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My top ten memorable dining experiences

My elusive restaurant

Top Ten

My top ten list was supposed to have been just that, a quick snapshot of some of my favorites in Italy.  As I started writing the list I couldn’t stop with just a single line.  I wanted any one that is reading it to feel and understand what made these places stand out in my mind.  So here is the top slots for this week……enjoy!

Most Memorable Meals

How pick just ten meals when it seems like every time I sit down to eat in Italy I fall in love?  The only way I could even attempt to narrow the list down was to remember not just the food but the atmosphere, the entire experience.  So as you read my list you might think it strange that a humble farmhouse ranks with a gourmet restaurant. But in Italy, looks are deceiving and your best meal is hardly ever served on a silver platter with black-tied waiters.

10.   The tiny store (alimetari) within Lucinanello Bandini in the hamlet of  Lucignano D’Asso, Tuscany.  The amount of food probably doesn’t even qualify as a meal, but the experience was a rare one even to Italians.  Almost every evening while staying here my family would come here and sit at a plain wooden table above the vineyards.  Rita and her ailing husband would bring us out wine, cheese, bread, meats and melons.   Since that time I have found out that Rita is on her own and I wonder what is to become of this tiny little shop when she is gone.

Tuscany villa

9.  Breakfast on the patio of Vento di Rose below Monterubbiano, Le Marche.   I know what you are thinking, breakfast is not really a meal in Italy.  When traveling, I have no expectations in the morning.  More often than not I skip what is offered and head to the local bar for a cappuccino.  Then I stayed with Emanuela and Emidio and everything changed.  Morning greeted us with plate after plate of homemade dishes and pastries, cheeses and salami, fresh squeezed juices and delicious coffee.  All of it enjoyed on their patio overlooking the distant hill towns.

8. Pizzeria Spadeforte on Il Campo in Siena, Tuscany.  Il Campo.  Hands down my favorite piazza in all of Italy.  What a perfect setting for dinner and people watching, unfortunately most of the restaurants over price and under deliver.  Most.  Spadeforte was the site of two incredible dinners, one with my dear friend and the other with my first tour group.  Both dinners involved lamb, ravioli and a drop dead delicious chocolate dessert.  So good I licked the plate.

siena restaurant

7.  Tratorria Dardano in Cortona, Tuscany.  I had absolutely no idea where this place was, I must have walked by it half a dozen times before they finally opened their doors and revealed themselves on a small side street not far for the center of Cortona.  If I hadn’t heard about how good and cheap this place was I probably would have given up.  Thank goodness I didn’t.  This is the home of the best tiramisu in all of Italy, and I’ve tried it in every restaurant I have ever been at.  Dardano is the real deal.  Filled with locals, cooked by grandmas and served by their granddaughters.  The dishes are simple, authentic and scrumptous.  I still dream of the sausage.  And the tiramisu.

6. Osteria da Mario in Rome.  A very quaint checkered table cloth mom and pop place that serves the best simple Roman meals at good prices.  I found it tucked away near the Pantheon with its own mini piazza.  I forget I’m in a great big city here.  My favorite meal was with my little girl.  We had caprese, osso bucco and pasta.  The highlight was her discovery of a man hanging out on his balcony….in his underwear.


5.  Sandro’s in Vernazza part of the Cinque Terre.  This village is filled with amazing restaurants, most with views of the sea and harbor.  Sandro’s is one of two that are inland and must go the extra mile to tempt diners away from the water.  They didn’t have to twist my arm very hard.  I  enjoyed one particular meal with a friend where we dined late with the locals,  met the chef and sampled the local grappa.  His secret to the amazing Bolognese sauce is a dash of cinnamon.


4. Osteria dell’Aquacheta in Montepulciano, Tuscany.   I knew this place had to be good when I walked by and saw the hand written daily specials stapled to the door. I never miss the chance for a meal here.  NEVER.   They are famous with the locals for their  steak which is so thick and juicy it’s unbelievable, but it is cooked only one way..the owner’s way.  And he really does look that scary.  The menu is never the same because they only cook with the freshest ingredients.  If you order water with your wine, you will still only get one glass (which is the traditional Tuscan way) and you will probably end up sharing a table with other patrons.  I was told that they want to keep this osteria unchanged from the past.  I love the food and the authentic environment; you can’t find many places like this.  Don’t be surprised when they scribble your bill on the paper table cloth.

Osteria dell'Aquachette

3.  Trattoria Ai Cugnai in Venice.  My favorite place to eat in Venice but not for the
light at heart.  These three sisters are on a hell-bent mission to stuff as much food down your throat as possible and they are very hard to say no to.  One convinced me to try the crab appetizer and from that moment on I let her take control of the meal and every one I’ve had since.  The seafood is fantastic.  I love the seafood risotto but my heart belongs to a black inky local dish of cuttlefish finally tried the local dish of pasta with squid ink.
If you are single they may try to set you up with one of the grandsons, every year this happens to me.

2. La Casette outside of Baschi near Orvieto, Umbria.  The first night here I was seated outside at a long table in the middle of their lush grounds.  We ate and drank until late in the night, everything served was made right there that the farm.  It was a magical experience and one of the reasons I became so struck by the lifestyles of Italians.  The family Minghelli have become my second family and I miss them dearly.

Italian agriturismo

1. Osteria delle Cornacchie in Petritoli, Le Marche.  My favorite dining experience??  This was easy.  At a small cellar restaurant inside a quaint little walled village, you eat what Sergio is cooking….and when he feels like doing it.  I sat at one of two long wood tables surrounded by Italians.  Dinner started with slabs of cheese being passed around with pitchers of wine.  Soon plate after plate of appetizers were brought out.  I literally ate my fill.  Then came primi; polenta spread across a cedar plank, topped with sauce and veggies.  Secondi.  Plates of roasted succulent meats and tripe for the adventurous.  How is managed a simple cake and coffee for dessert I will never know.  Three hours later we found ourselves stumbling in gluttony to our car.  The food, the wine, the atmosphere and the company.  An experience I have yet to repeat.

copyright 2011 Andi Brown Once in a Lifetime Travel

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