Bologna, Italy, tasted on March 22, 2004 — On this day in
Bologna we weren't sure exactly where to go eat.
Dinner the night before
wasn't spectacular though it had it's moments. We were nervous about
trusting our instincts on where to eat. I can't recall exactly who
recommended that we eat at the unfortunately named
Trattoria Gigina, but whoever it was, we should thank them. The
baseline of quality for restaurants is simply higher in Italy so
despite our best efforts, our expectations were pretty high.
Trattoria Gigina beat even those.
Gigina was a long cab-ride from the center of town.
We had no idea where we were and along the way wondered if we had
been kidnapped by our cabbie. Our fears were unfounded as he
delivered us to
our destination somewhere in Bologna. As we entered Trattoria
Gigina, it felt a little traditional. And while we would assume that
would be likely to mean high quality, the night before we felt
traditional had meant slightly out of touch. We got this impression
from the purse table for ladies in the
entrance as well as the special menu for the women in our party
(the menus didn't include the prices), and the
picture of the ample woman, obviously a veteran of the kitchen,
stirring a huge pot of sauce.
We took our seats up on the second floor of the
restaurant. Things started with a bang as we ordered a bottle of
San Valentino Terra Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2000.
On my own personal (and somewhat wacky) 100 point scale I gave it a
93. It was a touch thin up front but blossomed into big acidic (in a
good way) tangy deliciousness. Plenty of soft tannins on the finish.
Nice. While the wine was great, the bread (of course) was not good.
Not terrible this time, but not good either. No worries, much better
food was to follow.
The food started coming in earnest when our
Roast-beef della Gigina con La Sua Salsa arrived. Pink and juicy
and topped with a lemon wedge, it was delicious. So light, so moist,
hugely savory. The flavors were rustic and (not surprisingly)
slightly tangy. As if the region didn't have enough specialties,
Mortodella was another one. But I hadn't had a superlative
Mortadella experience yet. That changed with
Spuma di Mortadella e Gelatina di Balsamico. It had a bit of a
rougher texture than others I'd had which I thought ended up being a
positive note. The balsamic gelatin cubes added welcome sharp sparks
of tanginess. This was
Speaking of regional specialties, up next was a
plate of the best prosciutto I've ever eaten -
Prosciutto di Parma Stagionato due Anni. It was perfect. Salty,
savory, porky. The texture was slightly dry in a good way. We also
carpaccio with enormous parmigiana reggiana shavings on top.
Most folks at the table thought it was served too cold. That said,
the texture was amazing. It was like raw tuna. So soft and supple.
And once you let the meat sit on your tongue the subtlest flavors
made their appearance. The touch of mild savory tones were also like
a beautiful piece of raw tuna. While I did love it, I have to admit
it could have been overwhelmed by the other dishes given its
Typically when we go to eat we order in an atypical
way. We avoid huge entrees and try for as many smaller dishes as
possible which we share family style. The key is for us to taste as
much as the restaurant has to offer. In Italy our approach is almost
impossible. There's antipasti, then primi, then secondi, then
dessert. That's it. Anytime we try and deviate the restaurant gets
nutty. They also are so worried about us getting enough food (by
their definition, not ours) that we always end up with too much. By
this time on our trip to Italy we'd basically figured that out. And
if we hadn't by this time, they made it clear when they wouldn't let
us not order secondi. As you'll see below, there are worse problems
bowl of freshly grated parmigiana reggiana showed up at our
table before the primi arrived. How could we be expected not to try
some. It was creamy, tangy, and fresh. We worried it would be gone
by the time the dishes arrived. What arrived next was the
Tortellini in Brodo di Tradizione Bolognese. Now my Italian is
essentially non-existent, but after tasting this dish I think I can
safely say that Bologna has some great traditions. The broth was
rich and wonderful. It started out with this simple chicken flavor
but got meatier and had citrus notes near the mid-palate. The little
dumplings were soft and delicious. I really loved the soup. I
swallowed the tortellini whole sometimes.
Next up was
Larghissime con Funghi Porcini. The mushrooms were butter. The
pasta delicious and light. This was
DebDu's favorite. We
Tortelloni di Ricotta al Burro e Salvia. Essentially, huge
tortelloni filled with super flavorful ricotta. Excellent. We also
had some of the best Bolognese pasta so far. Very very good. The
creamy cheese completed it. This (not surprisingly) was
All the food came out of the kitchen piping hot and
great. I guess it's no surprise that temperature is key in making a
great food experience. It is surprising though how rarely you eat
somewhere that the food consistently comes out of the kitchen at the
right temperature. It wasn't just the temperature of course. The
pasta was perfectly cooked as well.
Finally we got a couple of secondi. The first was
Cotoletta alla Petroniana con Tartufo. Turkey cutlet, truffle,
cheese, and ham. It was good but dense. The truffle showed up quite
nicely. We also got
Tagliatina di Vitello in Salsa all'Aceto Balsamico. The veal was
a touch overcooked. And while I never usually feel this way, in this
case it really didn't matter. The sauce with it's balanced and not
overdone tangy sweetness was really incredible and made up for any
deficiencies in the meat. Great. The
veggie accompaniments were quite good as well.
I didn't realize it at the time but this meal was a
first class tour of the specialties of Emilia-Romagna done without
pretense or pomp. Just first class ingredients, simple recipes, and
perfect execution. The prosciutto di parma, parmigiana reggiana,
balsamic vinegar, mortadella, the bolognese sauce on the pasta, and
the chicken soup with tortellini all were iconic representations of
the best the region has to offer. It was Emilia Romagna's dream team
of ingredients and dishes all making their appearance before us. And
much like the original basketball version, this group destroyed
everything in their path including any willpower I had to say no. It
may have been a dream experience for me, but I'm almost positive
that this was just another meal for the people at Trattoria Gigina.