We like eating at simple but good restaurants, called trattoria or osteria in Italy, as much as eating at gourmet restaurants with degustation menus and Michelin stars. The Gambero Rosso guide awards there highest rating of “tre gamberi” (three shrimp) to only 32 trattorie in all of Italy, and we will be eating at three of them during this trip. The first is Locanda Mariella, located in the middle of nowhere in the mountains near Parma. It is called “locanda” instead of trattoria/osteria, because it also has rooms to stay the night. (We however stayed in our RV (camper) on the parking lot of the restaurant.)
The locanda is run by an older couple, who have been doing this for years and have their own ways. Due to the pandemic and in an effort to reduce waste, they have reduced the number of seats to 15 and offer three set menus that you have to reserve in advance, so they can purchase only the exact amount of ingredients needed. The restaurant only works with small high-quality independent suppliers of both ingredients and wine. The three menus are “tradizione” (35 euros), “terra” (45 euros, meat) and “pesce” (50 euros, fish). We selected tradizione, because we thought that was most fitting for this type of restaurant, and we wanted to try some local traditional dishes. Reservations can only be made through e-mail. If there is an availability for the date you requested, Mariella will e-mail you the menus, so you can select which one you’d like to reserve.
Husband Guido handles the wine. There is no wine list. You talk to Guido and he comes up with something, based on his own opinion as well as your wishes. Although he kept insisting on French Champagne, we wanted something Italian and he came up with this interesting metodo classico with the name Festoso (festive) that was made across Italy from multiple grape varieties (pecorino, timorasso, pinot nero) and locations (Campania, Piemonte, Marche). Guido is into natural wine, from organic grapes, vinified without chemicals and with low sulfites (but luckily not completely without sulfites, because those wines are ‘too’ natural most of the time).
The menu started with “Entratina a sorpresa”, surprise little appetizer. This turned out to be a piece of 3-year-old parmigiano reggiano…
…and some bread with very good extra virgin olive oil.
Our antipasto was a generous portion of thinly sliced 30 month cured prosciutto from Parma, served simply on a plate with nothing else. Which is fine, because this prosciutto was great by itself.
Mariella also brought a small sample of local mortadella.
Wine is only available by the bottle, so we decided to have two bottles and take back to the camper what we couldn’t finish. The red wine was a great Barbaresco from 2009, that was at its prime drinking point. Very complex and fragrant, with softened tannins.
The primo was anolini (a ravioli shape) in a broth of chicken and beef. The ravioli were stuffed with bread and the jus of braised meat (stracotto), so not the actual meat. It tasted like there was meat in there, but they were lighter. The pasta was very thin. Mariella told us this is a very traditional dish in this area. By themselves (so without broth) the anolini were a great pairing for the Barbaresco.
Next was braised veal cheeks with mashed potatoes.
I’ve made this photo to show how perfectly the veal cheeks were braised. You could eat this with a fork and the meat was moist, tender, and flavorful. The meat was braised in red wine with rosemary, a little tomato paste, and dried porcini mushrooms. It was quite salty, but not too much, and a perfect pairing for the Barbaresco.
For the dessert you could choose out of four creative desserts (not traditional) and I opted for the chocolate and banana cake. The Manjari chocolate made this cake very fresh-tasting.
Locanda Mariella is the perfect example of a trattoria with three gamberi. The dishes are simple but perfectly prepared from high quality ingredients. (The dishes of the other two menus seemed less simple, by the way.) And it is great value for money (we spent 10% of what we spent at Pinchiorri).