Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dining Out: Orvieto Monastery Style

Orvieto is one of the most picturesque Umbrian hill-towns set high atop a sheer rock like a bride and groom atop a wedding cake.  The town is located in the middle of Italy between Florence to the North and Rome to the South.  While in Orvieto most of our dining was done at the villa.  However, we did have a dining out food adventure worth mentioning.

While we found it challenging to find food establishments the first few days of our stay in Umbria, it was hard to miss the looming 12th century Gothic "castle" that was converted into a hotel and restaurant called La Badia. We later learned that this was not a castle, but instead a former monastery.  Ecstatic to have found an open restaurant on Sunday, we anxiously booked a reservation for fourteen.  Little did we know until later, (queue the dum...dum..dum background music) the language barrier came into play, and the receptionist misunderstood fourTEEN to be four.
The hotel still uses old fashioned keys


Ro trying out the bar seating
When we arrived for our reservation, and found that the error had been made, the staff tried very hard to quickly adjust and accommodate such a large group.  While they were scrambling to set-up for the group we explored the enormous high-vaulted rooms.
FloJo playing a few numbers for the hotel guests (where's the tip jar)?
There was a sweet bellman that saw us walking around and he started joking with us.  He motioned for us to follow him so we did. He showed us what used to be the cafeteria for the monks (where they ate their lunch) and the preserved fresco of Christ that still remains.  The room is now used for conferences and weddings.







What's for dinner?
After our self-exploration and adventures we decided to return to the group to see if we had been seated yet.  It would still be a few additional moments until we were seated so we took pictures of the real working fireplace at one end of the dining room that featured heavy pots, a wrought-iron roasting spit and an old-world cooking smell as if the hunt of the day was being prepared for our dinner.

In contrast, when our very cute Italian waiter, Valerio, escorted us to our secluded room in the castle (whoops scratch that, monastery) we passed a very cool, modern side bar.  Kim, does this qualify for vintage modern motif?

Betsy and Dana 1st course

FloJo, Valerio and Ro
We settled in for a typical Italian affair, a three hour meal.  Valerio was adorable and we had a great time interacting with him.  Inclusive of Betsy speaking with him in her best Italian (really English words spoken with an American-Italian accent).  "Valerio, I've a ordered too-aaaa-much-aaaa."  The poor guy was out numbered 14-2 (he had one little helper) and he really didn't stand a chance.   Highlights of the food included anything that had truffles shaved on it (that's a no brainer unless you're Dana and allergic to mushrooms). Our favorite dish of the evening was lobster fettucine with black shaved truffles.  Does it get any more decadent than that?

Another highlight was Valerio's wine selections for us.  He suggested we start with a Falesco Syrah that originates from a winery between Umbria and Lazio (it's the cool wine bottle pictured below with Ro photo bombing).  We questioned Valerio's choice at first thinking it was going to be too robust to start with, but it wasn't (later we found out it's nicely blended with some Merlot).  Valerio then suggested a Rubbio from Umbria, mostly made of Sangiovese the most prevalent grape in Italy.   It was very good and we decided we will need to put Palazone on our wineries to visit for a future trip.  To finish off the meal, he recommended Oscano, a merlot from Perugia (of Baci chocolate fame) and coincidentally named after a castle there. Merlot is not usually a varietal we favor, but are finding we like it more and more.  This merlot had a pleasant, rich, smooth and dark finish that paired nicely with our lamb to end our meal.  It made the Syrah seem like a Pinot Noir.  We applauded his picks and "trust me" attitude (and of course it helped that he was, as you Americans say, "easy on the eyes").
Betsy and Dana by the end of dinner

We decided to skip dessert, less it turn into a four hour dining event.  Most of us had an entertaining evening at the monastery and how often can you really say that's where you had dinner?  As an apology and peace offering for the haphazard service, Valerio sent us home with several bottles of the house red and white wines. More points for Valerio!  He also shared with us in his most charming Italian way the story he had been teasing us with all night.  Just as we were about to leave, he decided to tell the story and we captured it on YouTube for posterity.



Live life with flavor and fun!
Group photo courtesy of Cindy Sebastian