I love a good-ol’-fashioned osteria. That is, a a rustic Italian restaurant where one can expect to find generous portions of local specialties at affordable prices. Osteria dell’Oca lived up to every expectation. Here I was delighted to try the gastronomy of Mantova, a city located a little over an hour south of Milan.
Lambrusco is a wine typical of Mantova that I had tried once before at a restaurant in Milan and very much enjoyed. It is a sparkling red that’s served chilled. It’s a bit on the sweet side, with notes of cherry, plum, and strawberry. This was the house wine at Osteria dell’Oca, so naturally I went for it.
This variety was much more delicate than the version I’d originally tried. It was much less carbonated and softer on the palate. I found it to be a great accompaniment to the rich and hearty Mantovana cuisine. I’m also a big fan of the copper pitcher that it was served in.
I Primi Piatti
Pasta is quite literally my favorite food and I’m always excited to try new versions when dining at an Italian eatery. Mantova is known for its pumpkin tortelli, which are similar in size and shape to ravioli. I’ve had a few pumpkin-based pasta dishes in my lifetime, but this one was nothing like the rest. The filling was completely unique with flavors of amaretto, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The tortelli were ladled in my newfound-favorite sauce: butter and sage. Overall, an excellent plate of pasta.
Alessandro opted for tronchetti, a short pasta comparable to rigatoni, in a ragù of donkey meat. Donkey is a delicacy of Mantova and can be found on many local menus. When stewed as a ragù it had a taste comparable to beef or veal that was not over powering. The pasta was definitely homemade and held the sauce perfectly. Another knockout pasta dish.
I Secondi Piatti
The bar for the main course had been set pretty high by the pasta. I’ve recently become a huge fan of rabbit, so when I saw it on the menu I was excited to try it. The rabbit leg was dressed in a cacciatore sauce (i.e. peppers, onions, and herbs). I’ve eaten many a chicken dish with cacciatore, but I firmly believe that it was invented for rabbit: the two are a match made in heaven.
Not to mention, the rabbit itself was optimally cooked and practically fell off the bone. The side of polenta that it was served with had the perfect texture and a the true flavor of cornmeal; this was polenta how it was intended to be.
Alessandro had luccio, a lake fish native to Mantova, a city that is surrounded on three sides by lakes. It was cooked in a sauce similar to my cacciatore but of a lesser amount so as to allow the flavor of the fish to be the star. Finished with boatloads of fresh parsley and the same side of polenta as my rabbit, the luccio was an excellent fish dish.
I was intrigued by a number of desserts at dell’Oca, but ultimately settled on the zuppa inglese. This classic sweet (which translates literally to “English soup”) is a trifle of liqueur-soaked sponge cake and cream.
The zuppa inglese didn’t rock my world, but nevertheless was a delicious dessert to finish a fantastic meal. The liqueur flavor was very strong and prevented the trifle from being sickeningly sweet.
As an added bonus, the restaurant gave out its house digestivo for free to every table. I couldn’t tell you what variety this one was, but I have a strong feeling that it was also homemade given the potent aroma and taste. It warmed up my insides and was exactly what I needed to brace the cold on a freezing December day.
- High-quality, house-made food
- Classic Mantovana dishes, with a few unique deviations
- Fair price point
- Satisfying flavors