Saturday, October 10, 2009
Our last night in Italy we dined close to home in Chiusi. Having been lost several times in this town, it hadn't endeared itself to us, but it was the nearest larger town and was as far as we were willing to drive with an early departure time the next morning.
Having already consulted the travel books and the list our hosts sent us, we knew that La Solito Zuppa was the right choice. After getting lost before finding it, we made our way to the cozy bistro. We were greeted at the door by lovely owner Luana Pacchieri and seated at our reserved table near the hostess station at the front of the restaurant. She asked which type of bottled water we preferred, "con gassata" or "naturale", and if we'd like the house wine. Since the other diners all had carafes of red wine and no bottles in sight, it seemed like the thing to do. It was delicious. Luana told us that it was from a vineyard in Montalcino and the grapes were 100% Sangiovese. We didn't know how much it cost until we paid at the register at the end of the night, but we didn't think it would be outrageous and at eleven euros, it wasn't.
Luana's husband, Roberto, came to the table in short order and after determining that we'd like to hear the menu in English (we could have also chosen Italian, Spanish, German or French) he began to tell us about the way they serve dinner there. He told us that we would begin with our choice of soup or pasta, then described five or so choices from each category. He told us that the portions were small and not to worry. We both chose ravioli, one in a butter sage sauce and one in a tomato sauce. The ravioli appeared to be green gnocchi when it came to the table, but we enjoyed the dishes nonetheless.
From the list of secondi Roberto recited and described, Gnome chose the cinghiale, a regional wild boar specialty, and I chose the salt cod in a light tomato sauce. The chef chose our individual (though still shareable) contorni: pureed potato with nutmeg and smoked lentils, chick peas and cannelini beans in olive oil. Delish.
It was too dark in the restaurant to take decent photos of our plates, but the ceiling shot at the top shows a wall full of Slow Food awards. When I noticed them and mentioned it to Luana, she said, "You like Slow Food?" and reached for the latest Italian edition of the group's magazine, opening it to the article celebrating La Solito Zuppa's 25th anniversary. Bonus!
Full but not wantinng to miss out on any delicious desserts, I chose a no-sugar chocolate mousse. A big fan of dark chocolate, I wasn't worried when Roberto restated that there was no sugar in the dish. The pudding came in a shallow bowl and was indeed bitter, but it was topped with a dark chocolate cookie crumble that sweetened it up a bit. I could have enjoyed it very well with the remaining house wine in my class, but Luana showed up at the table opening up a bottle of a fortified wine saying that it went with the dessert. It wasn't my cup of tea, too bitter and sweet at the same time with some unusual spices, but I liked that they automatically served liqueurs with their desserts. The couple at the table next to us were poured a Prosecco with their sorbets.
About that couple. They were young, Italian, and fit, yet they managed to eat five or six courses, including a cheese plate, with no trouble. How do they do it? Is it all the walking? It's not because they skipped lunch, because that's another two hour affair.
Our mystery bill was very reasonable, in fact Gnome pointed out that a similar meal in an American restaurant, should we be able to find one, would have cost us more than double. It was a great way to end our trip.
Happy Anniversary, La Solito Zuppa, Luana and Roberto!