The Jewel on Lago Maggiore
It’s worth the 45-minute drive from Milan to dine at Hostaria al Vecchio Portico, a cozy, 12-table restaurant facing Lago Maggiore in Arona, on the lake’s western edge. It feels as though you’ve been invited into someone’s home for dinner, specifically the home of the chef and owner, Pino Criolesi. The restaurant welcomes you with traditional Piemontese warmth, and the service is kind, professional and thoughtful.
Criolesi spins innovative threads into the fabric of local dishes. He spikes lake trout with tart green apples and ginger-lime vinaigrette, and he studs oversized, silky bone marrow with crunchy brioche breadcrumbs and a generous drift of black truffles. Don’t miss his turn on tajarin, a staple pasta dish in Italy’s northwestern corner. It is in its finest form here, where Criolesi captures the rich, pronounced earthiness of porcini, the deeply satisfying umami of properly cooked tomato paste and the pleasing combination of toothsome, eggy tagliatelle and satiny cream.
His wine list changes seasonally, featuring an abundance of local producers, several of whom you won’t find in the United States. Criolesi will happily jump out of the kitchen to suggest wine selections—maybe a fresh and focused Valfaccenda Roero Arneis, its coolness and waxy texture a perfect match for frutti di mare or something from artisanal producers like Skerk and Arianna Occhipinti, who occupy full-time slots on his list.
Leave space for the tiramisu, the classic “pick me up” that balances just-bitter cocoa powder with featherweight, Marsala-sweetened zabaglione. His sorbets are a measure of his talent: how he can combine three simple ingredients—water, sugar and fruit—to create sublime and sophisticated flavor.
Deep familial ties connect chef Criolesi not only to Arona but to the Piazza del Popolo where his restaurant is located: His parents were married in the 13th-century church next door, and his grandparents ran a pizza place just a few doors down.
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesday lunch
Reservations accepted by phone.
A la carte €40-50 pp, €60 with wine. €38 three course tasting menu.
Piazza del Popolo, 14 28041, Arona, Italy
0322 240 108
Sarah Sutel Looper has spent more time than most people obsessing over what makes a good all-purpose wineglass, whether it’s been when she worked in restaurants (Blue Ribbon, the Metropolitan Opera House and Mas (farmhouse)) and was W&S' Tasting Director. She is currently working harvest at Brooklyn Winery.
This story appears in the print issue of February 2018.
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