Tales of a wandering lesbian

Lo Chef Consiglia

I never made a reservation for dinner while I was in Venice.  I’d just pick out one I liked based on a guidebook or a friend’s recommendation and head there to check out the menu.  If I liked it, I’d check for availability.  Tonight I was going to try for Casin dei Nobili, a place I’d passed virtually every day as I set out from the hotel to explore the city.  After the short walk, I examined the menu.  There was really nothing on the regular menu in the way of vegetarian fare, but at least one of the dishes listed on the specials sheet (entitled “Lo Chef Consiglia” – “the chef recommends”) had promise.

This place was clearly family run.  The grandmother behind the counter was a good indicator.  They had a table for me, but I’d have 90 minutes until they needed it for the next reservation.  Okay.  That should be doable.  Three courses, 30 minutes each.  The only thing that worried me was the phrase “slow food” placed proudly in the menu’s Italian description of the restaurant.

My table was in the corner, practically WITH a couple that appeared to be honeymooning.  The waiter pulled the tables apart about 4 inches to give us each some privacy.  I mean really I didn’t want these people listening in on my conversations with myself.  I put my little dictionary in my lap, and checked the time.  The race was on.

After the initial “hi, how’s it going, I’m sorry I don’t speak Italian well, and I’m a vegetarian” my waitress and I got underway.  Yes, there was something that I could eat.  Yes, the item on the chef’s recommendations (Girella di pasta in “cocot” fatta in casa con ricotta e spinacetti) was vegetarian – so long as I ate cheese.  I assumed the ricotta in the description was the cheese she was referring to.  I was blissfully wrong.

Giro pasta

The moat of bubbling cream and cheese was what she was referring to.  I don’t really know what this was, other than pasta, cheese, spinach and more cheese.  It was brilliant.  The thin maccheroni noodles had been laid flat, slathered with spinach and ricotta, then rolled, shaped and cut into sushi-style pieces, before being baked or broiled, or something, in the creamy cheesy mixture.  I was just a little disappointed that there was no parmegian on the table.

Next came the mixed vegetable plate that I’ve become accustomed to ordering as a secondi.  And tonight, I added potato croquettes.

The plate of vegetables was beautiful.  I’d been eyeing up my neighbor’s plate of peas, so I headed for these first, plunging my eager fork.  And stopping.  Pancetta.  Darn.  Ham is not a vegetable, people.  Even if it’s part of a vegetable dish.  Not a vegetable.  So, I pulled out the little bits, and thought of all my friends who would be yelling at me for leaving the salty, bacony pieces on the plate.

Verdura w ham

I ate every last piece of the vegetable plate, and wiped up the remaining oil and balsamic with the croquettes (fried, mashed potato sticks).

Potato croquettes

I checked the clock.  I still had 45 minutes to order and eat dessert, and to pay.  It was doable if we all worked together.    I looked around for my waitress.  She assured me she’d come back with a dessert menu and then talked with the couple next to me, telling them about the desserts in Italian.  I will know that I have mastered the language when I don’t have to have someone bring me a menu so that I can work it out with my little dictionary.

The menu took some time to arrive, but I was glad to have it.  The menu had some additional items that the waitress hadn’t mentioned.  A cherry Parfle “with crunchy bits”.  Interesting.  I was expecting a parfait, you know, some kind of a layered thing with cereal or something.  I got something even more interesting.


I’m pretty sure this was some kind of ice cream thing.  It had a lovely frozen, pink, creamy inside, the drizzle of winter cherry, and was rolled in – PEANUTS!  I hadn’t fully appreciated how much I like peanuts until that moment.  Peanuts, which are used in just about everything in the US, aren’t used that often in Italian cooking.  I’m used to eating my should-be-famous cookies twice a day, every day, but I haven’t had a peanut in 5 weeks.  The peanut crust on this dessert made it seem exotic, compared to the torta, tiramisu, and pumpkin pudding I’d been eating.  And that made me laugh.

(Please note:  directly after writing this, I went to have coffee at a restaurant above the studio.  There were peanuts on the bar.  Evidently, that’s common for bars, just like the US.  Maybe peanuts aren’t so common in cooking, but they’re common as bar food.)

I scarfed this thing down.  I think I had it eaten before my coffee arrived, which was a good thing, given the time constraints.  Two mouthfuls of espresso later, and I was ready for the check.  The check.  This can be a challenge.  Unlike US restaurants, that usually want to push you out the door and bring you a check before you’ve even ordered dessert, pretty much all the restaurants I’ve gone to in Italy will let you sit forever and never bring a check until you ask for it.

So I asked for it.  There were 10 minutes left in my allotted time, and I was getting nervous.  Five minutes later I was downright worried.  So I gathered up my dictionary, coat and bag and headed to the front to pay.  A man who looked like the husband of the grandmother at the counter calculated my bill and I left with about two minutes to spare.  The 90 minute rush added a little stress to my dinner that I didn’t especially enjoy, but the plates of excellent food made up for it.  Another 2 minutes, and I was back at the lantern, wondering how the city would change my plans for tomorrow.

Locanda lamp

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1 comment

1 Dad { 12.03.09 at 3:31 pm }

Another wonderful cullinary experience…..I could taste the pasta (and Pancetta). I will miss the pictures of Venice when you head back to Barga but am looking forward to the next adventure…..