Last week, we started planting the rear garden.  After the house was renovated, our
contractor plowed all the construction debris into the rear yard and then covered it with
several inches of---clay.  We had asked for dirt.  Oh, well.  That’s what happens when
you try to do a construction project from an ocean and a continent away.  We put in
some hardscape (tufo blocks set in sand) for a patio and then we removed most of the
clay from the remaining area, which we organized as planting beds.  Oh, and did I forget
to mention that after we dug through the clay, we had to dig through the construction
rubble and naturally occurring rock?  Many Motrin later, we were ready to plant.

We’d put in 4 cypress, an olive tree, 7 teucrium, 11 lavender, 5 echinacea, 10 rosemary,
2 fragolino grapes (to grow up and over the pergola above the terrace), 2 querciafolia
hydrangea, 1 phlomis, 3 ornamental sage, 2 perovskia (Russian sage), 4 cistus, 5
dianthus, and 3 old garden roses (Souvenir de la Malmaison, Cardinal de Richelieu, and
Variegata da Bologna), plus the rose we brought with us from Fair Oaks, which is doing
really well).  In addition, we’d planted 1 white wisteria, 2 Sambac jasmine, and 1 climbing
Iceberg rose against the front of the house.  So, we were pretty pooped by Sunday.

Left to plant in containers were an ornamental bay laurel and a mandarin orange.  We
decided we needed square containers to maximize bottom surface area to withstand the
strong winds we sometimes get up here at 550 meters.  That meant a trip to Deruta.  
And that meant a Slow Food restaurant in or near Deruta.  No problem.  Turning to the
bible, L’Osterie d’Italia, we found many choices and settled on an enoteca (a trattoria
with an emphasis on its wine cellar) in Bevagna, a Roman town near Montefalco (of
sagrantino fame) in Umbria, called “Enoteca Piazza d’Onofrio.”  

Bevagna is a beautiful town, surrounded by intact Roman walls.  It boasts the ruins of an
amphitheater, temple, and thermal bath.  In the second week of June there is a festival
called the “Gaiete,” during which the whole town pretends it’s living in the Middle Ages,
complete with costumes, crafts, and entertainment.  We’ll have to go back to check that

Our restaurant was located in what used to be a frantoio (an olive oil factory) set in a
small out-of-the-way, turn-right, turn left, now circle back piazza.  The restaurant is very
charming with its vaulted ceilings and old terra cotta floors.  It also offers
accommodations, including mini-apartments.  Check it out at  

But we were there for the food and the wine.  What attracted us most was the availability
of wines by the glass, which would give us a chance to try both whites and reds.  As it
turned out, there were two tasting menus that day with accompanying wines.  Thinking
this was a good way to see what the chef thought was worth showcasing, we didn’t
hesitate.  In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.  From our point of view, the
tasting menu was a little timid in its attempt to appeal to a broad range of tastes.  (I’m
making a mental note of that for the future.)

Our antipasto course consisted of steamed artichoke with aged pecorino (sheep)
cheese with a drizzling of orange blossom honey.  Maybe we’re getting a little jaded, but
we both thought the dish sounded better than it tasted and that the artichokes were
overcooked.  However, honey is always fantastic with pecorino.  This dish was paired
with a 2003 Antonelli Grechetto.  Antonelli is a local producer well known for his
sagrantino and rosso di Montefalco.  He also makes a mean grechetto.  The wine was
fruity yet dry and crisp.  The pour was a little small, but the waiter came back as soon as
our glasses were empty.

Our second course was a pureed ceci bean soup served with toasted bread and fresh
thyme.  Again, we were a little disappointed, as the toasted bread, which I’d imagined as
a beautiful slice of rustic Tuscan bread smeared with olive oil and rubbed with garlic
before being pan toasted, turned out to be croutons that looked suspiciously machine
made.  Still, the soup was velvety and tasty and the tiny thyme leaves averred to its
house-made provenance.  

The pasta course consisted of ravioli stuffed with ricotta and pecorino in a pesto of basil
and pine nuts.  Quite good, but not mind-boggling.  Still, the grechetto flowed.

The main course was shoulder and loin lamb chops grilled over an open fire in a
fireplace in the next room.  (Why is that fireplace always in the next room?  I’m making a
second mental note to sit where the fire is next time.)  The lamb chops were really very
good—succulent, cooked perfectly with their fatty little edges nicely crisp, and well
seasoned with rosemary.  The chops were served with roasted potatoes cut thinly—like
big potato chips.  These were excellent.  The main course was accompanied by a 2002
Madonna Alta rosso di Montefalco.  Fabulous!  But then, I’m a sucker for a big, spicy,
fruity red wine.  Steve thought it overpowered the lamb.  Not me.  Any red wine that
reminds me of a California zinfandel or syrah gets high marks.  I loved it.

For desert we were served warm turnovers filled with pear, white raisins, and walnuts,
sauced in orange nectar.  Yummy, but I would have preferred to sample something from
their chocolate tasting menu!!  The desert wine was a 2001 late harvest sauvignon
blanc from Tenuta Palazzone, Giovanni Dubini, called “Rocca Ripesena d’Orvieto.”  A
man we’d seen flitting in and out with bottles of wine came over to our table to explain
that the desert wine was “muffa nobile” (noble rot), very unusual, and very good.  We
completely agreed.  Then we got to talking and he told us his name was Salvatore and
that he has a restaurant in Foligno that is also featured in L’Osterie d’Italia.  He asked
where we were from, and when he heard we’d lived in San Francisco, he told us that an
American chef from San Francisco had apprenticed with him in Foligno some years ago
and then had gone on to open two restaurants of his own in San Francisco.  One is
Luna Park and the other is The Last Supper Club.  Those of you friends from San
Francisco know that both are within blocks of where we lived on Fair Oaks.  What a
wonderful serendipity!  Here we were in a tiny Roman town in Umbria and we meet
someone who trained a successful San Francisco restaurateur at whose restaurant
(right around the corner) we’d eaten several times.  The world really is a small place.  

After a quick walk through town (because it had started to rain), we drove through the
Umbrian hills, planted in vineyards, to Deruta.  There we found 2 big, beautiful, square
terra cotta containers for our trees.  Altogether a successful Sunday day trip, rain
notwithstanding.  Buon viaggio and buon appetito!

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April 17, 2005: