Each year, I research and book a restaurant for my (now) husband’s birthday dinner. Each year, there’s a new request. Sometimes it’s “something Vietnamese”. Other times, it’s “something fancy”. This time, however, was different to the norm.
“I want something that’s nice and homely and comfortable. But it has to be tasty”
And so began the search for something that ticked all those boxes. When I think of homely food, I think of Italian. Not that I’m Italian or grew up in a home where we ate ossobuco each night. But because we went to small towns on our honeymoon and were treated to homely dishes in the comfort of our Airbnb host’s home. And how we ate at an osteria in Modena where we shared the table with four strangers, sharing wine and bread and laughs. Italian food just has that magic of bringing people together.
I searched and searched and finally gave up and asked around. After a few different responses, I chose Pasta Emilia in Surry Hills, mostly because they make their pasta onsite (yum, fresh pasta!). The also have pasta-making classes, but I’m more about the eating than the making.
I actually lied to him a few days before we went. He was tasked with choosing a place to eat for dinner the night before his birthday with his family. He listed some cuisines (one of them being Italian, because we’re married and married people obviously love the same foods, right?), and I said “Oh, not Italian. We’re eating a really big meal on your birthday and it’s best if we have something light the night before. But trust me, we’re not eating Italian on your birthday.”
And he believed me.
We rocked up, and it just looked so beautiful and authentic and wonderful. We were seated right in the centre of the restaurant, and we both just soaked it in. Bottles of wine surrounded us. Books upon books were stacked on shelves. Mismatched chairs and tables were scattered throughout the restaurant. It felt real.
Looking at the menu, I knew what I wanted. Tortelli all”anatra & tartufo al burro e timo. Duck and truffle tortelli with truffle butter. Drool. Only one problem: they were sold out of the dish. Sigh. I scanned the menu again, and Husband said “What about the lamb tortelli?” Done. Easy. And for him? Osso bucco, of course. We chose the bresaola salad, and the Pane, salame, burro e acciughe for antipasti (bread, salami, butter, and anchovies). We asked for the salami to be swapped with bresaola, and were told no. We didn’t really want any of the other antipasti, and the chef flat out refused to even serve the dish without the salami, so we ended up ordering it and ate around the salami.
On the one hand, it’s frustrating when a chef refuses to alter a dish because I’m a fussy eater and I don’t eat pork (salami), but on the other hand, it shows that the chef has put a lot of thought into a dish and knows that the dish wouldn’t taste as good with the changes I’ve requested. And that’s precisely what had happened. I requested it without salami, and asked for wagyu bresaola instead. But the chef was adamant that we stick to the menu.
In Italy, the land of pork and cheese and wine, we actually hadn’t found it very difficult to avoid pork. We’d simply ask for them to change it to bresaola, and they would always comply, and always with a smile. And I guess perhaps I had hoped for the same sort of treatment at the ‘homely’ osteria I had chosen. But oh well.
The antipasti ended up being a bit of a disappointment because of that, but we patiently waited with our glasses of Chianti Classico for my primi and my husband’s secondi. And boy did that change things. The lamb tortelli had been freshly made on-site, and had a beautiful tomato-based sauce with fresh herbs. I devoured the whole plate in less than five minutes. I think I may have let Husband have one piece, but the rest was mine. His osso bucco was mouth-watering, with a great potato mash underneath.
The service was friendly, the wine was beautiful and smooth, and the pasta and osso bucco were so tasty.
The thing that made it a bit different, however, was the insalate. We ordered the wagyu bresaola salad (I was intent on having my bresaola, goddammit!), and the meat was much, much tougher than what we were used to. Yes, bresaola is rubbery, but this one was very thick, and very tough. It wasn’t that it was awful, it was just different. But the aged balsamic on top was definitely a highlight, and brought back memories of Modena, where we went and tried 100-year-old balsamic vinegar in barrels that were from the French Revolution.
We left Pasta Emilia smiling, and chatting about how much we loved Italy and how we need to go back. The restaurant resurfaced those memories, and left us grinning from ear to ear.