We decided, as you likely have already gathered, not to go to Dubrovnik after Rome. Instead we headed north to Milan, but our first day we decided to make a pilgrimage to Modena to eat lunch at Hosteria Giusti, taste real balsamic vinegar, and hopefully see a few Ferraris racing around. Ferrari, Maserati, Pagani, and Lamborghini are all headquartered in Modena. Here is what Mario Batali has to say about Hosteria Giusti.
"Northwest to Modena, home of aceto tradizionale, the real balsamic vinegar, and as importantly a tiny little shop called Hosteria Giusti run by Nano Morandi and his wife Laura. If there is one stop on your trip to Italy, wherever in Italy, it must be here. You enter a jewel box of a salami shop with a traditional banco replete with prosciutti, salame, lardo, cheeses, and then your eyes focus on baskets of great wines from around the world… I mean Yquem, DRC, 1st growth Bordeaux and the like, along with the Sassicaia, the Grattamacco, the Gaja and all of the regal wines of Italy. Well what a funny little shop, I thought to myself on my first visit. Well, you walk back to the end of the shop and there is a door, behind which there is the 5 table trattoria of my dreams. Everything I have ever eaten here, from the simple gnocco frittoserved topped with the most fragrant of lardo, hand made tortelloniwith sage and butter, green tagliatelle al porcini and perhaps the most decadent of all, crispy slices of Zampone with savoury zabaglione. There are enough wines in the restaurant alone to serve until the year 2050, but there is a shop across the alley in the back where the real collection lives, probably 5000 bottles of various and exquisite producers and vintages."
'Nuff said. We were going, and we were excited. The train ride was about an hour and a half, and it was about ninety degrees out (that's thirty-thousand degrees Fahrenheit for all you Imperial folks), and our car was full of old Italians with a singular terrified dog, but it was worth it. It turns out (thank the gods) that arcades are a common sight in all of Emilia-Romagna, and we were mostly spared from the sun on our walk to the restaurant. I paid some old Italian lady eight euros for a map so we wouldn't get lost, and we didn't in spite of the fact that I was still without compass and I had (and have) the sense of direction of a stroke victim. I have the navigational equivalent of Capgras syndrome. "You're not north!" I say. "You may look like north, and feel like north, but you're not north. I know north. You, sir, are an impostor."
Hosteria Giusti did indeed have only four tables, and so they required reservations for lunch, the only meal that they served. They were paranoid about flaky tourists not showing up and losing between 25% and 50% of their custom (depending on the size of the table) and so they required you to make a confirmation call before eleven o'clock on the morning of your arrival. It was a sign of our commitment to eating there that we actually made the call. International phone calls on a cell phone are not cheap. But neither was the food that we were about to eat, so we just mentally added it to the bill along with the price of our train reservation, and subtracted both from the tip.
Don't worry. Italians rarely tip. I think.
On to the meal! We decided to drink Lambrusco, which is a fizzy local red wine, to celebrate. It is surprisingly inexpensive and awesome. Why not fizzy red wine? Why not? It wasn't sweet or anything -- it was just tasty red wine that happened to be extremely bubbly. Mit gas, as the Germans say, or sparkling, as we Americans say, which really makes no sense when you think about it. Make my water sparkle, damnit! Like a diamond! LIKE TEN THOUSAND DIAMONDS! Who wouldn't drink diamonds, if given the chance? Who?
Anyways, I really like Lambrusco and I plan to bathe in it when I am wealthy and infirm. Perhaps in the next life.
We began eating, of course, with the bread. And oh, what bread! Honestly, though, I remember very little about the bread other than that it was there, and that I took a picture of it. I like bread a lot, and this bread had salt in it, so it was good by me.
Next came our appetizer: fried zucchini flowers stuffed with creamy, cheesy rice and drizzled with aceto balsamico tradizionale, the really good stuff that you hear about only on blogs like this and that doesn't really exist in the United States outside a few hallowed kitchens. Aged for between ten and a hundred or so years, it starts out fairly acidic but mellows to a caramel and molasses-like syrup after about thirty. It is used sparingly, but it is chock full of flavor. Needless to say, these things were good. Even the tomato garnish was fantastic. Ripe tomatoes are a thing of beauty (and a thing rarely experienced in the USA, even in areas that can actually grow tomatoes) and roasting them just makes them taste even more absurdly ripe and sweet. When I grew up, I remember sugaring and roasting tomatoes just to get them to taste like something other than cardboard. I couldn't make a decent spaghetti sauce until I discovered canned San Marzano tomatoes. Try it. It works.
I had decided to order half portions each of a primo and secondo piatto, while Sophie ordered a whole primo piatto. Hers, freshly made ravioli stuffed with cheese and finished in butter, came first. The waitress gave us the option of adding the Parmigiano Reggiano ourselves. We did. The stuff came from like thirty miles away.
My pasta was dried but made in-house, and served with a sauce of braised duck. I love braised anything, especially on pasta, and I make a killer ragu, but this was definitely beyond my abilities, and much tastier as well.
My secondo piatto, the meat course, was a piece of pork that had been braised and then marinated in olive oil for nine days. Nine days! It burst with fruity oliveness. It was served cold -- the waitress had recommended it because of the heat -- and it was exquisitely tender. The dish came with a small mound of balsamic-marinated onions, which were also excellent and went well with the pork.
For dessert Sophie had a cherry tart and I had house-made vanilla gelato with positively senile aceto balsamico tradizionale. We finished the meal off by sharing a glass of a local dessert wine. I have no idea what the name was, but I think that it was a moscato, and it tasted like honey and melon and cool summer breezes. Yum.
Suffice it to say that we were very glad to have gone to Hosteria Giusti. Aside from our randomly fantastic meal in Le Cinque Terre, it was the best meal that we had in Italy, and on top of that we actually remembered to take pictures.
After lunch we had some time before we expected to catch a train home, and we ended up wandering into a shop that sold balsamic vinegar and other local products. The shop owner figured that if he gave us a tasting, we would fall in love with the stuff and leave the shop with a few bottles in tow. He was right. I bought a bottle of ten year-old aceto balsamico tradizionale, which is good for drizzling on salad. You can try some when I get home.
The only other thing that happened that day was that some idiot smoked on the train car adjacent to us and threw the cigarette butt in a trash can filled with paper, starting a fire and filling the car with smoke. We were spared the brunt of the smoke, but the smell was awful and the train was a half-hour late to Milan because of the whole debacle. I would say that it was unnerving that we couldn't understand Italian, but no one bothered to make any sort of announcement about the fire at any point while we were waiting. The natives sitting across from us were in the same boat. Or train. So it was mostly just unnerving to be sitting in a train that was clearly on fire without any announcements of any kind. I took it as a sign that we were either too far gone to be saved, or that it really wasn't a big deal and if we just sat there the whole thing would take care of itself. That wasn't strictly true, as I'm sure that a lot of Italian administrative personnel did a lot of very serious milling about the area during the fire, but eventually the smoke sort of cleared and the train left without further incident.
I leave you with several pictures of Modena. We did not see any fancy cars, but you can't eat cars, so maybe they're not so cool anyways. The End.