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Agro Tour: Il Paese dei Campanelli
by Don and Peg Doman
Sometimes you go looking for good food and sometimes it just comes looking for you.
While visiting the hilltop across the valley from our villa, The Castello di Pastine, Sue, Debbie, and Jan encountered a woman who invited us all to her restaurant, Il Paese dei Campanelli. No one was sure what was in store, but we were there at 7:30 pm for our dinner reservation.
We drove our Fiat van past the chicken coop and parked beside the vineyard. We walked past the garage and house as we followed the path to the dining area. The backyard was cool and well cared for. The covered patio was perfect. A long table was set for ten people. Gold cloth panels of draper helped define the formal dining space. Linen tablecloths, upholstery, and napkins all matched. The napkin rings were fashioned out of baked bread dough. According to Rob, there were not edible.
Serving chargers were by Limoges, which is always the way to win the hearts of Peg and me. Peg’s engagement ring is an antique, miniature, enameled portrait (with the Limoges signature) in a heavy gold setting surrounded by seed pearls. It was part of an estate sale offered for purchase in 1966. Peg fell in love with it, and of course I surprised her with it. The Limoges factory was destroyed during World War II, but has returned to captured some of its former glory. Limoges was a favored manufacturer and designer of fine dinnerware and jewelry during Victorian times.
Our waitress brought out menus and a wine list, Sue asked if they had a house wine and the waitress looked at us like we were crazy and gestured towards the vineyard. The Chianti was served in a heavy silver pitcher. As usual the “house wine” in Tuscany was excellent and went well with everything. If someone had been assigned to keep me awake, I could have emptied the pitcher many times during the evening.
The group ordered three “house” appetizers, while Peg and I ordered a fish appetizer in addition. In addition to these food items we were also served little slices of pizza and bread balls and toothy dinner rolls.
The fish appetizer featured a fish salad that accompanied various pieces of fish and shellfish from shrimp in mayonnaise to deep fried sardines. My favorite was the stuffed squid, which was served resembling a snail with fake antennae near where the head would be.
The first and second courses produced both joyful and disappointing results. Donn and Rob ordered the Tagliare noodles with pork. They really enjoyed their selections. I would have also. Unfortunately, I ordered “short” pasta with scrambled eggs and bacon with asparagus, which sounded interesting. However, the short pasta turned out to be ear shaped pasta, which I have never liked. The tagliare noodles turned out to be the wide lasagnetta noodles, which I adore. You never know until you order . . . or look on someone else’s plate.
Usually with a large group you get enough people ordering something new, you are bound to find items you love and items you could do without. That philosophy did work that night, but while we should have felt overwhelmed by some items we weren't. I don't think it was the fault of the restaurant, however. I think the wrong people just had the wrong food at the wrong time.
My roasted vegetables were too salty. My grilled meat was mostly overdone. Sue’s substitution of stuffed rabbit for stuffed chicken left her looking at meat too pink for her taste. Mike’s steak under salt, was almost inedible for him, but it was served just like it said on the menu and I would probably have loved it. Vickie was surprised with seafood pasta, which she didn’t remember ordering and then this was followed by deep fried lamb, which she offered to me. Normally, I would have grabbed it, but in Italy I was already an order or two past being full. Peg would have loved the lamb, but was busy consuming what was on her own dish.
Vickie's lamb and my grilled meats formed the basis of our homemade zuppa the next evening, however. Actually, the rabbit was bound for the soup pot as well, but it tried to escape. I liked it. The surroundings were elegant, the wait staff helpful, and the food was good. We were just ordering the wrong things for us. That’s part of the adventure in being strangers in a strange land.
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