September 19, 2015 (Brittany’s Birthday Dinner)

We are here in Bologna, Italy because Brittany is attending the University of Bologna, which is the oldest university in the Western world…founded in 1088; but just because the university is old doesn’t mean it doesn’t deal with the same ups and downs as every other university.  For instance, Brittany’s first class, Economics, was canceled on the first day…and then again on its second day.  For some this might be a cause for celebration, but when your class meetings are already limited it’s not the best option.  However, Brittany and I were pretty happy about the second class being canceled because it was on her birthday and it gave us ample time to celebrate; that being said, I had already made a reservation for her birthday dinner for the following night…Saturday night.  So this is the story of Brittany’s Birthday Dinner (even though it was almost the story of rushing Elijah to the ER…but that’s a whole different post):

On one of our first outings in the city, we passed a gorgeous little alcove of arches between two streets.  Someone had gotten the brilliant idea of turning this little alcove into a restaurant called 7 Archi (7 Arches), and Brittany and I agreed that at some point we would need to try this place.  Well, what better time than a birthday.

On Saturday night, Bologna can be a pretty hopping place, so I started researching how to make a reservation.  7 Archi‘s website is completely in Italian, but with the help of Google Translate, I was able to navigate it pretty well.  I could not find anything about reservations though; what I could find was a ‘Contact Us’ link.  So I put Google Translate to work again and wrote out my inquiry…basically, how do you make reservations?  The restaurant returned my email within 30 minutes stating that the email would serve and i just needed to let them know a bit more information (my name, the time, how many people, etc.).  I replied, but since they did actually have an indoor section of the restaurant, I also wanted to let them know we wanted to eat outside under the arches.  Again, the restaurant replied extremely quickly with a “Perfecto” and all was done.

Now, that last paragraph made it sound like my email was super simple, where I just typed information into Google Translate and sent it directly to the restaurant…not true.  A word to the wise when using Google Translate to form sentences, after you have a translation, copy the translation so that you don’t loose it, and the reverse the translation to see what you are actually saying.  I found all kinds of fun and humorous tidbits that could have resulted in an interesting inquiry to the restaurant.  One example…my name has Dies in it…dies is a word…Google was bound and determined to translate that…easy fix though.  Another example…when I requested a table outside, somehow it was translate into us wanting to sit our chairs on the table.  I can’t imagine the restaurant reading an email about a reservation for a dead man who wants to be set on the table!  After a few tweaks here and there, and several back and forths with Google Translate, the reservation was made.

The restaurant had there menu listed in both Italian and English outside of the entrance, so I had been really thinking about what I wanted and had it narrowed down to two things.  Brittany wanted the destination to be a surprise, so she had no idea what to expect but I had a pretty good idea about what she would get.  When we arrived at the restaurant, Brittany got an opportunity to look over the menu for the first time, and we were both excited about the possibilities.  Brittany was either going to get the Swordfish or the Octopus (yep, it was a really, really awesome menu).  I was looking at the Pork with Goat Cheese or the Swordfish, depending on what Brittany got.

We were seated at a corner table (Brittany’s favorite location at any restaurant) and the atmosphere was amazing.  Live music was being played, the Arches were lit and beautiful, and they bring you a complementary glass of champagne when you sit down…amazing.  Also, the host (who may have been the manager or owner) was extremely kind.  We were trying to speak our few little practiced Italian phrases, but he spoke perfect English and made us feel very welcomed.

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When we opened the menu though, it was completely different from what was outside.  Apparently it is a seasonal menu and had recently changed.  No fear…the menu contained English subtitles.  We were initially a bit disappointed because they were out of Swordfish, which had remained on the menu, but everything sounded so delicious…we couldn’t be upset.  Bread and a fancy glass bottle of water were brought to our table.  Several restaurants in Italy offer a full four-course menu, and this restaurant was no different.  There’s appetizers, first plate, second plate, and dessert.  We though about going all out with all four, but in hindsight I’m glad we didn’t.  FYI…our waiter was also extremely friendly and helpful.  He let us try to show off our Italian and he played along, correcting us when necessary…he also spoke perfect English.  After looking over the menu for a while we finally decided on an antipasti (appetizer) Vitello Tonnato (Sliced Veal with Tuna and Capers topping) and a Primi Piatti (first plate) apiece.  Brittany ordered Spaghetti alls Chitarra con Ragù di Mare e Bottarga (Spaghetti with Fish Sauce and Fish Eggs) and I ordered Lasagne alls Bolognese (Home-Made Lasagne Bolognese).  We also each ordered a glass of local Sangiovese wine that the waiter called “the blood of angels.”  I’m not much of a wine person, but I’m trying since we are in Italy.  It was really good, but because of the whole ‘almost rushing Elijah to the ER thing’ I decided to stick mainly to water.

The Vitello Tonnato:

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It was fantastic.  I can’t really even think of anything to liken it to.  The tomatoes, like all the tomatoes here, were ripe and juicy.  The little pickles were just slightly sweet and fit the dish perfectly. The veal was excellent. The sauce with capers was the part I can’t compare anything to…it was its own unique entity.  The entire plate was cold, which was a surprise at first, but everything added flavor to everything else.  Brittany was all cute, putting one slice on her plate at a time.  I, on the other hand, loaded my plate and devoured this delicious dish.

When we finished, our main course was brought out, and in the WCBDOMC there was quickly a clear winner.

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Brittany’s spaghetti was good…really good, in fact, but I couldn’t have much of it since it contained shrimp, but my lasagna was everything a lasagna should be.  It was the lasagna I had been searching for my entire life without even knowing it.  Everything about it was perfect.  There was no ricotta cheese filling, whatever cheese they used was warm, gooey and amazing.  The meat and sauce…the noodles…ahhh…so good.  The only way I know how to describe it is that it required no chewing…let me clarify that.  The cheese, noodles, sauce, and meat were so well prepared that the entire dish melted in your mouth leaving you with wave after wave of what lasagna should be in your mouth.  So the score is Brittany 1.5, Elijah 3.  (Even though I should get like 10 bonus points for how good my dish was.)  The end of this story…if you happen to be in Bologna, Italy and are looking for something extremely good to eat from a place with exceptional service…try 7 Archi…you won’t regret it.

At the end of the night our waited kept trying to apologize for the “delay” in service by offering us free dessert, but there was absolutely nothing bad about our time at 7 Archi and we had no delays…he was just a fantastic server.  We denied, mostly because he had done nothing wrong, but also because we couldn’t have eaten another bite.

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After leaving the restaurant we decided to try and walk off some of our pasta before going home.  It was  around 10:30PM at this point, and I was amazed at how busy the streets were.  Every corner had full bars and restaurants and every street was packed with people.  We decided to walk to Le Due Torri to see if they were lit up at night, and along the way we realized at least partially why the streets were so packed…there was a jazz festival going on.  Every street had a different jazz band playing live (there was even a live band inside the Apple store).

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One of the things that we like most about Bologna is there is always something going on…and not commercially.  Every Friday and Saturday there have been street vendors set up all over town.  Every Sunday the street vendors have been replaced by people selling antiques.  This weekend was Bologna in flowers, where several flower vendors set up on the plaza, along with the jazz festival and a bicycle festival…there’s always something to do.

While we were listening to various jazz groups, we walked around the city center and snapped a few pictures.  They have been working on the streets in front of Le Due Torri but they were open tonight so we got a few more up-close pictures.

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We also found that at night the streetlights highlight different areas of the city and you notice things in a completely different manner.  Statues stand out that you’ve walked by dozens of times and never noticed.  Intricate details merge and you see whole structures as the massive, beautiful works of art that they are…like the Basilica di San Petronio:

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We’ll have to go sightseeing at night and see what we can get in to.

All in all, Brittany’s birthday was a success.  Great food, great music, great sights…Other than having our family and friends with us to enjoy it…I’m not sure we could ask for more.

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Italian word of the day: calcolo renal – kidney stone (because at 1AM when you are in massive pain and think you need to go to a hospital…you need to know the term for what you think is wrong)

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