Tupac, You said: "If you praised or at least mentioned by name the places you like with the same sort of fervor you display when talking about the places you don't, then I think all the readers of this forum would benefit from it greatly." Gee, that's really a strange comment. Thought for sure I wrote many reviews of places I liked, to say nothing of the very extended colloquy a few years ago on this site about restaurants of the 80s and 90s (many of which are still around and serving great food). In fact I have written extensively on places I enjoy and below are just a few (the search function is poor and there are many more). My criticisms have been about places which Ptipois described so well on the French board: "Self-centered chef cooking, narcissistic cooking, cooking aimed at the chef's self-expression rather than feeding the customers in a generous, sensuous, unselfish way, what is referred to in French as "faire à manger". ...cuisine narcissique" is an inward movement, a reality that is often blurred by the admirers of the chef who value "innovation" and "creativity" over taste, and maintain the illusion that they are really satisfied for sensorial reasons, when in fact it is more a matter of being part of a cultural elite." wow, did he hit it on the head. Just perfect. There are many of these places in Italy. Most won't last in the way that they are cooking. They'll go out of business or change. As I said recently, one very big name is in a lot of financial trouble because very few Italians want to go to his restaurant more than once and not enough non Italians want to go their either. Some of my positive reviews that have been posted: June 12, 2007. A few years ago, the Gambero Rosso, in addition to listing its thoughts on the best restaurants in Italy, started to list its thoughts on the best trattorie in a section called Tre Gamberi. Over the last few years, we have tried two of them, La Brinca in Ne’ which is south of Chiavari in Liguria and Osteria della Villetta in Palazzolo Sull’Oglio, near Brescia. This past weekend we tried two more, Da Amerigo in Savigno, 30 km. southwest of Bologna and Locanda al Gambero Rosso, near Bagno di Romagna, in the very southern part of Emilia Romagna at the Tuscan border. We have been to La Brinca many times and very much enjoy it, even if we don’t think it is the best trattoria in Ne’ (we think Antica Trattoria dei Mosto is the better of the two on food, and almost, but not quite, comparable on wine). Sergio Circella of La Brinca has a passion for wine and we’ve never seen a better wine list in any trattoria. Osteria della Villetta is a gem and Maurizio Rossi is the consummate owner. A wonderful trattoria with hard to find Bresciani dishes, skillfully prepared. So… it was with much enthusiasm that we looked forward to two more Tre Gamberi. The two trattorie are very different. Da Amerigo is the real deal. It is a classic trattoria serving very skillfully prepared Bolognese dishes. We arrived in Savigno late in the afternoon. Peaking through the window of the trattoria, we see the classic tableau… three elderly woman sitting at a table in the dining room, oblivious to the outside world, intently focused on rolling pasta, filling pasta and shaping pasta, for that night’s dinner. The ingredients used in the dishes are first rate, the flavors are full, the plating is well done, the menu changes frequently and the wine list is well thought out. The owner, Alberto Bettini, his wife Susanna, and the rest of his family are warm and welcoming, the service is casual but professional, courteous and helpful, and most of all the whole meal was “natural” i.e. this is how we’ve done it for a long time, we enjoy doing it this way and we hope you like it. It is a very relaxed place and Susanna runs the dining room very well, helpful but not obtrusive and with a pace in the service that allows you to eat and then sit for a while before the next dishes are served. This is not a “rush rush” place; they want you to really enjoy the evening (on the other hand, there was no half hour wait for the next course). The physical setting is classic trattoria and reminded us of both Villetta and La Buca, very comfortable, but the decor is much the same as it was fifty years ago. As I said, the quality of the ingredients is exceptional, whether it was in the coniglio all’ aceto balsamico (the best example of this classic that I’ve ever had) or the guancia di vitella brasata al barbera. The lasagna al forno was so well prepared, my wife said that the pasta was only a notch (no pun intended) below Bruna Santini’s (our standard for excellence). Cherries from nearby Vignola on a simple baked dessert of light pound cake with a little vanilla custard was fantastic. Whether it was the warm tigelle or the quality of the mortadella, Bettini “gets it.” One other thing: their nocino is fantastic and is available to buy at their dispensa. What a pleasure to have a meal at Da Amerigo. And again. October 1, 2007.Ah, Alberto Bettini still doesn’t get it. Either he hasn’t heard of Senigallia or he doesn’t care (or both). No molecular magic, no weird combinations of food, no green bread (as Cedroni does at Madonnina in Senigallia). Just great Bolognese food (and he hasn’t let the Gambero Rosso’s Tre Gamberi go to his head) at its best. So for Saturday night, antipasto - porcini freschi on a little passato of borlotti (and a plate of warm tigelle) Then the lasagna al forno which is not to be missed, and the tortellini in brodo, something we never have, but the forcemeat in the pasta was not to be believed in terms of taste. Hunting season just started so one of the day's specials – fagiano, the real thing, with the dark meat stewed in wine, and the breast meat browned in a pan and then roasted in the oven. Moist… and nice and gamey. Baccala 3 ways - bolognese (poached and served with olive oil on lemon slices); classico (stewed in a light tomato sauce); and mantecato. Fabulous. We finished with semifreddo di zucca with amaretti, and of course Alberto’s own nocino. A 2003 barbera from La Stoppa. Wonderful place with Alberto and Susanna providing a restaurant experience not to be missed in terms of great ingredients, skillfully prepared, plated well, served nicely by a staff that wants you to have an enjoyable time (and doesn’t point out each ingredient in the dish), a wonderful wine list and very moderate prices (our meal was 110 Euros). Definitely worth the detour. January 6, 2006 Marina di Bibbona is a strange town. South of Livorno and Cecina, near Bolgheri, it is overrun in the summer and empty in the winter. Bolgheri is a wonderful little town (hamlet is more like it) which is wonderful in winter. All the wine stores are open and there is a vast selection at reasonable prices, not only of the “Super Tuscans” (which have high prices even here, a stone’s throw from their place of origin), but of all Tuscan wines. The area around Bolgheri is filled with gorgeous hills and vineyards planted with vines and olive trees. Cypresses line the lanes, particularly the long road which passes by Sassicaia and leads to the town. But getting back to Marina di Bibbona. Closed up tight in early January which is when we were there in 05 and 06 and overrun (with campers, the kind you travel in, and campers, the kind that go to campgrounds) in early June of 04 when we went to the restaurant La Pineta for the first time. Don’t let that discourage you from going. The restaurant is a gem. It’s a bit difficult to find, but eventually if you head toward the spiaggia libera, you’ll see a sign. You go on a dirt road between a clearing in the pineta, and after about 600 yards you’re at a beach. You look around and the only structure you see is what looks like a large shack with a corrugated roof. Can this be it? Well, there are certainly a number of cars wedged into the spaces in front. You enter and you’re in an oasis. Simple Tuscan style, with a wood floor and windows which have an incredible view of the sea. If you walk on the beach after lunch (it is a narrow and rocky beach, with very little fine sand; why would anyone want to go to that beach is hard to understand) and look back at the restaurant you’ll see that it is right up against the dunes and the building is divided in half, with a bagno and snack bar on one side (and boarded up in January) and the restaurant on the other. Our take on that is two brothers owned the building, had a fight, and split it up (it sounds good). Luciano Zazzeri is passionate about food and wine. For a number of years he has gotten very good write-ups in Gambero Rosso and L’Espresso and this year, 2006, got his first Michelin star. If any of you have ever been to the wonderful fish restaurant Muraglia Conchiglia D’Oro in Varigotti on the Ligurian coast, La Pineta will remind you of that. An open kitchen, twelve well set tables comfortably set apart (but not too far apart) and a few pieces of art on the walls. The food is not fussy and with Sig. Zazzeri you have the feeling that although he’s seen what others have done in Italy and France (so he is not wearing blinders), he decided, some years ago, to emphasize sound combinations on the plate… combinations that are Tuscan and that will let the ingredients shine. You will not find the slightest whiff of fusion dishes, nor of any exotic spices. What you will find are the types of dishes we had today and on our two previous meals. The ameuse was marinated anchovies with slivers of red onion strewn on top and an extra dose of deep green olive oil over it. The bread is delicious as is what we here in Forte call secchine, a very thin Tuscan flat bread that is highy addictive. For the antipasto my wife and I shared a dish of tonno alla griglia con sale grosso e rosmarino. Simple preparation using great tuna. Five slices, about a half inch thick, of tuna, quickly seared on both sides, but with 90 percent of the slice just barely cooked. Dribble on a bit more of the olive oil, mop it up with the crusty bread and you really don’t need much more to make you happy. There was more. For the premi I had gnochetti al nero di seppie, con seppioline e carciofi fritti. The gnochetti melted in your mouth, the seppioline were tender and flavorful, there we a few pieces of fried artichoke strewn on top and the sauce was wonderful. My wife had ravioli di baccala con salsa di cipolle di Tropea e bottarga; intense flavors and soft pasta. For the secondi, cacciucco- what more be said about a perfect rendition (and gorgeously plated) of a dish that is all too often thrown together in a haphazard manner. I had pesce all’Isolana… roasted sarago (a little bit thicker than orata, and from the same bream family) with roasted carrots, potatoes, zucchini and onions. For dessert, which La Pineta does very well, a flan di ciocolato, with the inner chocolate just slightly oozing out, and a tortino di ciocolato bianco con salsa di arance, light and airy. A bottle of 2000 Cepparello from the extensive list of reds. The total check was 172 Euros. This is basically the same experience we’ve had the other two times we’ve gone. Whether it was the pappa al pomodoro con le cozze in June or the spaghetti al tonno fresco ed erbe last January, all the dishes were well thought out, well executed and delicious. All three times we’ve gone, the restaurant was full (all Italians except for us) even for weekday lunches in January. He must be doing something right. One final note. Walking on the desserted beach, you look back at “the large shack” and you ask yourself… could that be the place I just had that wonderful meal? The answer is yes and La Pineta just keeps getting better and better. And again April 28, 2006 For those of you who prefer Fulvio Pierangelini’s (the exalted, and two star Michelin chef, and according to the Gambero Rosso, both the best chef and owner of the best restaurant in all of Italy...Gambero Rosso in San Vincenzo!) conception of food (fried eggs with lard; crusted eggs with lard ice-cream and stripes of candied lard; lard and ricotta ravioli with lard zabaglione and balsamic vinegar; rosemary and thyme cream with lard , gold, cocoa, cinnamon and Sichuan pepper chocolate roulades), go to his restaurant Gambero Rosso in San Vincenzo, enjoy it, and read this post no further. You simply will not like this restaurant. You will not enjoy it, so don’t bother getting agitated by reading this note. Today, at lunch, we went back to La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona (see post for January 6th). Here is what we ate: for an amuse, a little marinated fresh anchovy topped with mildest of slivered onions and a little olive oil (mopped up with very good crusty bread). Then for an antipasto, pappa al pomodoro con le cozze - what an excellent idea on an old Tuscan staple, especially when you have great bread, great olive oil, wonderful tomatoes, good fish broth and spectacular (yes, spectacular) cozze. For the primi, spaghetti with bianchetti (little just-born versions of local fish - tiny white babies (uh oh, the bianchetti police will be after us), mild fresh garlic and sage - very delicate and outstanding; also gnocchetti al nero di seppie with seppioline and carciofi fritti - strong flavors, but the gnochetti as black, and as light as could be, and also outstanding. A fritto, very light and crisp and not oily; also spezzatino di tonno with cherry tomatoes, fagiolini and mild spring onions. The tuna was not quickly grilled, but was still rare on the inside (how does Luciano Zazzeri do it?). A brilliant dish. Rather than our usual sangiovese, we drank a Paleo 2001, from Bolgheri, which is 100% cabernet franc. Dessert was a flan di cioccolato. Outstanding meal but we really missed having that lard ice cream that we might have gotten 20 km. from Pineta at Gambero Rosso. The restaurant was almost full, and people were really enjoying themselves. The beach was still deserted, and the adjoining bagno closed; you sit there with the windows open and only the sand and sea in front of you. The place has a wonderful feeling - the diners are happy, and so is the staff. The area in the hills is gorgeous. May 21, 2006 Just came back from our favorite seafood place in Liguria, Muraglia Conchiglia D’Oro. Have had perhaps a dozen meals there over the last seven years. Each one outstanding. Thank you MZ and JZ for telling us about it. A true maestro who doesn't bat an eye that the Gambero Rosso dropped him for whatever reason (hasn't stopped the other two guides from continuing to extol him). Again, one recognizes everything on the plate... pasta that is pasta, seafood that is seafood... all exquisitely, exquisitely prepared and of the most pristine ingredients. True Ligurian flavors. No fusion anything. Spaghetti with anchovies (tossed with the pasta as a sauce and extra grilled anchovies around the plate); rigatoni with tonno e piselli. Incredible flavor in both cases. Then orata alla ligure (olives, capers, pinoli, marjoram and thyme) and San Pietro with Tropea onions. For dessert an apple baked with candied orange and lemon peel, a chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, and a pound cake with citrus. Right on the lungomare in a non descript town, in a restaurant setting that could be out of California. Beautiful simplicity. This is a guy who thinks Adria is a misspelling of a sea bordering on the Italian coast Not a shred of "modern Italian haute cuisine." I think this one goes only to athinaeos who seems to really appreciate restaurants of this type. March 15, 2009 We went down to Montalcino yesterday to buy some wine. Usually we stay overnight in the town. This time we decided to try Il Silene (ilsilene.it) about about 15 miles south of Montalcino in Seggiano, near Monte Amiata. This place is everything Carlo Cracco (see topic Cracco Milano) is not. Actually. this is not quite true. This place is very similar to what Carlo Cracco had when, several years ago, he was in his locanda between Alba and Bra. A few comfortable rooms and very good food. A talented, extremely nice owner/chef (Roberto Rossi) and his wife. A good, very reasonably priced wine list with oodles and oodles of Brunellos (but you won’t find Cracco’s Gyokuro green tea on the list). There wasn’t any foam in sight. No sous-vide, no molecular food, no food in Mason jars, no fusion. The usual sign vietato fumare could have been replaced by vietato Adria’. Carlo Cracco would have recognized all the food; he once cooked this way. I started with the zuppetta di piccione and my wife had the zuppa di scottiglia. Then for primi piatti, raviolini ripieni al piccione; tagliatelle con asparagina selatica di macchia. Some other choices for primi: tagliatelline con ragu di coniglio and risotto al lampredotto (Rossi’s version of Cracco’s risotto con olio d’acciuga, limone e cacao). For main courses we had rognone di vitella and wonderful agnello alla brace. Also available last night was animelle di agnello, tagliata di petto d’anatra, composizione vegetale di verdure miste in varie cotture. and three or four other main dishes. The menu changes often (Roberto is a whiz with a Mac and so it doesn’t faze him to print out a different menu every day depending on what he wants to cook and what is in the market; would that all restaurants did this). Dessert was a delicious zuccoto (and two dessert wines). Da bere: 1995 Brunello Il Poggione (100 euros). Finished off the bottle and so had a glass of 1995 Brunello Fanti as well. The food cost was 103 euros. Great meal? No. Very good. Yes. Wonderful flavors, excellent cooking skill, friendly service, very reasonable check, don’t have to drive anywhere after the meal (just walk upstairs). You’ll recognize everything on your plate (and the plating was good). It’s a very good place to go if you’re in Montalcino. September 22, 2008 High above Riomaggiore (you’re in the upper vineyards and the sea is far below), is the hamlet of Groppo. High up in the hamlet is the restaurant Cappun Magru. We were there for the first time five months ago and the meal was so good we decided to go back (it is about an hour plus from Forte dei Marmi). It didn’t disappoint. The dining room is on a promontory, almost cliff like, overlooking vineyards and vegetable gardens. Spectacular view. It holds at most 20 people. Typical husband and wife team, Cristiane in the sala, Maurizio in the open( to the dining room) kitchen. Very carefully prepared Lugurian food with vibrant flavors. No modern nonsense (read that to be, no foams, no experiments, no Fernand Adria school of cooking), you’ll recognize everything on your plate and it will taste delicious. A real cut above most anything in Luguria and certainly a far cry from the usual Cinque Terre menus and execution. Yesterday we had Cappun Magru and filetto di Lanzardo al vopore as antipasti; tagliolini di faro con scampi, seppioline in a salsa di ricci… and Ciuppin (with a lattughe ripiene of fish) as primi; for secondi, polpette di manzo con crema di borlotti freschi and filetti di Nasello con purea di sedano rapa e zucchini in fiore. Dessert was a torta di fichi freschi, which was excellent as well. A great bottle of a Walter Batte white and a glass of his Sciachetra' for dessert. A very good wine list, with very moderate pricing. The list reflects the Bordoni’s taste and travels (and they have great taste in wine), in Italy and France. Very friendly service, but not of the fawning kind. An absolutely delightful place with wonderful food and wine.