When Americans see the word Bologna, many of us are fondly reminded of Oscar Mayer's 1973 commercial featuring a little boy singing: 'My bologna has a first name it's O-S-C-A-R'. And while the city of Bologna in northern Italy is where mortadella, the pre-cursor to modern baloney, originates, the Emilia-Romagna region has plenty more culinary gifts to share.
It was at Ristorante da Fabio where we were able to try a bit, and more, of this prominent region's gastronomic pleasures: prosciutto de Parma, parmasean cheese, ragú bolognese and Sangiovese wine.
Dining at Fabio's place is done differently, starting with the constant presentation of aperitivos of all kinds to be shared; egg soufflé, stuffed tomatoes, liver pâté and ricotta cheese were delivered to our table by a handsome man with striking blue eyes.
Mortadella was prepared into a light paste that was delightful on a simple piece of toast. Ham salad is not my thing. In fact, it mortified me as a kid. You know, it was one of those food items that made my nostrils automatically flare out in denial. It was pink, and smooth, and what is it made of? Mom, no.
But 'mortadella surprise' scares me not anymore; I was going to try everything that came across my plate here. The 'meat fluff' had not a hint of miracle whip, was light and smooth, with only a hint of salt and smoke. It welcomed us in as the chef.
The walls were lined with knick knacks, old wine bottles, cds, cook books and US license plates, three from Wisconsin. As guests arrived they were greeted with a warm embrace and escorted with care to the back room where seats were still available.
Grilled zucchini continued our culinary embrace, the pieces delicate in olive oil and darkened just enough to punch up the taste.
For our main course I headed straight for the classic tagliatelle pasta with Ragú alla Bolognese. Bolognese sauce is famous. It's often seen on menus as far as Africa and Brazil described as spaghetti bolognese. This is the medieval city that gave the world this satisfying dish.
Tagliatelle is an egg pasta that is flat in shape and long. The sauce, or ragú, is started with a soffrito base, typically a mix of carrots, onions and celery sauteéd in olive oil and butter. This is a dish I love to try at well-known restaurants, and I've found that my favorite recipes include a good amount of carrots. A slow cooked pork or combination of meat is added to the mix. A good bolognese sauce is comfort food at its best.
Fabio's Tortellini in Brodo proved to be silky and inviting. The brodo, or broth, is made with various meat parts slowly simmered over a long period of time. Only with such care can a dish be so exquisite yet simple. It is rich like butter and nurtures in the same way, warm and smooth down the throat.
Desserts are served at Fabio in the same way as the starters. Like at the beginning of our meal, our table was once again loaded with dishes to share. We were surrounded by: fresh strawberries, dark chocolate cake, flan and apple torte.
And wow - the absolute highlight of it all - was homemade gelato made especially for our table. The cool creme custard had a real vanilla taste with a touch of anise.
The small slices of schaum torte were sweet and sour when saddled with cool fresh strawberries. And the hot chocolate sauce hardened into a shell when poured atop the frozen ice cream on my plate.
Nestled prominently in the tiny front dining room of four tables, the bar is stocked with fine cognacs, liqueurs and port wines. There are even a few props hanging around for when dinner's conversation needs livening-up.
To accompany the end-of-evening sweets, our server delivered us glasses with a small bucket of ice and a bottle of Sambuca, which paired very well with the homemade gelato. We laughed and remained in awe of the experience we had just had and continued to. Nestled in the Castiglione area of the city, Ristorante da Fabio impressed us, and gave us a dining memory we won't soon forget. Its certainly a place we hope to return to again.
Our laughter continued outside and down the old, winding stone street,'my Bologna has a first name, it's F-A-B-I-O.'
Did I mention that I wasn't able to finish my Bolognese? Amongst close friends I'm known as the 'Leftover Queen'. It can't go to waste - and I needed room for dessert.
Fabio gave me a weird look when I asked to take it with. Look, when in Rome or not, there was no way I was going to leave homemade pasta and sauce behind from the city that invented it if I could take it along with me.
It was eaten late night in Paris two days later - enjoyed again and wasted not. I added some Tabasco too - that's allowed the second time around.
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