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.


2 Camini

The day: 30th January, Dinner.
The place: Via Pontara 352, Baselga di Pine’ (TN), Italy (tel+39 0461 557200)
The venue: Ristorante 2 Camini

Closest airports: Brescia (Ryanair), Verona (British Airways)
The food: Traditional trattoria
The drinks: short but very careful selection of especially local wines

We briefly reported about this place last year, and now here we go with a fuller account of what you can have in this very warm and cosy traditional trattoria. It is an ‘Osteria tipica Trentina’: establishments adhering to this must offer a reasonably priced traditional set menu, source 60% of their materials locally, offer a good selection of local cheeses. Indeed, here you will find malga cheeses (a ‘malga’ is a small complex up the mountains including the farmer’s hut and stables were cattle are kept during the warm season: they go up around mid June for the ‘montegada’, and come down around mid September for the ‘desmalgada’), all kind of pork but also donkey meat salamis produced locally, local fresh water fish, and so on.

The restaurant has two main dining rooms, the one where we dined on the ground floor, adorned by a very welcoming fireplace; and another one upstairs, with beautiful views on the highlands surrounding the restaurant (we are at a 1000 meter altitude – bring a sweater). Tables are large, well spaced, with proper rich fabric tablecloth (nothing of the make-believe-authentic-trattoria you might have stumbled upon in London).

Besides the regularly changing traditional three course set menu at €21 (yes, that is £14!), the menu offers a varied selection of starters, from the €7 of the Piemontese style peppers stuffed with tuna, capers and anchovies; to the €8 of the Alpine Ibex (Stambecco) pate’ with tender salad. Primi are priced like starters, and include some rather glorious cheese canederlotti (i.e. type of bread dumplings) at €8 as well as traditional Rufioi (ravioli in the tradition of the tiny Valle dei Mocheni, that is filled with cabbage and cinnamon) at €7. Mains go from the €11 of the pork cutlets in mustard crust to the €14 of venison fillet with Juniper berries. There is a €2 cover charge per person, but all mains come with veggies.

While we peruse our menu, we are treated to an amuse bouche of Roe deer pate’. This was a one off special, as quite fortunately three wild specimens of the handsome creature had arrived in the morning, their flesh and entrails already beautifully combined in this terrine just in time for us to taste them: very good!

So we felt compelled to have more of the animals, and went for:

– Pappardelle with capriolo ragu’ (€7)

– Polenta dumplings with mushrooms, lucanica and Trentingrana (€8)

The pappardelle were dazzling: the ragu was succulent, juicy and extremely flavoursome, well concentrated and aromatic. The polenta dumplings were equally yummy: the (previously cooked) polenta is combined together with cheese and eggs, resulting in soft dumplings that soak up very aptly the butter sauce infused with the fat from the lucanica (traditional local type of fresh salami) and the fragrance of the porcini mushrooms, not to mention the strips of Trentigrana (local version of parmigiano, though we could probably be sued by both the Consorzio for Parmigiano Reggiano and the Consorzio for Trentingrana for this blatant inaccuracy, but you get the idea) melting on top… sure, you won’t be doing any favours to your waistline, but your tastebuds will be very grateful!

Next, we went for:

– lamb fillet with aromatic herbs (€14)

– stuffed rabbit (€11)

The stuffed rabbit is a longtime favourite of ours: the lovely bunny is boned and generously stuffed with meat and vegetables, served with braised fennel and courgettes. This is a rich dish, deeply heartening and satisfying, with the richness of the stuffing well tempered by the more delicate meat of the rabbit and the carrots and peas interspersed with the stuffing.

The lamb fillet was a more delicate yet very tasty dish, very refined, the high quality meat tender and sweet, with the herb underlining the gracefulness of the meat.

Both came with braised courgettes and fennel. There, no fancy jus, no pretentious arrangement, just deliciously and lovingly prepared veggies served the way you would at home.

Finally, puddings! Our choice fell over:

Vanilla parfait with marron glace (€4)

Bunet (€4)

In fact, feeling rather stuffed, we had asked for half portions. Well, those were pretty close to the full one, but here is trattoria hospitality for you!

The parfait was in fact closer to an ice-cream, and do not worry if the presentation is not at three star standard: we can testify to the beauty of its flavour! But the real king was the bunet. As we told you before, Franca and her mother Lucia are originally from Piedmont, where Bunet is a traditional pudding. It is a kind of flan, with the difference that the proportion of eggs to milk is different from your standard crème caramel, and the mix also includes chocolate and amaretti biscuits. Each single mouthful brings bliss a little closer, a fitting way to end our dinner.

With a bottomless carafe of pure tap water at €0 and a bottle of 2004 Teroldego Rotaliano Bagolati by Marco Donati at €16, our total bill came at €62.

This was comfort food at the highest degree. Honest, flavoursome home food away from home, in a warm, inviting environment that invites you to snug comfily on the sofa next to the fireplace to catch up with the news.

Carefully selected ingredients combined deftly to produce traditional dishes that make of 2 Camini the prototypical good trattoria, of which so few remain these days. On top of that, Signora Franca is a lady who knows a thing or two about wine (she is a trained Sommelier), so that your eating experience can be enhanced by the right liquid accompaniment to your meal, again something very rarely found in a ‘simple’ trattoria.

The restaurant is not all, there are also nicely appointed rooms where you can recover from the fatigues of your dinner: just one more reason to think of Trentino, and the Altopiano di Pine’, for your next holidays!