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Rebecca's Restaurant List for Assisi and Environs
Assisi, Perugia, Spello, Bevagna, and vicinity
We are a thirty something couple with a toddler and a passion. Eating. Okay, we're not real foodies. I can't recognize 43 different kinds of rice on sight or identify cheese by sniffing blindfolded. But we know what we like, and that's quality food thoughtfully prepared and served with pride. Here are a few places in Assisi and environs that we have enjoyed, and would like to share with you.
Oh, Stefano eats everything. I mean everything ... gross stuff, stuff the dog wouldn't touch. In short, my cooking. I am a picky-ish vegetarian. Nicol, our two year old, likes it fast and cheesy. And we know just enough about wine to be dangerous.
Let the games begin. Here are the contenders.
V. Matteotti, 47, Petrignano di Assisi
The score: If I were on death row, I would request to have my final meal from here.
God, I love this place. Ai Cavalieri is a renovated convent located in Petrignano, a town in the valley below Assisi, which hosts a lot of big events like weddings (there is a nice garden outside, but we've been at night and in the winter, so I'm not sure if restaurant clients can eat out there) and has a small elegant restaurant and about 20 rooms.
I fell in love immediately for two reasons. The first was that we didn't really realize this was a f-s category restaurant until we got there. Now, we'll take our son to the Backpackers Welcome and the Bring the Kids places, and occasionally to the Nice Evening Out spots, but generally leave him back at the ranch when we really put on the Ritz. We figure if we're going to refinance the house for a meal, we may as well go for broke and pay a babysitter as well. But, as I said, we didn't realize what a fancy place this was, so got there with kid in tow. Not only did the staff not blink an eye (which isn't really surprising, kids in restaurants in Italy are tolerated much more than in other countries), but the chef took one look at us and said, "Let me go put some pasta on for your little boy so he won't get hungry and bored while you two look over the menu." Now, that is a man who knows how to earn himself a loyal clientele.
This was quickly followed by a big basket of five or six different kinds of rolls (including walnut, sesame and olive) and a pot of house butter. Show me someone who does not list hot bread fresh from the oven slathered with so much sweet, soft butter that your arteries are flipping through their Rolodex for the name of a good lawyer as one of the primary reasons to be on this earth, and I'll show you a person who lives a sad, hollow life.
The food was awesome. I mean, in the real sense. We were in awe. Aside from bread and butter, they also make their own fresh pasta and desserts. Stefano started with a cold octopus salad, which was the tentacles somehow laid out in aspic and then sliced crosswise wafer thin and arranged flat on the plate. It kind of reminded me of ninth grade biology when we had to take a scraping of the inside of our cheek and then view the harvested cells through a microscope. Okay, that sounds gross, but it got very high "Wow, that looks cool!" marks and Stefano said it tasted good, too. He followed with seared tuna, which was off-menu but had been recommended by the chef. The best fish he's ever had, he said. And the man's been to Greece twice. Nicol was ordered ravioli with smoked mozzarella and eggplant in a tomato sauce. Which means we all three ate them, and they were fabulous...obviously freshly made. My memorable dish was a fava risotto with mint pesto. Wow. It was heavenly, and if you figure I had just plowed through roughly a dozen rolls with butter and still managed to put away an antipasto (parmesan souffl with balsamic vinegar sauce) and enjoy this risotto, you know it had to be good.
The dessert menu was quite innovative, and a perfect end to the meal. Especially memorable was the chocolate souffl with pistachio sauce.
The menu is extensive, but the personal attention of the chef (who also made a point to suggest numerous off-menu dishes based on what he happened to have fresh that evening... something which always gets high marks from us) made it manageable. There is a specific vegetarian menu, but it includes lots of tofu and other bean protein stuff that figure prominently on my personal Ick List, so I ordered from the standard menu without any problem. A nice balanced wine list, as well.
Our bill came to about 90 Euros (with a bottle of medium quality Muller-Thurgau).
Full Disclosure: My husband knows the chef, and we got about 10 Euros knocked off our bill.
Via Salnitraria, 17, Spello
The Score: The cuisine is haute, but bring a baggie of trail mix to tide you over between courses.
La Bastiglia is the restaurant of a four star hotel by the same name (33 rooms) at the highest point in Spello. The restaurant, though formal, is warmly decorated with antique furniture and a majolica collection and has exposed tile ceilings and the original fireplace. It may have a view during the daytime, but we have dined there after dark.
This is good food, my friends. They have a couple of fixed menu offerings (including one vegetarian) or you can order a la carte. We had the vegetarian menu and the traditional umbrian menu the last time we were there, and the food was absolutely impeccable. Especially memorable were my cicerchie with egg pasta and orange squash sauce and Stefano's guinea fowl with lentil crust. I also had a vegetable timbale which was served with a breaded, fried egg yolk. High marks in the "Hey, how'd they do that?" category, but unfortunately one of the top items on my Ick List. They also served a tiny lavender flavored panna cotta (in a shot glass...cool) as an intermezzo, which was a new flavor. Very fresh, almost minty. Every dish (in what seemed like an endless succession) was as beautiful to look at as it was a joy to eat. A true gastronomic experience.
The chef didn't take our order, but the waiter was helpful and attentive and the sommelier polite about our obvious cluelessness. They offer a fixed wine menu, where every course is accompanied by an appropriate wine as selected by the sommelier, which was something that we really liked and had never seen before. We were able to sample a couple of new wines this way without having to order a full bottle.
Our hipness factor was jacked up a couple of points by the fact that Pel (a be-lambchopped Italian rock star) was sitting at the table next to us with his very important looking reptile skin clad entourage. He ordered the fixed wine menu, too. Apparently just as clueless as us.
The only complaint I have is that the service was slow. Did I say slow? I meant excruciating. Okay, yes, I know I wasn't at the KFC drive thru, but 45 minutes between courses? We got there at eight and didn't leave until ten past midnight. I mean, after 10 years of cohabitating, my husband and I don't have enough material left to keep a conversation going for four hours. On the upside, by the time the next course came out we were starving again. We seriously discussed the merits of having one of us head to the pizza place across the piazza to bring back a couple of slices between our primi and secondi. Then the panna cotta came, and all was forgiven.
Our bill came to about 100 euros.
Ristorante San Francesco
Via San Francesco, 1, Assisi
The Score: If you're stuck in Assisi with no car and have to justify the LBD and heels you've been schlepping around since Venice, this is a good choice.
There's nothing as damning as faint praise, so I hate to do that here. It's not that the food isn't good (in fact, it hovers between very good and excellent). It's not that the ambience isn't up to par (it has the low lights, the fresh flowers, the elderly waiters in ill-fitting stiff jackets...all the accoutrements of fine dining). It's just that, all things being equal, I think the price/quality ratio is better elsewhere. You pay a lot for location, I guess I'm trying to say.
But what a location it is. A tiny little restaurant attached to a caffe, the place is all windows on two sides and looks out over the facade of the Basilica di S. Francesco and valley. The view is especially breathtaking at night, so I recommend dinner. Lunch time is good for people watching, as the piazza in front of the Basilica is always crowded with throngs visiting the church.
The menu isn't extensive, but is a good mix of traditional Umbrian fare (strangozzi with truffles) and a bit of nouveau (vegetarian lasagna with farro pasta). They offer bread with two or three kinds of flavored butters and a wonderful dessert selection. Especially memorable were my fig and gorgonzola antipasto and warm chocolate cake with house ice cream. The wine list is solid, the service formal but friendly.
We paid about 90,00 euros with a bottle of medium quality local wine.
Via Floramonti, 2/a, Perugia
The Score: Tragically hip. And excellent food, too.
The word is that this is the place to eat of the moment. And who are we if not cutting edge? Go down a narrow back alley in Perugia and through a tiny, dark door which looks like it must be some sort of utility room, follow the steep stairs down, and find yourself in....SoHo. I mean, I've never actually been to SoHo, but this is what I imagine a hip SoHo restaurant must look like. All cream and China red and bleached wood and lit by Japanese lanterns so huge that they exert their own gravitational force.
Opened just last year, this trendy restaurant is owned by two young brothers, Roberto and Michele Serafini, who are obviously passionate about food and their customers. They take your order personally after taking you through the menu dish by dish (a short menu, so it doesn't take long) discussing the merits of each selection. There is always something vegetarian included among their selections, and sometimes special off-menu items as well. The brothers really want you to eat well, so don't be shy about asking for suggestions.
The menu is a interesting mix of innovation and upgraded classics. These folks know the value of exalting the simple, so serve antipasti like a whole warm buffalo mozzarella with fruity olive oil and a light grating of black pepper. "So, what's the big deal about that?" you say. Well, you have obviously never visited heaven. I also had a fried artichoke. If you are yawning and rolling your eyes, you deserve to live out your life at the Cracker Barrel, you philistine. Other memorable dishes were ricotta stuffed pumpkin flowers and spaghetti with tomato confit.
The dessert menu is small but varied and sublime. If you pass up their three chocolate mousse platter, white flavored with ginger, milk with cinnamon, and dark with red pepper, you will live to regret it.
They also have an extensive wine list and serve by the glass, something not so easy to find. We had a lovely Teroldego last time around. The brothers are happy to help with wine selection as well.
We spent about 75 Euros.
Nice Evening Out
Via Umberto, 1, Cannara
The Score: Cool or Kitsch? You decide.
This is a fun place with an imaginative menu (ever have pasta with rooster crest before?) that we just plain like. It is in this tiny little nothing town of Cannara (as opposed to the nearby tiny little something town of Bevagna), in a tiny little nothing space of place, but someone had a good time with the interior decorating, and someone else with the menu, and we're just along for the ride.
The menu is quite limited, which is only a problem if you become regulars like us. We have had probably everything on both the winter and summer menus over the years, and Stefano's favorite things are the hot pate antipasto (served with style in a little ceramic dish over a lit candle) and the smoked duck breast antipasto. I really like the herb gnocchi and the walnut, pear and gorgonzola ravioli. They also do a damned fine onion soup, it being Cannara, home of the annual onion festival.
They have an extensive wine list, and the chef is quite passionate about wine, so we usually ask him to pick something out for us and have never been disappointed. The chef is also an amateur horn player, so if you don't want to be serenaded for your birthday keep it under your hat.
My only complaint is the dessert menu. Now, I have a small confession to make. I am a big dessert person. Big. A dessert menu can make or break a place in my book. This is the page I flip to first on the menu, and often order my entire meal based on what I will be having for dessert. So a dessert menu less than stellar is a big handicap in my book.
They have peach melba, for the love of God. Where's the chocolate souffl? Where's the tiramisu? Where's the Gran Marnier mousse? Okay, the coconut torte with warm chocolate sauce is okay as a pinch hitter, but I wouldn't mind a little more sinfulness to end my meal. My grandmother eats peach melba. (Of course, my grandmother is in her mid-seventies and works, volunteers, and generally enjoys her perfect health, whereas I will probably be dead of a chocolate dessert and butter induced stroke in my late fifties.)
We usually pay around 50 Euros for a meal with a bottle of wine here, but very rarely have a second course. We find an antipasto and primo (and a sad excuse for a dessert) is more than enough.
Full Disclosure: We are friendly with the owner, who often offers us a digestivo on the house.
Orto degli Angeli
V. Dante Algherieri, 1, Bevagna
The Score: A palazzo in Bevagna, period music, waitresses in medieval maiden attire. The Americans love it.
This place is cute. The decor is cute, the waitresses are cute, the ubiquitous little votive candles are cute. I'm not particularly a cute kinda gal, but I think everyone's cute threshold is a little higher when traveling, so why not? This is another place that has been open for just a few years and immediately took off. Bevagna is a lovely town and the owners of this restaurant and hotel, both part of a renovated palazzo in the center of town, have gone to great pains to add to the ambience rather than detract. There is a tiny little outdoor seating area in the summer, or the inside dining rooms all year round, and 14 rooms.
The food on their limited menu is not your traditional umbrian fare but not haute cuisine, either. It is honest food, creative, but not pompous. Fresh figs and cheese, simple pasta dishes with local herbs, light desserts. We especially liked the farro salad, pappardelle with hare rag, and unusual side dishes (lentils with arugula, cherry tomatoes and cumin for example).
The last time we were there we were literally the only non-Americans. I mean, my husband was. So I happen to know that the waitresses speak excellent English. They even have a special fixed "Medieval Menu" translated for you. Cute.
We spent around 50 Euros for a light dinner and wine.
Osteria del Gufo
Via della Viola, 18, Perugia
The score: Bohemian atmosphere, great chocolate mousse. It's like dining on the Rive Gauche, but the waiters aren't rude.
If you think you've dined in a hole in the wall before, you've never been here. They manage to cram table space for about fifty and the kitchen in a space roughly the size of my bedroom. In the summer time there are outdoor tables, so ask for one specifically if weather permits. The miniscule tables, high brow modern art, and snippets of intellectual conversation from diners all add to the general funky feel of this osteria.
Despite cramped quarters, this is one of our favorite places. The menu is limited, but varies so often that, aside from the chocolate mousse, I don't think we've ever had the same dish twice. The cuisine is mixed, so expect some innovative pasta dishes but don't be surprised by the curries, cous-cous or spanakopita that sometimes make an appearance. One of the best dishes I've ever had was buckwheat maltagliati in a cream and vegetable sauce...I was considering licking the left over sauce off my plate.
We usually spend around 60 Euros for dinner here.
Non So Che, Spello
Via Navello, 26, Spello
The score: It just goes to show you: Behind every ugly warehouse stands a lovely converted farmhouse.
There is going to be an awful, panicked moment driving to this venue when you are going to break out in a cold sweat and think, "What have we done?!?" It will be right around when you pass the big Super Discount Warehouse and enter into a world bordered on one side by the busiest stretch of highway in Umbria and on the other by a group of semi-abandoned industrial hangars. Okay, trust me. It gets better.
Hidden back behind this industrial wasteland is this lovely restored farmhouse with its welcoming garden and chic interior. This is another hip restaurant of the moment, so the crowd is young and beautiful and the heels are high. We were decidedly the least attractive diners there our last time around. But the glamour factor doesn't detract from the quality of the food, which is superb. I had fresh artichoke cappelloni, which were obviously made freshly in the kitchen. My husband especially enjoyed his lemon quiche antipasto. Our son had pizza (yes, they make pizza as well) and after a small sample we deemed it quite good.
Our favorite part of dinner were the desserts, as much a treat to the eye as to the palate. Our plates were adorned with swirls and dots of chocolate and sauce, spun sugar clouds, and dots of flavored whipped cream. And that was just the garnish. A winner.
Our bill came to around 60 Euros.
Go ahead, take the kids
Piazzetta delle Erbe
Via S. Gabrielle dell'Addolorata, Assisi
The score: Charming little trattoria, simple, good food.
I knew I was going to love this place on my first visit the week they opened (probably six years ago now). I sat down and started reading the English translations for the menu (I often amuse myself like this: in Prague once my husband ate a soup made of Fish, Frog, and Various River Creatures, which was even funnier in the Italian translation: Bestiaccie di Fiume. I cracked rat jokes for days.), and immediately came upon Fresh Egg Pasta Pockets with Recooked Cheese, Little Rockets, and Cool Tomatoes (Ricotta e Arugula Ravioli con pomodori freschi). I loved that.
This is a lovely spot with a great atmosphere and wonderful pasta dishes. The menu is mostly pasta dishes and meat on the grill, and everything is fresh and well prepared. Not ostentatious, just a satisfying meal at a good price. NOTE: I just found out that this restaurant has recently changed hands, and I haven't been under new management.
Piazza IV Novembre, Perugia
The score: Who says old dogs can't do new tricks.
This is an old Perugian stand-by. The place is crowded with regulars who are looking for what they know: traditional Umbrian cooking. But who says tradition is bad? The food here is excellent and, as a member of the Slow Food movement, the owner serves it with the respect it deserves. If you're looking for innovation, this is probably not the place. But if you are interested in discovering why Umbrians are so proud of their little corner of the world, sit down for a meal of local specialties here.
They have outdoor seating in the Piazza in summer, and the back room of the restaurant looks into the glass faced kitchen, so there's always something interesting to watch. Anything on the menu is bound to be good (and hearty)...we especially like their tagliatelle and torta al testo. The various grilled meats are also excellent. It's just like lunching at my mother-in-law's house, except they're not insulted when you don't stay for dinner as well.
Agriturismo La Locanda dell'Angelo
Loc. Mora, 24, Assisi
The score: The view alone is worth the price of your meal.
Okay, got your pith helmet, map and compass? Because you may have a hard time finding this spot in the hills above Assisi. But once you do, you're in for a treat. The view (you eat on a terrace outside in summer) is fabulous and the food worth the trip. At EUR 25 a head, it is a bargain. The menu is fixed, the antipasto went on so long we thought we were through with our meal. Then came the tagliolini with truffles, grilled meats and potatoes, and dessert. Despite the wonderful view and food, the atmosphere is decidedly casual, with the house hounds doing the rounds for stray bones under the table.
The young owner of this spot is vegetarian himself, so when knew he had a fellow veggie coming he made his entire menu that evening vegetarian (accept for the standard grilled meats, of course). And I didn't hear any complaining from the carnivores amongst us. Beg him to make you his leek salad when you go.
Via Patrono d'Italia, 48, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi
The score: Whodda thunk you could get a good meal right next to the train station?
This local eatery has been around since the 1960's though was completely remodeled a couple of years ago. Easy to find, convenient to the Basilica in Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Assisi train station, right along the main thoroughfare, one would assume the worst. But the locals flock here, and for good reason. The food is excellent and the ambience relaxed. They have a small outdoor patio (complete with kitschy fountain) and indoor seating in the winter. You'll find the place packed most nights, so it's better to call ahead.
The food is pretty classic Umbrian, but fresh and well prepared. I especially like their tagliolini in herb sauce and a fabulous pear and pecorino salad with a tangy mustard dressing that's out of this world. The portions are generous and the prices low, so this is good option when budget is tight but belt is loose.
La Pizzeria Mediterranea
Piazzetta Piccinino, Perugia
The score: We have waited in line for an hour under a driving, icy rain for this pizza.
The pizza (all they make here) is fabulous, but no reservations are accepted. Try to get there either right when they open or a little later on, otherwise you may be huddled outside with your numbered ticket (ask for it inside) for quite awhile. But it's worth it. My favorite is the classic Margherita with mozzarella di bufala.
Via Torgianese, 1, Bastia Umbra
The score: Nothin' fancy, just great pizza (and fish).
This has no ambience at all. Zero. But the pizzaiolo and all the staff come straight from Naples, and know how to make a good pizza. My husband says the fish dishes are good, too. The place is hopping most nights, so call ahead.
Via Eremo delle Carceri, Assisi
The score: The ceiling is low, the walls are black, the air is heavy with wood smoke. What a great place.
This is a renovated barn. Now, if you are thinking "renovated" along the lines of "This I.M. Pei glass, steel, and stark white space gives nod to its heritage with its art-deco cow hide couches and original Hirst calf suspended from the soaring cathedral bleached beam ceiling", you are set to be sorely disappointed. When I say renovated barn, I mean to say the only renovation they seem to have done is move out the head of cattle, sweep up the pies, and throw some long tables and benches in there. But somehow it works. The food is good, the meat prepared on the big wood fire that dominates the middle of this smoke blackened room, and prices are fair. This used to be a standby when we were younger and dirt poor. Now we are older (though still poor), but we still go back and rediscover our roots from time to time. Plus, we can take our son.
Agriturismo Le Cocce
Loc. Pian della Pieve, Assisi
The score: Okay, so it's a renovated garage. The food is home cookin' and your own mother would charge you more.
Remember your basement rec room circa 1978? Well, you've got the decor. But what do you care? You just want a good home cooked meal, and that's what Marcella's got for ya. Dinner is served family style...and I mean family style; quite often you dine with Marcella's husband, sons, daughter in law and granddaughter....on one or two big tables. You will almost never meet up with non-Italians, and no one here speaks English, so bring your dictionary and a bit of good humor. Marcella's smile is international sign language for Welcome.
Marcella serves a fixed menu with an antipasto (we had a farro and cheese risotto that was the epitome of comfort food), a primo (tagliatelle with goose sauce, for example), a second (roast chicken with potatoes), and a dessert (crostata). She also serves their farmer's wine and home-made liqueurs to end the meal. It is strictly all-you-can-eat, and I found that bodily throwing myself across my plate was pretty much the only way to stop the food from being served up three or four times. Marcella will also make specially prepared vegetarian dishes, and takes requests. I'm not kidding. If you call her up and tell her you're in the mood for duck, she'll make it for you for dinner. More than just a meal, this is a real peek into an Italian home and family.
The fixed menu is about 20 Euros a person, including drinks and coffee. You have to reserve first; Marcella only cooks when she knows folks are coming.
Full disclosure: These folks are neighbors and friends and Marcella would sooner sever a limb than charge us for a meal.
Places we don't particularly like
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