This is an old post that never got posted...... This was a review that I did for Coast Weekly. They were looking for a new restaurant reviewer. They never called back......Hmmmmm.
So.....we had this guy: his new wife had thrown an extravagant party for him back in the day. The bill had somehow slipped through the cracks......Then...Oops! Divorce! Now what? We billed her, we billed him.....Nada. So, Carolynn offered to do a spell to encourage ‘justice’: ie. someone paying the bill. As a card-carrying skeptic, I reserved judgment.....but did allow her choice of any restaurant on the Peninsula (or elsewhere) if we got paid.
So.....the poor bastard finally paid (I should have invited HIM to dinner). Carolynn, flush from her triumphal trip to Tuscany, capitol of old world hospitality, chose to eat at Pisello, at the Conde Nast Traveller Top Ten Bay of Pigs Resort.
Restaurants are the second oldest profession.....the exchange of the hospitality of locals for goods and services from the traveller. This simple contract is obviously different in the new millenium....we are after more than mere survival when we hit the road seeking food and comfort. So, we set out to celebrate justice and re-experience the warmth of Tuscan hospitality in its supreme American exponent (designed and run by the Marchese di Antipasti) at one of our greatest resorts.
Upon the day......I arrived on time! I even made reservations! And to set the mood, I picked up Carolynn in a ’71 Alfa Romeo GTV......with working lights and doors and everything!
We parked.....and walked the half mile from the non-valet end of the lot.......At Bay of Pigs the valets have a hundred of the closest spots....(Assuming perhaps: fit guests, fat valets; no one parks his own car anymore? Fine, but do you let a valet drive a ’71 GTV? Not a FAT valet, certamente…..)I am 5'9'', 160 and I barely fit. While we walked, we were giggling like school kids.....’Oh, do you think they will bring us bruscetti and proseco as soon as we sit down?’ Will they have riboletta? Will they have the real Tuscan bread? Cantucci with Vin Santo?’ I think we were even holding hands......we may even have skipped!
Well, no; no; yes; kind of, and yes. Anyway, we arrived, with actual reservations, and were shown to an actual table. No window, of course....Pisello would never give a window to a 7:30 deuce—obvious losers. Our table was in the middle of the empty room and cozy in size, if not location......cozy enough that we were worried we would have room for the food and glassware (we can eat, for ectomorphs).
So....No bruschetti upon arrival....and it was pretty clear the waitress had never heard of proseco....At some length the captain appeared to explain that it was the Marchese di Antipasti’s wine list, and the Antipasti’s did not make Proseco, or any other sparkling wine....though there was a Moscato with a little spritz to it at $25 the half bottle. I pointed out the ‘’Amici di Antipasti’’ part of the list and suggested that some Amici might be in the sparkling wine biz. Well......No, actually. With a superior tone she then told us that there is very little sparkling wine in Italy, and Italians don’t drink it anyway, so they did not feel it was necessary to have on the list.
I could not help but flash back to the tiny wine shop in the Milano market, where (unable to choose from the dozen sparklers available) the proprietor whipped out a fat book listing all of them, with all the data to help me in my selection, and refused to let me leave until I had the perfect one.....and a back-up. Or the harried waiter at Sandro’s in New York stopping in his tracks upon recognizing me, racing to the back and returning with a bottle......’This is from MY village....the best Proseco in the world.’ Or every single restaurant I ever ate at in Italy, from peasant to Michelin 3 stars…..
Anyway.....having failed the Proseco test (us, not they) we were denied a chance to pick a second aperitif. The captain stalked away, and the waitress was clearly too terrified to approach us. We sat....Our stomachs thought our throats had been cut.....When the waitress eventually returned for a food order, she discovered that we actually still wanted a cocktail. As total self-parking, 7:30 dining, proseco-ordering losers we dropped back five yards and had Campari Sodas. What a couple of pretentious geeks……..still clinging to the remnants of our Tuscan dreams......
They did forgive us enough to let us order wine. We eventually settled on a mid-range ($50) bottle of something from ’96. I ordered by the number, so as to try to alleviate the waitress’ trembling at any mention of Italian words. We passed at the opportunity of dropping a couple of hun on a Brunello or a ‘Super Tuscan’. The wine was opened with the typical Californian death-struggle.....bottle flailing around as the screw sinks home.....grand views of the waitron’s armpits. Ecole Somellier Sherwin Williams) Why can’t the bottle be placed quietly on the table? Has the linen been consecrated, and is the corked bottle ritually unclean......should we be concerned? Or does pulling the cork in such a violent manner send the evil spirits fleeing at a rate sufficient to allow the bottle to be placed on the table without fear? We received new glasses. Apparently the $50 mark rated fish bowls. The waitress, having presented the ears and tail of the bottle she had killed,proceeded to glug a quarter of it into Carolynn’s glass at one go. I, of course, responded like a scalded eel.....and refused to let any of the wait staff touch any of our glassware for the rest of the evening. Talk about ritually unclean! Back Satan!
So......on the menu there was riboletta!.....and it was great: robust flavors, interesting stuff floating around, not the mushy hot gazpacho I saw once or twice over THERE. There was bread.....unsalted in the Tuscan fashion......but limp, flaccid crust. I was thankful, having lost ANOTHER tooth since Italy.....I sense that the Pebble Beach dental demographic may have something to do with the lack of authenticity of the Pisello crust.....you could throw real Tuscan crust at a burglar
There was also tripe, Florence style. Here, two roads met in a yellow wood.....and longing to travel both (crunchy, vitamin-rich nouveau vogue or old world peasant) and be one traveller the chef apparently set off for the middle, swinging his machete. Crunchy tripe? Wow....I never considered that one. I admit to mortal terror sinking in when I realized I had ordered tripe in Pebble Beach—how many orders could they possibly serve in a week? Two? How many servings in a typical cow stomach? Visions of projectile vomiting danced in my head.....Turns out I had it all backwards......maybe instead of letting it sit around, they prepare it to ORDER! It was a serious, well needed workout for my incipient TMJ, though. And served at such a violent temperature that I strongly suspect MicroWave By the Bay. (Hoist by my own petard, by the bye......I ALWAYS touch the plate when the waitress says ‘Don’t, it’s hot.’.....well, at Pisello: listen.....it is HOT! The Bay of Pigs Resort is not subject to PG&E Block 11 rolling power outages.....plenty power here, baby).
By now our entrees had arrived. I had the veal, which was cooked perfectly. The sauce had lovely flavor, but was so dilute I had to chase it around the plate basting each morsel. I further annoyed the staff by having the nerve to order the brussels sprouts side with my entree, as well as the veg o’ the day. I was overwhelmed at the idea of FREE Contorni (in Italy, everything is a la carte—no egg roll with two from Column B). Only a sadist (or is it the other way?) either serves or orders brussels sprouts in a modern restaurant. Brussel Sprouts are the Saddam Hussein of vegetables. No luck here. We were back in the yellow wood with the tripe......Talk about cantucci: these sprouts were .50 caliber. All I could think of was that poor beaver that five or six arms of government came down on last year for eating cherry trees in the DC Tidal Basin. Between the tripe and the vegetables, Bucky Beaver is badly needed at the Bay of Pigs.
But, they had cantucci with Vin Santo.....not together, but we captured a real waiter from the drunks at the next table and he assembled the dish for us from different places on the menu. Carolynn was thrilled. I was a bit staggered at the $20 per half bottle price for what is essentially spoiled wine. In Tuscany, those of us whose teeth have fallen out eating the bread use Vin Santo to dip the rock hard Cantucci (Italian for cartridge, as in rifle......the carabinieri version of Dunkin Donuts....) Our new waiter tried to pretend that Vin Santo was some fine treat, until he realized we were in on the secret. When he heard our proseco story, he managed to sneak us some of the erstwhile Moscato, which made the Vin Santo price go down a little better.
Meanwhile our new waiter (our waitress was off calling her therapist) and the drunks provided what had been missing—personality. Nevermind that the drunks ran off the honeymoon couple at the window table by (horrors!) actually talking to them. The waiter was a 4:12 miler at PG High, scholarship kid at Cal Poly, Dad a plumber in Carmel, and he is off to the Big City Lights of Las Vegas with the contacts he has made at Pisello. I am not surprised. His warmth and interest in his guests stuck out like a sore pisello in the sterile atmosphere at Bay of Pigs.
Back in the early days of California cuisine, as the portions shrank and style became the goal, I had a theory that the ulitmate exponent of new cuisine would be a photo of a plate, to be shown to the diner, rather than acutal messy food. Dining at Pisello reminded me of this. Tuscany? All that was missing was a plywood mural of The David, or a Tuscan farmhouse, with holes cut out for us to put our faces through for a souvenir photo. Better than the Holiday Inn Grand Island, Nebraska if you are a travelling salesperson......but Tuscan? No more than a rose is to a photo of a plastic rose. I am sure old school warmth, care and expertise exists somewhere on the Peninsula.....it will be an interesting search. I’ll let you know.