A Meal In Umbria
- Joe H.
Last Thursday night we drove from Deruta, the "ceramics capital of Italy" to Florence. Thirty minutes north of Perugia and 75 minutes west of Florence is the small town of Citta del Castello. It is home to a Michelin one star restaurant named Il Postale which Gambero Rosso gives one of its highest food ratings for the country to at 50 along with having featured the restaurant in its magazine a year or two ago. Barilla Pasta has also featured Il Postale and its chef/wife owners with lengthy features including several of their recipes which accompany an interview. Both are young in their mid '30's, grew up nearby and serve what I honestly believe is among the best food in Italy today. Several dishes were among the best I have ever had anywhere.
Having said this I am looking at the menu and all first courses and appetizers range $13 to 16 each. Second courses are all 18.50 and 20.00 with desserts at 8.00. The wine list is remarkable in many cases offering wines for LESS than what they sell for in wine shops in larger cities. We had a bottle of '97 Sassacaia which is one of the absolute best Super Tuscans in, arguably, its best year for 130 Euros (about $130). In Florence I found this for $250 in a store and saw it on the list at Aimo e Nadia in Milan the next night for approximately the same. In America, if you could find the '97 it ranges to about $250 a bottle on Wine Searcher.
First courses were a grana cheese flan w/broccoli and a salt cod souffle with ricotta, cream and marmelade. Both were rich, creamy and especially intense. Pasta courses included ravioli with pumpkin, pecorino cheese and a sauce of roasted chestnuts, butter, more pecorino cheese and walnuts. This was the best pasta dish that I have ever had in my life. In fact it was so good that originally we were going to split it (we each had an appetizer and an entree) but after a bite each we ordered a second one. The price? 14.50 Euros each ($14.50).
Entrees were a rack of lamb crusted with black and white sesame seeds and a tenderloin in a serious red wine reduction. Both were extremely tender and flavorful with a crunchy crust lending texture and contrast to the rare lamb.
Dessert was extraordinary: Essentially this was a warm homemade "Krispy Kreme" honey dip donut stuffed with molten chocolate sitting on a coffee and hazelnut cream sauce. Perhaps one of the two or three best desserts that I have ever had in my life. Until that night I thought Krispy Kremes could never be improved on.
But they can. Dramatically so.
I didn't try my wife's dessert. When she asked for a bite of mine I ordered another for us to share!
Il Postale is a converted garage from the '20's with wood beamed ceiling and dim lights, perhaps 8 or 9 tables total. Atmospheric, romantic, wonderful. Not the style of a "big city" starred restaurant but rather the charm of a very personal and warm Umbrian memory that I don't think could be duplicated outside of a small town in Italy. Gambero Rosso's 50 food rating may be understated. Given the price (the most expensive prix fixe is $47.00) this is an incredible bargain. Given the food it may be worth crossing the Atlantic to visit again.
I was with a group of 4 at Il Postale two weeks ago. The restaurant has expanded since the above posting (3 years earlier), but a very pretty setting. All items were available either in prix fixe groupings or a la carte. All of us loved every bit of food. Lamb, scallops, pastas, all unusual and all wonderful - brilliant flavors and perfect proportions. And yes, save room for dessert. We all had different wine requirements, so stayed with some very complementary per-glass selections. Service was friendly and attentive. Pricey by some standards, but worth every Euro.