Republic Restoratives

The local distillery scene in DC is pretty amazing.  One of our favorites is Republic Restoratives located in Ivy City.  They make a series of spirits that are very tasty indeed!

Republic Restoratives in the Grotto Bar

Thursday, March 22 thru Sunday, March 25

Enjoy three cocktails custom tailored to your preferences featuring 3 of their spirits.  Andrew has whipped up some special additions to our bar ingredients to help make your cocktails more delicious: Blood Orange Infused Civic Vodka, Cinnamon Syrup, “Locally Foraged “ Pine Cone & Needle Syrup & tinctures, Herbal Bitters, Citrus Bitters

Civic Vodka
lobstered deviled eggs {our usual vadouvan deviled egg mix, lobster chunks, lobster & herb aioli}

Rodham Rye
pork belly & asian pear on fried polenta

Apple Brandy
roasted apple & blu 61

3 cocktails ~ 3 courses ~ $39 in the Grotto Bar only

Republic Restoratives will be here joining the fun

Saturday March 24!


Hellbender Tap Takeover

You know we love our local, small producers.  You can’t get much more local and small in the beer business than Hellbender!  We love their brews and always have at least one tap devoted to them!  So, starting Thursday, July 27, we will be offering 4 delicious beers from Hellbender in the Grotto bar and dining room.  A full glass is $6 {only $4 at Happy Hour} and a 5 oz taster is $3!  A flight of all four tasters is $10.

In addition, I am cooking up a special small bite to go with each brew.  And the cheese on two of the bites is from the P.A. Bowen Farmstead in Prince Georges County, MD.  This is a farm where the brewery sends its spent grain after brewing to be fed to the hogs and cows on the farm.  They use some of the milk to make incredible English style raw milk cheese which we are serving with the beer! The bites are $3 each or $9 for all 4.   {veggie options available for all bites}


Traditional German-style ale – light and crisp with a spicy finish from American-grown noble hops.
4.7% ABV, 25 IBU
Bite: steak & cloth bound cheddar cheese crostino


Malted oats and wheat make up the majority of the malt bill, creating a light-colored American pale ale with a biscuity malt flavor and clean, crisp finish. Massive late hop additions and dry hopping with Idaho 7, Ekuanot, Aurora, Centennial & Mosaic deliver intense tropical fruit and citrus flavors and aroma.
5.8% ABV.  This is their last seasonal release and is no longer available from the brewery!  They have held back a keg just for this event.
Bite:  Polenta squares w/stilton style Prince George’s Blue


Orange-hued IPA with strong, earthy resin and bright citrus notes from Nugget, Centennial, Citra and Equinox hops; finishes citrusy and dry.
6.5% ABV, 62 IBU
Bite: Spicy Ceviche


A collaboration with the historic St. Feuillien Brewery in Le Roeulx, Belgium, Days Gone By is a traditional Belgian tripel brewed with a distinctly American hopping. Bright golden in color with a light coriander spiciness, it finishes with bold citrus and tropical flavors and aroma from Citra, Amarillo, Idaho 7 & Azacca hops.
8.5% ABV, 42 IBU.  This is their current limited seasonal release.
Bite:  House sausage in spicy tomato sauce w/sharp provolone & calabrese hot pepper

World Lambrusco Week

World Lambrusco Week is June 16-22

The 2017 7th World Lambrusco Day Festa is June 21

Wednesday, June 21, you can come and drink up to 10 different Lambrusco and Dean will give you stories and tall tales about Lambrusco in the Grotto Bar from 5 ’til 8pm.  We will have loads of snacks to go with.  The cost of the casual tasting & class is $35 plus tax & gratuity.

Tickets and more details” World Lambrusco Day

Red Bubbles:

Celebrate The Rebirth Of Real Lambrusco

Why is there a Lambrusco Week?  If you ask that question, then you need to learn about Lambrusco: Real Lambrusco!

What Is Lambrusco?

It is not a region, a city, a style or sweet fizzy swill:
It’s an ancient family of grapes used to make fizzy dry reds!
No other wine has been so bastardized as Lambrusco!
Forget riunite, cella & the rest {7% alcohol & 10% sugar!}

Real Lambrusco is made in the Emilia, surrounding Modena.  It comes from any of the family of Lambrusco grapes such as Grasparossa, Sorbara & Mariani, Salamino, + other grapes like lancellotta ~~ Real Lambrusco is dry to off-dry, 11% alcohol; tart & lively with a sugar level of less than 1.5% Due to Lambrusco’s natural high acid content, it is great food wine and can seem very dry indeed. Lambrusco is a refreshing sparkling red: perfect w/rich antipasti & pasta; & the best wine for cheese & cured meats

The rebirth of Lambrusco came about fairly recently when wines like Ermite Medice Concerto and Chiarli Vecchia Modena Premium were recognized by the Italian wine press with Tre Bicchiere from Gambero Rosso and other publications.  But the reality is that real Lambrusco had not gone anywhere!  It’s just that industrial Lambrusco {Riunite, Cella etc} dominated the market and, unfortunately still do.  But we at the Grotto and at Dino before have always believed in the real deal.

Our Favorite Lambrusco Producers

Camillo Donati
Cantina di Volta
Carra di Casiatico
Ermite Medice
Fattoria Moretto
Vignetti Saetti

International Lambrusco Days

June 16 Thru June 22

First off, here are the social media links!

Sorbara, Marani & CO
: 6/16-22/2017

A week of Lambrusco & Dining at the Grotto!  We will start off with a $25 Lambrusco flight consisting of 5 Lambrusco with 5 bites to accompany.  The pours will be smaller and the bites just that, so this is the equivalent of a normal wine flight and an antipasto for $25.  Or you can get a full Lambrusco menu with the flight for $49.  The menu may change nightly depending on availability.  But right now, here is what we are thinking of:

5 bites

Potato & crispy Tuscan bacon {pork belly}
Prosciutto & Fresh Mozzarella
House Cured Duck Breast
Crostini Caprese
Wild Boar Rillettes

The full menu will continue with…..

Cannelloni Duo
spinach & ricotta cannelloni
one covered w/wild boar ragu
one covered w/duck bolognese ragu

Wagyu Steak
charred ramp pesto w/walnuts
grilled broccoli

Duo of Pecorino

The Lambrusco will change daily as we want to show off all out range of wines.  We will be sure to have a Sobrara {the lightest color Lambrusco} to a Grasparossa di Castelvetro z{the darkest and fullest of the Lambrusco Family.  You don’t need to buy tickets and you don’t even have to reserve!  But if you do reserve, please let us know you are coming for the Lambrusco Flight or Menu.

Perhaps The Worst Wine Writting I Have Ever Read and my Reply

One Mr. David Brenner, writting on Italy Chronicles which subtittles its blog “The Italy You Don’t Know” certainly lived up to the Italy {wines thereof} I don’t know.  And I do question what Mr Brenner knows.  So first, please read his article before I rip it to shreds.

Wines To Avoid – The Worst Italy Can Offer

And now my response:

{edited to correct an error identifying the cuvee of Chiarli involved}

Congratulations! One of the worst articles on wine ever written. Where to start?

Corked wines. Caused by TCA , not spores A chemical sometimes found on cork, but that can be found in nature from many sources. Here is the Wikipedia: Certainly saying it came from spores may be correct in a modicum of cases, but it is not the leading cause. Wineries may be infected with TCA and it may be introduced thru the cork. Please, the next time you write about something elementary that you have no knowledge of, at least hit the good old wiki if not google.

Corks: “what posh sommeliers are checking for when they sniff the cork after taking it out of the bottle.” If posh sommeliers are sniffing for corkiness on the cork, they need to learn something. A cork’s smell has little relationship with the smell of the wine. And why smell the cork when the wine is in a nice container, easy to pour out, called a bottle. Yes, good sommeliers {who are not always posh} actually check the wine. In my 30,000 bottles of wine I have sampled or opened as a retail wine salesman, a wholesale wine sales man, a regional wine buyer for a gourmet foods company and in my 20 years as a restaurateur, I have smelled corks that are disgusting where the wine was perfectly sound and corks that were perfectly innocuous where the bottle was filled with bilgewater {corked, aldehydic, volatile acidity, maderized, bacterial spoilage of all sorts, mercaptans and more}. One should look at the cork as an indication of storage and no more. And old corks tend to look bad no matter what. Frankly, this article smells worse than any cork I have ever smelled, and et the content leaves an even fouler taste in the mouth.

Your example of one bottle of corked Chianti. Really? Blaming the winery for one freaking bottle when it is an industry wide problem? Should I now avoid all Chianti Classico by Terri di Mastri? Should I now avoid all wines by Terri di Mastri? Should I now avoid all Chianti Calssico?

No! I should avoid the one bottle of Terre di Mastri we know to be corked because you opened it. What is the point of naming a winery because particular bottle wine was corked? I have a friend who has a problem with their Fiat Arbath.. Should we avoid all Fiats?

Next we come to your critique of Est! Est!! Est!!! where you also slam Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. As with any area, there are good wineries and bad. Are you really saying don’t drink this particular trio of DOCG’s in light of the rampant bad wine that should be counted as crimes against nature committed in other wine growing regions?

Est! Est!! Est!!! can be a pleasant thing to go with a light seafood pasta and antipasti on a hot day. And guess what: that’s how it is used in Rome. Are there innocuous bottles of Est^^3? Of course. But there are far more innocuous to down right scary bottles of Chianti or Primitivo. And not to mention the legion of horrid merlots grown everywhere because, well merlot.

San Gim is a tourist town and there are tourist trap restaurants, stores and, yes, wines. But there are fabulous wines being made. San Quirico, Pietrafitta, Le Rote, Teruzzi e Perthod, and more are all fine producers of very good wines indeed. Following your recommendation would deprive these worthy producers the opportunity of showing off their wines which offer a lot of value in most cases. And open minded drinkers of a lot of fun wine at a good price. If you think Vernaccia di San Gim {which here in the states usually retails for $10 to 15} is among the “worst Italy has to offer”, I have to hold your opinion as some of the worst Italy has to offer.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio: here you are simply wrong and slanderously so. Terradora di Paolo, De Angeles and the venerable old name Mastrobernandino are all making outstanding wines under this DOC. Where you came up with the notion that this is “among the worst Italy has to offer” mystifies me. Are you just pulling it out the lower end of your alimentary canal? I pity anyone who reads this article and follows the advice herein.

Your 4th example is Lambrusco, with Chiarli Vecchia Modena shown and described. You may have had a bad bottle. But you do know that it’s sibling wine, the Premium, wins Tre Biccherri year after year after year. Now usually I am not a big fan of scores and competitions, but here is a winery that has been recognized by Italian wine professionals as an outstanding achievement and you call the regular Vecchio Modena “was by some distance the worst; most unpleasant; most downright awful bottle of wine I’ve ever drunk anywhere.”

I have served all sorts of different bottlings of Chiarli in my restaurant for years, and have never had anyone so describe it. Every top restaurant in Modena carries Chiarli. Perhaps it is not you your liking, but the worst Italy has to offer?

Eremete Medici, Venturini, ohhhhh, I give up. You clearly show no evidence of knowing good Lambrusco.

Thanks for letting us know how wrong we are!

And now let us come to the biggest joke of all…. A 1 euro wine is bad? I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!


Summer Tomato Sauce

Summer Tomato Essence

Seconds from the Dupont market… over 50# per tray

Cut ripe juicy tomatoes in quarters. Put in large, non reactive sauce pan {enameled cast iron or stainless steel} Bring to a boil and reduce heat and let simmer until the tomatoes completely fall apart. Put tomatoes thru a food mill to remove skin and seeds. Be sure to work the mill well until the skins are fairly dry.

You can freeze the essence and use it as in ingredient in soups or stews. You can also make some into sauce using the following outline. You can vary the herbs, but if you want to flavor the sauce with basil, do it when you have thawed the sauce and are ready to serve it. Rosemary, marjoram or thyme all are nice for the herb, or use a mix. We freeze only the essence and make the sauce when thawing out so we can tailor the sauce for its final use.

Summer Tomato Sauce

Photo by Adam Parr & Charles Borst

To make the summer tomato essence into a tomato sauce, saute in olive oil over high heat red chili flakes {Aleppo pepper is my favorite} in olive oil for a second and add chopped garlic and oregano and cook until just aromatic. Don’t let the garlic burn. Add tomato sauce and cook until it is almost as thick as you want for your final sauce. The sauce will reduce further when you reheat it from the freezer. Season with salt & pepper, leaving it under salted so you can add salty ingredients like capers or anchovies wen you have thawed out the sauce.

For 1 quart of the essence, I use
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Aleppo
1 Tbsp Garlic
1 Tbsp chopped fresh Oregano
1/2 to 1 tsp coarse black pepper
pinch of salt

Oniony Tomato Wine Sauce.

Photo by Adam Parrr & Charles Borst

For a nice variation, sautee 2 cups onions cut into half moon rings in olive oil until completely soft a alightly sweet. Don’t allow it to burn. Add 1 to 2 cups of red or white wine, or one cup dry vermouth. Reduce it and allow to thicked until the sauce is not too runny. Then complete the sauce as above, adding in 1/4 cup parsley at the end. Makes a great tomato sauce for fish and shellfish.


Brunello di Montalcino

My favorite place in the world is Montalcino and my favorite wine is Brunello.  Sohere is a very short primer on Montalcino

The Wines Of Montalcino

The grape of Montalcino is a clone of Sangiovese that has been grown there for over 140 years, known as the Brunello clone.  It has given its name to the most famous wine from Montalcino: Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is earthy, spicy, and yet has a black or red fruit component (depending on the elevation and location of the vineyards in the zone.)  It isn’t a big, flashy  red, like so many wines today.  It is a more mysterious experience, taking some time to unfold in the glass. But it’s silly to try and describe the wine; you just have to taste them. And this weekend is the perfect time to do so.  We have acquired some older Montalcino wines and are offering some fabulous flights.  because these wines are so limited and rare, we are going to pre sell the flights.  The only way you can be sure to get the wine is to purchase them thru the links here.  The specials on the food menu, you can just order and we will have a current vintage Montalcino flight you can just purchase. But the special wines are just that: Special.

What Is Brunello Di Montalcino?

Brunello has two meanings.  In addition to being a clone of Sangiovese, “Brunello” is also the most famous wine of Montalcino.  To be called Brunello, it must only be produced from 100% Brunello clone Sangiovese from vineyards rated for Brunello production.  The wine must spend at least 2 years in oak; but the Brunellos we love get the traditional 3 years.  But this is aging in large oak or neutral barrels,so the wines acquire complexity and texture rather than oak flavors.  In top years, some wineries make a selection of their most concentrated wines and give them an extra year of aging before bottling and these are riservas.

What Is Rosso Di Montalcino

Rosso di Montalcino are the wines that don’t make the cut for the wineries’ Brunello or come from vineyards that only meet the quality standards of the Rosso DOCG.  In any case, the limits on production of Brunello require that at least 20% of the harvest MUST be made into rosso; and great wineries use far more Brunello than that in their rosso blends.  So Rosso is the great bargain of Montalcino.


This bottle of Rosso di Montalcino Le Macioche 2004 is a super example of rosso.  Yet when it cameout it was far less expensive then dozens of California Cabs or Bordeaux; you could easily bought 3 bottles of hte Rosso for the costof one bottle of middle of the road cabernet or Bordeaux.   Now, with 7 or so years in the bottle, it is smooth, spicy and yet very robust.  It offers sd much or more drinking pleasure than those cabe, goes better with food and still has years of drinkability ahead of it.  It will go great with our teres major steak.

Der Risotto zum Nibelungen {The Risotto Ring for Nibbling}

First make a ring powerful enough to rule the universe. Next, pull a sword out of a handy ash tree growing thru the floor of your lover’s husbands house and use it to kill your lovers husband and cut 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter into small pieces. You first sweat 1/2 cup onion in 2 T butter and 2 T olive oil till they are translucent and sweet, but not browned. Use high enough heat to get some sizzle but do not brown the butter either. 

Heat 3-1/2 cups of broth: veggie, chicken, meat, fish, etc. As the onions are done, raise the heat and add 2 cups Carnaroli rice picked by the Po Virgins {See Wagner’s epic the Ring of the Risotti for a full explanation}. Stir the rice so it does not burn and “toast” it in the butter/oil. It will take about as much time for the rice to toast as it takes Furtwangler to lead the Vienna Orchestra the Ride of Die Valkyrie, which you should be listening to as you do this

It will first look oily and “clump together” then it will turn white and seem to be separate grains. Finally it will take on just a hint of color and then you add 1 cup white wine. Keep the heat high until the alcohol boils off then reduce the heat till the liquid just barely bubbles. Stir as necessary so the rice does not stick. When the liquid is almost all absorbed, add a generous half cup of broth and stir. Don’t add too much, you do not want the river Rhine to overflow and put out the flames. Stir a couple of more time as the liquid is absorbed. Repeat each time with a little less broth. 

With each addition, the liquid will be absorbed and a little creamy starch will extrude. You want to wait to add the next ladle of broth until all the liquid is absorbed and there is just crema left. To mere mortals, the crema appears to be a liquid, but with enough repeated listenings to the Ring, you will be able to distinguish the leitmotif of the crema from that of the broth. Or you could just go and kill a dragon and taste a drop of its blood and you will understand the language not only of the birds, but of the rice. 

Taste the rice as you go. It will go from crunchy to soft with a chalky center to soft all the way thru but a little dry to almost creamy. As soon as it reached this point, spread the grains out on a sheet pan in a uniform layer. Do not press them down as they are as delicate as virgins {think Siegfried who was a virgin until the late third act of the third opera of the ring when he met his Aunt, but I digress}. Take a wooden {Wotan} spoon and draw diagonal lines in the rice to make channels for better cooling. When cool, gently form into a funeral pyre and burn Valhalla and all the gods with it. 

If you get hungry after all this, take a piece of butter and melt in the pan. Add some of the rice and a ladle full of stock. Stir until the risotto is heated thru and the stock is almost completely absorbed. Add a handful of grana, Parmigianno or whatever. 

If you want a flavored risotto, heat your flavorings {ie cooked Hubbard squash, or a saute of mushrooms or a spoon of Bolognese or a big handful of small clams etc} before adding the rice. 

I was watching this on You tube last night. Can you tell?

First published on

Ten Things To Do in Venice Off the Beaten Path

Here are ten of my favorite things to do in Venice. My wife and I are big time glass lovers and small time collectors, so if you share that passion be sure to go to Murano and visit the shops mentioned.


Go to Murano and visit Franco Schivon and Murano Collection. These two shops don’t have demonstrations of how to make a horse out of glass. They actually have great pieces of art.

Murano Collection is a joint venture between Carlo Moretti, Vennini and Boro and Tesovier. It offers well selected pieces and is very dramatically lighted. We have shipped many pieces from there to the US with no problems. They handle the VAT refunds shipping and insurance.

Schiavon has a Japanese glass master, Tsuchida Yasuhiko, who makes one of a kind pieces. His work varies from the dramatic to the derivative. He is still young and you can see his development in his art.

These two shops are much different from the multitudes of shops on the island. Get of the vaporetto at La Colonna. Franco Schiavon is on the left along the canal at Fondamenta Vetrai 15, and Murano Collection is across the canal at the first bridge. This area has the best concentration of really nice shops with really collectable art glass, not the schlocky Asian made stuff so common. Beware of your wallet however, not because of pick pockets but because art glass ain’t cheap.

Pricing: Schiavon and Murano collection — if you have to ask you can’t afford it. Museum quality pieces (limited runs of 100 or less signed by the artist) start at over $1000 but there are pieces in the hundreds of dollar range that are still really wonderful. Looking is free.


See the Carpaccio’s at Scuole di San Georgio del Schiavoni. Incredible paintings on the themes of St. George and the dragon and St. Jerome. Stunning!

Pricing: Under $2.00.


Go to Erberia Rialto and visit the art gallery and studio of Nicola Tenderini and buy a water color or oil painting from him. It won’t set you back much and the painting hanging on your wall will recall Venice for years to come. His technique captures the glint of the sun reflecting off the water. Sometimes I am startled by the motion in his paintings as I sit doing something else. Nicola is at Campo Bella Vienna – Erberia S.Polo 216. Monday through Saturday mornings only. By the way, the bar to the left as you face his shop is superb. Great panini and cappuccino. Note that the locals never pay; the son just writes down a cryptic symbol in his notebook.

Pricing: Nicola’s pieces are under $100 right now because he is an undiscovered genius. The bar is super cheap.


Go to Torcello and see the original Cathedral of the Lagoon. There are two amazing churches there. Wonderfully desolate island loaded with cats.

Pricing: Cost of a Vaporetto ride unless you lunch at Cipriani which I have not done yet. That may set you back $100 or more a person. There is another trattoria on Torcello which is more reasonable but I don’t know how good it is. Looks nice.


Wander the back streets of Cannareggio. Once away from the touristy areas around the Rialto you come into quiet neighborhoods where you get a totally different feel of Venice. We found a sunken gondola around one corner. See the ghetto and take the synagogue tour.

Pricing: Wandering the neighborhoods is free; the tour of the Ghetto is 6 euro or so.


Visit the Ca D’Oro. This is a wonderful museum with its own Vaporetto stop. It was not very crowded and was filled with wonderful objects including affreschi that used to be on some of the grand palazzi on the Grand Canal.

Pricing: Huge bargain, free or just a few euro.


Go to Do Mori and eat and drink.

Pricing: Cheap if you drink cheap (maybe $10 – $20 a person for a light meal of cichetti) but there are wines at around $10.00 a glass that retail for $50 to $70 a bottle in the US.


Go to Da Pinto for incredibly fresh fish at very reasonable prices. Drink Doro Princic wines and eat very good cichetti. Do not in any circumstances eat the pasta or pizza but do order the baccal mantecano (salt cod roughly pureed with olive oil and parsley).

Pricing: Da Pinto will run about $45.00 for two antipasti, a platter of grilled fish for 2, a bottle of Doro Princic.


Go to the Pescaria Rialto at 6 in the morning and see the fish market being set up.

Pricing: Free.


Go to Campo S. Zaccaria and visit the gallery of Missiaja, a former architect who now is an artist. He specializes in the Commedia dell’Arte characters and a few Venice scenes. He uses some computer generated techniques along with hand applied color to hand made paper for his limited editions, and he uses more traditional printmaking as well. Achiugetta at Campo SS Giacomo e Fillipo is nearby so you can raise a glass and consume cichetti while you contemplate your purchase.

Pricing: Free if you just look, $10 for a small print or a box of note cards on handmade paper, $300-$400 for medium and small hand painted items, more for larger ones.

Opera – Arena di Verona

I have been to several outdoor opera venues, but none begins to come close to the experience of the opera at the Arena di Verona.


First off is the location itself. The Arena di Verona is not a ruin. It is an intact piece of the Roman era. True it is missing its outer wall except for a small portion. It is missing its decorative marble facade. But there it is, sitting right in the middle of Piazza Bra!  Not only is it a tourist visit destination, but it is home to a superb opera festival every summer. The tickets are easy to buy through their website ( or, even easier, by phone and fax.

Opera is Not Miked

The essential thing about the Arena is that it is outdoor opera that is not miked. This is the bane of outdoor opera. An opera singer singing thru a body mike has to moderate his or her voice to take full advantage of the sound system. Or their mike has to be turned down so low that the folks in the back can’t hear. But the acoustics of the Arena are so superb that no miking is used at all. There are dead spots on the stage (and these vary depending on where you sit). In fact, I would put listening to opera at the Arena on a par with the Met in NY (not quite as precise but louder in the cheap seats than the Met) and better than the old Kennedy Center Opera House acoustically.


Next up is the seating. It comes in three flavors: reserved on the floor, reserved on the side and nosebleed general admission seats on the original Roman seating. The reserved seating on the floor is in two sections and the first is much better than the second, but also a lot more expensive. If it’s a favorite opera with a super cast (e.g. Turandot with Cura and Casole) pop for the good seats. On the other hand, Nabucco seen from above was just fine. You need to get to the GA seats by about 7:30 to get good seats. It helps if you have your 75 year old mother in law and she looks a little tired. The ushers found room for us only five rows up on the second time we went, arriving at about 8:00pm. The first time, we arrived at 8:30 and sat five rows from the top.

The Candles

You have to pick up your candle from a box, unmarked, on the stairs. The tradition is to light the candles as the opera begins. It’s beautiful but we heard many a person cry “Ouch!” as the hot wax hit their fingers.


In the nosebleed section, there are vendors selling Nestle’s ice cream (not gelato), pizze and panini, and drinks:  beer, coca, fanta, tonic or wine. No water. Bring your own.


If it rains before the opera begins, you get a refund. After the first note – tough luck. The rain hit when we were there about a third of the way thru the last act of Aida. You never saw anyone move so fast carrying so much as the harpists and bassists when the rain was hitting their instruments. Licitra’s voice had not even died out and they were already off the stage. And if it does rain, you will get wet trying to get out. Italians don’t do lines well.

The Performance

It will be lovely. This is opera with a tough crowd. They collectively know their stuff. Great singing will be applauded and the crowd will call for a bis for the superb. (A bis is where the singer repeats his aria, or in the case of Nabucco, the chorus repeated “Va Pensero”.) The second singing will be “out of character”, the singer will just stand and sing rather than act out his or her part. Licitra sang a beautiful Celeste Aida but did not get a call for a bis while Cura’s Nessun Dorma did get it. Even though Cura’s singing was not technically perfect, his acting was so superb that it merited a bis and he got it.

Getting There and Parking

Just follow the signs for Centro. It’s best if you are coming in from out of town to use the Verona Nord exit from the A22 and come in from the west. You are on limited access roads almost all the way into town. You will get on a strada marked Montova Verona and take the Verona exit. You will just veer left a couple of times before you hit signage which will direct you in through the Porta Nuova.
Exiting from the A4 and coming north is also pretty easy, but can be very trafficky. Driving south from the Valpolicella into town means having to come through the centro first, difficult but not impossible.
We parked twice in the covered parking lot “Arena” for 12 euro. Another time we parked on the street on the way to the arena lot. The difficulty with the street parking was backing out into the traffic.

Dining Before and After the Opera

We have explored a number of options and dined better than we have in other touristy places like Piazza Rotunda in Roma or in the Piazza del Mercato Centrale in Firenze. Verona is a serious food city! But be warned, there are a lot of places on Piazza Bra that had very insipid looking food at very high prices.

Hotel Rubiani: If you want very good food served on a lovely patio, go to Hotel Rubiani. Its on a side street just off the Piazza. Find Cantina dell’Arena and turn left as you are facing the Arena; it’s straight ahead on the right. We dined well with a nice bottle of Muller Thurgau from the Alto Adige producer St Michael Eppian. Dinner was around 65 euro. We each had a carpaccio antipasto; mine was octopus and Kay’s was pesca spada (swordfish). Our paste were taglioletti all’Ortolana loaded with delicious summer veggies and spaghetti ai gamberetti e zucchini.  Both were great.  Don’t know if it’s open after the opera. It starts serving at 6:00 pm.

Cantina dell’Arena: Right on Piazza Bra, although we ate outdoors on a side street.  Good food, not great, but the wine list is superb. We enjoyed Quintarelli Valpolicella and Bussola Amarone at very good pricing. We dined there twice, once the three of us and once in a group of 16. Both times were a lot of fun and even with the large group they took very good care of us allowing us to order alla carte for a large group. Their pizze are good to very good, but I would stick to the simple items. Best of all was Sfilacci di Cavallo which is a shredded jerky like product made from horse meat served on a bed of arugula. I had an insalata mista di mare which was marred by the inclusion of fake krab but otherwise delicious. A salad of potatoes and octopus was good. Costolette d’Angello was good and the potatoes incredible. The first dinner was $150.00 but that included about $70 in wine. Open before and after the opera.

Enoteca Cangrande: Before or after the opera. What a find! Find Oliva or Olivo on the Piazza Bra and follow the alley way back a short block or two and you will run directly into Cangrande. It looks pretty seedy from the outside but the empty bottles of Dal Forno Romano are a sure tip off. Run by Marco, with a shaved head and pierced eyebrow, this was both entertaining and wonderful. Fabiola is the fabulous South American waitress who gives great service but is no wine expert. Superb wine selection. Best to go to the far back room and just pull the bottle off the shelf. Or better yet, let Marco recommend something for you. Discovered Raimondi Amarone this way. We had a cheese and meat plate one night before the opera with a bottle of superb Amarone (whose producer name I forgot to write down!!!!!).

The highlight was the gorgonzola, vezanna (a mountain veronese cheese somewhere between a good gruyere and parmiggiano in texture) and tomino both fresco and stagionata. The meats featured the best lardo I have ever had. Also a wonderful cooked ham and local veronese prosciutto. We started out with a piece of 100 day old gorg then they brought us 300 day old gorgonzola. Heavenly.

After the opera that night, we returned and had bocconcini which were little rolls of bread, split and topped with an assortment of things: Gorgonzola and mostarda, lardo and mushrooms, cavallo and speck. Marco picked out wines and we were happy. We bought 4 bottles so I don’t really remember the breakdown of food to wine price wise.  They have a limited menu in addition to meats and cheeses. We will return again but in the mid evening to explore this option. Open 5 pm to 1 am.

Other Things to do in Verona

We only spent part of a day wandering the town. But one thing stood out as a superb visit: the Castelvecchio museum. The castle was given a refurbishing by architect Scarpa and it is a stunning space for art. The castle was left mostly intact but the exhibition space was created using simple concrete poured in rough forms, left undecorated. For example, there is a statue of Cangrande on a huge concrete beam suspended in space. You see it twice, once from below and then later from the same level. There are also special exhibitions there and we loved the one we saw.