By: Robert Buxbaum

Sameola di Rubano may have once been a small town or village, but today, Le Calandre is part of a suburban strip mall on both sides of an active road. Under the same management as the restaurant and in the same building, although accessed by separate entrances, is the Hotel Maccaroni. Our room offered adequate comfort for an overnight stay. The stall shower could be larger, but otherwise I have no complaints. The bed was comfortable and the room was a good size. The minimalist austerity is softened by some clever graphics involving maccaroni that are far more appealing and original than most of what passes for hotel art. The restaurant is affiliated with the Relais & Chateaux group, the hotel is not. Although the food could easily sustain a longer visit, the location offers none of the charm or excitement of either a city center or rural retreat and is unlikely to serve as a base for an extended visit. Around the corner in the same building is the Alajmo pastry shop, La Calandrina, offering food as well as pastry at the tables, and across the street is Alimentari aVittorio, their fancy food store. When we left, on a Saturday, La Calendrina seemed to be bustling. For those who want more than the minimal continental breakfast that comes with the room, it might be tempting.

Nearby Padova has its own rewards. Most notable, and a destination for art lovers, are the Giotto murals in La Cappella degli Scrovegni for which reservations must be made in advance. You can book on the Scrovengi Chapel web site. Parking in the center of Padova is difficult and if you can’t find a spot on the street or in a central garage, you might save yourself some aggravation by parking in one of the more peripheral parking lots.

Dinner at le Calandre, a restaurant with three forks from Gambero Rosso and three stars from Michelin, may well have been the finest meal of our trip last month, in terms of food, service, and ambiance, nevertheless we weren’t convinced it was a strong three-star dinner.

Because ordering a la carte meant larger courses and fewer dishes to taste, we were set on having one of the tasting menus. The Menu Degustasione, I grandi classici delle “Calandre” (at 150) seemed to be the ideal choice for a first visit to Calandre, and the matre d’ confirmed our decision by noting it was his recommendation for first time guests, but when the meal was over, we wondered if a menu with Massimiliano Alajmo’s latest dishes wouldn’t have been more impressive. I don’t mean to imply we were disappointed. In fact, dinner left us wanting very much to return and try more of his food. For at least a moment, I considered canceling one of our other reservations in the area and circling back for another meal. This is clearly a destination restaurant and as much as I’ll say that traveling in Spain has spoiled us for both France and Italy, I’ll also note that the suckling pig with which our menu concluded its savory courses challenged the pork we’ve loved in great restaurants in Spain. Then again the very creative chocolate desserts presented with “now we’re going to have some fun” were something we both found a little trying at the end of a long dinner and not that much fun.

Information travels all too quickly these days. Knock offs of the latest food creations appear halfway around the world almost overnight, sometimes in more interesting adaptations. By the time one gets to taste the original, it no longer seems creative, let alone fresh.

The sommelier’s recommendation of a local nutty Nogarole Spumante from the Veneto in response to our request for a Prosecco as an aperitif won us over enough to seek her advice later for a red wine from the region. The spumante was lovely and the red, a Mithas made from the Rondinella grape, in the style of an Amarone just got better and better through the meal. It’s smokiness was superb with the suckling pig.

The service of both food and wine was as good as the wine advice. We wanted for nothing including descriptions of our dishes in Italian, and when needed, in English. Anglophones in Spain have sometimes complained that they don’t find multilingual fluent staff even in the top places. We came to expect English fluency even in mid-range trattorie in Italy, possibly the result of generations, if not centuries, of English speaking travelers with some taste, but also with the proverbial inability to learn a foreign language.

Il carrello dei formaggi,offered what was definitely the best cheese course we had in Italy and the only cheese course we experienced that was worthy of multistarred restaurant. It held its own against many a French cheese course. Undoubtedly, it had to figure into the impression made on the Michelin inspectors. Let’s just say we were pleased. An excellent and varied selection of cow, goat and sheep cheeses from Italy was rolled to our table; there was a responsive discussion of the cheeses; and successive pieces were cut to our order.

Dinner began with a refreshing amuse of chicken salad with lettuce and apple cubes elevated from the ordinary by a beer sorbet and I’ve always had a taste for beer as an aperitif. Wine lovers often don’t give the flavor of beer enough credit.

Involtini de scampi fritti su salsa di Lattuga Skewered shrimp enveloped in what seemed like fried Chinese noodle, with a puree of lettuce were well executed, but not particularly unique.
Cappuccino di seppie al nero A cross between cream of potato soup and puree, with squid and squid ink. Sometimes I have to just give up on understanding the nomenclature of modern dishes. This cappuccino didn’t really resemble the traditional coffee drink or the the modern soups with foam on the surface, but I found this very much like comfort food.


Cannellone croccante di ricotta e mozzarella di bufala con passata di pomodoro Crispy phyllo dough tubes with a ricotta and buffalo mozzarella stuffing and tomato sauce were a cross between cannelloni and delicate savory cannolli. A nice play on the pasta course. I thought they would have made excellent finger food at a cocktail party.
Risotto allo zafferano con polvere di liquirizia Saffron risotto with licorice powder is clearly one of Massimiliano Alajmo’s signature dishes, if not the signature dish. It’s a striking and arresting flavor that takes risotto from the center of comfort food and pushes it to the brink. It’s success for me lies in stopping just short of excess as well as the counterpoint of the licorice. Esilda was even more impressed than I was with the result.
La carne battuta “sulla corteccia” A puree, of pounded raw beef with truffles and an egg sauce was served without utensils. Eating it with one’s hands, as instructed, may heighten one’s reaction, positive or negative, to the dish. We were split on the success of this dish and perhaps on the need to eat it with our hands. Finger bowls followed, if there was any doubt.
Maialino da latte al forno con salsa di senape e polvere di caffe Pork with mustard foam & mustard greens. Simply mouthwatering and succulent, although there was more than enough mustard foam to overpower the meat if you weren’t judicious in using it as a condiment.
Mamma Rita (crema soffice di ricotta, uvetta, mela e polvere di zaeti) Soft ricotta cream, raisins, polenta cake with apple marmalade, Italian meringue and cornmeal cookie crumbs. Homage to his mother’s cooking. Mamma’s cooking, by the way, earned the restaurant its first star.

Il Gioccolato gioco al cioccolato 2005 Chocolate fun and games in two services. The room was warm and I was sated by the time the final desserts arrived. It had been a long day dodging the rain and trying to find convenient parking while sightseeing in Padova. Perhaps that may explain why neither of us found the games as much fun as the chef evidently intended or the waitress implied we would.

We had eaten a rewarding meal and had a wonderful time. We regarded the chocolate as as an extra. There were high spots and funny spots as well as more than a few “whys.” The “fun” began with chocolate and sugar in a bowl into which the waiter poured hot water. After stirring it with a pestle all of this I thought could just as well have been for us we dunked a slice of banana into the resulting sauce. Later there was apple sorbet and chocolate mousse, some chocolate to be sucked out of a paper tube, eggplant with chocolate and a chocolate cannolli stuffed with a chili pepper chocolate. Finally, there was a metal tube. I don’t recall what it was we sucked out of the tube, but Esilda didn’t find the flavor pleasant.

Le Calandre Via Liguria, 1 35030 Sameola di Rubano, Padova Italy +39 049 630303