There is something special about waltzing into a restaurant to find a man slicing prosciutto with surgical precision while talking to his excited patrons.
You can see the prosciutto is not the pink, refined prosciutto di Parma you’re familiar with. It’s a Tuscan ham, a brick red, firecracker of flavor likely produced by a country farmer, a contadino. The hand slicing assures you that the meat will not be tainted by the heat generated by a mechanically rotated blade.
In short, you know you have stumbled into a great place to eat, even before you notice the young Bacchus naked above the phosphorescent fruit—or the bronze pig who gazes at the clever knife strokes with amazing calm.
Or the Santa Claus. Really.
Let’s pull back so you can see all this:
That’s Fernando waving his knife in rather dramatic fashion. It may look like he’s threatening the patrons but he’s not, despite the looks on their faces; it’s all a part of the theater that a good Tuscan repast tends to provoke.
So, done with his slicing, Fernando comes to our table. He drags a chair over and sits. He’s going to tell us of the food available. We surmise that it might take a while.
Fernando recites the whole menu in reverse. “The Dolce! Oh, we have incredible dolce!” Martha and I do a double take. Sweets? Have we finished our meal already?
He then continues to the meat courses, a list so loaded with all manner of animal flesh it’s like a guy describing his first visit to a zoo. Deer? Check. Partridge? Check. Wild pigeon? Check. No bear. I wonder where they hide the bear?
In any case, every animal comes from somewhere, and Fernando doesn’t miss telling us of the provenience of each.
Then it’s on through the pastas, then the antipasti. In the middle of explaining the vast menu he exclaims, “Ah, il perfumo! Ravioli di Carne!” Then he turns to the table behind us and Whamo! there’s a plate of the ravioli, the exact one he smelled.
Yes, the guy on the end is having the ricotta-filled ravioli with a Chianina ragu. The perfume! Fernando grabs the guy’s plate and waves it in front of Martha, encouraging her to take a lungful of beef. Then he tries to hand the plate back. The guy isn’t having it. He implores Fernando to let me stick my nose in it, which I then feel compelled to do.
Then I order it.
Martha orders some antipasti. Meanwhile Fernando goes back to his prosciutto and starts hacking away. He brings me a plate of it, daintily picks up a slice between thumb and forefinger and lays it on a piece of bread. He then picks up another slice of ham and lays it crossways on top of the previous slice in a sort of slow ritual way, then inches the whole boatload toward my mouth, showing me the exact angle the bread should enter my gaping maw (now quite a bit damper then usual) so that the perfumo and the taste should be exactly balanced.
No animal—of the many offered in the restaurant—is allowed to have died for nothing. Under the advanced tutelage of Fernando the magnificent, you will have derived so much pleasure from a small bit of flesh you will be left in a state of grace.
It occurs to me that this is not the same worshipful state as eating in a great restaurant in the US. In the colonies we are more apt to worship the skill of the chef while respecting the food by dressing in suits and ties and all manner of bodily cover-up that makes it uncomfortable to eat properly. That’s not the way Bacchus would do it. Or…maybe it’s just me, an old man not frightened that Fernando had touched my prosciutto with his hands.
It is not the clatter of forks that pierce the silence in the restaurant called “the throat of Bacchus” as one might expect in a fine eatery elsewhere. Italians talk. They pass the food around. They openly swoon over the great bits. It’s that theater again. It makes me giddier than it should. I can’t help it.
The pasta comes. Partridge over tagliatelle for Martha, Chianina ravioli for me, the “perfumo” leaving a trail through the room you can almost see.
So, the antipasti, the prosciutto, and the pastas have filled us up. We reluctantly go to pay. 47.50 euro for dinner, wine and the show. Martha tells them to keep the change as a small tip. Fernando is baffled, recovers, and walks behind the refrigerated case to pull out a bottle of the restaurant’s deer sauce. He puts it in the bag and tells us just to warm it up and put it on any pasta we’d like. A parting gift.
I could see Santa Claus smiling as Fernando returned to his prosciutto.
La Gola di Bacco enoteca – braceria
Via Valdinievole, 48-50, Galleno (PI)
Tel. 0571 – 299523