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Trip Report: Ravenna (long)

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Ristorante Osteria del Temp Perso: The name of this restaurant translates to “restaurant of lost time.” Since the shelves of the restaurant were lined with bottles of wine, that may explain the name. However, I suspect there’s a second meaning that refers to the tempo of improvisational jazz. Photographs of famous jazz musicians both decorate the wall and in gaps in the bottles. The decorations also included posters for concerts by famous jazz musicians, and, I believe, record jackets of important jazz recordings. A large and lovely flower arrangement was on a table in the center of the room. Definitely one of the more attractive restaurants on our trip.

We went to the restaurant when it opened at 7:30 p.m. after a day that began in Venice with a trip to the Rialto market and included our train trip to Ravenna via Ferrara. Several other diners, clearly all tourists and most likely from our hotel located around the corner, arrived about the same time. It would not be until 9:00 p.m. that Italian locals began arriving. In fact, that seemed to be the pattern for dining in Italy. I’ll admit we haven’t been to Italy in two years, but neither my husband nor I can remember this pattern of such late dining. There were days on our trip when we ate beginning at 8:00 p.m., but we were never going to begin our dinner at 9:00 p.m. Ultimately, we decided it was better to be unfashionably early so we could be early risers for our days of touring. Besides, by arriving early, the lack of bustle worked to our benefit because the wait staff was more patient with us as we worked our way slowly through an Italian-only menu and, invariably, asked questions about some of the words/dishes.

We were interested in the changes we saw on menus in this eastern Emilia-Romagna city. Sure, there was still plenty of fish and shellfish with the proximity to the Adriatic, but rich dishes typical of Emilia-Romagna began showing up on the menu.

If we had known that Tempo Perso was going to serve each of us a wonderful gratis dish, we would have probably shared a pasta rather than each order a pasta in addition to shared antipasto, and shared secundo. This dish can’t be called an amuse since the quantity was extremely generous. The dish consisted of large cubes of seared tuna marinated in oil, herbs, and salt and pepper. A mound of kataifi, shredded phyllo dough, topped the generous pile of tuna.

My husband and I shared an antipasto of sublime Vitello Tonnato. Decades ago, I cooked Vitello Tonnato, but I had to substitute plain old Bumble Bee tuna in oil since I couldn’t locate Italian tuna. Well, I’m here to say that this version was a revelation. The veal had been poached with such care and the meat was sliced only upon ordering that the paper-thin slices of veal were moist even without the rich sauce of tuna in oil, anchovies, and capers. The dish was plated with a mere wash of sauce underneath the fanned-out slices of meat. Obviously, the restaurant was confident of the excellence of the meat and needed no mask of sauce. And we agree. Wow!

My duck-loving husband was happy again as he enjoyed his risotto with duck. (It was unpredictable as to whether restaurants would offer risotto for one or only in portions for two. If I had to generalize, I’d say that seafood risotti -- is there such a word? – were only available for two people. Cheese or vegetable risotto was often available as a single order.) I had a delicious penne dish with clams and mussels. The pasta was described as homemade and the taste certainly supported that. We shared a secundo of monkfish with herbs in soup of the sea which turned out to be a nicely flavored broth filled with more clams and mussels. I thought the dish was tasty, but my husband said that his monkfish at Alle Testiere was more moist.

We shared a dessert of lemon sorbetto parfait with fresh raspberry sauce in the bottom of the dish and vodka poured over everything. Delish!

Ristorante Bella Venezia: (Via IV Novembre) We passed up several outdoor restaurant possibilities to eat lunch indoors here for what was described as the best pasta in town. Suffice it to say that the home-made pasta in our order of tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms certainly enhanced the restaurant’s pasta creds. We also had our first real prosciutto in a shared antipasto of melon and prosciutto. We were blown away by the sweetness of the real thing. Before we began our trip, I had read everyone’s rhapsodic comments about culatello. Yes, culatello is extra-ordinary and we adored it. However, we were, in effect establishing our culatello baseline so the excellent version became standard. We have never, never eaten prosciutto of the quality we routinely ate throughout Emilia-Romagna, and that comparison includes seven previous trips to other regions of Italy. Prosciutto di Parma served near the source was a revelation of sweetness and delicacy. I used to buy imported Citterio prosciutto di Parma in the Washington, DC area, but after eating the real thing, I don’t know if I can ever put the familiar stuff across a strip of melon again.

Antica Trattoria al Gallo: This restaurant is located outside the historic center on Via Maggiore. It is off the maps that you’ll be given by most hotels. It’s not far outside the gate at the end of the pedestrian street, Via Cavour. In fact, the best way to think of its location is that Via Maggiore is, essentially, a large traffic-carrying extension of Via Cavour. (With your back to the historic center, the restaurant is on the right side of Via Maggiore) This is clearly an upscale restaurant with lots of art-nouveau small bronze sculptures on shelves sticking out from the walls or on half-walls that created small niches within the restaurant. However, the resaturant is saved from stuffiness by some homey touches including old photographs and testimonials to the mother of the current owner, perhaps the founder.

I’m a fool for stuffed zucchini blossoms, but this was the first time we actually ordered them on the trip. We shared an antipasto of zucchini flowers stuffed with gorgonzola served with a delicate sauce. The gorgonzola was the mild, buttery type. We’re not completely certain about what was in the sauce, but we certainly detected some vinegar and black pepper. This was a light and elegant preparation; I don’t believe the zucchini flowers were actually cooked. I know they weren’t breaded and fried which produced a dish of light, clean flavors that I’ve tried to describe.

Now, for the pasta. Amazing! We shared an order of Spaghetti Carbonara with Pesce Spada. We didn’t quite know what we were going to get when we placed our order. We assumed it would be the conventional carbonara recipe with added chunks of swordfish. While that would have be nice, it would have been an a pale version of what actually arrived. The restaurant substituted smoked swordfish for the bacon/pancetta in carbonara, and the result was fantastic! I have no idea whether this dish is a regional Adriatic variation of carbonara or a modern invention. The bottom line is that we thought this was exquisite.

After our extra-ordinary pasta, our braciola castrato was something of a let down, although perfectly tasty. We saw the cognate “castrato” and we inquired about the type of chops before we placed the order. My spoken Italian was woefully inadequate to frame an intelligent question. Fortunately, the server must get a question about that dish often enough that she understood and volunteered “lamb.” I don’t know why the restaurant chose to use the word “castrato” instead of “agnello.” Perhaps, it has something to do with the age of the meat.

We broke our pattern of shared and simple desserts at this restaurant. My husband ordered crepes filled with gelato and strawberry sauce. I ordered yogurt gelato with warm honey and pine nuts. Both desserts were lovely, but I liked the combination of the tangy gelato and the sweetness of the honey more than I liked the consistent sweetness of his dessert.

At the end of the meal, we were offered drinks of the local liqueur, prunolino. We loved the flavor, but we focused on the apparent cognate to prune and decided a couple of sips was sufficient. After dinner, we went on the internet to discover that the liqueur is made from a type of berry, not prunes. For some reason, I’m not pulling up the same site I was able to find in Italy to share the specific name of the berry.

Next stop: Urbino

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  1. thanks for another great report.
    "castrato" - well think of what it means in the case of a male singer (historically) - castrato i(or castrauro, I think) s meat from a castrated, older lamb (more like mutton) and is a specialty in some areas of italy, including up in Venice for one of the festivals

    prugnolino is from a wild berry in the prunus (cherry, almond, plum, apricot...) family - Ive never had it but think it is the same as "sloes"

    All Gallo is where we went for our first meal in Ravenna almost 30 yrs ago per a Michelin Red Guide recommendation - and had the stuffed zucchini flowers too - but they have definitely gotten gussied up since then!

    3 Replies
    1. re: jen kalb

      Prugnolo is indeed "sloe" or blackthorn, a blueberry-colour berry that grows on thorny bushes. Widely used in the UK for making sloe-gin. In this area (Urbino, Northern Le Marche) after filtering your prugnolo liqueur (that includes sugar and spices) you cover the berries with good Sangiovese wine and let sit for a couple of months, the result is a beautiful dessert wine that pairs brilliantly with chocolate!
      Mind! Prugnolo is also a mashroom.

      1. re: vallenuova

        Great report. By the way, can you remember what the prices were like for the pasta at Ristorante Bella Venezia? We're planning a day at Revenna on the way from Cortona to Venice, and I'm looking for a place for a good bowl of lunch-time pasta that isn't too expensive...

        1. re: DexterDog

          Sorry, but I can't be specific. My husband's best recollection is that the price wasn't anything unusual.