Tuesday, April 9, 2013

La Grotta in Brisighella: Classic Romagna Cuisine

Considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, La Grotta is an elegant and refined restaurant located in the medieval centre of Brisighella. Nestled in one of the towns naturally formed chalk caves, chefs Mirko Randi and Angelo Conti have carved out a name for serving the very best creative regional cuisine, using some of Romagna's classic traditional recipes, and using only the freshest seasonal ingredients and 'prodotti tipici e tradizionali della terra di Brisighella'. Recommended by our friend Contessa Maria Teresa Vespignelli as one of the best restaurants in Brisighella, we didn't hesitate to make luncheon reservations for one of our last days in Emilia-Romagna.

Built into a natural chalk cave in the side of the mountain-face, 
the interior of La Grotta is spectacular, especially from the view from our table

La Grotta menu

Contessa Maria Teresa said this is the best restaurant in Brisighella 
and her personal favourite, and we have to agree - it was sensational

We chose two glasses of chilled local Prosecco Frizzante to start lunch

Brisighella is a well known gastronomic centre, famous for hosting culinary festivals that celebrate its local produce, from black and white truffles, olive oil and fox pears, a typical product of the Lamone Valley. Brisighella's extra virgin olive oil, named 'Brisighello', was the first in Italy to be awarded the D.O.P. - Denominazione di Origine Protetta. Here in Brisighella, the cultivation of the olive tree dates back to the Roman age and it's one of the of the rarest Italian olive oils. Brisighella is also known for its 'Conciato' cheese, a typical local cheese ripened in the towns chalky caves, as well as its "forgotten" fruits, a name given to a number of ancient fruits largely grown in this area in the late Middle Ages, such as the 'Pera Volpina' and 'Moretto' artichokes. But the prized black truffle is what I particularly enjoyed, generously shaved over my absolutely delicious Cappelletti al Tartufo - which means 'little hats' or 'caps'.

Cappelletti al tartufo con prosciutto ed erde fini, 
finished with generous shavings of Brisighella's renowned black truffle

Flan di carote e spinaci su fonduta di taleggio

We chose a local wine from Brisighella to enjoy with lunch, a 2006 Fieni Vigne di San Lorenzo di Ravenna. La Grotta's menu was overwhelming, with so many delicious sounding dishes, it was hard to choose. Our server kept coming to the table to take our order, and I kept saying "Due minuti, per favore. Grazie mille." Finally, we decided on the Cappelletti al tartufo con prosciutto ed erde fini, and Flan di carote e spinaci su fonduta di taleggio as our antipasti. For secondi, we chose the Grigliata Mista di Pesce e Crostacei, a spectacular dish of grilled fish, calimari and gamberoni, and the Tagliata di Manzo Argentina ai Funghi con olio e erbe fini, tender slices of Argentinian beef bathed in a mushroom, local olive oil and herb sauce. As side dishes, we also chose two contorni of Patate Arrosto, roast potatoes, and Verdure ai Ferri, a fabulous mixture of grilled vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, raddichio and tomato.

2006 Fieni Vigne di San Lorenzo di Ravenna

Grigliata Mista di Pesce e Crostacei

Verdure ai ferri 

Tagliata di Manzo Argentina ai Funghi con olio e erbe fini 

Patate arrosto

The meal was exceptional and I only wished we had known about La Grotta earlier during our stay — per troppo poco tempo così tanto da fare in modo —  too little time so much to do! Even a visit to the washroom was memorable. Embedded in the natural rockface, an extraordinary marble sink had been hung over a carved relief of the pagan 'Green Man', which is a symbol of rebirth, or renaissance, representing the cycle of growth each spring. In an area so lush and fertile, I thought the image was very appropriate given La Grotta's location in the ample bosom of Brisighella and Emilia-Romagna's Lamone Valley.

A unique and quite fantastic marble sink in La Grotta's washroom 
with water spilling forth from the mouth of inset relief

In an effort to burn off some calories from our phenomenal lunch, we decided to trek up into the hills above Brisighella.

A damp cobblestone walk up to the top of Brisighella

View over Brisighella as we walked up to the Torre dell'Orologio

History, art and nature are combined in a perfect fusion of abundant beauty and charm in Brisighella, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Its unmistakable outline, dominated by three rocky peaks where the buildings that are the symbols of the town stand, make Brisighella unique and unforgettable. Rising high above on the nearby cliff tops is the Manfredian Fortress, which was built to control the Lamone Valley. The fortress includes the 16th-century Venetian Tower and 14th-century Torricino, or smaller tower, which was built by the Manfredi family of Faenza. There's a beautiful view from the bastions of the fortress, as well as from the Sanctuary of Monticino, built in the 18th century on the third hill. From here the view takes in the quiet medieval town of Brisighella below, with its labyrinth of old lanes, winding cobblestone walkways, tiny squares and hidden courtyards. It's no wonder that the town, set amidst the lush greenery of the Romagna Apennines, is one of Italy's most beautiful villages, or I Borghi più Belli d’Italia — even in the mist and dense fog!

A view of Rocca Manfrediana and Veneziana in the mist

The Torre dell’Orologio clock tower built in 1290
Rocca Manfrediana and Veneziana with the Sanctuary of Monticino in the distance

View of the clock tower from the Rocca

A view over the quiet medieval town of Brisighella with its labyrinth of old lanes, 
winding cobblestone walkways, tiny squares and hidden courtyards

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