Italian. That’s what I was craving when I woke up yesterday morning, still clueless as to where our Saturday lunch date adventure would take us. I wanted simple, authentic Italian food. Nothing fancy, no frills. Just a perfectly cooked pasta perhaps, or a good risotto. And a proper Italian wine to match, of course. But the cure for my craving needed to go beyond pure gustatory satisfaction this time, because in fact, I wasn’t just craving Italian food — I was craving Italy.
After narrowing down my choices, purely based on menus and photos of restaurant interiors, I decided on Allegria in Bussum, a town in the province of North Holland and one I’ve visited many times before.
Part shop and part restaurant, Allegria (meaning ‘happiness’ or ‘joy’) is pretty much a one-stop location for those who love all things Italian. Located in the front is the shop part where you will immediately be welcomed (not to mention helplessly lured) by a broad variety of Italianess: cookbooks, kitchenware, watches, handbags, vintage knick-knacks, wines, pastas, oils, canned tomatoes, sauces, vinegars, pizza ovens, percolators, sweets, and more, and more and more! It’s not just the products that make the heart flutter, but also the way they are beautifully displayed. Every corner of the shop oozes Italian passion. Tastefulness. Definitely pure joy.
A little further on, is the deli section, which also supplies the restaurant with its antipasti and sandwich toppings. There are cheeses, cured meats, olives, pestos and more. I could have easily spent hours here, but it was the restaurant, found at the back of the establishment, that I was most interested in.
Entering the room immediately felt familiar and warm. Plain tables and sturdy black chairs; religious paraphernalia; an attractive buffet cabinet elegantly displaying a collection of wine glasses, above it a framed map of Rome; a row of cookbooks; paintings, priced and offered for sale; and in the middle, a drinks cabinet sumptuously stocked with wines, liqueurs and other spirits. It didn’t feel like being at a restaurant, it felt as though I was visiting an Italian friend.
And the food…
The lunch menu mainly offers a large variety of sandwiches, but there are also antipasti, four pizzas, one soup and one pasta. There is no wine list. Instead, there is wine advice. All you have to do is ask.
We started with the antipasti. I ordered a mixed plate that came with a variety of deliciousness including coppa di parma, taleggio, provolone, gorgonzola (probably one of the best I’ve ever had) and fragrant pesto. Hubby chose the plate with three crostini: one topped with spicy prawns, the other with basil pesto, gorgonzola and a sundried tomato, and the last with red pesto and prosciutto. In a tiny dish, the waitress prepared a flavorful oil for us to dip our bread and breadsticks in. Paired with a glass of Prosecco, we shared the two dishes before moving on to the main.
My choice was the ravioli filled with ricotta and black truffle and topped with rocket lettuce and pine nuts. I missed more truffle in the ravioli filling and think the dish could’ve done with a good drizzle of oil, something I could luckily correct myself since there was a bottle of fabulously grassy olive oil on our table. For Hans the pizza ‘Salumi’ was satisfying and uncomplicated: a decent crust (though we suspected not freshly made), tomato sauce and sliced meats. The wine choice was left up to our waitress, who recommended a Nero d’Avola, chock-full of juicy raspberries with a hint of chocolate and a long, smooth finish for Hans, and for me a crisp, minerally Pecorino, a wine that immediately made me think of summer. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the wine pairs beautifully with the cheese that goes by the same name.
No room for dessert this time, unfortunately, though our espresso and cappuccino arrived with a too-tempting-to-pass-up dish of Italian sweets.
The service was flawless and adept, the food and wine quite satisfactory and the atmosphere precisely what I was looking for when I envisioned an afternoon escape to Italy that morning. I will be back for dinner in the near future — and will definitely drop in anytime I’m lusting after la dolce vita, which in my case, is incredibly often…