Saturday, February 23, 2008

Le Calandre restaurant- Padova

This is not really a review because I haven't been to this restaurant in years. In fact, the purpose of the post is not so much to assess this locale but to make a few considerations on guides and the current state of tourism in Italy.

First of all, Le Calandre has for years had stars in the Michelin Italia guide. Secondly, it is located near Padova/Padua (the latter being the historical, anglicized name), my old hometown. And of course, being a major foodie, I went there. And I do believe the Michelin Red is the single best guide to Italy (many people don't realize it, but it also has a ratings system of tourist attractions by town, which is quite useful and reliable).

But. No one guide can be relied on unconditionally. My visit to Le Calandre was absolutely unmemorable, apart from the price (excessive). The location, in a boring suburb just outside town, is also a negative. Further, in all my many years in Padova, I can't remember any of the natives or others from the region, which is densely populated and quite prosperous, speak of the place.

Remembering all this, I decided to take a virtual look at the restaurant. Chock full of pretentiousness, which is not the style of Italian cuisine. Proof of the pudding (or the pasta): the menu (pdf file). Take a good long look at it. Look at the prices. A dead giveaway: the spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is 28, I said twenty-eight, euros. About 41 USD as of this writing. No Italian would be caught dead spending 28 euros for this very good but classically easy and cheap-to-prepare dish, a standby of out-of-money, out-of-time, unexpected-guests, midnight-munchies fare. And you shouldn't either.

So, is the Michelin Red not worth it? Yes, it is. But over the years I have noticed, as restaurants go, a distinct tendency on its part to see Italian cuisine through French standards. A very bad thing to do. My impression, for example, is that they give inordinate attention and approval to places in Piemonte, the area closest to France in geography and cuisine. Buy and study the Michelin guide before your trip to Italy, but take it, like everything else, with a grain (or even two) of salt.

Oh, by the way. Another touted restaurant is the Gambero Rosso in San Vincenzo, in Tuscany, which I find highly overrated. Caveat eator.