Destinations Magazine

How Do You Choose an Excellent Restaurant in a Place You've Never Been Before?

By Thehedonista @the_hedonista
How do you choose an excellent restaurant in a place you've never been before?I'm lucky. I nearly always dine well when I'm travelling. Which is good, because I'm absolutely obsessed with food and wine. It will probably one day be the death of me. On second thoughts, maybe I'm not lucky - not because I will probably be inflicted with gout and diabetes in a few years time, but because I don't rely on luck to help me find the right place to eat when I'm in the great unknown. I use years of practice, and research.
For example, as soon as I saw Il Falconiere, I knew it was going to be a dazzling lunch. Firstly, it has a Michelin star. Secondly, Frommers say it's great. And thirdly, it just has the vibe - the windows are clean, the waiters arrive to greet you quickly, the restaurant is laid out with comfort and efficiency in mind, it smells like the staff have been up since 5am prepping, and a combination of other characteristics that I subconsciously recognise to equal good dining.
How do you choose an excellent restaurant in a place you've never been before?How do you choose an excellent restaurant in a place you've never been before?
How do you choose an excellent restaurant in a place you've never been before?The waiter was middle aged -  a career then, not just a holiday job. He poured us complimentary glasses of their second cheapest bubbly, which turned out to be a super chardonnay from just around the corner - always a good sign - it means the restaurant manager knows just how to set a convivial mood. He brought us bread first, and milk for the children, then let us chatter while he slowly and silently delivered atlas-sized menus to the adults. No prices for the ladies - you've got to love sexism sometimes. He leaned down to my level, pre-empting my request, and offering to bring the children some taglietelle napolitana, or anything else I may think they would like to eat, as the dishes on the menu were quite complicated. I love service that makes my life easy.
Saturday lunch offers the degustation menu, or a la carte. The control freak in me couldn't handle the thought of chicken livers followed by goose ravioli, followed by pancetta followed by lamb, so I ordered my own choices off the menu, and by the time the waiter brought the first of the others' six dishes, I knew I had made a mistake. My food was great, but theirs was seasonal art. Each dish arrived to oohs and ahhs, appreciation of its colour and form, and then, utter silence, except for the stuffing of gobs and smacking of lips.
How do you choose an excellent restaurant in a place you've never been before?How do you choose an excellent restaurant in a place you've never been before?
As the lunch wore on, we slid our chairs out further to provide room for our expanding girth. We were so full, but could not stop ourselves from eating the next courses. We drank an unusual but aromatic and silky regional blend of cortese and vermentino., then a rose called "Si" - not quite as good, but suiting our mood, as we were obviously unable to say "no". The kids ran outside to explore - we waved to them, knowing we had not the energy or inclination to follow. The staff outside promised to alert us if they were attempting anything death-defying.
We finished with the most impressive dessert tray I have ever seen. At least 15 varieties of sweet delicacies, from pannacotta to marsala mousse, chocolate truffles, summer berry crumble, coffee torte - all in tiny little pots or glasses and adorned with sugar strings that glittered like spun gold. I ordered the wrong dessert wine - easy to do in italy, as there are many that I find too oxidised and tasting of burnt sugar.
Ahh well, the company loved the wine, and by that stage, we were all so happy that Les Patterson could have walked in with a slab of fosters, hurled insults at everyone and vomited all over the table, and we still would have been smiling like fat happy toddlers.
How do you choose an excellent restaurant in a place you've never been before?

Tips for finding a good Restaurant:
Research on line:
Use sites such as Frommers and the Michelin guide (professional reviews) primarily, and then Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet if you want to check what the common man (such as me) thinks. Fodors can be a little hit and miss in my opinion, but many love it. Personally my favourite is Frommers - they are everywhere, and their reviews are very reliable - I have never been let down by one of their suggestions. Printed guides are often also good (e.g. wallpaper, 10 Best, etc.) but when it's updated regularly and available free, I'd much prefer the online info.
How do you choose an excellent restaurant in a place you've never been before?Search in person:
Try not to eat on the main square, or where the view is at its best. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a fairly reliable generalisation. Restaurants can coast on their position, and often the food or service quality will suffer. More often than not, you will pay for the position too (e.g. 7 Euros for an espresso at Florians on Piazza San Marco). Go one street back, searching with your nose rather than your eyes, and don't eat in any restaurants that are empty when next to a busy neighbour. Try and scope out the crowd - if they're speaking the local language, you're quite possibly on a winner.
Ask a local:
When you enter a shop and buy something before lunch or dinner, ask the server where they like to eat, or where they would recommend you go. You will often discover a true gem (unless of course you have been rude or obnoxious, in which case you will probably be sent to the worst eatery in town.)
Il Falconiere is 3km from Cortona town, set down the slopes outside the hamlet of Sodo. There are green signs on the way down the hill from Cortona to guide you. You can phone or email your reservation:
Località San Martino 370, 52044 Cortona Arezzo, Italia
Tel. +39 0575 612679 mail: [email protected]
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