When Artusi Ristorante opened its doors in the national capital about four years back, there was some confusion among diners. What was this new Eastern European restaurant about? What kind of food would it have? “People were confused as we initially promoted Artusi as a place where one can have authentic food from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region,” laughs Oscar Balcon. The mastermind behind the city’s fine-dining Italian restaurant hails from Cesenatico, a port town on the Adriatic Coast, near Bologna. “We dropped the region’s name to avoid confusion,” he adds, eyes twinkling, as we sipped on Prosecco.
You may not be aware of the Emilia-Romagna region but trust me, major products you associate Italy with, come from there. Think of balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto; they all hail from the area. For motor car enthusiasts, think Ferrari. A historically rich and self sufficient region, Emilia-Romagna lies sandwiched between Tuscany, Veneto and Lombardy.
I was sitting at the newly-opened branch of the restaurant at Gurugram’s Two Horizon Centre located on Golf Course Road. After a two-hour cab journey from south-eastern Delhi, my stomach craved a warm Italian meal. On my last visit to the country, I had extensively travelled across the north, eating homemade pastas and sauces with delicious glasses of wine along the way. I had heard a lot about Artusi and wanted an experience that would take me back to that Italian summer.
Balcon was a perfect host. With my throat still recovering from a recent bout of bronchitis, he made sure I was supplied with cups of warm water as conversation flowed. Having travelled extensively around the world personally and also during his corporate days, opening a restaurant had been a passion. After retirement, deciding with his Indian wife to settle down in the country, opening Artusi was only natural.
“We wanted to showcase the food we love,”Balcon said as we dug into a cheese and leeks quiche (Tortino di Porri), and prosciutto. It took him five months of tasting, curating and testing before going public. His two chefs are also from back home to bring to the diners in Delhi an authentic experience. Every day the pasta, the lifeline for Italians, is handmade with flour imported from home. The rice, cheese, the meats and fish on the menu come from Italy while other ingredients are locally sourced. Exorbitant import duties definitely don’t make the process easier or pocket-friendly.
With fresh bread delivered on the table, the conversation flowed. The tuna Carpaccio with orange and fennel salad that followed was fresh and so well seasoned. I looked around the restaurant. The location of Balcon’s second venture (he never thought he would open a second branch) is rather far away. For Gurugram locals, Artusi might be a great Italian fine-dining option. However, for a Delhi local, heading to Greater Kailash 2 is much easier.
The small portion sizes made it possible to taste more handmade-goodness. The Fettucine Gamberi e Limone (prawns in lemon sauce) was fresh; the angel hair noodle with bacon and pink sauce was the clear favourite. As mood music played across the room, a regular customer came up to exchange greetings with Balcon, the bright warmth of yellow fairy lights lit outside caught my eye. It was the picture of a perfect winter evening dinner.
The sea bass cooked in its own broth (Branzino al Vapore) was placed in front as another glass of Prosecco was poured. The fish was cooked in a paper parcel with simple seasoning to enhance the natural flavour. The cooking style is called ‘cartoccio’, the Italian equivalent of France’s ‘en papillote’. The flavours were clean and bold, and a healthier option after pasta.
I would recommend not leaving Artusi without trying their famous panna cotta. Served with sweet figs and almonds, it made me want to savour every spoonful despite not being a dessert-person. Not overtly sweet, it was the perfect way to end a luxurious meal before getting ready for a long ride back to the city. And on the way back, I would reminisce of the long-gone glorious summer, the flavours of the meal taking me back to the long-winding cobble-stoned roads of Italy.
Where: Plaza Level, Two Horizon Centre, Golf Course Road, Gurugram
Cost: Rs 3000 for two
Contact: 0124 6676666