Postcard from Bologna, Italy: Volunteering to eat at E’Cucina Leopardi everyday

At home or traveling, we tend to latch onto certain places and return to them over and over again. E’ Cucina Leopardi was our go-to place in Bologna. Our lunches there were so good, when we dined elsewhere we often wondered what the chef had dreamed up for lunch at Leopardi. And, whenever we got our checks after lunch elsewhere, we wondered why we had not eaten at Leopardi yet again.

A little off the touristy beaten path, Leopardi had a waiting line most days. Not because there are only a few tables; it is a large, cheerful, funky place with an open kitchen. Locals love it.

Okay, part of its appeal is the 10-Euro three-course lunch, with three courses meaning appetizer, first course, dessert, wine, espresso, no tax and no tip expected. Yes, there are several more expensive options and dinner is more, but we never ventured past the all-inclusive one-price-fits-us.

We’re not sure how Chef Cesare Marretti makes his magic work at this price point, but the dishes are amazingly good. A major part of it must be the limited lunch menu allowing bulk purchases of fresh seasonal ingredients. But, when it comes to flavors, there are no shortcuts taken.

While waitstaff is friendly, bear in mind there are only a few servers handling many more tables than a waiter in the United States could imagine. They have no time to linger with extensive translations and lists of ingredients. For a tourist not speaking Italian, this can make ordering challenging. There are no written menus. No choices are needed for the appetizer, but the main course requires selecting something vegetarian, maybe a meat-sauced pasta or something from the sea. We rarely understood completely what we were ordering, but we were never disappointed when the mystery was revealed on a plate in front of us.

My favorite appetizer was a light carrot flan. One day, the kitchen was cracking open major wheels of aged parmesan and placing massive chunks of it on the first-course salad. Pastas were always perfect, but the kitchen truly shines in producing intensely flavored fish stews. Liberal use of wine and olive oil obviously plays a role, as seen in the video below. Regulars clearly favored the recurring offering of a small molten chocolate cake (somehow ending up camera-shy), but, as strawberries were in season, they also figured prominently in dessert offerings.

Surprisingly, given the crowds, customers are not rushed. Often they sit and chat long after their desserts and coffee are finished.

We almost felt as though we had stumbled upon some haute-cuisine government-subsidized food program. Not only were we contentedly wining and dining for under $11, we often emerged so stuffed we did not want even a salad for dinner at home that night. We found ourselves wondering, how can we afford not to live in Bologna?

Can’t imagine if Leopardi had not been part of our month in Bologna and am very happy we did not pick the month of August to stay there: Leopardi is closed for vacation until September 4.

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