Apologies for my poor Italian as well.
I promise, after this, to write something uplifting and inspirational about the art and architecture of fabulous Italy. And to post amazing pictures. This article will contain my only photos of food to be published, ever. Which is something. Because, you know, this is as much about food as about my experiences with how passionate Italians are about it.
I caused another small scene again this week, in the quaint, small Cafe Boboli. I thought I was ordering gnocchi, and was proud to understand the waiter’s suggestion of sauce. But pride goeth before a gnocchi. Or in this case before pitti. Pitti is handmade spaghetti, which is similar to what the woman next to me ordered.
The waitress (not the waiter I ordered from) bought to my table a lovely spaghetti in bubbly meat sauce. The short, hand rolled spaghetti, however, was not gnocchi, which are small balls of potato (dough, I think). When I said no, the woman next to me said it must be hers. Her husband’s order hadn’t arrived, which was the second sign that something might soon lead to a loud exchange in Italian.
I watched in trepidation as the waitress traversed the length of the ristorante to report to the waiter that my order was wrong. Apparently, It was I who was wrong. I had missed the change in topic from gnocchi to pitti in my lengthy conversation with the waiter about sauces. He had offered me a sauce that was not on the menu, and I felt as if I had been accepted into the family. As expected, his voice carried the length of the restaurant as he pointed to me. Perhaps being yelled about is the penultimate acceptance into the family. But like an unruly child sent to bed without dinner, I wasn’t sure I would be fed.
Not too long after, and as the woman next to me had almost finished, her husband and I were served. I don’t recall what he had, but my gnocchi was excellent. My dining companions never did figure out what happened. They simply assumed the odd timing was the typical Italian version of Manana or Cie la vie. Only the waitstaff and I knew what really happened.
To the great credit of the wait staff they were very kind to me about it all, only remonstrating with one another. Nothing like the first experience where I could hear the ristorante owner loudly complain about the Signora as I walked away. In Cafe Boboli, my waitress even comped my dessert, since it took a long time to bring it. Apparently most Americans are in a hurry over dinner. I love spending two or three hours dining. It’s a lost art in America.
So many restaurants, so little time. Cafe Boboli is a rare and special one that stays open most of the day and night. Today I discovered the ristorantes and coffee shops out of the typical tourist trails. Most open for breakfast, close for the afternoon around 3:00, and reopen for dinner. Some only serve breakfast and lunch, then close around 3:30. Some serve only dinner. I am writing in the perfect coffee shop, Ditta Artigianale, which serves coffee and wine, breakfast, brunch and lunch until 3:30, then tapas and cocktails from 6:00 to 10:00. I am drinking wine and writing from 3:30 to 6:00, then ordering tapas. Perfection, as long as I get my order right. Had I found it earlier, I might have spent the whole day here. Breakfast, then wine, then lunch, more wine, dinner tapas, or incongruously, a hamburger, and more wine, dessert and more wine.
Speaking of hamburger,
I learned what happened with my abysmal steak at the ristorante I wrote about earlier. Apparently, Italian beef is quite good, if you know to order a certain type, called quiessana (sic), or Italian or Florentine style beef. The cows are bred bigger, and cuts of meat are thick. Some tourist area restaurants pawn off slimmer cuts or other types of beef as Italian style. They aren’t, and that’s what happened to me In the notorious “I sent the T_bone back” incident, which you can read in an earlier post.
It is now clear that I should eat whatever is brought to me, except in the case of an abysmal steak. Having Italian people yell about me to one another is a small price to pay for getting to the authentic Italian dishes done well. Exchanging the tough steak for hand made pasta made up for it. Here’s to better international understanding. Especially as it comes to food.