Monti della Laga (Mountains of the Lake) is a popular trattoria situated just north of the Strada Maestra (SS80), in the small town of Frattoli in the Teramo region of Abruzzo. We first became aware of this reportedly excellent Abruzzo restaurant thanks to a now rather dated Parco Nazionale Carta del Gusto produced way back in 2006, indicating notable restaurants and local producers. Previous attempts to sample Monti della Laga’s take on Abruzzo cuisine were unfortunately frustrated by the sheer popularity of this Frattoli’s finest (and to be fair only) eatery, resulting in no free tables.
Fortunately this October we decided to do the sensible thing and actually phone in advance! Thank goodness, as after the 50 minute drive from Bascianella to Frattoli and our arrival at Monti della Laga the trattoria was soon packed out. Frattoli is a small town in the Crognaleto commune, tucked away up in the hills, with excellent views into the valley, onto the skiing/hiking resort Prato Selva and the mountain peaks of the Gran Sasso range (see our review), but despite this relative size and remoteness Monti della Laga is always busy.
Ristoro Monti della Laga has, typical of so many of the finest restaurants in Abruzzo, an unassuming front, a Cafe sign in canary yellow and a small wooden sign declaring it, somewhat confusingly, as Locanda Valentina (named after one of the owners/chefs). However, step through the chainmail curtain at the front door and you find yourself in a fascinatingly attired, intimate space; two light, bright rooms, festooned with diaphanous floral curtains, old photographs of people, places & pastimes, wall-mounted wooden farming tools, a hat & hiking stick for an Abruzzo hill soldier, a vintage Spanish sign for Bacardi and all sorts of other weird & interesting things. Accompanying this ethnographical cornucopia is the wonderful, all-permeating smell of truffles, which makes for a great seasonal sensory context to this cheery restaurant.
On the Sunday we were here for ‘pranzo’ we had a set lunch, a clever idea that relieves the diner of the burden of impossible choices, relying on the inescapable tastiness of courses served! The table is pre-set with a selection of antipasti per diner, a simple spread of home-made cheeses and cold prosciutto & salame. Once devoured you are rapidly hit with the most amazing truffle, bean & pasta soup (a variant on the pasta fagioli), with wonderfully dente parallelogrammic pasta shapes (the name of which escapes me at the moment, perhaps tacconi). The truffle smell and taste infused this dish delicately without overwhelming.
Primi piatti consisted of two pasta dishes, first a fettucine con porcini e tartufo (mushrooms & truffle), again delicate, the light pasta lovely in its combination of softness and yet to-the-tooth resistance which was just perfect, the local mushrooms flavoursome & savoury, followed by 2 ricotta & mint ravioli, sumptuously large and covered in tomato sugo with a little minced meat, the mint a splendid counterpoint to the rich sauce and firm pasta.
The next course, secondo piatto, was a bit of a blur as we were served in quick succession with salad, potatoes, grilled pork, veal & lamb, thyme-infused goat casserole with rosemary, AND chunky sausages, almost more than our British bellies could bear! Even our Italian next-table neighbours were making small sounds of surrender and satiation by the time the semi-eponymous co-owner Valentina came round offering seconds (& thirds)…fortunately we had enough stomach space to at least eat some of the excellent, rich & filling tiramisu that rounded the meal off nicely, with coffee/digestif as a last option.
All this seasonal splendour not only left us happily sated and floating on a mild foody endorphin buzz (a sensation heightened by the sight & sound of young children volubly encouraging the restaurant owner to shake chestnuts from the trees outside), but also didn’t leave us out of the pocket, a staggering €25 each including a half-litre of wine and bottle of water! It is no wonder this place is so popular, despite being relatively out of the way…one of the Strada Maestra’s several hidden gems, alongside Locanda del Cervo and Ristorante Rocchetta.
Price – €50 incl. wine for 2 people
Value for money – 10/10
Quality of food – 9/10
Bar Trattoria Monti della Laga, frazione Frattoli, 64040 Crognaleto (TE)
Telephone – 0861957281