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While the RWM is having his trials learning the language of his newly adopted country (he also had the most patient French teacher when he wanted to learn the language of wine navigation) he can read emojis much better than I can. I think this is due to his ability to decipher the hieroglyphics of the Michelin Red Guide to hotels and restaurants. Michelin was clearly ahead of its time as far as emojis are concerned. I was lost simply trying to read the teeny print and abbreviations; no chance I could interpret their symbols. We would drive to the most out-of-the-way places, getting lost almost continuously in pursuit whenever he read of a restaurant in The Red Book that perhaps had a star, but even better a Bib Gourmand or the two coins – this translated to RWM as 1. worth a detour, 2. most likely a good meal, and 3. a good one for an inexpensive price.
In one infamous case, we were lost so many times that our Italy Insider daughter had to call several times from her phone for directions. The owners always told her “diritto, diritto” – meaning just keep driving straight ahead. Of course the road was not straight but full of twists and alternate route options at almost every turn. We did manage to find it and went back several times. But one time the Maniac saw something in the tiny print that was totally unexpected – a very out of the way, small family restaurant with a Michelin star AND the two coins as well as the Bib Gourmand. It lay somewhere in the plain between Bologna and Ferrara. And over twenty years ago, we found it without GPS (not easily) and we have been going there ever since. It was the setting for my husband’s 83rd birthday this year. Should you be planning a trip in this area of Emilia Romagna, it is, as they say, worth the voyage.
Family, Tradition & Innovation
La Rosa 1908 was founded by a young couple – Gianetto and Carolina Malaguti – as a restaurant for travelers (mostly on business) between Ferrara and Modena. The restaurant has remained in the family and evolved over the century. The menu was based on ingredients and recipes from their territory. The reins in the kitchen are currently in the hands of Adriana Malaguti and their son Alessio. Adriana, who earned a university degree in mathematics, learned the dishes cooked by her mother-in-law but then felt the need to explore modern trends. She is unafraid of innovation. I looked at her library of cookbooks one year and was amazed to see the breadth of books dedicated to experimental cooking along with the expected traditional ones of professional cuisine. Alessio is also the maestro behind their event catering. Another son, Mattia, currently runs the restaurant at the Armani Caffe in Bologna. The restaurant design and interior are also part of the family affair: Francesco Malaguti’s brother is an architect who brought a particular Italian modern touch to this outpost in the plains of the Po River.
A Meeting Of Minds
In Francesco Malaguti, the RWM met his soul mate. In all of our wining and dining adventures, he has never met a man as passionate about wine, along with a breadth of knowledge woven into a desire to help a diner choose a wine that both fit the meal and the wallet. It is the only restaurant I know of in which, Francesco, when asked if he would select a sweet wine to go with the assorted desserts that five diners had chosen, would bring out four different ones, and matched them to each selection. The desserts, he said, were too different to have the same wine. He left the bottles on the table in case anyone wanted more than one glass.
A Covid Goal
While our transfer to Italy was delayed by the global trauma of Covid, one of the RWM’s goals was to celebrate his birthday at La Rosa. We often forget that Italy was Ground Zero for the spread of Covid in Europe. Sometimes in the early days, we were hoping just to survive as we watched other families with loved members who did not. So it was with great joy that we drove up to this tiny restaurant in truly a crossroads village of St Agostino. You enter into a small vestibule, then go through to the left into a small dining room with about ten tables. The colors are soft, the lighting is beguiling and the interior design is easily described as restrained Italian modern. Just so inviting.
Christmas was recognized with an artfully arranged wood tree, with cases of wine around the base. And at each place the napkins were mysteriously shaped like a rose. I love looking at how cutlery, china and glassware are chosen and arranged. The place settings at La Rosa do not disappoint. Not ornate, but unusual with a combination of antique and modern, moderated by restraint. The best gift to the RWM was a quiet study of the wine list with Francesco. This is truffle season, and actually truffles are underneath the trees in many areas of Italy, and in the shower of truffles on various dishes, some were local. The Malagutis had a beautiful wood tray holding both white and black truffles and an inlaid shaver at the ready in case you did not have enough.
But preparation was not the only star of the meal; the brigade at La Rosa prides itself on insisting upon the best raw materials available to them. I have never had a roast pork like the one offered, and ditto the Guinea fowl that the Birthday Boy ordered. One of the few positive aspects of agriculture in the US that I notice is the slow evolution of individual farmers and ranchers improving the quality of the ingredients they grow. Still, the lunch at La Rosa showed they have a long way to go. The difference in taste and texture of all the courses amazed both of us. I took many photos, but Adriana’s ice cream – a version of the Italian fior di latte using a rich milk with no vanilla flavoring – was so ethereal and so delicious, I ate it all before I could unearth my phone. I have made and eaten a lot of gelato – but I have never eaten anything like the one I had at La Rosa. A sublime end to a divine birthday celebration.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.