Fabulous Food or Magnificent Mood?

What tops your list when choosing a place to dine: is it the food or the mood?

When you’re traveling, do you seek out hole-in-wall eateries known for great food, or do you prefer a restaurant that looks so charming  you’re willing to risk mediocre {or worse} food to eat there?

Of course, it’s a delicious stroke of luck when you discover a place that has both great food and an appealing atmosphere, but sometimes you have to hope for the best.

HotelWaterside

When I traveled to the Lake Como region of Italy, I was part of a tour group where most of my meals were prepaid and the places already selected. I wasn’t sure if the tour leader’s favorite places to eat in Italy would be my favorites too, because I’m always a bit skeptical when someone proclaims a place has the best pizza, or the finest pasta, or the most magnificent view.

But after our welcome to Italy dinner, my expectations slowly started to build.

On that first night, I sat outdoors on a terrace beside the lake at a family-run restaurant with a casual vibe that made me feel as if I were a guest at someone’s home. I ate spinach and cheese crepes as I watched the sun set behind the mountains.

I didn’t know how the next night could top that one.

SpinachCrepes

But, it did with a four-course dinner created by an Italian TV chef and served outside under an arbor of grape vines.

Every course he brought out was more beautiful than the one I’d just finished and I couldn’t wait to sink my fork into my bright blue bowl of pasta with capers and olives.

I felt sure that would reign as my favorite meal since it was pure magic to be dining in such an iconic setting in the hills of Italy.

PastaSaliceBlu

But I hadn’t yet experienced Al Velu, a restaurant and inn situated atop a steep hillside.

At sunset, I stood at a cheese and cocktail welcome reception with a peach bellini in hand, looking at the spectacular valley and village below.

When dinner was served there was no need to tear myself away from the view, since our tables were set up right at the edge of the terrace. I was lucky to grab a chair that faced the gorgeous scenery, so I could enjoy it all evening long.

AlVeluTop

AlVeluTerrace

For dinner, I ordered a locally farmed fish but was quite startled to see it arrive with its tail still intact.

Thankfully it was already missing its head, and my first bite made further fears evaporate because it was the most delicious fish I’ve ever eaten.

Fish

Accompanied by salty, crispy zucchini fries, it was the most amazing dinner I had on my entire trip — and I think it still holds the top spot of the best dinner of any trip I’ve ever taken.

When twilight settled over the lake and the lights of the town sparkled, I felt as if I were in a fairyland.

But I’ve discovered that’s just part of the magic of Italy.

Every corner holds a new surprise, even if it’s right where I’ve been all week long.

HotelOutdoorView

For my one free night to venture out on my own for dinner, I chose the restaurant at my hotel.

I’d watched from my room as travelers dined under a canopy of wisteria on the terrace across the street from the hotel and I decided it was my turn to eat under the stars.

The elegant Hotel Florence in Bellagio has been around for more than 150 years, with illustrious visitors like Puccini, Toscanini, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. So charming inside and out, it’s easy to see why it continues to attract tourists today.

HotelFlFromStreet

My dinner looked as good as it tasted as I ordered risotto with green peas and goat cheese and a pasta package filled with eggplant and savory meat sauce.

The setting reminded me of the starry scenes from A Midsummer’s Night Dream as I ended the night with a scrumptious dessert of passion fruit creme brûlée.

Fabulous food: Risotto750

Fabulous food: HotelFlPasta750

Fabulous food: CremeBrulee

After I got home, I was surprised to read some unflattering online reviews of all the places I’d eaten. Some of the complaints were so opposite of what I’d experienced that I wondered if the reviewers really ate at the same places I did.

That’s why I decide to take reviewers’ opinions with a grain of salt.

Besides, I’ve always preferred to dine in a charming atmosphere and take my chances with the food.

And after my dinners in Italy where I had the best of both worlds, sometimes I want to have my cake and eat it too.

BarFlorence750What do you look for in a restaurant when you travel: great food or a great view? Tell us in the comments!

Valerie Sisco writes the blog Grace with Silk. She lives in Orlando, Florida, where she’s dreaming of her next travel adventure. Follow her journeys via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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