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Recent eatings: Venice, Bologna, Giusti in Modena (long)

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Venice: In short, I’m still looking for a place in Venice that totally impresses. The kind of place where you chew the food extra slowly…a place that’s eye rolling good. Maybe I have to break the bank a little more in Venice but I get paid in dollars and spend euros so I can’t see spending much more than I already do on these places. I am saving my pennies for Fiaschetteria Toscana the next time I visit.

Anice Stellato: Visited back in Aug for the Biennale. We really enjoyed the atmosphere of the place. They also had really good antipasti. One dish was anchovies with an interesting use of spices (for Italy) like ginger and vanilla the other antipasti was sarde in saor (sp?) which was also delicious. We both ate primi heavy on seafood. Mine was a spaghetti with eggplant, tomato, mussels and swordfish. It was definitely fresh but kind of flat. I can’t remember the details of the dish my wife ate apart from the fact that it had a whole grain pasta and fish. This place is worth a trip because it’s a bit off the beaten path and is very welcoming. It’s not too expensive-- the meal above + house white and forgettable desert was about 65 euro. I would visit again but would probably try a new place first. They are canal side and have outdoor seating which can be fun, but remember outdoor seating=smoking section if that bothers you.

Vini da Gigio: In Sept I made my second trip to Vini da Gigio. The first was during Carnivale which was a competent but average experience. However, based on the reviews here and my own experience I decided to give it another chance.

One of the best things about Vini da Gigio is the service. Both times we found the staff to be very attentive, friendly and on the ball. Again we had the sarde in saor which was excellent and probably the best I’ve had. For the main dishe I had “i mori” which is squid ink pasta with tomatoes and swordfish. The squid ink dishes here are delicious. I had never been a fan before but am now converted. One of our party had the tortelli with a cream of zucca but the verdict on this was it looked better than it tasted. Deserts here are totally superfluous unless you enjoy standards like cream brulé. On the whole I am a fan of this restaurant and would recommend it to anyone going to Venice. On the other hand, it’s not a “go out of your way” dining experience either. I think one of the problems I have with the place is the two evening seatings. On both visits I have failed to secure a table for the second turn. That means we ate at 7:30 and were out of there by nine. For Italian dining that’s very fast. Vini da Gigio has an interesting menu that has something for everyone. On my last visit three people ate two appetizers, three primi and a desert plus coffee and wine for 125 euro. Not bad…

Bologna

Melloncello: This place is super-great. It’s a bit out of town but really convenient to reach. Take bus number 20 from the center of town and it drops you half a block away. http://www.atc.bo.it/english/RoutesTi...

We visited for lunch. There was no menu and no other English speakers. My one quibble about Melloncello is that they don’t really do antipasti or at least they didn’t do them for us. That seems to ignore one of the stars of the region—cured meats. There were three of us and we ordered, tagliatelle al ragu, tortelli with ricotta, and gramigna con salcicia which is kind of like elbow macaroni with a pork sauce. All of the plates were above average with the tortelli and the gramigna big standouts. The tortelli were very creamy and perfectly done.
For secondi I had polpetone with piselli and pure di patate. I still say the best meatball I ever had was in Napoli but this one was very good. For desert it was zuppa inglese. I offered to buy an espresso cup after the meal as a little souvenir for my collection but they were happy to give me one. Unfortunately, I haven’t eaten very much in Bologna but I have traveled throughout Emilia Romagna and I think you can’t do much better than Melloncello for traditional regional food.

Majani: If you love chocolate you have to visit Majani. Their famous chocolate is the “fiat cremino,” a chocolate hazelnut cube, but all their stuff is really great. Their shop purports to be one of the oldest in Bologna. In general Italian chocolate is very underrated. If you see Majani, Venchi, L’Artigiano, Caffarel or Amedei you won’t go wrong.

Modena

Giusti: We made reservations in June for their first open Sat, a lunch on Sept. 29th. (Giusti is only open for lunch). A teeming salumieria/gastronomia by day, they close during the lunch hour to serve four lucky tables of patrons in the back. If you’ve studied up about this place you probably know that the old proprietor Nano Morandi passed away a few years ago. His widow and family continue the business. Nary a discouraging word is spoken about Giusti but that means the highest expectations. In my experience, it didn’t quite live up to the hype but is nonetheless a special destination in Italy.

As my alias hints at, I’ve slopped a bit of hash in my time. In general that makes me very forgiving of the service. Next, I’ve lived in Italy for almost two years now so I’ve come to expect a different level of service than you find in the US and not for the better. That said, this place has four tables and a Michelin star. I want some attention.

The day of our visit, there were actually three tables because two were pushed together to accommodate a party of six. The other two tables were myself (a two top) and another couple. It could have just been an off day for the service but the six-top sucked up all the attention from the one waiter working the room. He patiently explained many of the dishes to them and made recommendations. He talked to them at length about some of the wine in the very thick wine list. He handed us and the other table a menu and left us to our devices. Later, during the meal he escorted the other table to the enoteca essentially abandoning the two other tables. When lunch was over he was nowhere to be found and I had to ask a woman for coffee and liqueur. She turned out to be Nano Morandi’s daughter. From then on the attention was super but it we basically talked about the restaurant and such. Before we left she did take us up front and patiently explain the difference between some of the balsamics and some of the other interesting food stuffs they have for sale. She also gave us a bottle of lambrusco because it was our anniversary or maybe she saw us being ignored for most of lunch. In the end this personal attention was nice but during the meal it was AWOL. That was my big problem with Giusti. Of course, you go to a restaurant to eat.

The food here is excellent—top notch, but just a tad uneven. I think the main problem is that the antipasti are so good that you expect the meal to keep getting better. We started with frittelle di minestrone, basically a vegetable fritter drizzled with their “private stock” balsamic. It was good but when you pour syrupy, ancient balsamic on anything it’s going to taste good. The other appetizer was probably one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth…”millefoglie di melanzana con lardo e fois gras.” Hot damn! I’d go back and just order a few of those. Thin eggplant slices, lightly fried and stacked in layers with alternating pieces of gooey, diaphanous lardo and fois gras. How can you top that? Well, that day they couldn’t.

The rest of the meal was good but not exceptional. For primi, “macheroni with a salsa di zucca” and “tagliolini with zafferano and ganascino” (pork cheek). The latter was quite good with a nice marriage of the strong flavors. The former was a little too delicate. For secondi we had “faraona (guinea hen) with balsamic.” The fat of the hen and the vinegar mixed very nicely into a strong but not overpowering glaze of sorts. We ordered a half portion of this dish and most of the dishes are available in half portions so sample away.

The deserts: Fior di Latte gelato drizzled with balsamic. Who knew sweet milk and balsamic could make such a delicious flavor? This was another highlight of the meal for us where the flavors came together in a sublime fashion rather than just tasting good. Budino di ciocolatto was a thumbs down. In a blind taste test you probably can’t tell the difference between this and “Swiss Miss” but swiss miss doesn’t cost 8 euro.

In sum I would go back in heartbeat. The total for the above meal was 115 euro with coffee and wine. The experience of Giusti is quite memorable between entering through a tiny door from the gastronomia to sitting in such a private feeling space. The food doesn’t disappoint and if you are in Emilia Romagna you should make a point of going here.

How to get the most out of Giusti: 1) Call way in advance 2) Order anything with balsamic. 3) Speak Italian. 4) Ask to visit the enoteca or storefront for some private post-lunch shopping.

Photos:
gramigna at meloncello
giusti post lunch
millefoglie

 
 
 
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  1. Thanks for posting your report!

    1. Thanks for that report and the pix! We ate lunch at Giusti a couple of years ago and were lucky to have superb service from two people, a man and a woman (we thought they might be sibs). It was a memorable experience indeed! I wish we had thought to ask about post-lunch shopping but unhappily it did not occur to us, we just berated ourselves for not shopping first. I'm really sad to hear that you just got a menu, it was so much fun to have the waitstaff discuss the offerings with us. I hope you get to experience that upon a return visit, since I gather that you are lucky enough to live within reach.