Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dinner At DivinPeccato, In Panicarola

  As the excitement of future travel begins to tickle my belly, I can't help but go back through photos of meals from past visits to Umbria. I always plan to write more posts while actually there, but the internet connections can be slow and sometimes difficult, so lots of "moments" become stashed away in folders on my computer desktop…just waiting to be discovered anew.

  A perfect example is right here, right now.
  Dinner in nearby Panicarola. 
  Nearby to Panicale, that is. I wish it were nearby my current location, but I can wait.

  This post is about a really fantastic meal Johnny and I had back in 2013. We totally planned on going back again this past 2014 trip, but just never made it. So many trattorias, so little time. A problem I am more than happy to have, by the way.

  Not more than a fifteen minute drive through the lovely countryside, DivinPeccato, or "Divine Sin", is fairly new to the area, and serves a more modern take on the local cuisine. They have a cantina as well as a few nice rooms to rent.

I noticed the sign a couple of years ago, and we just had to try it.

The front of the restaurant, which is right in the middle of
this very small village.

Outdoor seating for the warmer months…

One of the cozy dining rooms.

  We hadn't heard anything about DivinPeccato, therefore I had Johnny stop the car one afternoon so I could take a quick look at the menu. 
  I had a chance to speak briefly with the young couple, Mirko and Nicola, who own it. Evidently, they both worked at a nearby country resort that had recently sold, so they opened up this place of their own. They were happy to point out the various vegetarian options available.
  They also talked about their philosophy for the restaurant, which was local, seasonal, sustainable…all good! Of course, the specialties of most places around Lake Trasimeno are the fish dishes, which I imagine are wonderful. We did see some very interesting vegetarian dishes to try, so we made a date to come back for dinner.

  When we finally came for dinner, it was close to the end of that trip, so we even dressed up for the occasion.
  The wine list was extensive, but we opted for the house wine, which was fine. I tend to go for white wine, and stay away from reds, as they can trigger my migraines…so here, we were each able to order what we wanted by the half carafe. White for me, red for Mr. J.

Two glasses for two happy campers.


  Our waiter was very nice, happy to answer any questions, and also non-intrusive. Perfecto! As is often the case, Johnny just sat back and asked me to order for both of us. This works out well most of the time. Here, it really worked because there were so many things I wanted to try.

  We started with a dish to share…sadly. Sadly because I should have ordered two! It was wonderful...

"Cipolla Rossa di Cannara in Parmigiana"
Local red onions, special to the region, layered with parmesan, and roasted until gooey.

  I love onions, I love parmesan, I love roasted, gooey things. It was all that. I would order this again, absolutely, only one for each of us.

  Since we knew this would be a last "special" dinner out, we decided to go for it, and order more than we usually do. It was nice to really take our time, and sit back to enjoy a night out. I had a couple of dishes in mind as our "primi", or first course. In reality, these would probably be starters, and our main course choices would be first course. We skip the "secondi", or meat course, so we often order extra things from the first course menu, as our main dish. Are you following me? I hope so….More importantly, the waiter understood, so no problemo!

  Now, for Johnny (but also for me, because we switch plates back and forth) I thought we should try the  "Coccetto di Pecorino e Tartufo in Crosta Sfoglia".
  I wasn't exactly certain, but I knew it had pecorino, truffles, and some type of baked crust….It did.

Oh! You mean like a "pot pie"!
I get it..

Of course it wasn't rich….ahem. Sure.
It was so #*%&$#! good!

  Good thing the alternate dish was a bit lighter. Not much, though.

"Crema di Asparagi con Gnudi di Ricotta"
Asparagus soup with ricotta dumplings.

  The soup had that green, springtime flavor of asparagus that just takes you right to the fields. It was super clean and actually it was quite light. These two dishes worked well together.
  The gnudi were good, and I remember that the crunch was a very nice texture to have here. This is a dish I would love to try and recreate. I bet it wouldn't be that difficult, either.

  But then I get to a point where I say to myself:
  "Self, when are you going to realize that you are someone who likes the idea of cooking, but in all actuality, you just like to eat, and are pretty lazy when it comes to the cooking part "?
  So, instead, I'll probably just make a point to go back to DivinPeccato for the soup, and call it good.

  Ok, back to the dinner we were enjoying.
  First of all, I do want to mention again how great the staff is here. We were so happy to just hang out, sip wine, watch all the goings on…it was a long, slow evening of perfectness, with nobody trying to move us along at any point. They just don't do that here in Italy. Your dinner should take all evening. It's just that we usually go out for lunches, and order much less, so this was sort of special.

  Ok, NOW… back to the dinner we were enjoying.

  Johnny can never have enough pasta, so I ordered a plate of "Stringhelli al Tartufo e Pecorino" for us. Of course, the pasta is all handmade, in house. Always such a mindblower. The texture is nothing like packaged dry pasta. Nothing wrong with the dry pasta at all, it's just a different experience. Both are just fine.
  This was fresh, though, and it was a perfect match for the sauce of truffles and pecorino cheese.

We both really liked that the sauce wasn't too heavy with creme.
Just really tasty, with a good truffle accent.

  I also ordered an omelette. Yes, you do see omeletts every once in a while on dinner menus here. The filling was fresh fava beans and caciotta cheese. The cheese is usually a soft textured, young cheese from either cow, goat or sheep. It's a cheese that is pretty typical in Umbria. It was nice with the fava beans. It has a mild flavor.
  We also ordered some roasted potatoes and some excellent artichokes cooked country style with "mentucchia", the wild mint that grows all around the fields of the area. 

  (don't tell anyone, but I snuck a small plant of this home in my luggage. It's doing nicely, too)

This looks really good to me right now. 

I would say "perfectly" roasted potatoes.

There is a tiny sprig of mentucchia…not like any mint we have here.
This is a very typical recipe, the artichokes and mentuccia.
They are cooked in olive oil until totally creamy.

  We did share all the way along, passing our dishes back and forth throughout the evening. Everything was delicious. Everything.

  Why, yes, we did have dessert, thanks for asking!

 Apple & Cinnamon Strudel
in White Chocolate Sauce.

And here we have Banana and Chocolate Flan in Caramel Sauce.
More cake like than flan, but with a very soft interior…"lava" like.

  It was a lot of food for us. But, you know…you just need to do this every once in a while, and this menu just made us want to overindulge some. 

  We both look forward to returning, and I think for dinner again. It's close enough to home that we can handle the roads at night, which is huge. We can actually find our way back….!

  So, until we meet again, Dear DivinPeccato…Arrivederci!

DivinPeccato is located in the town center of Panicarola, Umbria

A warm summer night in Panicarola, Umbria.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Open Says Me

  I hold the odd shaped key as though it were made of gold.

  It might as well be. It's the key to the apartment we stay in while we visit Panicale every year. We have been warned that it is difficult and expensive to duplicate. 
  Fair enough….we keep it close at all times. It is heavy, makes a great clunky sound when dropped, and never goes missing. Well, not yet, anyway.

  It reminds me of a key that was golden and magic…the key that we would get at Children's Fairyland at Lake Merritt in Oakland. Always a very special outing. Mom or Dad would insert this magical key into a slot at whatever Fairyland exhibit we would be standing in front of, and the fairytale would come to life as the tale was read aloud through a speaker.

  This was so high tech and so cool….at the time. Sigh.
  Then we would go and feed the seals. Oh, the simple pleasures of childhood in the early 60's.

Wow…a classic memory, for sure.

  Anyway, like I was saying, this old Italian house key is very much akin to that magical golden key of yore…

  This key opens the door to many dreamlike days and nights in Umbria, filled with all sorts of fairytales. Sure, these fairytales include large doses of pasta, cheeses, and wine, late nights chatting with friends, fantastic espresso, as well as scary drives down wet and muddy backroads, language faux pas ga-LORE, and bouts of the flu…

  But, oh, how I have come to love my new, grown-up version of that Magic Key from Children's Fairyland…..

And cue the angels singing, please…..
I love you, key. Keyhole, you can be a pain in the ass sometimes.
Just saying.

  With a key like this in hand, you know you're somewhere else in the world. Then you begin noticing all the various hardware that is meant for a key like this. Old keys for old doors...
  I should rephrase that.
   begin to notice and then I become obsessed. Like I need another subject to obsessively take photos of….jeez. This being said, here I go.

  There are so many ultimately wonderful old doorknobs, knockers, handles, all textured and funky. We  actually ended up buying some really nice old door handles and pulls for our house at the salvage place we love so much.
   By the way…where are they? Hmmmmm…..Must remind Johnny about this forgotten project before we go away again, and bring back yet more rusty old things that are awesome.

Super Old School and very functional.

I'm guessing the old keyhole isn't used anymore, but it looks great.

Just a very nice door knob.

Don't you just want this at home? I do.

Ok, so sometimes reality is this.
It works.

  Once I got started looking around, I would see ironwork on doors everywhere, of course. Lots right in Panicale, but every town is full of all types of door jewelry….

I'll take this for my front garden gate.

This one for the back garden gate….

A newer version, but still lovely.

This might function as both a knocker and a hook thingy.
I get a kick out of the "dots" on some doors I see.

I can just imagine this one at the front door.
Who's there?

  You will often see faces creep into the scene. I see the Egyptian theme a lot, as well as beautiful women. It's always the beautiful women, isn't it?

The patina is just about perfect here.

Yeah, I would go for this for my front door.

Don't go to this house for a party.
I'm warning you...

I guess she doesn't like her hairdo.

This might be my favorite…maybe...


  The handles are very practical. You have to grab on while you insert the key, and jiggle it all around. It takes two to four hands and a handle, sometimes.

Love this one.

A very normal, often seen handle.

  There are the "human" door knockers, but there are animals, too…lots of lions, of course….

Do I distract you enough that you
don't see the peephole?

LOTS of lions! Who knew?

This pup has his own leash.
I'm thinking he wants a walk.

And an elephant,  just for fun.

  All I know is this:
  I can not wait to have that key in my little old hand again. I could use some magic.
  Let the fairytale begin, baby! 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Indian Summer Days

  There is absolutely nothing like a beautiful autumn day on the Central Coast of California… Sunny and warm during the day, with just enough crisp coolness in the evening to let you know the season has changed.
  And the light…sigh… The light is perfection. 

  What we enjoy is taking the bikes out for a spin. 
  Yes, bikes. They live most of the year in the potting shed, collecting dust. Then, once the weather gets warm….say September or October, we remember that we have them. 
  It's always a struggle untangling the handlebars away from the tools and sacks of manure and alfalfa pellets, but we are actually able to drag them out into the fresh air. Ta-Da! 
  Now…tires? Flat? No? Great! Where is the lock and chain thingy? Do they need to be cleaned? How about the lights? Need batteries….? 

  You get the picture. I must say, though, when we do get them out, we keep them out. They will live in the van for the few moments of really warm weather we get this time of year.
  Johnny and I are fair-weather bike riders, only. We don't go into the hardcore riding…we ride purely for F.U.N. Usually with wine involved at some point. Our serious exercising happens before dawn, out on the walking trail.
  The past couple of weeks we've been hitting the local bike path and ringing our bells:

Meet our bikes,  Roll-o and Roll-a.
These beauties are not made for speed, but they are a blast.

  My favorite thing about hopping on the bike is this:
  I feel like I'm twelve years old again. We hoot, we holler, we ring the bells non-stop. We are very dangerous because we are having too much fun. 

  We like to park somewhere flat, somewhere near the bike trail, then just go for it. Everywhere is pretty, this time of year.

Yes,  Mr. J rides the "girl" bike.
Don't ask, just accept it.

  Lately, we've been heading out with our bikes and dominoes. We'll find a spot to park, then ride to Cannery Row. We like this place that has killer views, a nice happy hour, and outdoor seating. It's called "The C", and it's connected to a big hotel. 
  I'd say it's geared mostly to tourists and conventions, but locals should check out the happy hour, if you have friends in town, or it's nice out. It's great…. and we always go into our "way-back machine" to reminisce about Cannery Row "before the aquarium". Yes, those were the good old days…..

  Hey, these days ain't that bad...

Where's Doc Ricketts?"

Where's my wine?

  The tables are big enough for a good game of dominoes, and the happy hour menu is great. What's not to love? 
  They added these glass " half-walls" around the outdoor patio, so even when it's windy, we can still enjoy being outside. These days, it's just perfect….no wind, no fog, lots of whales, seals and dolphins.
  Life is good!

  Another destination for our bike-to-wine ride is Municipal Wharf #2, just a little further down the bike trail, near the better known Fisherman's Wharf.. On the way, I like to see all the boats, and the colors of the area.

The many small boats that live here, with Mt. Toro in the distance.
On the right, you see the very end of Wharf #2. 

The light gets nice near the end of the day…
The "window" side of Fisherman's Wharf.

Late afternoon light on Del Monte Beach.
These are visiting sailboats that are allowed to
anchor overnight here in the bay.

  The Sandbar and Grill is so classic…I think it might be one of the last true "local bars" in Monterey. It's the real deal, as far as old school goes. They don't even have to try, they just haven't changed in years. We go for happy hour, to sit at the bar and just soak it in. You never know who you'll meet here.
  Plus….they have the best onion rings ever. Cut and made to order. Nothing fancy here, just a local hangout with awesome views. 
  And scrumptiously good onion rings. 
  Wow, I'm really exposing myself. Oh, come on…who doesn't love really good onion rings once in a while? For god's sake, man! Hey, we rode our bikes here, remember? All two miles!

Wine, onion rings and views. I'll take it!

Just outside the windows….

  Just so you don't think that all we do is drink and eat onion rings…and ride bikes… We also love Indian Summer for the chance to BBQ in the back garden. We could do this anytime of the year, yes, but these days the warm evenings we've recently had are perfect for bringing out the grill. 
  We share the duties…I prep the veggies, Johnny cranks up the Weber. We both have a good time.
  This meal was inspired by the bag of Romaine lettuce hearts that we needed to use or lose….
  I love grilled greens...

Eggplant, romaine, onions….Mmmmm!
And I must say…I like the char, baby.

Off the grill, ready for the plate.

Waiting their turn, red peppers and crookneck squash…
Johnny reads in between flipping the veg.

Colorful, too.

Artist, Chef, Biker, Domino King….
I'll take him!

  All in all, we have ourselves one heck of a grand time. It's all good. 

  We love these Indian Summer weeks, when we can stretch it out a little. The days are getting shorter, but they make for the best sunrises and sunsets, too. 
  Just since I took these pictures a week or so ago…things have changed. It's cooler at night, and the really hot weather only lasted a minute.

  Maybe that's why we love it so much. This doesn't last long…we don't get a chance to take it for granted.

  Now, let's eat, before winter gets here!