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Al Ritrovo is an oasis of delicious food in Vicenza, Italy

By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 20, 2016

Rainy days in Vicenza are like rainy days anywhere. But Mondays in Vicenza, especially in winter, can really get you down. Shops are shuttered, on break from their enervating Tuesday-to-Saturday schedule. The main piazza at midday — usually crowded with fur-clad ladies, little dogs wearing sweaters and men shouting into their cellphones — is a ghost town. Even the restaurants are dark and empty.

That makes al Ritrovo even more of an oasis than usual.

The restaurant and wine bar, across a small piazza from the city’s cathedral, is among several in Vicenza that serves traditional regional dishes: bacala (the salted cod so beloved here), pasta with duck, octopus salad, salami and cheese plates. But it does so with a little more refinement and consistency than some others, and with a warm, modern ambiance. One wall in the dining room is painted red, with a long mirror; another is decorated with abstract paintings. The wood-beam ceiling is hung with glowing lamps. Service is friendly.

The menu features a variety of sea and land food, including vegetarian dishes, evenly apportioned among antipasti, first and second courses and what the menu calls single dishes, such as Greek or Caesar salads. There are six desserts. And many more wines.

I went on a recent Monday to find only two other tables in the dining room occupied. There were five Americans discussing art, and a lone Italian businessman who read the paper while he ate pasta with his napkin tucked into his collar like a bib.

I ordered the octopus salad (10 euros, about $11) for a starter. Served with diced potatoes, celery, cherry tomatoes and a side of tender greens, it really was once of the nicest ones I’ve enjoyed. I ate half to save room for my entree, planning to take the remainder home. My server, who had recommended what turned out to be a lovely crisp white wine, approached and asked me, “Porta via?” (“Take away?”). In my experience, that means take out. So I said yes.

Deciding on the entree wasn’t easy, although ruling out the fettuccine with chicory was. But that still left four appealing pastas, mixed fried fish, a veal filet, grilled steak and grilled Asiago cheese with vegetables, among others.

I chose the sea bass filet with olives, tomatoes, capers and potatoes. It was beautiful, with bright tomatoes, giant green capers and golden crispy potatoes atop a tender, mild, skin-on filet. It looked Christmassy, and it was delicious, worth the 16 euros.

I ate about half and again agreed when the server asked “Porta via?”

After my macchiato and chocolate coffee bean, I paid up and asked for my leftovers. My server was confused. She had taken away the food, all right — from the table and into the trash. A sadly typical Italian-English misunderstanding. Apparently, I should have clarified with “portare a casa,” which means “take home.”

I had been happy; now I wasn’t. Worse than the waste of money really was not having the yummy leftovers.

What happened next was not a typically Italian experience. Al Ritrovo’s head guy opened up the cash register and handed me 7 euros. It wasn’t half what my dishes had cost, but it was something.

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com

 

AL RITROVO

 

Location: 36100 Vicenza, Italy

Hours: 12:30-2:30 p.m. daily except Wednesdays, when the restaurant is closed; 7:30-10:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; 7:30-11 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

Dress: Casual

Costs: Moderate. Antipasti, salads, and first and second courses range from 9 euros to 16 euros ($9.57 to $17). At 18 euros, the sliced steak is the most expensive dish; the daily soup is least expensive at 8 euros. Desserts — tiramisu, puff pastry with berries, semifreddo, chocolate mousse and more — are each 5 euros.

English menu: Yes

Information: Phone (+39) 0444 54664, website: www.altritrovo.eu

Al Ritrovo's octopus salad with cherry tomatoes, potatoes and celery arrives with a side of greens. The restaurant is an oasis in Vicenza, Italy, on Mondays, when the city is a ghost town.
NANCY MONTGOMERY/STARS AND STRIPES

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