Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ristorante Tric Trac, Piazza del Duomo, Spoleto

Our first meal on this trip to Italy was at Ristorante Tric Trac ( at Spoleto’s Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Piazza). It was recommended by Signor Roberto Diotallevi, the owner of our hotel, Palazzo Dragoni. I had asked him for recommendations of restaurants that served the best Umbrian dishes. Like all his recommendations, it was superb.

We were warmly greeted at Tric Trac, and the ambiance was very elegant. In addition to the tables inside, there were also tables outside on two platforms at the edge of the piazza.

Every dish we had was really delicious. It was a great start to the wonderful dining experiences we would have on this trip.

During the meal, we enjoyed chatting with the owners, Giuseppe D’Amelio and Spartaco Grilli, and our waiter about food and wine. The conversation was very interesting. (See the discussion below about truffles.)
Entrance to the Interior Dining Room

We started with the Antipasto Tric Trac for €14. It had three items:
- Scrambled eggs with truffles
- Crostini with tomato
- Peach with prosciutto

Then Linda and I each had Risotto with Provola Cheese and Truffles (Risotto Mantecato con Provola e Tartuffo) for 23.90.

That was enough food for Linda, but I then had a typical Umbrian dish - Guinea Hen in Salmi in a Casserole Cooked over a Slow Fire (Faraona in Casseruola Cotta a Fuoco Lento in Salmi) for 20.50. (Signor Diotallevi had recommended this dish.) The salmi sauce at Tric Trac was made with guinea hen livers, chicken livers, capers, lemon, garlic, sage, rosemary, white wine, and vinegar. (When I sent Tric Trac an email asking about the ingredients in Salmi, Signor D’Amelio replied very quickly.)

Our wine was an Umbrian red - a 2005 Antonelli Sagrantino di Montefalco for 35. Sagrantino is an indigenous Umbrian grape grown in the town of Montefalco. The wine was a perfect accompaniment to our meal.

The total cost for the meals for the three of us came to 152.60 ($206.01).

Truffles (“tartufo” - singular & “tartufi” - plural) are mushrooms that grow underground. They can cost several thousand dollars a pound. White truffles are more expensive than black truffles. Truffles are very light in weight, and shavings of truffles are placed on foods. Having truffles on a dish can add $15 or more to the cost of the dish. However, it is worth it.

Truffles are not raised, but are found in the woods. Dogs are now used to find them, although pigs were once used.The areas of Italy best know for truffles are the Piedmont, Umbria, and Tuscany. There are white truffles and black truffles. There are also truffles in France and Spain. There are summer truffles and winter truffles.

One of the owners explained the truffle seasons to us. He said that the winter truffles are best, and are available from December through February. He mentioned that the summer truffles are available in July, August, and September. He said we were approaching the end of the summer truffle season.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Palazzo Dragoni - Our Hotel in Spoleto

Our hotel in Spoleto was Palazzo Dragoni, which we selected on the basis of Trip Advisor reviews. It was terrific! (

Side View of Palazzo Dragoni

(I could not get a nice front view because of the narrow street. However, see the hotel's web site for a beautiful rear view and other info.)

The building was constructed in the 14th Century by the illustrious Dragoni family. It is located at 13 via del Duomo in the upper end of the town, close to the Cathedral. The hotel is owned and operated by Roberto and Erminia Diotallevi. Roberto was gracious and very helpful. His wife Erminia, who was responsible for preparing the breakfast, was charming, energetic, and talented. She delighted in making beautiful flower and plant arrangements to decoratecommon various rooms in the hotel. She collected the makings for these arrangements in nearby fields. The breakfasts she prepared were excellent. One morning, one of the items in the breakfast buffet was a marvelous blackberry tart she had made from blackberries she had picked herself. She showed us a huge bucket with blackberries she had not yet used.
An Arrangement by Erminia

The breakfast room is very comfortable and through its large glass windows, it provides a magnificent view of the Umbrian hills and the town. There is a nice salon with fireplace on the ground floor. There is also a large room for dining or special functions. There is also an elevator.

 Breakfast Room with View

My wife and I stayed in room number 8, and our niece stayed in room number 3. We were all happy with our rooms and loved the hotel.

Our room was very spacious and comfortable. The bed was large with an elegant canopy over the top. The mattress was firm and comfortable. There was a small balcony, with large French doors onto the balcony.

The view from the room was superb. The view was toward the north. In the distance, we could see a range of high hills. To the center right was a large, elegant-looking mansion, at least four storeys high, with a formal garden. A massive retaining wall dropped down below two sides of the garden. Beyond that was the 12th-13th Century church and monastery of San Ponziano. To the right of the mansion was the Duomo - the Cathedral of Spoleto. (Unfortunately, the bell tower of the cathedral was covered in scaffolding.) Beyond the Cathedral and looming above it at the top of a hill was the massive fortress - La Rocca Albornoziana. Between the Cathedral and us were several massive old fir trees. To our left below us was a large section of the city of Spoleto. The buildings we could see appeared to be primarily stone buildings and some with painted walls. The buildings were colored brown, beige, pale yellow and even ochre. Immediately below us were the hotel garden and a couple of large houses.

 Views from Our Room

The breakfast buffet at the hotel was very nice. It included cereals, fresh bread, pastries, a variety of fresh and dried fruits, baked apples, cheese, salami, juice, coffees, teas, and bottled water. Erminia would take orders for the coffee or tea, and provide as many refills as requested.
Part of the Breakfast Buffet, Including Erminia's Blackberry Tart

Signor Diotallevi was very helpful in help us in planning our itinerary for our stay in Spoleto, including trips we had planned to Gubbio and Norcia.

He was also very helpful with ideas on how to fulfill my wish to try Umbrian foods. I had prepared a list of unique Umbrian dishes I wanted to try. He looked at the list and explained which dishes might be available. Some dishes were only available during certain seasons. Others were dishes for holidays or special occasions.

At our request, he suggested a different restaurant where we could try local foods each night of our 4-nights in town. The restaurants he suggested were: Ristorante Tric Trac, Ristorante il Pentagramma, Trattoria la Torretta, and Ristorante il Panciolle. All of them were excellent.

He also suggested that the best place to get a porchetta sandwich was at one of the vendors at the weekly Friday outdoor market.

For those who are driving, there were two drawbacks to the hotel, but I would stay there again in a heartbeat and would strongly recommend it. First, it is a bit difficult to reach, and second, the parking is not the most convenient.

We had a Nuvi GPS with our rental car, but it did not always provide the best directions. The hotel’s web site has detailed directions and a map. The hotel’s directions are accurate, but navigation is still difficult because street signs are often missing or not easily visible on buildings. Before I left home, I had used Google street view to follow part of the directions to the hotel, but I still had trouble.

The GPS suggested entering the town from the southern entrance off the SS3, the via Flaminia. That did not work out and it took us a while to get things sorted out. The hotel’s  directions suggested entering the town from the northern entrance off the SS3. That is the right way to go.

What I would like to see hotel owners do is to create a video of how to reach their hotel and post that video on their web site. A guest could load that video onto a smart phone or iPad and use that to help navigate.

There were one or two tight parking spaces on the narrow street outside the hotel. There was additional parking about a block away.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


The first stop on our recent trip to Italy was Spoleto in the hills of Umbria. I had chosen Spoleto after reading Michael Tucker’s book, “Living in a Foreign Language.” Tucker and his wife, Jill Eikenberry, starred on the hit TV series, L.A. Law. Their book describes their adventures in finding and renovating a home near Spoleto, and enjoying life there. (I highly recommend the book.)

While we enjoyed our Umbrian stay very much, if you were to ask me to choose between Tuscany and this part of Umbria for a first visit, I would choose central Tuscany, specifically Siena, the Chianti Classico area, Montalcino, Montepulciano,  San Gimigniano, Volterra, and Cortona - plus a compulsory stop in Florence. Why? - because of the Tuscan scenery, foods, wines, and attractions. After leaving Spoleto, we returned to revisit most of the aforementioned areas of Tuscany.

We were in Spoleto for about 3 & ½ days in late September. The weather was excellent, with high temperatures in the mid 70’s.

While we were there, we visited two other Umbrian towns - Gubbio and Norcia, as well as the Sibilline Mountains National Park near Norcia.

Spoleto ( and is a charming hill town of about 39,000 inhabitants. It has nice shops and restaurants, and appears to have a vibrant and youthful population. Its attractions include a massive 14th Century fortress above the town; an impressive 14th Century aqueduct; some Roman ruins; Monteluco - a mountain which offers beautiful views of the countryside; and a decent weekly outdoor market.

Outdoor Market, Cathedral, Fortress, Monteluco

(In upcoming blog postings, I will describe our wonderful hotel in Spoleto, the restaurants we tried, other Spoleto experiences, and our visits to Gubbio, Norcia, and the national park.)

We were not in Spoleto for its most interesting attraction - The Festival of Two Worlds (Festival dei Due Mondi). This huge annual festival of the arts - art, theater, music, opera, and cinema - lasts for over 2 weeks. This year, it was held from June 18 to July 4. You can see the extensive schedule of events at  and

Charleston, South Carolina has a similar festival called the Spoleto Festival.

Spoleto is at least 2,500 years old. It was settled by Umbrian tribes. Two kilometers of walls from the 5th Century BC still survive. It is 1,300 feet above sea level.

 From Our Hotel Room

The town was conquered by the Romans in 295 BC. The town proved to be an important ally of Rome. When the Carthaginian general Hannibal’s army defeated the Roman garrisons at nearby Lake Trasimeno, the Spoletans engaged the Carthaginians in battle and inflicted heavy casualties on them, forcing Hannibal to divert his army toward Piceno and Puglia rather than moving on Rome.

During the period of the Roman Empire, Spoleto was used as a vacation retreat by wealthy Romans, who built villas there.

The city was subsequently conquered by the Lombards and ruled by them for several centuries.

In 1155 AD, the city was destroyed by Frederick I Barbarossa, King of Germany, King of Italy, Holy Roman Emperor, etc. At the time of its destruction, Spoleto had been a very rich, prosperous city. Needless to say, its destruction had a disastrous affect on every aspect of its life.

In 1231 AD, Frederick II gave control of the city to the church under Pope Gregory IX.

In the middle of the 14th Century, the Catholic Church decided to use Spoleto as a strategic base for the reconquest of lands for the Church. In 1362, Cardinal Albornoz, who had been entrusted with heading this endeavor, commissioned the building of the massive fortification to be named after him - the Rocca Albornoziana.

Spoleto from the Fortress

During the Napoleonic occupation of Italy (1809 - 1815), Spoleto played an important role as the capital of the Department of Trasimeno. There was a great renewal of political and social activity, accompanied by a building boom. That all came to an end with the return of control to the Papacy.

Side Street off Via del Municipio

With the reunification of Italy, progress returned to the city. However, the impact of World War II and a 1958 crisis related to lignite mining caused severe economic and demographic damage to the city.

Several subsequent events led to the revival of the city. First, was the A1 expressway, which connected Umbria to Rome. Second, was the establishment of the National Experimental Theater and the Italian Center for Medieval Studies. Third, was the establishment in 1958 of the annual Festival of the Two Worlds

Monday, October 18, 2010

Trip to Italy

Our recent trip to Italy with our fantastic niece was terrific. We met with friends in different towns and enjoyed great food, wine, scenery, and meeting terrific Italians. I hope to begin posting some of our experiences soon.

Last Night's Dinner

1. Rocchetti past with sweet peppers, prosciutto, broad beans, pecorino
2. Asparagus with parmesan & butter
3. Fake Tuscan bread

My daughter had given me an Umbrian pasta called, "rocchetti." The name means, spools. I had a hard time finding a recipe that appealed to me. I found one in Italian at the URL:
The Italian name of this dish is rocchetti con fave, prosciutto, e peperoni. It tasted pretty good. I modified it a bit by using one thick slice of prosciutto rather than two. I'd add more sweet pepper in the future. My translation of the recipe is below.

The asparagus recipe was simple and came from page 402 of the English version of the huge Italian cookbook, "The Silver Spoon." It's basically asparagus, boiled or steamed, with parmesan and butter put on after it's cooked. Easy and delicious.

The bread was a "Tuscan Loaf" from our local Fresh Market supermarket. I love it, but it's not real Tuscan bread because it has salt. After just spending a couple of weeks in Tuscany and eating lots of Tuscan bread, the difference is very noticeable.

My translation of the rocchetti recipe:

Ingredients for four servings:
14 ounces of rocchetti
½ a red pepper
½ a yellow pepper
2 thick slices of uncooked prosciutto
7 ounces of shelled broad beans
3 T olive oil
1 clove garlic
pecorino romano or aged ricotta

Cut the peppers into little cubes and take the beans out of the bitter outer shells Cut the prosciutto into cubes and saute them for 1 minute in a frying pan with the crushed garlic and olive oil.

Mix in the beans and saute them for 2 minutes. (If the beans are very fleshy, it’s best to put them in after the peppers and to cook them longer.) Put in the peppers and cook over medium for 5 minutes.  Add salt and pepper and a little bit of water from the cooked pasta.

Cook the rocchetti al dente, drain, then saute in the frying pan with the sauce. Serve immediately with grated pecorino romano or aged ricotta. (The author prefers aged ricotta.)