A gleaming valley ready to reveal itself leisurely and two "food mates" cooking in harmony: Ca' del Moro is the resort with a kitchen and cellar redefining tourism half an hour from Verona.
In the background of the model hospitality stands a myth as immortal as it is unreal: "Make the guest feel at home." A warm catchphrase, sparkling like a lit fireplace, if not often used to fill the gaps of services and dishes hastily put together - which is why many hesitate to utter it, steering clear of banality. However, there are enveloping places almost like homes: less flashy, not so urban, and naturally inclined to the ritual of welcome.
You get there by leaving the city behind, with its noises and inevitable schizophrenias, to climb a hill decorated with vineyards or a path scented with chlorophyll. Ca' del Moro is found like this, leaping into a rural canvas called Valpantena. XXL bunches of grapes, quarries of red marble, and the Lessini Mountains as quiet spectators, all in a natural arena half an hour away from the one that looms in the center of Verona.
"Valpantena" means "Valley of the gods", and when you are inside, you realize why. It was here, in the 1960s, that Armando Gianolli bought the farmhouse of his beloved nurse, soon handing it over to his son Massimo, now the standard-bearer of a fortress that combines cellar, restaurant, and resort (where rooms are named after wines: imagine that) in the instant of a modern country routine.
Gradually, the trees with rosy blooms gave way to rows, drawing the grid of a company ahead of its time for area development; yet, the name remains "Collina dei Ciliegi" (Cherry Hill), and Armando, now 98, continues to gaze at it with dreamy eyes scanning the landscape from the peaks to the undergrowth, while Massimo invests in culture - for example, financing the restoration of the Duomo di Milano with the proceeds from a brut sparkling wine, then hosting "al fresco" (among barrels and terracotta amphorae) his powerful marble giants waiting for placement.
After check-in, the only firm rule is complete countryside freedom: it means going out on an e-bike when the sun rises and riding a horse just before it sets; loosening the muscles in a dewy grass yoga session and indulging in the mountain dairy yogurts from Lessinia. It means feeling like adopted children of a rustic valley, yet maternal, ready to reveal its iridescent Eden without haste; exactly what won over Giuseppe Lamanna, a young Calabrian who came to Veneto to take on the role of head chef alongside his partner and sous chef Lina Maffia.
Two "food mates" capable of drawing a straight line from North to South, not only in the pantry but also in the reality of expression. While Giuseppe and Lina cultivate the garden in an olfactory rave of about 70 aromatic species, they also bring the best 'nduja from Spilinga "that, instead of setting the jaw on fire, doses the spiciness with kindness"; and if they buy niche products on which local producers base their livelihood, they gladly skip the predictability fence on the stoves.
"Working in a region different from one's own enhances product know-how: for me, for example, excursions to the cellar are enlightening," explains Giuseppe. "We always tend to consider wine an 'adopted relative' of the dishes. Instead, it can become an ingredient, enhancer of perception, or even 'liquid art,' speaking of the infinite shades of color that differentiate varieties and vintages." The difficulty? Going beyond. Because when the visitor discovers rooms themed after Recioto or Amarone, tastes glasses facing the valley, or sees the large vault dedicated to premium bottle owners, they come to dinner loaded with expectations.
"We must cultivate that initial curiosity sprout. And we do it mostly in a laboratory without walls, from taking care of our beehives to protecting the Brogna sheep (now present in few garments, although raised for centuries on the surrounding pastures), to using precious autochthonous saffron." The kitchen is the starting and ending point of each day, the synthesis of a thick bundle of activities that, however, do not weigh. "Taking care" - the phrase in which the gestures of Giuseppe and Lina converge, a minute before putting on the apron.
The restaurant and the dishes
Don't expect a room imbued with austerity: Ca' del Moro embodies the essence of "casual dining," with large windows framing snippets of the hill, a ceiling adorned with vintage-style beams, and paintings zooming into daylight hours spent in the vineyards. There are two "unseen" menus created by the chef (5 courses at 70 euros or 9 at 100 euros), plus the usual freestyle à la carte.
Entertaining are the bite-sized starters: toasted bread becomes sauce to soak the trout with Garda lemon gel; wild boar flesh enclosed in the core of a mini-terrestrial sphere, topped with a "spicy dot" of mustard mayo; the plumcake, yes, but with forest porcini. Even the warm loaf changes its face, covered with a fine grape powder that strengthens the kitchen-cellar pact, then welcomes an emulsified milk and Maldon salt oil that you will probably indulge in without regretting the butter.
At the starting blocks, an autumn taste: the season comes out with the Violin Pumpkin in different consistencies, from the pulp to the seed crumble, to the fragrant oil pushing the vegetable's fragrance. In closure, the long echo of Valpantena olive tapenade shifts the boundaries of the vegetable. The Egg cooked sous-vide "royal edition" is easy to enjoy, with the addition of Monte Veronese (a local soft cheese that leaves behind the memory of fresh cream) and Lessinia saffron to enrich the yolk flow; almost an old friend who has changed looks: same shirt, new patterns on the basic fabric.
Breaking the ice, in the first courses, Giuseppe and Lina leave a deeper mark: the duo registers grains in the book of contrasts with the tortello, thanks to a rabbit filling that stays in the delicacy zone, while the veal stock delves into the smoky variations of long cooking, and the Storo polenta gives a small velvety sensation. The same goes for the Amarone Risotto, the proud mascot of the restaurant where Giuseppe sharpens the excess roundness with a multi taste trick: closing the alcoholic parenthesis, the toning tangerine gel, the laurel meringue, and the Parmigiano savory shortcrust. A vibrant chorus, accomplice to the pairing with the sumptuous Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2019 from La Collina dei Ciliegi.
Between a Wild Boar Fillet, its braised counterpart, and a Charcoal-grilled Beef Bavette with pearà foam, there is also room for the unexpected: a pre-dessert adaptation of an ancient grain egg spaghetti, bronze-cut by Giuseppe himself. "It's a pasta 'dyed' with a reduction of three complementary tomato varieties (cherry, pixel)." On the sides, wafers of dried vegetables; above, smoked ricotta to keep the flame of 'nduja alive. Breakpoint: the hot knot is a teleportation to the South saying "hello" to saltiness; and the reset comes after an extension of sensations that has surprised us in its own way.
The pastry remains delightful thanks to the Pink Pepper Brownie, walnuts, salted caramel, and pomegranate sorbet. A font all curves that sweetens even the word "end."
Ca' del Moro
Località Erbin N.31, 37023 Grezzana (VR)
Tel. +39 045 9814900