I went to Azumino and had lunch at Stagione, which was listed as the second best Italian restaurant in the guidebook Zagat Survey in Nagano published this March.
Stagione is located in a good place in Azumino and you can enjoy authentic rural Japanese scenery and a wonderful view of the Japan Alps from its wide window.
As Zagat reported, the restaurant is very neat (perhaps too “neat” for a place to eat), the dishes and desserts are tasty and stylish like the photo, and it’s not so expensive.
Azumino, neighbouring city of Matsumoto, has some good restaurants since the nature and environment of the area has been attracting many cooks and artists so they moved from urban areas.
In Hotaka, there is anoother restaurant L’art de la Saveur, listed as the second best French restaurant in the Zagat.
If you prefer Japanese restaurants, I recommend Kuraku where you can enjoy soba noodle or curry in a traditional Japanese building and garden.
Zagat Survey is a guidebook (also called “American Michelin Guide”). It has a voting system that relies on locals. They ranked restaurants and hotels in Nagano using the result of 5,000 votes.
Unfortunately, Zagat Survey in Nagano is only in Japanese. I hope they will publish English version, too.