Friday, August 10, 2007

Bravo to LA BASTIGLIA in the teeny weeny town of Spello near Assisi

One of mour best meals in Italy was had last night as we drive to Spello (30 mins from Perugia and about 10 mins from Assisi) to discover the single Michelin-starred LA BASTIGLIA. We were lucky our car was not too wide, as one has to traverse the town's medieval gate and walls and make way through narrow stone streets to find a grogeous view over the valley from the outdoor terrace of this wonderful spot. Sadly, it had rained part of the day, and the weather was iffy, so we dined inside in an eclectic old-style room with lots of artwork both modern and ancient. The star last night was, however, the food of chef MARCO GUBBROTTI, who incidentally was the first chef in any restaurant we have dined at in Italy to come around and greet the guests after dinner!

We started with a wine from Spello itself the VILLA FIDELDIA blend of Chardonnay and Grachetto (the local white grape of Umbria) 2004 from Sportoletti Winery which was a French style chardonnay with an amazing flavor that works with so many dishes.

The amuse was a four-in-one with a Fresh fig and slice of prok cheek (cured and cooked like bacon) wedged into ir; a wtaermelon jelly with mussel and licorice that was quite tasty and had only a hint of licorice so as not to displease me; a melon & bottarga (Sicilian raisin and dried fish egg) shooter(!!!) that was totally refreshing and tasty; and a Raw Local Salami wrapped in paper thin cucumber. All of these were clear cues that what was to come would be a truly wonderful experience in local Umbrian cuisine. Chef Gubbrotti prides himself on modern cuisine, but uses only the ingredients native to Umbria and Italy to their best possible advantage. Our tasting menu at an amazing 60-something Euros started with TUNA THREE STYLES: Raw tartare served in a cylcinder on apple and vegetables diced so small we could not decipher what they all were with fresh fennel and fennel flower as well for an added burst of taste; SMOKED with PISTACCHIO crust and served with a grated flash frozen BUFALA MOZZARELLA which came out like a fluffy parmesan but with mozzarella taste(an ingenious treatment to a fabulous cheese); STEAMED in a mini-jam jar with EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL. It was hard ti choose which was my favorite since all three were so good, but I think the Smoked with Pistacchio & Mozzarella won first place for taste and ingenuity as well.

Next came PIGEON with a Roasted Breast and a Rare(cooked rare that is) Salami (of Pigeon) formed into a crucifix(!!!) with a salad of cooked mixed cherries. Again the use of fresh spices abounded with spicy mint, rosemary, fennel flower and more.The dish was another coup (although I wish I had a light red for this course).

We moved on to a wonderfully presented TOMATO SOUP with basil and a cylinder pilaf of thinly shaved OCTOPUS and RICE in the middle. The octopus was so tender and the soup was the best tomato (which I am not a big fan of) that I have ever had. The bowl looked like it had been made from Sister Bertrille's nun's hat in the Flying Nun with a big hollow in the center for the soup.

Our red wine was another dreamy local treat from the local organic winery of Paolo BEA, a 2003 MONTEFALCO ROSSO (the bottle was actually numbered due to small production-we got #1996) which here was a blend of 70% Sangiovese,15% Sagrantino and 15% Montepulciano. With this deep intense red we started the heavier courses with a superb ROASTED GOOSE RAVIOLI with a sauce of Celery, Citara Anchovies (very mild from Napoli) and Pantelleria Capers. The entree of ROAST SUCKLING PIG was both a success and a disappointment with a PORCHETTA TERRINE made from the pig, and served on a SWEET PEPPER GATEAU. The roast pig itself was a nice piece but served without anything and abit simple and dry with Raw Vegetable Pinzimonio-a local treatment of crudite served with extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper.

With dessert we were back in the swing with APPLE on "THREE" consisting of ANNURCA APPLE SORBET, TATIN of GOLDEN APPLE and SABLE of WALNUTS with GREEN APPLE. The Sable (shortbread-like) cookie was super with the apple as were both of the other treatments, and a glass of young calvados was graciously added on the side! As if this were not enough, next came a BANANA SORBETTO with Honey and ALCHERMES(?) which was a rich creamy and caramel-like treat. I was told the difference between sorbetto and gelato is the addition of eggs, but this banana sorbetto tasted more like rich gelato to me! Of course, more tasty treats arrived and we gobbled them all up to keep us going for the 30 minute ride back to Perugia in the rain. A refreshing icy ALMON MILK Shooter was a real cleanser, but we returned to rich and creamy with a PANNA COTTA of ROSEMARY & CHOCOLATE. The spongy AMARETTI Cookies were lighter than air and were the best I have ever had. Small FRUIT Biscuits and DARK CHOCOLATES (which Will insisted looked like male sex organs) rounded out the adorable plates. I must say that despite the small piece of dry pork, the entire meal, service and experience wins an A+ from us both.