Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Meaning of Hospitality

From the Bolognese, Branzino and Grignolino files

Tonight. My last night. Two weeks away from home. France. Italy. Everyday, somewhere to be. Wine to be tasted. Ten hour days. Driving. Weak eyes. Sore feet. And then finally the last hotel. Near the airport. So close.

One more meal. Near the hotel. 50 feet away. Why not? After a wonderful day in Barolo, with Anna and Emanuela and nine wonderful wines going back to 1990. Dolcetto. Cortese. Barbera. Nebbiolo. Moscato. Great chef. Amazing lunch. Wonderful company.

And then the drive to the last hotel room. And the last meal.


In any other situation, in Rome, in New Orleans, in New York, in Paris, it would be a throwaway restaurant. Not needing to be better than it needed to be. By virtue of it's proximity to the airport, it would only need to feed the people who ventured in. And then. And then.

I walk in. Old bottles of wine going back to the 1950's. Now like the people in the catacombs in Palermo who were laid side by side in the underground rooms, to dry out and display their life in death. The wines weren't why I was here.

Rounding the corner. An older man, he had to be in his mid 70's, bent over, moving fast, penguin-like movements, with a quick hello, and a greeting of "Welcome, sit down, we are glad you are here." At a restaurant near the airport. More than it needed to be.
His partner, another older man, also in his late 60's and possible even in his 70's. Professionals. Menus. a little snack, now called amuse bouche. Little pops of hot cheese, warm, inviting, welcoming.

No, this wasn't a Michelin spot. It was an eatery. The Bologonese was correct. The Branzino was clean. The spinach was perfect. The Grignolino, in half bottle, was fresh, alive, real. Nothing with more than five ingredients. Classic preparations. Quintessential service. With a smile. From two veterans who were still happily serving when most people had long retired.

When the guys with the $100 million payoff have faded into their private island existence, these two fellows are still in the game. Giving it all they have. As they have most likely all their life. With joy, with a smile. With service. Mythical. Gurus. What any of us guys would aspire to be if we had the single purpose these two have.

I am humbled in their presence. They embody hospitality in its perfect sphere of existence. 100+ points. 5+ stars. Exactly what restaurants were invented for. Not for great food with funny names and foams and high prices for only a few. No, these gents were servant leaders. On my last day here in Italy. By the airport. What are the chances? Italy, the wine trail started out this time pretty shaky, but you delivered. The finale this time was text book, the reason why we love you so much. So much. I am speechless.
Photo by Blaine Christian


9 comments:

Marco Marcarini said...

What, no Black-eyed Pea?

The little simple places, the little simple jewels.

Chris said...

Bravo!!

Thomas said...

This once happened to me near Malpensa. I love it when that happens.

mhousewright said...

Alfonso,
This is precisely why I fell in love with Italy and this is the finest piece of writing I have read on a blog in awhile. I honestly have misty eyes and goosebumps thinking about what you must have felt after such a whirlwind. To find that small morsel of how it all began...
Bravo!

Joe Pat said...

One of the best stories I've read anywhere as of late. I waited tables for over 20yrs and literally grew up in the business. Their passion and drive, your observation and appreciation truly make dining an artistic experience. Sadly, it is a rarer experience these days. Thank you for sharing.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thank you all, for your kind comments, here and on FB

brettthewinemaestro said...

Great. Post. Alfonso!

Mattie John Bamman said...

"Old bottles of wine going back to the 1950's. Now like the people in the catacombs in Palermo who were laid side by side in the underground rooms, to dry out and display their life in death."

Beautiful!

CharlieCA said...

Great post, wonderful blog which I just found today. Thanks.

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