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Jun 10, 2008 12:25 PM

Report on Osteria Giusti, Modena

Just got back from two weeks in Milan, Bologna and Lago di Como and wanted to report on the famous but elusive Osteria Giusti.

Our hotel in Bologna (Orologio) had attempted to make a reservation for us several weeks in advance. When we checked in, the concierge reported that contact with Giusti had never been established; the hotel’s phone calls and fax had not been acknowledged.

We went to Modena as a day trip from Bologna, and armed with the name of another restaurant as back up, we stopped at vicolo del Squallore 46, on a narrow alleyway. A sign outside said ‘completo” but I opened the door to see three of four tables vacant. The owner (who we learned later was Nano Morandi’s son) came out and I started to explain that we tried to make reservations. But after just three or four words, he gestured to a table, saying “Yes. Yes. Sit. Sit. Welcome.” So we quickly sat before he changed his mind! He never even asked my name.

A pretty little yellow room with only four tables. Beautiful china, glassware and linens. The wine list is very nice with many famous names and labels. We ask for a recommendation. He suggests Lambrusco! I am taken aback given that behind my chair is a display of Chateau Petrus bottles dating back to 1967. Now I actually like lambrusco but we feel the occasion needs something more. He has just the thing. He opens a bottle and pours, and it is delicious. He hans us the bottle. It is a 1999 Barbera d’Asti. His own Giusti label bottled by Coppo.

Gnoccho fritto- five airy puffs of dough, each topped with a small slice of cured meat. I recognize salame, proscuitto and lardo.
Fried minestrone fritters topped with a drizzle of aceto balsamico.

we each have a half portion of the amazing tortellini in brodo – the pasta is stuffed with a mix of veal, mortadella, proscuitto, parmigiano. The capon broth is clear and rich.

Cotechino fritto – slices of cotechino sausage dusted with flour and grated cheese, sauteed, and topped with a savory zabaglione
A trancio of pork, slow braised in white wine and herbs, served at room temperature with an agrodolce jam of red onions. It sounds so simple but it was a heavenly combination of flavors.

Two half slices of a thin crostata of amarena cherries. We finish off with our usual cafe macchiato.

We ask about the wine and the owner shows us into his cellar across the alley – Gaja, Pio Cesare, brunellos of all sorts. We buy a bottle of his Barbera as a momento to be enjoyed at home. We then ask about aceto balsamico and he shows us into his shop which usually isn’t open again until 3:30. We buy an expensive bottle of aged vinegar and a less expensive bottle for salad dressings.

What an experience! Try to snag a table if you can. Only open for lunch.

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  1. Hostaria Giusti a website with an email contact - we made a reservation through this a couple weeks back with no difficulty. So many of these links dont work but this one did.
    Im still trying to figure out howto make reservations at a couple of places whose website links and fax numbers dont seem to work, without making a tel call and having to communicatein my terrible italian.

    thanks for your report!

    27 Replies
    1. re: jen kalb

      When I did all my research for this trip a while back, I never saw this web site. Everything I saw said that you had to call. The web page say Copyright 2007 so it may be very recent, and I just missed it. Thanks!

      I've always found that asking the concierge/clerk at your hotel is the best way to make reservations. They are happy to do it.

      1. re: jen kalb


        What is the link? I cannot find the website or email address. Would appreciate any help. Thanks.

        1. re: rrems

          Here is the contact page on the website - please note it is hosteria giusti.

          our food was excellent but I think its a bit of a tourist phenomena - in a major italian food town 3 tables all occupied by foreigners, 2 of which were taking pictures of their food? I wrote a report last summer - some of the things we had were truly top-notch (the cured meats paired with the hot rich bread of the region, a cold pork dish cooked with fresh bay laurel) others impressed less (a pasta with shrimp/tomato sauce, a special for that hot summer day, the cherry dessert.)

          1. re: jen kalb

            Thanks so much, jen. I don't mind if it's touristy, the food is what's important.

            1. re: rrems

              its not precisely touristy - its the cult of exclusivity
              I wished they had been offering the tortellini and cotechino etc when we here there but perhaps it was for the best - it was well over 90F , humid and we had feasted at the Clinica Gastronomica the prior night anyway.

              Had I the choice I would have gone to the Osteria Rubbiara in nearby Nonantola instead, with the Pedroni acetaia and liqueur making operation attached, but there was just not time or stomach capacity, and it will have to wait for another trip.

              Be sure to take the opportunity try the nocino (a spicy black green walnut liqueur) made in this area - it can be wonderful.

              1. re: jen kalb

                More than 90% of Matteo's clients are Italian. Go in the summer on any given day and you might have foreigners at three tables (were you one of the three or were you the fourth table?). During the rest of the year (again, except on any given day), few foreigners. It is not exclusive; it just happens to have only four tables, which I've seen reset when someone comes in and orders only one dish and leaves quickly (which is no problem). Why would they have ever offered cotechino in the summer?
                Nonantola is an entirely different meal. First of all, you eat as the prete wishes you to, no choice. And the prete can be very tough. Fun place if he is in a good mood. We've been there many times and twice he got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. The level of cooking at Rubbiara is very different from that of Giusti. Not better, not worse, just different.

                1. re: allende

                  there were only three tables occupied on that day, two of Americans, one with a seemingly italian guy and a whole bunch of Japanese girls (id guess studying in Bologna). We had a very good meal, and the service was pleasant not at all pretentious, but the touristic cult around the place seemed a little silly - this is not a cuisine for the summer and Id hope to return in a better season.
                  Im not suggesting that the Osteria di Rubbiara is at all similar (tho in that region there would be some overlap) or better - but that I would have preferred an atmosphere where we could blend in and enjoy a local atmosphere.

            2. re: jen kalb

              My meal there in July was great, although slightly rushed since I had to catch a flight in Milan at 4:30pm. One table seemed to be locals and the other two tables were combined for a large family. I was the only one taking photos of the food...:)


                1. re: jen kalb

                  follow the link! looks great, btw. I ate there this past February and we were the only non-Italians. Food, atmosphere, cellar, wines, service; all were great. We talked with the mamma for around 10 minutes in which she told us a bit about the story of the place and later maybe an hour with the son about wines (I am a sommelier). I have to say that he has great knowledge about wines though he doesn't have any formal education and I wouldn't hesitate to follow his recommendations. They are celebrating their 20th anniversary sometime these days with 10 of the best winemakers of the region. I wish I could be there!

              1. re: jen kalb

                just send a request for reservation through the link. Hope that it works and I will get a response.

                1. re: kyeblue

                  after waiting for a week, I got a reply yesterday. heading there on in less than a month.

                  1. re: kyeblue

                    Earlier this month, I requested a table for mid-July, and their response time was the same (heard back after a week).

                    Antsy American that I am, this wait seemed like an eternity. After a couple days with no reply, I figured they were all booked up. When they got back to me with a confirmation, it almost felt like winning a prize of some sort (one of those four tables is mine!).

                    As an experiment, I wrote in Italian (thanks to Google Translate) for my reservation requests to Arnaldo Clinica Gastronomica and Cavallino Blanco, and they got back to me either that day or the next day.

                    I am so excited to eat in this region!

                    1. re: quillynilly

                      Glad it worked out - it will be great to have some additional reports!

                      Do hope you buy/try some of the local products - Rubiera is a low stress place to pick up some balsamico tradizionale (in the little bakery on main street, not too many choices), and the liquors at Il Cavallino Bianco (sburlon and I bet the nocino) are very good . We picked up a bottle of Nocino delle Streghe in the town of Carpi, but the artisanal versions are probably even better. Arnaldo has a specialty digestivo called something like the chimney sweep - black and probably made with nocino - why not give it a try??

                      Its also great to drink the local wines - lambrusco etc recommended. which is frizzante and sometimes a bit sweet - it is fruity and works with the food. There were very good examples at Arnaldo and Giusti.there I think you can go with the house recommendation - As I recall we had the house-made wine at Al Cavallino Bianco - didnt like that as well, so you might want to pick another there, either a gutturnio or one of the better lambrusco DOCs - say from Sorbara or Castelvetro. None of it is expensive.

                      At Arnaldo you have a choice of pasta but they will give you a tris (3 kind) sampler. Their special mushroom pasta, like lasagna, and their veg ragu sauced pastas were particularly nice. but most of the people in the Room (and this was 90 degree weather) were ordering the tortellini in brodo. We were two, and only one of ordered the bollito misto. That was enough. The accompanying sauces, including a house-made mostarda, were very interesting to sample with the different meats.


                      1. re: jen kalb

                        Thank you so much for these recs, jen! They will definitely be put to good use. :)

                        Reading reports here (yours especially!) are a huge reason why I absolutely had to eat at Giusti, Arnaldo, and Cavallino Bianco -- they're like my dining trinity, all three sound very unique.

                        I've never been to Italy, never had balsamico tradizionale, never had culatello... but Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano are two of my favorite foods on earth, and I'm thrilled to be going to the land where they come from. Can't wait!

                        1. re: quillynilly

                          At Al Cavallino Bianco be careful how much of the cured meat you order - if there are two of you, you just want one plate for two (uno per due) - you can order an assortment or just the culatello. their pasta is very good.
                          Be prepared for not much english, but it will be an adventure!

                          One cool thing is that they are a member of the Buon Ricordo association - if you offer the special buon ricordo dish, you will receive a special plate - their dish is capon and it sounds wonderful.
                          I see they recommend the malvasia, which is white and a little sweet and sparkling with this - that sounds very good too.

                          Dont know about any dessert at the white horse -we were too stuffed and had a glass of sburlon (quince liquor) to finish. bty, there were a dozen desserts offered at Arnaldo but the ones I tried were so so. Fruit is usually best in Italy, If I went back to Giusti, I would go for their ice cream with balsamic vinegar on it over the cherry tart.

                          I know I do go on.
                          IYou will have learned quite a bit about the food of this region with these meals - are you visiting other italian regions as well?

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            jen, these details are ultra helpful to me (and to others too, I'm sure) -- the more you "go on," the better!

                            I'll be in Italy for a month and have plans to visit other regions as well -- I'm flying in and out of Rome, but the main reason for the trip (other than having the ultimate food adventure) is to attend opera -- the festival in Verona and La Scala in Milan.

                            With all the bounty contained b/w Rome and Milan, I can't help but plan a very American-style "survey" trip with visits to Florence, Venice, and Umbria in addition to the above cities and Emilia-Romagna.

                            (I can see veteran Chowhounds shaking their heads at all this hopping around, but I can't help it! I'm young, and it's my first time there!)

                            My traveling companions and I are fairly light eaters, so most meals will be simple ones from the market, bar snacks, pizza al taglio, that sort of thing, but in each city, I do want to have one nice (but not stuffy) sit-down meal.

                            After combing through the boards, I made reservations via email at Cecchino dal 1887 in Rome and Alle Testiere in Venice. I'm also looking at Sostanza in Florence and Al Pompiere in Verona. madonnadelpiatto has been generous with recs for Umbria -- all sound very intriguing.

                            All this planning makes me wish it was June already!

                            1. re: quillynilly

                              If you haven't already found it, you might take a look at my posting on our experiences in Emilia-Romagna, including the wonderful Cavallino Bianco which we tried because of Jen's recommendation. Since you mentioned Umbria I will just say that our best culinary experiences there were Taverna del Lupo in Gubbio (they are also a member of Buon Ricordo and the specialty is Coniglio a la Taverniera) and Taverna del Pescatore near Campello sul Clitunno. Also liked Ristorante Umbria in Todi.

                              1. re: rrems

                                Yes, will also be going to Cavallino Bianco to try their heralded culatello amongst other things. Very encouraged to hear your meal (for 2?) was under 100 EUR.

                                Umbria is at the tail end of the month-long trip, and I have no idea what I'll feel like eating at that point. I have my eye on Taverna del Lupo since I'm staying at Hotel Bosone in Gubbio, but by then I may have restaurant-eating "fatigue," may desire really simple fare at that point.

                                I read your wonderful review of Taverna del Pescatore, which sounds delicious but may be out of my budget range. Will definitely consider Ristorante Umbria if I get to Todi.

                              2. re: quillynilly

                                wondering if you are stopping in Bussetto, just a few miles down the road from the White Horse, for the Verdi sights? I dont think there is a "season" on there, or in Parma, in June-July - its a hot a humid time in that region, but there are certainly matters of interest to an opera buff, including a "Verdiana" cafe serving wooden trays of culatello, etc. and I Due Foscari hotel, where we stayed for a night.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  Ah, I didn't realize Bussetto was that close to the Horse! I'll definitely stop by before dinner to see the sights (will be coming from Parma).

                                  Thanks for the tip!

                        2. re: quillynilly

                          I felt exactly the same way when saw their reply. I was about to give up on hope. Since it will be 2.5 hour drive away from my base in Tuscany, i can easily find excuse for not going. Giusti will be my only meal in Emilia although I will hit Romagna later on my trip for 6 days. I love Balsamic vinegar and plan to snap a couple of bottles from Giusti.

                          1. re: kyeblue

                            my only (further) advice on Giusti is to stay away from seafood oriented dishes. They seem to serve lighter stuff in the hot weather (understandable, for example when we were there they were not offering tortellini in brodo). I had a pasta with spicy tomato-ey shrimp sauce that reminded me of a similar dish in venice - it was underwhelming. Do get the plate of assorted cured meats - it is stellar, melting on the gnocci fritti.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Jen, thanks for your advice. Cured meats is the main purpose of me driving all the way to eat at Giusti.

                              1. re: kyeblue

                                hope you take a look at the amazing Romanesque duomo and the covered public market too! Modena is a great town.

                            2. re: kyeblue

                              Dude, hope was long gone by the time they got back to me -- I'd totally given up. So hearing back from them was a nice surprise!

                              2.5 hour drive -- that's dedication! I'll be driving from Verona -- do you know how long that'll take?

                              Do you know where you'll eat in Romagna? I'll be in Ravenna later that week to check out the mosaics, haven't checked on possible restaurants yet.

                              1. re: quillynilly

                                I will be in a conference at Bertinoro, and did not do any research on Ravenna, but i found a thread on Ravenna on this board.

                                There are plenty of Michelin stars along the coast from Ravenna to Rimini, and there is San Domenico in Imola.

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