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Dean's Veneto Restaurant List

Dean Gold (Dean)

Star Ratings

* means that if you are there, it is a place to go
** means that if you are nearby, go out of your way to try it
*** means plan your day or your trip so you can go there

Why are there no zero * places? Because life it too short to drink mediocre wine and to eat at mediocre places.

Verona

**Hotel Riubiana
We sat outside on the large patio. The inside has lots of granite and is air conditioned. Service was a little brusque but very good considering it was prior to opera at the Arena. They begin dinner service at 6pm suring the opera season.

We drank a Muller Thurgau 2001 from San michael Eppian from the Alto Adige. This area is called the Sud Tyrol and the wines are somewhat Germanic in style, lighter in body, but dry. Muller Thurgau is a superb grape, with wines being spicy and herbaceous and very crisp.

They offer a huge selection of "carpaccio" of various sorts as antipasti. We had pesca spada and polpo (octopus). The swordfish was meaty and firm textures. The octopus was even better, with a nice olive oil finish. Pastas were tagliolette all'ortolano (homemade pasta with fresh vegetables) and a spectacular spaghetti con gambretti e zucchini which was a saute of small shrimp and incredibly flavorful zucchini. It was the best dish of the night. 65 euro

* for food, ** for wine Cantina Del'Arena
Piazetta Scalette Rubiani, 1, tel: 045/8032849, Piazza Bra
Seating on the Piazza, inside (air conditioned) and at a group of tables on the side seat (where we sat). The waiter tried to hustle us into a bottle of Chardonnay that had won 3 biccheiri but I wanted an Alto Adige white. Had the Elena Walsch Muller Thurgau (18 euro) followed by Quintarelli Valpolicella 1995 (37 euro). The Walsch was bright and crisp, spicy and herbal. Very nice stuff indeed! The Quintarelli was soft and charming, loaded with ripe blackberry fruit with very little tannin. Wonderful. Dinner was Sfilacci di cavallo (a sort of shredded horse jerky) on a bed of arugula with olive oil and lemon and grana, insalata di mare with wonderful seafood in an herbal dressing with tasty celery (marred by the inclusion of sirumi krab), pizza with sausage (said by Jane to be "not as good as pizza king", a local muncie indiana institution), Tortellini with spinach and ricotta (quite good), penne with octopus (not so good on the pasta part), a small plate of grilled lamb chops with simply spectacular roast potatoes, and a grilled vegetable plate. 112 euro for 3 with 55 euro being wine.

The second time we dined there we were part of a group of 16. We drank Bussola Amarone (in abundance!) and ate well. I had the octopus and potato salad but I don't recall anything else except that the food was again good but the service and wine outstanding. The prce was quite reasonable for that large a crowd an that much wine.

The food is good to quite good and the wine was superb.

***Enoteca Cangrande
Via detro Listone, 19d, Verona, tel: 045/ 595022
This is a nothing to look at from the outside wine bar that is a wonder inside. You enter past the bar and makeshift kitchen and walk upstairs to two rooms. The inner room is non smoking. The place is air-conditioned, a real plus for summer. They have a very good selection of wines for sale either to go or for drinking there. They also have a large list of wines by the glass and Marco will off you others as well.

We ate there twice, once in the afternoon before dinner. We had a cheese plate and a meat plate. The meat plate had all Veronese offerings: prosciutto Veronese, lardo, salami and prosciutto cotto (roast pork shoulder). The cheeses included Venazza, Gorgonzola in younger and older style, and tomino (sort of like a Camembert) in young and aged styles. Then Fabiola (our very nice Argentine waitress) brought us a taste of 300 day old gorgonzola. Incredible. We drank a serious Amarone but I did not write down the producer.

Later that night, after the opera, we had bocconcini. These are small round rolls with various toppings: lardo, mushrooms, cavallo (stewed horse), speck, gorgonzola e mostarda etc. Each was wonderful. They really hunt out the absolute best ingredients. Kay and Jane had a Gini single vineyard Soave which was good while Marco picks out an Amarone made by the winemaker from Quintarelli and Dal Forno Romano. It is called Raimondi.

Marco, shaved head and with a pierced eyebrow, is a character. He has a rich baritone and he is an actor at heart. He is the star of the show! I scored major brownie points for picking out Lisini Brunello from his retail shelves instead of Banfi. My love of the Amarone Raimondi (and buying 2 bottles each of these two wines) cemented his respect for my wine abilities. We had a great time and are sad we discovered it only at our third visit to Verona.

Food is reasonable (large cheese and meat plates are 13 euro for a feast). Wine ... you are on your own! Their prices are very reasonable but they carry a lot of incredible wines so it can add up.

Valpolicella

***Enotecca della Valpolicella
Fumane, Via Osan 45, tel: 045/6839146, www.valpolicella.it
This is a highly recommended restaurant both on Slow Food and, I believe, in Faith Heller Willinger's book. At first we could not find the entrance and actually thought it closed. But finally we made our way in. The restaurant is upstairs and is quite beautiful. You are in a little town in the middle of the hilly and quite beautiful mountainous and grape filled countryside. The first room is large and spacious with lots of wood and stone. There are several large dinning rooms and a huge wall of windows looking out over their garden.

The waitress, Monica, came over and we found out she has very little English. The menu is recited to you. We manage to get through the menu in a combination of languages and ordered. The menu is so good I want to come back with around 8 people and just say one of each. Its rare for everything to sound so wonderful!

First off she set us up with several wines to taste by the glass. She deposited 3 bottles on the table and then we each get three different glasses for the Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore and Valpolicella Riserva. Superiore denotes a wine made from riper grapes and that has a higher alcohol content and longer aging requirement. Riserva is aged still longer before release and is made from riper grapes. Le Ragose was the Valpolicella (light, fresh, good considering it is a 2002), Corte Sant'Alda 200 the superiore (bigger and richer, quite good) and I am sure that the third bottle had a name as well. After the little tasting I decided that we needed an Amarone so we picked one that Roberto Mazzi (of Mazzi winery who had recommended the place to us) had recommended- Vivianni 1997. The Vivianni was superb with lots of soft textures, big and round and loaded with cherry. It is in the elegant and restrained style of Amarone, modern and well mannered but still incredibly inviting. It was delicious to an extreme. Some wines just shout out "Drink me!" and this is one of them. I have never heard of the winery and so far have not been able to find it stateside.

The menu is mostly traditional dishes done with a special flair and impeccable ingredients. The cooking is simple in the extreme. No decoration unless it is edible. The beauty of the plates is the food itself, just simply placed on a simple plate or wooden board. Not one extraneous note creeps its way onto your plate. If 3 ingredients deliver the perfect balance of flavor and character, that's what you get. Nothing extra. This is seriously good food.

Antipasti were:
Carpaccio di Manzo- salt and sugar cured beef, brined for 2 to 4 weeks and sliced thin like carpaccio. It was pink and tender in the middle with a grey/brown edge. The flavor was the essence of beef with a tiny musky edge, not salty at all.

Kay had a wonderful, rich, fatty house made salame with a lot of spice. A little over the top but delicious. It was fresh and soft, and spicy with black peppercorns.

Jane had fresh ricotta with a little sauce. The ricotta was barely cheese, it was just little bits of curd made fresh that morning. It looked like cottage cheese as much as ricotta. The flavor was so fresh as to be a completely unique taste experience. It is sheep's milk caught just in the act of transforming into cheese.

Jane and Kay split an order of Risotto all Reccioto served only for 2. This was a perfectly soft and yet toothy risotto in a vibrant magenta - purple color and redolent of sweet recciotto. The rice is sauteed in olive oil and butter and flavored with a splash of reciotto. At the end a little more reciotto is added to add a fresh vibrant flavor and color to the dish. Each grain of rice is soft and creamy, perfectly distinct but the whole is a creamy mass of rice. It was hard to resist eating half of Jane's plate!

I had a mushroom pasta dish. Fresh home made pasta with sliced local mushrooms in olive oil. Simple and incredible.

The meal, with all the wine tasting and a 50 euro + bottle of Amarone was 125 euro, a true bargain. This is the style of restaurant I believe in. Its worth a drive from anywhere close to experience so much passion at such a reasonable price. This was a slice of perfection!

***Villa de Winkels e Cantine del Generale
Via Sorio, 30, Marcemigo di Tregnago (north of Illasi, past Cellore d'Illasi, to the left of the main road), tel: 045/6500133, www.villadewinckels.it
Romano dal Forno, one of Italy's greatest winemakers drove us to the restaurant as we would have never found it on our own. He was too grubby to go in so we just went in on our own. We were seated and got the somewhat typical cool treatment of a visitor who comes into a restaurant filled only with locals. The maitre d' approached and asked if we spoke German. This area's tourists are mostly German and it was fun to not be recognized as obviously American. I immediately told the maitre d' that Romano dal Forno has recommended we dine here and that we had just come from visiting his winery. This changed everything. We were fussed over and hovered over like honored guests. When the folk at his favorite restaurant are so honored by an individual's guest, it speaks volumes about how highly that individual is held.

The food was very modern in style, but full of earthy flavors. The wine list was good, but we had to have more Dal Forno wine, and we ordered a bottle of the 96 Valpolicella. The Valpolicells is huge, almost the weight of some amarones but without the tannins or raisiny components typical of amarone. It was very smooth.

Kay had a pear and walnut salad. The pear was shredded along with the cheese, and formed into the original shape of the pear. When presented, it looked like a peeled pear on a bed of greens with walnuts and tomatoes strewn around. At the first forkful, the shredded nature of the dish was apparent. Jane had zucchini sformata, which was strips of zucchini surrounding a chopped zucchini filling sitting on a spicy red pepper sauce. I had Fiori di Zucca ripieno (stuffed with fresh ricotta fresca). All of these antipasti were superb for their fresh flavors and quality of the ingredients. We were in heaven!

For primi, Kay had risotto with porcini and vegetables, light with earthy flavors from the mushrooms, Jane had ravioli di Coniglio which was nicely flavorful with an olive oil condiment and I had tagliatelle with local finferli mushrooms (in the Chanterelle family). Kay had a grilled Tomino with grilled vegetables for her totally unnecessary secondo. The Tomino (similar to a camembert) was nicely runny with just a hint of char flavor from the grill. It came with tomatoes, onions, eggplant, endive, radicchio, zucchini and roasted potatoes. I had tagliata of Ostrich on arugula, with the over the top addition of pineapple. I too go the roasted potatoes. We had a couple of grappe selected by the maitre d', one morbido and one forte. The morbido was only smooth by comparison to the 100 proof strong one.

Lago di Garda

***Passioni d'Vite
Wine bar and Slow Food, Via Dante Alighieri, 46, 37011 Bardolino, tel: 045/6211348, Bardolino (old town)
This is a tiny restaurant. It has a good sized bar, and about 6 tables inside and 6 outside. The evening was hot and we were roasting at the bar waiting for a table to open up outside. We sipped on some wine and nibbled on olives at the bar for about 10 minutes. We had a white- a Calvachina Bianco di Custoza 2002 which was superb and a couple of glasses of really good sparkling wines from Alto Adige but again, I forget to write down the names of the producers.

Finally we moved outdoors and have dinner. The waitress gives me a bottle of Le Salette Valpolicella superiore which is wonderful. I drank abut 2 or 3 glasses and I don't recall what she charged, but it was pretty cheap. I buy a couple of bottles to go for about 18 euro apiece. It is a full and rich Valpolicella loaded with guts and a really great find. I also had the highly touted Foradora Teroldego form Alto Adige and an okay riserva Pinot Nero but the Le Salette is the winner.

Kay had an insalata siciliana with incredible oil from Garda, anchovies, olives, capers etc. Jane has affetatti misto with pickled vegetables. Lardo prosciutto and capicola, all very good. I have Tortelli di Zuccha with ragu. The Ragu is basic and thick, with a lot of meaty flavor. The toretelli are rich and smooth, a real delight.

For secondi, Jane had the insalata sciliana, Kay has Tortellini with guinea fowl and I have carne salada. I liked the Zucca version better but both are wonderful. The latter is brined beef wrapped around potatoes and green beans on a bed of arugula, topped with a bit of salsa verde. It is strong and a little salty, but irresistible.

We returned the next morning for breakfast and had some great cappucino and paste. This is a place I really love and would recommend highly.

*L'Olimpo
Lungolago Barbarini, tel: 045/6296464, Torri del Benaco
We drank a local Bianco di Custoza that was pleasant enough. Jane had the star dish, Pesce in Salsa. It is a local fish, called Trota di Lago but more of a salmon trout than a trout- pink in color and nicely oily. It was served in a green herb sauce with squares of polenta. Kay had a thin but flavorful zuppa di verdure and I had a commercial spaghetti di Vongole. Kay and I had grilled fish for our entrees, trota for Kay and Lavarello for me. The latter is a pike like lake fish. This one was a little mushy and dry, but tasty. The Trota was pretty good. Jane had a insalata Caprese with pretty good mozzarella and really good tomatoes. We3 had a weird vegetable plate- wonderful boiled potatoes and boiled frozen string beans!

**Romantik Hotel Laurin
Viale Landi, 9, tel: 0365/22022, Salo (Technically in Lombardia but right on Lago di Garda's western shore)
After a pour of prosecco, we began a wonderful meal sitting on a glorious terrace overlooking Lago di Garda. Very fussy presentations but full of flavor.

Antipasti:
Octopus with oyster celery and tartufo antipasto- simple and elegant, and Jane loved it!

Alici on a pastry disc with roasted tomatoes- earthy and salty, wonderful. Alici are fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar, nothing like canned or salted.

Culatello di Zibbbibo with homemade mostarda di pere (a pear jam flavored with mustard seed)- superb. Culatello is a special form of prosciutto made from a muscle off the rump and not the leg of the pig, more peppery and stronger in flavor. This was simple and superb.

Primi:
Penne with cherry tomatoes, smoked goat's milk cheese- wonderful ripe tomatoes, simple cheese.

Tortellini with mozzarella di Bufala and smoked goat's milk cheese- very luxurious textures. The mozzarella was soft and tender and the shreds of smoked goat's milk cheese offered a contrast in flavor and texture.

Secondi:
The Buon Ricordo plate of filet of Trota with a spicy salsa - wonderfully fresh salmon trout, great salsa with tomatoes, capers, olives etc. The Trot di Lago di Garda is rich and oily with a really fine flavor. It was cooked just perfectly and the sauce cut the richness of the fish perfectly. You get the commemorative Buon Ricordo plate if you order this dish.

Tonno grilled till crusty on the outside but still rare in the middle with fried and caramelized onions. Spectacular dish if a little international is style. The tuna was fresh and rich, sushi grade and almost toro. It had an almost crackly crust from the grilling on a flat top grill. The two kinds of onions made for a contrast of flavors and texture.

Lunch with a good bottle of Friuli Pinot Grigio, Pierpaolo Peccorari 2001 was just under 200 euro.


Dean Gold lives in Maryland, when he is not in Italy, and owns the Washington DC restaurant Dino, www.dino-dc.com. See Dean's Slow Travel Member page.

© Dean Gold, 2002

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