Saturday, October 27, 2007

Osteria Piazza Grande

Tucked along a small side street off Via Independenza in Bologna you will find a classic Italian osteria, Osteria Piazza Grande. Funny, I don't recall it being on a piazza at all, and certainly not a large one, but a name can be misleading and certainly is in this case. Osterias are generally family owned, modest restaurants serving affordable, family style cooking and this one is no exception. Affordability is, of course, relative and with the plunging dollar, this cannot be considered a place to go for a cheap meal, just a good meal.

As is the case in many a Bolognese restaurant, Mortadella can be ordered as an antipasto course (5 euros) but they also have a selection of salads and salumi for antipasti including the sausage in the photo below (9 euros) that my traveling companion ordered as his entree. Never having met a pasta I didn't like, my first course was The Tortaloni di Zucca (11 euros) with a sage butter sauce. The filling was totally squash without ricotta, nutmeg, crushed amaretti or anything I have become accustomed to finding in a squash ravioli (my word, not theirs) and it was delicious in its simplicity.

The grilled sausage was another dish that was simply prepared and just what one would expect, but again, no surprise. What you see is what you get, until it came to the meat course that was totally hidden under arugula and shaved Parmigiano. The veal (16 euros) was tender and had been very lightly sauteed in olive oil. All it needed was a little salt.
Via Manzoni 6
40121 Bologna Italy
Phone 051 265786

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I've peered into the window of this small, West Village restaurant on my last 3 trips to NYC. This time I finally crossed the threshold into the small dining room and risotto bar. Small may be an understatement for this risotto, pizza and paninni emporium. The tables are no more than 1" apart and have to be moved completely to allow a diner to be seated at the banquette that lines the main wall.

If truth be told, I resisted since the recipes as listed on the menu looked very non traditional. What a breath of fresh air. The sweetcorn and porcini risotto with truffle oil was delicious and I am now encouraged to start experimenting on risotti at home. The truffle oil was a bit heavy handed, but my dinner companion had no complaint when it was scooped from my plate and drizzled over his porcini risotto.

Both risotti were competently executed with a generous amount of porcini in each dish. The roasted beet salad with walnuts and truffle oil was less stellar. The combination of the earthy beet and earthier truffle oil sounded appealing, but in reality, it was overkill.

The restaurant is located on Bleeker Street just a block south of John's Pizzaria.

Patsy's Pizza

John's, move over, Patsy's get's my vote for a great Italian style pizza in NYC. The restaurant is family friendly, moderately priced, comfortable and considering there is no carpeting, you do not need to yell at your companions to have a conversation. How did they manage that?

Their regular pizza is the star. The sauce is sweet as though every tomato in it was vine ripened. The mozzerella was fresh, rather than the aged mozzerella of typical restaurant pizzas. Together with the fresh basil leaves you have a little slice of heaven in your hands.

The dinner rolls seemed freshly baked and had the texture of a sourdough, although they were sweet. I admit that what appeared to be a little "pig face" kept distracting me, so I finished off the roll as soon as possible. If you are a meatball and spaghetti fan, you will not be disappointed by the veal meatballs; if that was beef, they fooled me completely.

The cheese ravioli with pistachio sauce was lovely and delicate in taste. They were beautifully subtle in flavor. Originally when the plate was served, I believed it was a rather small portion, but it was just the perfect amount for pasta served dressed with such a rich sauce.

Click on the first photo for adresses.

Felidia Ristorante

What can I say? Felidia is my favorite NYC restaurant so far, and it's going to take something spectacular to outshine this classic Italian restaurant. The admiration for it's founder is national at the very least, and Lidia Bastianich was honored by NYC with the title of Grand Marshall in this year's Columbus Day Parade on 5th Avenue.

The menu is seasonal and because our reservation was in Fall, we were treated to the regular Fall menu, plus a list of offerings made exclusively with Winter squashes as the main ingredient (have you ever heard of a Fall squash?).

We started our meal with a special charcuterie offering that included Kobe beef cured in coffee, duck with juniper berries, several types of pork with savory curing agents and all were served with dried fruits and aged balsamic. While I ordered a warming and filling Delicata and barley soup from the special menu, my companion ordered the pear and fresh pecorino ravioli that is a staple on the Felidia menu, so creamy and delicious. All items are described on her website linked at the bottom of this review.

My entree was also selected from the squash menu and was a Blue Hubbard risotto with Humbolt Fog goat cheese and a smattering of watercress with a single demitasse spoonful of 25 year old balsamic which was ceremoniously opened and poured at the table. Why didn't I insist on licking the spoon? It was clearly one of life's lost moments. My dinner partner ordered lamb cooked two ways. His plate was layered with fresh steamed vegetable tidbits, two perfectly cooked French cut lamb chops and an osso buco of lamb, better know as the neck that had been braised to perfection. Mashed butternut squash finished the offering.

On Christmas Eve 2005 we had an equally wonderful experience with a perfectly cooked roast duck, and the year before was every bit as good. Our starter at that time was foie gras cooked 3 ways. Unfortunately, that is no longer on the menu.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Da Carlo in Milan

When we first visited Milan it was only for an evening, so after rushing to the Duomo for limited sightseeing, we found a neighborhood trattoria on the far side of the train station from our hotel. The next time we found ourselves in Milan, that wonderful trattoria had been replaced by a Chinese restaurant. On subsequent trips we never found another good neighborhood restaurant until we stumbled upon Da Carlo. If you face the front of Stazione Centrale and walk down the left side of it passed the tunnel, look across the street; you'll find this wonderful oasis in the desert of neglected buildings and throw-away people. Like a flower growing through concrete, this restaurant is surprising and you have to love it for its tenacity to survive in a less than optimal environment.

As soon as we sat down, we were greeted with a small bruschetta made with tomatoes and what looked like a Spanish white anchovy. It looks like the amuse bouche has arrived in Italy, as this definitely whetted our appetites for dinner. Regardless, we ordered a mixed salumi plate to further whet our appetites. No matter how many times we order this antipasti, it always comes with something different on the plate. There must be a million ways to cure pork in Italy.

Not recalling what this was called on the menu, doesn't make it any less flavorful. Most always, when you order cozze (mussels) in Italy, it amounts to a good choice, this one being a combination of clams and mussels with tomato and garlic . As you might imagine, the broth was delicious as it was sopped up with the bread, that was thoughtfully placed in the dish. Maybe the chef wanted to encourage us to use it for that purpose, we were after all tourists.

Ah yes, Spaghetti Bolognese again. But it looked so good and smelled so wonderful I was sorry I hadn't ordered it myself. Instead I selected a contorni of spinach, squeezed so thoroughly of water, that it was too dry to eat, so I anointed it with olive oil, like a good Italian. That did the trick, but it was no pasta.

The spinach was the best option as a side dish for my veal cutlet with porcini sauce. The reason we travel to Italy so often in October is that it is the optimum time to find fresh porcini and truffles on restaurant menus. Da Carlo does a very good job with using them in combination with the veal. The mushrooms are fragrant and abundant, the meat fork tender, so what more could I ask for?

If you try this restaurant, I'll bet this waiter recognizes you. He recognized us on our very first visit, then again 2 years later. I'm still laughing about it, but even though it may be just his way of greeting all customers, it feels welcoming and sincere. His service is meticulous and we look forward to seeing him again. Perhaps the 3rd time will be the charm and we really will be familiar to him, enough for me to remember his name.

Sorry, no address at this time, but follow my directions and you'll see it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Da Carlo in Bologna

We had tried this restaurant in 2005 with a friend, but I hadn't remembered the name. It must have been a Monday, when our two favorite restaurants in Bologna were closed. We all enjoyed the lunch and I was happy to find Da Carlo once again. The menu is classic Bolognese and the prices are very fair. We look forward to coming yet another time. With so many good restaurants in Bologna to try, it may take awhile.

Considering the amazing red brick building that houses Ristorante Da Carlo, I'm surprised that the prices aren't higher. Lovely brick arches surround the portico covered outside dining area, while the main dining room is inside. It was a bit damp this particular evening, but the outside space was very comfortable. As is customary in Bologna, a basket of hard bread rolls, dry as sawdust and just as tasteless, is always set on the table, but this basket actually had crackers, something you expect to be hard and dry. They were a refreshing change.

I repeated my starter of two years ago with smoked goose breast, a very moist cold cut that I've never seen elsewhere. I suspect this is one of those wonderful Jewish Italian delicacies developed as an alternative to the pervasive pork culture in Italy. Butter on the toast was a bit overkill, since the goose was padded with a nice layer of fat that melted in your mouth. Makes me wish I could find this at home, but it's very seldom that I have ever seen it on an Italian menu.

My dining partner ordered the "rustico" salumi platter and it also had it's share of fat on the plate. Fitting since Bologna is also referred to as "La Grassa" the fat. Far from rustic, the cold cuts looked refined and were all so very fresh. I wondered if they were made in house or merely purchased from a local salumeria. Bologna is filled to the brim with wonderful resources for food products.
The Rustico came with a plate of crescentini, the puffed up fried bread that we first tried in Parma. In fact we have traveled to Parma just to eat it again. It is the perfect foil to the fresh, fat laden salumi, because the fat melts on the hot fried bread puffs and there's enough heat to also enhance the aroma of the meat. Often, I've hoped everyone traveling to Italy will try this combination at least once. So far, we have only come across it in Emilia Romagna.

Even though we ordered Tagliatelle Bolognese, these look wide enough to be pappardelle. What they truly were was deliciously rich egg noodles with a classic Bolognese sauce, rich with meat, complex in flavor. This photo was taken before it was blessed with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Several risotti were listed on the menu and this was my first chance to try a radicchio risotto. Luckily for me, it was also made with Tellegio cheese, a semi soft, ripe, unctuous, cow's milk cheese and one of my favorites. In the risotto it was distinctly milder, but I'd never eaten it cooked before, so I suspect the heat took a bit of the edge off this cheese. It was remarkably creamy and made a nice counter balance to the bitterness of radicchio on the palate.

My dinner partner and I went our separate ways when it came to our third course. He settled for dessert while I insisted on a "secondo", the course after the pasta. Cheese and fruit are often served as the dessert course in Italy. He ordered the cheese course that included Parmigiano, a soft as well as semi soft cow's milk cheese and a fresh mozzarella probably made from water buffalo milk. It was a bit disappointing to see vegetables rather than a piece of fruit on the plate.
It's still puzzling to me that a baked fish dish would come wrapped as a duck, but what does it matter. It served to make me laugh as I saw it coming towards our table. My secondo was composed of red mullet, mussels, clams and squid with a clove of garlic, onion slices, and fresh tomatoes thrown in for good measure. It was good, delicate, and not overcooked. But I'm discovering I'm really more interested in meats and poultry, so I won't order this again. Besides, I really hate eating something that is looking up at me from the plate! I don't mind fish heads per se, they make great stock, but please don't put one on my plate.

Via Marchesana, 6
40124 Bologna Italy
Phone +39.051-23.32.27
Fax +39.051-26.30.46

Sometime after May 2009 (my last visit) Da Carlo had been replaced by 7 Archi
Their menu looks quite good and so does the wine list.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ristorante Diana in Bologna

This photo alone should be enough to attract a food lover to this restaurant. Ristorante Diana has been written up in many travel books and cookbooks for that matter, but it wasn't until October of 2006 that we finally went to see for ourselves what a great dining experience this restaurant could offer. The trio of pastas is not a regular menu item, but the friends who took us to this restaurant are acquainted with the chef and we were delighted that he allowed us to order what amounted to a tasting menu.

[Photo] [Photo]Lets start with the first course. The Spuma di Mortadella was my choice since I had never seen it before. It was essentially whipped mortadella with ricotta cheese, very delicate in mouth feel as well as flavor.

[Photo] [Photo]Prosciutto di Parma was served with the most flavorful cantaloupe I have ever tasted. I ended up buying seeds for several different Italian melons in order to try and duplicate this taste stateside. The other antipasto plate was a selection of salami, prosciutto, mortadella, and if I'm not mistaken, a slow roasted porchetta.

[Photo] [Photo]After the pasta trio we were treated to a selection of roasted meats including pork, lamb, veal and turkey. Each and every one was roasted to perfection and succulent to the last bite. But back to that pasta...[Photo] [Photo] Tortellini was sauced with a bechamel that was liberally laced with parmigiano cheese. The restaurant is well known for their tortellini (usually served with chicken broth) and I can understand why. The rich filling is made from mostly prosciutto, parmigiano, and mortadella. Tagliatelli Bolognese is another classic pasta of Bologna and this one did not disappoint with rich meat sauce and egg pasta.Lasagna Verde Bolognese is the best of the best. We've ordered it all over Italy but no one makes it better than home town restaurants and Diana has to be the winner so far. Each layer of spinach pasta is covered with a layer of meat sauce and kissed with bechamel, then dusted with grated parmigiano. The recipe is so labor intensive that i have personally only made it once, but it was worth the 5 hours of back breaking work. Please don't tell the chef, but at eight to nine euros per order, he's giving this away!

[Photo] [Photo]Don't think you can't find a vegetable here, the artichokes were tender and delicious sauteed in olive oil, finished with lemon, and sprinkled with parsley. The Veal Bolognese was a big hit too, covered in prosciutto and parmigiano with a dab of tomato sauce and pesto on top.

The restaurant is located at 24 Via Indipendenza almost half way between the train station and the cathedral. Phone 231 302