I know you posted this review of Enoteca La Capannina a while ago but thought some readers might be interested in the story that was published by Bob Sloan.
He acompanied the group of Batali and his chefs though 5 days of eating in Emelia Romagna.
Here's the story of one of the culinary "seeds" for that restaurant as chronicled by Diary of a Foodie writer, Bob Sloan. Produced by PBS's WGBH, Diary of a Foodie is televised but this adventure was not.
Where to eat in Bologna -
Mario's Excellent Adventure
Prior to opening Del Posto in January of 2006, Mario Batali took several of his key cooking professionals on a 5 day food orgy.
He wanted them to taste and see and meet the food that always impressed him and gave him inspiration. The goal was for his protégées to gain insight, through Mario's eyes, into the "wow!" that he wanted to bring to the new restaurant.
(Mario's goal was to gain 3 Michelin stars, a goal that he did not attain in 2007's ratings - alas Del Posto was given only 2 stars.)
GREAT READING FOR FOODIES!
MARIO'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
Five days in Bologna, 62 courses
BY BOB SLOAN - RECIPES BY MARIO BATALI
JULY 2005 we have come to Bologna to eat. Not to see art and eat or shop and eat or wander beneath the ancient porticos unique to this city and eat. No. We are just eating. Our exercise will be walking from one restaurant to another. If there's a church on the way, we'll look up at it as we pass. Maybe. Otherwise, we are unwavering.
Our Ahab is Mario Batali. Our crew includes three of Batali's chef cohorts: the urbane Mark Ladner of Lupa, the meditative Zach Allen of Otto, and the youthful Matt Molina from Del Latte, in L.A. Also along is Babbo's head manager and wine aficionado, the debonair Alfredo Ruiz. Bearing witness is one intrepid reporter who should have taken Batali's advice and stopped eating a week before the trip. At the end of our five days, we will have eaten 62 courses, not counting -desserts-a glorious and terrifying amount of food. Batali is undertaking this intense foray into the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna because he is opening a new restaurant, Del Posto, in New York City, and he wants to revisit, with his staff, the food that continually serves as his inspiration. The cooking of this region is characterized by simplicity, perfect balance, and an intense devotion to high-quality ingredients. And they mean it here. No cheating. These dishes have been refined over hundreds of years.
DAY ONE: Lunch begins 15 minutes after we arrive. Why wait? We sit at an outdoor table at the lovely Trattoria Caminetto d'Oro, established in 1927. A Prosecco is poured. "I hope everyone is feeling good about themselves," Batali says, "because by our last meal, you won't be."
We warily raise our glasses. "Cin cin [expletive deleted]!" This toast will become our battle cry, periodically rallying any of us who have gone timid in the face of another meal.
Our antipasti are placed in front of us. Immediately, like an old man in prayer or a kid studying a toad, each chef hunches over his food, his nose mere inches away. The group breathes in deeply, then everyone lifts his head and smiles. Only then do we begin to eat. Some prosciutto is passed my way. "This is about the best prosciutto I've ever tasted," I venture boldly.
"Oh, that's not prosciutto," Zach Allen says. Allen is our salami and cured-meat expert. "It's culatello, made from the heart of the back leg. What is it, Mario, a 300-day cure?"
"Three hundred days," Batali confirms. "It's soaked in white wine first."
It's not that I feel stupid, just magnificently quotidian. I have discovered via culatello, and it will be reconfirmed many times over the next five days, that chefs do not eat like normal people. Their experience of every dish is more complex, incorporating a vast knowledge of food and the science of cooking. Ruiz brings the same expertise to the nuances of the service-the comportment of the waiters, the heft of the napkins. Nothing escapes the group's scrutiny.
The first of many bowls of tortellini arrives. A 16th- century recipe in Bologna's Camera di Commercio states the city's official preparation of the dish: The filling is always prosciutto, mortadella, pork loin, and a hint of parsley. It is implicit that the pasta be prepared that morning, if not even more recently. This version is glossed with butter and two-year-old Parmigiano-Reggiano. It is the ideal prologue.
Dinner, two hours later, is at Diana, a stately restaurant with overly bright lighting. Ladner plans to serve bollito misto at the new restaurant, and at Diana, they are serious about their bollito. Tongue, capon, and veal simmer in a pot for several hours and are served, sliced, along with sausage. In winter, the meats are presented in a shallow bowl, knee-deep in the broth they were cooked in. In summer, the broth is left in the pot.
Our bollito arrives along with the two traditional sauces, savory salsa verde (made from olives, capers, and herbs) and mostarda, unripened quince, pear, and mandarin in a sweet jellylike reduction. Referring to the mostarda, Batali points out that the marriage of sweet and meat goes back to the Renaissance. "It was a way for the nobles to distinguish themselves from the common folk."
DAY TWO: We take a 30-minute train ride to Modena to eat at Hosteria Giusti, an eight-table restaurant attached to a 400-year-old salumeria. When we arrive, the shop is closed, the gate half-shut. Batali disappears underneath. From within, joyful cries-"Mario!" The gate opens. Bottles of wine line one wall of the tiny salumeria; salami, cured guanciale (pork cheeks), and prosciutto the other. Allen is in heaven. Giusti's proprietor, Adriano Morandi, shows off his mortadella the way a kid would his new bike. "I make it now with more honey, Mario!" He cuts a piece, holds it out to me, pinned on an imposing knife. It is now my favorite mortadella. A cork pops: Morandi's Lambrusco. "It is unfiltered, Mario!" He pours. We hold up our glasses to see the transition from clarity to cloudiness. Cin cin [expletive deleted]! We drink. Morandi sells it for eight euros a bottle. Ruiz wants to buy the whole production. We head into the back room for lunch.
A narrow gap in the counter leads through a low, wide arch to the kitchen. Morandi's wife smiles at us like Bellini's Madonna through the steam from the pasta pot. In the dining room, under ancient oak beams, five tables have been gathered together for us alone. Something magical is about to happen.
Here are the highlights from our eight courses (not including dessert) at Hosteria Giusti: Gnocco fritto, a triangular dough puff, warm and savory and just corporeal enough to support the weight of a thin slice of melting Gorgonzola. The chefs are entranced; Mario, amused. He has tasted this before. He has tasted everything before and savors our reaction, as if he were sitting with someone watching Casablanca for the first time.
Two courses featuring squash blossoms: one fried, the other a frittata topped with a 50-year-old balsamic vinegar. Two pastas now. First, perfect tortelloni. Then garganelli with duck ragù. Morandi serves this himself, spooning it right from the pan, then placing the pan with the last portion in front of Ladner. Ruiz's eyes light up, perhaps as he imagines himself pulling this off in the new restaurant, watching the guests smile with surprise, as we did.
Cold pork prepared like tuna, served with warm roasted torpedo onions. Morandi's wife emerges from the kitchen to explicate the dish. The shoulder of a 17-month-old pig is cooked slowly in broth, then pulled into pieces and placed in a large tin with olive oil, juniper berries, pepper, a bit of salt, and bay leaf, and pressed down to soak up the flavors for a week. "Cooked with the skin on?" Allen wants to know, his version already coalescing in his head. Morandi and his wife watch as we eat wordlessly, their beaming faces suggesting that our silence is our highest compliment.
Stewed guanciola-veal cheeks. Like synchronized swimmers, we all take a bite and in unison set our forks down, look at each other, and laugh. We have just tasted one of the best things we have ever eaten, and we are too full to finish. Dinner that night at Trattoria Battibecco is somewhat disappointing. The décor is tasteful, but after Giusti, it seems slightly pretentious. Perhaps any restaurant would. Battibecco specializes in fish from the Adriatic, and after so much meat, some fish is welcome. In fact, one of us, I will not say who (it wasn't me), orders a salad as his secondo. We mock him mercilessly: "Maybe they have some tofu and mashed yeast to go with it." Still, the quiet at the table suggests maybe we are all thinking about that salad.
DAY THREE: We travel an hour by car to Ristorante Perbellini, a Michelin two-star located off the superstrada in a kind of industrial park. Perbellini is our contemporary eating experience, featuring deconstructed food, each dish served, it seems, on a plate designed specifically for it.
Cin cin [expletive deleted]!
But today there is much grumbling. Over eight courses, there are remarkable flavors, beautiful presentations; but we are disheartened by the disconnect we sense between the countryside and the food. We are dazzled, but strangely unmoved, as if we were looking at a painting that, even if well executed, was chosen solely because it matched the color of the couch. It is a good lesson.
That afternoon, we have a little time before dinner, so I take a stroll with Ladner and Allen, seeking out not Niccolò Dell'Arca's justly famous life-size terra-cottas but cooking supply stores. Allen wants a new mezzaluna. Ladner needs a mortar and pestle. We stumble upon a charming gelateria. Inside, the owner has his sleeves rolled up and is teaching his son to work the handsome gelato machine. An exquisite young woman (his daughter?) delicately assembles a cone by shaping the gelato into a flower, strawberry flavored in the center and sweet-cream petals. I order one of the same. This is everything I love about Italy-the craftsman father, the apprentice son, the luminous girl behind the counter, all coalescing around the luxuriant flavor of authentic gelato.
Smiling, I emerge from the shop with my gelato flower and spoons to share.
"Did you see that machine?" Allen says.
"Cool, wasn't it?" I say. "Kind of Deco?"
"It's the French pot method. The gelato has to be scraped by hand as it freezes."
I offer Allen a taste. He scoops away one of the petals. His face clouds ominously.
"I think they use a base."
"They first make a vanilla and a chocolate base," he says. "Then add other flavors to it."
He shrugs. Clearly it's not good. Besides salami, Allen knows gelato.
I offer some to Ladner, who dispatches another petal.
"Definitely a base."
I look at my gelato. In another, more innocent time, I would have savored it. Now, older, wiser, I toss the base-tainted cone, three petals still intact, into the garbage.
DAY FOUR: We travel by commuter train to Porretta Terme, where we eat with the family who owned the restaurant where Mario apprenticed for three years. We sit at a long table that fills the back wall of Enoteca La Capannina. Having heard that Batali is visiting, the mayor stops by to say hello.
Cin cin [expletive deleted]!
It is here that we have the perfect rendition of the sacred trio of Emilia-Romagna pastas-tortellini in brodo, tortelloni, and lasagne. Three pastas to start a meal seems wrong for so many reasons, though I cannot, at the moment, think of what they are. The lasagne bolognese is ethereal: very little sauce, very little filling, not even served hot. And still, the individual components are so dramatically redolent and melting in texture that the dish is just miraculous. This lasagne is to what I think of as "lasagne" what a Michelangelo sculpture is to a lawn ornament.
DAY FIVE: I didn't think it was possible, but Batali has saved the best for last. The Tamani brothers chose to locate Ambasciata in a small, unassuming house in Quistello because, well, it's the house they were born in. A helipad behind some shrubbery is the only indication that some of Italy's affluent are regulars here. That, and the nine-course tasting menu that costs 100 euros.
Francesco Tamani runs the front of house; Romano runs the kitchen. We will have a meal created for us, including four pasta courses-which are quickly modified to five, because, as Romano informs us, "four pastas is simply not enough."
Cin cin [expletive deleted]!
Prosecco is poured; then the restaurant's own salami is served, whimsically, two slices at a time on wooden skewers laid out on a silver tray. This mixing of high and low is duly noted by Ruiz. Allen waxes eloquent about the texture, flavor, fat content, and general perfection of the salami. Our Prosecco flutes are removed in preparation for the first course. Then I hear behind me the disconcerting sound of liquid spilling on the rug. But when I turn around, instead of one of the waiters being reprimanded, there is Francesco Tamani in his tailored suit, merrily flinging what's left of our Prosecco onto the carpet. He grabs another glass and repeats the gesture, this time angling between two tables to get more distance on his fling. (He does!) And in this moment, like Duchamp adding a mustache to the Mona Lisa, Francesco gleefully captures both the holiness and the absurdity of charging 100 euros for a few plates of pasta.
Romano Tamani emerges from the kitchen early in the meal to sit and share his lamentations with Batali about the indecencies of current Italian cooking. "In Rome, they know nothing, Mario," he says. "Nothing!" His voice pierces the restaurant.
This is a prelude to the next course, a timbale of sweet pastry wrapped around macaroni with a pigeon ragù-an ancient Jewish recipe from Lombardy that Romano Tamani is keeping alive.
More pastas emerge-a green one made with nettles; one with guanciale and aceto tradizionale; maniche dei frati, or "priests' sleeves," filled with smoked salmon.
Then another rant from Romano Tamani, this time not just indicting Rome but any Italian cook who puts mayonnaise in his vitello tonnato. "These men, they are assassins!"
That night we change our plans, cancel our reservations, and, instead, sit outside at what seems to be the hippest pizzeria in town, P122@s (pronounced "pizzas"). Tonight, the hell with it, we all order salad, followed by some pizzas and steaks, all of which we share. We are reflective. Our thoughts turn to the family that run La Capannina, the care and devotion they lavish on their food, and how it is so clearly an extension of themselves. Sure, they were welcoming Mario Batali, but we know that it would have been the same without him. The Del Posto team will be serving many more people each night in New York. They wonder if they can replicate this approach to cooking and service which so closely resembles love. It leaves us picking silently at our pizzas.
We have finished our last meal. We toast Batali, Bologna, the porticos and the women, and every aspect of the city and countryside which has aligned to preserve this majestic cuisine. And then Batali toasts the chefs who have just inspired us so profoundly, knowing that he and his staff will soon be paying them the highest tribute-cooking with the same kind of passion we have felt consistently over the past five days through all our 62 courses, not, of course, counting desserts.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED APRIL 2006
Edited by Clove48 - 7/15/14 at 5:44pm