Ristorante Charleston, Milan, Italy
Though frequently dismissed (wrongly) as just a gray, industrial sub-city, in fact Milan is Italy's capital of culture and fashion – home to the famous Brera art gallery, the world-renowned La Scala opera company, the ultra-chic Via Montenapoleone shopping street, and dozens of architectural monuments that proudly declare a storied history. So what's missing from this cosmopolitan city? Well, try getting a late evening meal or dinner after a night on the town. It's a challenge.
In fact, almost every restaurant in town is chiuso after 10:30 p.m., even on weekends. That includes the restaurants around the La Scala opera house, which inexplicably close up shop before the curtain comes down, releasing hordes of hungry and well-heeled audience members who would gladly drop a pretty bundle of euros on rich northern cuisine and fine Barolos. There is hope, though, in the example of Ristorante Charleston, a fantastic restaurant centrally located next to the Ferrari store on Piazza della Libertà (you know the one, right?), which keeps the midnight oil burning until at least half past midnight and is open daily (though reservations are recommended).
Serving superb Tuscan cuisine, Mariuccia and Alberto Cortesi's bright and airy restaurant (don't miss the terrace for an al fresco summer meal) sports a fun, relaxed atmosphere that reflects the 1920s dance from which it takes its name (the restaurant's logo is a caricature of a smiling flapper in frenzied exertion). Best of all, you are in the heart of Milan, an easy walk from the Duomo subway stop, yet far enough away from the main tourist drag to enjoy the company of locals instead of the usual pack of Eurotourists.
A fine meal at Charleston begins with acciughe – anchovies. Open your mind and remember that in this part of the world, anchovies are not a reviled pizza topping, but a delicacy best served chilled in olive oil with butter and crostini (12 euros). Try them – we swear you'll fall in love. Appetizing pasta dishes include linguini tarantina, that is, linguini with clams and mussels (22 euros), and the classic red sauce Italian dish, spaghetti bolognese (spaghetti with meat sauce, 22 euros). A large menu of pizzas (around 16 euros) emerge fresh from brick ovens. Try one with prosciutto carved directly from the prominently displayed side of cured pig. And don't forget dessert, where specialties include green apple sorbet drenched in Calvados (7 euros).
Wine flows readily at Charleston, with an impressive list featuring selections from all over the Italian peninsula, along with pleasing vintages from Sicily and Sardinia as well. If beer is more your style, then naturally Peroni, Italy's national beer, is on tap. [Ristorante Charleston, 8 Piazza della Libertà, Milan, Italy. +39 02-798-631, ristorantecharleston.it]