Touring Italy? We recommend… Adventures from North to South
Olio2go staff members share their favorites.
After spending the day enroute from Zurich to Venice, Alla Patitina, a small osteria, was the perfect place for the first night’s dinner. Casual and friendly, and very small, you’ll be sitting close to your neighbors and enjoying listening to Venetian dialect around you. Begin with a glass of prosecco and enjoy typical Venetian dishes such as meatballs, fried vegetables in breadcrumbs, and also pasta dishes.
On our second night in Venice we ate along the waterfront just west of the Rialto bridge along the Riva del Vin. There are several restaurants, which might as well remain nameless as we remember only the location, not the food. We had hoped to dine at Alla Madonna, but did not have a much needed reservation on that evening.
On our next trip we will add the famed Cantina Do Mori.
When you journey, as many do, from Venezia to Murano, be sure to plan for a meal at Ristorante Dalla Mora located on the Rio dei Vetrai. Tagliatelle con Granceola (spider crab) was the big hit of our meal in Murano. The mixed seafood appetizer included baby shrimp, neonati (baby anchovies), latte di scungili (conch), polpe, scallops, cozze (mussels), clams, crab salad, and fish salad — wow. The sublime digestivo was a homemade combination of vanilla sorbet, prosecco, and vodka. Branzino, similar to what we know as sea bass, was grilled and delicious. One bit of advice, ask for Extra Virgin Olive Oil (posso avere il migliore l’olio, signore?), rather than the selection on the table.
Ristorante Enoteca "Al Covolo" featured outstanding wine pairings with any wine available by the glass. For us, the highlights were caramelized figs with Monte Veronese cheese. They offered Bigoli, a typical Veronese type of pasta - a long, hollow spaghetti shape - Faraona (grilled guinea hen), and Filetto di Manzo (beef filet) with olive oil. Located on the western side of Valpolicella, not far from Lago di Garda.
Ristorante Ponte Pietra -- adjacent to the bridge of the same name is a gem with a very special location. The Ceci Bean Soup was a highlight, along with the Caponata di Verdure.
San Donato in Poggio (April 2006) — La Toppa; go back in time with this charming small town, not far from Siena. We had a marvelous mid-week lunch for a family of four — including children, and we were surely the only tourists in this well-regarded restaurant. The owner brought his son, Luigi, out from the kitchen to help with our selections.The menu was disregarded as Luigi’s suggestions were welcomed—and enjoyed. It was an experience that will long be remembered. We travelled on to Siena for the afternoon, but should have spent more time wandering about. The La Toppa link will take you to the town’s web page, and restaurant listing for reservations. Click here for a nice page on the history of the town.
Florence. The places we’d return to: Baldovino (near Santa Croce), DaMario also known as Trattoria Mario (near the market), and Vivoli (just west of Santa Croce on a nearby street) every night for Gelato. Baldovino has a trattoria and an enoteca side by side. We had a casual evening meal in the trattoria and were lusciously satisfied by ravioli with truffles. At a table near us, a young couple enjoyed Bistecca all Fiorentina. Between museum visit grab an authentic lunch at DaMario. One caution— the line can be long. They only serve lunch (noon-3:30), and the Americans we met in line told us they make time for DaMario on every visit. The busy workers in the glassed-in kitchen, the posted daily menu, and shared tables make this an experience. As menu items are crossed off, the day’s choices become fewer. This is a working-person’s lunch spot located at the north corner of Piazza Mercato Centrale. It’s highly recommended for the food and the experience, but not the ambience! At the end of the day, wander over to Vivoli for sublime gelato. Chocolate for me.
Bagno a Ripoli is home to The Country Relais Borgo e Vicelli, home to the exquisite olive-oil-centric Ristorante al 588. Chef Andrea Perini sends the most creative plates from the kitchen, with the best expressions of Italian extra virgin olive oil.
South of Lucca you’ll find La Cecca, a bargain for excellent food and great setting.
Also in Lucca, we’ve visted Vipore, a delightful ristorante in the western hills overlooking Lucca, in Toscana. We enjoyed grilled meats, with a side of wonderful potatoes deep-fried in Lucchese olive oil and rosemary. Served simply on brown paper in a basket to absorb the excess oil, the taste was amazing. Other favorites were tagliatelle and rabbit.
Lucca’s Ristorante La Mora was reviewed in the New York Times in the Fall of 2006. We liked it because they took a fresh approach to the traditional dishes of the region. The lamb was superb. The only downside is that it is a bit close to train tracks. La Mora is widely considered the best restaurant in the area of Lucca. (It’s a 10- or 15-minute drive from town).
When visiting Arezzo, you might try going on the first Sunday of each month, when there is an antique fair in the old town square. The square and adjoining alleys and streets are filled with old and interesting antiques. After browsing you will no doubt be hungry, and we recommend Trattoria da Maurizio / La Lancia d’Oro on the arcade fronting the Piazza Grande (address Piazza Grande 18/19).
Touring Tuscany can be a bit overwhelming when confronted with more Americans than in Yankee Stadium, but for a treat away from the crowds and into the rustic Tuscan countryside, head westward and find the town of Roccalbegna. There, on the main road (Via Amiata, 11) is the Ristorante La Grotta. The town is hard to find if you aren’t looking for it, but the view is spectacular and the food is worth stopping for. The town is between Scansano and Arcidoso, east of Grosseto.
In Sinalunga, east of Siena, south of Arezzo, and close to Montepulciano, is L’Antica Limonaia — hard to find, but worth the trip. Send an email to ask us for directions. L’Antica Limonaia is within the park of San Giustino and accommodations are available.
Near Montepulciano, you’ll find Montichiello, a lovely little town with a view to Pienza, and Osteria La Porta a tiny enoteca serving classic Tuscan fare, with a charming owner, Daria. If you are traveling during the busy season, be sure to reserve in advance.
Viterbo — Borgo di Paradosso.
We enjoyed excellent Tagliata and Viterbese dishes. Tel. 0761.226756
Rome — Armando al Pantheon
Just a step away from the Pantheon, this real Roman restaurant excels in their selection of olive oils and dedication to fresh ingredients in offering a great selection of typical Roman fare. As seen in Stanley Tucci's special on CNN, Searching for Italy: Rome (February 2021).
Rome — Bistrot64
Michelin-starred Bistrot64 is worth the 25 minute journey to Via Guglielmo Calderini, from the center or Roma for Kotaro Noda's masterful creations. For us (June 2016) the highlight was Fregula Sarda with clams and basil-pesto foam. Also visited by Stanley Tucci when filming CNN's Searching for Italy, February 2021.
Our tour of Puglia resulted in several restaurants we thought were worth mentioning. Puglia has many less discovered jewels but lacks the cachet of Tuscany. While searching for ancestors, we visited Noci and dined atL’antica Locanda just off the main piazza. Signore Pasquale Fatalino will treat you well. The typical Pugliese food here is very well prepared, and a bargain - six courses with wine for four people was E100. If you are in Lecce, make a point to reserve a table at Trattoria Cucina Casareccia - The owner is a wonderful hostess (you will dine in her house with full view of the kitchen), and the food is simple Pugliese food but astoundingly good and fun - also a bargain. 19 Via Colonnello Costadura; 39-0832/245-178.
Just north of Bari in Puglia, make a side trip to Trani to visit this seaside restaurant La Lampada for a treat. No written menu - just trust the waiter’s recommendations. Contact us for directions.
In Napoli be sure to save a meal for Ciro a Santa Brigida. It is away from the noise, beautiful setting, great Napoli pizza and seafood. (We sat next to Bette Midler and family!)
We had two great dining experiences on the Amalfi Coast — Taverna del Capitano located in the quiet sleepy bayside area of Marina del Cantone and at Quattro Passi, on the road from Nerano to the Marina. You’ll find the both restaurants, featuring excellent local seafood, and their accommodations to be a pleasant respite from the better known resorts. We hope you don’t have to choose between them.
Il Dehor is a restaurant in the hotel Baglio della Luna in Agrigento. Our guidebook’s map showed North pointing the wrong way, so it took almost two hours of driving around and around Agrigento until we found someone who could tell us the location. The hotel is not marked at all, and the only sign for the restaurant is very small sign hidden along the SS 115 just west of the exit for San Leone. Once you find this place, you ought to stay in the hotel. It is worth the stay. The staff in the hotel are exceptionally nice. The restaurant is also exceptional. Everything we tried there was outstanding, including the grilled fish, the veal fillet, the desserts, the antipasti, and the pastas. This is not a restaurant that kids would enjoy, but for adults, we highly recommend it. The wine list is also exceptional, and includes some very good local wines. We particularly enjoyed the Morgante wines. The price is very reasonable for the food and the wine. The only negative thing we can say about this restaurant is the selection of local cheese were ordinary, except for the goat cheese, which was very good.