Ristorante Nuova Isola, Varenna, Lago di Como

Ristorante Nuova Isola, just a quick stroll past Varenna's harbor into the back streets.
Via del Prato, 6, Varenna,

My second course was a Lavareno (lake fish) with Porcini mushrooms with its skin gently crisped. Exquisite.

My primo was Ravioli with Ricotta and Pear, dusted with cinnamon and flecks of orange zest, floating happily in a brown butter sauce. The ravioli were rather delicate and rich at the same time, and my only quibble was with the presentation. I would have put them on a plate rather than a bowl, where they were riding piggy back on one another, like lobsters in a tank.

Varenna is an hour north of Milan by train, on the eastern shore of Lake Como, just above Bellagio and Lecco. It's touristy, but not too much, and there is a minimum of tacky waterfront bar/art studio/gelateria signage that plagues a lot of lakefront towns.


Hot Sausage, Cherry Tomato and Zucchini Ragu

Fusilli is best, veggie and meat bits stick on the outside, unlike penne or rigatoni, where they get trapped inside. Now scram and let me eat.

Let simmer. Medium heat. Please.

Any decent hot sausage will do, good cherry tomatoes, zucchini (ideally finely minced but I was in the mood for something chunkier), small white/red/yellow onion, at least 5 cloves of roughly chopped garlic. Any less garlic and you're a big fat WUSS. Oh, and the juice of 1/2 lemon and at least 1 cup of red wine (I used Nebbiolo delle Langhe).


Quimet y Quimet tapas bar, Barca

Roasted red pepper, marinated in olive oil, topped with Stilton, sweet pickles and aged balsamic, paired w/a Cava Rosado. OMG.

Joint's almost 100 yrs's on a bland street in a bland part of Barcelona

A great wine selection...had a wonderful Priorat and a Cava Rosado

In addition to tapas, Quimet y Quimet sells all kinds of canned delicacies


Locanda Dii e Mès in Milano

When on a stroll in the Navigli District, Milan's version of SoHo, skip the overpriced trattorie with canal side seating. Head instead for Locanda Dii e Mès, which has unbeatable lunch specials and great food. I had the Mezze Maniche (half rigatoni, literally "short sleeves") with zucchini, saffron, and a small dose of cream. My second course was a grilled steak drenched in aged balsamic, with a large mixed salad, all on the same plate. Meat juices and balsamic bled over to the salad side, which I didn't mind at all. All for 15 euro, including a small bottle of water.

Locanda Dii e Mès, Ripa di Porta Ticenese 21, Milano,


Trattoria Monti: a slice of Le Marche on Rome's Collina Esquilino

Trattoria Monti is a busy and welcoming spot, about a 15 minute walk from Termini Station, in the up and coming Esquilino-Monti neighborhood. Monti specializes in the cuisine of the central east region of Le Marche, a food culture that pits the salumi/maiale/lamb triptych mountains versus the offerings of the Adriatic coast, most famously represented by Ancona's rich and savory brodetto. 

It's a bit of a critical and now a tourist darling, in an obscure location, and it's not uncommon to see even Italians clutching city maps as they enter. Monti seems to turn away a lot of walk-ins so it's important to reserve, otherwise it's just going on a walk. 

I really wanted to like Monti, but I realized it was more the idea of Monti than what I actually ate. The insalata mista was just some chopped vegetables (radicchio, fennel, carrots, cherry tomatoes) arrayed on a flat plate. Something about eating a colorful salad in a bowl, with the ingredients pushed up by the contours of the bowl, makes it special. Maybe. Also, the antipasto was a fritto misto of Olive Ascolane, breaded and deep fried and stuffed with veal, prosciutto, egg and breadcrumbs. Those were nice but the advertised fiori di zucca were merely zucchini fried in a tempura style batter. Traditionally, fiori di zucca are the zucchini flowers/squash blossoms stuffed with cow's milk or buffalo milk mozzarella. On the antipasto plate was ciausculo sausage, a soft and savory salami typical of Umbria and Le Marche. The pasta was quite good, mezze maniche (half rigatoni) with grated pecorino di fossa, crumbled house made sausage, and black pepper. The 2006 Rosso di Conerò from Umani Ronchi, a top Marchigiano producer, paired nicely with the meal. 

Service was warm and professional, and that distracted from the culinary shortcomings. That does not negate a return to Monti, but for sure I won't be ordering the salad and the antipasto plate. The red onion and gorgonzola tart is cited in almost every review, but was not on the menu the night I went. Next time.

Trattoria Monti, Via San Vito 13, Roma 00185, 06-446-6573