The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

“The Trip to Italy,” and Where to Go When You Get There

Posted on | September 15, 2014 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

Still from The Trip to Italy

Still from The Trip to Italy

If you’ve ever been to Italy, Steve Coogan’s documentary “The Trip to Italy” is more or less an hour and a half of nostalgia—and a complementary jog through the pantheon of famous actor accents, served with a side dish of undercooked male behavior. It’s particularly nostalgic if, like me, you’ve spent time in Camogli, a small town on the Italian Riviera that’s a cross between a sleepy fishing village and a happening vacation spot.

“The Trip To Italy” begins in Barolo, Piemonte, moves through Camogli, in Liguria, down to Rome, and ends up on the Amalfi Coast, in Campania. I recognized no fewer than three of the specific locations, but the time spent in Liguria was especially weird. Living in New York City, I don’t find it uncanny to see Gotham landmarks I recognize—ditto places I know and love in Chicago, or even Rome. But to see my apartment building in Camogli, to recognize the road that runs from Rapallo to Camogli, to see the exact view of the Camogli harbor that I lived and loved, this was all deeply weird, and it made me miss that town that’s nothing as much as the Italian answer to Martha’s Vineyard.

This, and the fact that my colleague David Bertot is soon going to visit Camogli and Montalcino, the other place I stayed for an extended visit, has made me think about some of my favorite places to visit. Being a decided sybarite, my favorite places are restaurants and wine estates, and as much as I’d gladly transport myself to Cupano, to Il Palazzone, to Mascarello, to Castello dei Rampolla, or any other of the many wine estates I got to see, “The Trip to Italy” and its dedication to Italian food has me thinking about my favorite restaurants. In no particular order:

Il Silene, located somewhere on Monte Amiata, near Montalcino in Toscana

Along with Sergio Esposito, IWM’s founder, and Eleanor Shannon, a wonderful writer, I ate a petting zoo at this large, elegant and still welcoming restaurant. There’s no way to convey how great an experience this restaurant is, but Eleanor manages to capture part of it on her blog.

Il Leccio, located in Sant’Angelo in Colle, near Montalcino in Toscana

If there were a Platonic ideal of a Tuscan restaurant, it is Il Leccio. Located on a high plain in this clean-swept slate piazza, this restaurant overlooks views that will make you wish you were a falcon. The steak is amazing. Seriously, it is carnivore heaven. I’ve eaten here three or four times, and each time I was overjoyed. Transported. Just go.

La Pineta, located on the Maremma near Bolgheri in Toscana

What Il Silene is to petting zoos, this restaurant is to aquariums. The service is unspeakably elegant, the food sublime. Quite simply, I could eat here again, suffer a massive cardiac event, and die feeling as if my life was complete. If you love succulent dishes from the sea, matching twin waiters who glide with practiced choreography, and intensely good, crazy fresh, meticulously prepared seafood, you must go here.

Antica Osteria Luchin, located in Chiavari near Camogli in Liguria

This is the rustic place with the great wooden tables and the big bowls of minestrone and fresh-baked farinata, the chickpea flour bread that put Chiavari on the map. You can’t go to Liguria and not visit this restaurant for lunch. It is like a giant hug from the inside, and you will mourn that farinata for the rest of your days.

Antica Macellaria Cecchini, located in Panzano in Toscana

The place made famous by Bill Buford’s Heat, this restaurant is as fun, as whimsical, as weird and as delicious as its owner, Dario Cecchini would have you believe. Come for the deluxe hamburger, stay for the olive oil cake. Seriously, the olive oil cake will make you cry. So will the lardo. It’s an experience that you oughtn’t to miss.

Other places whose names escape me should be on the list—the panificio in the heart of Camogli with those varied little cookies that make me still jump with joy. The humble trattoria on the border of Liguria and Piemonte with the cheese croquettes that felt like eating clouds. The little restaurant with the blue-and-white checked tablecloths in Camogli, where I first ate heads-on shrimp. The Piemonte restaurant on the outskirts of Barolo whose pasta melted in your mouth with a gleeful evanescence. The nameless pizza place down the street from my hotel in Rome; I will die with that gorgonzola artichoke pizza still on my lips. I want to get back, to taste again, and smell again, and experience again the beauty of Italy. In the meantime, I’ll make do with repeated viewings of “The Trip to Italy,” but with the sound off.

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