To me the crown of the visit of a city is when I find a homely place where to sit down for a while. It does not have to be a restaurant: it can be a bench, a fountain or some stairs, where I can stay in peace for a while, assimilating the impression of the city. This place will be my home in that city while I am there, and ever since in my memories.
It does not have to be a restaurant, but it is a majestic feeling when I succeed in finding a restaurant which is suitable for becoming such a home. A restaurant which, with its natural and personal atmosphere, simple furnishings, the objects piling up above the counter and on the walls, and the informal manners of the waiter from the beginning suggests this homeliness and timelessness. A place that is visited by the people in the neighborhood both for the sake of the kitchen and of the company.
I’m no gourmand, so when I manage to find such a place, I’m not anxious about the quality of its kitchen. In a really authentic place the chef cannot be bad either, especially if local people really go there. Now, however, as we visited Urbino in a company of gourmands, I made all efforts to find something that would please them from this point of view as well.
When we were in Urbino a year and half ago, we were looking for such a place at dinner time, but in vain. Finally in the wine-house at the end of via Raffaello they gave us some tips, adding with resignation that “anyway, there is no free table there at this time”. Finally there was one in the cellar of L’Angolo Divino, and it was not bad either, but I thought that for the next occasion it would be better to become proficient well in advance in the restaurants of the town.
The category just described is called in Italy osteria (inn), trattoria (hash-house) or taverna (pub). Unfortunately the orientation is made more difficult by the fact that recently many fashionable restaurants too adopted these names to evoke a traditional feeling, just like modern csárda’s do in Hungary. Nevertheless this is a good starting point. I have therefore composed from the web a list of restaurants in Urbino, putting on the first place those bearing the above names, and then I have searched for their mentions on the main blog servers. I supposed that tourists reporting on their impressions would also mention the restaurants they found sympathetic. I especially counted on the opinions of those coming round from other Italian cities who would know local standards better than foreigners. And I was not disappointed indeed. Various blog authors in various languages recommended the following places entro le mura of Urbino (moving the mouse over their names you can read some short info on them):
Naturally in and immediately around the town there are a lot more – about forty – restaurants, and it is not certain that some of them are not better than these eight ones. These only differ from the rest in that they possess “web references”, while the others do not, so if you have only a few time for experimenting – like we did now – then it is safer to try these.
If our benevolent Readers have good experiences with any other restaurant, we would gladly insert them too on the map.
From these eight we have chosen this time the Taverna degli Artisti. This place can be found towards the end of via Bramante, almost at the town gate, far from any shop or restaurant, and its trade-sign is only a little lamp above the door and a modest board in the shop-window. Without the above preliminary studies we would have certainly not entered here. Enlightened, however, we also knew that we would have to necessarily book a table, if there will be any free table here at all by the time we arrive to Urbino.
And there was one. True, only at ten and a half, one single table. The two half-cellars – as you have to descend on scales from the street, but the room has windows on the other side through which you can look down on the town – were filled up by students, perhaps from the faculty of fine arts, of great importance in Urbino, that might also explain the name of the place. Another explanation is granted by the 18th-century frescoes decorating all the premises of the restaurant. These, if you have a closer look at them, have been just recently made, in original style. They were most probably painted by the students of the faculty, perhaps consuming in the evening what they worked for during the daytime.
If it happened really so, then it was a splendid deal for them. In fact, the kitchen of the Taverna degli Artisti is so fantastic that it surpasses every other Italian restaurant known to me. I have been visiting Italy for more than twenty years as a student, an interpreter, a researcher and for seeing my friends, but I have never tasted so refined dishes that I can compare only with those of the subtlest Chinese restaurants in China. We have asked for fresh mushroom salad, chitarrine (a typical pasta of Marche), ravioli with walnut and mushroom, buffalo-milk mozzarella that, in contrast to the one you can buy in the shops, melted in the mouth like sponge cake, and a majestic roasted lamb’s cutlet – but I think any other composition of this kitchen would have fascinated us as well. The wine of the house was an especially fine, light one from Marche in bottles of one liter, a real refreshment after the heavy Tuscan wines. We have ordered twice of it, and we have also asked for a dessert, but even so we have paid less than 18 euros per head at the end of the dinner.
And then there are yet seven – or, if we disregard the already tested and approved Angolo Divino, then six – warranted places left for the next visits. I do not know whether they will be able to surpass the Artisti, but one thing is sure, that we will find much pleasure in testing them.
Update. We have just discovered that four days ago Ashley and Jason, owners of the nearby agriturismo La Tavola Marche – and friends of Giulia mentioned in our previous post – also were in Urbino, also had a dinner in the Artisti, and they confirm our suspicion that the frescoes were in fact painted by art students. – It is interesting – and comforting – to see that the last photo of their post shows unharmed that inscription on the town’s statue of Raffaello which we had seen broken three days earlier together with the right hand of the putto holding it.