A Dark and Foodie Night
Story and photos by Tom Weber
was a dark and stormy night..."
These seven words, joined at the hip, form
an often mocked and parodied phrase quilled by English novelist Edward
Buwler-Lytton in the opening sentence of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.
Literary criticism aside, Buwler-Lytton's
narrative just happens to set the stage perfectly for what I'm about
With my umbrella at the ready, the skies
above a foreboding preamble of what's to come, I join my band of merry
media special guests of Insight Vacations on its abbreviated
Country Roads of Italy journey for a dark and stormy night
of wine tasting and regional food in the piccolo borgo (little
hamlet) of Scorgiano overlooking the Val d'Elsa in the Bel Paese's
It is here, in the heart of Chianti wine
country, that our Insight motorcoach comes to a full stop.
We dismount and head inside the renovated
scuderie (stables) of a 17th century villa on the grounds of
Bichi Borghesi (TBB) estate.
Welcomed by our gracious host, Niccolò
Simonelli, we get down to serious business straight away underneath
the barreled, brick stable ceilings, where horses and farm equipment
Around crunchy bruschetta drizzled
with delicious extra virgin olive oil, and locally made salami and cheeses,
the vintner-owner-general manager describes in detail the estate's trio
of superb wines, all grown in the family's vineyards and blended and
aged on site.
As each label is announced, eager attendants
appear and pour generous portions of the grape into each of our glasses.
Coppiole Riserva DOCG. Swirl.
Bonico IGT. Swirl. Smell.
Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG.
Swirl. Smell. Sip.
Two hours later and way too much wine consumed,
but thoroughly enjoyed, we thank Niccolò and staff for their
hospitality, exit the scuderie of TBB, passing well-lit glass
cases along the way spotlighting bottles of long-ago vintages, and step
out into the rain.
Our dark and stormy night of epicurean
delight continues as we make our way on foot through the hamlet, clutching
at umbrellas struggling to stay open against the windy downpour, and
make our way to the launching pad.
It's Ristorante L'Astronave, or
Spaceship Restaurant, a former disco turned eatery, where the locals
come for authentic, regional dishes. Nothing more, nothing less.
Nary the look of either the Kennedy Space
Center or NASA's mission control, L'Astronave is a simple, straightforward,
family-run trattoria. Mamma Flavia's the chef, son Marco's the
headwaiter, and younger brother Franco and English fiancé Sarah
bring up the rear. To be frank, the ambience is bare bones, but the
kitchen's why we're here.
Already about half tossed from the wine
tasting over at TBB, our band of merry media takes their places at one
very long tavola, covered in lily-white tablecloths and accented
by candlelight, that runs the length of the restaurant.
We've been promised authentic down-home
Tuscan cooking by Belinda, Insight's tour director-slash-storyteller,
and, by golly, we're going to have it!
Bottles of local red and white jump-start
our dinner party, as Marco, brother and fiancé begin the parade
of our five, count 'em, FIVE-course meal.
Gigantic trays of antipasti arrive filled
with cold cuts, cheeses and olive Ascolani minced meat-stuffed
olives Ascoli Piceno style, battered and quickly deep-fried.
Our primo (first course) is a bis
(two) of pasta: risotto and the Tuscan classic, pici (thick,
hand-rolled strands) in a white pork ragù.
Next, a mixed-grill main course of pork
chops, sausages, chicken and Tagliata Toscana (thin cuts of Tuscan
beef cooked rare over an open fire), complimented with roasted new potatoes
and market-fresh baby greens.
At this stage of our version of La Grande
Abbuffata (The Big Feast) the Franco-Italiano
flick about four BFBs who gather at a country villa and gorge themselves
into oblivion a short pausa (break) is needed to allow
the wait staff time to clear the table of spent dishes and prep for
i dolci (desserts). Why don't we take five, too, and see how
some of the band of merry media are holding up.
The best part of la cena (dinner)
arrives, desserts in the form of the classic Torta della Nona
(Grandmother's cake) and cantucci (or biscotti, twice-baked
cookies) served with cordials of vin santo (sweet "holy"
wine). And we close the book on this rather long feedbag with cups of
strong espresso Macchiato, per favore all around.
Bellies full and heads slightly a buzz
no surprise there we pub crawl our way out of Ristorante
L'Astronave, through the still "dark and stormy night," clamor
aboard the motorcoach, and head for our temporary abode, Borgo
San Luigi, the sprawling Tuscan villa-estate, just over the hill
and around the bend.
On the way, Belinda gives out tomorrow's
marching orders: Luggage packed and standing outside your doors no
later than 7:00 a.m. as we MUST depart for the Ferrari Museum
in Maranello by 8 o'clock sharp.
YES, DRILL SERGEANT! someone
anonymously yells out from the back of the motorcoach.
For complete information on Insight
Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, where
you'll savor great wines and fine dining along the way, and over 100
journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE,
or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you tomorrow inside the Ferrari Museum
where we'll kick the tires on a few redheads.
Gimignano: Scraping the Tuscan Sky; Paparazzi
at the Osteria; Chianti
Pours Forth from Fonterutoli; Cortona:
Under the Renovated Tuscan Sun; Linnertime
in Spello; Take
Me Home Country Roads