Nonna Genia

It’s dark, and we start our winding way through the town of Sinio, away from the castle to our dining destination: Nonna Genia. According to Nicola, this is the opposite of the previous night’s dinner. Whereas Bovio was about €60 per person for antipasti, primi & secondi plus dessert, Nonna Genia should be about €25 per person for everything on the menu. It turns out that Nicola was right…

After letting the GPS take us to the right place (although I refused to follow the directions that would have taken us through a vineyard), we arrive 10-15 minutes later. It’s in the middle of nowhere. For all I know, I should have followed the GPS blindly, as it looks like were are in the middle of a vineyard with a road running through it. There is no official parking lot that we can discern, but there is someone guiding cars to parking spots as though there was. We are pointed in the direction leading away from the establishment and toward the side of the road. I am now parked in a vineyard. On an angle In knee-high weeds and grass. If this is any indication of the milieu, we’re definitely in for some mom & pop culinary action.

We enter the large wooden building on the side of the road. The only building for miles kilometers, as far as I can tell. There are two huge parties in the main seating area. The two groups comprised of about 20 people each never actually stop talking or enjoying their time together as they regard the two Americans, with antennae sticking out of their heads, invading their space. We’re seated in the next room over, still within earshot and sight of one of the groups, at a small table in what appears to be the old kitchen of a farmhouse. The wood-fired oven is still in the corner of this room (currently in disuse), and an old, crumpled blue couch looks like it will welcome us after we’ve over-eaten, as it has for generations before us.

After getting a pitcher of acqua con gas (sparkling water) that they seem to make themselves (meaning that they impart the CO2 to the water, not that they have tanks of hydrogen and oxygen in the back and somehow fuse them together to make water), we order a bottle of barolo and trust that the fact that no menu is offered means that food will be coming automatically. Mmmmm auto-pilot…

After the wine is opened and we approve, we are served two trifectas of antipasti comprised of (among other things) salad, carpaccio, fried egg with picked something, and polenta squares (we think). As if this weren’t enough to appetize us, there is a basket of bread and breadsticks to keep us company. At some point in the dinner, possibly the point at which over half of the bottle of wine is gone, my hand falls haphazardly near the breadsticks and decapitates the lot of them in one fell swoop, their heads tumbling to the ground to join their long since fallen comrades: opps-my-meatball and may-I-have-another-fork-please.

The antipasti are followed by two primi, both pasta dishes. The first is a wedge-shaped tortellini stuffed with veal and herbs, accompanied by no sauce, just a little parmesan. The second is a taglietelli with a bolognese sauce. Both the pastas are freshly made and excellent. Everything is served family style, where the family actually brings the casserole dish full of the pasta to your table and continues scooping until you say “when”. The two antipasti were a clue as to how things operate here, so we knew not to accept too much pasta. More was definitely coming.

The main courses (secondi) showed up “family style” again. First, a roast of sorts. Slices beef covered in a sauce accompanied by creamy polenta. The second secondi was rabbit wrapped in prosciutto (also in a sauce) with carrots on the side. We hadn’t had much vegetables at this point in the trip (or so it felt), so I asked for a couple extra spoonfuls. Honestly, both of the meats were actually a bit of a let-down, especially when compared to everything else thus far. Their texture was a bit tough and dry as though overcooked. On the other hand, both of the accompanying dishes were fantastic. The polenta was very creamy but not entirely smooth, offering a bit of texture to avoid being tactilely bland. The carrots, I felt, were the best I’d ever eaten. Despite having been cooked long enough to make them soft, they somehow have managed to retain their raw carroty flavor. I almost ask them to bring more of them, but dessert will be coming shortly and I must save what precious little room remains. Somewhere in the middle of this course, Nancy posits that perhaps we are not supposed to finish each course. I shrug off the suggestion, and I believe that it is at this point where I execute the breadsticks with ninja-like precision. I am clearly an ambassador of my country.

After clearing the table, dessert is brought out. We have the foresight to request only one dessert to share, since we are both so full already. However, they still get the better of us. I’m not exactly sure how to say “dessert sampler” in Italian, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was “dolce miste”. The dessert is actually 6 desserts in one! Comprised of pannecotta, pear cake, hazelnut torte with some sort of eggy sauce, two other bits of something and in the middle… chocolate “salumi”. In the taste test, I believe that the pear cake came out on top for me.

After paying the bill, our wine bottle is adorned with a funnel, and the wine is poured from the decanter back into the bottle. We are not given a brown paper bag for it. Cheapskates! Stuffed, we roll ourselves back to the car and follow the GPS religiously back to the castle. It seems to not favor the cross-vineyard route for the return trip.

We get back and try to catch up on our blogging, but it’s 5 days into the trip now and I’m already a third of the way through my moleskine. Catching up while not miserably stuffed and mildly intoxicated would be difficult. In my current condition, I defer to Nancy. And finish the rest of the wine. Everyone in the castle has gone to sleep, and Nancy wants some tea to help her stomach. Pressed to find hot water, I spy the espresso machine behind the bar. I turn the only knob that logically won’t produce a caffeinated beverage or steam and…. yay! I didn’t break it… and I have a glass of hot water. I’m a hero. A drunken hero.

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