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Viareggio & Forte dei Marmi


robert brown
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As much as I wanted to visit untried restaurants this time, we only had time, other than our usual two at Lorenzo, to have two other meals. We made an easy choice after checking in for the third time to the early 20th-century, atmospheric Hotel Villa Ariston in Lido di Camaiore, of returning to the down-to-earth, rock-hard traditional Trattoria La Darsena. It’s in the Darsena area of Viareggio, which is “the other side of the tracks” of this large resort town, which is devoted to various maritime businesses ( boat building, yacht support,etc.) We adore this restaurant for its honesty, generosity and economical prices. Susan ordered only the fritto misto which didn’t come off as well as the grigiliata mista that I chose for us, memorable for a whole cuttlefish, octopus, langoustine and an unnamed white fish.. Neither, however, matched the seafood antipasti presented in two servings, among them terrific cold anchovies in a vinaigrette; octopus and potatoes, polenta with minced red mullet and tomato, a puree of codfish and a frittata of dentice.

La Darsena is a diamond in the rough, possibly more festive at dinner than it was during our lunch, for which we arrived on the late side, and served by a no-nonsense woman who had her hands full with several other customers. Our first visit at dinnertime was more spontaneous, with the boss just bringing one plate after another, Either way, it doesn’t matter. This is a wonderful address that’s hard to go wrong in.

Stuffed to the gills after lunch at Lorenzo, we settled for pizza and calzone in the main square of Forte at a big joint called La Boccaccio, and some gelati at the upscale caffee/gelateria nearby. The comparison to Grom’s gelato on New York’s Upper West Side comparison is inevitable. The Caffe Principe pistachio won hands down, but the chocolate was not noticeably superior. Does it mean that Grom is typical quality by Italian standards?

Our two meals at Lorenzo turned up a few chinks in the armor during our second meal, a lunch, but hardly anything that changes our immensely-favorable opinion. This time the culatello di Zimora was less gamey and more salty than the perfect ones we have had here twice before. Having asked Lorenzo if we could have anchovies for this second meal, the ones he procured (possibly from his wine bar/restaurant around the corner) were inferior to the ones we had at La Darsena. Still, his chef prepared them three ways, served in three courses: the classic tapas or antipasto way; gratineed; and roasted. The preparations of the two warm courses were splendid. The final chink was at dinner the night before when I unknowingly made a mistake of ordering chocolate gelato which wasn’t on the menu or part of any desserts, with the result being that it tasted some days old and was icy.

Our dining for the two meals was a mixture of the tried and true and expanding our knowledge of the fixed repertoire. As it’s a must to begin with crudo, I chose personal favorites, these being tartars of tuna and Spanish sea bream; langoustines, and a slice of Spanish sea bream( pagello). Susan had a simple, but impeccably-fresh piece of branzino served with roasted potatoes. We followed on with two Michelin specialties. One, the Bavette sul Pesce or a long, thin, flat pasta came with pieces of langoustine, cuttlefish and dentice. This was easily the most memorable seafood pasta I have had, with the bavette coated in a richness that seemed like butter, but obviously was olive oil. Susan’s Souffle di Fagioli di Sorana con Scampi e Fonduta di Zucca may be as ‘haute cuisine” as it gets at Lorenzo. Scampi and langoustine sit on a bed of fagioli with a flan-shaped “fonduta”, which has the texture and shape of a panna cota, made with pumpkin squash and rosemary was delicious. We make it almost a ritual to have once on every trip to Lorenzo the boiled langoustines served with mayonnaise that Lorenzo or Luigi, his maitre d’hotel prepares at the table. The langoustines (ten to an order) are always impeccable. We also fitted on a order of six “specials” and six prairie clams. The oysters were, even though late in the season, were as good as the ones we had in February.

Two corrections from my post of a few months ago: Lorenzo will be staying put after all, at least for the foreseeable future. According to some regional statue that I can’t figure out since there are several hotel-restaurants open to all, Lorenzo would not be permitted to serve anyone not staying at the new Hotel Imperiale where he was planning on moving his restaurant. His daughter Ciara told us that she wants her father to stay where he has been for 30 years. Now it looks like he will. Second, I was right the first time about the price of the 750 ml. bottle of Oliviero Toscani’s olive oil. It is 26 euros. In any event the production is sold out. As they used to say in Brooklyn, “Wait ‘til next year.”

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As always, thanks for sharing with us!

We leave for Italy next week, and fresh anchovies are high on my list of things to be eaten upon arrival.

Only in Italy would they come up with that sort of bizarre ruling that only hotel guests can be served. Sounds like some local political stuff. Ah, Italy. :wacko:

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Zibello is where it's from. It's my mistake. I got it mixed up with the song from Brigadoon, "How are Things in Gloczebello?"

We're going to Zibello during our November trip. La Buca. Can't wait. Then Bologna (Modena: Giusti), then Piedmont.

I just heard that the owner of Giusti's in Modena died this week. Sad.

CHeers

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Judith, I asked Lorenzo if it was a national or a local law. He said it was regional. You hit the nail on the head.

Robert,

I think Lorenzo was fooling around with you. There is no regional law about having people who are not staying at a hotel, not being able to eat in a restuarant at the hotel. In fact, in Forte, where I own a house and live, there are a number of hotels that do just that. Perhaps it was a deal gone wrong. Perhaps it was a bad hand at cards (where many Forte restaurants and hotels have changed hands). Perhaps some Russians made a much better deal and the hotel bought Lorenzo out (Russians are buying lots of property in Forte at outrageous, make that outrageous outrageous prices). The hotel that you refer to is having many problems getting finished. It has taken reservations for the summer starting at the beginning of July. As of today, as I rode my bike into town to get a ristretto, I would not want to be staying at that hotel at the beginning of July.

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Zibello is where it's from. It's my mistake. I got it mixed up with the song from Brigadoon, "How are Things in Gloczebello?"

We're going to Zibello during our November trip. La Buca. Can't wait. Then Bologna (Modena: Giusti), then Piedmont.

I just heard that the owner of Giusti's in Modena died this week. Sad.

CHeers

You'll really enjoy Miriam at La Buca. Having known her well for almost 30 years, I think you'll have the time of your life. The food, particularly the culatello and spalla, but also the anitra and capone, are unlike anything else in that area... simply wonderful; basic country food, but with soul. Miriam is a gem. A very, very special person with an unbelievable passion for food and the people who really enjoy it. Different from "your father's trattoria."

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You guys are almost making me take a trip north! It all sounds good.....

As far as the restaurant/hotel guests thing, the whole story is sounding so very Italian! So many layers.... Have you ever read "The Dark Heart of Italy". Interesting read.

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You'll really enjoy Miriam at La Buca. Having known her well for almost 30 years, I think you'll have the time of your life. The food, particularly the culatello and spalla, but also the anitra and capone, are unlike anything else in that area... simply wonderful; basic country food, but with soul. Miriam is a gem. A very, very special person with an unbelievable passion for food and the people who really enjoy it. Different from "your father's trattoria."

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You'll really enjoy Miriam at La Buca. Having known her well for almost 30 years, I think you'll have the time of your life. The food, particularly the culatello and spalla, but also the anitra and capone, are unlike anything else in that area... simply wonderful; basic country food, but with soul. Miriam is a gem. A very, very special person with an unbelievable passion for food and the people who really enjoy it. Different from "your father's trattoria."

Ah, so you know this place. It came highly recommended as a basic country-food place with commitment to perfection of regional cuisine. My other consideration in the area was Cavallino Bianco, but La Buca seemed a bit more down-home.

La Buca will be our first meal on the trip, and I wanted to set a high bar for the friends with whom I am traveling. We like these more-local places that have passion. One of the issues is that my wife is a vegetarian, but she is not dogmatic nor on any crusade. I'm learning Italian, and for La Buca and Giusti in Modena I learned to say:

"La mia moglie e' una vegetariana, pero lei e' tranquilla e lei non fa fastidio di carne. Lei e' brava con il brodo di carne o con pezzetti della carne, e lei mangia cio che' noi mangiamo tranne carne -- quindi pasti, verdure certimente, i contorni.

The rest of us? E noi? Siamo i carnivore completamente!

I hope that makes sense. (And, I hope it's correct! My teacher laughs when I come up with all these "conversations" I want to learn.)

Cheers

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I understand the vegetarian part and thank you for the advice.

My wife is extremely easy to please and never makes a scene. She will be fine, but I will make sure to tell her what you said. The rest of us want badly to eat at this place!

My wife the vegetarian is, in fact, lookng forward to seeing how the animals are treated in the area. From what I've read and understand, there is a completely different respect for the animals as evidenced in the way they are treated. I think my wife would be fine with meat if she knew it were not treated in the heartless, disrepectful ways in which large, industrial American meat producers raise their meat. I'm not trying to start a vegetarian war here -- I eat meat. But I read a fantastic article about the owners of Cavallino Bianco and how they came to purchase and now care for the pigs they raise. The living conditions are exceptionally respectful and humane. Etc.! Sorry to get off track for a bit.

So, I do think we'll be OK at La Buca. Thanks for the advice. I'm looking forward to it even more after reading your summary.

Cheers

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I can imagine now why there's no website up for the Hotel Imperiale. Perhaps it's a renegotiation going on with Lorenzo since his daughter didn't rule out the possibility of her father ever moving into the hotel. She made it sound as if it were rather a long shot.

Four years ago I went to the trattoria near La Buca, Da Ivan, that R.W. Apple wrote about. Is there anyone here who can compare the two?

Edited by robert brown (log)
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I can imagine now why there's no website up for the Hotel Imperiale. Perhaps it's a renegotiation going on with Lorenzo since his daughter didn't rule out the possibility of her father ever moving into the hotel. She made it sound as if it were rather a long shot.

Four years ago I went to the trattoria near La Buca, Da Ivan, that R.W. Apple wrote about. Is there anyone here who can compare the two?

I can. Da Ivan is a special place, as is, from my postings, La Buca or Miriam’s. It is totally different from La Buca. La Buca is a real country trattoria. Da Ivan calls itself an Hosteria, but has pretensions to be than that and it basically succeeds.

It terms of preparation, Da Ivan is a cut above Miriam’s. It is more refined and though Miriam is a good cook, her preparations are very basic. She sticks close to what has been going on in the trattoria for more than a hundred years. The choice at Da Ivan is a bit more extensive than at La Buca and he has a sous chef who knows how to cook, good restaurant cooking… Miriam has some locals and her dishes are rustic.

Miriam makes her own culatelli (hanging in the cellar), as one would expect from a trattoria in Zibello that is over a hundred years old. Ivan buys his. There is nothing in the world like Miriam’s spalla. Ivan’s is a pale imitation. On the other hand, his duck is far superior to Miriam’s, not in terms of taste, but in terms of presentation. His pasta is more refined; the filling in her stuffed pastas is more flavorful. Ivan has a very decided edge in terms of wine; he is passionate and has some great stuff, both local and from the rest of Italy and from France. They are both wonderful places, but very different. We very much prefer Miriam’s, but you can’t go wrong at Ivan’s.

Ivan told us his version of Johnny Apple’s visit (and subsequent Times writeup); who knows if it is apocryphal. The day that Apple came, he insisted on drinking some of Ivan’s best bottles, both Italian and French. Although Apple mentions drinking until 1 AM (see link below), and Ivan getting him to stay later, that is not what Ivan had to say to us. He said that Apple insisted on opening fantastic bottles of wine all through the early morning hours and was totally zonked at 4 AM when they carried him out of the town of Roccabianca. Apple insisted that no check be presented. We heard the same thing (about a check) from a close friend, Franco Colombani (whom Apple mentions in the article) sixteen years earlier. Who knows if Johnny Apple traded New York Times coverage for good meals, but that seems to be the scuttlebutt.

http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricte...DA90994D9404482

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fortedei, I figured you come through. I really appreciate the detailed and knowledgeable reply, as I am sure many other do. I loved both the comparison and the gossip, both of which I am sure are "right on".

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