Bar del Cappuccino, Rome 07-2012

My brother needed some coffee to kick start the intended plan of walking all day. This was the one conveniently located place I found online which serves iced, standard and artistic coffees. Some nice toasted focaccia completed breakfast and the 20km to follow.

Pizza Trail, Rome 07-2012

There's something quite exciting about plotting a Rome map dotted with pizza venues. There's a few websites that list the few most well reputed pizza places. Pizza extends beyond the standard notion of rolled out circular dough with topping and includes particular breads and versions that are local delicacies.

Some are a little further out and require exploring, but the results are worth it in the end to sample everything Roman pizzerias have to offer.

- Li Rioni - a short walk near the Colosseum. The heaps of buffalo mozzarella was smooth and fresh;
- Forno Campo de Fiori - know for rossa pizza, which has the most simple and exquisite tomato sugo;
- Dar Poeta - the jewel of Trastevere;
- Forno Marco Roscioli - slightly difficult to locate (as I think there are two of these close together - one is the pizza place and the other is a deli) but known for bianca pizza, which is olive oil topped;
- Il Trapizzino di 00100 - worth the journey south to Testaccio for this unusual pocket pizza and some wonderful meatballs and tomato sauce.

Other than these, the only one I didn't make on my list was Pizzarium. It's a decent walk past Vatican City and even though I made it, the queue was too long for the time I had before my Vatican tour. Next time.

Gelato Trail, Italy 07-2012

Italy and gelato. There aren't many other things to trawl through place after place in Italy. Everywhere you read online will point you in directions of favourites and the reality is all of the ones I visited are good, because they generally have to be;

If in doubt, look for somewhere that states Gelato Artigianale which translates to homemade gelato. Some say those in metal tins with closed lids are more authentic and retain flavour longer also. But with the quality and turnover, I don't think it makes too much difference.

My benchmark is pistachio flavour and generally the murkier green or lighter brown, the better. I tried pistachio nearly everywhere which ranged from light to intense, sweet to nutty. Each was slightly different and I can't say I didn't like any of them. There were no hints of ice or crystals. However trying to pick my favourite of the lot is indeed difficult. I think one of the best was in Vernazza - considering the location in the middle of a plaza, it was a pleasant surprise - check the light brown pistachio on the right of the photo.

- Gelato Passione (Rome) - great pistachio and tiramisu
- Fior di Luna (Rome) - no photo
- Giolitti (Rome) - known mainly for creamy flavours, but melon was very good
- Ciampini (Rome)
- Carabe (Florence)
- Gelateria Perche No! (Florence)
- La Carraia (Florence)
- Antica Gelateria Fiorentina (Florence)
- Slurp! (Monterosso, Cinque Terre)
- Gelateria Artigianale Vernazza (Vernazza, Cinque Terre)

I hit all these gelato places around Italy within 6 days. My list was still longer. Here's the ones I didn't make: Gelateria dei Neri, Vivoli, Gelateria Santa Trinita, Grom (all in Florence), Gelateria Il Porticciolo (Vernazza).

I flew to Turin (Fiorio) as the airport stopover to the white truffle festival. I had an extremely creamy version in Alba (Darios), where after I tried their delicious gelato pistachio and nocciola, the shopowner made me come back on the day it was made fresh. The texture was smooth and untouchable.

La Conca, Turin 11-2012

Turin dining turned out to be more disappointing than I anticipated. Considering the Piedmont region is well regarded for food and not particularly heavily touristed, I found it surprising my choices were subpar.

On this cold rainy evening, I had tried to book at the two restaurants that really had my interest and intent - Kido-ism (a Japanese chef with fusion Italian cuisine, TA #2) and Combal.O (a reputedly amazing Italian molecular gastronomy restaurant that has featured in the San Pellegrino Top 50). Unfortunately these were booked out on a Saturday night. The last option was for a more local experience at Ristorante Il Circolo dei Lettori, but I decided to pick La Conca which also had favourable reviews and much better location very close to where I was staying near the train station.

I'm disappointed I went and sat amongst predominantly English speaking diners for a meal that was very average.

- Agnolotti di Plin alla Piemontese - typical Piedmont ravioli topped with parmigiano reggiano. Adequately cooked al dente although not particularly tasty nor special.
- Braciola Frentana - involtini of pork filled with celery, carrot and pancetta and topped with a tomato-based sauce. Very average overcooked pork outside with an inspired filling.

Next time I would order at another place. I suppose this restaurant is convenient if you are staying near the main train station and don't want to go far, but I would suggest putting a bit more effort and not joining the rest of the tourists and American businessmen who come here.

Osteria Nuova, Alba 11-2012

Osteria Nuova is a much more casual food option in Alba. It's open for dinner each day and also for lunch on weekends only. After being rejected on Friday night for turning up alone, I was lucky to score a seat for Saturday lunch. They seemed surprised and relieved when I told them I was happy if a random sat on my table.

- Ovetto al Pailot & Tartufo Bianca - they translated to me as an omelette, but turned out to be a fried egg with white truffle. Only one egg with not as much truffle as I'd expect for the price;
- Brasato al Vino Rosso - braised beef stew served with fried potatoes. Strong wine-flavoured stew with reasonably tender beef. Very tasty potatoes;
- Panna Cotta - really beautiful dessert of delicately smooth cream, laced with delicious sweet sauce and served with burnt caramel peanut sticks. Sensational.

Overall a nice relaxing place to eat. Definitely recommended as an alternative to all the otherwise fine dining recommended venues in Alba.

Next time I would order any you like and finish with the Panna Cotta. Whether intended or not, the many other Italians in the restaurant all ordered it too. The select daily pasta and meat dishes all look good to warm your belly.

Enoclub Ristorante, Alba 11-2012

I won't lie and say I intended to eat at Enoclub. In my indecision, I hadn't booked anything, expecting that on a Friday night in Alba there wouldn't be so many people as to book out most of the town's restaurants. I admit having the White Truffle fair on the Saturday may have skewed it against me, but nonetheless I thought I was unlucky as I walked around from place to place being rejected over and over, oftentimes because I was a sole diner and they didn't want me to take up a whole table. Bastards.

Just for the record, the places of note were Piazza Duomo (2 Michelin star, TA #1, be careful this is NOT the pizzeria of the same name), Osteria dell Arco, Osteria La Libera and Osteria Nuova.

Enoclub was actually suggested to me by two of my rejectors - I would otherwise not have found it or considered it. The venue is actually quite nice, and I happily sat at the empty bar section enjoying the more informal setting. The specials of the night obviously revolved around the white truffle and I selected two dishes which I hadn't tried with truffle yet:

- Uovo in Tegame all'occhio con Tartufo Bianco d'Alba - fried egg with sliced white truffle. Often thought the best way to enjoy white truffle with the scent and flavour accentuated by egg yolk. Not bad at all, but it feels painful paying €30 for fried eggs;
- Carne Cruda di Vitello Fassone con Tartufo Bianco d'Alba - Fassone veal tartare topped with white truffle to mix through. Good quality tartare with the occasional hint of white truffle flavour, although not enough truffle for €40.

Next time I would order something more standard from their basic menu of salad, ragout, pasta, burger. Alternatively book one of the other places who seem to have more extravagant regular dishes.

Osteria dei Sognatori, Alba 11-2012

Wandering through Alba looking for somewhere to eat lunch turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. Since I didn't have a dedicated lunch venue, I ended up walking around the small town centre until I found a place that looked promising.

Sognatori certainly ticked the right boxes - located on a street not on the main drag, a local tavern, filled with Italians, and a menu that only exists with a few hand written words on a piece of paper.

The service was great - the waitress didn't speak English but was friendly and smiled. The host of the venue spoke better English and was very personable complimenting me some free dishes, a free glass of house wine, and topping my pasta with additional butter and white truffle until he thought it was satisfactory.

Supporting dishes was a slice of mild Goat's Cheese topped with White Truffle. Since fondue is supposedly one of the main ways to enjoy white truffle, I imagine this was a more scaled down and simple version. It was adequate, although I wouldn't pick it as my favourite truffle dish. I also received a dish of Potato Gnocchi topped with a lot of parmesan - heavy and dense and probably a little too much richness for the end of the meal.

But the star of the show was their version of Tajarin with White Truffle. As mentioned earlier, after I tossed the truffle slices through, the host looked and took it away to add more butter and truffle as he thought it needed more. At €47 for the dish, you'd expect about 5-8g of white truffle for the €40 and it was certainly the most generous of any of the restaurant dishes. It was a stronger truffle and butter flavour and scent than Tre Galline. I added a little parmesan but in hindsight this was probably a mistake as the cheese dampened the truffle flavour slightly. It certainly wasn't mindblowing and I doubt I would pay that much for the dish again, but at least I left knowing this is what it is supposed to be.

Next time I would order whatever their daily menu is serving. Classic Italian dishes of pasta, rice, meat and seafood with house wine and port selections to complement. Service was friendly and inviting and would easily return again.

Tre Galline, Turin 11-2012

Considering the food reputation of Piedmont, it was unexpectedly difficult to find good information about restaurants in Turin. Perhaps it is because the city isn't often high on traveller's to-do lists. In any case I was quite excited by the reviews of Tre Galline - well reputed on a blog of someone living in Turin, decent reviews on Tripadvisor mostly by Italians, and even on a cold night where people kept off the street, Tre Galline was still full of Italian customers with more being turned away at the door.

Given it was white truffle season, the recommendations of the place were white truffle dishes and the bollito misto - the specialty dish of Piedmont.

- Starter - parsley, garlic, anchovies in a paste on a slice of pork;
- Tajarin Pasta with Butter Sauce topped with Fresh White Truffles - a rich buttery pasta with mild white truffle scent but slightly disappointing amount of taste;
- Bollito Misto - a selection of boiled meats (ox tail, veal, cheek, shin, tongue, pork sausage, chicken) with a chicken consumee and candied fruit in a thick horseradish gel. It was served with horseradish, apple & grape, mayonaisse, and tomato sauces. Sadly the meat was boiled in tasteless water, with the only meat with decent texture and not overcooked being the ox tail and shin (ie. those made for prolonged cooking). A surprising number of diners were ordering this - I wonder if they were as disappointed as me.

Next time I would order something else. It seems to be very popular with locals and for that reason alone I would give this place a try again for other dishes.

Hostaria La Botticella, Rome 05-2012

I'm not entirely sure how I came across this name in my research. I think there are so many (Italian) restaurants in Rome that the advice should be to stick to the usual rules (ie. away from tourist areas, busy with locals, menus not in many languages etc.) rather than necessarily relying on an internet source. Nonetheless most people agree that Trastevere is the area of Rome of choice for locals and food and so this well regarded place seemed a good bet (ranked #2 for Trastevere on Tripadvisor).

The first good sign was that it was located on a quiet side street in Trastevere; the second good sign was that there was Italian language to be heard by customers (inevitably some tourists also but I suppose they feel the same way about me); the third good sign was we had to wait 20mins for a table (for which they apologised); the fourth good sign was the hostess chased away any flower sellers that tried to bother her guests. She was fantastic and friendly, using her own initiative to seat us, stabilise a wobbly table, explain the specials and apologise if something wasn't quite right.

But let's cut to the real deal - the food. It was superb.

We started with a special Swordfish Carpaccio with White Truffle emulsion & Tomato (white truffles shouldn't be in season and whatever they used is not as good as the fresh slices and I think unnecessarily overpowered the raw fish, but still nice flavours) and Fried Zucchini Flower stuffed with Cheese & Anchovies (delicious salty combination).

Everyone seemed to be ordering pasta and I understand why - they are great. The special Mushrooms & Black Truffle Ravioli was a flavour explosion that I will dream of. The housemade Pasta with Swordfish was a simpler classic pasta flavoured with the salty fish liquid. To add meat to the meal, Roman style Oxtail braised with Celery, Tomato, Carrots was a typical stew with beef easing off the tailbones. A good hearty dish although not especially creative.

Dessert was swayed by watching endless numbers of Apple & Cinnamon Pie steaming out to other customers. A whole peeled & cored apple encased in thin pastry with chocolate sauce at the bottom, contrasted by vanilla icecream topped with strawberry drizzle. Great.

Next time I would order just about anything on the menu as I think it would be a safe bet to be good. The Ravioli is the only dish that universally wowed all of us, but most eaters would be happy with the Fried Zucchini Flowers and Apple & Cinnamon Pie. I would like to try their other meat dishes as I expect they would be tasty (they offered pork or chicken from an oven and also a rabbit dish). Those in search of something more traditional could try their Roman Tripe stew.

There are a lot of restaurants in Trastevere that look and smell worth an effort - just wander around and pick one.