Okay, I am completely sauced because the local really good wine here is cheaper than Coke. We are not in tourist country and I would like to say from the get-go that we are totally ignorant about how life is lived here. So. We have figured out that dinner starts at 730pm and really gathers energy about 830 pm. But we are old farts recently moved from Florida where people dine at the uncivilized hour of 430 pm. Here in Tuscany, people are still dozing off lunch at that hour. Personally, I like the idea of dining later- it seems somehow more elegant, more mature, more worldly. Nevertheless, we find ourselves spending between 5 pm and 730 pm waiting impatiently by our wood burning stove for the dinner hour to arrive.
Tonight, we were going for pizza. We had been told, by various sources that the very best pizza was to be had at Pizzeria Stroncapane and we were so looking forward to it that I spent 3 hours trying to map the 5 km to the precise location. We are staying on a road with no name, attached to numerous roads with no names; they are merely olive groves and wineries.Off we drove and 27 km of wrong turns later, we found ourselves there, only to be informed that the owner was closing for the evening to serve his friends. A private affair, which I now realize was tied to soccer, aka, football, where Italy is playing Serbia. This becomes relevant several paragraphs from now.
Pissed off with low blood sugar, we drove around and ended up at La Crappiola Pizzeria and should have known better when, at 8pm, the place was devoid of anyone but familia clustered about a table watching a big screen television showing Walker with Chuck Norris, dubbed in Italian. But no, you see, our blood sugar levels were so low that we were still thinking that this would be one more in a series of spectacular culinary experiences. Rich (wisely) ordered the margherita pizza and caprese salad while I ordered the bistecca alla Florentina. I ordered this because I had spent part of the afternoon reading the Frommer’s guide, which notes that ” this is an area of rich farmland used to rear cattle whose meat is used for the bistecca alla Florentina, famous steaks served in Florentine restaurants.” Not only that but while a half liter of superb local wine was but 2 euros and the margherita pizza only 3 euros the steak was a mere 4 euros!
After a very long wait, a 3rd family member (one to take the order, one to deliver over priced Coke and underpriced wine) delivered the caprese salad and my steak. Rich said in that instant, “I wish I had the camera!” The T-bone steak was fully the size of an 8 x 11 piece of paper and two inchs thick. The first bite, although in fact as rare as I had ordered, tasted as though it came from a 110 year old cow. Swear to God, it was terrifying, Rich ate his lovely tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and local balsamic vinegar while I alternately ate, gagged, drank more red wine.
Somewhere about 30 minutes into this ordeal there was a brawl in the soccer game. Some half-naked Serbian threw some fireworks into the game that necessitated nearly 200 polizia to take to the field. Fans jeered, hissed, cheered, stormed the field. The entire extended family of this pizza establishment crowded around the television which was suspended over the woodburning pizza oven, rapidly going cold for lack of fuel and attention.
Quite a while later, maybe an hour (half of that time I was dozing on the table with the steak untouched save for two bites) Rich’s pizza arrived. I was ready to chalk the steak up to a bad menu choice on my part and nibble at Rich’s pizza. It was passable, better than anything in the States. Much later still we again distracted the family from the game long enough to get the check.
Do you have any idea what “l’etto” means in Italian? “Seafood and steak are sometimes sold by weight; if you see “l’etto” by the price you’ll pay that per 100 grams- about a quarter of a pound. Tourists without good language skills are commonly shell-shocked by the bill when ordering dishes sold by the weight.” Damn you, Rick Steves. Why were you in the car when I needed you? And where in hell did this family find a 7 pound steak from a 110 year old cow? Oh, gratzi, gratzi, dinner was great, gratzi very much and now the resident cat has about 4 kilos of beef jerky to work on for the rest of our stay. So much for the budget. That steak, at 4 euros per 100 grams, was 44 effen euros.
And that raises the whole issue of meat. At home I eat very little of it. I’ve read everything Michael Pollen writes, I’ve seen Food,Inc and I have a daughter who has schooled me well on the wastefulness and inhumanity of meat, especially beef. Still, there’s enough Ohio farm heritage in me to really enjoy the occasional very rare piece of tender cow. Rarely. Rare. Here in Tuscany, meat is clearly a way of life, a part of the cycle of things. All food, from mushrooms in the forest to chestnuts boiled until tender to prizewinning sausage and magnificent beef steak, it is all a part of the adventure of dining. Tonight’s adventure reminded me of the downside of being a carnivore. My comfort zone is omnivore, my aspiration is vegetarian. Nothing with a mouth. Dee-dee-dee-dee.
I’m thinking I’ll see what culinary delights I can enjoy for the rest of this trip, sans meat. There is a lot here in the way of earthy vegetables, fragrant breads, sensuous cheese, fresh eggs and so I think I will manage just fine. Except there’s the prosciutto. And the veal. Did you know that delightful butcher actually had certificates hanging on the wall of his shop designating the precise age of his veal; “not less than 11 mos and not more than 15 mos” ?
If I lived in this country all the time I would have to become Catholic. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned…”
We are back in our lovely home away from home with the wood stove keeping the place toasty warm before we fall into bed. Tomorrow we plan to hit the road early, traveling to scenic- where was that we were going??