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Ristorante Cesarina: flavour of history by the "seven churches"

Restaurants | Food & Wine

Authentic and tasty high-quality Bolognese cuisine served in a refined yet welcoming environment, is what you can expect at this historic restaurant, located in the unbeatable surroundings of Piazza Santo Stefano.

Thanks to its prime position alongside the so-called seven churches of Santo Stefano, this place was already a popular pit-stop for locals and passers-by in the days before Italian unification, when it was called Caffè Apollo. Later, in the early 20th century it was managed by the Atti family - whose atmospheric bakery and pasta stores in the centre of town are another must-see for visitors to Bologna - and subsequently by Marino Moretti, a poet with more artistic talent than business sense who went bankrupt after a just few years. It was 1947 when the restaurant gained its current name thanks to Cesarina Masi, an accomplished chef and local character who took over the place in the post-war years. “Many of Cesarina's dishes are still on the menu,” says Massimo Montanari, the current owner, “including what is perhaps her best-loved creation – tortellini alla panna” (pasta parcels with cream).

All the most popular Bolognese specialities are included on the menu nowadays - tagliatelle and tortelloni, lasagne and cotoletta alla bolognese (a breaded veal cutlet with ham and cheese) - as well as a number of lesser known but just as traditional local dishes. Stecchi alla petroniana, for one is a typical starter of lollipop-like sticks with alternate cubes of mortadella and Emmental that are covered in breadcrumbs and fried to a perfectly dry and crunchy golden-brown while zucchini ripieni is a main course of courgettes with a tasty meat filling. Thanks to the skilled kitchen team, such potentially weighty dishes manage to combine flavour and substance without being too heavy; there is however plenty of variety on the menu for all preferences, including a good range of seafood.

"We source our fish from Sardinia or Tuscany,” explains Massimo, “although everything else, such as the Razza Romagnola beef, is from top-quality local suppliers.” There's a good choice for vegetarians, too, with dishes like pumpkin-filled ravioli and a delicious millefoglie - alternate layers of grilled vegetables and crispy parmesan wafers.

Address
Via Santo Stefano 19/B
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While the house wine - a medium bodied and fruity blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, which is actually produced by Massimo's father Pietro - makes an extremely versatile accompaniment to most of the menu, there is an extensive wine list, featuring bottles from throughout the peninsula plus a few choice French labels. Pietro also supplies the restaurant with fragrant olive oil from his agriturismo-farm in Umbria where he now lives, with wife Pina. It was 1976 when Pietro Montanari took on Ristorante Cesarina and decided to give the place a facelift, bringing to light some of the 15th century palazzo's original features, including arches and a brick vaulted ceiling in one of the rooms; wooden beams feature elsewhere.

Altogether there are four separate seating areas inside, plus a pleasant summer terrace on the piazza, so despite the generous capacity the restaurant retains an intimate atmosphere, also thanks to warm lighting from the metallic lamps suspended from the ceiling which, along with some colourful paintings of local scenes, add a touch of the contemporary.

However tempting the menu, it's worth leaving room for one of the home-made desserts, the most traditional of which include zuppa inglese (trifle) and a deliciously moist and fragrant rice cake. There's a good choice of dessert wines too – try the local Albana Passito – and digestives. And after such an exquisite feast of genuine Bolognese fare, what could be more fitting than strolling out onto the city's most picturesque piazza.

 

Sarah Lane

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