The Best Countryside Eateries
- Al Camin (outside Cortina d'Ampezzo): This barnlike structure lies along the rushing Run Brigantine mountain stream, 10 minutes outside town, serving hearty Alpine food in a woodsy dining room around a stone fireplace. Some regional specialties that are hard to find elsewhere these days are staples on Al Camin's seasonal menus.
- L'Osteria del Vignaiolo (La Morra): This place is sophisticated rustic, with simple rooms with pale-gold walls expanding to tables outside in summer. It's set amid the vineyards that produce its excellent wines and provide the excellent views. The cooking, in the hands of chef Luciano Marengo, samples from the varied bounty of Piemontese regional cuisines, accompanied by choice cheese platters and, of course, some of the best fine wines in Italy.
- La Maison de Filippo (Entrèves): This is the never-ending meal to beat all feasts. I honestly tried to keep track of the courses, but after the seventh appetizer, I had to give it up. But it's not just quantity (two words: pace yourself): The food actually manages to be fantastic as well, and it's served in an archetypal rustic-countryside dining room of low wood ceilings and open kitchens. Sometimes there's even a dog under the table. Book here and then plan to spend much of the next day merely digesting.
The Best Down-Home Trattorie & Osterie
- Vino Vino (Venice): Antico Martini is a pricey but good restaurant near La Fenice opera house; Vino Vino is its worst-kept secret, an inexpensive osteria branch that serves simple but tasty dishes that come out of the same kitchen. You choose from the daily chalkboard menu, stake out a table, and then carry your meal to it along with a wine from their excellent and extensive shared wine cellar.
- Ai Tre Spiedi (Venice): Although this place recently changed ownership and isn't the hidden gem it once was, you'll still find a great Venetian meal at reasonably low prices -- not the cheapest in town, but some of the best value for your money. The owners are jolly, and the food is excellent, including the fish (which is often dicey at the more inexpensive places in Venice).
- Cantina do Mori (Venice): Notwithstanding the change in management (and a slight price hike), the Cantina do Mori has remained one of the best bacari in Venice, a wine bar that serves exquisite cicchetti (tapaslike snacks) to a crowd of regulars nightly under the low-beam ceilings that seem unchanged since the joint opened in 1462. After all, this is the place where even Casanova supposedly came to tipple between affairs.
- Toni del Spin (Treviso): Seventy years of satisfying Trevisani diners has imparted a patina of reliability to this down-home trattoria of crisscrossing beams, swirling fans, and chalkboard menus. The choices are limited, but each dish is excellent, mixing local traditions with experimental cooking and some international dishes. The wine list is stellar -- they also run the wine shop across the street.
- La Taverna di Via Stella (Verona): The Vantini brothers and their buddies run this newish, laid-back osteria that feels as if it's been around for centuries. Here the local volunteer fire squad shows up to hang out in uniform and hit on girls, and office workers troop in to unwind over traditional Veronese dishes and wine (of their some 180 bottles, 10 varieties are opened nightly so that you can sample by the glass).
- Osteria del Duca (Verona): The ladies bustling around this old fave of a trattoria know to double-check with foreign visitors who have inadvertently ordered one of the many traditional Veronese dishes made of horse or donkey meat. The setting is romantic in true Verona style: It's on the ground floor of a medieval palazzo that most likely belonged to the historical Montecchi family, immortalized by Shakespeare as the Montagues, whose son Romeo fell in love with Juliet of the enemy Capulet clan.
- Vineria Cozzi (Bergamo): Leonardo Vigorelli's wine bar is the turnstile around which Bergamo's upper city spins, a requisite stop for locals and visitors alike who enjoy his hospitality, good wine selection, and yummy panini, meat and cheese platters, and simple dishes.