They (whomever they may be) tell me that I am no longer their restaurant critic. To which all I can say is that I have neither motivation nor any consideration whatever to give up on being a restaurant critic. For a while at least I may not be visiting or re-visiting quite as many restaurants as usual but those that I do visit will, as has been the case for many years, undergo my deep scrutiny.
Finding myself comfortably on my own in Sofia this past Tuesday (27 July) with dinner beckoning, I made my way from my hotel, The Radisson Blu to La Capannina, an Italian restaurant of some note in the city. Even though the hotel and the restaurant are located in the most upswing district of the city it does not take long to realizes that when a very attractive and relatively scantily dressed young woman runs up to you, throw her arms around you and greets you warmly that she is not coming on to you. Nor has she suffered a case of mistaken identity, for as she hugs you her partner, no less attractive, is picking your pocket. One quickly gathers that in addition to earning their livelihood that way, pickpocketing is perceived by at least some as one of the national sports. I did appreciate the hug I got but, having been forewarned, my wallet was tucked deeply into a side pocket and thus inaccessible to nimble fingers.
The interior of Capannina is warm and inviting, the décor in a sophisticated, underplayed manner, the tables set with well pressed white tablecloths, attractive silverware and, happy days, fine wine glasses. Despite that, I chose to sit on the out-of-doors terrace, that covered with an awning that high enough to allow a view of the Parliament building, the gold-domed Bulgarian Orthodox Church and several others of the exquisite buildings in Parliament square. Because Bulgarian and its special adaptation of the Cyrillic alphabet are strange to me, I was pleased that the restaurant also offers menus in Italian and English. I was also charmed that the owner of the restaurant spoke each of those languages, so communication with her and the waitress assigned to my table were no problem at all.
My meal opened with a very pleasant amuse geule of finely chopped tomatoes, those tossed together with olive oil and fresh herbs and served on a slice of toasted rye bread. Following that a tray of hot breads, the first tissue thin, oven-baked crispslices of filo pastry and the second of a foccaccia that had been sprinkled over with olive oil, sea salt and rosemary.
As a more formal first course I ordered tomini cheese with speck, the tomini a local version of a mild brie and speck, of course being German and Bulgarian for bacon. The bacon was lightly fried before being set on the cheese, the combination then placed under a hot grill so that as the bacon became crisp the cheese took on a half-melted consistency. The combination of the blue cheese and the bacon was just salty enough and the sensation of the two melting together in the mouth was a delight. That the dish was accompanied by asparagus tips in a light hollandaise sauce added to its pleasure.
Being much in the mood to sample the local cheeses I went on to a portion of a four-cheese lasagna. Not as high as might be a meat-based lasagna, but with four distinct layers of pasta encompassing the cheeses, the texture creamy and the rich flavors coming together beautifully. That the uppermost layer of the lasagna had been finished under a hot grill giving it a crisp finish was much appreciated.With my first two courses I managed to down the better part of a bottle of the pleasant if not exceptional 2007 Rubin wine of the Sakar Mountain Winery.
The dessert of my choice was of what the menu listed as a millefeuille, but rather than the standard version of multiple layers, the just crisp enough pastry leaves had been piled, mountain like and with those generous amounts of Chantilly cream, strawberries and fresh currants. With that two flavorful short espressos and all seemed well, even the summer rain falling providing an appealing backdrop to the mood.
My food bill came to 60 leva (30 Euros) to which the wine added another 40 leva. A bit dear perhaps but considering the atmosphere, the very pleasant service and the quality of the dishes, a fine investment in one's mood and state of mind. Definitely worth visiting.
La Capannnina: 9 Narodno Sabronie Square, Sofia. Tel 359 2 980 44 38.