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Architecture: Monumental Dining | Renzo Piano

Italian master architect Renzo Piano works on a monumental scale. Here, three of his latest megabuildings—and the best places to eat nearby.

Turin

Renzo Piano is a man of outsize talents. Winner in 1998 of the Pritzker Prize, one of architecture's most prestigious honors, the 65-year-old Piano has created modernist structures around the globe, from the museum for the Menil Collection in Houston to the Bercy Shopping Center in Paris to the world's largest airport terminal, on a man-made island in Osaka Bay, Japan. In the last few years, the Genoa-born Piano has focused much of his attention on his native Italy. Among his recent projects are a provocative art gallery atop the Fiat factory in Turin, a series of grand music halls in Rome and a spiral stone church in San Giovanni Rotondo, in the region of Puglia, which is due to be completed this November. For people who love food and wine as much as architecture, here's a tour of Piano's new projects—and the best places to eat and sleep along the way.

Piano's steel-and-glass gallery atop Turin's recently refurbished Fiat factory is a bold venue for a world-class art collection. The top floor, a 400-ton steel box overlooking the factory's former rooftop racetrack, seems to float above the building. The daring structure houses 25 masterpieces from the private collection of the Agnelli family, Fiat's founders, including works by Renoir, Matisse and Picasso (Via Nizza 230; 011-39-011-0062-008).

Turin Restaurants

Neuv Caval'd Brôns Located in the Piazza San Carlo, the site of the famous statue of Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoy, this upstairs restaurant has the feel of a home dining room. Chef Carlo Chiti uses seasonal ingredients in dishes like stuffed fillet of grouper, perch or swordfish with mushrooms. And sommelier Lido Guabello guides diners through a list that emphasizes Piedmont reds (Piazza San Carlo 151; 011-39-011-562-7483).

Torpedo Named for a Fiat model from the 1930s, this Piano-designed restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows (in the same style as those in the original Fiat factory); terra-cotta table linens and cherrywood paneling add warmth. Chef Daniele Giolitto, a Turin native, has been influenced by Japan, as revealed in dishes like swordfish sashimi with eggplant and rhubarb-ginger jam. For traditionalists, there's homemade pasta and local cheeses like rare toma and Castelmagno (Via Nizza 262; 011-39-011-664-2000).

Guido Gobino Turin is the home of the now-ubiquitous gianduiotti, gold-foil-wrapped candies made with hazelnuts and chocolate, and Guido Gobino is a great place to buy them. Inside the spare shop, the founder's grandson and namesake fashions Easter eggs (in season) and mini gianduiotti called tourinot. If you call a month in advance, Gobino himself will lead a tour of the laboratory (Via Cagliari 15; 011-39-011-247-6245).

Turin Hotel

Le Meridien Lingotto Also designed by Piano, the hotel has an open-air garden and, again, that cherrywood paneling. Scattered throughout the hotel is original furniture from designers like Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen (Via Nizza 262; 011-39-011-664-2000).

San Giovanni Rotondo

San Giovanni Rotondo, on the spur of Italy's boot in Puglia, is a destination for the religious—and the curious—who come to visit the crypt of Padre Pio, a monk who was reported to have been a miracle-worker until his death in 1968. To better accommodate these pilgrims, Piano was charged with creating a grand but inviting church. Due for completion this fall, the spiral structure converges at a central point. It will accommodate 6,000 people inside and another 30,000 in the piazza.

San Giovanni Rotondo and Monte Sant'angelo Restaurants

Osteria Antica Piazzetta On a tiny street just a mile from Piano's sprawling sanctuary, Osteria Antica Piazzetta, housed in a 1920s cinema, is the exception to the mostly dismal dining scene in San Giovanni Rotondo. The decor is rustic: stone walls, green-and-yellow plaid tablecloths. Owners Michele and Teresa Natale showcase local fish from the nearby port of Manfredonia in dishes like braised monkfish and foil-baked bream. Cheeses, like caciocavallo made from the milk of local Podolica cows, complement big red wines like those from the D'Alfonso del Sordo winery in Puglia (Via Al Mercato 13; 011-39-0882-451-920).

Enoteca dei Forni A local hangout, this cozy two-room enoteca is lined with shelves and cupboards of bottles; it's the perfect stop for a snack—like cheeses and salumi (cured meats)—and a glass of one of the many Pugliese wines friendly owner Pietro Placentino also sells to go (Via Placentino Antonio 4; 011-39-0882-452-598).

Taverna Li Jalantuumene Set in the medieval part of the nearby town of Monte Sant'Angelo, just 12 miles from Piano's church, Taverna Li Jalantuumene is a modern mom-and-pop restaurant. It's also one of the area's few nonsmoking restaurants. Gegè Mangano and his wife, Ninni Totaro, serve simple dishes with local ingredients: homemade pasta with fava-bean ragù, lamb with red wine sauce. For dessert, small wafers sandwich whole almonds, honey, lemon, orange and cinnamon; you can even buy a pack of the sweets to enjoy at home (Piazza de Galganis 5; 011-39-0884-565-484).

Forno Tuccidd Michele Masulli and his 20-year-old son Lino run the only wood-burning oven in Monte Sant' Angelo, making bread from potatoes and soft wheat flour. You can watch the father-son team kneading and shaping their round loaves but, due to local law, you can't buy bread at the bakery; you'll have to head to a nearby shop on the Via Ruggero Bonghi called Alimentari L'Olmo (to which the bakers will direct you).

Monte Sant'angelo Hotel

Hotel Michael This hotel, with its comfortable beds, is convenient and economical. Rooms are basic, but breakfast on the terrace is astounding: The view of the Tomba di Rotari, a 12th-century baptistry, is superb (Via Reale Basilica 86; 011-39-0884-565-519).

Rome

The supposed anniversary of Rome's founding is April 21, and it was on this date last year that 24 hours of live concerts officially heralded the opening of Piano's music park—a gargantuan complex with three enormous concert halls, each made of local materials, such as travertine (Italian limestone) and redbrick. The mini city also houses shops and restaurants; master architect Zaha Hadid's Center for Contemporary Arts is slated to join the site in 2006 (Viale Pietro de Coubertin 30; 011-39-06-80241).

Rome Restaurants

ReD Opened inside the auditorium complex just before the start of 2003, ReD (short for ristorante e design) hints at its quirky approach, and emphasis on design, with its name. Customers receive color-coded menus: a blue menu listing salumi (such as wild boar and venison), raw-milk cheese plates (Taleggio with reduced grape juice, Gorgonzola with fig puree and acacia honey) and terrines (guinea hen and pistachio, foie gras and figs); an orange menu with chef Fabrizio Fatucci's innovations, such as artichokes three ways (fried, pureed, braised); a burgundy-colored menu with the daily wines by the glass; and a green menu listing descriptions and prices of the restaurant's furnishings, which are all for sale (Viale Pietro de Coubertin 30; 011-39-06-806-91630).

Il Bicchiere di Mastai This wine bar near Piazza Navona has developed a snacking menu that includes orange and black-olive salad, thin shavings of raw bream with orange and bottarga (roe), and smoked duck breast with pomegranate vinaigrette. There are nearly 40 Italian olive oils offered, as well as offbeat desserts—orange terrine with zabaglione, green-tea tiramisù. The rotating wine list features up to 300 bottles at a time (Via Dei Banchi Nuovi 52; 011-39-06-681-92228).

La Pergola Chef Heinz Beck was recently awarded two Michelin stars for the exquisite dishes he turns out at La Pergola, the most elegant restaurant in all of Rome. Special touches include tiny bottles of Armando Manni's extra-virgin olive oil, a separate menu of mineral waters, five kinds of salt—and a spectacular view of the cityscape and Castel Sant'Angelo, a fortress completed in 139 A.D. (Via A. Cadlolo 101; 011-39-06-35091).

Rome Hotel

Cavalieri Hilton Right outside the city center, the Cavalieri Hilton offers respite from the chaos of Rome. There's even an on-site spa, gym and pool. But the biggest perk is the easy access to La Pergola, on the roof. Inside, the halls are filled with antiques—paintings, tapestries, urns—from owner Guido Terruzzi's personal collection (Via A. Cadlolo 101; 011-39-06-3509-2031).

Faith Heller Willinger, the author of Eating in Italy and Red, White & Greens, can be found at www.faithwillinger.com.

Published April 2003
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