What is essential is invisible to the eye
(The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint- Exupéry)
I have to admit it: I am an incurable romantic. A sincere. A transparent one. A crystalline.
A sensitive one.
I resemble the pyramidal walls that hold noises. Nothing can come in, nothing can go out. Neither the emotions, positive or negative, nor do the sounds, the screams of joy or despair.
I am like a litmus paper: if you put me inside a liquid, I will never deny you a reaction. Looks like a fun game…
Yet, I am a creature of habit: I need my things, my books, my music.
Of my rites.
As I am never at home, I had to develop alternative ideas and palliatives. Coffee in the morning, hoping it is similar to what I drink in Italy. A right music playlist that knows how to remember what I really feel, where I come from. Who I am.
The books. I indulge myself an hour reading before going to sleep. Like I will never stop to circle the words that most affect me or to emphasize periods that I feel particularly adherent to my being.
Writing is one of these rituals: do you think my notebook is filled only with notes, concerning the places I’m lucky enough to visit? Definitely not, you know that too. The pages are full of ideas, phrases, quotations, rhymes. Sometimes poems. Short stories.
I’m in my hotel’s dining room and I’m having breakfast. The phone lights up intermittently, resembling a Christmas tree. Calls, messages, emails. I archive them with the simple movement of the thumb because “I do not answer because is still early” (cit.). I decide instead to concentrate on my coffee in a big cup. Not exactly what I would drink in Rome, in a bar of a random neighbourhood, but not so bad.
I open the notebook in an inaccurate spot: it is the only companion sitting at my table. Waiting for a more or less edifying chat with some other hotel guest or reading the international sites to understand where the world is taking.
The page that shows itself in all its candour also brings me two sentences: different only for content, colour of the ink and position.
Short but significant.
I miss the smell of jasmine in my house.
Why shall you say with ten words what you can say with two?
The synapses suddenly make contact and the mind turns on. Just as if I had caught the Jackpot by lowering down the metal lever of a slot machine.
There is no doubt: it is a message.
The nostalgia for the streets of my city and the essential.
Wonderful: I know what to talk to you…
I’m still in Australia. And while I’m waiting for a return that is not long in coming, I want to tell you this “Italian” experience that saw me starring no more than a few weeks ago.
You know how much I like flashbacks…
I returned to Italy, almost in secret, and went to Abruzzo, to Castel di Sangro. There, I visited “Reale”, Niko Romito’s restaurant.
Bound to its origins, the chef has been managing this place for almost twenty years, together with a crucial figure for his personal and professional life: his sister Cristiana.
Romito needs no introduction: three-star Michelin’s since 2013, he did not have a real “academic” preparation. He is self-taught and started in Rivisindoli, in the former family confectionery which later became a tavern. Only in 2011, Reale has “reached” Casadonna: a former monastery of the XVI century that now hosts its guests.
Entering and observing the entrance and the hall, the first thing that strikes the eye is the minimalism of Reale. The floor is simple, white walls, the tables (no more than 8) quite essential, clean plating too. Even the pictures hanging on the walls look like simple photos, randomly disposed, and not works of art. This is a precise idea of Romito, in the kitchen as well. This shall not be interpreted as laziness or superficiality, but as refinement, desire to experiment. In raw materials, in ingredients and therefore also in dishes.
After a welcome in line with the minimalism of the place, very quiet and peaceful, I take a seat and choose the “Essenza” menu: six courses plus the pairing of wines.
I have some suggestions: a Mardi Gavi of 2016 Nicola Bergaglio, a straw-yellow colour, on the nose shows floral, citrus, almond and anise. The taste, however, is elegant, fresh but persistent; a Morenita Cream, an excellent Sherry that made me crazy especially in pairing with the dish; a Pecorino Terre Aquilane PGI Casadonna: a collectible wine, born between the Alto Sangro and the Cinque Miglia Plateau and strongly desired by Romito which appears long and with a marked acidity. A 2013 “Close de la Barre” Mersault – Domaine Des Comtes Lafon: a very bright yellow colour, it is a mature wine with a great minerality. A Collemassari Poggio di Sotto Rosso of Montalcino 2014: we are talking about a red, a Sangiovese, shiny, easy, with a dazzling perfume and completely free from odorous or gustative heaviness; and finally an Es più Sole by Gianfranco Fino: a Primitivo di Manduria, sweet, excellent for desserts.
Let’s start with the amuse bouche: a soft salty pistachio, excellent, a roasted tomato lying on honey and a piece of bread. Finally, a ravioli with meat sauce and the baked potato under the ashes.
Then I taste the second course: celery, carrot, onion, olive oil and sage. A very concentrated and complex broth. An essential dish with a pleasant aftertaste, which remains at the bottom of the palate for a long time.
Then we move on to the first real dish on the menu: cauliflower. We’re talking about an extract, fermented for 48 hours. If I have to be honest, the dish did not make me crazy, even if I understood the concept perfectly.
The bread is also excellent, prepared and cooked as the old tradition of Abruzzo, and lentils, hazelnuts and garlic: a fantastic dish, perhaps a little reduced in quantity.
We continue with sweetbreads, cream, lemon and salt, and ravioli with ricotta, spinach and manteca-cheese.
We close with the beef: cooked very well and accompanied by tasty potatoes, but perhaps a bit too buttery.
For dessert, besides a mini selection, I have an Italian meringue, with raspberry and toffee inside. Fantastic. One of the most successful dishes.
At the end of the meal, after the usual visit to the bathrooms that fully reflect the philosophy of the restaurant, I talk with the chef: Niko Romito. He is the personification of Reale: calm, balanced, very attentive and curious.
The food and wine experience in the monastery of Casadonna is worth trying: I do not hide. But if I could give Romito some advice I would tell him to “give himself” a little more to his guests. Starting from the ideas to get to the same portions: for the insiders it is perhaps a little easier to understand why a dish has a certain quantity of ingredients and why not, but is not that easy for those who are now approaching the cuisine. Everything might be interpreted as lack of attention or even generosity.
Final mark: three and a half beards.