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Old 07.06.2010, 16:55
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Re: Restaurants in Ticino - grotto fun

Ticino is lovely and I heartily recommend it for a visit. On the southern side of the Alps, it was a wonderful climate and the scenery of foliage covered mountains meeting cool lakes is beautiful. We decided to stay in Locarno rather than moving around agriturismo farms etc.

I was unable to garner any specific dining recommendations, so we mostly followed our noses. It's difficult to get past the simple tourist offerings . . . the obvious goal would be to find a little known grotto. On the first night we hopped on the boat to Ascona and after a couple of Aperol sprizza on the lakeside went to Grotto Baldorio. It was full, even on a Thursday night . . . the dining area is a courtyard and you share tables with strangers. Most diners are on the same timetable, but it is possible to start late and catch up. You start with two salumi, I wish I had details/names, but you typically start with a normal single barrel and a double barrel one. At this grotto you are left to cut your own. Next a simple lettuce and tomato salad, dressed simply . . . fantastically succulent tomatoes. Next was some kind of beef tongue, seemingly dressed with a garnish of chopped tongue and tarragon, very very tasty. Next a pasta course, this time simple penne with a garlic and tomato sauce and then a beef stew with polenta. Finally a polenta cake with coffee and grappa. All this, with two bottles of house red and San Pellegrino CHF 40 a head! There seemed to be a mixed crowd of tourists and locals.

Next day we went hiking in the Val Verzasca north of Locarno. We had a simple pasta lunch before setting off . . . as simple as could be, but totally satisfying. The actual hiking was hard work but magical . . . the Ticinese have created stairs in the mountains using enormous slabs. You walk past waterfalls and luminous ponds. It's like stepping into a page from Tolkien. Back as Lavertezzo, there's a great little scene with people sunbathing on hot rocks and dipping into icy alpine water to cool off.
I bought a copy of ¨'Tessin Geht Aus', hoping to find some interesting dining, and based on our success at Baldorio, thought we'd try a place in Locarno. Grotto Al Capon turned out to be fairly terrible (the name should have been a clue). Main courses were ridiculously heavy and clunkily basic, risotto and polenta were rendered unappetising sludge. It turned out the chef was from Bern, rather than Ticino . . . this restaurant almost exclusively caters for German-speaking tourists.

Next day we headed to the market in Bellinzona. Very very good cheese and charcuterie stalls . . . some vendors seem to just be individuals who've wandered down from the mountain with a couple of cheeses and would just as much like to have a drink with you as sell you their cheese. We sipped merlot bianco in the piazza and listened to a some guys with guitars singing . . . not for cash, just with their friends and family. A completely different atmostphere here than German Switzerland. We had a fantastic pizza for lunch (I'm trying to find the name of this).

I will return to the region and try to get beyond the guidebooks . . .
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