I have taken my comments from the other post and combined them into a sort of new post to express my feelings.
I hope no one is offended:
I was just wondering if the average gastro tourist coming to Italy is looking for traditional restaurants, or Super Chefs? As I read these forums it seems as though the majority are in pursuit of the latter. I find that the more I pay or the more a chef is written up, the more I expect, but in reality isn't there only so much you can do with food?
I find myself at a culinary crossroads. While I am interested in the creative new cutting-edge creations from world renowned chefs, I am also fascinated by the traditional preparations which have evolved over centuries, handed down from generation to generation and continually adjusted and perfected. The aromas emitted from the kitchen windows of my village make my mouth water so overwhelmingly fast, that it is hard for me to imagine how starred chefs can eclipse this. In fact I know they don't.
When I dine out nowadays it is usually at the less celebrated restaurants. I have been separated from a small fortune over the last 20 years in celebrated restaurants eating the food of famous chefs and I have to say on reflection, based on a purely emotional point of view, that I have had less satisfaction in these places than in my simple local restaurants. Not only is it more convenient on the pocketbook but more satisfying for the soul.
Throw away your guide books and ask the winemakers, butchers and pastry makers: "Who cooks well in the area?". The information you glean will be more accurate, current and passionate than any guide book and they will probably call and make reservations for you!
Perhaps I leaving the impression that the starred chefs have nothing to offer but in fact I am very interested in the inventions of all chefs, famous and obscure, cutting edge and traditional. No one who loves food could not be.
What I mean to say is that traditionally prepared food is equally as interesting and equally worth pursuing. In fact the type of cooking that I am trying to describe does not really exist in restaurants. I am speaking of preparations requiring hours and hours of hand work and equal time cooking. This type of food is not economical for a restaurant to make but is often practiced in homes, mostly by loving mothers for their family or for a special feast or wedding. In most cases food like this can't be bought and the recipes are either memorized or closely guarded. This is the food I covet and I look for restaurants that try to practice this.
Traditional restaurants are everywhere in Italy all you have to do is ask, but really great traditional restaurants are just as rare and Michelin stars.
We are very fortunate here in Zanco to have Da Maria which has been open since the 50's and has been continuously run by a mother and her two sons who would rather close the restaurant than alter one of their precious recipes. No fusion, no exotic imported spices just traditional food prepared the same way it has always been. For 7 or 8 antipasti, including carna cruda, a pasta course (usually homemade agnolotti), a roast course (usually rabbit or pork), local artisanal cheeses and dessert you pay 25 euros (tax and tip included). Most of the wines are between 10 and 15 euros. Dinner usually includes a table visit and intense and opinionated food discussion with Georgio (the son that cooks) and a free grappa or two. People regularly come from Milan and Turin to eat at Maria's. I have even run into Italian UN dignitaries in Geneva that habitually stop at Da Maria when they are in the area. In the guide books or on the internet? Yeah right!
Ah, but the great trattorie still exist. My first brush with what a trattoria could be was in the early 70s, with the late great Cantarelli in Busseto. Beppe Cantarelli set the standard for all others to follow and those who have some sense of perspective with regard to food history in Italy, freely acknowledge that. He was the first one, after the very long post war recovery, to elevate trattoria food to its proper place. I returned again and again (as money and time would allow), and each time it seemed to get better and better. We’re fortunate in Italy to see that tradition continue today. I’ve written (as have others here) about some of them: Da Amerigo in Savigno; my old friend Miriam at La Buca in Zibello; Osteria della Villetta near Brescia; Antica Trattoria dei Mosto and La Brinca, both in Ne’ near Chiavari; Rubbiara in Nonantola; and one of the last of the great Florentine trattorie Vecchia Bettola.
And the list could go on, including one we went to for the first time yesterday. In the middle of nowhere, although it turns out that nowhere is probably about 30-40 minutes from ? . But it feels like nowhere. The place is attractive, in a simple and traditional way - the dining room didn't feel old and dated, but simple and “trattoria-like”, pleasant lighting, perhaps room for 50-60 coperti in two dining rooms; comfortable.
Some brief notes… in my mind, the best wine list in Italy, except for Pinchiorri where I’m sure the same bottle is sold at probably twice the price as it is in this trattoria? The best wine list in Italy in a trattoria in the middle of nowhere; how is that possible? Don’t know, but it puts the one at Gambero Rosso to shame as it does to all the other big name restaurants with lists. More than a hundred and fifty Barolos, same with Barbarescos, Barberas perhaps 60; incredible selection of Tuscans, from Friulli, from Alto- Adige, the south; everywhere in Italy ( took a quick glance at the section on French whites and I was staggered). An entire list of champagne and spumanti; pages and pages of whites from all regions in Italy. Pages and pages of dessert wines. All the right years. All the names of course, but the fun was to see how many relatively unknown producers she had on the list and all the wines were reasonable priced. Yes, she, for La Signora was passionate (incredible so!), opinionated and extraordinarily knowledgeable about the wine.
Now for the food; in one word… incredible (and fortunately no fruit on each plate, no foam, no frozen anything, no liquid nitrogen used, no Mason jars used; no surf and turf). Just a great seasonal trattoria menu, with a few daily specials each in antipasti, primi and secondi, all dishes beautifully, but simply, plated We started with a taste of culaccia, which is the cut of meat that makes culatello, but because it is too dry to make culatello in this area, they cure it like prosciutto and you get something called culaccia; another primi of sformato of potato with a light sauce made from a local cheese which we had never heard of. The sformato was light and delicate, and the culaccia was delicious. Then we had one of the day’s specials - tortelli di patate with a sauce of mushrooms and tomato - and ravioli di zucca as they make them here. Thin delicate pasta for both. They serve the potato tortelli two ways - one with just butter and cheese, and one with a sauce of mushrooms with a touch of tomato. We had it with the sauce, but La Signora had us taste it first with just the butter and cheese, so that we could get the delicacy of that, and then with the sauce, which was delicious. The ravioli di zucca are made with spinach pasta and served with a vegetable sauce which cuts the sweetness. A completely different dish from the usual, and wonderful. Both pasta dishes showed a master in the kitchen and were as good as any we have had, EVER, and our dear friend Bruna Santini at Dal Pescatore is our standard for stuffed pasta excellence (that is, the pasta itself). Then my wife and I had guanciale of veal, stewed in red wine and served with a light and soft polenta. Intense in flavor, light in texture. We finished with the two desserts of the day - sorbetto di fichi, and a taste of the various torte that they make - a little pound cake, a light torta di mandorle, and a torte of plums and one of apricots. We talked at length about wine, and what has happened in recent years, and Mondovino and Parker, and many other things. Papa is still in the kitchen and he’s 80 years old. Classic trattoria. The name? Let’s see how many takers we have who can guess it. Eventually, I’ll give it up if there is enough real interest. It’s classic and great.
Swiss Chef, you'd really like it.