Last weekend my wife and I, along with some friends, drove around 450 km to visit a Cheese Festival (Festiqueijo) in the town of “Carlos Barbosa“, in a region colonized by Italians. Our hotel was in “Bento Gonçalves“, the wine capital of Brazil, colonized by immigrants coming mostly from the Italian regions of Veneto and Trentino.
Looking for places to have a nice Italian dinner the restaurant “Pignatela” (no telephone, no e-mail, no web site) was recommended, and there we went on that rainy and cold night (don’t forget it’s winter here).
For those who may have the opportunity to visit the area, the restaurant is located right at the beginning of the road that gives access to one of the largest wine houses of the region, “Vinícola Salton” (everyone in town knows the place), on the right side.
The place doesn´t look or feel very comfortable, and in fact it is not, but we were greeted on the door by the owner with a smile that warmed up our bones and just made we want to get in and have our meal .
The owner (born in the Veneto) has a grape plantation and a small grape juice factory, but decided to establish this small restaurant in his own house to help spreading the Italian culture a bit more. Since the region has already dozens of restaurants serving all kinds of pasta, pizzas and the usual stuff labeled as “Italian”, his decision was to explore the culinary of the Trentino-Alto Ádige, also known as Trentino Südtirol, and serve typical tirolese dishes, something not easily found (at least in Brazil).
Glad that no decision concerning the meal was necessary, as they only have one complete menu, displayed on a board right at the entrance door.
As you can see the first dish was a Canederli soup. Canederli are small balls prepared mainly with bread, milk, eggs, some bacon and spices cooked in a chicken broth. This “primo piatto” was served with home-made bread. The wine? A Salton Cabernet Sauvignon (maybe not the best choice to go with these Tirolese dishes, but the best one available).
Then follows “Bigoli al sugo”, a long pasta tube, similar to the bucatini, served with a chicken stew.
To be completely honest, the pasta was way overcooked and the sauce tasteless. You won’t miss anything if you just let this one pass and save your stomach to the next one, a gnocchi con creme de Fontina.
This was, in my opinion, the best dish. The gnocchi was made with tomato, what gave it quite distinctive color and taste. Fontina is a cheese prepared from unpasteurized milk, with a wonderful earthy taste. It melts well and forms a nice cream specially due to its relatively high fat content (around 45-50%).
But that was not all.
This wonderful pork, marinated in white wine with some Italian lemon was not even on the menu. A nice surprise.
These ravioli (I know, the photo looks terrible as the dish was cold when it was taken – I’m trying to improve) had a most wonderful filling. The owner defies you to figure out the main ingredients. Some are quite easy to discover, but a few of them are just unbelievable. I won’t tell you as I don’t want to spoil the surprise (guess you’ll have to come to go to Bento Gonçalves).
Another protein follows: steak marinated in wine and herbs served with a potato, apple and horseradish salad.
Maybe this was the best dish? Oh Lord, I just can’t make up my mind. Guess I’ll have to start all over again. Please, bring me the Canederli.
Dessert. Of course! A milk custard (flan) with mollasses and tirolese (apple jam) pie. Clearly the New World has its finger here, as I bet they don’t grow sugar cane in Südtirol.
What a nice meal. The price? About US$ 20,00/person, including wine. If I happen to be around, be sure I’ll visit the Pignatela again.