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Ligurian Coast & Lake Como: Moscardini, Missoltini and Much Else

Ligurian Coast & Lake Como: Moscardini, Missoltini and Much Else

Old Oct 22nd, 2008, 03:22 AM
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Through the hotel concierge, we had booked a table for dinner at the well-reviewed Trattoria Cesarina. (With the exception of the first night’s dinner at Da Paolo in Camogli, I waited until arrival in Italy to book restaurant reservations. I usually did this one day in advance. Note that we were not there in high season; the Miramare in SML, for example, was about 70% full, according to a person at the front desk).


TRATTORIA CESARINA, VIA MEMELI, 2/C SANTA MARGHERITA LIGURE

Closed Tuesdays.

This restaurant is located a few blocks inland from the port, on a street running perpendicular to the sea. Undulating fabric panels shroud the ceiling and lend a diffused Ivory glow to the large, handsome dining room. While not “elegant,” this would fall in to the “special occasion” category in my book. And while this was the most expensive meal of our trip, it was also among the best: I m placing it in the “top four,” along with Nonna Nina in Camogli and two places in, surprisingly, the Lake Como area.

There is no written menu. The son of the proprietors attended our table and offered his suggestions based on the quality of the offerings at the day’s market. We began with a mixed seafood appetizer that will forever more set the standard in my mind of what this dish can be.

Before the appetizer, the kitchen sent out (complimentary) bites of anchovies, fried cauliflower, and the best cherry tomatoes I have ever tasted.

A few minutes later: A platter heaped with some of the most exquisite specimens of the sea that I have ever had the pleasure to eat. The season for the tiny moscardini octopus would be ending that week, so this was out last chance to sample those enticing creatures. They shared the platter with slices of the more typical octopus in a light lemon-ey dressing, squid, and gamberoni, and a couple of other things that I forgot to note.

After that feast, I decided to pass on a primi and took the recommended ravioli burro e salvia—house-made ravioi with butter and sage—as my main course. A perfect rendition of that classic dish. My friends ordered the orata (sea bream), a whole fish for two which was brought to the table and then filleted.

For dessert, the house-made apple cake (apple cake was a ubiquitous house dessert on this trip and I am guessing that this would change depending on the season) and a plate of cantuccini (what we in the US commonly refer to as biscotti).


After coffee, we were treated to glasses of the proprietor’s Licore di Mirtille. (a liqueur with the flavor of mirtille, similar to blueberry).

With a bottle of white wine from the nearby Cinque Terre, and one beer (not on the menu but the waiter fetched one from a store down the street) the bill for three of us totaled 180 Euro or about $US73 per person based on today’s exchange. Highly recommended. English spoken.

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Old Oct 22nd, 2008, 06:57 AM
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How did you like the Cinque T. wine? I really enjoyed them. I had some very memorable occasions in SML while sipping their white wine.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2008, 01:32 PM
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Sea Urchin: I thought the wines from CT that we tried were very good. I really liked the dessert wine, too--the one we sampled at Rosa in Camogli...

One more day in Liguria and then it is off (via a SE Piedmont lunch stop) to Lake Como!!
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Old Oct 22nd, 2008, 02:10 PM
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ttt to read later
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Old Oct 22nd, 2008, 03:59 PM
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The next day, Thursday, was our last full day in Santa Margherita. We spent the morning wandering around the center of town window-shopping and ambling through the aisles of the large food shop opposite the church in the center of town. I apologlze for not nothing the name of this place, but it is a good place to stock up on foods from all over Italy and beyond. There is also at least one large supermarket a few blocks away from the main piazza.

The new olive oils were not bottled yet but I could not resist a bottle of Raineri unfiltered extra virgin oil from Imperia (750 ml for about 11 Euro this is the Raineri oil that is shrouded in the gold foil. (like this one, which contains one litre):


http://www.eurogrocer.com/1576-p-Ext...Olive-Oil.html



All of this food browsing was, of course, making us hungry. Since we planned to spend the afternoon outside, at the pool, the beach, and on the walking trail, we opted to forego a restaurant lunch and, instead, bought a roast chicken, a slice of farinata, and a few other goodies, to enjoy on my friends’ very spacious garden-facing terrace at the Grand Miramare. (Their double faced the rear of the hotel; they chose this to insure that it would be quiet at night and it was.)

The remainder of the afternoon passed very pleasurably. I swam in the pool and we took a drive to Portofino, which I had never visited. The town is, of course, is postcard beautiful and we shared the beauty with plenty of tourists! The walk up to the Chiesa di San Giorgio affords dramatic views of the little pastel houses clustered around the harbor. We were especially moved the plaques on the church wall; one is dedicated to the memory of Baroness Jeannie Watt Van Mumm, known as the savior of Portofino for her role in convincing the German Wehrmacht commander not to destroy the town in the Second World War.

The pavement in front of the church is a spectacular example of riseu, the Ligurian technique of using stones gathered from riverbeds or rocky beaches in decorative black-and-white patterns. (The main piazza in Santa Margherita Ligure incorporates another example of this art).


We had dinner reservations that evening at U Giancu, so decided to spend an hour or so exploring Rapallo before dinner. We parked the car in the public parking lot near the harbor, and strolled through the center of town and along the promenade. Rapallo seemed like a city as compared to Camogli and SML and there was a diversity in the population here that we did not see in either of those two towns. At first glance, Rapallo was not as appealing to me as either Camogli or Santa Margherita.

Luckly, we left plenty of time for the drive to U Giancu because we had to stop for directions along the way. The restaurant is located in the hills above Rapallo in the frazzione of San Massimo (NOT, as the Cadogan guide writes, in San Massimino).

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Old Oct 22nd, 2008, 10:09 PM
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I am still reading your report avidly, however, we are going also to Vietnam at Christmas, so can I ask that you get a jolly on with this report as well!!!!! If this current report is anything to go by I NEED your Vietnam report as well!!! No pressure, just try and have it finished over the next few weeks!!! Thanks very much in advance. Schnauzer
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Old Oct 23rd, 2008, 03:29 AM
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Schnauzer you are making me laugh! Ruining my reputation here n the Europe board!! Ok, I will finish that one right after I finish this one. I am moving along here and only have one dinner left in Liguria, and four days in Lake Como!! Stay tuned.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2008, 04:12 AM
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U GIANCU, San Massimo, in the hills above Rapallo; the turnoff to San Massimo is located very close to the entrance to the autostrada. Once you make the turn, continue ascending a few kilometers on the winding road until you see the restaurant on your right. Open for dinner only except by prior arrangement. Closed Wednesdays. Cooking classes are offered. See the website below (English at the bottom of the various pages):

www.ugiancu.it


As you can see on the website, U Giancu, a SlowFood member, is a virtual museum of cartoons and caricatures, which cover every available inch of wall space. These have been collected by the owner, Fausto Oneto, who runs the restaurant with his charming, English-speaking son, Emannuele. (The name refers, in dialect, to Fausto’s father, “the blonde.”) The restaurant was filled with a mix of locals and tourists.

The menu reflects its location in the hills above the sea. The seafood of the coast has been replaced by the fare of the hillsides: wild game, vegetables, and meats predominate. What we were not prepared for was the array of non-traditional pastas made from grains that included spelt and kamut. (The restaurant is a paradise for vegetarians).

I began my meal with an excellent soup of leeks, squash and porcini. This was amazingly creamy although it contained no dairy products.

I again decided to forego the main course in favor of pasta. Farro spaghetti with porcini and chanterelles was good. My friends had a spaghetti dish with tomatoes and porcini which they liked very much.

A salad of perbuggiun (wild herbs foraged from the hillsides) was an excellent rendition of a Ligurian classic.

After the trio of house-made gelato, Emannuele visited our table with a glass vessel of grappa. One of us opened her mouth obligingly. One demurred and one changed her mind midway through the pour.

With wine and water, this light dinner cost 92 Euro for three of us.

The drive back to the hotel took about 15 minutes. And so ended our last day in Santa Margherita Ligure. Tomorrow we would be off to Lake Como.

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Old Oct 23rd, 2008, 04:20 AM
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That sounds fantastic, eks, and very reasonable. You obviously did lots of good research for your trip.

Let me see if I can guess which of your party opened her mouth obligingly ... ?
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Old Oct 23rd, 2008, 04:39 AM
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Caroline: I did not put this in the report, but the same obliging diner actually opened her mouth TWICE!
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Old Oct 23rd, 2008, 10:04 AM
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CORRECTION: Ligurian foraged herbs are "prebuggiun," or "preboggion."
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Old Oct 23rd, 2008, 10:36 AM
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Twice, Eks? And did they have to carry her out???
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Old Oct 23rd, 2008, 01:51 PM
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I just love this report with the emphasis on food! You're a traveler after my own heart. You've visited several towns that haven't been on my radar. Thank you for the photos & info as I will now have to visit. I'm looking forward to your future installments.
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Old Oct 24th, 2008, 09:51 AM
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Great to have this, ek. I think 73 dollars per person for a memorable multi-course meal, including fresh fish and wine, is about what people should expect to pay for really fine meals in the scenic towns on the Ligurian coast. Of course, it also makes a difference where the dollar is at vs the euro!

When you run out of the bottle of Rainieri olive oil, you might be able to replace it at the Milano Market.

I ate at Da Paolo last weekend and the pate was as heavenly as ever. The upstairs staff were very young girls -- and I think they were a bit overwhelmed at times by the crowd, as was the kitchen that night. I went with grilled calamari, well done but it took forever to arrive, while my husband went for a handmade pasta with mussels and clams when it turned out -- yep -- the baby octopus on the menu were out of season. He said he liked his dish but I wasn't wowed by my bite of it. I still think the great treats at Da Paolo are the pate and the seafood risotto (for two) and if you've got a big party, sharing a big fish can be good.
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Old Oct 25th, 2008, 04:00 AM
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Zeppole you are right about the price being just.

Here is a bit more:



Friday morning, after another excellent breakfast in the Miramare’s elegant dining room (buffet with very good breakfast breads and pastries, yogurts, fresh fruits, and Prosecco for the truly decadent) we piled downstairs with our luggage and proceeded to checkout.

After paying our room bills, we were informed that the parking garage was a separate entity and that we needed to pay them 60 Euro for the 3 nights that we had kept our car in the hotel lot. But we had only kept our car in the lot for 1 night!! After that, we parked the car on the street (easy to find free parking in the off-season) and had informed the attendant that we would be leaving it there. This developed into a bit of a dispute, with the parking person insisting that they had held space for us in the garage for 3 nights and that we had not informed the front desk that we would not be staying after the first night. On and on, back and forth we went. Time was passing, hands were wrung, allusions to “I visited America once and I know they have the same rules with hotel parking…”

I was worried that we would be late for our lunch in Piemonte. We finally settled on paying a total of 40 euro, instead of the 60 the hotel was asking.. None of this is of any major import, just be aware that if you change your mind about hotel parking, make sure that both the hotel and the parking concession people are duly informed.

Shortly after 10am, we were off, bound for the Val Curone in Southeast Piedmont. The ride along the autostrada to Genoa and then north, was quick and easy and about an hour or so later, we reached the Vignole Borbera exit. From there, the road wound through lovely green countryside and the clustered stone buildings of hilltop villages. We began to notice many bicyclists. Our destination was the picturesque small town of San Sebastiano Curone.

http://www.comunesansebastianocurone.it/pg/galleria.htm




Ristorante Corona, a SlowFood osteria, has been in the hands of the same family since its founding in 1702 (!!) as an inn on the “Salt Road,” linking the port of Genoa with points north. Sra. Matilda Fontana presides over the restaurant today and it was in her capable hands that we placed ourselves.


http://www.corona1702.com/index.html



Soon after taking our seats in the homey dining room where the television was showing the day’s events and food and wine magazines in several languages stood in stacks in a corner, a procession of antipasti began arriving: Mousses of tuna and prociutto speckled with black truffles and wrapped in bresaola (air-dried beef); terrine of ham encased in aspic; slices of salami di Felino (devoured by my companions, I might add, the moment I took my eyes off the table); a wondrous lardo served with local honey, and a couple of other small plates.

Next, two of us each had pasta that was quite possibly the best of the trip: Ravioli di zucca, or pumpkin ravioli. Smashing! (My friend had the same comment about his ravioli with herbs and walnut sauce)

And then the dessert, also quite possibly the best of the trip: Fresh peaches and lemon gelato arrived in a glass which Matilda proceeded to fill with the sparkling, Moscato d’Asti. The was genius, pure and simple! (Matilda emphasized that you must use a low-alcohol wine; this bottle contained was 5%)

With water and house wine, the total for three of us was 50 Euro.

Highly recommended!

After lunch, we wandered around the pretty town of San Sebastiano Curone, admiring the painted facades of the buildings ringing the piazza, before returning to the car and setting our sights toward Lake Como. En route to Tortona, where we were to join the autostrada, we passed a parade of billboards, each dedicated to a local food: Peaches, salami, apples..then and there I knew that I would have to return to Piedmont!

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Old Oct 25th, 2008, 04:29 AM
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Did your friend have pansoti with walnut sauce? It's actually a Ligurian dish, and is one of my favorites. Most raviolis are Ligurian in origin -- dried raviolis were a way for sailors to take vegetables with them to sea. Zucca features prominently in Ligurian cooking, in tortas baked fresh (substituting pumpkin for cheese in a pastry similar to foccacie al formaggio).

The town looks quite charming, and that food sounds great and cheap!

When you come back to Piemonte in spring, I hope you like asparagus, peas and strawberries.
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Old Oct 25th, 2008, 04:40 AM
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No, he had ravioli with walnut sauce. Matilda told me that they usually make pansotti-type shapes but on this particular day, the filled pastas were all ravioli..

Yes, because the SE of Piedmont is so close to Liguria there seems to be a lot of overlap, especially on the pasta dishes..

Zeppole, that town is so close to you that you could go on a day trip, with a car. And there are many nice agriturismi in the area if you could manage an overnight..

I should have mentioned that Vicenzo pointed me i the direction of this restaurant. There was another one that he recommended that is very near to the Vignole Borbera exit of the highway, but it is open only for dinner except on weekends..take a look:

http://www.ilfiorile.com/uk/index.html


I know that I will miss all the truffle excitement in the spring, but I am sure those cooks can work wonders with whatever ingredients are in season, right?? I do wonder exactly when those spring items you mentioned will start arriving in the markets, and on the tables..
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Old Oct 25th, 2008, 05:20 AM
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Pansoti

http://tinyurl.com/6n3wve

http://tinyurl.com/5zakrt

Can't answer the question about when the produce arrives -- but you'll get something wonderful, no matter what. I think truffles are mildly overrated. They are certainly overpriced for the sensation (although I appreciate the effort it takes to find them). Sort of like traveling in places where foie gras is ubiquitous, truffles are best as an occasional thrill, I think. Again, I'd rather eat hazelnuts!


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Old Oct 25th, 2008, 05:21 AM
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And yes, when I have a car, I'll remember it's close!
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Old Oct 26th, 2008, 08:15 AM
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After a bit of confusion finding the entrance to the A7 near Tortona, we were on our way and the drive to Menaggio passed without incident.

After much debate, and much advice received here, we had chosen Menaggio as our base for four nights on Lake Como. While we were pleased with our choice for several reasons (easy car/ferry accessibility to other lake towns; more of a “real” town than Bellagio’ larger than Varenna), our entrance to the Grand Hotel Menaggio inspired a few twinges of doubt over our accommodation choice. The exterior and the public rooms are grand, even if there is an overabundance of Victorian-style seating upholstered in pink damask. But my single room was truly tiny and quite ugly. So I did something I rarely do..asked for another room. After viewing a couple of alternatives, I finally settled on a corner double with small terrace and side view of the lake on the fourth floor (I think it was #407). I was charged a small supplement on my original room rate of 150 Euro. Although the movie, The Shining, crept into my mind a few times, we actually grew very fond of the GH Victoria Menaggio with all its quirkiness. The staff, especially Paolo at the front desk, were almost uniformly helpful. Breakfasts are served in the restaurant’s lovely glassed-in terrace. The hotel offers free parking and is located in a quiet, park-like setting at the end of the town opposite the ferry landing.

http://www.centrohotelslakecomo.com/.../homepage.html



My one quibble with Menaggio was the lack of good eating places. On that first night, we were too tired to venture far and decided upon Vecchia Menaggio, a popular, low-key eatery on Via del Lago which is actually not on the lake but in a web of small streets off the main square.
Having difficulty finding the place, we approached a trio of nuns for directions, which provoked some rather unfriendly looks and muttered comments.

Our meal was not among the best of the trip, in fact it was the least appealing in 10 days. Nevertheless, the place was jam-packed and we actually had to wait a fee minutes for a table (this was Friday night). I ordered a pizza Margherita, which was decent. My friends selected from among the few non-frozen fish and meat items and ordered the fritto misto, pronouncing it “all right.” (After all the excellent food we had eaten in the past days, our standards were admittedly very high by this time) From this one experience, I would say that will not go too far wrong here, but don’t expect a memorable dinner. The restaurant also offers rooms at a very moderate price.

http://www.vecchiamenaggio.it/




Although I adjusted my hopes for finding great food in the Lake Como area down a notch, I needn’t have bothered, as we were to sample two wondrous restaurants, and at least of other very good one, in the three days ahead.

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