By Steve Siciliano
When my wife Barb and I travel we like finding bars and restaurants that are, for the most part, patronized by the local populace. It’s not that we categorically avoid the touristy locales. During our recent trip to Italy some of our most pleasurable dining experiences occurred in places where we had to share tables with fellow tourists.
One evening in an outdoor trattoria in Florence, we encouraged a couple from California to help us with an antipasti that had enough cheese and cured meats on it for eight diners. We had a wonderful time eating, drinking, laughing and sharing stories of our traveling adventures with each other. On another evening I introduced a tourist from Australia (a homebrewer, coincidentally), to the decidedly dubious delights of grappa. I have no doubt that his headache the next morning was as horrid as mine.
We like finding the out-of-the-way eating and drinking establishments because we feel that they provide us with a better chance of getting a feel for the local color. Looking for and finding them, however, have also produced some rather interesting experiences.
Once when we were in St. Thomas looking for a local watering hole a woman rather bluntly informed us that if we continued walking in the run-down neighborhood our lives might be in danger. Then there was the time in Philadelphia when we suddenly realized that the off-the-beaten-path bar that we were drinking in was gay.
In the Tuscan hill town of Loro Ciuffenna we dined on three separate occasions at a decidedly un-touristy restaurant incongruously called Dimicala’s Boat. Despite being miles from the nearest navigable water, it had a nautical motif to go with its absurd sounding name. It also had a menu that was difficult to decipher and a waiter who I found impossible to understand.
I’m convinced that the old waiter in Dimicala’s Boat had it in for me. Whatever Barb pointed to on the menu elicited responses of molto bueno or bellisimo. Whenever I pointed to something he would wag his finger, voice his displeasure in an indecipherable form of Italian, and point to something else. Then I had to hope that the dish I ordered didn’t involve cow entrails or the poached brains of wild boars.
One time I inquired if there was chicken on the menu and he acted as if I had asked for a double serving of fried howler monkey testicles.
“Pollo?” he said incredulously. “No pollo.” He then pantomimed firing a rifle in the air and made a down sweeping gesture accompanied by a swooshing sound that I took to mean something dead was falling from the sky. He then emphatically pointed to a spot on the menu. I told him to bring me that dish along with a side of beans and olive oil. At least I thought I told him.
My beans came out with Barb’s entrée—a beautiful pasta with a white gorgonzola cream sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. While my wife devoured every last morsel of her meal she repeatedly proclaimed that it was the best pasta she had ever eaten.
My “side dish” of beans too was very good. Unfortunately it also turned out to be my entree. Apparently I didn’t effectively communicate to that old waiter that I was willing to gamble on whatever it was that he had shot down from the sky.