noto and I don't remember a thing about Il Ristorantino in Palermo - probably because the most memorable event for us in Palermo that day was a drug running episode at the bus stop after which the juiced-up ruffian Mafioso hopped on the same bus. Well, after reading about Il Ristorantino, I can see why I'd choose it again.

                E Pulera on the isle of Lipari is quite good.

                1. re: collioure1


                  As to your longer post:

                  Not sure why you say Meloncino is highly regarded. On what basis are you making that statement?

                  Meloncino, by the way, is not even rated in L'Espresso anymore (just a small squib). It doesn't appear in Gambero Rosso.

                  We used to like Meloncino. Then it moved. A place that was so good, became a disaster. The food and the service were terrible; literally, the owners became full of themselves because of their reputation. We might meet up in Cortina, but we'll go to Tivoli (look at my comments for past years). Or perhaps the bistro at the Gran Ander in Pedraces, but that means going over a high pass, Falzarego :)

                  Of course, the best place to meet up, as far as we're concerned is Piemonte, around Alba, which one commentator on this board once said, has the greatest concentration of excellent country restaurants, trattorias and osterias in Italy. Amen.

                  You asked if you answered my questions. I expect, since you asked, that you want an honest answer. You didn't answer some of them. This was one of them: "And, of course, what are the places in Italy do you enjoy. What are the places that you like to eat your last dinner in Italy?" Would like to hear your answer as to the six places that you enjoy and the places you like to eat your last dinner, figuratively, in Italy.

                  As far as tripadvisor, the less said the better, even reading between the lines. Perhaps in France it is better, but for Italy it is really bad, just very excited people writing about their trip to Italy without really knowing much except what they like. By the way, that is all good i.e. knowing what they like, but as far as any sort of reliable guide, we find it poor.

                  You said "Anyhow in Italy I want real Italian food" and you said you like to eat regionally. With all due respect, I would suggest that before you go to Italy the next time, you buy Osterie d'Italia and Gambero Rosso... and not use outdated guides :)

                  I would also say that you should pay attention to some of those who post on this board. For instance
                  vinoroma, PBSF, Maureen Fant, Peter Rodgers, rrems, bob96 and a few others, and if I can be more than a little immodest, myself.

                  We don't have all the answers (in fact there are none), but we almost all either live in Italy or have spent a lot of time there... eating and drinking and trying to do both as well as we possibly can. We often disagree, in fact we disagree a lot, but you can get a good sense of what we like and what our prejudices are, and then decide if what we are saying makes sense.



                  1. re: allende

                    Ease up a bit there, please.

                    I just got curious a few months ago and found some favorable references on Meloncino.

                    I don't visit Trip Advisor to find restaurants. I use it as a kind of sounding board. Do the diners like it or not? Does it have a TripAadvisor certificate of excellence? Often there is a reference to the resto's website so I can look at the menu. Sorry to say but the diners still like Meloncino a lot 4.5/5.

                    Every reference is valuable in a country where one doesn't have a lot of resources. Just did Budapest and Czech Republic. Wasn't easy but did rather well. Found the best table in a number of small cities and a couple of winners in Prague (Cestr, for example, is a wonderful modern bistro serving great beef).

                    I would gladly pay attention to those on this board. I went fishing for some recs on Vernazza on another blog.

                    However, I don't need to buy guides to visit Italy for 10 days every 5 years. Anything of merit wil be listed by Michelin even if I don't trust their ratings in Italy. There are more than enough guide excerpts on the web for me. That's how I found Acquapazza a few years ago.

                    FYI Tivoli looks a little pricey for me even if it now is the best table in town. But since I'm hanging up my hiking boots in a few weeks, I probably won't be coming to the gorgeous Dolomites again.

                    1. re: allende

                      Just for the record Meloncino appears to have changed names - Il Camineto now.

                      Perhaps you'd like to comment on the choices I've made for September

                      la Taverna di San Giuseppe, Siena
                      Millevini, Siena
                      da Ruggero, Firenze
                      Belcore, Firenze
                      Buonumore, Viareggio
                      Buonamico, Viareggio
                      Ristorante Francesco, Viareggio
                      Il Pirata, Vernazza
                      Belforte, Vernazza

                      No longer have the budget to dine at Enoteca Pinchiorri in Firenze or at da Romano in Viareggio where I remember a marvelous dinner of grilled sepia many, many years ago.

                      1. re: collioure1

                        Sure I'll reply. Would you be courteous enough to reply to my questions (above) as well.

                        Just for the record, as you said, it is Il Meloncino al Camineto, not Il Camineto, which was (is?) a different restaurant.

                        We really like Da Ruggero, but only for lunch. At lunch it is laid-back and only one seating. At dinner it is rushed and many (too many) non Italians. If you want another trattoria in Florence, we like Vecchia Bettola. Glad to hear you don't have the budget to dine at Pinchiorri, because it is a rip-off.

                        Never heard of the three restaurants in Viareggio, even though I live nearby. If Romano (who is a long time personal friend) is budget busting, you, unfortunately, couldn't go to Lorenzo in Forte dei Marmi.

                        Really fresh fish and shellfish is very expensive here on the coast. Be careful of fish restaurants in Viareggio that seem too cheap. There are a lot of them because Viareggio is a fairly low end Italian resort. The train comes right out from Florence. Nonetheless, it is also a fascinating town, a real town with real people. It's just that it gets a tremendous number of tourists and especially day trippers, particularly on weekends.

                        If you have a car, go to Scolapasta, in Castiglioncello, not far from Viareggio down the coast. Below is one of my posts (you can search for the others). Just a touch further down the coast is La Pinetta in Marina di Bibbona another great fish place. Perhaps these are within your budget. I've written about Pinetta a number of times including here:

                        Have been to Il Pirata and Belforte a number of years ago. Very mediocre and no reason to think that either place has changed. In the Cinque Terre the only really good restaurant we've ever found, and we've tried a lot, is Cappun Magro in Riomaggiore.

                        One post on Scolapasta:

                        We've been back to Scolapasta in Castiglioncello a number of times since we first wrote it up (see the two posts above). It is less than 45 minutes from here and it is fast becoming a mainstay for us. Nothing like it exists in Forte dei Marmi or Viareggio or anyplace else around here on the coast (it is very different from Lorenzo in Forte or La Pinetta in Marina di Bibbona). An informal place for truly excellent fish and seafood dishes.

                        We were there twice in the last two weeks, the first times there this year. Nothing has changed from last year; why would it. Take excellent ingredients, a talented chef who respects those ingredients, couple that with causal gracious service by one of the owners and you have a recipe for success. The owners are not about to spoil it.

                        Physically, Scolapasta is a modest place, but extremely comfortable, all you could want in a fish trattoria/ restaurant by the sea. By design it does not cater to foreign tourists; in all the times we've been there, we've been the only non Italians... as one of the owners said to us "we have never had spaghetti con vongole on the menu and never will." It is neither expensive nor inexpensive; figure 60 Euros per person for three courses plus dessert. Great fish and seafood are expensive in Italy and if you go to a place with cut rate prices, it means that the ingredients are not fresh. That is a fact. Here, two weeks ago, a fisherman was bringing his catch, through the dining room, at 3 in the afternoon. That was for dinner that night. A good wine list VERY reasonably priced, served in Riedel glasses. One time we had a 2011 Hofstadter Muller-Thurgau, another the 2010 Schiopetto Tocai, both around 20-22 Euros.

                        The entire menu is on a chalkboard. As the kitchen runs out, the dish is simply erased. Menu changes daily. Excellent bread; really great desserts.

                        This place is a gem. Go!!!

                        1. re: allende

                          Yes, Il Meloncino al Camineto but the website presents il Camineto It's pretty clear that Il Camineto succeeded Meloncino. It's listed at Michelin, it's well liked at Trip Advisor which means something because it's not inexpensive. The yellow pages listing includes "presente su gambero rosso; presente su veronelli; presente sulla guida dell' espresso; presente sulla guida michelin; presente sulla guida rossa."

                          1. re: allende

                            Thank you for your recommendations. I looked up Vecchia Bettola and that sounds just right even if I have to sit on a stool.

                            However, we're in Viareggio to give my Moroccan-born French wife a few days on the beach, and I prefer not to drive to dinner. Otherwise, Scolapasta sounds ideal.

                            BTW I did answer your question as to the places in Italy I enjoy - geographically. Restauirants I have really liked - Vecchia Lugana, Arche, and da Romano a long time ago. More recently Acquapazza, Lucanerie 2030, E Pulera and la Capinera.

                            Last meal - a fine table on the terrace in Ravello.

                            1. re: allende

                              Oops! Vecchia Bettola is closed on the two days we are in Firenze.

              2. Does anyone have recommendations for cooking classes, especially in Positano, Noto, Syracuse or Tuscany?

                2 Replies
                1. re: chicgail

                  To get back to the OP's question, last year I took a cooking class at Buca di Bacco in Positano. I cook quite a bit at home, much of it Italian, so some of it was too basic for me, but I learned some good tips and we had a fantastic lunch on the terrace of what we had cooked in class.

                  Mamma Agata's cooking class in Ravello seems to be very popular, but it was too pricey for my budget.

                  One of my all-time favorite places in Positano is Da Adolfo, which is actually a short boat ride away at Laurito Beach. If you search for it on this board you will find several references to it.

                  We also really enjoy Le Tre Sorelle right on the beach in Positano. Great owner and fantastic grilled seafood. We prefer it to Chez Black right next door.

                  Here is a great post on where to eat in Positano.

                  Obviously we have similar taste. :-)

                  We tried Bar Bruno and did not enjoy it as much, but it could very well have been because of the table of obnoxious Austrailans next to us. We are debating trying it again when we are there in June.

                  1. re: ekc

                    Thank you.

                    I was beginning to wonder how the OP got hijacked.