Michelin Stars and melting hearts: La Gramola at Tavernalle Val di Pesa

Sourav Roy intends to understand, write about, experiment on, engage with and above all enjoy life in general and the contemporary art world in specific through a lens of Indian history, while continuing to be a student for life. A three-week long  backpacking trip across Europe and a year-long Post Graduate Diploma in Modern and Contemporary Indian Art History put him on this path of  exquisite folly. 

In this piece he brings to itiriti readers his tryst with La Gramola at Tuscany.

 

Like all the memorable things in life, it was a serendipity which began with a disappointment.

It was September 2011, and we were on our luxury vagabond backpacking (meals in luxury, rest like bhikhari) trip in Europe. The train arrived at Florence (Firenze) from Rome and we were told the next day, the Monday, the day we were supposed to have a glut of museums, shopping, the fabled Florentine steak and Lampredotto (tripe sandwich), is a citywide strike, so we can just as well lock ourselves up and cry bitter tears until the Tuesday sunrise. Having come from Kolkata, where strikes (bandhs) are as commonplace as sweetshops, I realised that the bad karma, of being a bourgeois subidhabadi (opportunist) who had always welcomed strikes as extra holidays, had come back to bite me in the ass.

We had a bit of luck here though (which ran out soon). Covetous of a charmed Tuscan village life (in a Rupee budget), we had booked a hostel not in the strike-prone Florence, but in the idyllic Tavernalle Val di Pesa, a village which is a short ride away from Firenze. After managing to get a car, reaching the hostel, realising that the irresponsible brat of a caretaker had gone home for an early lunch and late siesta locking the office and switching off his phone, briefly panicking at my iPad malfunctioning, by the time we were checked in, washed up and ready to go out, our Sunday plan had also been ruined. So we made dinner plans with a vengeance and was ready to spend an obscene amount of Euros consuming a highly impolite quantity of delicious Tuscan food.  Because good food solves everything, right?

After prowling for a few minutes in the village lanes (the village is tiny enough to be covered in foot from one end to the other in fifteen minutes.) we discovered La Gramola.

La Gromola Osteria & Enoteca (Eatery and Winebar) Source : http://www.gramola.it/

La Gromola Osteria & Enoteca (Eatery and Winebar) Source : http://www.gramola.it/

The Michelin stars on the door seemed promising, so did the happy people going in and out. So without delay we went in and seated ourselves. No marks for guessing that after we have had the most accomplished pumpkin ravioli  (even my friend, a lifelong pumpkin hater, said she was a convert, but she rescinded on her return), we wanted our florentine steaks and we wanted them right then and there. The owner and the sommelier Massimo, who was waiting on us as well, ( because the two daughters, the only other waiters in the house were attending to the garden party ) smiled indulgently in a good-things-come-to-those-who-wait kinda way.

La Gramola Couple Chef Cecilia Dei and Sommelier Massimo Marzi Source: www.gramola.it

La Gramola Couple Chef Cecilia Dei and Sommelier Massimo Marzi Source: http://www.gramola.it

When the steaks came (medium rare, of course, they don’t do the travesty of giving you the option of well-done) and we dug in, many things were accomplished  atone stroke. It explained, to a beef-ambivalent wicked Hindu, what was the big deal about beef steak, what was the big deal about guileless Tuscan village cooking and what could be accomplished with a stellar cut of beef, fire, salt and pepper. Because that’s all that amazingly juicy, perfectly charred, confoundingly simple yet accomplished piece of meat had. With that giant piece of meat under our belts, we reached out for the dessert menu and decided to keep it light. But Massimo had something else in mind. He said that a large cheese cake had just been baked for the garden party (which doesn’t happen very often). So he recommended that  as dessert, very highly. We politely declined, saying we had no room for such a heavy dessert, and we would have a slice the next day if there were any left. Massimo shook his head woefully and said that after being kept in the fridge, it won’t be the same cheese cake any more.

When we were halfway through our eye rolling good Pannacotta, Massimo reappeared with two fat slices of cheese cake in hand, and determination writ large on his face. He said that the cheese cake has turned out to be one of the best Cecilia had baked yet (vouched for by their friends in the garden) and he simply couldn’t let us finish our meals without tasting these two slices, which were complimentary. We grinned and nodded, he left the plates, and we obliged. Our knees melted in unison, and we sat stupefied by the sheer simultaneous richness and lightness of it till the bill arrived. We were shocked once again at how affordable it was (as far as Michelin starred places go). That night we became Gramola-slaves and decided to have as many meals there as possible.

The road that runs through the village ends here

The road that runs through the village ends here

One can’t blame us trying to recreate the previous night at  the La Gramola dinner. But my friend made the mistake of ordering Peppa al Pomodoro or the Tomato soup for starter.

Next day was the strike day (in the village as well) so my friend decided to stay in bed longer. (she was very upset about letting go Uffizi, Museum, whose advance booked tickets couldn’t be postponed) So I went out foraging for breakfast. The tiny bakery at the village square didn’t disappoint and I had to stop myself devouring one freshly baked custard pillow after another (thin vanilla custard sealed inside pastry shells and baked whole). While I was leaving, Massimo dropped in to pick up some breakfast as well and I asked whether they would be open for lunch. Sensing the panic in my voice, he spoke in a reassuring tone. He said, he was going to the market right away and if he got good enough and fresh enough ingredients (unhampered by the strike) they would definitely be open. I wished him (and myself) best of luck before taking my leave.

More drama ensued.

My friend (up and ravenous for breakfast by now) was further delayed from her share of custard-pillow-bliss because the door lock malfunctioned and it could not be opened from either side. So she dropped down a bed sheet rope from our first floor window in which I lovingly tied the custard pillows, from the lawn. She retrieved them, unbruised, only to gobble them up, immediately.  After accomplishing this ingenuous fairy-tale feat, I fetched Declan the brat caretaker, who with his master key, opened the door effortlessly and gave us a supercilious smirk.

La Gramola was of course shut for lunch and despite having respected their integrity towards ingredients, we walked around the village shopping and muttering under our breath like disgruntled zombies on a brain withdrawal symptom. The lunch that day, the worst of the entire Europe trip, at the only lunch place that was open in the village, didn’t do much to lift our mood. (Yes, one can have a bad meal at a picturesque Tuscan village too.)

One can’t blame us trying to recreate the previous night at  the La Gramola dinner. But my friend made the mistake of ordering Peppa al Pomodoro or the Tomato soup for starter.

Utterly delicious, and salsa-like in its consistency, served in a voluminous pot, the soup could be a starter only for a Tuscan peasant stomach and even the one-sixteenth Italian ancestry of my friend was no match for it. But that didn’t stop us from ordering superlative pork chops. Being once smitten, we ordered the cheese cake for dessert again and though still utterly delicious, we distinctly ascertained how much more delicious it was the previous night, when freshly baked, and our palates had been recalibrated for cheese cakes ever since.

The next day was the last and only day left for Florence. So we could only visit our by-now-dearly-beloved La Gramola for our last supper. It was also a local tourism fair day, so streets were crowded, stalls were up and we had to sit next to a supercilious American group of diners at the sidewalk.

It would be a lie to claim that while writing this post, three years after that last supper, I remembered exactly what we ate and how I felt then. But it would suffice to say, I felt like a member of the family, even when nothing was said verbally to that effect, the way the American fellow-diners treated the waitress (the younger daughter) felt like a personal affront and when Cecilia laughed at my Vitruvian Homer Simpson T shirt while we said goodbye, I knew she meant it. These were the bonds made over a few days on nothing more and nothing less than serving the best possible food with an open heart and eating it with hearts and mouths equally open.

Coordinates:

Osteria La Gramola

Via delle Fonti,

1, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa,

Firenze, Italy

Tel.: +39 055 80 50 321

Fax.: +39 055 8077368

Cell.: +39 338 60 39 356

http://www.gramola.it

osteria@gramola.it

Lunch and Dinner

Disclaimer: Food, staff and restaurant images taken from the website.

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