Whether it’s Fellini films or pizza, Italian culture has always had a certain pull for us in the States. When we think of Italy, we think of aesthetic elegance, romance, and a laid-back, joyful way of life. Or maybe that’s just what the Italophiles like me, who’ve been taken in by the genius melodrama of a Verdi opera, or the sublime flavor balance of good pistachio gelato, think. We are the type of people who wonder if you can spend a whole weekend exploring Italian-influenced art, architecture, music, and food — practically pretending to be on vacation in Italy — in an American city. After all, we crave the enchantment of Italian culture, and we’d like to find it closer to home, in places we can explore without dealing with customs and international flights.
Inspired by the recent arrival of the FIAT 500 on American shores, Flavorwire sent me to Miami, New Orleans, and San Francisco to find out if it was possible to recreate Italian grandeur right here stateside. In these cities where you might not expect to pull off a weekend jaunt all’Italiana, I discovered a surprising number of spots that retained their local flavor while staying true to the Italian spirit. Click through to explore the final of my three action-packed weekend itineraries that will show you where to find the magic of Italy without having to cross the Atlantic.
Ignore the people and the spacious highways, and you could mistake most of the Bay Area for a region in Northern Italy. Sloping hills and abundant fruit trees lend a Mediterranean feel to the landscape. Its produce has been used to recreate and reinvent Italian gastronomic classics — like wine, for instance. I happily discovered wineries in the Napa and Sonoma valleys that channel Italy, both in their products and hospitality. But that’s definitely not all there is to the area’s Italian offerings. In San Francisco, food, music and art with origins in Italy are plentiful, and often infused with fresh perspectives.
Evening: Trills and Bites
This season the San Francisco Opera is putting on Tosca and Così Fan Tutte — operas that showcase the elegance and elaborateness of the Italian language. Head to the opera company’s venue, the War Memorial Opera House, for a romantic evening. The building’s stunning Beaux-Arts architecture, lit up stylishly at night, will help set the mood.
301 Van Ness Avenue; (415) 861-4008.
A nightcap is waiting for you in the Mission: a glass of wine and late-night stuzzichini at Bar Bambino. There’s a well-curated list of reds from Northern Italy by the glass; pair your favorite one with some ripened cheese and stuffed olives.
2931 16th Street; (415) 701-8466.