Trentino is often linked to its northern neighbor, Alto Adige. But it could hardly be further from the truth. Trentino is much warmer and much more Italian in style, feel, and look. The people of Trentino consider themselves Italian and speak the language. The food in Trentino is a cross between the Tyrolean cooking of Austria and the cooking of the Veneto, its neighbor to the southwest. Renowned throughout Italy for its annual harvest of apples, plums, chestnuts, and mushrooms, the agro-tourism business is hopping there. There are literally hundreds of masi: working farms with places to sleep and dine.
The region along the southern border of Trentino has a micro-climate from the lake effect of the northern end of Lago di Garda. There, some of the most northern olives in the world grow. The olives are picked later than most, from late November through February, and produce a light-textured sweetly perfumed oil perfectly flavored for the delicate lake fish it is often served on.
Polenta is the primary primo of the Trentino table, often served sautéed or grilled with butter and cheese, or as smacafam, an often-baked dish with sausages and mushrooms.
Although there are literally hundreds of great ristoranti, trattorie and masi outside of Trento, I will concentrate on the capital city itself. My favorite restaurant is not so famous, but certainly merits the whole trip. Al Tino is a simple trattoria serving excellent versions of Trentino classics including a canederlotti al puzzone to knock your socks off. The classic Carne Sala is a kind of pickle brined beef, sliced thinly and served raw like carpaccio, often with apples or beans, as it is here. Although strudel is considered foreign by purists, I find it delicious throughout Trentino and the version at Al Tino is definitive, rich with grappa soaked raisins and chestnuts.
The most famous place in town is called A le due Spade and justly so. There is a well-conceived excellence that emanates from the kitchen of Rita Vedana. Everything that comes to the table is Dreamy. Starting with the venison prosciutto with smoked ricotta and black truffles, the steamed testina with a green bean torta, and a poetry infused pumpkin soup with fresh water shrimp. Followed by strangolapreti with cabbage and smoky guanciale, and beet-filled half moons with duck ragu. Pheasant breast with lardo and apples, baby lamb with thyme and a tangy little cake of potatoes and sheep’s milk cheese keeps the passion alive and then little apple tarts with homemade apricot jam and sambuco flower gelato. The full on tasting menu is 50 euros and they will match wines for another Andrew Jackson. Make reservations at both of these places, especially at the 30 seat Spade.