Europe 2018 – Part 5 – Venice

Wednesday, 9/26

After an easy 3 ½ hour drive from Croatia, we arrived in Venice just before noon, returned the car, and took the people mover to Piazzale Roma. From there it was just a few blocks to the hotel, but with luggage it seemed like miles. Hotel Dolomiti is basic but clean and just around the corner from the station, which was important to us.

There is no elevator, so beware if you have difficulty with stairs. Our room was 3 flights up. There is no air conditioning but thankfully the weather was cool enough and there was a fan. About $150 a night, breakfast included. not bad for Venice.

Once settled in, we made our way through the throngs along the main drag of Cannaregio, to Vini da Gigio, where I had reserved for lunch. This turned out to be a fabulous choice.

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The atmosphere is charming, with windows facing onto a quiet canal, and service was friendly and efficient. I started with Sarde in Saor, marinated sardines with pickled onions, pine nuts and raisins. It was the best rendition of this dish that I have ever had, and an enormous portion. Stanley opted for a Caprese salad, a hunk of fresh mozzarella with cherry tomatoes, simple and delicious. Next I went with fegato alla Veneziana, the famous calf’s liver dish, which was textbook perfect. He had turbot with mushrooms and roasted potatoes. Lovely. With a very nice bottle of Rosso Costiera from the Veneto (21 euros, cheapest on the list), coffees and water, the bill was 117 euros.

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As we walked around afterward, we observed that Venice had become even more overrun with tourists than it was on our last visit 11 years ago, if that could be possible, and the number of shops and stands selling junky souvenirs had increase tenfold. And of course, no one was watching where they were walking, all eyes glued to phones, or taking selfies. I didn’t take many pictures, as everyone knows what Venice looks like, but here are a few:

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This one made us laugh:

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We stopped off at Grom for a gelato, and were surprised to notice as we walked around that they had a number of locations, as there was only one back in 2007. Despite the hordes, Venice is still a beautiful and unique place, but if you’ve been there before, one day there is quite enough, in our opinion anyway.

Back at the hotel, I attended to emails and blogging, before setting out for dinner at Antiche Carampane, directions to which I had written down in excruciating detail from Google maps. It was supposed to be a 14 minute walk, but after a few blocks the instructions became meaningless, and we proceeded to get completely lost, finally arriving at the restaurant an hour later, after asking at least a dozen people for directions, with only half of them having any idea where any street was (and these were all locals). Arriving 40 minutes late for our reservation, we were told they had given our table away (don’t they know how difficult it is to find?) but luckily they had outdoor tables available, and we were actually quite happy to sit there.

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The food was very good, but perhaps just a notch below Vini da Gigio. We began with a shared plate of tagliolini with spider crab, then I had grilled sole with zucchini, and Stanley had braised veal cheek with pureed potatoes. Both were very tasty. Wines here are very expensive by the bottle, so we opted for a ¾ liter carafe of tocai, which was quite acceptable for 16 euros. For dessert we shared a pavlova with yogurt and mixed berries. Light and refreshing. With water, the bill came to 106 euros.

After dinner, we decided not to risk trying to find our way back on foot, and with not much difficulty found the nearest vaporetto stop and were quickly transported to our destination.

Thursday, 9/27

After a simple breakfast at the hotel, we walked the 2 blocks to the station and caught the 8:20 train to Milano, where we would change to another train to Basel, and from there to another train to Paris.

 

Europe 2018 – Part 4 – Croatia and Slovenia

Sunday, 9/23

Following our afternoon in Trieste, we headed down to Croatia, where we stayed in Draga, a suburb of Rijeka.  Our plan was to tour the Istrian peninsula on Monday and to go to Lake Bled in Slovenia on Tuesday.  Arriving in the early evening after a long day of driving, we settled into our apartment at “Studio Apartments Fancy”, which was not exactly fancy, but very comfortable and charming in a quirky sort of way.  The owner, Keli, was very welcoming and helpful with advice on restaurants, directions, etc.  We had made a wrong turn on the way and he was nice enough to drive to where we were and lead us to his place.  The apartment, set on a hilltop, has a patio with tables and umbrellas and a view down to the sea. It is very spacious, with a kitchen and a large bathroom.

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We didn’t want to travel far for dinner, so Keli recommended Konoba Brig, just down the road.  It was a very simple place with a pleasant outdoor terrace.  The food was tasty enough but not out of the ordinary.  Prices were very low. We started with a charcuterie and cheese plate, generous but not of top quality, for main courses Stanley had pork chops with potatoes, and I had pork medallions with a cream sauce with sage and prosciutto, which came with grilled mushrooms and vegetables. That was very tasty.  We also had a liter of the house red wine.  The bill came to about $40.

A note about currency in Croatia:

The Kuna is worth about 16 cents.  To make prices easier to understand, I am stating them in dollars here.

Monday, 9/24

This was our day to tour the Istrian peninsula. There is much to see here, so we could not possibly cover everything in one day, so we concentrated on Rovinj, with plans to stop in Groznjan and Buzet on the way back to Draga.

Rovinj is a picture-perfect seaside town, with a medieval core.  After driving around trying to find the reasonably priced and well-regarded restaurant I had picked out, but could not locate due to one-way roads, we parked in the main lot and strolled into the old town.

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The first restaurant we encountered was Puntulina, which I had been aware of but eliminated due to its being quite expensive.

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Seafood is costly in Croatia, apparently because no one is fishing here despite being on the sea, unlike Italy where fishing is still an important industry. In restaurants, meat dishes are typically half that of fish.  Wine, even though it is produced here and is cheap in stores, has a ridiculously high markup in restaurants, with no explanation other than they do it because they can.

We took a look at the menu and indeed, main courses were around $30, appetizers around $16, so we decided to walk on, but seeing that it was already filling up and not knowing if we would find anything good for less, we turned around and got a table while there was still one available. It was absolutely beautiful sitting on the multilevel terrace with a stunning view of sea and mountains.

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The food was just as stunning. We shared a starter of local squid “Rovinj style”, tender and delicious, then an order of ravioli with black truffles. My main course was grilled sea bass filets with a green herb sauce, on top of soft polenta mixed with cherry tomatoes, while Stanley had a different fish filet with nuts.  We also shared some excellent grilled vegetables.  For the wine, we picked a local rose, about $35.  With water and coffee, the total was about $150.

After lunch we strolled around the harbor and old town, then drove North toward Groznjan, but unfortunately it was not on our map and there were no signs for it, despite the fact that I knew approximately where it was and we must have passed within a few kilometers of it as we continued on to Buzet.

We were surprised to find that Buzet, a well-preserved medieval hill town with a recently restored church, had no people in evidence and no stores, restaurants or other businesses. Curious.

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Back in Draga, we got ready for dinner, for which we went to Bevanda, a famous restaurant in Opatija, another seaside town in Istria.

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This was our big splurge meal, as our Croatian friend had told us we should absolutely not miss it despite the cost. Stanley was tempted by the roast lamb, which was half the price of fish, but I insisted we have fish as that is what the restaurant specializes in.

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We started with pasta, for him the seafood agnolotti with black truffle, for me the squid ink gnocchi with shellfish in a tomato saffron cream sauce. Both were superb. We then had a whole grilled fish, arbun, for which there is no equivalent English name.  It was excellent (certainly should be for $115 for 2 people!).  We had a side of Swiss chard with potatoes, a local specialty. Dessert was forgettable, a millefoglie of biscuits layered with whipped cream and (supposedly wild) berries. We had a really good, full-bodied Malvasia ($35), so with water the total was around $220. We would probably spend around that for a similar meal in New York, but as we find restaurants in Europe generally cheaper, it seemed a bit excessive.  Service was less attentive than it should have been in a top level restaurant.  It was not busy at all, yet our server kept disappearing or attending to other things and not noticing that our wine glasses were empty (she had placed the ice bucket away from the table) or that it was 20 minutes after we ordered dessert before we finally caught her attention or we might have sat there all night waiting for it. Regardless, I would recommend this place for a special dinner.

Tuesday, 9/25

We did a day trip to Lake Bled in Slovenia, which was about a 2 ½ hour drive from Draga.  The lake is beautiful and the drive up is scenic. Slovenia is very green and mountainous.

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We had planned on lunch at Restaurant 1906, a fine dining but not expensive place on a hill overlooking the lake. I had emailed in the morning requesting a reservation, not even sure we would need one in the off-season on a weekday, but it turned out they were fully booked.  We could see from the long tables that they were expecting a tour group. The hostess recommended a couple of other places, one of which (probably the better one) has no parking so would require a 15 minute walk from the nearest parking place, so went to the other one, Ostarija Peglez’n, a cute but simple place facing the lake.

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The waiter was genial and the food was decent enough, if nothing to write home about. We both began with fish soup, which was pretty good.  Stanley had pork Wiener schnitzel with French fries (not home made) and I had trout (not local as I might have hoped) with the typical chard and potato mixture.  A liter of house red wine (bottles were expensive). With 2 coffees, we spent about 65 euros, which is what we typically spent in Italy for much higher quality. Why is Slovenia so expensive?

For dinner on our final night in Draga, we drove the short distance into Rijeka, arriving early enough to stroll around and check out several restaurants I had in mind. Rijeka, as I had been warned by our Croatian friend, is a rather grim port city.  They’ve created a pedestrian zone on the Korzo, the main street, but even the café tables and umbrellas set up along the center of it don’t add much charm. The combination of poorly maintained 19th century buildings, and hideous modern ones from the Communist era, along with very downscale stores, does not make this a very inviting place.  The first restaurant we looked at, Konoba Feral, was recommended by Keli, and may have been very good, but their credit card system was not working and we didn’t want to bother with cash.  We continued to Volta, which had gotten great user reviews as recently as a month ago, but it was closed (by its appearance permanently but I can’t be sure).  The last one was Konoba Nebuloza, again a recommendation from our Croatian friend and of her friends who live in Rijeka.  It was a gem.

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We were tempted by a number of dishes, and the choice became more difficult as we saw wonderful looking plates of food going to the tables around us. The tuna steak looked great, but I decided to stick with my original choice of duck breast, and Stanley chose duck confit, but first, we shared cuttlefish on grilled polenta, and then Istrian pasta, homemade pasta tubes with sausage and bacon in a tomato sauce.  A liter of house red was good, and reasonably priced, as everything here was. The confit was succulent and served on a bed of potato puree with a polenta cake and small sides of beets, leeks and preserved lemon.  My duck breast, cooked to a perfect medium rare, was on a balsamic vinegar reduction, and accompanied by mashed sweet potatoes and an arugula and mango salad.  For dessert, a chocolate ganache made for a perfect ending.  The creative cooking, attentive service and nice atmosphere make this place special.  The bill came to just under $90.

All in all, we had a very nice time in Croatia, and would consider returning and seeing more of the country.  The next morning we were off to Venice.  See my next post for that part of the trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europe 2018 – Part 3 – Ravenna to Trieste

Saturday, 9/22

After our tour of the Northern Marche, we landed in Ravenna in the early evening, in preparation for a long drive on Sunday to Croatia via Trieste.

On the way into Ravenna, we stopped at the church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, to see the wonderful mosaics we had missed some years back when we visited Ravenna for the first time, as the church was closed that day.

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We stayed at the B&B Hotel, a chain we love from having stayed in several in France.  No frills, ridiculously cheap, comfortable, air-conditioned and conveniently located.  Unfortunately, without GPS we had some difficulty locating it, but we finally stopped at another hotel along the edge of town, and the desk clerk was so helpful and gracious, providing me with a map and directions, and we subsequently had no problem finding the hotel.

Shortly after arriving, we headed to dinner at Trattoria La Rustica, for which I credit Tripadvisor.  This was superb, and luckily I had reserved well in advance, as it was very busy and people were being turned away.

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We started with smoked goose breast (can never resist this) with fennel and grapefruit, then strozzapreti with gorgonzola sauce and chestnuts.  For the main course, Stanley had roasted rabbit with potatoes, and I had faraona (breast of Guinea hen). We had a side of grilled vegetables. For the wine, we chose a Sangiovese di Romagna 2015 (14.50 euros).  With water, the total was 65.50.  Unbelievable!

Sunday, 9/23

Setting out early on Sunday, we arrived in Trieste in time for a superb lunch at Citta de Cherso, listed in Michelin. It’s a hidden gem.  While we saw loads of people eating at open air cafes around the center, this place, on a nondescript street a couple of blocks off the main piazza, had only  a few tables occupied.

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I should note that it is a bit pricey, but not unreasonable for the quality. We had a mixed seafood plate, gnocchetti, seafood mixed grill, fish filet, green beans with tomato, and gateau St. Honore. With a bottle of Pinot Grigio, water and coffee, total was 106 euros.  A little over our budget (Trieste is not cheap), but worth every penny.

After lunch, a quick stroll before leaving for Croatia.

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See next post for Croatia and Slovenia.

 

 

 

 

Europe 2018 – Part 2 – Marche

Thursday, 9/20

As with Abruzzo (see earlier post), Marche is a part of Italy that is unknown to most American travelers.  It is a beautiful region, with coastal resorts on the Adriatic and scenic landscapes inland, with ancient towns that make for great day trips.

We based ourselves in Senigallia, a beach town that also has a charming historic center.  The Hotel Cristallo is close to perfect, across the street from the beach, a short stroll from the historic center, with free street parking (after 9/15).  We were also in luck, as we had reserved a double room, but being off-season, they upgraded us to a massive one-bedroom apartment with a kitchenette, zoned air-conditioning, and 2 balconies with sea views.  All this for 113 euros for 2 nights.  The staff could not be nicer, advising us on restaurants and making reservations (and you do need to reserve at the good places).

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Dinner was at Vino e Cibo, a small, simple trattoria with a small menu of the day.

 

 

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Stanley had the pane e sgombro, bread topped with a mixture of mackerel and tomato (a huge portion), while I started with the tuna tartare. Next I had small sardines coated with bread crumbs and he had triglie (similar to red mullet or rouget) with a spinach puree and grilled endive. We shared a mixed salad. With a bottle of Pecorino, which we have never had before (very good) the bill was 72 euros.

 

 

Friday, 9/21

Today we backtracked somewhat to visit the Southern Marche.  Exiting the Autostrada North of Ancona, we took country roads to Folittrano, which was charming but there was no place to park so we just did a drive-through, continuing on to Macerata, where we stopped and strolled for a little while.

 

 

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Our final destination was Ascoli Piceno, which turned out to be a gem.

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For lunch I had decided on Nonna Nina, but we arrived to find it closed for vacation, and oddly, not indicating when it was to reopen.  There were 2 other restaurants listed in Michelin, one of which specialized in seafood, which we wanted to avoid as that is what we were having for dinner in Senigallia.  The other, Caffe Meletti, features mainly meat, and the menu, though short, showed what looked like creative dishes.  It turned out to be excellent.  We did not regret missing Nonna Nina.

We started with buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto and tomato, then had pappardelle stuffed with rabbit and ricotta, saffron potato cream and truffles, and for the main course grilled veal topped with truffles, and glazed roast pork on potato puree, both served with a side of broccoli.  You might wonder, as we did, how pappardelle could be stuffed.  Well, this is not what we normally think of as pappardelle, more like elongated ravioli.  It was delicious.  With a wonderful bottle of Rosso Piceno (which  I only now realized they forgot to charge us for, but I think was 15 euros), water, and 2 coffees, total was 62.50 euros.

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Back in Senigallia, we strolled around the old town

 

 

and had a lovely dinner at Pagaia, where we sat outside facing the river.

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Our first 2 courses, seafood salad and spaghetti with seafood, were superb.  The main course was less successful.  We had fried calamari and shrimp, and breaded shrimp and calamari spiedini.  Not bad, but with no sauce of any kind they quickly became boring.  Portions are so huge it would have made sense to share one dish.  What we really should have done, as evidenced by what we saw being prepared for other tables, was to order a whole fish, filleted before serving.  We were envious.  One really special touch here is that at the end of the meal they bring a small bottle of limoncello and another of amaro, and you can drink all you want, no charge.   The bill came to 78 euros, so no complaints.  I would definitely recommend Pagaia.

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Saturday, 9/22

We headed off in the morning on a tour of the Northern Marche, first stopping in Fano, a bustling town with a Saturday market that filled every Piazza.

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Next we continued to Pesaro, where we did a drive-through as the historic center did not look fascinating.  Our next destination, Urbino. was the most interesting of the day.

Here are some street scenes and interior shots of the Ducal Palace:

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We had lunch at Trattoria del Leone, which I had picked out from Tripadvisor reviews.

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It was excellent.  We started with tagliatelle with game sauce and juniper berries, then stewed wild boar and roasted rabbit stuffed with olives and bacon.  With a bottle of Rosso Conero, water and coffee, the bill was about 65 euros.

Continuing Northward, we made a quick stop in San Marino.  The idea of a totally separate country right in the middle of Italy seemed interesting.  Don’t bother.  It’s a modern town made to look like medieval but doesn’t do it convincingly. Total tourist trap full of shopping, souvenirs and crappy cafes.  And busloads of obnoxious tourists.  A complete waste of time. It does have a nice view, though:

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From here we moved on to Ravenna, to be reported on in the next post.

 

 

Europe 2018 – Part 1 – Abruzzo

Wednesday 9/19

After an overnight flight and a change of planes in Stockholm, we arrived in Rome yesterday afternoon.  Our original flight had been cancelled, so we ended up leaving a day earlier and Norwegian compensated by putting us up in a hotel near the airport, providing transportation and dinner and breakfast. The hotel was fine and the restaurant across the road quite decent.  It all worked out very well as we had time to have a good night’s sleep and get back to the airport in the morning to pick up our rental car.

From there it was less than a 2 hour drive through the rugged mountains of central Italy  to our first stop, Sulmona.  Arriving just past noon, we spent about half an hour trying to find the B & B Amores, as we have no GPS and few streets are marked.  Once we finally got there, we settled into a nice large room (with enormous and well-equipped bathroom) and parked in the adjacent piazza.  The location, once you find it, is perfect.  It could not be more central.

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After we got settled in the room, we walked around the corner to Ristorante da Gino. Lunch (the only meal they serve) was superb. We started with prosciutto of smoked goose with grilled bread. Both of us had the grilled lamb and shared a generous order of grilled vegetables. A bottle of Cerasuolo rose for 9.50, Cataldi Madonna 2017, was excellent. Tiramisu for dessert and 2 coffees. Total was 67.50. Service was perfect, atmosphere charming. Obviously popular with locals. This is a gem.

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After lunch, we strolled around town and checked out 2 restaurant possibilities for dinner.

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Piazza Plebiscito in front of da Gino

Piazza Garibaldi seen through the medieval aqueduct:

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Clemente is recommended in Michelin, but Tripadvisor reviews are mixed, and looking at the menu did not entice us.

Heading back down Corso Ovidio, we stopped into the church of Santissima Annunziata:

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Continuing along the Corso, we came to Don Ciccio, where a look at the menu confirmed that this is the more interesting dinner choice.

Back to the room to begin this post, then off to dinner.

So, we ended up at Clemente after all. Don Ciccio was full when we got there at 8:15. Who would have thought you would need a reservation on a Tuesday in late September in a town that looked dead? My guess is we probably would have had a better meal at Don Ciccio, but Clemente was nonetheless quite pleasant.

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The spaghetti alla chitarra with lamb ragu was delicious. My mixed grill was a huge portion and pretty good but not really special. Stanley’s braised beef cheeks, which he liked, I thought were tough. Both came with potatoes, but no vegetables were offered. For dessert we had almond semifreddo with chocolate sauce, and tiramisu. Both were very good, the tiramisu even better than the one we had at lunch today. We again chose a rose for the wine, again a Cerasuolo, Vermiglio 2017 for 12 euros. Total with 2 amaros was 74 euros.

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Thursday, 9/20

The breakfast provided by Amores consisted of coffee and a pastry at the coffee bar up the street. Perfectly fine with us.  We got an early start and drove to L’Aquila, which we had not realized suffered major damage from an earthquake in 2009.  Restoration is going on at a feverish pace, but there is still much damage to be repaired.  Eventually it will no doubt be an impressive city again, but for now it was disappointing.  From there, we drove out through gorgeous countryside, on very rough but scenic mountain roads, to Civitella Casanova, where we had lunch at La Bandiera, a Michelin starred restaurant in a beautiful setting, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  It is a destination that should not be missed by anyone visiting Abruzzo or Southern Marche.

Of course, the food here was wonderful, with very creative takes on regional dishes.  First we were given a generous selection of canapes.  We then started with porchetta, and though we intended to share one plate, they very graciously brought out 2 plates without extra charge.  This was a spectacular dish, which no description I could give would do justice.  Next we shared a pasta, duck tortelloni with an orange and truffle sauce.  For the main course, sweetbreads 2 ways, and chicken 2 ways, brought to the table as 2 separate courses.  There was a dessert amuse-bouche, then bollamisu (a creative take on tiramisu) and a chocolate waffle topped with chocolate mousse and saffron gelato.  With coffees, water and a nice bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (18 euros), the total came to 120 euros, truly amazing for this level of food, atmosphere and service.

Continuing Northward on the A14, we arrived in Senigallia in the early evening.  Stay tuned for my post on our tour of Marche.

 

 

 

 

Bottino

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We have now been to Bottino twice, and enjoyed it very much both times. The first time was a hot night so we sat inside, but the second was pleasantly cool so we were able to sit in the beautiful garden.

This is another restaurant I was alerted to by Blackboard Eats, and though it was quite a bargain with 30% off, we will definitely return without the discount.

Dishes we’ve tried included an excellent fritto misto, caprese salad, a scrumptious seared tuna with olive tapenade, grilled baby chicken with peppers, and pork chop milanese. Both the chicken and pork were juicy and succulent.  We had some nice beers with these.  The only slight disappointment was dessert.  We tried a tiramisu which was rather ordinary, so on our second visit we skipped dessert.  We were quite well filled from the generous portions anyway.

Service was pleasant and professional.  This is obviously a well-run place.

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http://www.bottinonyc.com/index.php

THE MAKER HOTEL – HUDSON, NY – BAR NOW OPEN

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The hotel, at 3rd and Warren, is still a work in progress, scheduled to open in 2019, but the elegant bar/lounge and outdoor terrace are open and serving cocktails, wine and interesting light food.  This venture is from the owners of the Bartlett House in Ghent, a bakery and restaurant that has been very successful.  We stopped in with some friends this past weekend for a drink.  Interesting cocktails, a piano, sofas and chairs, a fireplace.  This is definitely much more upscale than what Hudson has been used to.

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https://www.themaker.com/