Friday, October 20, 2006

Da Nello

Can a restaurant get any more comfortable than this, maybe so, but it's our home away from home in Bologna with down to earth, yet elegant cooking. Da Nello does feel a bit cramped at times, but that's only before the meal arrives, then your attention is totally placed where it should be, entirely on the food.
Don't bother with the basket of pane or crostini or whatever they call it; it's dry as dust and will take up precious room in your stomach, room better filled with what you've ordered. Antipasti range from cold cuts such as salami, prosciutto di Parma, prosciutto di San Danielle (more moist than that produced in Parma), culatello (like prosciutto only better), mortadella, and parmigiano cheese drizzled in balsamic vinegar, all the way to fiori di zucca, fried zucchini flowers dipped in a light batter, salted and served on paper with a wedge of lemon. They also serve a variety of salads.

Pasta is king at this restaurant, so good in fact, that I make a point of ordering the specials so I don't miss anything. The gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce are light as a feather. The lasagna verde Bolognese has to be tried to be believed, it practically melts in your mouth. On our last trip in May 2007 I tried the tortellone pictured above. It was made with spinach pasta and the filling was primarily chicken. The sauce was laced with fresh porcini, which reminds me of my favorite secondo or entree.

The veal in truffle sauce (I know porcini and truffle are not the same, but I get a heady fragrance from both and they are both harvested in the Fall) is spectacular and I would encourage anyone to try truffles or porcini mushrooms if they happen to be in town when they are fresh during the Fall. This last photo is of a shrimp risotto that has been a favorite for some time.
The restaurant is located on via Montegrappa which is a small side street one block below where via Indipendenza dead ends in the center of town. Amusingly, it is just behind McDonald's (definitely "from the sublime to the ridiculous"). If you are going to Bologna on a day trip, it is closed on Monday, so be forewarned.
Via Montegrappa
240100 Bologna Italy
+39 051 236 331

Friday, May 26, 2006

Maggie Jones

Having already been to Porter's in Covent Garden, we were on the hunt for an authentic English restaurant to try on this visit to London. As it turned out, my Knopf Map Guide to London listed one that sounded perfect, Maggie Jones. The setting looked old and cozy and on the day we went it was raining, so cozy was a plus. It seemed an authentic sort of place, not a theme restaurant as Porter's strikes me to be. The best thing was that the recipes were truly English, but also modern interpretations, so the food was much better and less bland than expected.

First and foremost the bread was a whole grain, very delicious, and cut very thick, a great compliment to the rustic menu. Unsalted butter was a good match, but the bread could have stood in its own. Bangers and Mash are so very British, but the modern twist was that they were wild boar sausages, very rich though not gamy and the traditional suet was still in the recipe. Admittedly, I love British bangers specifically because of the suet. The portion was also generous.

Gratins are not what one thinks of generally as British, but the cheese on this cauliflower version was very noticeably Cheddar, a classic English cheese. It had a nice edge to it, a real bite that did not diminish with heating. Often, I believe that cheese can be overdone on a dish such as this, but more would have been welcomed, even though it was already melting down the sides of the dish. Really, I couldn't get enough of it and since there was so much cauliflower, I wanted more. The cauliflower itself was very tender and flavorful so the two tastes together were enough to make meat entirely unnecessary for it to be satisfying. It could make a meal in itself.

Since we don't often see liver and onions on menus at home, my husband was very happy to order the liver, but on this menu, it came with bacon. As his second favorite food group, bacon was a welcomed addition to the liver and he could do without the onions this time. Sides of boiled potatoes and peas with ham (or was that more bacon?) came with this dish, so there was plenty of food. As you can surmise from the size of the dinner plate, that was a large portion of liver. This restaurant was a very nice find with generous portions and decent prices. As soon as I find one, the menu will be linked.

6 Old CT Pl
London W8 4PL, United Kingdom
020 7937 6462

Subway stop: High Street Kensington

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Live Bait

In early 2005 I hosted a cook book exchange with a group of avid home cooks and some professional chefs. We all brought books we had tired of and traded them one for one. The book that most intrigued me was Live Bait, a book written by a popular British chef that showed very exciting recipes for fish and shellfish. Fish is something I need to eat more of, but my skills with it are limited and I'm not very inventive with it either, so this book really inspired me. When I found myself in London on vacation I decided I had to try the restaurant that had such enticing recipes as: Salmon and Dill Ravioli, Potato and Hazelnut Gratin, Goat Cheese Cheesecake, Seared Sea Scallops with Red Wine Pears, Roast Fillet of Turbot with Foie Gras Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Tiger Shrimp Wrapped in Sea Bass with Tagliatelle Mussels and Merguez Sausages, Honey and Ginger Roasted Octopus, Spring Rolls of Squid Oyster and Bacon, Lasagne of Sole and spinach with a Stilton Bechamel Sauce, and finally Meatballs of Whole Sea Scallops with Spicy Sausage (a fish version of Scotch Egg...Scotch Scallop). I don't know when it changed, but by the time I had arrived, the restaurant was all about sustainable fish and the menu can be seen linked at the bottom of this post. I approve whole heartedly about not depleting the oceans and being vigilant about only eating sustainable varieties of fish, but why did the style of cooking have to change so dramatically? Everything especially the sides were so pedestrian.

The fresh baked bread was good, but they only offered the saffron and a baguette, not the tomato, or spinach breads that sat alongside the saffron bread in the book. The mussels were very good, although classic and not prepared with anything one would not expect. Clearly the restaurant made it's reputation on inventive, creative combinations of flavors, but could it be that as less adventurous patrons started pouring in, they only ordered the more familiar dishes, thus forcing the restaurant to dumb down the menu? Fish and chips were on offer from the start. If this was the case, it is really a tragedy for the chef.

In my quest for something different, I ordered the grilled yellowfin tuna with 3 sauces. It was quite disappointing to find guacamole and pico de gallo on my plate, especially since they were lacking salt and tasted flat. The description lead me to believe something else was coming, oh yes, sour cream, not my first choice for fish. It was a decent, tasty tuna steak, three of them actually, so all was not lost, just my quest for something that would inspire me. But I still have the book, so I plan to use those creative recipes on my own and hope they will turn out well.

My partner in crime, the one most likely to order something more familiar elected to try the fish and chips; we were in England after all. They did not disappoint. The cod was light and fluffy and the chips were nice and crunchy. As sides we decided to try mushy peas and the spinach with nutmeg, both very satisfying as far as flavor or should I say "flavour" was concerned.

The Cut, Waterloo
London SE1 8LF
Tel: 020 7928 7211
Mon to Sat: 12.00pm - 11.00pm
Sun: 12.30pm - 9.00pm