Last weekend Michael and I went to Verona for four days to see two operas (La Traviata and Aida) in the arena there, to taste the delicious local cuisine, and to see the sights that I missed when I visited Verona last year. My sister and I were so exhausted from climbing up and down and up and down and up and down hills in Cinque Terra that we could only sleep, eat, and shop in Verona then.
We picked a special year to see opera in Verona because it was the 100th anniversary of Verona’s Summer Opera Festival and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. I love opera and had season tickets to the San Francisco and Washington, D.C., opera companies for many years. I had seen only two operas in the last several years, however, and I thoroughly enjoyed both of the operas in the Verona arena.
We stayed at a new hotel in Verona, The Gentlemen of Verona, which had been open for only two weeks. Although we suffered a flooded shower the first day, the hotel staff fixed it immediately, and the rest of our stay was wonderful. The staff was friendly and helpful, our room was beautiful and cool (so welcome after wandering around in the hot sun of Verona), and the breakfast buffet was excellent, especially some egg-custard tarts with raspberries. Yum!
We asked for a lunch and dinner recommendation for Friday and were tickled when the receptionist asked us whether we wanted to eat before or after the opera. Most operas last for three hours or so, which meant that we would be eating after midnight. In Verona, however, that’s quite common, and some restaurants claim to be open until 4 a.m.! As we made our way home early Saturday morning, we spotted several people stopping by restaurants for drinks or food. I couldn’t do it—too pooped!
On Saturday night we had one of our best meals ever at Il Desco, a Michelin two-star restaurant. Michael had the regular tasting menu, and I had the vegetarian tasting menu, and both were superb, as were the service and the wine. Michael ate tuna and prawns with vegetable marrow and capers; potato soup with oysters and sweet saffron onions; linguine with lobster, lime, and coriander; sea bass fillet with porcini mushrooms, physalis sauce, and thyme; and breast of duck with grappa sauce, grapes, and mashed eggplant. I ate crispy cannoli stuffed with burrata cheese with watermelon granita in a basil sauce (the granita with basil sauce was incredible!); potato soup with “oyster leaves” and saffron caramelized onion; linguine with red pepper juice, lime, and coriander (my least favorite course, probably because I’m not crazy about peppers); baked porcini mushrooms with physalis sauce and thyme; and a sublime pecorino cheese flan with sherry radishes (amazing!) and pistachio. We both finished with watermelon granita with white chocolate mousse and rum followed by petits fours. I’ve never had a more inventive, impressive, or delicious tasting menu, including the one at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York. I’d go back to Il Desco again just for the sherry radishes and watermelon granita with basil sauce (drool!). Chef Elia Rizzo and his son, Matteo, are incredibly accomplished chefs and warm and outgoing people. We so enjoyed every aspect of our three hours with them. Grazie!
One of the restaurants tied for my second favorite Veronese restaurant was Locanda 4 Cuochi (which means inn of the four cooks), which we had read about in the New York Times. We had walked our feet off at the Verona’s Museo di Castelvecchio Sunday morning, and we dragged ourselves to the restaurant for lunch, hoping that we could snag a table without a reservation. We were in luck and got a table inside, which was air conditioned and cool, thank goodness! Our lunch was excellent. Michael had a chicken pasta and wonderful steak tartare, and I had an appetizer of a grilled anchovy cream sandwich accompanied by slices of burrata followed by excellent meatballs with horseradish cream and cabbage. I love Italian meatballs, and these were the best I’ve had so far. We shared a millefoglie for dessert. Superb food, excellent service, and great fun!
The other restaurant tied for second was Teodorico Re, situated on top of a hill across the Adige River from the old town. To get there we climbed 229 steps! I told Michael that I thought we should walk up because we were eating so well in Verona, but if I had known that it would be 229 steps, I might have flagged down a cab! You can imagine how hot and sweaty I was when we finally got to the restaurant, but the view from our table and the delicious food made up for it. A slight breeze blew through the terrace, cooling us down quite nicely. Michael ate scallops, followed by excellent risotto with sea bass (risotto is one of Verona’s specialties because rice is grown near Verona). I had a fascinating appetizer loosely translated as crispy egg in asparagus puree. Two eggs had been barely soft boiled and then rolled in a crust and deep fried and served in an asparagus puree. Fascinating and delicious! I followed that with a glorious cannellini bean cream (sort of like very thick soup) with bacon marinated in brandy.
We had a lovely lunch Friday at Ristorante il Cenacolo (which means the Last Supper). An enormous mosaic of the Last Supper covers one wall, and the chargers also had a sketch of the Last Supper. This restaurant features roast meat, and I had a light and delicious asparagus flan followed by excellent roast kid with roasted potatoes— the best roasted potatoes I’ve had in Italy. Michael had grilled lamb chops. The grill sits on one side of the dining room, and we enjoyed watching the chef prepare our food.
On our last night we had salumi, cheese, and wine at Ristorante Enoteca CanGrande, where my family and I ate last year. We enjoyed good food, but we had to rush a bit to make it to our second opera on time. I felt sorry for the owners because two groups—one of which had six people—sat down for dinner and left when they discovered that the restaurant didn’t serve pizza. Both groups had stopped and read the menu, so how they didn’t know that the restaurant didn’t service pizza, I’ll never know. The worst part is that they didn’t pay for their water or bread—both parties just got up and left.
Our dinner Friday was in a pretty restaurant near the arena. It featured excellent service and beautifully painted walls. The maître d’ had an excellent tenor voice and serenaded us twice with arias, and the crowd was dressed up and excited to see that evening’s show, so the atmosphere was buzzy and fun. Unfortunately the food, except for the petit fours, was just okay.
Wonderful food, a wonderful weekend, wonderful Verona!