Yesterday, I got an email from Bill asking me what I wanted to do about dinner last night. Bill usually cooks dinner at our house, but I knew he'd had a rough work week. When I wrote back that I didn't know what we should have for our evening repast, he suggested that we venture out for dinner. I didn't argue. Then he asked me where we should go.
We live only a few miles from the adorable town of Nagold and it had been a long while since our last visit there. So I wrote back, "Why don't we go to Nagold?"
He wrote back, "Fine! Pick a place."
The last time we went to Nagold was in the fall of 2014. I don't know why we hadn't been back. It's such a cute town, right by a river with a castle. It's not crowded. There's plenty of parking. We live really close. And it's refreshingly German there. Both times we've gone, people have asked us what we were doing there! I don't get the sense that they get many Americans visiting.
Anyway, since it had been awhile since our last visit, I tried to think of places we might go. I finally consulted TripAdvisor. According to TripAdvisor, the number one restaurant in Nagold is Osteria da Gino. After reading a couple of glowing reviews in English and then noticing the high ratings from Germans, I clicked on the restaurant's Web site. It is entirely in German, but I understood enough to know that I wanted to try it. I sent Bill the link and he made us reservations for 7:00.
I got a funny email from him later, explaining that there was some confusion when he called. No one there spoke English and Bill's German is riddled with grammatical and vocabulary errors (but it's still way better than MY German). Fortunately, somehow, they got the message and we got our reservation. We showed up promptly at 7:00, ready for a new culinary adventure.
When we walked into the tiny restaurant, we found ourselves in what looked like a small deli. There was one large table set up in there, though no one was sitting at it at the time. A short, smiling man with curly silver hair was behind a meat case, slicing fresh salami for a couple of people. When Bill told us who we were, the guy started laughing and spoke rapid fire German about the confusion caused when Bill called for a table. I was immediately enchanted by the guy, who was very friendly and funny even though he didn't speak a word of English to us. He turned us over to his colleagues, a tiny Italian woman and the person I presume is the chef, who checked for our name and then led us into a very small dining room with four large tables in it.
Two seats at one table were reserved for us. Two women, obviously regulars, were already seated at the other end of the table. They were deep in conversation as we took a seat and waited. I was curious because we were not presented menus. Since I can be very picky about certain things, I was a little worried... On the other hand, sometimes going with the flow can be very rewarding. Such was the case last night.
Bill tries not to look too interested...
After a few minutes, the tiny Italian lady came over and asked what we would be drinking. We ordered mineral water with gas and red wine. She brought us two glasses of wine and the water. I have no earthly idea what wine she brought us or whether it was German or Italian. It was pretty decent, though.
A few minutes later, Gino brought out the first course...
We had a slice of salami, a stick of cheese, pieces of orange and fennel coated with olive oil, black pepper, and vinegar, and an olive. I had to ask Gino what the fennel was, since it's not something I encounter daily. This was very good... in fact, the salami was especially good. We will need to go back and pick some up for home. This combination is not something I would have ever dreamed up on my own, but it worked very well. Bill has since discovered that it's all over the 'net. Even Martha Stewart has a version of this salad.
Next, Gino asked us in German how we felt about a plate of vegetables. He gave us a basic description and Bill said something along the lines of, as long as there aren't any mushrooms. He knows from being around me for years that mushrooms will ruin my dinner! A basket of fresh bread accompanied the vegetables.
Gino brought this out... grilled peppers, artichokes, zucchini, eggplant, and what tasted like batter friend eggplant. I must admit, I don't usually eat a lot of eggplant or artichokes, but was willing to try them last night. The vegetables were very good, though Bill is more partial to artichokes than I am. I particularly enjoyed the roasted peppers, which were bursting with flavor and sweetness.
I catch Bill being expressive after we ordered more wine. I don't know what this wine was, either, but it was better than the first. I think they got the picture that we like our wine... We each got little pitchers...
Then I took another photo of Bill looking mischievous. I should have never gotten an iPhone. It's completely eroded my table manners.
Next came the first plate. This is where we hit a slight snag. I hate mushrooms. I am also not a fan of truffles. Bill, on the other hand, loves all fungus. I had a feeling we'd have this problem last night and we did...
We each got the above dish, which was basically a pasta Alfredo with black truffles... Bill was delighted with it, but the aroma was too much for me. I don't do well with strong earthy flavors, despite my earthy personality.
Gino noticed immediately and asked if I preferred pasta with tomatoes. I agreed enthusiastically. I assumed I'd get something similar to what Bill was enjoying (and he really was enjoying it), but Gino brought out something different...
This was pasta with ricotta cheese covered with a heavenly tomato sauce. All of it was clearly homemade. I was delighted with it.
I truly wish I liked mushrooms. I wish I liked truffles. Unfortunately, I have never enjoyed fungus of any kind, even though I have been told many times that I don't know what I'm missing. When I was a child, I had an actual phobia of mushrooms. Two of my mean-spirited sisters gleefully exploited my phobic tendencies by picking the huge mushrooms that grew in our backyard in England and chasing me around the house as I screamed in terror. The more artistic sister used to draw shark teeth on any mushroom illustrations in my coloring books. Yes, I had a traumatic childhood. Fortunately, I have mostly gotten over my mycophobia, but I still can't abide mushrooms, not even when prepared by the best chef in the world.
I think Gino realized that my rejection was not a reflection on the quality of the dish. It was due to my own preferences and irrational fears. Even if I had been a truffle fan, I was glad he brought me the substitute, because it was outstanding and gave us a chance to try something different.
When we were finished with the pasta, Gino asked us if we preferred meat or fish for our second plate. I chose fish and Bill had meat. Then Gino asked Bill if he wanted the meat served grilled, "saltinbocca" (marinated veal), or "osso bucco" (braised). Bill said he preferred it grilled.
Bill's meat dish. It was sinfully good. I think it was veal, but I'm not totally sure... It was served with perfectly prepared greens and a small side of potatoes.
My fish. Again... not exactly sure what this was. I did see zander filet on the list of specials outside, so maybe it was that. The flavor exploded in my mouth with buttery goodness. I really enjoyed it. The air of mystery kind of added to the experience, too.
Toward the end of our meal, I was getting a little nervous about the time. This was a sumptuously long meal and I was a little concerned that our parking area might close. I didn't read the sign carefully but did notice 22:00 on it. I had an irrational fear of being stranded in Nagold. But Gino insisted that we had to cap off our meal with dessert, so we shared this...
Panna cotta, blueberry sauce, blueberry sorbet (I'm guessing), and vanilla cake with a chocolate hazelnut ice cream center.
Then he brought us espresso...
And finally, grappa. We had a choice of white or brown. I had the brown and Bill had the white... and Gino joined us!
Bill recovers after a wonderful meal!
Fortunately, the parking lot was still open. In fact, we paid 1,20 euros for our spot, but we didn't have to. The lot was wide open at 10:00 and we could have left at will.
Things to know about Gino's place...
Make reservations. The dining room is very small and it's a popular place with locals. You will likely be sharing a table with another party if there are only two of you. It's not a very intimate place, but you will be part of a group of people really enjoying the food and that's a good thing.
No one on staff speaks much English and you may not get a menu. However, it pays to just go with the flow because Gino knows what he's doing. He's a very gregarious guy who will make you laugh as he brings out magical dishes from the kitchen. I did notice a sign with specials on them outside and one on the wall in the dining room. I kind of liken last night's meal to the restaurant equivalent of a "blind booking".
There is no pizza.
There are tables available outside for when the weather is warmer.
Be prepared to spend a few hours. This is intended to be a leisurely experience and is no place to go if you're in a big hurry.
Gino is a wonderful host. It was our first visit, but he was so warm and welcoming and the entire family said goodbye to us as we left, especially after we told him we live in Jettingen. Like other Nagolders, I think he was surprised to have Americans in his restaurant (he thought we were British at first) and wanted to know what we were doing there. When Bill told him that we live here because he has a job, he seemed delighted. I think he expects to see us again and it won't surprise me if he and his colleagues remember our likes and dislikes, much like the Mad Scientist does...
It's a very European experience... It reminds me a bit of a fantastic restaurant called Trattoria da Bibe Bill and I went to when we visited Florence. Indeed, Gino's cuisine is also very Tuscan...
A picture of the sign outside. I really need to learn to take pictures when the sun is out.
Needless to say, we loved our meal at Osteria da Gino in Nagold. We will definitely be back and this will be one place that goes on the list for entertaining guests. Now I want to go back and get some of that salami! A bonus is that I got to use my fledgling German skills as well as a few Italian words. I'd say it was a very successful stop!
Information about Osteria da Gino:
Querstrasse 3 72202 Nagold
Telephone: 07452 66610
Closed on Sundays