Let’s go back to Italy, shall we? The travelogue left off after our four days in Firenze, but the trip went on: we boarded a Trenitalia for a brief visit to bustling, historic Bologna, site of the oldest university in the western world and a cultural crossroads that dates back to 1000 B.C. It is also a city celebrated for its great food, no small feat when you consider that the entire country is one big carnival of calories.
We only stayed two days, just long enough to see the towers and have a few spectacular meals.
We had one rainy afternoon for a quick tour the city. We hope to return and dig deeper someday.
When you wander the narrow, winding streets, you quickly realize that it’s all about food in Bologna.
Thanks to some very knowledgeable folks on Chowhound we had a few unforgettable meals. We arrived a bit early for lunch at All’Osteria Bottega, and while we were happy to wait on a bench outside, the proprietress took pity on us and waved us in, offering pane e vino to sustain us while we waited for il pranzo. She spoke almost no English but kindness somehow translates well in any language.
Dinner that evening was at the famed I Caracci Ristorante in the Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni. It would be worth dining there for the sixteenth century frescoes alone, but the food and the service were equally memorable:
For our second lunch in Bologna, we went a bit further afield. Betting on another Chowhound recommendation, we balked a bit when after a longish cab ride we arrived at the outwardly unprepossessing Osteria Broccaindosso. Again, it appeared we were a bit early – 12:30 may be the official opening time for lunch but in Bologna, the cognoscenti do not seem to show up earlier than 1 p.m.
No one spoke English. We took a seat, noting nervously that the place looked kind of like the interior of a Pizza Hut. The CE asked “Are you sure about this?” Just as I began to ponder our exit, we heard a deep voice behind us proclaim a loud “Buongiorno!” and the show was on. No need to consult the menu; just put yourself in the capable, brawny hands of the restaurant owner and you will enjoy one of the best meals of your life:
We were completely sated after our pasta course, but our new friend would not let us leave without dessert. He presented us with a vat of zabaglione large enough to serve a tribe of Etruscans. And then (never mind that it was 1:30 in the afternoon) he authoritatively set down a bottle of grappa with a gesture that conveyed “Drink as much as you want, it’s on me.” Oh, and don’t forget: after dessert comes dessert: this time an apricot tart.
We were really too full to have dinner that evening, but we kept our reservation at Trattoria da Gianni where I nibbled half-heartedly at some ambrosial cheese and the CE rose to the challenge with a heavenly serving of artichoke lasagna. Our lovely waitress surprised us with chilled glasses of housemade grappa after our meal.
Once back in the states we ran into some friends who had once lived in Bologna for several months. Their first question was whether we had been “comped” with food or drink during our stay. And as we recounted the incredible generosity we experienced, our friends nodded, smiling, and said “That means they liked you.” We liked them, too! We’ll be back, Bologna!