El Molin (Trento): enter a magic world

 (Visited July 2012)

When you enter El Molin, a restructured old mill with a weird architecture and unusual spaces for a restaurant, you already feel you are abandoning reality to enter a different, fairy-like world.

And indeed you’re in for a unique experience, sometimes a great one, not always a perfect one, this place is not about perfection: but a unique one. Gilmozzi is an excellent chef who has has a style – a ‘philosophy’ as many a pompous restaurant website (but not he) would say. He creates  menus that it would be impossible to have anywhere else. And that, it has to be said, sometimes even seem to be out of commercial logic and really meant to fulfill his creative needs more than anything else.

Not that there is anything ‘molecular’ or overly strange going on here. The menu looks in part very straightforward and traditional, but even the traditional dishes will surprise you, sometimes in subtle ways. And tonight we mostly skipped the most adventurous items.

Be assured, for example, that when you see that Char coaled Grigia Alpina (Alpine Gray, a local cow breed) with rhubarb and horseradish is on the menu, it’s not going to be just an anonymous slab of grilled beef. 

Unless you’ve been in the mountainous North East of Italy you’ve never tried this beef (this robust cow is deeply adapted to the local terrain), and even so you are far more likely to have had it at the table of a farmer than in a restaurant (we’ve never seen it in several years of restaurant/trattoria going in Trentino). The beef is intensely flavoured (in itself and thanks to the expert charcoaling, perhaps the real secret of this dish), with a marvelous texture, the crispy horseradish and the rhubarb, ingredients, especially the first, that definitely look to Central and Northern Europe more than to the Mediteranean, providing a gentle, apt accompaniment. This is a dish that not only is good, but that also tells a story, the story of a territory and of culinary influences.

This came after a pasta with local Fontal cheese and truffles from the Lessini mountains, which was OK but surprised us in being more forgettable than the rest of the meal. And a long sequence of breads, butters, nibbles and amuses made with skill and love (notable a potato bread). The pasta just below is an amuse, not the primo:

The breads came first in a nice basket:

… and then just kept coming, in a variety of flavours and cooking styles:

A Krapfen with seaweed mayonnaise, sea lettuce and braised eel

speaks, in flavour and presentation, of the more modernist side of the cuisine. It is elegant and playful, it is rich and light and delicious. 

A very clean dish of

Roe deer loin in extra virgin olive oil with vegetable chips and Moscato sauce

brings back again the primordial pleasure of a great piece of meat simply cooked (pink) with utmost care, yielding the flavours of the wood.

But a dessert called ‘Borderline‘, stark-looking and dense with incredibly tight aromatic and bitter notes REALLY pushed the boat out, too much for more dessert-conservative Woman, but sending Man, who always found very sweet desserts ultimately immature, into Paradise. He would eat this again, and again, and again (oh we can’t quite remember what it was: roots, herbs… gotta go back and find out!).

Woman is more content, very content in fact, with this milk torte, hay and violet. Remarkable: the milk transformed into a sponge soaking up the sauce below, and the ethereally crunchy wafer – delicious!

 And we both still remember with delight the Variation’s of creme brulee, a kind of signature dessert which we’ve had on previous visits and is a lecture in flavour extraction.

Price wise, as we mentioned before, so great is the disparity between the quality and elaboration (and also quantity) of what you eat and what you pay (consider also that we are in Michelin starred venue), that we worry about the economics of this restaurant! Service was very friendly and correct, and the chef often comes out himself to introduce his dishes (to each table).

Chef Gilmozzi may not pull off only perfect dishes, and not all dishes are for all tastes, but he dares and thinks and researches, he creates a magic world in his unique restaurant, an experience that is strange and fascinating precisely because it is so firmly based on the local produce and tradition, where the flavours of the surrounding woods and mountains are assembled and disassembled according to his unlimited fancy. A must go place in Trentino, and the perfect complement to the not distant, more traditional Malga Panna.


Malga Panna (Moena, Trento, IT): Pure comfort

(Visited July 2012)

Look ye not for daring culinary innovations here, o traveller, but for the comfort of tradition interpreted in a modern way.

Malga Panna (reviewed last time five years ago here) is in the location of dreams: just abandon yourself to the comfortable embrace of the warm environment, the stupendous mountain views, and the capable professionalism of chef Donei and Maitre d’ /sommelier Michele.

From the impressive breads and herb butter:

to a lovely (and substantial! we’re in the mountains here…) amuse of smoked trout

to a deer tartare, accompanied by watercress, goat cheese and rustic bread, that has true ‘raw power’ in spite of the lesser fattiness compared to beef. And also, what a jolly presentation:

Sometimes the cuisine rises into higher fine dining territory, as in this very balanced, very intense, original, heavenly really, capelli d’angelo (very fine pasta) with hazelnuts, smoked trout and a touch of caviar

a prodigious dish in terms of flavour.

The mains are back to delightful solidity, the protagonists firmly in the center and top class in their category. A wild turbot with chanterelles salad and beetroot

in which not only the fish (what a pity to present it hidden from view), but also the mushrooms and the condiment (an emulsion made with the cooking juices) sang. On a minor negative note, we like everything that is in the plate to be meant to be eaten (with necessary exceptions such as bones..), and for this reason we think turbot should be served skinless. Just saying.

And another stunner, after the pasta: a Lamb from Val di Fiemme (the nearby valley) from a very selected farm, one of those pieces of meat that make you think you’ll never find a better one (an equally and differently good one, yes, like one from Val di Pejo we had here , but not a better one), and generally very nicely cooked too, except one piece which was a little drier than we would have liked:

(the crispy bit on top is an aubergine, and there were ceps – surprisingly just good but not stunning- as a garnish).

We concluded the blissful lunch with a Caramelised millefeuile of toasted hazelnuts with dried apricots sorbet

in which the dried apricot sorbet was for Man the most impressive bit, and a salad of candied strawberries with coffee ice-cream and lemon crisp: a terrific coffee icecream, and the interplay of the various different textures and flavours made it a delight.

The prices are in line with 1* Michelin in the area (say 15-20 euro for a primo and 30 euro for a main), and the mark-ups on wine in the interesting list are very sympathetic to the customer, even for an area in which wine prices are kinder than elsewhere – and monstrously kinder than in London/Edinburgh. Sommelier Michele’s passion and intelligence are for all to read in the list he has constructed (and Man is a happy man…).

The petit four leave a very pleasant memory of a very pleasant lunch in a very pleasant place. Well done Malga Panna.


Trento December Pilgrimage n.3

ADDED FEBRUARY 2010: Walter Miori is, alas, no longer in the kitchen .

Gastronomic judgments are subjective, so we won’t argue with Michelin’s stunning decision to remove Walter Miori’s star after fourteen (yes, fourteen) years.

We will just say that we saved Locanda Margon for the last day of our Trento pilgrimage, and that for us it was the usual dreamy experience of absolute culinary excellence.

Share the dream with us.

We start with pure seduction:

Pumpkin veloute’, warm goat ricotta, amaretti crumble (served with warm olive focaccia)

A selection of breads that is better than any starred or mulstistarred venue we’ve been at:

A millefeuille of veal ‘testina’, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke cream (and the best olive oil)

Just look at it!

Chestnut soup with chestnut slivers, strips of capon, Monte Baldo truffle, this is one of Miori’s best:

We followed with Ravioli of egg white stuffed with Borlotti beans, sausage ragout: no photo, but let us tell you it takes some mastery to make elegance out of a sausage dish.

And yes, he also graced us with that eternal Trentino dish,

Canederlotti and Puzzone di Moena

here with Baldo truffles and made by such an assured hand that this dish alone is worth the trip.

The mains began with

Scallops, crispy artichokes, ginger, artichoke cream

We think you can SEE the flavours!

And the ‘big’ main for the final punch:

Slow cooked (60 hours!) pork belly, honey reduction, chicory.

One of those perfect dishes. Simple, classy, deep, sublime.

An interlude to refresh:

Banana sorbet, pineapple carpaccio:

The dessert was a

Tavolozza: tea chocolate fondant, chocolate and tea cream, crunchy chocolate and tea, chestnut mousse with sharon fruit coulis, pistachio parfait,

a little garden of Eden for the sweet lovers.

Have a look at the petit four, too

This entire tasting menu for…€55.

A chef always, always behind the stoves and checking every dish.

A remarkable lightness of style: after all we ate we could have repeated it the day after.

To our taste, Michelin made a grave mistake this year. But no matter. Michelin or not Michelin, we’d choose this cuisine over and over again, over many multistarred ones, and we’ll return at every available opportunity!


Castel Pergine

The day: 23 April 2009, Dinner.

The place: Via al Castello 10, I-38057 Pergine Valsugana (Trento)

The venue: Ristorante Castel Pergine

The food: pretentious regional

Airport: Verona, Brescia (BA, Ryanair)

The drinks: Mostly local.

Castel Pergine sits on a hill overlooking the Valsugana – the views are simply stunning, with the Brenta dolomites eying you from afar.

But, alas, this view, which we could also enjoy from our table, and the physical environment within the restaurant, will be the only good thing about our visit…

The restaurant itself is housed inside the beautiful castle, and it will take you some time to guess the right door – but eventually you will find yourself in a bar, leading to the main dining room. The interior is elegant but not stuffy, it’s nicely understated and soberly grand, with a wooden ceiling and white ‘rough’ walls. Just a pity that even on a mild Spring evening it was on the coldish side.

The tables are comfortable but absurdly long, so that Man and Woman look at each other from a great distance…

The menu is short but interesting: besides three different set menus of four courses each (on our visit these were the “Menu of the day and the season”, the “Menu trentino” and the “Spring Menu”, all priced at €34, or €45 if including accompanying wines) one can choose among dishes of the day (including e.g. a 70s relic, fresh pasta with lemon, cream and brandy sauce at €9), or the much more interesting barley and cicerchie soup with hop bread crouton at a mere €5 – the cicerchia is an old legume very similar to chickpea.

We opt for the Spring menu.

The bread, in the meanwhile, arrives, giving no forewarning of what the meal will be like…

Not bad, and good variety: white sesame, mixed sesame, sunflower, pumpkin…and served with two good butters, flavoured with cerfoglio (chervil) and aglio orsino (wild garlic), respectively. Interesting ideas. A pity that there is no plate for the bread.

And here’s the starter:

Poached organic egg from Val dei Mocheni on ‘flowery green’ with local dandelion (tarassaco) and lardons with apple balsamic vinegar

When courses have such complicated names it is often a bad omen…This dish was disconcerting, so salty it was almost inedible. Some lardons were indeed so hard as to be positively inedible. The greens are difficult to eat (they are curly and firm, so that it is impossible to get them in your mouth without a curl fighting to enter your nostrils!) and very bitter. Once the watery egg is broken, the lot truly is an unsavoury mess.

Let’s hope for the better with the first course:

Orzotto (=barley-otto) mantecato with bruscandoli (=hop shoots), cream of parsley roots and crayfish.

We propose an alternative name for this dish: orzotto drowned in excessive liquid, well overcooked and unpleasantly cheesy, with rubbery crayfish. We also note that one dish contained seven crayfish, the other four (same dimension). Now, if this is not a sign of complete carelessness in the kitchen…

What surprise will the main spring for us?

Suckling pig leg stuffed with with wild asparagus, on a bed of smoked potatoes, the first shoots of the season and crispy pancetta.

In the context, this is not a bad dish, just a sad dish. This was suckling pig, its meat should have been tender, of the melt-in-your-mouth variety. Pity: not tasting of anything (just look at that watery gravy), the dry and toughish meat at least leaves no bad flavour in the mouth. Except for the pancetta slice which is pure concentrated salt.

We look forward to the end:

Orange bavaroise in citrus fruit zuppetta with Bronte pistachio ‘croccante’

A rather weird, disconnected dessert, with a very acidic zuppetta on one side and a creamy bavaroise which, though decent, does not taste at all of what it should taste. But the stunning thing is that the advertised pistachio croccante is not there, replaced by pistachio crumbs and an amaretto biscuit in the glass. When we point this out to the waiter, first he tries to convince us that the pistachio croccante was not in our menu. Presented with the crime evidence, he politely apologises and we implore him not to bring any croccante, because we are more than satisfied with what we had… we are itching to get out.

With a bottle of Pinot Nero Pojer e Sandri 2006 (€23), the best part of the meal, and water at €3, the total comes to €94. Not much but far too much when you think you can have accomplished cuisine at €70 (including drinks) on the other side of the Adige valley.

The service is polite, friendly and incompetent (no knowledge of any dish). Not much to say on the food, really: visit Castel Pergine, by all means, a real treasure with wonderful exhibitions and the breathtaking views. But steer as clear as you can from its restaurant. We want to believe that the main chef was not in the kitchen at the time we visited, because we do not think any self-respecting professional would let that sort of food go through the pass. But we wonder how much his presence alone can overturn the desperate situation. A pity, as this could be an absolutely unbeatable venue.


Da Pino

The day: 8th April 2009, Dinner.

The place: Via Postal 39, Grumo, San Michele all’ Adige, Trento (IT) (0461 650 435)

The venue: Ristorante Da Pino

The food: Regional and fish

Airport: Verona, Brescia (BA, Ryanair)

The drinks: Mostly from Trentino-Alto Adige, very wide selection (in the high hundrdes of labels)

We thought by now we knew all the interesting choices within 10 miles of Trento. Well, life is full of surprises: how presumptuous of us! Driving along the Adige valley, in Teroldego wine country, this spacious restaurant appears in the tiny village of Grumo, with claims to honest, wholesome cuisine and boasting appealing prices.

The interior is spacious, welcoming, light, neat if a bit eccentric, with a gentle touch of formality that one might not expect. We learn later that the restaurant caters for large parties and functions. Anyway, on the night, luckily for us there are only a dozen customer beside us.

On the menu, many local, trattoria style dishes, but what catches our attention is a copious presence of seafood offerings. We call the waiter and try to glean some information (we are in the middle of mountains and to eat good seafood one really must go to the right places: Man’s disgusted grimace at Woman’s proposal to go for fish says it all…). The waiter is convincing. Woman eggs on. And we are encouraged by the information that all seafood here is supplied by a well-known fishmonger nearby, a fishmonger that serves some of the best restaurants in Trento. We go for it. (Next time we might try the Trentino tasting menu at €32, with enticing items such as Local apple risotto with cinnamon or Seared venison loin with pan-fried apples, juniper and Polenta di Storo).

The bread arrives:

Not a bad offering, indeed the variety is very surprising: walnut bread ‘taralli’, standard white, grissini, rye. The usual thought strikes us: a restaurant that shows such care for the bread basket must show a similar care for food.

Both our primi are seafood:

Thyme tonnarelli with Scampi (aka Dublin bay prawns) tails and asparagus (€10)

‘Fazzoletto’ al nero (squid-ink) with seabass filling and langoustine sauce (€10)

The fazzoletto (a large pasta slice, lasagna style, but folded) looks impressive, its elegant black dress provocatively offering a glimpse of the filling. It’s a balanced explosion of Mediterranean flavours, the fish fresh, tasty, light, and generous. The pasta is very good: the restaurant buys it in from a trusted supplier, who formerly worked on the premises. Always suspicious of bought in materials, for this reason alone we had not wanted to try this dish (Woman’s disgusted grimace at Man’s proposal to go for it says it all…), but when we expressed our perplexity to the waiter he vouched so energetically for the quality of the pasta, egged on by Man, that we capitulated. And once again he was convincing…

The tonnarelli are sligthly salty. But the fish once again cannot be faulted for freshness and flavour, nor its quantity for lack of generosity. The asparagus comes in both white and green variety, a nice touch, and the always present tomatoes add moisture. All is bound by very good quality olive oil, leaving an impression of richness and lightness at the same time.

For mains, we both go for the same choice:

Roasted seabass (€15)

For the joy of the waiter we insisted on boning the large portions of fish ourselves (which –we noticed- wasn’t the case at the other tables: what is the world coming to?).

It does not take that long to produce this:

When eating fresh fish, the process, slowing you down, actually increases your pleasure and satisfaction, don’t you agree? And this was truly fresh, full of flavour. What more to say? Well, maybe that it was a little overcooked, though mercifully just so and definitely not to the point of spoiling the experience. The roast tomatoes with capers, herbs and olives, in true ‘southern’ style (at the foot of the Alps!), were a delicious accompaniment (but very rich!).

We are in the mood for dessert.

Raspberry cake (‘tortino’) (€5)

Sweet fantasia (€6.50)

The tortino is correctly made and carries an intense, authentic raspberry whiff, but is slightly dry, so the accompanying custard, quite OK, is very welcome.

The fantasia presents us with a strawberry parfait (a little ‘brittle’), a ‘crostata’ (slightly dry), panettone-like (OK), blueberry buckwheat cake (excellent, intense, and strudel (OK, but made with puff pastry and therefore neither truly traditional nor fully successful).

With a bottle of Chardonnay LongarivaPraistel 2000 at €28 and 1 litre of H2O at €2.50 the total damage comes to €95,30. This is extremely reasonable for a seafood dinner of such quality and quantity.

What a nice little place (well, actually not so little) this one. The service is friendly with varying levels of professionalism (one knowledgeable and very passionate waiter, another less interested in the dishes he was selling us), but always attentive. As for the cuisine, it expresses a rewarding feeling of generosity, of care, both in the choice of materials and in the process of cooking itself. Despite the formality this is essentially a (superior) trattoria: you will not find highly sophisticated creations here, but plainly good food, with some touches of originality with respect to the classics, some attention to presentation, and some assuredness of touch. So, congratulations to the head chef Beppe Principe and to the family who runs this operation with such honesty and integrity (it reminds us a bit of Da Barbara in Sardinia). We will probably be back, and we invite you to try it, too!


Ristorante Monti Lessini

The day: 22nd March 2009, Lunch.
The place: 38061 Sega di Ala (Trento, IT) (tel: 0464-671253

The venue: Albergo Monti Lessini

The food: Local Italian

The drinks: No wine list, a handful of choices are offered to you verbally.

We were saying in our scathing review last week that we are not at all snobby curmudgeons averse in to simple, rustic food…Here’s an example.

After an extremely leisurely excursion (Man is recovering from another visit here) with ski racquets on the beautiful Monti Lessini (in the pre-Alps, really recommended for tranquil family outings),

our appetites were nonetheless epic. So we decided to try a simple looking local family-run restaurant, called, in a great feat of originality,

You enter and you feel at once at home, in a warm, inviting, hospitable, domestic environment:

For all the rusticity, there is even some nice touch in the ‘mise-en-place’…

As we enter we immediately spot, guided by our dessert antennas, some trays with strudel and a very appetising cake, and, since we have arrived late and the room is full, we are overcome by the fear that they finish before we can have some…so we implore the husband and wife managing the room to save a couple of slices for us…The request is accepted. Our desserts are assured. Our minds at rest, we can now focus on the other offers, mostly local and traditional dishes. We begin with some which are suitable for our appetites:

– Tortelli di monte e noci al tartufo della Lessinia (tortelli mountain style with walnuts and local truffle) €6.60
– Tagliolini all’ asino (asino = donkey) €5

Both dishes are generous, generously flavoured and generously doused in butter, the unusual donkey, vaguely gamey but not quite, being the intriguing bit. Don’t look for balance in them: this is really as traditional as you can get. We have noticed that in this part of Italy the cooking of the pasta tends to the overdone, and here’s no exception. But in such honest, satisfying, intense dishes, we can more than take it!

We are happy but still hungry…so next we have:

– Capriolo (roe-deer) in salmi’ con polenta €9
– Stinco di maiale al forno (roasted pork shank) €6.50

Accompanied by two side vegetables (€2.50 each)

Salmi’ is a classic preparation, involving a marinating stage of the meat in wine, vagetable and spices, and then a slow cooking in casserole. It is just perfect for game meats, and if properly executed the effect is guaranteed. This one is well executed, the only slightly disappointing bit being the polenta.
The lamb shank may not be cooked as refinedly as in starred resturants, but look at the beautiful colours resulting from this homely cooking. It has retained moistness and the flavour is really neat and pleasant.

We are now even happier, but of course we still have space for the desserts we had spotted in the beginning:

– Strudel di mele (2.80)
– Torta di noci (walnut cake) (€2.80)

These desserts do not disappoint. Oh no, they don’t. The strudel appears in a terrible foto which does not render justice to its goodness, balance and perfect consistency, soft and rightly wet.
The walnut cake may look dry, and so we feared: but it was instead surprisingly soft and light, the walnuts coming out potently on your palate. Of course, in a more sophisticated establishment it would have been accompanied by some custard or ice cream or other liquid elements: but this IS home cooking!

For drinks we had a bottle of Rebo Cantina d’Isera ‘Nove Sette’ 2005 (good) at a very, very honest €14, a bottle of water at €2, and coffees at an incredible €0.90 each! The total is a heart-warming €58.40.

The service, provided by husband, wife and daughter, is naturally friendly but also efficient and professional. We will not say that this is a destination place which you should travel to exclusively for the cuisine. Even for a traditional trattoria, the cuisine does not, in fact, achieve the intensity of flavours and quality of materials that you find, for example, at Franca Merz’s. But we WILL say that we ate very well here: not one poor dish in sight and some excellent ones, with our gluttony instinct attended to in a full and pleasant way. A nice example of ‘granny’ Italian cooking style in a professional kitchen, with a welcoming environment inside, and in a splendid setting outside: so, overall, a trip IS recommended for the whole package! This family has set up an intelligent and deeply honest operation, which is succesful for what we could see (packed room), and for which we’d like to congratulate them.


Mas de la Fam

The day: 2nd February 2009, Dinner.

The place: Via Stella 18 Ravina (Trento) (tel: 0461 349114)

The venue: Mas de La Fam

The food: (Multi)Regional Italian

The drinks: good Italian wines and interesting house wine.

Last time, while describing one of our divine meals at Locanda Margon, we promised to compare and contrast their delicacy and elegance with something less classy. As we will show you in a future post (stay tuned…) we have nothing against simple, rustic, basic, traditional, hearty food. What we cannot stand is heavy-handed, sloppy and pretentious cuisine. This is exactly what you find at a recent opening just a few dozens meters on the hill where… Locanda Margon sits.

Mas de La Fam is a converted farmhouse. The conversion has been done well, integrating intelligently a modern, ‘young’ style in the old rustic structure. A not insignificant amount of money and architectural talent appears to have been used in the enterprise.

We chose the tasting menu at €33 (three courses, excluding desert which is paid on top if you choose to have it).

The bread arrives

Not memorable but OK.

Carpaccio di carne salada con cappuccio rosso, tortino al radicchio con salsa ai formaggi, verdure del Mas.

The carne salada is a type of regional cured (salted) beef with red cabbage, which can be served grilled or raw. Here it is raw, and it is a good specimen, well matched with the cabbage. The verdure del Mas feature some pickled vegetables of which the artichoke verges on inedible because of lack of proper cooking and preparation: it is hard, woody, horrible. The pepper and the radicchio aren’t bad, but overall this section of the dish is an explosion of oiliness and acidity. The tortino has a texturally unpleasant and rough brise’ base, but the flavour, beside the heavy hand with cheese, is agreeable – well, just so, for Woman, who still cannot get over that artichoke, while Man tries to put a smiling face over this underwhelming beginning. Overall the assemblage in this dish does not make much sense to us.

Strangolapreti al gorgonzola and tortelloni speck e noci

The strangolapreti (traditional flour, bread, egg and spinach pasta) are a little hard but an energetic friend to your tastebuds (provided you like gorgonzola), and the tortelloni assault your palate with heavy but once again benign flavours. This is on the unrefined side of good, so what is the cheffy decoration separating the two sides doing there?

Tagliata del Mas al rosmarino, formaggio (cheese) di malga alla griglia, with Contorni (carrots, potatoes)

The tagliata is memorably unremarkable. So we are pinning our hopes on the malga cheese. These cheeses from milk of cows which graze at altitude come often from tiny producers, so that they offer an enormous variety, each one different from the other. When they are good, they really regale you with complex and subtle aromas. Alas, this poor one has been treated so harshly on the grill that it might have been the most undistinguished of industrial cheeses.

The potatoes are amazingly greasy and heavy, and we are forced to leave them. Yes, you’ve read it right, we left something on the plate. If you have read other of our reviews, you’ll know that we can count on the fingers of half a hand the number of times we leave food on the plate. Mummy taught us so. But even imprinting has a limit ;-).

Talking of limits, we skip dessert. We’ve had enough.

A full meal here, with a bottle of wine around €20 and a bottle of water will cost you near €100. While this may seem OK by London standards, it is a lot for trattoria food in Trentino (see e.g. here and here).

The service somehow attempts to be polite but it does not have a clue, it really doesn’t. An example. When we ask about the varieties in the wine SHE is recommending us, the waitress says she does not know. With a flash of inspiration she then looks at the label, but alas, she says that the label does not help. Well, it is probably Cabernet, or Merlot. Not Pinot Noir. We look at the label and we notice with interest that it lists exactly the grapes that make up this wine.

The result of the chef’s efforts is very mediocre indeed from the culinary point of view. This is merely ordinary, with touches of unacceptable (gosh, that artichoke), and very heavy handed cuisine with a tendency to destroy flavours, but which clearly believes to be of higher standards. It is extortionate by local standards in terms of value for money. Walk up the hill, take out €50 extra euros to dine at Locanda Margon, and you’ll feel you have saved money. The final straw for us for was to see a cook with the cigarette hanging from his lip while assembling a dish. This says it all, we thought.


cold, flu and memories

Both Man and Woman have had the flu, forcing a little pause with restaurant tastings. So, waiting for the next experience, we live on memories…

Among the outstanding recent dinners one was at our London fave Latium, which unfortunately we did not record for posterity.

(but those ‘barzotte’ eggs with truffles and chanterelles mushrooms, mmmh!).

The other outstanding dinner was at Locanda Margon. We present it here with no comments, even the photos alone tell you what superior kind of experience this was.

We will omit some extras, but not the bread, of course:

And here we go: Sea fish ravioli in clam water with garlic foam

Potato ‘zuppa’ with wild mushrooms

(not what you expected for a zuppa, admit it!)

Sebass fillet (and much more)

Suckling pig fillet (and even more)

Carrot ‘tortino’, apples and beetoroot

Pears cooked in Chardonnay grappa

This year Locanda Margon retained its Michelin star. Its great location, consistency and excellence of cuisine with raw materials of absolute excellence deserve more – but for us maybe better not: we might never again afford such dinners for €140 – wine inclusive (Pinot Nero Pisoni 2003) and treated like royalty!! (Bizarrely, one well-known Italian guide has lowered the value-for-money rating of the Locanda. Dear friends, you know very well that we are always sternly, almost obsessively, mindful of the pecuniary implications of our adventures: but if this is not value for money, we don’t know what is. People passing certain judgments probably focus on money alone without looking at value.).

Analogous observations go for Latium in London: though its standards are both more consistent and superior to any starred Italian restaurant we have tried in the city, the lack of a star so far probably has allowed us to preserve the tumescence of our wallets while at the same time delighting our gustative souls. Anyway, for this year the star game is still on….


Dishes by Chef Alessandro Gilmozzi

On one of the very last days of our Summer Trentino stay, back we are in El Molin in Cavalese, where the recently Michelin starred Chef Alessandro Gilmozzi continues to straddle creativity and tradition.

Among the many great dishes, this one impressed from the start:

It’s Ravioli with cipolla (onion) fondente parmesan cream and liquorice. The liquorice is wild, picked by the chef and his assistants on the surrounding mountains – they obviously need to keep in shape, with all the delicacies tempting them in the kitchen! This wild liquorice is very mild and confers the dish an aura, an atmosphere more than a decisive flavour, like an instrument accompanying the lead. In this case two leads, really, with parmesan and onion delicately competing for your attention.

How many times have we been disappointed by dishes advertised with this herb or that perfume, only to discover that the elusive herb flavour and perfume have forever escaped? Certainly Chef Gilmozzi knows a thing or two about the treatment of herbs and perfumes. Look at this:

Here we have (in an interesting feat of equilibrium) a lamb shank lacquered with rhododendrum honey and lavender. The tender lamb is lovingly enveloped with the aromatic honey, and the lavender here really holds centre stage. The presentation is wonderful as ever, with the colourful dried vegetables enlivening the dish in many dimensions.

Gilmozzi likes to encase perfumes and liberate them at the moment of serving, when they are still in their full vigour, as in the pigeon we had in a previous visit, and as this time:

Venison with extravergin olive oil, pink moscato sauce and small vegetables in a thyme perfumed pot (at the back in the photo).

But, as far as herbs are concerned, this was where a pinnacle was reached:

This variation of crème brulees’ with ‘perfumes from Lagorai’ (a mountain chain in the region), beside being technically perfect as far as the basic dessert is concerned, offers an admirable escalation of strong, clear flavours: lavender, mint, lemon balm (melissa officinalis) and mountain pine (pinus mugo), the last one really hitting your senses with its resinous punch. What a brilliant endpoint to a great dinner.


Al Trivio

The day: 1st June 2008, Dinner.
The place: Campiello del Trivio, 11, Rovereto(TN), Italy (+39 0464 436414)
The venue: Al Trivio Restaurant
The food: Modern take on regional Italian
The drinks: short list, but strong on local wines and in general some interesting choices.

This is one of those Italian rarities, a restaurant/trattoria with a working webpage, where you can even find online menus together with prices. This alone would have made a visit imperative. But the dishes were enticing enough to make us eager for this trip to the centre of Rovereto, a nice town some 20km south of Trento.

A pleasant June evening, how could we not dine al fresco? So for you we have this picture of the exterior:

The menu, then. You could go for a five course tasting menu at €32 (mmh, but wasn’t this advertised as €30 on their webpage?), or for a small (three course) fish menu for €25, (aha, that was €24 on their webpage) or – at lunchtime only-, a one course lunch special at €14. Moving on to the a la carte section, starters are all €8.50, and include Sea Moscardini with polenta bites*. Primi go from the €7.50 of the classic Strangolapreti Trentino style with Trentingrana and butter, to the €8.50 of Lucanica (local sausage) bites and mixed wild mushrooms maccheroncini*. Mains are all at €14, apart from the cheese platter at €13, and include Pork fillet wrapped in ham cooked at low temperature and served with warm vegetables caponatina*. Desserts are all priced at €6.

Now the menu still looks enticing, though that string of asterisks is a bit of a let down: at the bottom of the page the ‘legend’ reads “if fresh produce is unavailable, it may be replaced by frozen ingredients”. Of course we know this happens in the best of kitchens, but having this in a place that prides itself (well yes, on their website) of fish dishes, and seeing so many asterisks in the fish dishes, is a bit of a slap in the face.

But fish they advertise, so fish it’ll be, we’ll have one fish set menu, and sample the rest from the a la carte.

A glass of bubbly to open the dances is complimentary, but to be fair that you are expected to pay €2.50 (wasn’t it advertised as €2 on the webpage?) as cover charge. The latter also includes bread, of course, and here it is:

Sesame rolls, poppy seed rolls, and focaccia, not bad at all.

For primi, we have:

– Chickpea and Val di Gresta potato dumplings with cherry tomatoes, shelled prawns, black olives and rocket* (from the set menu, but also available a la carte at €8.50)

– Egg maltagliati with sea mullet and steamed green beans* (€8.50)

The maltagliati came spreading their intense sea perfume all around: but the taste did not live up to the raised expectations, especially for Woman, Man being more indulgent, Woman being unable to stand the fact that the bits of mullet were small, few and far between. The steamed green beans were rather stringy, too. The maltagliati themselves were really well made and well cooked. Overall, though, a pass mark.

The gnocchi themselves were also very good (although, yet again, not properly ‘ribbed’), and the flavours in the dish were satisfying, although the rocket was a bit of an off note, and the prawns themselves had lost much of their soul to the rest of the dish.

For mains, we had:

– Sea bream fillets in bread crust on mussel sauce and champignon cake (from the set menu, at €14 if a la carte)

– Roasted rabbit roll with spinach and pine-nuts filling, served with polenta, potatoes and its sauce (€14)

With the bream we definitely rise: the fish itself is of high quality, its cooking well executed, and how appetizing those herbs, the oil and the nice aroma they spread. Perhaps the sauce a bit too salty and rich, and too ‘puddly’, but overall a satisfying dish, including the mushroom cake. And, as a bonus, well presented, and in size.

The rabbit was also good, well presented and cooked, well stuffed (indeed very well stuffed, so much so that there wasn’t much rabbit to talk about!). The thyme lent a fitting aroma, together with the pine nuts, delicately in the foreground, including in the accompanying polenta. Again, the reduction (well, more than a reduction it was a thickened sauce, somewhat old fashioned) on the salty side, but overall this dish left us again quite content.

We concluded with these:

– White peach bavarois with yogurth sauce (€6)

Warm carrot cake with vanilla sauce and fior di latte ice cream (€6)

The carrot cake had coarsely ground almonds, and nears the league of (but does not beat) other versions we had. So a good cake, itself moist enough, but well helped by the excellent vanilla sauce and by the icecream, lending a nice contrast in temperature as well as texture.

The peach bavarois was terrific, very intense peach flavour, with crunchy bits at the bottom for extra ‘munchiness’. The yogurt sauce had been lightly whipped. Really good. So much for Woman. Man, destroyed by a previous hiking fatigue, and above all by aromatic white wine, just mechanically nods in agreement, eyes semi-closed).

With a 0.75 litre bottle of water at very honest €2.50 and a bottle of 2005 Manna by Franz Haas at €26 (a powerful and intriguing cuvee) our total bill came to €87.

Service is prompt, competent and courteous without being obtrusive. As for food, that star filled menu first: not only, as we said already, this deflates you even before you start, but the fact that they appear even elsewhere than on the usual suspects – for the maccheroncini dish what is it? It must be the mushrooms, but why, if they serve them fresh and local and wonderful now a few chilometers further North) – this gives you the (hopefully wrong) impression that here eating something fresh can happen only by chance. And the hike in price: c’mon guys, the one on the webpage is dated April 2008, do you really want us to think that at your place prices go up €1 a month? That is some inflation…

Another department where ‘marketing’ produces the opposite effect to that intended (at least this is what we hope) is this overlong description of the dish: difficult to pin down where it goes wrong, probably just its length, but anyhow it is that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that sounds of pretentiousness and pomposity that ill fit the modern take on tradition that this menu so obviously tries hard to achieve. For instance, take the “bread crust” of the sea bream: if what you get is something very akin to a lightly breaded fish, why just not say that?

But, in spite of a few glitches here and there (a chipped glass, having to ask for a wine chiller on a warm night for our white), and in spite of our negative remarks on the menu, this was overall a pleasant evening, and in fact, passed the primi, it was even more than pleasant. There is a cook of good skills behind those stoves. Al Trivio, though well-priced, is a touch dearer than other establishments we have visited of roughly similar or better quality, and perhaps not worth a drive on purpose, but if you pass by Rovereto, it is well worth a stop (with only one go in Rovereto, however, we’d opt for La Cruna dell’ ago.)