My wife and I have just returned from a much anticipated (and once postponed)visit to northern Italy, which began with a two night stop in Zibello, a village northwest of Parma, best know for Trattoria La Buca, a restaurant that dates to the 1890s. We had two meals at La Buca, including a Saturday night dinner that more or less covered the menu options and another lighter dinner that focused on the dishes we liked best the first time around. In between we had a Sunday lunch at Da Ivan in Roccabianco, which is about ten miles to the east of Zibello. We stayed in one of La Buca's modest rooms. They are more than adequate if the main purpose of the visit is the food.
We approached both restaurants with sound instructions from allende, who told us to focus on the best ingredients each restaurant had to offer, in combination with whatever was seasonal.
The two restaurants are quite different. La Buca is grounded in a 120 year tradition and is a creature of its 80 plus year old padronna, Miriam Leonardi, who despite being a bit frail, is still a force of nature. Her family provides the heft that she cannot and the total experience is something that I doubt can be replicated elsewhere (although our prior experience in E-R is somewhat limited).
The food at La Buca is all about the salumi, especially La Buca's house-made Culatello. Culatello, which I am not sure I'd ever had before, defines what cured pork is all about. Once you've had your first morsel, it becomes hard to want to eat anything else in the zone -- even the fabulous prosciutto we had at Da Ivan seemed to come in second. That said, during our first evening, in addition to a platter of culatello, we marched through a very good plate of spalla cotta and salame, both also of house origin. The former, which is served with a mostarda, is vaguely reminiscent of corned beef (but on a whole other level). The culatello also finds its way into La Buca's pastas. We tried and liked the tagliatelle with same as well as a tortelli with ricotta and herbs. Having more or less reached our appetite limit wit the pastas, we settled on a single secondo, a wild duck (germane in Italian) that had been braised in red wine (good and very rustic). The wine list at La Buca is not extraordinary (and it tends to be expensive compared to the lists in Piemonte) but we were happy with a mezzo of spumante from Franciacorta and a simple vino nobile di montalcino.
Da Ivan was also a success. The place has a much more modern feel and a better wine list. Apparently, the padrone is into sparkling wines, but we missed that and drank instead a white sauvignon blanc from a coop we like in the Alto Adige (San Michelle Appiano), which was just fine. We began, as at La Buca, with Ivan's impressive selection of salumi, including an enormous plate of exquisite prosciutto di Parma, together with salame, tesone, and squares of polenta served with two kinds of lardo. We then marched on to Ivan's version of lasagna (fantastic) and a tortellini in a porcini mushroom sauce, served in a basket made of parmigiana. We had no room for secondi, but managed to take in Ivan's eggy, alcoholic zabaglione for dessert.
Sunday dinner at La Buca (not planned but by then, we had no energy to drive elsewhere)repeated the best dishes of the prior evening, including a plate of culatello and two pasta, one with culatello, the other with mushrooms.
So thanks to allende and others who steered us well through our brief stop in Emilia-Romagna. It was well worth the slight detour from our primary destination, Piemonte, upon which I hope to report in due course.