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Italian Restaurant Guides


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I've put together a brief overview of the Italian restaurant guides with general notes, on-line access and reputation they enjoy in Italy. I hope it will be useful to all those looking for information on the Italian restaurant scene

A note on criticisms to the guides: Italians (and I'm no exception to this) have a really individual character. You won't find one of us agreeing with the next over a recipe, so you can imagine how the situation with restaurant guides is. For this reason I was not too sure I should have added praises and criticisms to the guides in this post. On the other hand mentioning both positive and negative views these guides receive on their home ground helps put them in perspective. I've tried to keep the critiques pertinent to those issues which come up for each of the guides more often and ignored once-off ones.

Michelin Italy

Started in 1955. Still the top selling guide in Italy and on Italian restaurants, although it is losing ground to the others. Comes in the well known classic Michelin format: stars (up to three) for the level of the food, crossed forks and spoons as an indicator of the luxury level and so on.

On-line access: trough viaMichelin, requires free registration giving access to all the Michelin guides and a wide number of additional on-line services, like route-planning.

Its fans say: Michelin is Michelin. The history and tradition of this guide are undeniable. It is still considered by many the most reliable of the Italian guides and is, with little doubt, the most used by foreign tourists. It certainly is the most influential and seems to be the one most restaurateurs and chefs look at. Being mentioned, or winning a star, can have a big economic impact, bringing objectively more customers to the restaurant, with a net increase in business. The same can't be said for the other guides.

Its detractors say: the main criticism is very simple, Michelin is French and has no interest in promoting Italian food, rather the contrary. The Italian press, but not only, have often wondered at the very stingy attitude the guide has with stars in Italy. Quite a few gastronomic critics expressed the suspicion that there was a clear policy from the Michelin guides management to underestimate and diminish the efforts of Italy's top restaurants. The criticism have become even stronger since Edoardo Raspelli, former editor of the Espresso guide, revealed, through info obtained from Michelin employees in 2000, how Michelin Italy worked (and probably still works): only 8 official inspectors for the whole of Italy and decision on 2 and 3 stars taken in the French offices.

Ristoranti d'Italia dell'Espresso

One of the first serious Italian guides was started from L'Espresso, Italy's largest selling news weekly, in 1978, under the impulse, and help, of the French Gault and Millau. The grading and symbols are quite similar to those used by the GaultMillau guides, based on a 20 points system.

On-line access: requires paid registration, 12€ per year access fee. Acess, only in Italian, trough the kataweb portal.

Its fans say: Espresso is the most reliable Italian guide made by Italians. It's the model others in Italy followed, one way or another. Even the late criticisms to the guide (see below) have not changed the fact that Espresso continues to be one of the best sold guides.

Its detractors say: the Espresso guide has received a rather big blow to its reputation after the resignation/firing of founding member and former editor in chief Edoardo Raspelli in 2002, and the attacks Raspelli himself has written against the guide from the columns of la Stampa. The real reasons behind this change at the helm are at best cloudy and probably political interests more than gastronomic ones were the reasons for the decision taken by the editorial board of the Espresso.

Gambero Rosso Ristoranti d'Italia

It was first published in 1989 from the same-named food and wine magazine. The restaurants are graded on a 100 points scale divided as follows: cooking max. 60, cellar 20, ambience 10, service 10. Forks are assigned as follows: from 70-79 one fork, 80-89 two, three above that. Each restaurant receives a short description and a price range/quality indication. Its selling numbers are close to those of the Espresso guide.

On-line access: free access to the guide, requires registration to GR's girone dei golosi also granting access to the online wine guide and extra info. Only in Italian.

Its fans say: Gambero Rosso has quite a big fan base in the foodie scene in Italy which sees this guide (and magazine) as the main force promoting Italian food in a smart way. In the last few years a particular effort has been made to help young rising stars acquire much needed visibility.

Its detractors say: the guide's efforts to promote Italy's restaurants often end up hitting back. In some cases GR goes overboard when grading their own favourites, and is too hard with those who don't follow its philosophy. Another weak spot seems to be the regional differences in grading and establishment choice, especially for the places with lower scores, making the guide not always a reliable choice.

Osterie d'Italia

The guide was started in 1990 by the then Slow food-arci gola movement. It only covers osterie and similar serving traditional fare below a certain meal price range, 35€ without wine at the moment. No grades are assigned but a few symbols are: a snail for the best picks, a wine bottle for worthy wine choice, cheese for interesting cheese selections and so on. The guide is probably the no. 2 seller for tourists, after Michelin. Sales are on the increase and the guide has now reached the same level as the Espresso and Gambero Rosso guides.

On-line access: free, through registration. Site also available in English, restaurant descriptions are only available accessing the site through the Italian page.

Its fans say: Osterie d'Italia is generally seen as a reliable source. Slow Food has a wide network throughout Italy which assures a very good knowledge of local eating places. The guide is the only source concentrating on traditional food at its best.

Its detractors say: The main criticisms regard the price range and editorial policy. In some cases the quoted 35 € price mark can be more easily exceeded than not. Some critics consider Slow Food's decision to cover only traditional places a move towards "fake folklore for nostalgic people and foreigners" and away from the reality of what Italy today is.

There's quite a number of other guides in Italy, selling way less than the above mentioned ones: Quattroruote, Accademia della cucina Italiana, etc. One that deserves a special mention is the restaurant guide from Luigi Veronelli, father figure of the Italian wine tasting scene. His guide, started in 1977, is available online as are his hotel and wine ones.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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That was a great job, Albiston. I own a couple of guides from the Critica & Guida Golosa. They are worth owning for the gastronomic travler as they provide a lot of addresses for food and wine purchasing. I haven't made a thorough study in terms of how "accurate" they are. I don't have complete list of the volumes, but I own the Lombardia and Piemonte ones.

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Thanks everyone for the compliments. My hope is that, apart giving some background information on the Italian restaurant reviewing world, this will also manage to be usefull to those asking for advice to places where no other eGulleter has ventured before. :smile:

Robert, you bring up a very interesting subject. There's quite a few "local" guides like the ones you mention. Slow food publishes a similar line of guides called "itinerari" and there are many other less known publishers that sometimes manage to do a very good job too. The main problems many of these local guides have is that it can be hard to find them anywhere except in loco and that they're not always up to date. For example the information in the Slow food itinerari guides are, to my knowledge, updated only every few years.

By the way, I believe there are no other Critica & Guida Golosa books at the moment but I wouldn't exclude new ones are planned.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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Another thankyou for the wonderful overview of guides. We rely on Gambero Rosso (especially their "red" restaurants) and the Slow Food web site. These have led us to many memorable meals in Italy. The Veronelli site looks like a great addition to our reference library. A really helpful post!

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