Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Treviso, Italy’s Hidden Gem
Off the beaten track in the Veneto Region of Italy is the ‘something for everyone’ picturesque medieval town of Treviso. This ancient walled city is replete with meandering canals, waterwheels, bridges and winding streets filled with picturesque photo ops at every turn. Treviso’s abundant churches and museums are adorned with works from some of the greatest artists of the renaissance and for the unabashed shopper, the immediate surrounding areas have blossomed into a shoppers paradise with top-name Italian designer retail factory surplus outlets one after the other. For the wine lover the area is the ne plus ultra terroir for growing “Glera” the Prosecco grape and is the DOC and DOCG for Prosecco, the delicious sparkling wine that has replaced champagne in the hearts of millions around the world. For the lover of sweets, Le Beccherie in Treviso is the birthplace of the delectable dessert tiramisù (see: Le Beccherie) but mainly Treviso should be on your bucket-list because the area is a foodie’s dream with one wonderful dining experience after another.
Treviso is one of a number of small towns and villages in north-east Italy that is known as the industrial heart of Italy, producing machinery, food, wine, furniture, textiles, leather goods and assorted other products. It’s about half hour by train from Venice; along with the neighboring towns of Castelfranco and Asolo it should appeal to everyone that loves good wine, good food, fine shopping and a charming laid back quality of life. Family values are key to the warmth of the area where businesses and recipes are handed down from generation to generation.
I, along with a small group of journalists, visited Treviso on a fact-finding mission that was not focused only on gastronomy, when I found myself overwhelmed by the variety and flavors of the area’s cuisine with one wonderful feast after another. These were not Michelin stared restaurants or palaces of Gastronomy but local restaurants serving the freshest available seasonal foods, cooked in traditional ways and appealingly presented.
We began our food odyssey at all’Antico Portico, a modest local eatery at the corner of Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, where over lunch we were entertained by recently married couples having their wedding pictures taken in the picturesque square. Luckily I was traveling with other foodie’s and we quickly bonded, sharing dishes with each other so as not to miss tasting any of the delectable morsels placed before us. We ordered a selection of Antipasti, Primi Piatti and Secondi Piatti that represented the food culture of Treviso; zucchini flowers filled with mozzarella and hot creamed robiola cheese with truffles; prawns with polenta (corn meal porridge); fried ricotta with marinated red chicory (radicchio); a beautiful salad freshly plucked from their garden; and pumpkin gnocchi topped with melted butter and poppy seeds. Second plates were made in-house tagliolini with shaved truffles; Ravioli stuffed with basil, fresh tomatoes and cheese; baccalà (salt cod) with polenta. We each had our favorites but suffice it to say the quality and ingenuity of the dishes was a revelation and a forerunner of meals to come. https://www.anticoportico.it/en/
After a short rest we continued our exploration of Treviso with a visit to the Piazza Duomo and the Cathedral/Duomo of St. Peter with its altar painting of the 16th C. Annunciation by Titian. After visiting the Duomo we walked under the ancient loggias that still retain remnants of the painted frescos that once graced the columns and vaulted ceilings of the public walkways, to the Piazza de Signori at the center of Treviso
Dinner that night was at another local gem, Abitue San Parisio just off Piazza San Vito. Since we were still full from our copious lunch we ordered small plates instead of a full meal; forgetting of course that in Italy nothing having to do with food is ever small and our attempt at moderation turned out to be more than a meal in itself. My first plate was beef tartar made with prime Piemontese beef and was absolutely divine; sides of onion, chopped pickles, mustard and paprika accompanied the beef for mixing. Predictably I overate and consumed the generous portion only to be confronted with an unusual dish of prawns wrapped in pasta kataifi (similar to shredded wheat) served with glasses of spicy tomato juice and a grilled octopus salad that was like nothing I had eaten before. Huge chunks of tender fresh grilled octopus over ripe juicy tomatoes and greens fresh from the garden, a home-made dressing drizzled over all and I was in heaven… and there went my desire to eat modestly at dinner.
Osteria al Forno di Agnese in the village of Civita di Bagnoregio, is a no-nonsense Mom and Pop restaurant owned and operated by the Piol family. The kitchen was overseen by Chef Denis Possamai, whose tried-and-true recipes delight the eye and the palate. We began lunch with a lovely appetizer of poached pear on robiola cheese, and a chestnut and red cabbage pumpkin loaf with pumpkin cream, which was tasty, but a bit heavy for lunch. Risotto with mushroom and pumpkin came next and although Risotto is not my favorite dish, it was one of the best I ever had; creamy and flavorful. Osteria al Forno is known for their hearty food, so for the entrée pork with liver sauce shared the plate with guinea fowl drenched in truffle cream and chestnuts over polenta. www.alforno.it
The dinner that night at Locanda da Lino was an extravaganza. Da Lino is located in the Trevigiana hills in the town of Solighetto, and is part restaurant, part museum, part hotel, with 10 rooms that have hosted celebrities that now carry their names. Founded in 1961 by renowned chef Lino Toffolin who, with the help of his family, took an old farmhouse and turned it into a rambling eclectic fantasyland of artwork, antiques, elegant décor, indoor garden and outdoor vine covered pergola, lavish flower arrangements and to top it off… literally… a collection of copper pots hanging from the rafters that would make any archaeological museum green with envy. But that was just the eye candy.
We were fortunate to be there on Thursday night for their weekly seafood menu of a bounty fresh from the Adriatic. We sat down, had a glass of Toffoli Prosecco (produced by Lino’s son Marco whose winery we had visited earlier in the day) and dishes began to appear. The most delectable cubes of white fish marinated in olive oil, sardines topped by olives and tomatoes, grilled crawfish fanned out on a plate, fried filets of fish, mussels and clams in brodo, scallops baked in the shell, fried soft-shell crabs, home-made pasta with octopus, octopus salad, baby octopus in red wine sauce… the dishes were endless, creative and delicious.
I thought to end the meal with a simple gelato… think again, I have no idea what the dessert contained only that it could make angels envious. www.locandadalino.it
Our outing the next day included a stop in the must-see historic town of Asolo known as the “town with a hundred horizons” due to its hilltop location with its 360 degree views.
Asolo is one of the most beautiful and well preserved hamlets of medieval Italy with a long tradition of hospitality, and was beloved by artists, poets, writers, and Heads of State: notably, American writer Ernest Hemingway, British poet Robert Browning (1812-1889), Italian actress Eleonora Duse, Venetian-born queen of Cyprus Caterina Cornaro (1454-1510) who chose to spend her years of exile in Asolo.
We stopped at Albergo Al Sole a 5-star SLH hotel for lunch in their famous restaurant La Terrazza. The restaurant was closed but they accommodated our small group for lunch in a recently restored frescoed grotto attached to the building. The menu consisted of quail breast salad with lima beans and pomegranate fruit; porcini mushroom risotto with Casatella cheese; filet of beef topped by a sauce made from local red wine and served with radicchio and rosemary potatoes; and ended with an apple and pumpkin strudel served over homemade vanilla ice-cream. https://albergoalsoleasolo.com/en/
Sadly for me - but thankfully for my stomach - our foray into the cuisine of the Veneto was coming to an end. Our farewell dinner was at Odeon alla Colonna just at the edge of the Stile River in Treviso that meanders through the town creating one picturesque vista after another. Here I had the most unusual antipasti of black-pepper robiola (soft cheese) ice-cream with caramelized pears and decorated with pistachio nuts… unusual but absolutely divine. Next came homemade tagliatelle pasta with pumpkin sauce and chiodine mushrooms. Our final meal in Treviso ended with Scomposto, their version of tiramisù made and served in a glass. www.odeonlacolonna.it
For more information on Treveso and all of Italy’s hidden gems visit:
Italian National Tourist Board North America www.italiantourism.com
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