V. Matteotti, 47
Petrignano di Assisi
Serves lunch and dinner
Chef: Enea Barbanera
The score: If I were on death row, I would request to have my final meal from here.
God, I love this place. Ai Cavalieri is a renovated convent located in Petrignano, a town in the valley below Assisi, which hosts a lot of big events like weddings (there is a nice garden outside, but we’ve been at night and in the winter, so I’m not sure if restaurant clients can eat out there) and has a small elegant restaurant and about 20 rooms.
I fell in love immediately for two reasons. The first was that we didn’t really realize this was a f-s category restaurant until we got there. Now, we’ll take our son to the Backpackers Welcome and the Bring the Kids places, and occasionally to the Nice Evening Out spots, but generally leave him back at the ranch when we really put on the Ritz. We figure if we’re going to refinance the house for a meal, we may as well go for broke and pay a babysitter as well. But, as I said, we didn’t realize what a fancy place this was, so got there with kid in tow. Not only did the staff not blink an eye (which isn’t really surprising, kids in restaurants in Italy are tolerated much more than in other countries), but the chef took one look at us and said, “Let me go put some pasta on for your little boy so he won’t get hungry and bored while you two look over the menu.” Now, that is a man who knows how to earn himself a loyal clientele.
This was quickly followed by a big basket of five or six different kinds of rolls (including walnut, sesame and olive) and a pot of house butter. Show me someone who does not list hot bread fresh from the oven slathered with so much sweet, soft butter that your arteries are flipping through their Rolladex for the name of a good lawyer as one of the primary reasons to be on this earth, and I’ll show you a person who lives a sad, hollow life.
The food was awesome. I mean, in the real sense. We were in awe. Aside from bread and butter, they also make their own fresh pasta and desserts. Stefano started with a cold octopus salad, which was the tentacles somehow laid out in aspic and then sliced crosswise waferthin and arranged flat on the plate. It kind of reminded me of ninth grade biology when we had to take a scraping of the inside of our cheek and then view the harvested cells through a microscope. Okay, that sounds gross, but it got very high “Wow, that looks cool!” marks and Stefano said it tasted good, too. He followed with seared tuna, which was off-menu but had been recommended by the chef. The best fish he’s ever had, he said. And the man’s been to Greece twice. Nicolò was ordered ravioli with smoked mozzarella and eggplant in a tomato sauce. Which means we all three ate them, and they were fabulous…obviously freshly made. My memorable dish was a fava risotto with mint pesto. Wow. It was heavenly, and if you figure I had just plowed through roughly a dozen rolls with butter and still managed to put away an antipasto (parmesan souffle with balsamic vinegar sauce) and enjoy this risotto, you know it had to be good.
The dessert menu was quite innovative, and a perfect end to the meal. Especially memorable was the chocolate souffle with pistachio sauce.
The menu is extensive, but the personal attention of the chef (who also made a point to suggest numerous off-menu dishes based on what he happened to have fresh that evening… something which always gets high marks from us) made it manageable. There is a specific vegetarian menu, but it includes lots of tofu and other bean protein stuff that figure prominently on my personal Ick List, so I ordered from the standard menu without any problem. A nice balanced wine list, as well.
Our bill came to about 90 Euros (with a bottle of medium quality Muller-Thurgau).
Full Disclosure: My husband knows the chef, and we got about 10 Euros knocked off our bill.
Via Salnitraria, 17
Closed Wednesdays and Thursday lunch
Lunch and dinner served
Chef: Marco Gubbiotti
The Score: The cuisine is haute, but bring a baggie of trail mix to tide you over between courses.
La Bastiglia is the restaurant of a four star hotel by the same name (33 rooms) at the highest point in Spello. The restaurant, though formal, is warmly decorated with antique furniture and a maiolica collection and has exposed tile ceilings and the original fireplace. It may have a view during the daytime, but we have dined there after dark.
This is good food, my friends. They have a couple of fixed menu offerings (including one vegetarian) or you can order a la carte. We had the vegetarian menu and the traditional umbrian menu the last time we were there, and the food was absolutely impeccable. Especially memorable were my cicerchie with egg pasta and orange squash sauce and Stefano’s guinea fowl with lentil crust. I also had a vegetable timbale which was served with a breaded, fried egg yolk. High marks in the “Hey, how’d they do that?” category, but unfortunately one of the top items on my Ick List. They also served a tiny lavendar flavored panna cotta (in a shot glass…cool) as an intermezzo, which was a new flavor. Very fresh, almost minty. Every dish (in what seemed like an endless succession) was as beautiful to look at as it was a joy to eat. A true gastronomic experience.
The chef didn’t take our order, but the waiter was helpful and attentive and the sommalier polite about our obvious cluelessness. They offer a fixed wine menu, where every course is accompanied by an appropriate wine as selected by the sommalier, which was something that we really liked and had never seen before. We were able to sample a couple of new wines this way without having to order a full bottle.
Our hipness factor was jacked up a couple of points by the fact that Pelù (a be-lambchopped Italian rock star) was sitting at the table next to us with his very important looking reptile skin clad entourage. He ordered the fixed wine menu, too. Apparently just as clueless as us.
The only complaint I have is that the service was slow. Did I say slow? I meant excruciating. Okay, yes, I know I wasn’t at the KFC drive thru, but 45 minutes between courses? We got there at eight and didn’t leave until ten past midnight. I mean, after 10 years of cohabitating, my husband and I don’t have enough material left to keep a conversation going for four hours. On the upside, by the time the next course came out we were starving again. We seriously discussed the merits of having one of us head to the pizza place across the piazza to bring back a couple of slices between our primi and secondi. Then the panna cotta came, and all was forgiven.
Our bill came to about 100 euros.
Ristorante San Francesco
Via San Francesco, 1
Lunch and dinner served
Chef: Carlo Angeletti
The Score: If you’re stuck in Assisi with no car and have to justify the LBD and heels you’ve been schlepping around since Venice, this is a good choice.
There’s nothing as damning as faint praise, so I hate to do that here. It’s not that the food isn’t good (in fact, it hovers between very good and excellent). It’s not that the ambience isn’t up to par (it has the low lights, the fresh flowers, the elderly waiters in ill-fitting stiff jackets…all the accoutrements of fine dining). It’s just that, all things being equal, I think the price/quality ratio is better elsewhere. You pay a lot for location, I guess I’m trying to say.
But what a location it is. A tiny little restaurant attached to a cafè, the place is all windows on two sides and looks out over the facade of the Basilica di S. Francesco and valley. The view is especially breathtaking at night, so I recommend dinner. Lunch time is good for people watching, as the piazza in front of the Basilica is always crowded with throngs visiting the church.
The menu isn’t extensive, but is a good mix of traditional Umbrian fare (strangozzi with truffles) and a bit of nouveau (vegetarian lasagna with farro pasta). They offer bread with two or three kinds of flavored butters and a wonderful dessert selection. Especially memorable were my fig and gorgonzola antipasto and warm chocolate cake with house ice cream. The wine list is solid, the service formal but friendly.
We paid about 90,00 euros with a bottle of medium quality local wine.
Via Floramonti, 2/a
Lunch and dinner served
Chef: Guido Trombettoni
The Score: Tragically hip. And excellent food, too.
The word is that this is the place to eat of the moment. And who are we if not cutting edge? Go down a narrow back alley in Perugia and through a tiny, dark door which looks like it must be some sort of utility room, follow the steep stairs down, and find yourself in….SoHo. I mean, I’ve never actually been to SoHo, but this is what I imagine a hip SoHo restaurant must look like. All cream and China red and bleached wood and lit by Japanese lanterns so huge that they exert their own gravitational force.
Opened just last year, this trendy restaurant is owned by two young brothers, Roberto and Michele Serafini, who are obviously passionate about food and their customers. They take your order personally after taking you through the menu dish by dish (a short menu, so it doesn’t take long) discussing the merits of each selection. There is always something vegetarian included among their selections, and sometimes special off-menu items as well. The brothers really want you to eat well, so don’t be shy about asking for suggestions.
The menu is a interesting mix of innovation and upgraded classics. These folks know the value of exhalting the simple, so serve antipasti like a whole warm buffalo mozzarella with fruity olive oil and a light grating of black pepper. “So, what’s the big deal about that?” you say. Well, you have obviously never visited heaven. I also had a fried artichoke. If you are yawning and rolling your eyes, you deserve to live out your life at the Cracker Barrel, you philistine. Other memorable dishes were ricotta stuffed pumpkin flowers and spaghetti with tomato confit.
The dessert menu is small but varied and sublime. If you pass up their three chocolate mousse platter, white flavored with ginger, milk with cinnamon, and dark with red pepper, you will live to regret it.
They also have an extensive wine list and serve by the glass, something not so easy to find. We had a lovely Teroldego last time around. The brothers are happy to help with wine selection as well.
We spent about 75 Euros.