The great thing about living in a city like Milan is its proximity to so many beautiful and interesting places. And although Milan may not be considered as beautiful as other Italian towns and cities, it makes up for its looks with lots of glamour and its strategic positioning: whether you are into nature, history, architecture, art or just plain good food, when visiting Milan all you have to do is pick.
The Alps (some of the most beautiful mountains in the world), Italy's three most impressive lakes (Como, Maggiore, Garda), lovely cities (Brescia, Como, Bergamo, Turin, Mantova, Venice, Bologna) and stunning coasts (Portofino, Cinque Terre) are just a short drive away. Not to mention the proximity of Tuscany and Rome and several European countries (France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia) if you have a couple of days to spare.
When it comes to food, Milan has a lot to boast too: Michelin-starred restaurants, historical eateries, places you go to see and be seen; but I figure that if you are reading a food blog and you are planning a trip over, you probably have already researched and easily found all the information you need.
This is the main reason I don't blog about restaurants very often. This and the fact that I have two little ones, which have somewhat diminished my fancy dining experiences of late. So when I do write about a place they are usually places in the area that I discover with my family: good food, reasonable prices, child-friendly (which doesn't per se mean they are full of loud, screaming children - just that they are casual enough to bring children), the kind of place you will not find in a guide or that your hotel will most likely not recommend because they simply aren't on the radar. I tell you about the kind of off-the-beaten-track places I would like to know about when I travel.
Last week we took an American friend who was staying with us to Como. It had been raining for days when he arrived and because it is the middle of winter, it did not seem like the best time to take a boat ride to see the famous and impressive villas that surround the lake. Our plan was to take him to the city that has become the lake's namesake, Como, a town whose historical wealth (thanks to silk manufacturing and because it is a border town) is reflected in its opulent architecture, definitely worth seeing.
We however wanted our friend to be able to admire the beauty of the lake so we decided to take the funicular up to the town of Brunate, a place none of us had ever been. After a little research we found a place that perfectly suited our needs: a simple, rustic trattoria. A place that offered a view and, according to comments on Tripadvisor, not bad, overpriced food for tourists.
|View from Liberty-framed window|
Trattoria dei Bracconieri is just a two-minute walk from the funicular station. You can reach it by car too, but on a beautiful day I strongly suggest taking the ride up. The views are stunning, it only takes a few minutes and exudes old-fashioned (it started running in 1894) charm. It is still a favorite way for residents to reach Como. A round trip ticket is €5.20 for adults and about half that for children over five.
We didn't know if we should be a little apprehensive or tickled when we realized the front of the restaurant is actually a bar-tabacchi, that typically Italian meeting place that is present in every Italian village, where people enjoy a glass of house red or a caffé corretto (an espresso with a shot of grappa) while chatting away or playing a game of cards. Tabaccherie sell anything from sigarettes, to stamps, candy, lottery cards and individually wrapped ice cream. The TV was on broadcasting sports and a pizza oven and counter stood in the opposite corner.
|Not so sure about the pizza poster, vending machine and '80s umbrella stand|
We immediately felt more confident when we were shown into the next room, a small room with about six tables, and seated by windows with a magnificent view (that I had specifically requested when booking, but was told couldn't be guaranteed although they would try their best - I guess they are used to the "I have guests from abroad" line).
|View from our table|
When we were seated we noticed the charming terrace with the breathtaking view. When we asked about it we were told that those tables are booked weeks ahead in the summer but even on the sunny yet cold day we were there people had aperitivo and coffee out there, although they never lasted for more than about 20 minutes.
|Terrace. The mountains in the back are Switzerland.|
Service was attentive and the staff was very friendly, not always a given in Italy (and that never goes unnoticed), making an effort to speak English, conversing with the kids and extremely apologetic when one of our orders was wrong. They were happy to describe their dishes and told us where their products are sourced.
The restaurant serves local specialties and the majority of its products are seasonal. They apparently only serve pizza in the evening, so we couldn't taste it, but according to their website they let the dough rise for a long time, guaranteeing a very good finished product.
|Cured pork meat: from left to right pancetta coppata, salami, prosciutto and coppa|
We started with a platter of cured meats made by farmers in the area. They were all very good, but the slinzega (an air dried meat very similar to bresaola, it usually made with beef but can be made out of any kind of meat) was extraordinary: it was melt-in-your-mouth and incredibly tasty.
To follow, the children shared a portion of tagliatelle saracene, buckwheat tagliolini with porcini mushrooms and sausage. The pasta, named after the grano saraceno flour they are made with, was al dente and the sauce was plentiful and very tasty.
My husband ordered the polenta uncia a modo mio, served with sausage, cheese and porcini mushrooms and, although I did not taste, was greatly appreciated by everyone who did.
|Polenta uncia a modo mio, polenta my way. Sorry about the bad picture, it was the only shot I had|
Our friend went for the risotto with perch, one of the most typical dishes of the lake area, and I had perch in butter and sage sauce with grilled vegetables. When asked, we were told that the perch was frozen. I am not sure if there is a season for perch and truth be told, it was Sunday, so we ordered it anyway. The fish was very delicate and my friend (a real risotto lover) said the rice was delicious.
|Risotto al pesce persico|
|Pesce persico al burro e salvia|
The menu offered a lot of other interesting options. Mountain cheeses and homemade onion jam, fresh pasta made on the premises, like their polenta and mountain cheese filled ravioli, their pumpkin malfatti (a type of irregular gnocchi) and a blueberry tagliatelle with a truffle and porcini sauce that I am intrigued by and will go back to try as soon as I start eating carbs again. As you have noticed polenta often makes an appearance on the menu, as it is very typical of alpine regions, and is served with game (wild boar cooked in red wine anybody?) or hearty meat stews or molten cheeses or mushrooms.
Their wine list is quite extensive and they have a very well-stocked wine cellar. We had a nice Sassella from Valtellina, to drink something from that general area.
The dessert menu included some homemade options (a crostata with homemade jam, an apple strudel, short-crust cookies and a panna cotta with a berry coulis) and pre-packaged ice cream (the kids were very happy with their Magnums). Both guys had the crostata and I heard no complaints nor did I see a crumb left on the plate.
|Crostata with apricot jam|
We finished the meal with 2 coffees, a cappucino (I'll let you guess who ordered that) and three bottles of water.
The bill came to €165 (€33 each), which is not cheap considering that it was a very low-key place, that we ordered the cured meat antipasto for three, that we all only had 4 main courses (no first and second course, the Italian way and the kids shared a portion of pasta) and that I did not have a dessert. But not expensive either considering it is one of the most touristy areas in the region, the food was fresh and seasonal, we had a pretty good bottle of red wine and a killer view.
I did not check the bill in detail, however, because the lunch was kindly offered (I only saw the amount because I was helping out with the tip), so I'm not sure if they correctly calculated the half-portions and perhaps my vegetables did not count as a side dish, but all in all it was definitely worth it.
|Grilled vegetables... and there is that orange again!|
A few criticisms if I must, because this is a review after all: the food was nicely presented, but I would have gladly lost the wanna-be square-shaped plates and the ever-present twisted orange slice garnish ON.EVERY.SINGLE.PLATE. The rustic bowl the polenta was served in was much more charming and representative of the kind of food they serve. I did however appreciate the wine being served in nice glasses. Also, despite being very apologetic when they got the children's order wrong, they did not offer anything on the house to make up for the wait. Finally, at the way end of the meal, they asked us if we didn't mind moving out onto the terrace since there were people who had been waiting for over an hour for a table. We told them we were just about to leave anyway, not to worry, but it would have been gracious of them to offer us a digestif or something when asking us to move out into the not-so-balmy weather.
After our meal, we took a walk around Brunate. The church is very pretty and there are several Liberty-style villas you can see along the walk. We didn't go too far because
my son was letting us and the whole valley know he was not in the mood for a walk we wanted to show our friend the city of Como and take a walk along the lake, but the few we saw were less impressive than we expected.
I nonetheless definitely recommend this outing if you are staying on Lake Como, or visiting Milan. In the summer, especially, it will give you a welcome reprieve from the heat and humidity of the city and it is a different way to visit the lake.
Trattoria dei Bracconieri
Via Roma, 1, 22034 Brunate Como, Italy
|A detail of one of the villas|