2 Camini (Trento): always warm, always nice

(Visited January 2012 – and many times before)

If you pass through Trento, we recommend you take an energetic stroll on the Altopiano di Pine’ (1000m above sea level) and then head straight for Franca Merz’s cuisine at her warm joint

Man in particular goes crazy for her Rufioi, a traditional cabbage-stuffed ravioli original of the Valle dei Mocheni, livened up with sweet spices and doused with excellent butter and hard cheese (the local Trentingrana).

But for those more inclined to meat than vegetables, also the polenta gnocchi with Lucanica sausage (there are variations all over the North East called with similar names, ‘luganega’, ‘luganeca’ etc.) and porcini mushrooms, again with butter and cheese, are just that kind of harmonious comfort food that makes you hhmm with pleasure and call for more.

We also tried a novelty, the ‘farinoi’, a recipe strongly based on terroir. Made with polenta flour, filled with cabbage, potato and local cheese, and topped with smoked ricotta and cumin. Quite a flavour feast in such a simple looking dish!

So far a triumph of primi. Just to demonstrate how enticing the mains were, after recovering from the shock of the beloved stuffed rabbit not being on the menu, we just plunged into our plates forgetting to take any pictures…Anyway, they were a venison, mildly flavoured, cooked to great tenderness, and aromatised with a juniper sauce and berries; and a totally delicious pork in mustard crust.

We had to drown our sorrow for the forgotten photographs by taking a deep sip of this very well crafted Lagrein from Alto Adige (Franca will well advise you on wines)

But certainly we are not forgoing desserts, a hard hike awaits us the day after. A gelato alla crema di latte (oh, don’t ask us for an awkward translation) with chestnut twirls has an intensity of the primary flavours that many a dish in fine-dining venues fail to achieve – just imagine concentrated chestnut on cream:

And to conclude, the eternal chocolate torte

the soft core always a winner in our hearts.

This is true home cooking, local cuisine with a highly personal style and, crucially, based on ingredients sourced with great care. No great culinary innovations or fancy presentations here: just damn good, rich, clear flavours.
This fare fueled us to this peak the day after, a steep walk with 1000 metre ascent which Man is sure he would never have made without the Rufioi and all the rest: thanks Franca!


Osteria ‘Il Cappello’ (Trento, IT)

The day: 3rd June 2009, Dinner

The place: P.tta B. Lunelli 5, Trento (IT), tel: 0461 235850

The venue: Osteria ‘Il Cappello’

Closest airport: Verona (British Airways), Brescia (Ryanair)

The food: Modern regional, fusion

The drinks: Local

Tucked away in the narrow alleys in central Trento, we notice this osteria which, for some reason, gives us good vibes. Or maybe we know: it says that pasta and bread are made on the premises, always a winner with us.

So your intrepid reporters, hoping for a scoop, and for a good meal, immediately book.

On arrival, we discover that the unassuming entrance on the alley is matched by a larger one on a pretty small pedestrian piazza (court). There is an ‘al fresco’ area with tables overlooking that piazza, and one of those we choose. Here is how it looked when we left:

While simple, there is some modest elegance for an ‘osteria’. The waiters wear a coordinated attire. We must look really terrible, far below the standards they expect, because they don’t even give us the wine list…;)…but we do ask for it and order a bottle, stunning the waiter.

The menu strikes for being less rustic than one might have expected: yes it offers the usual regional suspects such as ‘carne salada’ (€8), but also non-local antipasti such as ‘Marinated Swordfish carpaccio with diced pears’ (€9.50) and several fish dishes which we will actually try. Among the non-fish primi, we mention the ‘Mezzelune filled with aubergines and cream of yellow peppers’ (€10). Among the secondi, we would have been interested in the ‘Veal loin in herbs and breadcrumbs, with shallots and glazed cherry tomatoes’ (€17).

There is no amuse bouche, but the bread arrives:

It is made on the premises, as we said, and it is good with a good selection. We start well!

We begin with our primi:

Spaghetti with vongole (clams) and zucchine (courgettes) perfumed with mint (€10)

Warm courgette cream with code di gamberi (langoustine tails) (€9)

In the spaghetti, the mint hits really strong, but not unpleasantly so, the portion of clams is indeed osteria style (i.e. generous), and of good quality (‘veraci’). The spaghetti are cooked just right, and the olive oil is abundant and fine. Pleasant, except for some excess salt.

The cream expresses an intense vegetable flavour, matching well the quite reasonable prawns (have you ever tried to reason with a prawn?). This may not be a Michelin star level dish, but it is balanced, correct, satisfying.

For our mains, we seem to stun the waiter a second time with a non-standard choice: we have a regular main and two portions of a starter which intrigued us, the octopus and potato salad with Taggiasche olives. After a few explanations, he resigns himself to the fact that we are weird.

So here they are:

Octopus and potato salad with Taggiasche olives (9.50€ for the starter portion).

Fillet of seabream Mediterranean style (€19)

The bream is cooked quite well (just a tad over), well-seasoned, and itself of good quality. It is excellently matched with grapefruit and lemon zest, beside the Mediterranean regulation cherry tomatoes and olives.

The octopus come pressed as a ‘tortino’, and is delicious, plump, moist, in the right proportion to the potatoes, with the olive tapenade and the pesto sauce providing strongly flavoured moistness. The hit of the evening.

Finally, as we are on duty on an off-duty night, we share a dessert: this choice is just for dietary reasons, not an indication of our opinion of the cuisine so far!

Torta al cioccolato ripiena di (filled with) mousse e pera al cioccolato fondente (€7)

Simple, yes, but well executed: this a rewarding, nicely presented and airy dessert. We are impressed.

For wine we had a smooth and vivacious Pinot Nero Fontana 2006, good value at €19. With water at €2.50, the bill adds up to €90. Considering that we had seafood, in generous portions and well-prepared, and that we are in the centre of Trento, this is correct value.

Aside from our joking remarks above, the two waiters were really friendly and correct. The chef at ‘Il Cappello’ is clearly endowed with a nice hand, presenting resolute flavours but always handled with some delicacy and tasteful presentation (we believe the chef is a woman). This osteria punches above the osteria level. It is a bit squeezed, in terms of offering and prices, between the starred restaurant, which you can achieve for just €25 per head more, and the really excellent value trattorias/osterias around the city. While the cuisine here does not achieve the standards of Menestrina/Fior di Roccia, we still find it cuisine of some accomplishment, and a very good choice if you are looking for a walkable option in Trento city.