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.

Unwinding @ Three Windows @ Khoj

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True to its name this cafe is a welcome break if you want to have a quiet breakfast reading your newspaper or favourite book, work on your pending deadlines over a bowl of cold spinach soup and quiche and finally in the evening take a coffee break with some freshly baked cakes. The place is much more than food and literally so… You have to experience Three Windows @ KHOJ…

You can also place customised order for group lunches, birthday parties or business lunches as well. As you enter Khirki Extension, you have to park near Sai Baba Temple and walk down to KHOJ office.  The cafe’s  brunch has become a hit with the regulars.

You can check their facebook page for previous brunches. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Three-Windows-at-Khoj/242313559247463

The white decor of the cafe complements the no fussy food it serves. With a long table of 9-10 covers and two tables of four covers each, it is the perfect location to hold a one day discussion for reading groups, business lunches and blogger’s meet.  For group meetings you can order from their regular menu which includes a veg/non-veg soup, quiche and sandwiches, and desserts. The all day breakfast menu is quite tempting as well. It includes an interesting combination of nice pancakes, paranthas, and fruit salad with Yoghurt and Honey.  For egg- lovers there is a nice range as well.

The items are moderately priced between Rs 100-200 and the servings are quite generous. I tried their Quiche with Salad. The onion pickle on the side was a welcome change along with Garden Green Soup. I am a self- proclaimed Spinach fan and I am in love with their Spinach Cold Soup. A nice filling lunch ( like mine) will cost you Rs 290.  With Free Wi-Fi, this is a perfect place to unwind and work. I am all set to go there and work on a section of an essay. What about you?

If you are still wondering where to step out in the coming weekend or a quite place to getaway to work in the weekdays drop by @ Three Windows @ KHOJ.

The cafe is open from 9am-7pm.

Location: S-17 Khirki Extension, New Delhi-110017.

For customised parties and meetings contact Arti @ 9871309111. Please make reservations during weekends.

©itiriti

Feasting during Sajibu Cheiraoba

( Itiriti : Soibam Haripriya is pursuing her doctoral studies in Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics. She is a poet and recently published her poems in a collection Tattoed with Taboos. She blogs on Ibnlive.com (http://ibnlive.in.com/group-blog/The-North-East-Blog/soibamharipriya/3355.html). She brings to Itiriti readers the feasting delights of Sajibu Cheiraoba celebrations from her mother’s kitchen at Imphal.

Happy reading and  if you want to share your  New Year Feast with itiriti do drop in a line …)

Like most calendar of events and celebrations in Manipur, the Sajibu (the lunar month which falls this year in April-May) Cheiraoba (the Meitei New Year festival) too is observed on two different days either on the first day after the new moon or falls alternatively on the 13th or the 14th of April depending on the religious affiliation –either Meitei Sanamahi or Hindus (mostly Vaishnavs). Sajibu heralds the coming of summer, mild sun or pleasant rains. A few days prior to Cheiraoba, the Khwairamband Keithel  –the popular and much romanticised Ema market on either side of the tasteless Bir Tikendrajit road flyover (a flyover that perhaps is sign of ‘modernity’ more than having any role in easing traffic, one road leading to a dead end i.e. straight to the Kangla gate) that cuts the market sharply like the equator, could be seen teeming with people –mostly women buying gifts for members of their natal home. There is no idea of festival discounts in the valley –‘Make hay while the sun shines’ is an apt maxim.

As is with most celebrations of this kind the day begins early for the womenfolk even though the assortment that would comprise the meal would have been thought of the previous day. The number of dishes should be in odd numbers, my family settled for five dishes –three seem slightly meagre for such a day while seven seem slightly extravagant for a family of small eaters, a condition necessitated by health reasons. Uti, Yongchak aloo eromba, nga thongba, bora and chakhao is what we settled for.

Uti has now become a marker of Manipuri cuisine and every place that claims to stock authentic Manipuri food has to have Uti in the menu. It is a dish consisting which could either be uti ashangba (green uti) which could be made with green peas and sometimes added with a bit of broken rice or the classic Uti, the trick of enhancing the flavour of the latter is to add a wee bit of milk at the end.

Yengchak aloo eromba taste best with small red potatoes and yongchak with fermented fish. Nga thonga (fish curry) could be cooked in a variety of manner, either deep fried fish, lightly fried ones or not fried at all or more popularly the stirred nga thongba which would be rather difficult for a non fish eater to negotiate considering that all the fishes are broken and one needs to navigate an array of bones. Chakhao is simply the deep purple scented rice which is slightly sweet and is either cooked with water or cooked as a kheer with milk, camphor, slices of coconut, bay leaves and dry fruit.

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The dishes are first to be offered to propitiate the spirits, believed to be evil   –a space is mud plastered in the front gate of the house and the back gate –the dishes are offered with rice and three variety of flowers – kusumlei, kombirei, leiri and seasonal fruits of one’s choice and offering of money along with the food. One assumes this to be an innocuous offering; however the function of this offering is to satiate the spirits so that no harm befalls the family. In fact the name of the last demised person of the locality is invoked in order to appeal the former’s longer stay in the crematorium so that no one else gets claimed by the insatiable land of the death. The mud-plastered place of the offering is decorated with flowers.

In our fondest memories of childhood we vied with each other to claim the offering of money when elders disappear for an afternoon siesta or go about presenting New Year gifts to elders and relatives.

Photo : Soibam Haripriya

©itiriti

On a Nostalgic note: Re-tracing “Shagun” moments

Sometimes you don’t notice the obvious. Such is the way of life.  As I finished my meal at Shagun Restaurant a restaurant that has been witness to my many a hunger pangs, irritation, anger and happiness I wondered why it did not feature in my Eating Out Column.

For all those who are not familiar with the geography of North Campus, Delhi University Shagun Restaurant is located slightly ahead of Patel Chest.  My first meal in Shagun dates back to 2005 when Z had taken me there. The dimly lit restaurant did not impress me and I was comfortable enjoying my dinner in Zee’s Kitchen ( a restaurant offering cheap, greasy  tandoor food).

Cut to 2010 when Noodles ( a popular restaurant in Kamala Nagar) closed doors Z took me to Shagun and ordered for Pork Steamed Momos. As I took a bite into the juicy Momos I did my visual calculation of how many momos I should settle for and asked Z to order another plate.  I rediscovered Shagun.  Though the dim lights were still there I didn’t mind till I could savour my Pork Spare Ribs and Juicy Momos.  For a long time I kept on savouring their Pork Spare Ribs till Summer of 2012 when I fell in love with another dish Shanghai Stewed Noodles ( a gravy noodles dish mildly spiced).  There have been times when one has ordered some Burmese dishes and they didn’t disappoint me. Best part is one could walk down enjoy your lonely meal within Rs 150. What more do you need to enjoy a little luxury in the mundane Campus Life?

Shagun has been witness to many a campus romance, birthdays, breakups and lonely sad lunch and dinners. As every generation walk in and walk out of Shagun’s doors when you start leaving a generous tip and waiters ask you if anyone is going to join you that comes as a warning signal that you have been around in Campus for too long and it’s time to bid adieu.

As we enjoyed our evening meal of Chicken Momos, Pork Momos, Pork Pepper Chilly and Shanghai Stewed Noodles (all for Rs 825!!!!!) a group of college students were having their farewell meal. As they fought over two momos I remembered how I longed for restaurants to change their servings so that we could have equal shares and I would not have to wait for some generous soul to come to my rescue or how quickly we slipped into making wishes about handsome husband/ boyfriend before digging into the “last momo” on the plate. I am sure places like these exist in every campus.

So, all of those who want to savour delights available at Shagun you can choose from my favourite picks:-

  1. Chicken/Pork steamed Momos
  2. Pork Spare Ribs
  3. Shanghai Stewed Noodles (Non-Veg)
  4. Burmese Chicken Curry
  5. Mee- Goreng
  6. Chicken thentuk

Next time you are in Delhi University (North Campus) stop by this place.

For Menu, Location details check the following link on Zomato

 

http://www.zomato.com/ncr/shagun-vijay-nagar-delhi

 

©itiriti

 

A hearty meal

What is a hearty meal?  A low diet, cholesterol free food that keeps your heart beat in normal pace or a heartbeat racing recipe with everything in excess. While minimalism seems to dictate the terms and conditions of most of the silhouettes; we also have our frenzies for dollops of full cream on our hot chocolate fudge; fetish for picking up a full cream milk for that lavish payesh garnished with dry fruits or for that chocolate excess. Excess meals are globally acclaimed to curb and aid depressed patients. They are supposed to be instant tonics for bringing a smile across old age groups. “Excess” in meals has always been associated with eating out. And multinational food chains across the globe has managed to cash onto people’s fetish for “excess” to introduce a category of  customers always in constant search for excess through those “add on” options to our pizza, burger and even fried chicken. But are “add-on”s a way to define “hearty meal”?

Personally a hearty meal would be one where I enjoy the food in a social gathering. A social recluse for instance would call himself/ herself  a social animal when he/she goes dining out and enjoys a hearty meal with dollops of meaty conversations with that perfect punch of  pepper, salt and sugar to finish it off.  So a hearty meal has to be with likeminded people who share your appetite beyond the table that is laid out. The hearty meal is bonding and rebounding of lost souls, lost friends and unexpected encounters. The unexpected encounters with new cuisines in hearty meals can be excess. But excess of laughter can satiate the extra calories we gulp in every bite of the hearty meal.  Hearty meals are successful in small groups when you do not have to strain your ear to hear the person at the far end of the table.  While I have enjoyed hearty meals with friends in most of the metroes in India my favourite hearty meals of late has been in Bangalore thanks to my cousin, her husband and my friends. My top picks of hearty meals places in Bangalore are :-

Breakfast:  When you want to treat yourself to a hearty weekday breakfast away from home and hotel buffet try out the delicacies @ Koshy’s. If you are bored of breads and eggs and for all my vegetarian friends you can have a lazy breakfast of luchi, alur dam and cholar dal at K.C Das, St. Marks Road from 9.30 am onwards. On Sunday please ensure you reach early.

Lunch : Bheema’s on Church Street truly represents “excess”. Specialising in Andhra Cuisine this place offers carrier meals which can serve up to three people. A great place if you have a mix of vegetarian and non vegetarian friends.

Coffee : Indian Coffee Home, Church Street. Simple, great filter coffee to keep you awake in the pleasant weather of Bangalore

Dinner: Sorry this section is dedicated to all the meat eaters. My two picks are steak places tucked away in two busy parts of the town but you will love the ambience and food once you hit there. First and foremost, I would recommend The Only Place, tucked away in Museum Road. Please try out the section on fish and for all those who are brave enough and really hungry can head straight for the steak by the name “A hearty meal”.  One great thing about this place is that it is at a walking distance from St. Marks road and yet enjoys a quite ambience. The place is not pretentious and fancy. Even on a weekday you might have to wait but it is worth the wait. Love their steaks, and their desserts are worth a try.

My second pick under this section is Millers 46, near Cunningham Road. The restaurant is for the brave and prosperous souls who are willing to dig into steaks. It is a popular joint  and it is a beef lover’s paradise and when we say “well done” they do it really well. The beef is cooked to perfection and for the frail hearted please avoid this place. Please book a table in advance to avoid the rush and enjoy steak to the fullest.

© itiriti