Tuesday, May 7, 2013

This Is What a $4 Cup of Coffee Looks Like

Not Cafe Americano

"The passion of the Italian or Italian-American
population is endless for food and lore 
and everything about it."
~ Mario Batali

Call me a liar.  

I was going to write about the fact that we got home from a short trip to Assisi (actually Sta. Maria degli Angeli) yesterday afternoon to find that we didn't have water.  We weren't the only ones.  The water was off in the entire town of Spoleto.  According to Mike, it came back on in the middle of the night instead of the 6 pm officials originally promised.

At any rate, I decided, instead, to  discuss dinner tonight because the water can wait.  The food is still fresh and needs to get out there before it cools down.  (How do you like that play on words?  :-)  )

I've cooked every night since Bob and Steph left, so we decided to go out tonight.  We chose Il Templo del Gusto because it gets rave reviews from locals and tripadvisor alike. 

It had rained again today, so when it stopped about 5:30 or so, we decided to take a walk until the restaurant opened at 7.  Of course, we were about 4 blocks uphill from our flat when the drizzle started again.  Even though it was only 6;30, we headed to the restaurant in hopes that they had a bar that opened earlier.  They didn't.m Worse, the drizzle turned into rain.

"What do you want to do for 30 minutes?" Mike asked me.

"Let's go to our coffee place for a bit," I replied.  "It's close, and we can get something to tide us over."

We scurried down the street and into Cafe degli Artisti, and who is there to greet us but our friend, Francesco. (See photo below.)


Francesco is a bit of a character who has attached himself to us whenever he sees us.  He speaks fairly good English, loves American women, wants to travel to America (but only after he finds an American woman), loves American music (Dance-a weet-a me...), Love Coca Cola ("Eet's the ree-all teeng!") and wants to open a hotel because he doesn't want to be a baker like his father, brother and uncle.

Mike ordered cafe americano and a Coke for our buddy who had to  join us. I ordered an espresso because, quite frankly, I need the caffeine buzz to deal with Francesco. My espresso arrived at the same time a glass of red stuff (See top photo.) for Mike did.

"What's this?" he asked me. I shrugged.  "Is it mine?"  Duh. The bar guy had put it right in front of him.

"I think so.  He put it right in front of you."

"I didn't order that," Mike said to me.  Hello.  Tell the bar guy, not me.  He did, got it straightened out, and finally got his coffee.

"So, yesterday no water," I said in Italian to Francesco.

"Eet oh-ful," he said. "All-a Spoleto wheat-oat-a whoa-ter."

"Much rain, though," Mike said.

"Mooch-a mooch-a rain-a."

We continued the conversation this way for another 15 minutes or so, touching on everything from American women (again), American music (again), Coca Cola (again), the cafe (the "hot" spot in Spoleto) and the new pope (He take-a my-a nem.")

"You ready?" Mike asked me and, upon seeing my nod, told Francesco we were going to dinner. 

"I see you tomorrow," Francesco yelled after us as we headed through the door. I moved a little faster.

"You looked like you were going to have a meltdown," Mike said to me as we walked down the street. "I thought we better get out of there."

"Thanks.  He was giving me a huge headache. I think I'm becoming immune to the espresso."

Piatti Regionale

I think I've mentioned this before, but in Italian restaurants, one normally orders an appetizer, pasta (Primi Piatti), meat or fist (Secondi Piatti), salad (for after dinner) wine, coffee and dessert. Cheese is optional, as are side dishes with the secondi.  Americans, of course, are not used to all that, and I think that most of us tend to order maybe a salad and pasta or a salad and meat. 

We decided tonight, though, to order the meat and cheese appetizer (above). When the waitress brought it out, I almost passed out.

"Who is going to eat all this/" I exclaimed. Mike just stared at it. It took us a good half hour to get through what we wanted of it.  We left a good portion of the meat and some of the cheeses. We didn't touch the bleu cheese at all (GAG), and the one above it was, as Mike pointed out, "one of those stinky cheeses that taste as stinky as they smell."  (DOUBLE GAG).  He's not a fan of cured meats, but he did like the mild salami (second from the left in the photo) because "it tastes like bologna."  (TRIPLE....Well, you get my point.  I didn't try it.)

"I have no idea how I'm going to eat my pasta," I moaned. "I should have just cancelled the order when I saw how much cheese was on that thing."

"I don't know how some people do that," Mike added. "But it will be okay."

Tortelloni with white truffle sauce

Our dishes arrived at the same time.  I'd ordered tortelloni with white truffle sauce (an Umbrian dish), and Mike ordered duck breast with some kind of fruit thing.  The waitress lifted a stainless cover off of my plate.

"Da chef-a sheved fraysh-a tartuffe on-a eet," she told me.  "Eef you want-a more pasta, let-a me know. Eets-a cooked."  I'm sure she didn't notice that I'd turned green when I saw my plate.  I just nodded and smiled at her.

In case you don't know, the brown and beige things on my pasta are the truffles.  White truffles, which are found in this area of Italy only, are very rare.  They grow beneath the ground, and pigs, believe it or not, forage for them.  Because they are so expensive, chefs usually shave a little bit on top of a dish. Believe me, their smell is not exactly appetizing (One article I read said the aroma is akin to that of a male locker room. Don't insult the locker room.), and they look even worse.

Personally, I didn't find the taste too offensive, but I wasn't particularly wild about it, either.  I've had stuff with truffle oil on it, and I wasn't  a big fan. I thought I'd try this since it's a regional specialty, but I won't do that again.  Most food writers I've read said that the taste is rather mild.  I don't know whose truffles they were tasting, but they weren't any I've had.  I thought the taste was way too strong.

"But you like rather bland food," Mike said when I told him that.

"Not that bland," I said.  "I didn't see you trying any of my pasta."

"I wasn't going to eat foul-smelling fungus," he retorted.    Sigh (from me).

"You-a need-a more pasta?" the waitress asked when she noticed I'd finished my four tortelloni.

"Basta pasta," I told her. (Enough pasta.) No way I was eating more of that stuff.

I did try Mike's duck (Photo below.).  It was okay, too.  It's not anything I'd ever order (I keep seeing Daffy and Donald.), but he liked it. The fruit sauce, by the way, are those four little dots on his plate. Interesting....

Mike's duck with fruit sauce

After dinner, we ordered the restaurant's Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee. According to the menu, Blue Mountain coffee is the "finest in the world."  The beans are blue-green when picked, and the flavor is supposedly mild and not bitter.

"I'm going to order it just so I can see if it's the best coffee in the world," Mike told me before dinner. "At 3.50 euro, it better be good."

Before I go any further, I want to point out, in case you haven't noticed, that cups of coffee in Europe are not what they are in the States. I included my finger in the photo below so that you could see that we really had about two ounces of coffee in our cups. That is the norm.  

At any rate, I decided to have a cup of the Blue Mountain also, and I ordered it with milk which made the waitress have a stroke. Italians just do not drink milk (or cream) in their coffee.  Nonetheless, she brought out our coffees — and my milk — along with a plate of cantucci, an Umbrian cookie that is similar to but smaller and softer than biscotti. I poured milk in my coffee and added a little sugar to it.

"YIKE!" I almost shouted.

"A little strong?" Mike can be quite astute at times, especially when my hair is standing straight out from my head.

"Mild, #*$$. This is more like the espresso on steroids."  I added more milk and almost the entire packet of sugar. It made no difference.

One final note about the restaurant:  We paid, and as we were leaving, the hostess asked us if we wanted a piece of chocolate.  Expecting a little wrapped truffle or something, we were shocked when she sliced off a thin wedge of homemade orange/chocolate goodness for each of us.

"It's the little things that make all the difference," Mike said as we walked home.

"As long as they're not little truffles," I added.


This is what  $4 cup of coffee looks like.

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