Along the way to town to start my day, I stopped for an espresso and breakfast-local salami and pecorino cheese. It’s in this quiet stillness that I have become increasingly aware of the brewing sense of urgency that interupts my ability to fully appreciate the moment. Maybe it’s that I’m on vacation and without the daily responsibilities or maybe it’s the limited access to wifi, but nonetheless it’s been in this initial discomfort of being still that my senses have heightened. Espresso has never tasted so good and how can I not now take the time to start my day with fresh salami and perconi cheese?
I spent the afternoon wandering the narrow brick roads of San Gimignano. A town that bustles behind its grand stone walls and towers. I read somewhere that Dante himself stood on these bricks to address the towns council in 1299. Little ally’s diverge in a labyrinth around its squares. In some areas laundry hangs high beneath the wooden shutters.
It was in one of these areas that I came across a resteraunt who’s menu, encased in glass like an ancient manuscript, drew me in. ‘Cum Quibus’
The decor resembled the bedroom of an eclectic Italian opera singer. Chandeliers, brick walls, velvet curtains and Nina Simone playing in the background.
The waiter presented the menu. His eyes widened when I announced I would like to try the tasting menu -espressione (in Italian). 8 courses complete with wine pairings. I pushed my chair up to the table and gently unfolded the napkin on my lap. And so it began..
Before starting the procession of courses I was given an amuse bouche-chicken liver encased in squid ink gelatine. Nestled in an oyster shell like a black pearl.
1. Spring salad with warm goat cheese mousse. Once presented, the waiter shaved fresh truffle on my salad and when he sensed my visible delight and amazement he came back to offer more.
It was at this moment I noticed the waiter bring the couple next to me an enormous cut of raw meat for inspection and being the daughter of a logger it is a lot for me to say this cut of meat was impressive.
2. Snails with salad, tarragon sponge, porcini mushroom, garlic and beer reduction. Why had I not ever thought to reduce beer!!!
The couple received their steak presented grandly on its own on a piece of warmed slate. I must have drooled a little because they offered me some. I politely declined.
3. Duck foie gras (escalope and granache), medlar (a fruit I had not heard of before),vanilla and vin Brule. As a shameless lover of foie gras this felt like Christmas. I giggled a little in excitement.
4. Tortellini stuffed with lamb, thyme, lobster in its own consommé.
The man holds up the clean bone and triumphantly exclaims in a thick Italian accent “dis is caallled fooood porn”. Hell ya it is.
5. Fake risotto (meaning it was not rice it was actually celeriac) sweetbread and horseradish foam.
My drawn out sigh forshadowed the start of my decline. The man next to me says “la notte e giovane” The night is young. His wife corrects him ..I need to learn the word “piano” (means slowly) she says. They bicker a little then he laughs and says “I listen and I repeat.” She nods in approval.
6. Raman with pork cheek, nori seaweed, oyster and dashi (served with a local beer).
By this time I notice the chefs, who look like Italian samurais with thier red bandanas tied around their foreheads, are peering through the kitchen windows. It is as though there is a secret wager on whether or not I will finish my meal. “Stand back and watch me Paul”.
7. Quail filled with foie gras, chicory, plum sauce, Porto reduction.
Yup. Apparently there is a limit to which I can eat. But resistance is futile.”piano” -slowly.
8. And finally chocolate with salt and olive oil.
I collapse like a pregnant women in labour, my back arched, rubbing my belly. The waiter gives me lemonchello on the house and a high five.
I toddle back like pac man to the vineyard.