Meet The Mistos

August 25th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The Italian word “misto” means “mixed”. As it relates to food there is bollito misto and frito (fried) misto. Bollito misto is an epic dish for epic gluttons (like HG). HG first encountered the dish at Bologna’s venerable Ristorante Diana, a mirrored old school landmark. HG remembers the meal with salivating fondness. HG started with a bowl of buttery tagiatelle lavishly covered with thin shavings of white truffle. Heady aroma. Sublime taste. Went beautifully with some red Sangiovese from Emilia-Romagna. HG questioned whether the HG appetite could encompass the oncoming bollito misto. Not to worry. A very large, dignified man wheeled a cart to the table; lifted lids from silver servers and presented HG with a stimulating sight: Luscious boiled beef, pork and tongue. Plus two robust poached sausages: cotechino and zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter). Appetite in excellent shape, HG accepted thick slices of each plus helpings of condiments: tangy mostarda di frutta, salsa verde and salsa rosso. Wow. Bollito misto is almost never found on American-Italian menus. Mario Batali once served it at his loftily priced restaurant, Del Posto, but HG noted that it is no longer on the menu. Frito misto, on the other hand, is omnipresent. It is a plate of deep fried seafood morsels with calamari predominating. HG has always found it disappointing (both in Italy and the United States). It is much inferior to Japanese tempura. HG may be spoiled. Here on Prince Edward Island, Exquisite Maiko selects the freshest fish, scallops and shrimp and does her tempura magic. HG’s joy is unrestrained.

piatto-pronto-ingredienti-ciotola-salsiere-cucchiaini-oliera

Comfort Defined

January 30th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

“Comfort” in terms of restaurants is hard to define. There are plenty of neighborhood diners and the like serving up comfort food from meatloaf to frito pie, but for HG, a “comfort” restaurant has to have longevity (restaurant has been around a long time); old fashioned decor; professional waitpersons with long years of service; an unchanging menu. “Comfort” means a democratic approach. No special deference to big shots. No “Siberia.” Gage & Tollner (long closed) in Brooklyn met HG’s “comfort” criteria. So did the two (now closed) “dairy” restaurants on the Lower East Side — Ratner’s and Rappoport’s. As far as places that are still in existence, HG has three favorites. In Boston, it’s Durgin-Park. Very touristy and very plain spoken. HG likes to start with clams on the half shell. Then, a giant slab of rare roast beef (or chicken pot pie or grilled knockwurst with Boston baked beans). For dessert, New England Indian Pudding, natch. In Chicago, nothing beats Gene & Georgetti for old time Windy City flavor. Sirloin steak with a “Garbage” salad and fried onion rings. In San Francisco, Tadich Grill does the best Pacific seafood. HG has one or two Sloe Gin Fizzes at the bar. When seated at table, HG dives into a Dungeness crab cocktail, sauteed Petrale sole or the vast Cioppino, the incomparable seafood stew. A true New York “comfort” restaurant is Keen’s Chop House, home of the famed (giant) mutton chop. However, the prices at Keen’s continue to move upward so the eatery is barely in the “comfort” zone and has instead moved into masochist territory. With the guidance of SJ, HG is comforted at affordable Chinese restaurants in Manhattan, Flushing and the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

But wait…There’s a fourth. And, it truly defines the word “comfort.” Located in Italy, of course. HG refers to Bologna’s wondrous Ristorante Diana. A very old restaurant with a beautiful mirrored interior. Gentle lighting. Helpful (never obsequious) service. HG starts his meals there with a glass of Prosecco while contemplating the delights which will ensue. A bottle of Emilia Romagna’s red Sangiovese is uncorked. Then, a plate of tagliatelle dressed simply with butter and the best Parmigiano Reggiano. Using an instrument designed for the purpose, the waiter showers the pasta with shavings of white truffle. The heady fragrance fills the air and occupants of neighboring tables nod in approval. This is followed (and it is not an anti-climax) by Bollito Misto. For those unfamiliar, this refers to a variety of boiled and poached meats. At Diana, the Bollito Misto is served from a large trolley wheeled by a very large man. On the trolley are two poached sausages, Cotechino and Zampone, plus boiled beef, pork and tongue — all juicy and flavorful. This is accompanied by salsa verde and a pungent mostarda di frutta. Dessert is Semifreddo followed by a number of snifters of grappa (for digestive purposes). A brief stroll and a long nap is obligatory. True Comfort.

B-r-r-r-r-r!!!

February 3rd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, It’s cold and snowy in the lovely Italian city of Bologna. Some 18 inches of snow drifted down upon the city, smashing every meteorological record for the region. Gifted Daughter Lesley R., who resides in Bologna, reports that the Bolognese are puzzled. There are no snow plows. Few snow shovels. Some folks are trying to attack the drifts with brooms and the city is almost completely shut down. The photographs Lesley R. has sent show a bleak, frozen city and HG hopes that she is able to keep warm and full by stocking up from the few shops that have managed to open.

A storm in Bologna of all places has caused HG to muse about cold weather food. No, not the food prepared at home, but the food HG ate on the street or at lunch counters when the winds whistled from the Hudson, Harlem and East Rivers. During the Great Depression, little HG ate “Hot Mickeys” (roasted potatoes) shared with his buddies over an improvised wood fire in an empty lot. HG also bought, for a penny or two, hot sweet potatoes, chicken fat doused chick peas (“hayseh arbis”) that were served in a paper cone and the ubiquitous roasted chestnuts sold by street vendors. In later years HG favored the big bowls of steaming cabbage soup sold in bleak Ukrainian diners on the Lower East Side. Glorious Pho, a byproduct of the very inglorious Vietnam War, had not yet arrived.

But, the best cold beater HG ever had was on a chill December day in Bologna. This was a glass of espresso, liberally enriched with grappa, and topped with almost three inches of whipped cream. Virtually all of HG’s senses were warmed and delighted.

Farewell to Bologna

December 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Last dinner in Bologna before return to U.S.A. And, what a delightful feast it was! The site: close to Piazza Maggiore, at the historic Trattoria Da Nello al Montegrappa (serving hungry patrons since 1948). HG delighted in Tagliolini with white truffles (abundant shavings); grilled, fresh porcini mushrooms (juicy and bursting with flavor) accompanied by a silky potato puree; a cheese course of gorgonzola and walnuts. The wine was a very smooth and mellow Sangiovese. Concluded with a nice grappa. Adding to the joy of the occasion was the presence of Brilliant Daughter Lesley R. and the glamour duo of granddaughters, Arianna and Sofia. All looking beautiful (as did BSK,of course).This was Italian family dining at its best.

Sicilian Outpost in Bologna

December 6th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Da Francesco is a Sicilian seafood restaurant serving some of the most creative food in Bologna. HG enjoyed variations on marinated fresh anchovies (best HG ever tasted), mackerel, triglia (a kind of red mullet). There was Sicilian flash fried calamari and a garlicky codfish brandade. Dessert was a play on the traditional pears poached in red wine — a home-made gelato with pear puree and chunks of wine-poached pear. Very interesting cuisine and a sharp contrast to the usual Bolognese menus.

Bologna Traditions Observed

December 5th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Lunch today was at Trattoria Serghei, a warm little restaurant with some outstanding art on its walls. Located in Via Piella, a short walk from Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, Serghei’s food is a roll call of traditional Bolognese dishes. The HG party feasted on tagliatelle al ragu (one of the best in the city); stinco di maiale (roast shin of pork); roast rabbit; stuffed zucchini with meatballs in a light tomato sauce; lush baccala in an assertive sauce accompanied by polenta; bollito misto with salsa verde. There were some other traditional pastas and braised, garlicky chicory with hot pepper. Dessert was a mascarpone confection drizzled with chocolate syrup.

This is the kind of food HG misses when back in the USA.

Beauty, Food and a Sobering Memory

December 2nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

A sunny Saturday meant a drive up the winding roads of the Bologna hills with the lofty Appennines etched in the distance. Bologna is unusual in that a five to ten minute drive takes you from the bustle of the city to the beautiful countryside, with its lovely views of deep valleys, gentle meadows and steep cliffs. Luncheon destination was the plain-spoken Trattoria Vizzano. The day was so beautiful that it was hard to remember that these hills were, literally, soaked in blood, the scene of fierce fighting between German forces and British and American troops during World War Two. Somber thoughts had no place in the trattoria, where HG and famille dove into crescentine, specialty of the house.

Crescentine

These are little puffy fried biscuits (similar to New Mexican sopapillas or American popovers) that diners split open and fill with squaquerone, a delightful fresh cheese, accompanied by salami, prosciutto and very good Italian head cheese. Home-made pickled vegetables are always served on the side. An unexpected treat. HG also manged to get down a robust bowl of home made, wonderfully chewy tagliatelle. Dessert was a traditional “torta di riso”, or rice pudding-like cake.

HG was sobered and moved by an after-lunch visit to the austere memorial on the cliff side at Sabbiuno, where some 100 brave anti-Fascist (mainly communist) partisan fighters were slaughtered by the Nazis. Lined up on the edge of a cliff, they were machine-gunned and their bodies tossed down into a ravine. Less than half were later identified. The names of the known fallen are engraved on individual rocks, a simple, eternal memorial. One rock marks the 47 unknown victims.

Memorial Grave of the 47 Unidentified Partisans

A Jewish custom seems to have been followed — visitors place pebbles on top of the graves to mark a visit. HG added a few. A curving concrete wall marks the site where the firing squad was lined up. Vintage machine guns are set into slots into this wall, aimed for eternity at the spot where the partisans took their last breath. It all made one muse about the very bloody and tortured history of Italy, a land so associated with the beauties of art, architecture and the sheer joy of living.

Machine Guns at Partisans Memorial

A Thanksgiving Feast to be Thankful For

November 30th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Like any complex man of the world, HG has a few contradictions. While I have posted previously about my preference for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the reality is that HG has never been a fan of Thanksgiving dinner in general. HG’s unsentimental view: dry turkey and heaps of sloppy food only saved by a liberal dousing of gravy. The exception was the non-traditional Thanksgiving feast prepared by Brilliant Daughter Lesley R. a few days ago in Bologna. Turkey Involtini (slices of turkey breast pounded very thin and covered with a layer of prosciutto and fontina cheese). These lovely morsels were rolled up, secured with toothpicks, browned and then finished in the oven. They were gilded with a robust mushroom gravy. Accompaniments were brussel sprouts (sauteed with shallots and pancetta). Tender haricots vert. Lush mashed potatoes (whipped with butter and Greek yogurt). A perfectly balanced meal. Full of flavor but not an abdominal depth charge. The wine was an excellent Brunello di Montalcino. Cheese and salad followed. Gifted Granddaughter Arianna produced a made-from-scratch pumpkin pie. Pureed roasted pumpkin (not the vile canned stuff). Excellent crust. Toppings were whipped cream and marvelous gelato. Vin Santo followed for the family, while HG sipped a beautiful grappa. A Thanksgiving feast to be thankful for.

Bologna: 1000 Years of Academic History

November 29th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Universit√° di Bologna is the oldest, continually operating university in the world (in existence for more than a thousand years) and its 85,000 students still dominate this city of soaring towers, medieval buildings and glorious arcades.

There is no formal graduation day as in the United States. When a student passes his or her examinations and successfully defends a dissertation, he or she is granted a degree–and that’s graduation. What follows is a rollicking custom which brings the middles ages alive in the cobblestoned streets. The graduate is dubbed “dottore” (doctor) by friends, adorned with a laurel wreath (as was the custom hundreds of years ago) and often dressed in ludicrous costumes. HG saw some attractive young female graduates crammed into baby carriages and indecently sprayed with white paste stuffed into pierced condoms. Rough fun. The graduates are followed around the city by crowds of friends who sing “Dottore!! Dottore!!” followed by obscene anatomical and scatological references. The graduate is the butt of a lot of irreverent fun — the continuation of an age-old university tradition.

This doesn’t mean that learning is not respected in Bologna. At the city’s museum of medieval art, HG was moved by the beautiful tombs, some six centuries old, of famous scholars and jurists. Usually, such magnificent works of medieval art have religious, imperial or martial themes. But, here in Bologna, men of learning have inspired great artists.

A significant man of learning is HG’s son-in-law, Professore Massimo R. The Professore has brought his unique digital display of the Garibaldi Panorama to the Sala Borsa, the great public library in the center of Bologna. It is an exhibit that is both learned and dramatic. The electronic wizardry and research scholarship of Professore Massimo and his Brown University students has brought the remarkable history of the Italian hero, Garibaldi, and the unification of Italy to vivid life. Anita Garibaldi, Garibaldi’s great- great-grandaughter, visited the Panorama (extensively covered by the Bologna daily newspaper). Next week, there will be a presentation at the University of Professore Riva’s latest book, “The Future of Literature,” a scholarly study of the impact of electronics on literature. When not busy illuminating Italian culture, the Professore researches the best regional restaurants and local wines. This bore delicious fruit recently, when the Professore led HG and family to a restaurant in Ferrara that served an exceptional bollito misto. An HG report will follow.

Warm Experience in Bologna

November 23rd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

HG loves a good Paris bistro. HG is equally fond of small, Bolognese trattorias. Might even like Bolognese dining more because of that very special life-enhancing quality so many Italians seem to have. Case in point is La Montanara, a small, nicely lighted trattoria decorated with an amusing array of food linked items, including old egg baskets and toy kitchens that delighted kids a generation ago. There were many smiles and lots of laughter in the room (but, voices were kept happily low). All in all, an unpretentious, amiable atmosphere. Pleasure to be there.

The food? Two very good antipasti: a spinach and sausage mousse-like creation molded into a loaf and served in pie-like wedges. A rich radicchio tart flavored with truffle. Primi piatti included an outstanding risotto of radicchio and melted smoked scamorza cheese. Gramigna (homemade short, curly pasta) served in the signature Bolognese tomato and sausage sauce. As is the case in many Italian restaurants, the secondi piatti paled in contrast to the flavor fireworks of the preceding courses. Meal ended with a lovely semifreddo of zabaione, grand marnier and caramelized orange slices. Yum. In fact, double yum. Summary: a very good time.

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