On our way to Perugia, Umbria, we stopped in a quaint little town called Bevagna. There is a slow foods restaurant there that we wanted to try. The entrance to the town was a gorgeous bridge over a small waterway, with stone structures flanking the entryway. Since it was a weekend, they did not allow driving through the town – pedestrians only. Bevagna turned out to be beautiful – not awe inspiring, like Rome, nor striking, like Abruzzese mountains, but just pleasantly beautiful and welcoming. The cobblestone roads and alleyways led to picturesque churches, buildings, and even an ancient Roman amphitheater. We joined a tour of the small amphitheater, led by what I can only describe as an Italian cowboy (??!), and entirely in the Italian language. We kept up as best we could, learned a few things (like how expensive cups were in medieval times – how many you owned showed how wealthy you were), then headed to lunch.
The restaurant was pleasant, and comfortable. You felt like you stepped into a well off but down to earth friend’s home. As the bottle-covered walls suggested, the wine list was fantastic. Our general rule when traveling anywhere is to eat and drink whatever is produced locally. However, as we all know only too well, rules were made to be broken. And a 1997 Cannubi Barolo available for a quarter of what it would cost in the states is a definite rule breaker. We were excited already.
The first course out was a pureed asparagus soup, with the added intrigue of crispy pieces of unsmoked bacon, or pancetta, and a lovely soft whole egg yolk in the center. I always love a runny egg yolk, especially when I am giving the privilege of breaking it, as in this soup. Mixed with the asparagus puree, the soup was intensely flavored and a delicious start.
Our other starter was a cheese torte, with toast points smothered in a lovely chicken liver pate. There was another flavor or ingredient in the torte that had caught our attention and made us order it, but due to the chicken liver pate being so amazing, I can no longer remember what it was. Either way, the flavors were strong and definitive, but not too strong, and the dish did not last long.
The two pastas were both brightly flavored. The first was a pappardelle with fresh zucchini, fresh tomatoes, and ground guinea hen meat. I believe it would have benefited from a bit of grated parmesan cheese, but I am a bit of a salt junky, and the vegetables and freshly made pasta were perfectly cooked.
The second pasta we ordered was gnocchi, tossed with caramelized onion and tomato. The sauce, made with anchovies, was delectable, I am a huge fan of caramelized onions but the gnocchi themselves were slightly gummy, and not my favorite.
The meat courses here were fantastic, although surprisingly not especially Italian in preparation. The first was a duck dish, a take on the French duck al’orange. A perfect medium, the duck breast was served with fresh blood orange segments, fresh herbs, and confit potatoes.
The veal was cooked medium rare, with a little olive oil, salt, and roasted potatoes. It was a bit chewy, but the flavor was outstanding. It tasted like a particularly happy piece of meat.
We were enjoying ourselves so much, we went for two desserts. One was a panna cotta with a fresh local strawberry compote, the other a house made carrot cake with crème anglaise. Both were fantastic. Panna cotta is always a favorite of ours, and while cake is not, this carrot cake was moist and bursting with not-too-sweet carrot flavor.
As we savored our surprise on-the-house after dinner drinks, we struck up a conversation with several couples about our own age at the next table. Most of them had young children with them, and as they apologized for their noisiness (which we didn’t mind in the least), we discovered that although all from Italy, a couple of them had grown up in Brooklyn, NY. We had a lovely and informative conversation, during which we were admonished, not for the first time, for our very American habit of tipping at restaurants. It has been a hard habit to give up, but after hearing it once again, for perhaps the thirtieth time, we decided to acknowledge Italian culture, and hold back on the tips. From here on out. After this meal. And here we go again. After all, rules were made to be broken.