The simpler the better

Fancy ForkThe United States is brimming with swanky, chic Italian restaurants. Walls, napkins, and candle holders in trendy colors like burnt umber passion or titanium flambé. Artfully displayed and long-winded dishes like mahi-mahi penne with a Napolitano ponzu sauce reduction or mini pesto torts topped with a whipped brie and artichoke chutney. Creative restaurant names like “Linguini & Tinis”, “Scampi 38”, or “Ciao Bella Fashion Lounge”. There’s nothing at all wrong with these types of places. The food is creative and tasty and the atmosphere is funky. It’s just that you’ll have a hard time actually finding similarly lavish places in Italy … at least, that is, if you want the food to be any good.

There are some cool, “in”, expensive looking restaurants in Italy, especially in Milan. However, if you’re looking for properly priced delectable dishes I highly recommend going to a “hole-in-the-wall” place that looks like it was last refurbished in 1973, perhaps by somebody fond of tacky wood panelling and frightening tchotchke. These places are where the real Italian dining experience is to be had.

Italian restaurants – good Italian restaurants – offer no-frills service and atmosphere. I’m talking no music, simple decor that borders on ugly, and a straightforward menu lacking any unpronounceably trendy words. No squinting at the menu through mood lighting. No having to ask the waiter what a “zucchini ribbon nest with a Pugliese compote” means. No pushing open 8 different doors (Oops! Broom closet! Oops! Kitchen!) to find the one to the delightfully ambiguous bathroom. Just food. Honest, good, and lovingly prepared.

Red Checkered TableclothIf you’re picturing those oh-so-stereotypical red checkered tablecloths in your mind’s eye, then you’re getting the right idea.

One great example of a down-to-earth Italian restaurant in Milan is Trattoria Bolognese da Mauro. This restaurant, opened back in 1969, mostly serves dishes from the Bologna region, which are, in my humble opinion, the best of the best. If you are ever lucky enough to eat there I recommend, nay, insist, that you try the salsiccia gramigna. Strepitosa (amazing)! Honestly, I make a mean salsiccia gramigna, but da Mauro’s is 10 times better than my own. Not only is the food spectacular, but it’s boatloads less expensive than most restaurants in Milan and the people that work there are welcoming with a hint of bohemian kindness. I just dig the whole vibe of the place and think it really sums up the concept of what a real Italian restaurant is all about.

Good eatin' goes on here!

Good eatin’ goes on here!

Here are some pictures I took of my last trip to Trattoria Bolognese da Mauro. Hungry yet? Jealous? Wanna be me? 😛

So remember, when it comes to Italian dining in the home country: the simpler the better. Oh, and grated parmesan goes with just about anything!

Grated Parmesan Cheese


15 thoughts on “The simpler the better

  1. I so agree with you too! My husband and I stumbled on just such a place in Piazza Armerina three years ago and the food was so wonderful that we talk about it to this day. Again in Piazza Armerina, we found the best arancini to be had anywhere in Sicily, or so we were told and I believe it. Last summer we made a special trip back to PA just for the arancini. Sadly the old gentleman had retired but he had trained up his successor well, and the arancini were just as good!

  2. Totally agree. I try to find these kind of places to eat when I’m in Italy.
    The food looks in that place looks great. Next time I’m in Milan I’ll have a look for it.

  3. totally agree. Go to any city/town/village in Italy and just ask for a decent place where the locals eat. Anybody will direct you there, not fancy / expensive Michelin starred restaurants, just good food with good ingredients. Just came back from Venice, and we eat in some Osteria (wine-cellars cum tavern) recommended both by our hotel and on tripadvisor. There are no menus, you just ask what’s the piatto del giorno, or what do they recommend. And you will eat well. No fancy names for the food, no fancy names for the restaurant. Great post!

  4. Garrett, you are so on the money. Grazie!!!!! Do you know La Casalinga in Florence?? One for next time you’re in town. Pretentious moi restaurants with crazy names, on trend interiors, sky high prices – not to mention food they’d have to pay me to eat – are a source of amusement/irritation/bewilderment in Melbourne too. For me anyway. Knowing where to go for the real thing though is consolation enough. xx

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