A Night at Osteria Garibaldi in Cervia’s main piazza

By Ilyse Rathet

January 23, 2019

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Chilled silver wine buckets, petite vases of white flowers, flickering votive candles, and lyrical French music drew us into Osteria Garibaldi on a warm Spring night in Cervia, a  favorite town of ours on the Adriatic Coast in Emilia-Romagna.

The small tables tucked in one corner of Cervia’s ample main piazza breathed out romance and sociability across the space. Nestled together just across  from the municipio and main church of Cervia, they anchored their corner with elegance and the hushed conviviality of the groups and couples already seated. The tables filled the warm evening air with the feeling of being in a traditional osteria, transplanted to the outdoors.

We tentatively approached the doorway to the narrow interior part of the osteria and soon one of the young waiters welcomed us, offering a few words of mixed English and Italian in greeting.

From the moment we sat down at the cloth-covered table and scanned the other tables around us, we began to relax and soak up the ambiance. Pastel light from the sunset reflected off the buildings in the piazza, and campanile bells chimed in suffused cacophony all around.

The atmosphere on this welcoming corner of the piazza was enhanced by the pleasure on the faces of the other guests: linen-shirted locals with their friends, sipping slowly and leaning their faces closer to share intimate conversations. Young couples in stylish Spring clothes held hands and sipped out of fluted glasses, stealing a kiss now and again.

Surprisingly, there seemed to be more sitting and talking, as if we were in a salon or living room, than eating. Osteria Garibaldi seemed more of a ritrovo, a place to meet with friends or a lover, and share an atmospheric sip and bite of food. Not a place for mere consumption or gluttony. Perhaps this is because Osteria Garibaldi serves only truly small plates and only Sparkling wine and beers. Or perhaps the owners want to encourage their guests to use every sense, to truly relax and dine—not just eat—at their cozy corner of Cervia.

Soon our own chilled silver bucket arrived nestling a well-iced bottle of Sparkling Oltrepo Pavese,  made  from Pinot Noir. With our first sips we noticed that the plates coming out to tables were small, elegant, and imbued with a romantic flair: there were platters of sliced smoked seafood offered in minute by-weight portions on wooden boards, multi-colored dishes of raw vegetables, and salads beautified with edible flower petals.

As we sipped our sparkler, our waiter placed a small plate of homemade bread and foccaccia and a tiny jar of crema di baccala on the table to inspire our palates.

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After a bit,  our delicately sliced smoked tuna arrived on a platter – charmingly offered with a choice of house made mustard or raspberry vinaigrette. These seemed designed not just to dress the fish, but to spark conversation at the table about which was the better sauce, and which the best pairing with the seafood. More than merely condiments,  they were added to evoke feeling, to bring out the sensations of the meal, and to bring the diners into a more intimate connection at the table.

Dusk-flying birds began floating over the piazza in the cooling evening air, and more guests began to flow in: a dapper middle-aged gentleman looking like a robust tenor joined a table with a young female friend, a couple just done with a day of business eased themselves into the evening with their own chilled bottle of wine.

By now we were conversing with our waiter after every small course was brought over or picked up, and we learned that he had lived in New Orleans for a couple of years as a tenor singer in an Italian restaurant there. He appreciated our Italian and explained to us what the passata soup— a simple puree of veggies made in the back kitchen by his mother-in-law—was that day.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhen the passata was served, along with a fresh salad topped with local cheese, our waiter brought a bottle of locally produced olive oil, and proudly talked about the producer and his farm. This simple pureed soup-stew was the essence of Spring greens. A soup spoon of that, a sip of Oltrepo Pavese, smiling at each other across our small osteria-sized table we sighed with the emotion of another special night in regional Italy, admiring its sociable and enogastronomic charms.

At the end of the night our waiter served up tiny complimentary glasses of local Albano passito   along with a plate of mignon  home-baked cookies. Time was forgotten as we sipped and crunched on the sweets, the stars beginning to emerge in a darkening blue Adriatic sky.

And, as we reached for each-other’s  hands while we took in the fading light and the twinkling candlelight, I realized that Osteria Garibaldi had drawn us together and reminded us of so many nights over the  years in Italy, sharing romantic piazzas, sharing slow meals, sharing the sociability of Il Bel Paese. 

A toast to all of this and Osteria Garibaldi, cincin. 

About Ilyse Rathet