When we first arrived, there was that moment when we hit the wall – exhausted, sleep-deprived and a little overcome by the unfamiliarity. We were totally unable to make a single decision, and finally at my nagging, I mean urging, the DH stopped a total stranger on the street and asked him to recommend somewhere to eat. Maybe he was ready to hear a voice on the subject other than mine at that point.
Our fellow, surprisingly, turned out to be a slow talker. You know, all the Italians you ever meet are lively, fast-talkers, who need hand signals to speed the narrative even more quickly along. Our fellow – perhaps he was an absent-minded professore – was all “Hmmm, a good place… Hmmm, let me think of a …. Hmmm, do you have a …? Well, there’s …. Hmmmm….” Eventually, after a great deal of consideration, he wrote down the name of a place, but by that time we were so worn out we just returned to the hotel.
Last night we finally visited his restaurant, the Padreterno. It was in a charming piazza, with a fountain in the middle and children playing around it. Tables with large umbrellas were set outside. Sadly, the fun stopped there. The food was a set menu of all fish, not Barry’s fave to sart with, and there was no menu to consult. One mystery antipasto followed another quickly, each one a puzzle.
I managed to winkle out of the surly waiter that the stuff that looked like grey spaghetti was cuttlefish. A relative of the calamari. Which is the polite word for squid. It was – interesting. I couldn’t call it delicious. Ditto the stuff that looked like a square of lasagna but tasted very fishy. And the marinated whole little fish, each about 4 inches long, with crunchy skin…oh, let me just stop there.
Added to that, the techno-music of the night club next door had us chewing to the beat, and we were done in no time flat.
It made me wonder if our professore was having a quiet chuckle to himself at our expense. Just our luck to meet the only passive-aggressive in all of Italy.
So tonight our antennae went up right away when we sat down at Il Pacchero, another restaurant that had no menu, and the waiter recommended their seafood antipasto. Salvatore had once worked for NATO, so his English was pretty good, and we hit it off. We even had enough time for a friendly chat, since Barry and I will persist in being the first customers everywhere we go, arriving promptly when the restaurants open at 7:30 p.m. and we were the only diners in the whole street.
(This doesn’t usually work in our favour, since you can’t tell the good places from the bad by the crowds, or lack of them – nobody else eats that early. In fact, by the time we are walking home at 11 p.m., things really start hopping. We just can’t hold out, however!)
Anyways, Salvatore did a bit of sweet talking and against our better judgment, we went for it. Oh my gosh, was it delicious – and a work of art! The cuttlefish was white, not grey, and served in a martini glass over a salad of pearl barley and fresh mint, with a mild pink sauce to sprinkle over top. Tempura julienned veggies were delivered in a paper cone; mussels, in a flavorful broth; warm gooey cheese was wrapped in a crunchy spun something; croquettes had potato and olive filling; and a smokey grilled eggplant and tomato dish to die for was served in a terra cotta dish. I could kick myself that I forgot about the camera until the plates were clean.
And that was the appetizer. Yeah, we really didn’t eat much else after that.
We were finishing up as other guests started arriving, and Salvatore had duties in the kitchen, so his Italian-only father took over as waiter. The Dutch couple at the next table were having trouble ordering, so we quickly came to an arrangement – they told me what they wanted in Dutch, I translated it to English, Barry translated it to Italian, and gave the order to Papa. We persuaded them to try the antipasti also – and our services earned Barry a free Limoncello at the end of the meal. Papa came back regularly to see if we wanted anything else – or if the Dutch couple did!
Salvatore’s mama, the chief cook, was taking a break out front when we left, and we exchanged a few broken pleasantries. She had two boys, I had two boys, we had a time bringing them up – oh, we understood each other well.
The food, the fun, and above all, the sense of genuine hospitality – now THAT’S Italian!