In 2021, both when I was traveling alone and when I was with my sister and niece, I had the opportunity to try several excellent new restaurants as well as some old favorites. Unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, my experiences when dining alone weren’t nearly as good as when I was with other people. I found that disappointing and not at all what I expected from Italian restaurants.
Cantine du Troquet Daguerre
It was raining our last night in Paris, so we opted for our hotel’s recommendation; a restaurant a couple of blocks away; la Cantine du Troquet Daguerre.
It was fabulous. We had 2 bottles of wine, steak tartare (actually more like carpaccio) cream of celery soup, lamb shanks with frites, sole with shrimp, pork fillets with mashed potatoes, tarte au chocolate and a dessert with whipped egg whites and caramel sauce. The owners were super nice too. Even though the small restaurant was full, they never rushed us and provided excellent service.
La Cantine du Troquet
La Cantine du Troquet
We arrived in Cannes early afternoon after our long train trip from Paris. We were starving so the first thing we did was find a restaurant along the promenade. Normally one of us takes a photo of the menu so we have a record of the restaurant and what we ate but apparently we were too hungry to bother. I know we had two bottles of rosé, a fabulous appetizer of shrimp in something similar to wonton wrappers with a spicy Asian sauce, a pizza and a salmon tartare, I think. Then we had two fabulous desserts; a crème brulee and an ice cream concoction with caramel sauce. OMG!! (At least my niece took a photo of the restaurant after we walked across the street, so I have a name.)
lunch in Cannes
lunch in Cannes
After a day on Ile Ste. Marguerite, we took the ferry back to Cannes and then strolled around the area near the harbor. We took some photos, then walked along the promenade looking for a lunch spot. We decided on 72 Croisette, initially sitting outside then moving inside when the wind picked up. We had a fun lunch of shrimp with avocados, a meat and cheese tray with a side of ‘frites’ and our usual rosè wine.
On our last evening in Cannes we first tried a restaurant near our hotel finding it had a Michelin star and required reservations. So then we saw a teeny tiny restaurant, Ericka, that looked intriguing. We had a pleasant dinner, chicken risotto for Rachelle and me, salmon for Sue, dessert and a nice bottle of red.
On our first full day in Cannes we did a spur of the moment train trip to Antibes. We first walked to the harbor and took some photos. Then we saw some signs pointing toward the ‘center’. So we wandered through lovely winding streets to Place National. It was after 2:00 pm by then and most of the restaurants around the square were closing. But I spotted a small restaurant (Bistro Milo) that seemed to be open. I went in and confirmed that they were serving and we got a table in the sun. We had a lovely lunch of Croque Monsieur and salmon club sandwiches plus our usual glasses of rosè.
Lunch at Cafe Milo
Lunch at Cafe Milo
In early October 2021, my sister, niece and I spent a day in the Cinque Terre, visiting Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore. We took the train from Vernazza back to Riomaggiore around 1:00 pm wanting to get there in time for lunch. We found a nice little restaurant and had excellent pastas (gnocchi for me, a mix of three including cacio e pepe for my niece and, I think, a pasta with ragu for my sister) plus wine and crostini.
Lunch in Riomaggiore
Lunch in Riomaggiore
Enoteca di Piazza/Taverna di Baietto
In 2021, after the major letdown of finding that our former favorite restaurant in Montalcino (il Grapppolo Blu) was no longer good, the Enoteca and Taverna became our home away from home. (As a side note, the enoteca and taverna are basically the same operation.)
Our first afternoon in Montalcino, having trained from Firenze to Siena, then driven from Siena to Montalcino, we were starving so braved the winds and walked from Albergo Giardino to Taverna di Baietto and had a couple of glasses of wine along with a caprese salad and crostini. After our day trip to Pienza, finding that Castello Banfi is no longer open to wine tastings, we drove back to Montalcino, cleaned up a bit, then walked down to Enoteca di Piazza and asked about a ‘degustazione’ which I mangled. The staff suggested having it at Taverna di Baietto and so we each had 3 tastings, a meat tray and another glass of wine.
Then after our wine tasting at Paradiso Cacuci (see More vineyards and enotecas post) we had an early dinner at the Taverna of pasta and wine. The food and wine were excellent each time we at there.
Taverna di Baietto/Enoteca di Piazza
Taverna di Baietto/Enoteca di Piazza
Trattoria di Cagnano
In mid October 2021 my sister and I spent a week in Montepulciano (see A Week in Montepulciano and Il Sasso Language School posts). We walked past this little trattoria multiple times during the week. And since I hadn’t seen many other restaurants as opposed to enotecas, I took a chance and as we walked by early Saturday afternoon, I stopped in and made a reservation for our last night in Montepulciano.
I later wrote that ‘we had a super nice dinner last night at Trattoria di Cagnano–grilled lamb chops, roasted potatoes, nice bottle of wine, decadent chocolate cake and 2 ½ hours of interesting people watching.’
In retrospect I’d call it an excellent dinner especially compared to our experience at il Grappolo Blu the week before. Service was great and our bottle of house wine only cost 8 euros compared to a half bottle at il Grappolo that cost 30 euros.
Next to Cantine du Troquet in Paris, this was my favorite restaurant of our 2021 trip. It can be a bit tricky to find and I was glad I had walked here during the day and taken pictures of the area. I made early reservations for my sister’s birthday and we arrived just before the restaurant opened, looking like drowned rats, having been caught in a deluge on the way.
For the first half hour or so we were the only ones there but Niko (the owner presumably) could not have been nicer or funnier, pretending to trip when he brought out the ice bucket for our bottle of rose and letting us share a first course of spaghetti con vongole and a second course of sea bass stuffed with pistachios and shrimp, surrounded by mussels and clams. Amazing. We topped it off with a decadent chocolate lava cake and another glass of wine. My sister said it was the best birthday dinner ever.
Mimi and Coco’s
This little restaurant (which describes itself as a vinoteca or wine bar but serves pizza and pasta) is on via del Governo Vecchio which more or less connects with Piazza Navona. It took us two tries on our first full day in Rome to find it but I wrote in my journal: We got one of the last tables inside. What a great find!! Warm, friendly and terrific food. This will be my home away from home. But we way over drank again, 3 glasses of wine for Sue, 2 for me plus complimentary limoncello. We topped it off with prosecchi in Piazza Navona, talking about how great it was to be there.
I know I had cacio e pepe, a traditional Roman pasta made simply with cheese, butter and salt and pepper. I think my sister may have had carbonara. Plus the server brought us some type of bread baked with parmesan cheese to go with our pasta.
But it was not my home away from home. Wednesday, after my sister left for Florence, I came here for dinner. Here’s what I wrote: Got a really crappy table at Mimi’s; ½ in ½ out of the front door, both chilly and made me feel conspicuous. And when I asked if I could take the bottle with me the waitress looked at me like I was a freak. ‘It’s your bottle madam.’ Definitely no complimentary prosecco that night. So I didn’t return.
My sister and I stopped here for a late lunch on Tuesday afternoon and loved it almost as much as Mimi e Coco’s. We shared a capricciosa pizza and some delicious fried zucchini flowers plus wine. Again we had a nice warm table inside on a rainy day and very nice service.
So when Mimi e Coco’s didn’t turn out to be a good place for a woman alone, I came here Thursday night. I wasn’t given the option to sit inside but they had their heaters set up and I sat next to one. While it was a better experience than Mimi e Coco’s, it was odd. While the waiter was moderately friendly, he kept calling me ‘lady.’ Plus I stupidly ordered the same thing my sister and I ate the day before, capricciosa pizza and zucchini flowers. I couldn’t eat half of it and the waiter kept telling me to finish. I chatted a bit with the two guys sitting next to me who were speaking in English but one of them was Italian and I think the other one was from Estonia. Interesting.
I came back my last evening after going to the Klimt exhibit. Initially I had a woman server and I ordered pasta and wine, not wanting to embarrass myself again. Later my server from the night before stopped to tell me I could do better, meaning eat more.
Locanda del Gusto
I was lucky to stumble on this little restaurant/cooking school my first day in Sorrento. It’s only a couple of blocks away from the B&B where I was staying which, contrary to the information online, was a long ways from the centro.
As I walked back from what I thought was the main piazza (NOT) looking for a restaurant, Locanda seemed to be open. There was actually a large cooking class inside but the staff agreed to seat me outside and I had a delicious pumpkin ravioli plus bought a bottle of wine which I took back to the B&B. The owner (whose sister runs the cooking class) and the other staff person were welcoming and pleasant.
I returned my last night during a deluge when I didn’t want to go far from the B&B. A family was just finishing a cooking class but the owner invited me into the restaurant, giving me a huge portion of gnocchi and a big pour of wine. I talked with the owner in my limited Italian for probably 15 minutes and she told me I spoke well. I also had a nice conversation with the family, a couple from New Jersey and their daughter who was attending school in Firenze. Of all the places I ate while traveling alone in Italy, Locanda was only one of three restaurants where I was treated with warmth and made to feel welcome.
If you’re in Sorrento, I highly recommend the restaurant plus I was impressed with the cooking classes I observed. Here’s the information on the classes: La Cucina del Gusto
The language school I was attending in November 2021, Istituto Michelangelo, offered a trip to San Miniato for the Festa del Tartufo Bianco which I’ve written about in my The Holidays in Italy post. After walking around the town with the other students, I set off by myself, looking for a place to have lunch A number of the restaurants offered pastas or other dishes with white truffles but they were far too expensive for me. So I found a little trattoria Vecchio Cinema, and had one of the best calzones ever and my usual glass of wine.
As I walked back to the meeting point, what had been a bright sunny day changed abruptly and the skies opened up. I took shelter at a gelato shop with some of the other students, then walked back to the bus stop just in time to see a beautiful rainbow over the valley.
In early October my sister, niece and I arrived in Firenze after a longer than usual train trip from La Spezia due to a medical emergency on the train after we left La Spezia. After checking into Hotel Silla, we were all starving.
So we walked down the lungarno to Signorvino’s which is just around the corner from the Ponte Vecchio. (I had first eaten at Signorvino’s in 2017 at a school dinner while attending IM, then my sister and I found a nice location in Bologna in 2018; see Forty Eight Hours in Bologna post.)
It was our first experience with having to show our EU Digital Certificates or vaccination cards and it was a bit of a cluster getting through the process. In fact, the waiter had to explain that what we thought were French Health Cards were the Digital Certificates. Plus we weren’t sure if my niece’s vaccination card would be accepted. Yes!!
But once we were cleared, we were seated at a nice table in the back of the main room. (The restaurant/enoteca has a huge terrace and a few brave souls were sitting out there. But we just wanted warmth.) We ordered a large tagliere (meat and cheese platter) with some of the best mortadella ever and a bottle of wine, then had a great time eating, drinking, people watching and talking about our experiences up to that point. We had great service and excellent food.
When I returned to Firenze from Naples, I was looking forward to eating at Signorvino’s after several days of less than great meals in my apartment. But later I wrote, “Be careful what you wish for. Ever since I got on the train I’ve been wishing I could get into SignorVino’s, even more so since I got here and found it’s cold and windy.
As to my wish, I got into SignorVinos but they seated me by the door and initially across from a couple with a weird dog that spilled water all over the floor. Then the ravioli I ordered were beyond weird and the wine super pricey. When I indicated I didn’t like my food, the hostess got really snotty with me and gave me a big 10% discount.”
We’ve eaten at Antica Mescita several times over the years, largely because it’s right around the corner from Hotel Silla on via San Niccolo, near Porta San Miniato and the street that goes up to Piazzale Michelangelo. On a chilly, windy evening close sounded good. The meals I’ve had here have ranged from excellent to average. And that Friday night tended towards average probably because we’d eaten so much at lunch, we weren’t terribly hungry. We each had a pasta; mine with an arrabbiata sauce or something similar, my sister’s con cinghiale (boar sauce) I think and my niece had a carbonara, plus our usual bottle of wine or two. The best part was a luscious cheese cake and people watching and laughing with the waiters.
Caffe Finisterrae became my go to spot for a cappuccino during ‘pausa’ when I first attended Istituto Michelangelo in 2017. (see Istituto Michelangelo, parte uno and Istituto Michelangelo, parte due posts) I introduced my sister to Finisterrae in 2017 and we’ve returned many times when visiting Firenze. So I suggested going there our first morning, promising my niece a great cappuccino and brioche. Their prices had gone up a bit 1,30 € for a cappuccino and 1.50 € for a brioche but they were still delicious. A far better choice than the pre-packaged (literally) breakfast at Hotel Silla.
Both in early October and when I returned in early November, dining was strictly al fresco. We first made the mistake of trying to sit in the area resrved for table service but then found a comfortable spot protected from the wind by plastic ‘curtains’ with enough sun to be warm. We entertained ourselves watching a nonno with his young granddaughters who looked to be about 4 and 6. They were fairly wild but he was extremely patient as I think is usually the case with Italian grandparents.
We had coffee and brioche again Sunday morning even though it was chillier and windier.
For some reason I missed the fact that Pino’s was a student hangout when I attended Istituto Michelangelo in 2017. But luckily I was clued in by other students in 2019.
They have ginormous panini of every possible combination of meats and cheeses on what looks like ciabatta bread for 5-6 €. My favorite is one with mortadella, salami, various cheeses and artichoke hearts.
So during our three day visit in early October 2021, I suggested going to Pino’s while we waited for my niece’s appointment for a COVID test. Since Pino’s is just across the street from the test site at Farmacia Selvia.
My niece loved it. I’m not sure which sandwich she got but I got my favorite. We should have shared though, because neither of us could finish. Later we took our leftovers back to the hotel where they froze in the fridge.
Pino’s has a few tables along the sidewalk and it was warm enough at that point that we could sit outside and do our favorite thing of laughing, talking and people watching.
The owner of Pino’s also owns an entoteca on via Ghibillina, Pozzo Divino. While attending Istituto Michelangelo in 2019, we had a fabulous wine tasting there. You can see photos in the posts referenced above. Before our trip I tried to find out if Pozzo Divino was open but couldn’t find any information.
After I returned to Firenze in early November for language school, I revisited Pino’s, initially buying their good panini to take to my apartment. But eventually it became my home away from home when I discovered that I could get a glass of white wine for 4 euros or red for 3.50 euros. As I wrote in my journal: ‘Pino’s vino time. Pretty sad when they hold up a wine glass when you walk in. A seriously miserable day; started raining pretty hard as I got to the lungarno so had to stop and put on my lovely poncho. Got to talking with a nice young guy who works at Pino’s and speaks perfect English. Go figure.’
I returned multiple times, occasionally talking with the young guy but usually writing in my journal while I sipped my wine. On my last afternoon, after getting the good news that my COVID test was negative, I went to Pino’s to celebrate. They were extremely busy and I didn’t get a chance to talk with anyone. As I went to leave, the young guy waved at me and I called out, ‘Arrividerci. Sto lasciando domani.’ Good bye, I’m leaving tomorrow. He said, but you’re coming back, right? Thinking he meant someday, I said, sure,’ but he’ll be long gone before I return.
During our visit to Firenze in early October, my sister, niece and I tried, without success, both Saturday and Sunday nights to get reservations at Quattro Leoni, an old favorite. So Saturday night I initially suggested Salsamenteria (see Places to Eat post) which was a bit of a hike on the other side of Piazza dei Ciompi. But it had become a take out place so back we went to the lungarno, first trying Signorvinos’s. Nope, it was packed.
So we started walking down Borgo San Jacopo, which is the first street going west after you cross the Ponte Vecchio into the Oltrarno. We stopped at several restaurants checking menus, finally deciding on Mama Gina’s.
And what a fun place it turned out to be! We got a nice table in the back and among the three of us we had chicken, a type of pasta with a creamy mushroom sauce, a pasta with ragu and deep fried zucchini. We had luscious profiteroles or the Italian equivalent for dessert. My niece decided it was a three bottle night and practically had to carry me back to the hotel.
And we had the funniest waiter ever. First he told us there were only two kinds of wine and he’d choose. Then when he realized we were totally agog over the table next to us, he kept walking by saying, OMG! OMG! And yes he spoke perfect English.
The table in question was one with about 15 young women and one (very happy) guy. All but one person at the table ordered Bistecca alla Fiorentina. If you’ve been in Firenze, you know this is a local specialty. It is very expensive and usually priced by the gram. To be a true Bistecca alla Fiorentina, it must come from the Chianina cattle, which are raised in southern Tuscany.
The better restaurants bring out huge slab of meat for you to see and choose how much you want. My sister and I first saw this when we were sitting next to a couple from Boston at il Ristorante Pandemonio, in the Oltrarno. When the chef brought out the slab, the husband asked for medium rare. Nope. Rare only.
If you set a bistecca in front of me, I probably couldn’t finish it if I sat there all day. These young women had their steaks whittled down to the bone and were actually gnawing on the bones, before we finished our dinner. Amazing!!
Trattoria de’ Pitti
Sunday night after striking out on reservations at Quattro Leoni, we decided we’d try Signorvino’s again. But in an abundance of caution, I put together a list of enotecas and casual restaurants between the Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. And was glad I did because Signovino’s was booked again.
So we walked up to the piazza and settled on Osteria di Pitti, largely because they had indoor seating. Afterwards I wrote: What a find!! Warm, cute, great waiters and fabulous food. We had pizza, pasta, and caprese salad plus 2 bottles of wine, a round of prosecco and dessert. We actually had two desserts, a tiramisu and a torta de mele.
Osteria di Pitti
Osteria di Pitti
So when I returned to Firenze, I was excited to try it again, after I moved from the hideous school apartment to my VRBO apartment. But as often seemed to be the case, I was treated completely differently when I came back alone, the evening after I changed apartments. Here’s what I wrote: Got to Osteria Pitti earlier than planned [even after strolling around to take pictures of the Christmas lights] and it’s definitely not the friendly service we had and house wine is 6 euros a glass. Yikes! Plus they set me by the door and it’s colder than outside I think. I had the same pasta we had on our earlier visit and it was very good but I did not linger over dinner.
On Thanksgiving, another student from Michelangelo and I met there for Festa del Ringraziamento. We ordered pizza and a half bottle of wine and once again it was like night and day. The waiter was fun and friendly, calling our demi bottle ‘adorable’ and taking our picture.
Bottega di Pasticceria
Lungarno Francesco Ferrucci 9C R, Firenze
One of my bigger regrets is that I didn’t try this little bottega sooner.
After moving from the hideous school apartment to the VRBO apartment near Piazza Ferrucci, I looked for restaurants and enotecas in the area. Bottega di Pasticceria came up on my search but because I assumed it was a pastry shop, I didn’t try it until my second week in the apartment, walking over on a Thursday afternoon. I wrote in my journal: At the bottega; miserable walk over but got a delicious panino for 4,50 and an OK glass of wine for 5. Will definitely come back although it’s fairly chilly. But the Bottega is definitely a keeper.
I realized after I sat down that La Bottega was a full service restaurant. The upstairs is open for lunch and dinner and the downstairs has a huge case of panini and pastries plus serves everything from wine to coffee.
I went back Saturday morning having a delicious cappuccino and a brioche. Then I returned Saturday afternoon when I had a turkey and tomato panino. I think that the first afternoon I probably had a panino with a mix of cold cuts. Both times the panini were delicious, especially the bread.
I tried the Bottega on my last Monday at the apartment but was extremely disappointed to find that it was closed.
Bottega di Pasticerria
Bottega di Pasticerria
I ate at Trattoria Nella on my last night in Firenze and chose it mostly for convenience since it is fairly close to Hotel Davanzati.
Prior to my reservation I walked up to San Lorenzo and took some nice pictures of the light show there plus more of the trees. I also took some good photos at Galileo which was also part of the light show plus took a few more of the Ponte Vecchio.
Firenze Light Festival
Firenze Light Festival
When I first sat down at Nella, I wrote: It’s seriously cold but the owners are nice and the prices are right. Then: OMG!! That was delicious; roast pork and potatoes and grilled vegies. Waiting to order dessert.
After getting back to my hotel I wrote: Can’t believe I’m still drinking after all that food and a ¼ liter of wine. But the owners were so sweet and I had twice as much food as last night for 3 euros more.
It was definitely a keeper, one of the few places I felt welcome even dining solo and I will go back my next trip to Firenze.