Dining Review: Hosteria Giusti – Modena, Italy
After striking out at Osteria Francescana, Hosteria Giusti came highly recommended by the wonderful people at Rezdora in NYC so we were confident a good meal was ahead. While Hosteria Giusti is not an easy reservation to get as there are only four tables, we had enough advanced notice that we were able to find a lunch time spot that worked.
We arrived in Modena early and after wandering around for awhile, enough time had passed to check into our dining reservation at Hosteria Giusti for lunch. We walked past the address twice but unable to identify the front of the restaurant. Premiata Salumeria Giuseppe Giusti shared the same “Giusti” name and the address did match so we stepped inside with hopes that they could direct us to the restaurant.
But first, let’s talk about this store! It was the ultimate Italian specialty food destination. Every spare inch was covered – Prosciutto di Parma hanging from the ceiling, shelves full of wine, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, cases full of cheese and prepared deli dishes, fresh pasta wrapped up onto of each other, salumi of every kind hanging on anything that could hold it, and plenty of bread in any vacancies. It was such a small store holding all of the gems of Emilia Romagna. People rushed in and out of the store, collecting their products as a part of their ritualistic routine.
After a few seconds of taking all of this magic in, we inquired “Dov’e Hosteria Giusti?” And in the very back corner, a door transported guests to one of the top dining experiences in Emilia Romagna.
Walking up and through the hallway, it was clear that this was a renovated home. The basement level was the salumeria, we passed an incredibly small kitchen, straight ahead continued the hallway with a bathroom, and then just to the left was the dining room – just four tables.
It was so cozy like being in someone’s home but not just anyone’s home but your Italian Nonna in the kitchen making your favorite dishes. The smallest functional door the kitchen into the dining room for the servers to vanish to and from. And then we noticed a front door that appeared to be the proper entrance to Hosteria Giusti to which all subsequent guests came through (though the address listed does not reflect that). A narrow set of stairs led to storage area and an upstairs level. Empty wine bottles filled the perimeter while a table next to ours was dedicated solely to after dinner drinks.
In reviewing the menu, many of the dishes contained local words we were not familiar with so I do not think we could have selected the best a’la carte menu. But that option does exist and that is the option the rest of the diners opted for. Since we wanted the full experience, we selected one of the two tasting menus – “Storico” (PS I was already laughing inside at how massively different the price would have been if we went to Osteria Francescana – take that woooooo).
We started with a bottle of wine – nothing like traveling for over twenty hours, sleeping on a plane, and feeling like it is 6AM – wine it is! It was a local Sangiovese that was light and would go perfectly with our meal. Wine in hand and bread at the ready, it was time to start our meal.
Thin slices of “Cotechino” in a green sauce and mayonnaise
What is Cotechino? We both looked at our dishes a little funny. I was hoping the green stuff was not spicy and Kevin has quite a dislike for mayonnaise. Like dipping our toes in water to make sure the temperature is ok, we took small amounts onto our forks and gingerly placed in onto our tongue. Delightful! First of all, this mayonnaise was nothing like the processed stuff in jars or packets. This is freshly made and it is evident in the taste – I wish this stiff was available on demand. Moving onto the mysterious green sauce – it was an olive oil base with herbs fined processed but it was not an overwhelming herb flavor. I do not know which were used and thinking now I need to expand my herb vocabulary to identify some of these. And the Cotechino was just delicious. A specialty of Modena, it is a freshly made pork sausage but instead of a thick portion it was thinly sliced deli style increasing the taste. Now the magic happens when you put all three elements together for a melody of flavors. With such skepticism when the dish arrived, we were all in Hosteria Giusti.
Tagliatelle with cheek pork sauce
Our first pasta of the trip! Freshly made tagliatelle tangled in each other saturated in a thin red sauce with pieces of vegetables and pork cheek. There is nothing better than fresh pasta – the texture, the flavor, the smell – it is so special. But what absolutely blew our mind was the cheek pork sauce. I am not a ragu kind of gal but this was far from a ragu. It was sweet from carrots and salty from the pork cheek, it was mild in the overall intensity of flavor but complex and well marinated with all the ingredients. I really want to ask for this recipe, it was just fantastic. We both savored every bite and did not want it to end. The bread served a worthy cause sopping up every last drop of the sauce (scarpetta!). Honestly, this ended up being one of our favorite dishes of the entire trip.
Tortellini in capon stock
A dish we were familiar with as being one of the traditional dishes of this area (thanks Rezdora!), the small meat filled tortellini are swimming in a intensely flavorful stock. This is the chicken noodle soup I wish I had grown up with, the kind that can heal the soul.
Braised beef with mashed potatoes
We did not know what to think of this dish – it was certainly a simple presentation and unexpected for our meal. But the meat was any thing but simple. I rarely select red meat options at restaurants as I can never finish them. This meat so tender it could be cut with a fork. The reduction surrounding the meat was just decadent. And the mashed potatoes were classic – a good preview for Thanksgiving ahead and the perfect way to sop up that gravy.
Fried “Cotechino” with zabaglicone and Lambrusco
The Cotechino strikes again! Instead of deli styled slices, this was a thick cut of meat but (plot twist) fried. Oh my oh my it was just amazing. Once again, as someone that is not a fan of salumi, it is just spectacular in Modena. The yellow sauce was the zabaglicone, a word we recognized from our trip to Asti as one of the desserts “zabaione”. This was an dessert or sometimes even a beverage made with egg yolks, sugar and a sweeter wine, in this case, Lambrusco, the local wine of the region. This pairing of the fried flavors with the sweet ones just worked together perfectly, neither one overwhelming the other. And a nice transition into dessert!
A chocolate dessert – ding ding ding! And this was the perfect dessert to end the lunch. It was light but packed with delicious dark chocolate goodness. All the noms!
What an amazing meal! It is no wonder why it is so difficult to get a reservation here – not only are there only four tables but locals dining make their next reservation like a dentist or haircut appointment. A large book gets plopped on the table and the locals get penciled in for their next fix.
While we exclaimed with excitement with each bit of a new dish, the other three tables were exceptionally quiet. Perhaps on other days or for the dinner service the environment or the people are more talkative but our group of Modena senior citizens had a peaceful, repetitive meal.
What an incredible way to start our trip and the perfect way to revisit Modena – thank you Hosteria Giusti!