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All' Osteria Bottega
You could so easily miss this place, as I was sure I had, while walking purposefully along the quiet via Saragozza and looking for the tiny via Santa Caterina. Twice I had to ask if I was headed in the right direction, as I drew ever farther away from the Piazza Maggiore, the heart of Bologna’s historic center. The second woman I stopped, who was pushing a stroller, simply directed me to follow her for a short distance and then pointed to the restaurant a few doors to our right. Then she wheeled her charge around to get to her own destination, having gone out of her way to get me to mine.
The exterior of All’Osteria Bottega is like that of a modest storefront (indeed, bottega means “shop” in Italian), painted in warm shades of olive green and peachy sienna, colors that mesh well with the city’s earth-toned architecture. The dining room is equally unassuming, somewhat like a school lunch room: perhaps 15 tables at most, which can be moved around to accommodate small or large groups, each covered in brown butcher’s paper. The décor is minimal and low-key, the brightest note provided by the shiny fire-engine-red meat slicer on a counter. Behind it is a display case hung with culatello di Zibello, the masterpiece of Emilia-Romagna’s salumi (cured meat, primarily pork).
Minarelli— the founder, manager, menu impresario (he explains the daily specials and takes the order himself), and operatic presence of Osteria Bottega—joins us after the lunch crowd has largely departed. He is an intense, almost blustery man, who punctuates his conversation with emphatic jabs and projects the boisterous enthusiasm of, say, a dedicated soccer fan. Minarelli grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Bologna. His father was a hunter who provided game for family meals, and Minarelli learned to cook from his mother and grandmother, who made what he describes as “very simple dishes.”
Prosciutto and salami, cured at home, provided the start to every meal. “The family was big enough to be like a restaurant,” Daniele says through our translator. “We always ate at a very big table, and food was always connected with joy, even if the dishes were never particularly fancy.”
He is passionate about ingredients. The inside cover of the menu is a full-page list of his produttori, four of whom have been anointed by the organization Slow Food. The culatello comes from its high priest, Massimo Spigaroli, in Polesine Parmense, and the salami is from a species of black pig, la mora romagnola, raised on a family farm near Rimini that’s been in the business for more than 50 years.
Minarelli’s dedication to top-quality ingredients notwithstanding, I have to give a tip-of-the-tonque to the other Daniele in the kitchen, Daniele Bendanti. A graduate of ALMA, an international culinary school near Parma headed by Gualtiero Marchesi, the first Italian chef to win three Michelin stars, Bendanti has been at Bottega for 18 months. “There's a great harmony between us," says Minarelli. "I follow him and we give a lot of attention to seasonal ingredients and cooking time."
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