Address: Strada per Talamello, V. Verdi 40, 61015 Novafeltria (RI), Italy.
Review: Italy is not an eating-out culture. The fact is Italian food is so uncomplicated, so unencumbered, that a restaurant cannot usually make it better than a homecook. Another factor in all of this is in Italy it is considered a badge of honor to cook at home, and each family will have a cadre of its own recipe, all of which, of course, are better than those of their neighbors.
I mention this because when Italians do eat out, they usually want something that is comparable to what they make at home. Ristorante della Nonna (Grandma's Restaurant) fits that bill perfectly. Like all good Italian restaurants, Nonna's appearance is unadorned, positively spartan even.
The food though . . . .
We began with the passatelli al pomodoro (passatelli with tomatoes).
Passatelli are interesting pastas in that their base is not flour, eggs, and water, but bread crumbs, parmigiano reggiano, nutmeg, and eggs. Once the ingredients are mixed together, the passatelli are extruded and cooked in boiling water. In this way, they are similar to spaetzle, but with a more salty and robust flavor. Nonna's passatelli came with a very simple tomato sauce. The taste was very simple and good. Not the best passatelli I've had, but enjoyable.
Next up were the tagliatelli al sugo di carne (tagliatelli with meat sauce).
I've had this dish a thousand times before, but this was truly amazing. The sauce, which is nothing more than a slight condiment on the pasta, didn't actually contain much meat, but it tasted like they dropped five pounds in there. Nonna's was able to imbue the essence of meat throughout that sauce like I've never tasted before. I have never seen more done with less. It was a truly great pasta experience.
After the pasta, we moved to the meats. First up, vitello tonnato.
Vitello tonnato is sliced cold veal covered in a mayonnaise like sauce flavored with tuna. Classic Italian fare. At Nonna's the veal was quality, if not slightly dry. The sauce was thick and complex. It tasted like mayonnaise, sort of, and tuna, but only a very small hint. You wouldn't think in a million years a dish like this would taste good, but it's somehow great.
And now, some pork chops, steak, and sausage.
The sausage was caseless and obviously made in-house. It was also juicy, with a bit of char, and full of texture. There's nothing refined here, and thankfully so. This is how sausage should be. The pork chops were thin, juicy, and tasty. There were no special spices added to enhance the taste, just salt and pepper. A little lemon made these chops sing. The steak was a tough cut (probably shoulder), and cooked quickly, hence it was a bit sinewy and tough. Good flavor though.
Finally, the veggies.
We got stuffed tomatoes, stuffed peppers, and potatoes. I'm not entirely what strain of crack Italians put in their roasted potatoes, but my goodness. They're always crispy and light, but not dry, and have a seriously earthy, salty flavor (usually aided by the addition of rosemary). Nonna's potatoes possessed all of these wonderful qualities. The stuffed peppers were okay. I know they were actually quite good for stuffed peppers, but roasted peppers is one of my least favorite foods on planet earth. Everyone else at the table loved them. The stuffed tomatoes amazed me. I usually cannot eat roasted tomatoes because the texture is just awful. Nonna's, on the other hand, were stuffed with a crunchy bread crumbs, onions, etc., and the balance of the stuffing with tomatoes cooked to the point they were almost disintegrating made a stellar dish. Very surprising and very good.
After we finished eating, I playfully told the proprietress (i.e. nonna) I need to take her home to make me food every day. Her response was something like, "If I went home with everyone who said that, I'd never go home again." Delightful woman. Delightful meal.
Out of all the meals I had in Italy, this was the one that best encapsulated the essence of Italian cooking. Simple homefood prepared with few, quality ingredients that absolutely blew me away.