My partner and I just spent 4 days in Bologna, having our dinners there and traveling to Modena and Parma during the day and lunching in these and nearby.
For our first dinner in Bologna, we chose Ristorante Diana, which is supposed to be a temple of classic Bolognese cooking. It is highly recommended by Mario Batali, among others. I don’t get it. Batali’s restaurants in New York, at least Babbo and Lupa, are far superior. It is not terribly expensive, dinner consisting of 2 appetizers, one pasta, 2 mains, one vegetable, wine, water, and coffee coming to under 100 euros. However, we could have eaten better food in New York for this price. I have read comments praising the food but complaining about the service. We found the waiters were very nice and efficient, perhaps too efficient (we were out the door in just over an hour), but the food second-rate.
Lunch on Sunday at dal Pescatore in Cannetto sull’Oglio, was at about $700 (with a relatively modest wine) by far the most expensive meal we have ever had in Europe, and yes, we have been to quite a few other Michelin 3-stars. As good as it was, it did not quite measure up to the top restaurants in Spain and France, but it is probably about the best in Italy. I won’t enumerate the dishes we had (each of us had one of the 2 seven-course tasting menus), but they gave us 2 extra courses, plus amuses-bouche and petit fours. This was a full day trip from Bologna as lunch took 3 ½ hours and travel time is about 2 hours each way. Most of the staff consists of the owners, the Santini family, who are just lovely and very caring. The restaurant is gorgeous. Despite the expense, I would highly recommend it.
After this major lunch, we wanted a simple dinner, so we went to Trattoria Meloncello, which is highly recommended on Chowhound and other websites and blogs. As with Ristorante Diana, I just don’t see the attraction. The restaurant is in an out-of-the-way location and is not especially attractive. You would expect a place like this to be cheap, with no printed menu and dishes recited by the waiter without benefit of prices, but you would be wrong. It was just as expensive as the better places we subsequently tried. The food was just barely acceptable, choices are very limited, and for 2 courses, wine and water, our bill came to 67 euros. For that price, the equivalent of over $100, we can get beautifully prepared food, lots of choices, and much nicer atmosphere in New York, at places like Lupa and Crispo, or for even less money at Da Andrea. Perhaps we are spoiled, living in Manhattan, and maybe those who find Meloncello so great do not have access to good Italian restaurants where they live, but it just did not do it for us.
Things improved significantly on Monday, with lunch at Al Cavallino Bianco, near Parma. Set in a rather remote village on the banks of the Po river, it is a serious restaurant and a member of Unione del Ristoranti del Buon Ricordo, which means among other things that you get a commemorative plate to take home if you order the house specialty, in this case the breast of capon in the style favored by Giuseppe Verdi. The sturgeon was also delicious, as were the gnocchetti with sturgeon in anchovy sauce and the desserts. The cured meats are made on premises, and the vegetables are from their garden. We were also served canapés and petits fours, all excellent. You might expect all this to be expensive but it is not. Total with wine, coffee, water, 4 courses, was 91 euros.
Next was dinner at Al Pappagallo. This was very good, and the price was about comparable to similar restaurants in New York. Rabbit ravioli topped with shredded smoked goat cheese was particularly memorable, and the tagliatelle with squid and artichokes was also excellent. Duck and rabbit were very good. Appetizer of smoked swordfish was great. Desserts were delicious. With aperitifs, a superior wine, water and coffee, total was about 150 euros. Highly recommended.
Lunch on Tuesday was at Hosteria Giusti in Modena. This place is famous and must be reserved months in advance for the 4 tables. The food is delicious, prices very reasonable, and service is excellent. The attached gourmet food and wine shop is very nice, but we were somewhat taken aback that in addition to local and house-made products, there were many items from other regions and an extensive selection from France, such as Dijon mustard and Sauternes.
Tuesday dinner at Trattoria da Gianni was vastly superior to Meloncello and Diana, with prices even lower than Meloncello. The cured meat assortment was top-notch, pastas were delicious, roast lamb and tripe extremely good. The lambrusco we chose was very full-bodied and delicious. Really nice atmosphere and service.
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