On my recent trip to Bologna, my friend Shobha (of Just Go Places) and I were fortunate enough to be hosted by Hotel Touring, which I reviewed in an earlier post. The hotel also arranged for us to eat one evening at a nearby restaurant, Osteria dè Poeti. This was particularly lucky because it is in a basement on a minor side street and we never would have found it otherwise.
The Atmosphere at Osteria dè Poeti
Osteria dè Poeti occupies the former wine cellar of a palazzo (noble’s palace) dating from the 1400’s. It became a “public-house” later, in the 1600’s, which explains the huge fireplace in the room where we ate.
The vaulted brick ceilings of the underground rooms of Osteria dè Poeti give it a warm and cozy atmosphere, accentuated by the variety of homey objects hanging on the walls. I spotted photos and drawings, but also pots and pans and other cooking implements, an entire oaken door, and even a Victrola, of all things.
At the bottom of the entrance stairway, a long hallway is lined with shelves full of wine bottles, as well as work counters, which I think serve as the restaurant’s bar. I saw two large dining rooms off of that first hall, though there could have been more.
But never mind the atmosphere, what’s important is the food, and Osteria dè Poeti is excellent at preparing quality classic Bolognese cuisine.
While we waited for our first course, we received what our very friendly waiter described as pizza. This was the only part of the meal that disappointed us: it tasted like plain pizza crust.
Things got distinctly better from there. Our first course was a pumpkin tart—pumpkin turned up in several meals we ate in Bologna—with polenta and porcini mushroom sauce. It didn’t look very appetizing but turned out to be a lovely combination: the slight sweetness of the pumpkin offset by the smoky taste of the porcini sauce.
Pasta at Osteria dè Poeti
Our main course, at our request, was a taste of two different pastas, so we could avoid having to choose. True Bolognese sauce is called ragu in Bologna, and it is not what we outsiders think of as Bolognese sauce. The main ingredient is beef, with only a very small amount of tomato, and it is always served on tagliatelli, not—most emphatically not—on spaghetti. It’s a quintessentially local dish, served topped with a bit of freshly-grated local parmesan, and it is wonderful.
The second pasta we tried was a spinach and ricotta tortelloni with butter and sage sauce. Proper tortelloni (bigger) and tortellini (smaller), according to a friendly cab driver I met (also due to the people at Hotel Touring) are made by hand. The tortellini, because they’re smaller, are more expensive, but these tortelloni at Osteria dè Poeti were magnificent! The simple butter and sage sauce was a subtle addition to the tortelloni’s own perfect combination of spinach and ricotta, topped, again, with a sprinkling of Parmesan. I liked that dish so much I brought some handmade tortellini home and cooked it the first night back with my attempt at a butter and sage sauce.
I know nothing about wine, but I’ll add that we were served Falanghina del Sannio with our meal. To my completely un-discerning palate, it complemented the meal very well.
Despite cleaning our plates on each course so far, we just had to try two desserts: ice cake with amaretto and the classic tiramisu. Neither of them disappointed us. I’m not a big fan of almonds, so I preferred the tiramisu, but the ice cake was pretty special as well.
Another special dish at Osteria dè Poeti
I should also point out another local dish you can get at Osteria dè Poeti: risotto in a Parmesan cheese wheel. We learned later that a local chef invented this dish when a large amount of local Parmesan cheese failed to qualify to be fully aged. That didn’t make it unusable, but it had to be sold and used before it went bad, leading local chefs to experiment with new recipes involving Parmesan.
To make this dish, the chef cooks risotto, then puts it into a whole wheel of parmesan cheese. The hot risotto makes the cheese soft, and it can then be scraped out and mixed with the risotto and served. I don’t know how many dishes of risotto can be produced from one of those enormous wheels of cheese, but it looked and smelled delicious!
If you’re looking for cutting-edge, experimental cuisine, Osteria dè Poeti is not the place for you. If you’re looking for atmosphere and classic Bolognese food, I would certainly recommend it. When I visit Bologna again, which I certainly intend to do, I’ll be back at Osteria dè Poeti to try the risotto. Or to try the risotto and have more of that wonderful tortelloni …
Disclosure: Despite the fact that the meal was complimentary, all opinions above are my own.