Tag Archives: Italian restaurants

Trattoria Al Passo, Venice – Only Fish!

While we were all in Venice, Jeet’s friend and Andrew’s colleague, Umberto, wanted to take us to his favorite restaurant in the nearby village of Campalto. The restaurant’s card says Solo Pesce (only fish), and that’s all we had – lots of very, very good fish, most of it local and extremely fresh. Umberto and Read More…

While we were all in Venice, Jeet’s friend and Andrew’s colleague, Umberto, wanted to take us to his favorite restaurant in the nearby village of Campalto. The restaurant’s card says Solo Pesce (only fish), and that’s all we had – lots of very, very good fish, most of it local and extremely fresh. Umberto and his friend Mauro ordered for all of us, and at the risk of a bad nautical pun, I will say that they went overboard.

Pictured above is the amuse bouche of smoked fish, which was served with Franciacorta (champagne-method wine made in Italy).

Then we had an antipasto crudo (raw antipasto). The object in front that looks like it has two big black eyes is a cavalletto di mare (sea grasshopper). These things have always looked creepy to me. The “eyes” are defensive mimicry – that’s actually the tail – and they have way too many little legs underneath. But I ate it anyway, and the flavor was divine – sweet, and the flesh slipped right down without being slimy. The plate also contained two kinds of shrimp (not raw) and some kind of fish (swordfish?).

I didn’t get a picture of the other antipasto, carpaccio di tonno (because I was too busy eating it): very thinly sliced raw red tuna, served almost Japanese style, but with olive oil. On the plate was a small mound of green stuff; I put a chunk of it in my mouth before I realized it was wasabi, which I’ve never seen served in an Italian restaurant before. Ouch!

Next we had cappesante (scallops), grilled, then served on decorative shells. Apparently this is not the season in which they are large. Didn’t matter – they were tasty!

Then razor clams, also grilled.

Then we finally got to the primi, first polenta with schie, the tiny and flavorful local shrimp. (We did wonder who peeled all these little bitty things.)

And, finally, risotto with clams. Fortunately, someone had thought to cancel the order for a pasta dish as well, and we hadn’t ordered any entrees.

All this took a long time, which we didn’t mind as we were eating and drinking fine things in good company. Pictured above are Enrico, Kiki, Hadi, and Geraldine (shown reacting to a bad joke, not asleep on the table!).

We paid about 65 euros a head for “only fish” (plus quite a lot of wine, coffee, a few desserts, and limoncello) – well worth it!

Trattoria Al Passo

via Passo 118, Campalto (VE)

phone: 041 900470, 338 347 6106

closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Italian Restaurant: La Quercia di Rosa

On our way down to Abruzzo for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday, we stopped for lunch near Modena, the home of balsamic vinegar. Quite by accident (although this kind of accident is not unusual in Italy), we found an excellent restaurant, La Quercia di Rosa (the Rose Oak – ?). They make their own balsamic vinegar, Read More…

On our way down to Abruzzo for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday, we stopped for lunch near Modena, the home of balsamic vinegar. Quite by accident (although this kind of accident is not unusual in Italy), we found an excellent restaurant, La Quercia di Rosa (the Rose Oak – ?).

They make their own balsamic vinegar, and, as the proprietress said, it’s so good that you can put it on everything or even drink it by itself as a digestivo (after-dinner digestive drink). The thin industrial balsamic vinegar that you can buy at the supermarket is only a very distant relation to this syrupy, sweet-sour nectar.

For starters, we had it sprinkled on aged parmigiano (parmesan cheese). The combination of flavors somehow reminded me of walnuts, though there was not a single nut in sight.

For my first course, I had pockets of lasagna dough baked with a zucchine filling, with a creamy basil sauce. Light, flavorful, and not too filling – perfect for the season.

Enrico had tagliatelle with fresh porcini (wild mushrooms) – also in season now and absolutely yummy.

My second course was zucchine flowers, dipped in a light batter and deep fried. These were very good just as you see them above, and even better with a few drops of the house balsamic.

Enrico had tagliata di manzo (sliced steak) – very good meat, well flavored with rosemary and pepper. Ross had sole cooked with… balsamic vinegar!

As a side dish, Enrico and I shared radicchio di campo (field greens) with a dressing of crispy pancetta (bacon – unusually for Italy, sliced thin) – we put some balsamic on that, too.

We were not surprised to notice a flask of balsamic vinegar on the dessert cart. I asked what it was used for in desserts, and here’s what I had:

Fresh strawberries with gelato di panna (cream-flavored ice cream) and balsamic vinegar. Heaven!

Total cost of the meal for three of us (two primi, three secondi, three desserts, half-bottle of wine, lots of water) was just over 100 euros.

La Quercia di Rosa

via Scartazza 22

localita’ Fossalta

41100 Modena

phone 059 280 730

email querciadirosa@libero.it

closed Tuesdays

more information about real, traditional balsamic vinegar

Customs and Etiquette When Dining Out in Italy

House Wine In many Italian restaurants, you can get a low-cost house wine (usually one white and one red selection) in carafes of 1/4, 1/2, or a full litre. In some places this is a decent though not stellar local wine, in others it will be something completely unrelated to the area. Personally, I’d try Read More…

House Wine

In many Italian restaurants, you can get a low-cost house wine (usually one white and one red selection) in carafes of 1/4, 1/2, or a full litre. In some places this is a decent though not stellar local wine, in others it will be something completely unrelated to the area. Personally, I’d try something local, even if you have to buy a whole bottle – local wines are part of the authentic Italian food experience. And sometimes the house wine is very special indeed.

The house wine does not necessarily have a lower alcohol content than what you get in bottles; it has whatever alcohol content is normal for that type of wine.


Is a Pizza a Meal?

A normal Italian pizza is just right for one hungry person to eat – the size of a 12-14″ plate. True Italian pizza, at least in northern Italy, bears little relation to the huge thick globby thing they call pizza in the US and, for my money, the Italian version is a lot better. It’s a thin crust with a thin layer of tomato sauce and mozzarella (usually) plus whatever else you order on it – every pizzeria has a long list of options from the classic to the bizarre, but usually you can subtract ingredients just by asking. In the better pizzerie, pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven. Don’t settle for anything less.

Italians don’t often drink beer with meals, except with pizza. Beer may be on tap or in bottles, and is served by volume (piccola, media, grande).

About Water

Aqua gassata (pronounced “gazata”) or frizzante (“fritz-antay”) has bubbles, naturale or non-gassata does not. While tap water is safe to drink all over Italy, Italians usually drink bottled water because they prefer the taste (not because the restaurants are looking for an excuse to make you pay more). You can insist on tap water, but be aware that in most parts of Italy it is very hard (lots of calcium), and you may not like the flavor. In some mountain locales where the local water is very good, they serve that in carafes for free. Anywhere else, it can be difficult to get tap water brought to your table, but, if you want to try, ask for acqua del rubinetto.

No, gassata is not the default choice, unless for some reason your waiter has preconceived notions about foreigners. The Italian population splits pretty evenly on the gas or no-gas preference, so why would any waiter assume otherwise?

Dining “al Fresco”

NB: To an Italian, al fresco is slang for being in jail!

Weather and facilities permitting, the waiter may ask if you prefer to sit indoors or outdoors. If you want to smoke with your meal, outdoors may be your only option nowadays. Prices should be the same for a sit-down meal no matter where you sit.

Sitting or Standing

At many/most bars you will be charged more if you occupy a table, even if you fetch your drinks/snacks from the bar yourself. Bars care about rapid turnover, so they charge you more for table service. It’s a conflict of interest between tourists wanting a place to sit down and rest their feet while enjoying the human scenery around them, and bars needing to make money from the space they’re sitting in. The more desirable the location (e.g., Saint Mark’s Square in Venice), the more ridiculous the price of a cup of coffee at a table. If you just want coffee, have it standing up at a little bar on a side street. If you want to rest your feet and enjoy the view, be prepared to pay for that.

Cover and Service Charges and Tipping

Most restaurants charge coperta (the term actually refers to the place setting), a minimal (1-3 euro) cover charge which includes the cost of bread, table settings, etc. Most do not charge for service, and Italians tip only minimally. Waiting tables is a trained and valued job in Italy, and waiters make decent salaries. Of course they do appreciate any tip that you leave but, unless you’re spending more than 50 euros a head on a meal, a tip of more than 5 euros is extravagant. I usually leave 1-2 euros plus whatever loose change I want to get rid of. (NB: In the US I tip very well – several of my friends worked their way through college on tips!)

Paying the Bill

Getting the bill in an Italian restaurant can actually be an ordeal. Unlike many American restaurants, Italian restaurants are usually in no hurry to get rid of you (and most Italians would react very badly to a restaurant trying to rush them out). I don’t know why, but it can take forever to get the bill. Maybe it’s because only the restaurant owner has access to the cash register, and he/she may be busy chatting with regular customers.

Note: Restaurant recommendations are here.

Why Italians Have Stopped Eating Out

Like most people in Italy, we don’t go out for dinner as much as we used to. We love to eat out, and there are many great restaurants in Italy, but who can afford them anymore? It started with the euro. The official conversion rate was 1936.27 lire to the euro. In other words, a Read More…

Like most people in Italy, we don’t go out for dinner as much as we used to. We love to eat out, and there are many great restaurants in Italy, but who can afford them anymore?

It started with the euro. The official conversion rate was 1936.27 lire to the euro. In other words, a pizza that used to cost 8,000 lire, if converted correctly, should cost slightly over 4 euros. In practice, many restaurants just lopped off three zeros, so a pizza that used to cost 8,000 lire now costs 8 euros. It almost seems reasonable at first glance, til you realize that you are now paying almost 16,000 lire for a pizza, which no one would have dreamed of doing pre-euro.

In Milan a few weeks ago, we ate at a restaurant that we had frequented for years, and considered good quality at a medium price. This assessment proved to be sadly out of date. Between the three of us, we had three primi (first courses), two secondi (second courses), one dessert, four ¾ litre bottles of water, ½ litre of wine, and one coffee. The primi (first courses) were good, the secondi decidedly less so: Enrico’s bollito misto (boiled meats) was unimpressive – I can buy better mostarda myself! – and my agnello al scottadito (grilled lamb ribs) seemed almost fried rather than grilled, certainly not tender as they should be. And the bill was 98 euros! Definitely not worth the price.

We saw only two or three other tables of patrons while we were there, and the chef spent most of the evening standing around in the hall. Not a good sign, but no more than he deserved for charging us an arm and a leg for a sub-par meal. Until recently, some restaurants might have imagined they could rely on the less-discerning palates of tourists, but, with the dollar in free-fall, many Americans can no longer afford to come to Italy at all, or at least need to eat more cheaply while they’re here. Italian restaurateurs need to rethink their pricing and quality before they go out of business in droves.

Birthday Lunch at Lanterna Verde

Last Saturday we went to La Lanterna Verde, one of our favorite restaurants in the world, for the now-traditional celebration of Ross’ and Alice’s birthdays. Last year there were 11 of us, this year 10. The owners have become fond of us, though they’d like to see us more often! Most of us had set Read More…

Last Saturday we went to La Lanterna Verde, one of our favorite restaurants in the world, for the now-traditional celebration of Ross’ and Alice’s birthdays. Last year there were 11 of us, this year 10. The owners have become fond of us, though they’d like to see us more often!

Most of us had set menus, there were six or so to choose from. Graziella had the trout meal, so her antipasto was a salmon trout mousse, ricotta (I think) wrapped in salmon trout carpaccio, and smoked trout.

I ordered a la’ carte, and for antipasto had paté, which had figs inside and came with a sweet red pepper coulis. I actually preferred the red onion coulis they used to make – I think it’s a better complement to the paté.

paté

Here are a couple of primi (first course dishes): in the foreground, mushroom-filled ravioli with a chanterelle sauce and, behind, trout-stuffed ravioli with tomato and basil. This was part of the summer menu, spaghetti with a sauce of raw tomatoes, black olives, and very good olive oil.

mushroom ravioli at Lanterna Verde

Ross and Alice in awe of Ross’ main course, I think it was lamb ribs crusted in pepper. I got distracted with eating and forgot to photograph the other main courses (we had had quite a bit of wine by then, too!).

secondo

For dessert, the chef decorated the plates of our three birthday people (David and Ross share a birthday) with “Buon Compleanno” or “Auguri” in chocolate sauce.

birthday dessert

Julian had the palette of sherbets, here it doesn’t look quite as elegant as when they brought it to the table, as he had already started on it before I got this photo.

sorbet trio

With coffee, they served these little trays of nibbles. The candy-coated cherries were amazing – a light, smooth coating of caramel on the outside, perfect sweet dark cherries on the inside.
cherries and nibbles

We like to go to Lanterna Verde during the day, because the drive up there is so pretty (it’s on the road from Chiavenna to St. Moritz, high in the Alps), and in good weather you can sit out under the pergola and enjoy a view of waterfalls on the other side of the valley.