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A curious movement is happening on the ancient streets of Milan.
While the lingering economic crisis has given a tatty edge to the city, the hub for the World Expo fair in 2015 is abuzz with activity. The lively pocket includes the fabled Brera antiques and art district, and neighboring areas Isola and Porta Nuova. Since glittery skyscrapers designed by fashionable architects sprouted, a flurry of hotels, bars and boutiques have followed. Palpable on the streets of these districts is a creative vibe that enveloped Milan in its glory days.
Here are a few new destinations in the smoggy city’s brightest spot.
RISTORANTE BERTON: Chef Andra Berton has restaurant kudos in spades. A protégé of Gualterio Marchesi, considered the father of modern Italian cuisine, Berton was head chef of Trussardi alla Scala and is already behind a duo of the coolest eateries in Isola — bistro Pisacco and cocktail and pizza bar Dry.
Ensconced on the ground floor of a slick new building in Porta Nuova, Ristorante Berton’s sweeping glass windows and elegant wood details are the hallmarks of Berton’s modern Milanese dining statement. Even the plates, crafted from a light ceramic, are custom made. But the real star is Berton’s understated, intriguing menu.
“I create authentic contemporary Italian dishes, with a mix of identifiable flavors,” Berton said. His signature is using a simple component of cooking — broth — and serving it with diverse fish and meats
Dishes like black cod with prosciutto broth, crisped bread and puntarelle could be the clincher in netting Berton’s next Michelin star.
13 Viale della Liberazione
Monday and Saturday, 7:30-10:30 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 12:30-3 p.m. and 7:30-10:30 p.m.
PALAZZO PARIGI HOTEL: The best of this new hotel might be yet to come: a roof garden and infinity pool, and a 16,000-square-foot palace dedicated to beauty dubbed the Grand Spa. Both are slated for spring openings, but there are already many reasons to stay at Palazzo Parigi.
On the edge of Brera, the hotel’s architecture and interiors play Milan minimalism off Parisian chic. Unifying the two cities’ styles is a marriage of elaborate mosaic wood and marble floors, vintage mirrors from Naples, a manicured interior winter garden and a curious mix of art and antiques.
A Parisian master pastry chef creates sweet delicacies, while Italian dining is masterfully expressed at Cracco at Palazzo, the restaurant by Italian master chef Carlo Cracco. In a space designed like an Italian theater, the chef can be seen putting the final touches on a dish before it arrives at one of the elegant circular tables.
1 Corso di Porta Nuova
CAUDALÍE: Besides the eccentric antiques boutiques and galleries, Brera has also become home to a burgeoning niche beauty scene with its curated perfumeries and makeup stores.
French brand Caudalíe’s new flagship has a sublime edge: express mini treatments on the house. A 10-minute wine facial adds instant glow, and an intense hand massage restores moisture to the skin, and other spa treatments can be booked in the shop’s in-store cabin.
14 Via Fiori Chiari
Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
DANIEL: Energetic Venetian Daniel Canzian brings master kitchen skills gleaned as executive chef for Gualtiero Marchesi to his debut restaurant in Brera. Bright yellow accents in the cleanly designed dining room are matched with a contemporary Italian menu.
Relentless in his search for the country’s most prized seasonal ingredients and wines, Canzian’s cuisine style is genuine Mediterranean food. The rumor in Milanese culinary circles is that Canzian’s creamy and golden Risotto alla Milanese is the best in town, and the chef insists it be accompanied with a glass of Italy’s premier sparkling wine from Franciacorta.
7 Via Castelfidardo
Monday to Saturday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. and 8-10:30 p.m.
LES POMMES ITALIAN BISTROT: Offering a warm, inviting atmosphere, Les Pommes Italian Bistrot aims to provide a relaxing haven in the middle of the city’s bustle. It offers free Wi-Fi so patrons can check e-mails while sampling its homemade cakes, and by dusk, stylish Milanese sweep in from the surrounding buzzy streets of Isola to order vividly colored spritzers and cheese plates for aperitifs. Les Pommes also serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
7 Via Pastrengo