Anyone who has lived abroad probably knows the feeling of going to a restaurant supposedly serving your own national cooking which almost inevitably is instead ranges from a badly executed fake of the original to a serious attempt to murder the culinary traditions of your own country. If you come from Island you’d probably have little chance to experience such an event; I mean how many Icelandic restaurants do you know next to your home? If you’re Italian or Chinese, and with growing frequency Indian, Thai or Japanese, you’ll perfectly know what I mean. I often wonder what a native Bengali would say tasting the Chicken Korma I often order from my favourite Indian place in Jena.
A few weeks ago I decided to give another Italian place a try. I usually avoid Italians abroad because: a) the dishes are as authentic as the Rolex I constantly get offered via spam mails; b) the cooks and staff have not only never been to Italy in their life, but they have also no clue whatsoever about Italian cooking; c) I can usually cook the same dishes at home better than the restaurant chef, which is more an insult to the chef than a compliment to myself. I’ve been disappointed so many times that whenever a friend utters the dreaded words “let’s go for Italian tonight” I start to worry. I know there are many good Italians abroad, but they’re either fancy places, like Locanda Locatelli in London, or small little known hole-in-the-wall places known only to a few. This new restaurant on the other hand seemed like an easygoing place and came with good reviews, both in the press (Feinschmecker Magazine) and in more informal discussion forums. With mixed feelings I set of to Osteria Bertagnolli in Weimar.
I shouldn’t have worried so much. The inside of the restaurant had little of the stereotyped Italian trattoria: no chequered tablecloths, Chianti fiaschi or religious icons. The only hints to Italy were the prints on the wall depicting Trento, while the rest had a rather Scandinavian look (IKEA?). If the prints had not been a strong enough hint, a look at the menu convinced me that the place is run by Trentini: the dishes offered are either classic from the regional cooking of Trentino Alto Adige (or Sudtyrol if you prefer) or what I’d call pan-Italian dishes that foreigners expect when eating Italian. The wines offered also focused mainly on Trentino and some of the producers with the best quality-price ratio in the Region like LaVis. I liked the fact that primi, pasta dishes, and secondi, main courses, could be ordered either as small portions, giving you a chance to have both and flowing the custom of an Italian style meal, or as big portions. It’s a good compromise between trying to stay authentic and meeting the tastes of the local customers.
Daniela and I decided to try both the typical and less so dishes, to get an idea of the cooking. I always like going out with Daniela because she’s in a sense my own little Reluctant Gourmet (for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, a reference to Ruth Reichl’s Comfort me with Apples), but in this case it was even more stimulating than usual. Through her comments I got so to say a foreigner’s opinion, something I will never be able to do myself.
Our antipasti were both takes on the regional traditions of Trentino. My Sudtyroler Speck with potato pancake was as classic as it gets, nice speck and well made turtel de patate (the potato pancake). Daniela’s looked less traditional on paper, house cured meat carpaccio with rucola, but the meat, well cured, was actually a Trentino classic too, carne salada. With the help of our first glass of Sorni Rosso wine my last worries about the place had disappeared.
For our primi we shifted to less traditional dishes: pasta con sugo di polipo, octopus sauce pasta, for Daniela and, if my memory doesn’t trick me, tagliolini al radicchio, pancetta e gorgonzola , house made egg noodles with radicchio, pancetta and gorgonzola sauce. Both were nice, but my pasta in would have been better if it tried less to meet German tastes: the sauce had way too much cream, an ingredient which is used very seldom in Italian cooking and almost always in small quantities, and had way too much sauce. Properly dressed pasta should not swim in sauce. Once you’re finished with the pasta there should be no more than a tablespoon of sauce left (to be mopped up with bread for that extra carb kick), too much covers the flavour of the pasta, which you should be able to taste. On the other hand, as Daniela was quick to bring up, Germans love sauce, and therefore she loved my pasta more than hers.
The only real disappointment came with our mains. I had a nice tagliata di manzo while Daniela’s Fegato alla Veneziana, calf’s liver with onions, was still moist and soft but had not been prepared properly and still had quite a few chewy blood vassels bits. The waiters excused themselves for the problem: apparently most of the people working in the kitchen were sick on the day we visited and the only cook left had a hard time covering for everyone else. Even with this blunder the food of Osteria Bertagnolli was a nice surprise. A special prise should go to the prices of the dishes. For a full meal like the one we had you won’t spend more than 30 Euros, something that is hard to find even in Italy nowadays. As the stuck up Italian that I am, I’d probably limit myself to the more traditional items on the menu next time, but that’s just me.
Actually, don’t take my critiques too seriously: I can’t wait to eat there again.