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    Lecco, Italy
  1. ps re. Austria, during our Easter trip to Vienna I was disappointed that I couldn't enjoy the famous coffee houses because they reeked so horribly of stale cigarettes and beer. I ended up taking banal American refuge in Starbucks, which doesn't allow smoking.
  2. The effect might even be positive. I have a health problem with smoke - exposure often leads to a sinus infection - and avoid smoky places. My brother-in-law, who lives in Norway, suffers from asthma and basically can't go to restaurants in winter because of the smoke. So smoking bans will tend to allow us to go out more often. As for smoke in the restaurant = pee in the pool, it's a clever line, but in Italy what I'm seeing is the effective solution of actual walled off sections for smokers, and there are specific requirements about air circulation/filtering in all areas. So the Italian solution might actually be effective. And it seems that enforcement is being taken care of by restaurant owners themselves - sensible of them, since their fines for allowing smoking are about ten times what the actual smoker would pay.
  3. Some restaurants and bars will clearly whine and complain and drag their heels as long as possible. Many, however, put up No Smoking signs a the beginning of 2004 or earlier. Clearly, some owners were just waiting for an excuse to NOT have smoking in their places. So it seems that there are more "militant" non-smokers in Italy than might have been suspected. best regards, Deirdré Straughan http://www.straughan.com
  4. In times of economic crisis, the wallet also comes into it.
  5. If you drop me a line at deirdre_straughan@hotmail.com, I can direct you to a website I'm working on for a friend about his place in Cetona, the site is just not at its final public address yet. Best, Deirdre'
  6. Corbezzolo! So that's what that is. I took pictures of some near our home the other day, wondering what it was. Judging by looks, they are related to lichis.
  7. I guess I don't pay enough attention to notice the dichotomy. We're Slow Food members and happily hunt down local traditional specialties etc., but we don't turn up our noses at anyone trying to do something new with them. Lanterna Verde, one of our favorites, does some interesting variations on regional specialties, as well as more Frenchified stuff like paté, but doesn't seem to give itself airs about it. I guess I'm without prejudices as regards food. I am willing to try most things once. Otherwise, who knows what wonderful experiences you might miss? It can even be interesting to see what people do with a cuisine that is completely non-local. In Delhi recently, I meant to stop into a MacDonald's to look at the menu, but forgot. There's a good Indian restaurant here in Lecco (Masala) which makes cheese naan with gorgonzola. Weird concept - gorgonzola or anything like it is completely unknown in India - but it works.
  8. Somehow, in 14 years of living in Italy, I never thought about the distinction, and only notice it when one word or the other is in the restaurant's name. I've seen trattoria and osteria applied to restaurants I would consider far better than average in quality and not quite traditional, e.g. Lecco's Taverna (oops, not trattoria) ai Poggi and Osteria del Viaggiatore. Taverna ai Poggi servers traditional regional dishes, but also features a few dishes with a twist, and everything is good. Osteria del Viaggiatore doesn't use fancy table linens, but they serve a 30 euro fixed-price meal in five or so courses, each with some rather amazing choices and very amazing food. On the other hand, we've been to a lot of very humble "ristoranti" which were undoubtedly authentic in both menu and clientele, e.g. Ristorante il Capriolo. So... what's in a name? We have a few basic techniques for identifying good places to eat, whatever they're called: ask someone local who's not a concierge; see whether the place is crowded a peak times; follow your nose - I have backed hastily out of a few places whose smell I didn't like. So far I've only once been violently disappointed in a meal, at a new restaurant called Chakra here in Lecco. They invested a lot in the decor, and forgot to hire a decent chef.
  9. We ate at Joia years ago. It was certainly, um, interesting, and the food was tasty, but we never went back - given that we lived fairly close to it in Milan, this is not a vote of confidence! My web page http://www.straughan.com/italy/travel/restaurants.htm lists several restaurants in Milan, all of them cheaper than Joia (some radically so), and very good. Best, Deirdre'
  10. DeirdreStraughan

    Ciao tutti

    Good luck; I look forward to hearing about the new projects in person sometime!
  11. Looks as if you already have your plans for Lombardy, but just in case, on http://www.straughan.com/italy/travel/restaurants.htm I list some favorite restaurants.
  12. I think it's possible to have the decor and trimmings of an international upscale restaurant and still focus on local flavors and ingredients in the kitchen and wine cellar. Two restaurants fairly close to home for us (in Lecco) do this very well - Lanterna Verde outside Chiavenna, and Crotasc (which I reviewed a while ago in this forum), also near Chiavenna. Our usual trick when travelling in Italy is to ask some "ordinary" person, e.g. shopkeeper, for restaurant advice. This doesn't get us to the high-end restaurants that a hotel might assume we'd want, but the genuine places the locals frequent themselves. Never missed so far.
  13. "The point about the chefs is a good one. What surprises me is that there is no good, not necessairly top, Italian chef that mamages to get some media attention abroad. Maybe I'm wrong and just it's my Italian inferiority complex but I can't help feeling that if Italian food is seen abroad as something nice, pleasant but which doesn't cut the edge when it comes to top-end eating experience it is also because of the lack of a "personality" collecting attention. " There's Mario (or is it Marco?) Batali on the FoodTV network, but I know nothing about him beyond the name. I'm not sure if he's "genuine" Italian or Italo-American. I think that overall Italy collectively and individually lacks the marketing nous of many other countries, when it comes to tourism and food. We went to Vienna for Easter, and I was both impressed and a bit disgusted with their clever exploitation of their famous sons, Strauss and Mozart. There were at least four orchestras, some of them in "period" costumes, performing well-known pieces in historic places for the benefit of tourists. We went to one in the Orangerie. It was pleasant, very orecchiabile, and provided employment for young musicians, singers, and dancers - all to the good. Surely Italy could do more than the freelance "gladiators" hanging out at the Colosseum! The attempts to defend "real" pizza, products, etc. via legislation simply come off as shrill and silly. Education is more effective. And, whether GR likes it or not, Slow Food's approach is WORKING.
  14. I guess I don't frequent the types of restaurants they're talking about, at least not very often. We have explored a few of the Giovani Ristoratori Group, inspired by our beloved Lanterna Verde, but that's about it for adventures in high-end cuisine - we can't afford them too often. But I have noticed that even these types of restaurants do something with local traditional recipes and ingredients, often something inspired (again, Lanterna Verde!). And Crotasch, which I reviewed here a few months ago. The only repetition I noticed between restaurants was the sudden popularity a few years ago of that melty-in-the-middle chocolate cake thing; it seems to have hit the whole world at the same time. But there were still plenty of other desserts on the menu. I think there's still plenty of variety and local color, if you look for it. We have always liked the specialties of Valtellina, which our move to Lecco last year happily brought us closer to. We are Slow Food members, and thanks to them have known about Valtellina wines for years. So when we're home we mostly stick to the local goodies. When we travel elsewhere in Italy, we ask locals (e.g. shopkeepers) for restaurant recommendations, and thereby generally end up eating excellent local and seasonal specialties. Maybe instead of lamenting a lack of creativity and showmanship on the high end, Gambero Rosso should look at the flourishing middle. It's almost impossible to eat badly in Italy, and you can't say that about any other country in the world. Maybe there are no stand-out master chefs simply because there are so many good chefs everywhere that it's hard to single out one. I will agree that there's a lack of marketing flair. I suppose most places keep so busy with local traffic that they don't see the need to widen the net, and wouldn't know how anyway. The same goes for tourism. I am constantly amazed at the amateurishness (and poor English) of most tourism websites. I do what I can, in my small way, for a few favorite sites and restaurants (nope, don't get anything in return).
  15. Baffetto is wonderful but, since it's been picked up by the guidebooks, very crowded! Going early might help. If you can't get in, right around the corner is Antica Taverna, with excellent food (though maybe not pizza); see http://www.straughan.com/italy/travel/rome.htm (towards the bottom) for photo, description, and location. Especially try their antipasti; they had some unusual and very yummy ones.
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