By Sheena Crutchlow, SDCtoronto.com
Italy has always been on my must have visit list, probably ever since I watched Audrey Hepburn’s “Roman Holiday”. My best friend and I finally decided to just do it! We took 10 days and squeezed in as much as we could in that time.
Knowing we wanted to hit multiple locations, we had to firstly decide the best way to do this. There are multiple ways to get around Italy, many opt for train as you can get multi day passes. We opted to rent a car as we wanted the freedom to stop various places without worrying about dragging our luggage along with us.
One warning many people don’t talk about with regards to driving in Italy is their traffic laws. If you are seen by traffic enforcement not obeying a regulation, they do not actually need to stop you. They just take note of the license plate, send the violation to the rental agency, which in turn provides your information and next thing you know is you have a ticket in the mail. So pay extra attention to restricted driving streets, round abouts, speed limits, etc.
I’m a big foodie so that was what I looked forward to most about Italy (other then the shopping). Following are my food highlights from each city I visited:
Ristorante al 34: Via Mario de’Fiori 34, (P.zza di Spagna) 00187 Roma
Started in 1968, a family run restaurant that makes you feel like you are a part of the family while you are there. Traditional Rome dishes that will leave you stuffed. I originally met due to a family friend recommendation, his brother had briefly worked with one of the servers, Renzo. When we arrived and told Renzo who we were friends with, he immediately whisked us to a table and presented us with 2 glasses of prosecco.
With this kind of restaurant you really want to go with servers recommendations, let them know the kinds of things you like and they will tell you the dishes best suited to your tastes, you can’t go wrong this way!
Following where our choices with the guidance of the lovely Renzo:
- Pumpkin Gnocchi in a creamy “castelmagno” cheese sauce with nuts
- Lamb Roman style with a side of roasted potatoes
La Bussola: Via Porto Rossa, 58/R Firenze
On our first night in Florence, we were really torn on where to go. I realized we were a comfortable walk from La Bussola that had been on a list of recommendations that I had gathered from friends before leaving for Italy. The walk took us from our boutique hotel through the main part of Florence, giving us a taste of Florence after our long drive from Rome (long because of shopping at all the designer outlets for shopping!). La Bussola did not disappoint, it was delicious! Featuring ingredients from the Florence and Tuscany area, especially truffles as they were in season at the time, it was a great introduction to this part of Italy.
Following were our choices:
- Appetizer plate of smoked wild boar, salami, and burrata
- Tuscan formaggi with honey
- Risotto with saffron and black truffle
Buca Lapi: Via del Trebbio, 1r, 50123 Firenze
Another recommendation from a friend, it did not disappoint. You must make a reservation in advance as they are full every night. What we discovered was, it is super easy to share dishes… we ordered everything for sharing and they actually served us our portions on separate plates which made for beautiful presentation and easy eating.
Known for their bistecca alla fiorentina, cooked on charcoal-slack and sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil. Following where our choices:
- Tomato bruschetta
- Freshly made ribbon pasta with wild boar sauce
- Bistecca alla fiorentina (for one person but split between the two of us as they are large) with roasted potatoes on the side
Ristorante Belforte: Via G. Guidoni, 42, 19018 Vernazza
This was a lovely end to our hike from to Vernazza. It’s about a 3 hour hike (using that term liberally it’s not serious, I’m not a fit person at all and I was fine) and strongly recommended. You will get the most gorgeous views you can imagine, especially as you approach the descent into Vernazza.
This restaurant is nestled on a cliff top overlooking the ocean and the town. Absolutely beauty! If you get there in the prime of lunchtime (when they are filling all tables) as for one of the ones that’s more private right against the cliff edge. The food is the freshest you’ve tasted!
- Caprese salad
- Trofie pasta with local pesto
Osteria Locandina Cappello: Via Cappello, 16, 37121 Verona
We really didn’t do much research before going to Verona other then we wanted to see the statue of Juliet, a tourist thing but really a must have photo op. We found this restaurant after just walking around. The best place to be seated is as far down as you can go in the basement. It’s a gorgeous cellar, brick lined with soft lighting and candles making it cozy. The food was incredible, not only tasty but gorgeous presentation.
- Selection of Lessinia cheeses and homemade jams
- Rack of lamb crusted with pistachios with a gorgonzola fondue sauce
- Tiramisu with hazelnut sauce
Harry’s Bar: San Marco, 1323, 30124 Venezia
A historic spot that takes you back in time to the 1930s. Waiters still dress in formal attire, photos are not allowed for the privacy of all who frequent there. As per Wikipedia, the history of the bar is listed as:
“Harry's Bar was opened in 1931 by bartender Giuseppe Cipriani. According to the company history, Harry Pickering—a rich, young Bostonian—had been frequenting Hotel Europa in Venice, where Giuseppe Cipriani was a bartender. When Pickering suddenly stopped coming to the hotel bar, Cipriani asked him why. When Pickering explained that he was broke because his family found out his drinking habits and cut him off financially, Cipriani loaned him 10,000 lire (about $500 US [$7,839 in 2015 dollars]). Two years later, Pickering returned to the hotel bar, ordered a drink, and gave Cipriani 50,000 lire in return."Mr. Cipriani, thank you," he said, according to the Cipriani website. "Here's the money. And to show you my appreciation, here's 40,000 more, enough to open a bar. We will call it Harry's Bar.”
Harry’s Bar is especially known as being where the famous cocktail, the Bellini, was created.
Osteria Al Sequero: Dorsoduro, 943-944, 30123 Venezia
Known for serving cinchetti, the Italian version of tapas. Each time you go selections will change, as options run out, more options are brought from the back so be patient there is an ever ranging variety. Pick the items you want along with a cocktail and take them outside to eat on the canal wall.
Ristorante La Caravella: Calle Larga XXII Marzo, 2399, 30124 San Marco, Venezia
Very central in Venice near the San Marco square. Must do a reservation as they only do seat seatings each night. Very elegant service, an old school restaurant where the servers are completely on point. Was even brought an amuse bouche to start off the meal.
- Whole wheat tagliatelle with knife cut duck ragout and Castelmagno cheese flakes
- Piglet carre, lemon scented broccoli, with honey beer cause
Osteria Antico Giardinetto: Calle dei Morti, 2253, 30135 Santa Croce, Venezia
Another restaurant basically found by accident. We didn’t realize that with Venice you really need to do reservations right when you arrive or even before you arrive. Many of the recommendations we were told as the best (non tourist) places to eat were completely booked up. This restaurant we found completely by chance just wandering the tiny streets. It was one of the best random finds. Nestled in a small alley, it really had a family run vibe to it. Just one small room of tables, a couple servers, and about three cooks in the kitchen. May not be the most gourmet of food but it was down home well made and worth it for the friendly atmosphere that made you feel like a guest in someone’s house.
- Sauteed mussels and clams
- Sliced beef with balsamic vinegar and grilled vegetables on the side