Buon Pranzo (Have a good lunch!)
27 Febbriao – Sabato
As we enter Asolo, the town of one hundred horizons, it is immediately obvious we are in a special place in Italy even among many special places. Asolo sits high up in the hills and the curved streets leading to “ il centro” are filled with gated villas and very chic boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
Robert Browning wrote his final poem, “Asolando” while living here and the famous stage actress, Elenora Duse, lived her final days here as well, and is buried in its cemetery. As we turn into the main piazza, we see the hotel named after her.
After a long dull winter in Indiana, we are absolutely enthralled with the idea of sitting outside and the Bar Centrale is a magnet for winter weary souls. Very sophisticated Italians, dressed to the nines in Ferragamo, are sitting at tables “al fresco”, soaking up the sun. We find a parking place close by and while Aak parks, Carol and I find the last empty table in the sun at Bar Centrale. There is no wind and the sun and heat feel divine on our faces. We order “tre bicchiere di vino bianco” and they arrive at the table as Aak joins us.
As we enjoy this beautiful atmosphere, watching the locals come and go, I cannot help but think how differently people dress in Italy and other cities of Europe than in America. There is a sense of pride and fashion and yet in such a natural way. I see no sneakers, khakis or golf shirts on the men. An elegant lady glides by, wrapped up in a soft orange cashmere stole….her silver hair pulled back and Carol and I both notice how beautiful she is.
We are getting hungry, but the bar really only offers drinks and gelato, so while Aak remains to enjoy another glass of vino, Carol and I agree to find our lunch spot. We have asked for recommendations from our albergo and have a place written down called Osteria Ca D’Erton.
We find it and I get our table for three while Carol goes to retrieve Aak. It is a beautiful restaurant and with Aldo Bernardi fixtures installed throughout! The background music is American standards ala Cole Porter and that era. The restaurant is owned by Nino and his mother, Antoinetta.
We have an outstanding lunch. We are still in love with the rucola salad we had the night before, so order that. We share dishes that include suckling pig (that has been cooked for 22 hours we are told and we believe it when we taste it); local handmade sausage; sea bass that has been baked slowly in olive oil in a foamy, creamy yet light sauce, gnocchi with a sauce made purely of vegetables, including a bright green broccoli. The sauce is so green, it looks like food coloring has been added. The gnocchi melts in the mouth. Veal cheeks, braised, likewise melted in the mouth, and the juice is soaked up by the layer of potato puree underneath.
We order a local white sauvignon blanc (after a first glass of prosecco, which comes with every meal, it seems). There is no room for dessert, but a tray of cantucci and other biscotti (including a type made with polenta and raisins) arrive with our espresso.
The chef, Nino, tall and always smiling, takes great delight that we enjoy our meals. He is very enthusiastic (when the dish of veal cheeks arrived, he asked me to break a bread stick in half and insert it into the meat so I would be convinced of its tenderness).
We visit with him afterwards and he shows us the room where one can have a private meal, surrounded by all the wines and liquors offered, including an array of grappas.
When we leave the restaurant, it is going on four and we briefly discuss the idea of going back to the hotel, taking a pisolino (nap) and coming back that evening. But the shops are opening and there is the castle and we want to see and the Hotel Cipriani and one thing leads to another. We see many shops have closed and it is sadly evident that the bad economy reaches even into this beautiful place.
We notice several places for rent or purchase and imagine having a small office and pied a terre here. We wander the gardens of Cipriani and take photos of the landscape. Likewise, walking up to the castle and looking out over its walls, the light is changing into sunset and it is easy to understand how this town got its name, the town of one hundred horizons. Yes, a poet could find all the inspiration he or she needed right here.
We meet Paolo, the owner of an enoteca. I want to know more about Passito and Amarone and he is more than happy to educate us. Paolo is charming and wicked in a fun way, so we decide we might come back later to enjoy a drink, but we are still so full from lunch, we can’t imagine imbibing anything in this moment. We say arriverderci to Paolo.
Then we find Ennio. A store selling the particular pastries, ingredients, wine and such from the region fills the windows and after taking a photo or two, we are compelled to go in. We spend an hour in Ennio’s store, which he says has been in existence for 160 years. Ennio has a very deep and raspy voice, that sounds as if he has a physical impairment, but we understand him. He shows us the best of the best from porcini mushrooms to grappa to olive oil to balsamic vinegar to flour to make pasta, to honey to risotto, to special pastries to prosciutto di parma to formaggio. He gives us samples and we buy everything, especially when he gives the product a little pat and says, “e stupendo!” We walk out with several heavy bags and feel we have made a new friend. Ennio.
We wander in and of shops….one selling a dizzying amount of expensive and antique silver, a clothing boutique of fine Italian linen in muted colors…..
By this time, we are thirsty and decide to see Paolo for a glass of wine and further amusement. He suggests an Amarone which Aak and I order. Carol orders Pino, which comes from Toscana and is a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet. We agree hers is best, but the Amarone I have not enjoyed for a very long time and it is one of my favorites.
We say, let’s buy a bottle of Pino and go back to the albergo, enjoy a few slices of prosciutto e parmigiano on slices of the bread we bought from Ennio, sit outside perhaps. Perche non? (Paolo says he only has one bottle of Pino and it is a Riserva – 80 euros! Troppo caro, we say. We buy a local cabernet instead.) Va bene.
Back at the albergo, we do just that, but there is no place to go outside, We see it has been taken over by young Saturday night revelers. We sit in a quiet dining room, light our candles and enjoy our picnic. We drink the bottle and relive our excellent day…..Palladio’s villa, the Hotel Cipriani, Nino’s restaurant, Ennio’s grocery, the drive through the countryside in sunshine.