Monday, February 16, 2004

Day 2 - More Assagi

We start with thankfully a small crostini with a local lardo (pig fat). For those who think it disgusting to eat pig fat on bread I have one word for you - butter. For lardo (the lardo di Colonata is perhaps the best known variety) has a buttery texture and taste that leaves you wanting more. But, as Alfredo recounts to us, gone are the days such as when he was a little boy and his mama served him obscenely long slices of bread, toasted and slathered with lardo (picture if you will the barber sharpening his straight razor on the sharpening band and now imagine that is mama with a knife, applying lardo to your breakfast toast). This evening's crostini is half the size of an index card, rather than yesteryear's legal size page, and we are better off for this enforced reduction.

We follow the lardo with, what other than a piatto assagio, a sampling of several antipasti including stuffed zucchini flowers, fresh porcini mushrooms and one of the evening's biggest surprises and pleasures, grilled or baked red chili pepper skins. Expecting them to be hot and spicy, we are surprised that they are lightly crunchy, smoky, and taste almost of corn.
Rather than doing the smart thing and paying our bill and leaving, we push onward, drawn to more and more food like a mosquito to a candle, knowing in the end this cannot be good or right or proper. But push forward we do. A farrinella soup, made from farro that is crushed into smaller fragments, is another delightful surprise, particularly helped by microscopic but crunchy croutons and topped with local Pescara olive oil. Because we can not decide on a single secondo, the waiter brings us an assagio of every item he heard one of the group utter. The result is plates of tagliata di razza marchigiana, sliced beef from the Marche cow that is related to the famed Chianina of the Tuscan Maremma; the ubiquitous roast lamb with local saffron; and finally roast rooster. Going through the motions we manage to finish nearly everything, the check is paid and we being the 20 minute walk back to the hotel that does not even begin to work off the massive amount of food we have consumed throughout the day.

Assagi. Perhaps I do not use the word correctly and after today perhaps it is a word that should be banished from my vocabulary. It is difficult to believe that "little tastes" can add up to so much. Like the "one little thin mint" of Monte Python's "The Meaning of Life," it does seem possible that just one more little assagio might make one literally explode. It is said, I think, that Julius Caesar was murdered by a thousand stab wounds, each one in itself non-lethal, but taken together a truly toxic combination. Today I feel as though I have died a death from a thousand assagi. But here in Italy, the home of Julius Caesar, it seems somehow an appropriate cause of death.

After a few small grappe and some spumante, I turn in for the evening. And I dream of tomorrow's meals and all the tiny episodes that will make up the tapestry of this truly wonderful experience.

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