Da Vittorio is north east of Milan, near the historic town of Bergamo. It has a striking setting on the face of a hill, with a lovely garden terrace and, to one side a swimming pool; it was established as long ago as 1966 by the parents of the current duo of head chefs: brothers Enrico and Roberti Cerea. When the weather is good, as it was on our visit, you can dine outside, but the dining room itself is very attractive, with plenty of window seating with the same view down the hillside. There are ten well-appointed rooms, but the focus here is the seafood. My knowledgeable friend Jeff has been singing the praises of this restaurant for years, but it has taken me until now to make it here, which has been very much my loss.
As we looked at the menu in the summer sunshine we were brought a plate of nibbles, a Parmesan lollipop, a goat cheese stick and a mini croquet monsieur, all very playful and enjoyable (8/10). The tasting menu runs to either €140 or €160 for a pure seafood menu. The wine list is striking, with almost 3,000 separate wines listed and a cellar of around 15,000 bottles kept in a ground floor, temperature and humidity controlled cellar to the side of the hotel reception. Jermann Dreams 2007 from Fruili was a very fair €70 for a wine that costs €45 to buy, Antinori Tignanello 1996 was listed at €130 yet will set you back around €85, and the mark-ups continue at this moderate level as you move up the list. The divine Guigal La Turque 1997 was €280 yet will cost you €250 in a shop if you could find it, while the exclusive Romanee Conti La Tache 2001 at €1,100 was barely the current retail price. This is definitely a wine list for wine lovers.
A glass with a taste of king crab with lemon was very fresh and nicely balanced, while a little stick with a fried egg with anchovies also worked well (9/10). The breads, made here, had excellent texture: white, olive and brioche, as well as delicate bread sticks (9/10).
We went a la carte this evening, but shared some dishes. First up was a salad of king crab with frisee lettuce with wine cream and fresh tomato jelly. The crab (which unlike most of the seafood was not local but was from Alaska) had strikingly good flavour, but what impressed me most was the remarkably light cream made with white wine and a little milk mixed in with olive oil, which made a lovely accompaniment to the excellent leaves, and a fine balance to the flavour of the crab – this was a lovely balance of being rich yet with just enough acidity to be refreshing (10/10).
Paccheri (hollow pasta tubes) were cooked with wonderful local tomatoes and basil, with 36 month aged Parmesan cheese and, a nice touch, just a little chilli to lift the richness of the sauce. The tomatoes had lovely flavour and the seasoning balance was ideal, while the pasta itself remained slightly firm (9/10).
A trio of langoustines consisted of one tempura style, one with couscous, lemon and rosemary, and the other with a little balsamic. The langoustines were of very high quality indeed, having a superb sweet flavour, beautifully cooked. Ingredients like this do not require much to be done with them – indeed in some ways the less the kitchen intervenes the better (10/10).
Sea bass was cooked at the table-side in a big cast-iron pot at the bottom of which was a layer of very hot stones. Some water was poured over the stones and the pot covered, the resulting steam cooking the sea bass. As a piece of theatre, an egg timer was left on the table to time the cooking. The bass itself was of very high quality, infused with herbs and a hint of orange flavour, and served simply with a selection of diced vegetables. The quality of the fish did not need much in the way of distraction, so this simple dish worked very well (9/10).
For my main course I tried beef tartare made from Piedmont beef (hat tip to SG for the recommendation), which was topped with Worcester sauce ice cream to add the requisite bite. This was a nice variation on the traditional way of serving the dish, and here the beef itself was lovely and the spicy ice cream delivered just the right amount of kick; a texture contrast was provided by a very light caper crisp (10/10).
This was slightly better than a selection of tempura fish and shellfish with a lime dip with onion, yoghurt and prosecco, topped with a curl of fried potato. Although there was some acidity from the lime dip and the batter was certainly light, there was a lot of frying going on here for a single dish; perhaps another contrasting element could have been worked in (8/10).
Desserts were offered from a pretty stand to one side of the garden. Wild strawberry sponge was excellent, the seasonal fruits having terrific flavour, while we also sampled a perfect dark chocolate ice cream and a fine apple tart (comfortably 9/10 overall for desserts). The bill came to €225 each including wine. Service was excellent, the sommelier in particular knowledgeable and eager to make good suggestions (including down-selling me to a cheaper but excellent wine in one case). There were enough lovely dishes here for me to nudge the overall score into 10/10 territory, and the lovely setting definitely does justice to the food.