Eating in Italy (and Spain) – Our Favorites

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. There was just so much good food. Let’s start before the trip. I spent months searching the Serious Eats and Chowhound message boards for the best places, for sale meticulously making google maps for each and every town we were going to visit. If I was only going to be in Italy for 2 weeks, I wanted to make sure to eat the best possible food. Granted, it’s not that hard to get good food in Italy, but you’d be surprised by the number of English-menu tourist traps that crowd the big cities.

Though I spent most of my time in Italy, we did have that one day in Madrid and I made the most out of it by eating entirely too much. Just strolling through Madrid, it’s easy to see where my love of ham and cured pork products comes from. Tom kept saying, “I can see your family heritage. This country is full of ham and chorizo.” I know.

La Bola Madrid

We had lunch at La Bola, a very old, very traditional Spanish restaurant. They’ve been serving up some of the best cocido madrileño since 1870. Cocido Madrileño is literally “boiled dinner” (see above). They bring you a bowl with some fideos (noodles), then pour a deliciously meaty, pimenton-spiked broth from a large terracotta pitcher. If you happen to peak inside the pitcher, you’ll see your next course – meat, pork, chicken, chorizo, chickpeas and potatoes. You spoon those out after you finish you broth and eat them with bread, onions, tomato sauce and hot peppers. It’s amazing.

Because we’re gluttons, we went to La Posada de la Villa for dinner where the house specialty is “1/4 of a Roast Baby Lamb for two.” Again, a very old place, it’s got pictures of the restaurant remodel and restoration covering the walls. The lamb is cooked in a wood hearth for a ridiculously long time until it’s smoky, fall-off-the-bone deliciousness. It was awesome, but I woke up with a meatover the next day. It’s like a hangover, but you’re full of meat instead of booze. So, with full bellies, we were off to Rome…

Rome was a bit of a challenge. It’s just covered in tourist traps with fixed price English menus. Not at all what I was looking for. The first night we went on a journey to find Trattoria Da Gino. It took us 45 minutes of walking around in circles, but we finally arrived at around 9 on a Tuesday night. The place was hopping, with only one tiny table open in front of the hostess stand. We let the staff order for us and had caprese salad, prosciutto with melon, spaghetti with cream, peas, mushrooms and guanicale (bacon), and braised meat of some kind. Everything was delicious.

Sora Margherita Rome

The next day, we decided to make lunch our big meal and headed out to find Sora Margherita. Again, we walked around for about an hour trying to find it. Finally, we realized we’d passed it 2 or 3 times because it didn’t have a sign (see image above). When they handed me the menu – everything scrawled in pen on brown paper – I knew we were in for a treat. We had whole, deep-fried artichokes, which I would request as my dying meal they were so good. We also had Tagliatelle Cacio e Pepe (homemade pasta with fresh pepper, olive oil and cheese) and zucchini stuffed with beef in tomato sauce. This was definitely one of my favorites.

Giolitti Gelato Rome

And of course there was gelato. Giolitti was our favorite and we went every afternoon. Best flavors include: cinnamon, gianduja (nutella), riso (rice) and caramelized fig. I wish I had some right now!

Osteria dell' Acquacheta Montepulciano

Next up – Tuscany, where we had the overall best food on the trip. We stayed at Mueble il Ricco, a great B&B right off the main square (if you’re a Twilight fanatic, that’s where they filmed New Moon) that had simply delicious breakfast tarts and a roof deck with a breathtaking view of the countryside. We had a bottle of wine up there as soon as we arrived. After a siesta, we headed off to Osteria dell’ Acquacheta for the most memorable dinner of the trip. This place was just plain fun. Thank God we had a reservation because the owner came out and told everyone who didn’t have a reservation to please leave. When you walk in, the first thing you notice is a beautifully lit side of beef hanging out at the back of the restaurant. It looked all ready for a photoshoot. We had fresh pecorino cheese baked with pears, tagliatelle with venison ragu, tagliatelle with a mountain of truffles (see below) and the bistecca – the signature steak. When you order the steak, the owner comes over to draw the cut of meat on the table and explain your options. You pick one, then he proceeds to the back of the restaurant. You hear a lot of hacking and he’s back minutes later with your beef on a brown paper. You admire it for a moment, then it’s fired up (barely) for your dinner (see above). Of course, it’s delicious.

Osteria dell' Acquacheta Montepulciano

Next day we had lunch in Montalcino at Osteria di Porta al Cassero. This was Tom’s favorite. We started with mixed crostini (chicken liver was the best), pasta with fried breadcrumbs (my fave), Wild Boar ragu on polenta (OMG) and white bean stew with boar sausages. We skipped dinner that night.

Locanda Montin Venice

Our last favorite was in Venice. It’s off the beaten path, as most good things are, but it’s worth the hike. Locanda Montin has a beautiful back garden canopied in vines. It’s quiet and romantic until you get to the main course. Let me explain. We started with tuna tartare covered in a delicious and fruity olive oil (amazing and huge), then I had a gratin-ed pasta with zucchini flowers that was out of this world. Then grilled prawns which we ate with our fingers. Here’s where the polite romance ends. They were so good we sucked on the shells and licked our fingers. We can be downright rude sometimes. Then we had a Fritto Misto (fried fish) plate with grilled polenta. Whole fish and calamari fried to crisp, golden perfection. This place was crazy good. If you find yourself in Venice, make sure you seek it out.

And that, my friends, is why I am living at the gym for the next month or so. Every one of my extra pounds was worth it, though. Click the recipe link for a full list of restaurants and addresses and head on over to Flickr if you want to see all of our pictures.