Tales of a wandering lesbian

Fatti

After a very full day of walking, touring and boating, I decided to stay close to home and check out the restaurant downstairs.

When I pulled aside the sliding door that led from the hotel into the street-level restaurant, it was to find the waiter/maître die, who seemed to be waiting for me, pointing out a table.  He pulled out my chair, brought me a menu and flipped my glasses.  I opened my menu and realized I’d forgotten my little dictionary that lets me order in Italian without too many questions.

“Io torno” “I return” I said to the waiter as I rushed back to the room to retrieve my little book.  There were several promising items with ingredients that I wanted to confirm.  Once I had the dictionary in hand, I started translating.  Only, it was like I had a French dictionary.  Almost none of the items were in the book.  Damn.  So, I had to ask some questions.  Only, I think I was speaking American, and he was speaking English.  I’ve experienced this phenomenon often in Barga where many of the English speaking residents come from British or Scottish stock.

I was able to figure out that the gnochetti had shrimp (the menu used some kind of derivative word for shrimp), and to explain that I was vegetarian.  The other dish I was interested in was the tortelloni, which was “fatti a mano” made by hand.  That’s usually a good sign, but it had a mystery ingredient.

“Tortelloni?”  “Si, buono.  Con fromaggio?”  It’s amazing how sensitive I have found many Italians to be to the difference between vegan and vegetarian.  I live in Portland, which is a vegetarian/vegan paradise, and people are less sensitive to the differences than many of the folks I’ve encountered here (except for the guy who wanted to put speck on my pizza…).  So, my pasta would have cheese and some kind of a “Roman” something.  I couldn’t quite get the word, and my waiter friend was becoming a little frantic trying to explain, so I just told him it was alright and we moved along.  I like a nice surprise, as long as it’s not meat.

I also ordered a mix of vegetables.  He seemed pleased when I told him I would have them after the pasta, “dopo, dopo,” I reassured him.  I wondered what I would get.  The selection of individual vegetables on the menu was good.

When it arrived, the tortelloni surprised me.  They looked almost like my mom’s ravioli.  Nothing looks like my mom’s ravioli, except my mom’s ravioli.

Tortelloni

The sauce was clearly different (my mom’s is a meat sauce), but the shape and size of the pasta was the same.  And the slightly chewy consistency to the pasta dough was probably the closest I’ve ever had to my mom’s.  The filling was similar, too:  ricotta with a little spinach, and maybe a slightly sharper cheese.  The sauce was a simple tomato sauce with basil and some kind of a wilted green.  And pomegranate seeds.  I’m guessing this was the mystery ingredient.  They weren’t abundant, but the dozen or so seeds sprinkled around the edges went fantastically with the pomodoro.  I mean, really good.  The sweetness and sourness of the fruit was dulled when warmed, and the juice that splashed out had a round, deep red flavor.  I ate my three perfect tortelloni and wiped my plate with a selection of bread.

While I ate I was treated to a view of life in Venice.  The little Locanda is on a back canal, out of the way, but near a lot of things.  The people who come here aren’t likely to happen past and just stop in.  It’s either people who are staying in the hotel, people who know of it, or friends of the family.  Last night I saw a mixture of all three.  I listened to people talking in German, English, Italian and French.

The white-jacketed and slightly-nervous waiter bustled around the small dining area, waiting on the four tables.  And Georgio, one of the men who runs the Locanda, sat eating with friends in the corner while children and a dog came through the front door to greet him.  At one point, a round older man in a bright orange jacket toddled in.  He nodded at the man behind the desk and walked behind the bar where he made himself a coffee.  He downed it in one slug, spoke a few words, and left.  I chuckled.

And then my vegetables came and I lost track of anything else going on around me.

Verdure

I am honestly not sure that words can describe how delicious these were.  I’ll try.  On the plate was a heap of spinach cooked with a little salt.  It was very nice.  And peperonate.  I had considered ordering a plate of this by itself, so I was pretty excited.  My little Oxford dictionary says that peperonata is “peppers cooked in olive oil with tomato, onion and garlic”.  That’s what it was, alright.  And it was divine.  Sweet and amazing.

The best part of the dish, however, was the eggplant.  The menu listed “melanzane alla funghetti”.  Sounds like something to do with mushrooms.  My little book didn’t have an answer.  If I had to guess, it was prepared in the manner of mushrooms – pan fried with butter.  The strips of eggplant were about 2 inches long and half an inch wide, and had no seeds.  Just the skin and a little flesh were cooked until almost crispy and practically caramelized.  They were rich and deeply flavorful and lovely.  I had to slow myself down so that I could enjoy the entire plate of vegetables and not just cram it all into my mouth.

So far, I was very happy with my dinner selections, and my waiter seemed pleased too.  He chanced a nervous smile at me as he removed from the table dishes that were wiped clean.

He brought me a menu again, and I pulled out my dictionary.  Still, it was pretty much useless.  I could interpret “gelato” and “torta” but the other words were almost unintelligible, and my little book had no answers.  “Una domanda?”  I had a question.  First, I found out that the thing that had the most exotic name was a dessert wine – it came with a cookie.  Well, I like cookies, but the wine wasn’t really what I was looking for.  So I tried another angle.  “Qual e fatti in casa?”  Usually when something is made in the house “fatti in casa” it’s got a better shot of being fresh and interesting.

He turned from the menu and looked at me.  I had asked a good question.  “Torta pere con vaniglia gelato.”  The pear cake with vanilla gelato was my best choice.  I’m all for recommendations, so I ordered one – along with a coffee.

While I waited, I took a gander at the room.  The dark wood paneling and white tablecloths make this otherwise forgettable room feel fancy, and the artwork cluttering the walls is interesting.  There is artwork everywhere throughout this place – in the dining areas, the stairwell, the common areas and guestrooms.  I am woefully ignorant of Italian (okay not just Italian) artists, so I can’t say with certainty, but it seems that these pieces are original works from important, avant garde artists – many of whom have dedicated the works to the good people at the Locanda.  I surveyed the room, taking in the comfortable atmosphere and watching newcomers arrive.

Locanda Art

And then my torta arrived.

Pear torta

The warm, spongy cake had just the right amount of delicate pears, and was wonderful when combined with a small forkful of the gelato.

I spent some time just sitting, listening to the different languages, and thumbing through the “key phrases” section of my dictionary.  I found one phrase and I read it over a couple of times, committing to memory, “Vorrei fermarci un altra note” “I’d like to stay another night.”

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3 comments

1 Frank { 11.30.09 at 6:43 pm }

You’re absolutely right about the melanzane: it was cooked in the manner of funghetti, “little mushrooms,” although almost certainly in olive oil rather than butter. My guess is that the confusion over the mystery ingredient in your tortelloni was the Italian word for pomegranate — “melograno,” which could easily sound like “al romano” given the strong Venetian accent. Interesting idea, mixing those seeds with sugo di pomodoro. As for the other mysteries, they may well have involved the Venetian dialect, which is full of words that other Italians don’t recognize.

2 big mama's buddy { 12.01.09 at 5:52 pm }

Oh, you make me wish I were there!!!

3 KFlick { 12.01.09 at 6:15 pm }

You come with me next time! Bring the mama!

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