This time Carlo Macchi takes the Stand.
Today’s story started from a Festa dell’Unità (the local Communist Party Festival), but don’t worry, because this isn’t a review of “fair food.” In the course of the tale we’ll also meet people who worked with frozen fish, but again don’t fear, because we won’t dwell upon them. We will discuss a Presidio, which has nothing to do with Slow Food, and last but not least, this Presidio is located in a place called Poertomaggiore despite the sea’s being at quite some distance. Hoping to have confused you sufficiently, let’s begin.
It all started when a dear friend went to help her sister, and ended up working as a waitress at Bologna’s Festa dell’Unità. The food was supplied by a man who dealt primarily with frozen fish, and also cooked for the festival. We all know how these festivals work – after serving the customers the people of the stand gather to eat and talk, and during one of the conversations the fish man, who I will call “Surgelator” says he’s planning to open a restaurant, and my friend lets slip that she knows a food and wine critic (me!). One thing leads to another, and thus I found myself invited to try the restaurant, newly opened in the lower Ferrarese, the land of, as Ligabue says in a song, “canals and mosquitoes.”
I don’t want to come across as a snob, but sometimes there’s no other way to go; the invitation to go to a place run by a guy who sold frozen fish and cooked at the Festa dell’Unità didn’t convince me at all. But I couldn’t get out of it, and thus on a Sunday night I found myself in Bologna ready to discover what I expected would be a simple eatery with paper tablecloths and cups, and local dancing music of the sort called Liscio in the background.
After a long drive bordering canals with (I imagined) clouds of mosquitoes waiting to attack anything that moved, we came to Portomaggiore. The place is in the open countryside, far from the sea, but, I think, surely swamped by mosquitoes. However my curiosity was whetted, because the painstakingly restored two-story stone house I beheld didn’t fit the concept of “eatery” I had expected. Nor did the table outside where Surgelator and his staff were seated fit the concept of eatery. Perhaps inside, but in the meantime, presentations.
Surgelator is a pleasant 40-something man who seems to have emerged from a Pupi Avati film; his name is Marco Dallafina: The first surprise is that he’s not dressed as a chef, because he has called on someone else, whom I am introduced to. Truth be told, the other guy isn’t dressed as a chef either, but (I think) one can expect as much in informal settings like these. I also meet Marco’s SO, the delightful Attilia, and a very well educated couple I can’t quite insert into the mental picture I had made myself of the place; the may be someone’s parents…
Enough talk; we go in! And the surprises begin. Furst of all, it’s not an eatery, but a well laid out very welcoming restaurant. Air conditioning, perfect table settings, excellent glassware, and all my preconceptions vanish. We sit, and the devil always in me starts to waken: I start seeking the “hidden eatery,” the one they don’t want me to see.
The first sign, I think, will be the absence of a menu and a wine list. They instead appear promptly . I open it, not knowing what to expect, while the kitchen sends out a small sample of vegetable tempura whose crunchy tastiness and quality of the vegetables are simply fantastic. They are followed by bread gnocchi with garden vegetables and a zucchino stuffed with shrimp, and baccalà with eggplant mousse . Each is superior to the one it followed, and what really strikes me is the deftness with which the chef handled the ingredients; since Marco is oten at our side to change bottles (which go surprisingly fast, and I’ll get to the wine list soon), ask him if I can talk with the cook – who wasn’t dressed like a cook – again, and this leads to the heart of the story.
Out comes Fabrizio Albini, the cook, who after five years at the Ristorante del Relais Franciacorta (owned by the berlucchi family) decided it was time for a change. After wandering the world for a time he returned to Italy; here his friendship with Pino Cuttaia, with whom he agrees on many points when it comes to culinary philosophy, came into play, as does the work he does with Gualtiero Marchesi’s staff, when he’s not here.
I don’t know how Marco and Fabrizio met, but at some point the spark lit and they decided to open a restaurant, following a few precise rules. The cooking revolves around the vegetables from the large vegetable patch behind the house, and absolutely fresh fish (Marco, whose pardon I beg for calling him Surgelator, is always first in line in seeking it out) in summer, and local game or even eels in the fall and wither months.
Thus was born Il Presidio, a beautifully elegant restaurant with superb cooking and top quality ingredients. You may find zuccini blossoms, or cuttlefish and zucchini in scapece, but I suggest you let them choose what to serve, limiting yourself to selecting “dishes from the sea” or “dishes from the land.” You’ll be served Fabrizio’s masterful interpretation of the best the markets had to offer, and among the desserts his pistachio ice cream with olives and caper dust and spritz is absolutely divine.
And we now come to the wine list: God willing, it’s quick, with 20 wines for the summer and another 20 for the winter. A few wines, more than reasonably priced, selected by people who have tasted lots of good wines (Marco, especially) and settled on those they liked best. Do you know of a better way to draw up a manageable wine list?
Someone might wonder why a restaurant like this is called Presidio. I can see you thinking: To link to Slow Food, or because they feture foodstuffs that are Slowfood Presidia… Nothing of the sort.
Remember the well educated people I met at the beginning? They own the painstakingly restored building (which isn’t a simple house; get them to tell the story). They are by now retired, but they both worked as presidi (a sort of overseer), and what else could they call their building if not Presidio?
Especially seeing that one of them oversees the vegetable patch and is therefore responsible for all the vegetables Fabrizio works.
In short, after one of the best meals I’ve had in months, perfectly served, I stood feeling both light and satisfied, in part because the bill per person didn’t surpass 50 euros, wines included.
The restaurant has been open just a few months, but I’m certain we’ll hear a lot more about it. It’s open from Thursday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, and has a few rooms on the first floor, for those who have overindulged.
Last thing: I didn’t see one mosquito!
Ristorante il Presidio
Strada Prafitta Bertolina 17/A
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.