FOLKS IN A TOWN THAT WAS QUITE REMOTE
Jeff’s email said “Do you want to have dinner in Bormio in August?”
I loved every word.
Jeff is Uncle Jeff, Duchessa’s godfather. (Small g.) He’s the person who said you can never have too many cats … and that’s what I said to David when Duchessa licked my hand that cold December afternoon. Followed by, we have to take her home with us. And we did!
I met Jeff half a lifetime ago when I was working in a large law firm in the DIE HARD building in Century City. My boss was an annoying associate who was obsessed over every comma on his perceived path to partner (to Oxford comma or not to Oxford comma, that is the question) … and this comment coming from me, a certifiable grammar guru. One day I was walking down the hall, and looked through an open door. The attorney was reading a file … and on the credenza behind him was a photo of a woman and a photo of a black cat. I stopped … I introduced myself as a black cat owner. Our friendship was born. Happily, the next week when he needed a new secretary, I was the one who got the job.
Jeff has wonderful taste in food and wine. Every meal with him and his wife, Susan (of photo fame) has been a treat for the taste buds. It is with them that I ate my first fried shrimp heads. So saying yes to dinner with him/them is always a good idea.
Bormio, a quick Google search revealed, is in the northern reaches of Lombardia … high in the Alps and “walking distance” to Switzerland. It would be beautiful with cool, fresh mountain air. Its thermal baths were used by the Romans 2,000 years ago … and visitors are still “taking the cure.” We would indulge.
We confirmed our plans succinctly, our emails being briefer than texts.
Me … “Date please.”
Jeff … “Arrive 29 August, ride Stelvio on Saturday morning, leave that p.m.”
Me … “See you on 30 August … we’ll bring Duchessa and stay two nights.”
Jeff … “I’ll make dinner reservations.”
We got on the road later than we expected. Two days earlier, we had driven back from Abruzzo … where there had been an explosion in a tunnel on the A-14, reducing the autostrada to a one-lane long and whining road and those hours had taken a toll (pun intended).
The drive is part autostrada, part mountain road. The area is called Valtellina … it’s known for cheeses and, as we saw as we wound our way up and down and up the hillsides, apples.
On one of the main roads, we easily found HOTEL MIRAMONTE, in the center of town. There is a very sweet resident border collie … Sally. Guests were happy to play with her, throwing a favorite toy that she enthusiastically retrieved. Wagging her tail … throw it again, throw it again. She was curious (but not pushy) about the black suitcase with a feline guest … and I lifted Duchessa onto the counter. She wasn’t nervous, but we finished the paperwork and headed upstairs without delay.
The three of us were glad to settle into our room with a view … looking out at the mountains that surround the village.
Water … food … litter box. Unzip suitcase. It was cool and overcast, but not raining. Autumn.
Some quick WhatsApps with Jeff to set a time, within the hour he came over to see his god-daughter. And we set out … with our umbrellas … to walk around Bormio and have an aperitivo before dinner.
The next day was to be spa day. While our hotel had a spa, Jeff said that the real experience is to go to a SPA … Bagni Vecchi or Bagni Nuovi. His taste in food, his taste in wine are always 5 star. We agreed, and had the hotel make reservations at Bagni Nuovi.
Small and charming, modestly Alpine, Bormio is easy to get to know on foot. Interesting shops line the cobblestone roads leading to the old church and modern municipal buildings. And with the Stelvio closed over the weekend … and most of the tourists sporting clip shoes and biking shorts … every shop had tee shirts and caps and cycling gear with this year’s logo.
Our dinner was at GUANELLA, a traditional wine store and mildly modern restaurant. Jeff had been there before, and chatted with the hostess as she led us to our table. There is no wine menu … instead, you walk back to the wine shop and review the shelves, the sommelier advising and recommending. Jeff’s pick was a 2015 Fracia, a well-balanced red with some fruit, some tannin.
We each decided to have two courses … and mixed and matched. My first course was grilled octopus with warm burrata and cherry tomatoes … an unusual combination (the food police usually eschew seafood and cheese in the same dish) that was delicious, chewy and creamy and flavorful. David picked pumpkin ravioli covered in velvety gorgonzola … the sweet and savory pairing was fabulous, two favorite flavors on one plate. Note to self … DO try this at home. Jeff opted for taglioni with porcini, and said it was great.
Next course … I picked raviolioni stuffed with mascarpone and asparagus, then topped with butter and black truffles. The bright asparagus flavor was enhanced by the light creamy je ne sais quoi of the mascarpone, with the truffles adding a woodsy wow. Excellent. David ordered a steak from Piemonte … fassone is a special breed, grass fed (of course), that lives in Alpine meadows. We had heard about … and eaten … this for the first time in Abruzzo just a week before. It must be trending. It was amazingly tender, flambeed in cognac, then blanketed in a mustard sauce. Lavish and rich. Potatoes and sauteed yellow peppers were served on a separate plate. As his second course, Jeff picked sliced sirloin, which he thoroughly enjoyed.
We did do dessert … one, with 3 spoons. It was a bunet of dark chocolate with amaretti. Like chilled cookie dough, thinly sliced … three slices of dark, dense, fudgy chocolate/chocolatey fudge that were sprinkled with amaretti crumbles and drizzled with chocolate glaze. The bitter almond was the perfect foil for the richness of the chocolate/fudge.
We sipped some Passerina, a lovely dessert wine. Content.
And then … since both David and Jeff like grappa and other after-dinner libations, there was a tasting. A mega tasting. Five bottles appeared with separate glasses for each, separate glasses for each of us. I sampled two … a local liquor, herb infused and worthy of more than one sip, AND an amaro, also local and nicely, appropriately bitter. The local grappa is unusual in that it is made with honey and then served over ice. No, I am not a grappa girl … I often find the smell too strong, so didn’t even opt for a sip. David and Jeff were happy, sampling and comparing tasting notes. We went back to the wine store to buy a couple of bottles, our souvenirs.
With cloth napkins, it was too difficult to bring a treat for Duchessa [frowny face]. She was happy to eat her favorite flavor of, gasp, canned cat food. Tuna.
… to be continued …
PUMPKIN GNOCCHI WITH GORGONZOLA
1 lb. pumpkin gnocchi … homemade with your favorite recipe or purchased
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup white wine
6–8 oz. gorgonzola
1 cup walnuts, chopped
- In a frying pan large enough to hold the gnocchi, saute the garlic in olive oil until just barely tender.
- Stir in approximately ¾ cup of the walnuts.
- Reduce the heat to low, and add the wine. Add some of the cooking water to keep the mixture moist.
- Boil the gnocchi in salted water.
- When they float to the top, use a chinese ladle to scoop them from the water directly into the frying pan.
- Add the gorgonzola. Mix well to coat the gnocchi.
- Add the remaining walnuts … stir.