GREAT TO BE BACK IN ITALY.
FREE FOR LUNCH?
I brought a heavy load of supplies for Rocca di Benano’s 2012 rental season, so my (and everyone else’s) favorite driver Francis picked me up at the airport and drove me to Orvieto. I always enjoy visiting with Francis and was delighted that he agreed to join me for lunch before I went “home” to Benano, about 15 minutes from Orvieto.
We chose a restaurant Paul and I discovered last Fall: Ristorante “Da Gregorio” just outside Orvieto, in the tiny Umbrian village of Morrano Nuovo (“New Morrano”). This unassuming restaurant, which overlooks sister village Morrano Vecchio (“Old Morrano,” although to our American eyes, they both look vecchio), is run by Fausto, his wife Francesca, and their hospitable family.
When Francis and I arrived, Fausto was talking to a small group of middle-aged men who were standing near their motorcycles. It was easy to imagine that they were businessmen unable to resist the allure of a beautiful Spring day, celebrating it with a long lunch out in the country. Everyone seemed in good spirits, but MY spirits fell as I realized Fausto was telling them the restaurant was closed. (Note to self: will you ever remember how important it is in Italy to find out what day a restaurant is closed before showing up!?)
The motorcycle gang was trying to talk their way in, so we joined in and lobbied alongside them. It didn’t seem hard to persuade Fausto to open for us. Once inside, Fausto and Francesca’s son Davide and daughter Giulia charmed me by remembering my visit with Paul — where we sat and that we had taken this picture of the family.
Paul and I were there in late October, at the beginning of the olive harvest. We had asked for bruschetta all’ olio nuovo, even though it didn’t appear on the menu. (Come to think of it, we’ve never seen new oil mentioned on any Italian menu but no waiter we’ve asked has failed to produce it, so don’t hesitate to ask for it if you’re in central Italy in late-October or November). Davide happily produced their bruschetta all’ olio nuovo: toasted bread drizzled with the brand new, just pressed olive oil and salted. The new oil at Da Gregorio was almost neon green, very strong, and full of flavor, tickling the throat on its way down. When we asked where we could buy a bottle, Fausto delivered a free one to our table, pointing out the oil mill’s owner sitting at the next table.
This visit to Da Gregorio marked a first for me: my salad arrived already dressed. In all my travels in Italy, I could not remember getting a pre-dressed salad. Fausto pointed out that he had put dressing on my salad for me, and I learned from Francis that it’s appropriate in Italy to ask them to do so by saying, “me lo condice per favore” (“Can you please dress it for me”). This is great news for me, as I have yet to master the art of pouring the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper into the small bowl already containing the salad. I can usually get the proportions right, but hardly ever manage to dress the greens evenly. Thanks to Francis and Fausto, I learned two things: how to ask for a dressed salad, and, just as important, that it’s culturally acceptable to make such a request.
For anyone interested in the details, here are the vitals: Ristorante Da Gregorio (tel. 0763 215011, closed Wednesdays). Did I mention that it’s closed Wednesdays? It’s located in the tiny Umbrian village of Morrano Nuovo, about ten minutes from the Orvieto train station, a short climb off the road headed north to Ficulle, and not all that far from the Orvieto War Cemetery.