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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ristorante Cesarina in historical Bologna

The day: 15 April 2007, Lunch.
The place: Bologna Italy, via Santo Stefano 19/B (tel +39 051 232032 - 235543)
The venue: Ristorante Cesarina
Nearest Airports: Bologna (British Airways, EasyJet), further away Forli’ (Ryanair)
The food: Traditional Italian/Bolognese
The drinks: We were not given a list, just Maitre d’ recommendation (read on...)

Today we are in the historical city of Bologna, and we meet again with MegaMan and MegaWoman of San Domenico fame, but in a much more modestly priced venue…mmmmh, maybe it would be a cheap opportunity to return the invitation . Cesarina is a bit of an institution in Bologna, bang in the centre of town, near one of its most beautiful and interesting churches (Santo Stefano). In the kitchen, chefs Peter Rambaldi and Cristiano Carboni.

You can sit inside or outside, in a sort of conservatory:

from which you can admire the beautiful buildings in Santo Stefano square:

From the moment we approach, it is clear that MegaMan and MegaWoman are most welcome guests here. The Maitre d’ treats them with deferential intimacy, and part of this treatment is that we are not given a menu like the suspicious tourists, but are simply told the main items instead, with a clear hint to what is most worth having. We do not want to spoil the atmosphere, so we do not ask for the list either, and therefore we will just be able to report the prices of what we are going to have. Here is the bread:

Yes, very plain. However, it is soon supplemented by this:

Traditional Bolognese coronary spoilers, these ‘crescentine’ are very good. The ingredients are the same as for bread: flower, yeast, water and salt, with some admissible variations, but they are ten fried either in lard (tradition) or in oil (modern innovation). As you can see they ‘inflate’ upon cooking, and they remain soft.

The ‘regional tradition’ chord is now well set for the meal. However we opt for a more eclectic menu.

For Primi, we go for an artichoke filled with rice (€11) and Spaghetti with clams (€13).

As you can see, it’s really ‘clams with spaghetti’ (as MegaMan had requested for the table…). A very generous portion of the molluscs, very good, very fresh, in excellent, intense, extravirgin olive oil (from Umbria), and cooked well. Truly satisfying.

Not so successful is the artichoke, where a little more trimming of the vegetable would have been most welcome, to remove some hard and indigestible bits. The rice inside is good, ‘al dente’.

For secondi, we have a beef ‘tagliata’ and Rabbit cooked in white wine with spices and herbs (€16 each).

Very simply presented, pure trattoria style: but also good. The tagliata is cooked really rare, but its quality could withstand it. The rabbit is greasily satisfying, and so are the accompanying vegs.

Next, desserts: Chestnut and mandarin ‘Budino’, and Chocolate mousse (both around €9, the imprecision being due to the fact that MegaMan asked for a non-standard item and we can only guess at the split of the €34 for the four desserts).

Nice looking, no? One can already see some love in the preparation. The flavours in the budino were excellent, balanced and very nicely matched. Man liked the deep chocolate flavour of the mousse, whereas Woman found it a bit sweet. Good stuff anyway.

With coffee, we also get this:

A variety of macaroons, made in a way granny would have approved of.

In total, for a meal for FOUR with a bottle of Terre Rosse Enrico Vallania 2003 (a Cabernet Sauvignon DOC from the hills surrounding Bologna, not bad) at €18), two mineral waters at €2 each, four primi, four mains, four desserts and four coffes (€2 each), the toal hit, including four cover charges of €3 each, is €188. Yes, why not invite MegaMan and MegaWoman…

The service has been smooth and efficient despite a full house, with just the right balance between deference and cordiality which marks the best of Italian service. Hey, what’s that? MegaMan is slipping, unnoticed by the Maitre d’, an extra tip (beside the one we leave on the table) to one of the young waiters who, we had noticed, was particularly cordial. MegaMan clearly knows how to oil the wheels of the world and how to cultivate the young generations . This is a remarkably well-run operation, where the very simple cuisine, while never able to stir a wild excitement in your tastebuds, rests on the solid foundation of excellent raw materials and correct cooking, a combination that cannot leave anybody less than satisfied. The prices are modest (considering that we are right in the inner core of a medieval, commercial, touristy and thriving town and many in the clientele are not local) and the setting, especially in the warm season when you can sit outside, is relaxing and pleasant. All credit to the manager/owner Signora Pina, then, who – unlike the tourist traps that unfortunately litter Italy - offers a likable and presentable image to the visitor. As 'natives' we went for the less traditional dishes, but be sure you can have your tagliatelle, tortellini and all the traditional regional fare here. One of the best choices in Bologna in this category and if you want to stay in town.


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