Sunday, September 02, 2007

Osteria dei Cavalieri

Fri 27 July 2007

The last stop, over a month late, from Italy. Our first meal was in Pisa, at Osteria dei Cavalieri. It was a Friday night, we were tired after a very early (and stressful!) start from Leeds and we had no reservation. We walked in about 10 minutes before the official opening time and every table had a reserved sign on it.

Now, I wish I could claim I pulled some food writing rank and scored us a table, but that's not the case at all. The maƮtre d' looked at us and obviously decided that Andy and I would be able to keep my parents in check and offered us a cosy table in the corner.

As we'd already had a good look at the menu before choosing the restaurant, dish selection was relatively painless, but not without surprises. I started with taglietelline with rabbit and asparagus. I found this a bit disappointing: while the pasta was good (and very al dente - don't head to Italy expecting less than toothsome pasta), the pieces of rabbit were quite small and almost indistinguishable and the asparagus was decidedly sloopy. The dish was a bit too salty for me. Even more chewy was dad's foglie (little twists of pasta) with aubergine and salted ricotta, although the sauce had a good flavour. Mum was disappointed that her gnocchi with squash flowers and pistachio nuts, as the squash flowers were just chopped into the sauce. And the biggest surprise of all, was Andy's gnocchi with water-hen. After a lot of discussion we decided that water hen must be some kind of fowl - and it turned out we were completely wrong. The Italian name (which, in full, now escapes me) included 'del mare' which would have given the game away ... as the animal in question turned out to be gurnard. Fortunately, Andy likes fish and, while the dish wasn't quite what he was expecting he enjoyed it nonetheless.

However, our starters left us a little flat. None of the food had been quite as we expected, the sudden appearance of fish had confused us, we'd swapped plates around, been told off by our waiter, and only eaten some OK food. I was feeling quite guilty for suggesting the restaurant. Especially as we'd ordered a bottle of Gavi, on my suggestion, which none of us liked.

Fortunately, main course, and the bottle of red wine all picked up proceedings. I had chosen squid on rocket. The portion was generous, the squid was tender, and it was simply dressed with olive oil and served on a bed of spicy rocket. Simple, but delicious. This was the theme of the mains: tender rabbit with oregano and lamb chops were the other two choices. Everything was competently cooked, delicious, good value for money. It rather left us scratching our heads about the first courses.

As it was just the first night in Italy we were able to fit in dessert: a selection of three Tuscan cheese for the boys, and a semifreddo with praline for mum and me. The semifreddo was a stunning, bright yellow, deliciously creamy and the praline added crunch and an extra depth of sweetness.

Probably the most significant criticism is that the toilet arrangements are (I quote my mother) substandard. It is a shared toilet, and at the time of our visit, the door did not lock properly. There is just the one toilet for the restaurant and it's not everything it could be. Combine that with the rather incongruous music (Rod Stewart sings the old standards) and the restaurant may not be quite to everyone's expectations.

However, like so much of the food we were to eat in Italy, it was all ridiculously good value. The Osteria dei Cavalieri provides a typical range of dishes but not all of equally good execution - and you will find better elsewhere, particularly outside the cities. In addition, if you are visiting on a weekend, it might be wise to make a reservation.

1. Osteria dei Cavalieri, via San Frediano, 16, Pisa, Italy, phone: +33 (0)50 580858
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