Betti Bertutti and her brother, Fabrizio, have transformed a traditional family restaurant (since 1847) into a hidden jewel. Time seems to slow down in the warm, yellow light of the dining room. Betti has a “zero kilometer” philosophy in the kitchen. I had the comfortable feeling of being “at home”, but Betti’s magic touch somehow makes even the most familiar dishes seem memorable.
At Caffè Grande, Betti says, “The market is always pressuring me, trying to give me the sense that there isn’t enough time. But time and artisanal knowledge is where quality comes from.”
Elena Pantaleoni (see La Stoppa post)invited me to meet her and friends there for dinner one evening. This is the restaurant facade.
In the main dining room/bar, details like the ceiling have been carefully preserved.
But there is an overlay of modern style.
Authentic tradition with a modern flair is also the style of Betti’s menu. We began with local antipasti. Betti works with the few remaining producers who make their cured meats naturally, in the ways of the nonni (grandparents/ancestors).
On a cold evening, “anolini”, the local Piacenza pasta file with meat in broth ( anolini ripieni in brodo) was the ultimate comfort food.
As was the homemade tortelli with Parmesan (from nearby Parma).
For the main course, there were dishes like tripe (which I tried and found delicious), calf’s cheek (guancialino) and bollito (traditional boiled winter dish). And of course, local cheeses.
Betti cooks what she finds at the market each day. Everything is local and according to the season. To accompany these dishes, she makes mostarda, fruits glazed in super spicy mustard.
This alone would be worth the trip.
We paired the dinner with La Stoppa’s sparkling Trebbiolo (Bonarda 60%/Barbera 40%). It was incredibly drinkable: fresh and just the right weight for the dinner. At the same time, it in no way represents what I had in my memory bank as “sparkling red” (ie. rather banal summer wine). The lovely complex flavors and slight earthiness of La Stoppa were there. This (or the still version…both $18-20) accompany a range of foods but can also be enjoyed on its own.
For dessert, we had “la torta sbrisolona, a local crumbly specialty made with flour, butter, almonds, eggs and sugar: best described as shortbread meets chocolate chip cookie. It disappeared so fast that there was no time for a photo.