Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dinner out. Volterra.

E. is in town. He is one of the great gourmands of my acquaintance, the elder brother of A., the best cook I know. So we take him to Volterra, one of the better Italian restaurants in Seattle. I can live with the fact that Rachael Ray considers this her favorite Seattle restaurant. We sit down in the dining room with its alabaster lamps and black-and-white tiled floor and look up at the photographs of Volterra, the restaurant's namesake town. The owners were married in this town; some of the photographs are of their wedding. I look at the menu and then remember that I always promise myself to eat here more often, yet never do. It has been more than a year since my last meal here, I think. I look up and down the menu and find myself unable to decide, know that there is no way I can have an appetizer and a pasta and a main course and dessert. Perhaps I will just have a pasta, then, or just a main course, but they all look so good that I am paralyzed with indecision. So we order some appetizers to share, as we wait for the others to arrive.

The bread reminds me of Italy, that crusty, dense, somewhat flavorless loaf that soaks up olive oil like a sponge, which we found just about everywhere, across the Abruzzi and throughout Tuscany and down the Cinque Terre. I sprinkle a little fennel salt - it is a signature of the restaurant, available for purchase and somehow included in the gift baskets for last year's Golden Globes, or Emmys, or some awards show I didn't watch - over a pool of olive oil, mop it up with a scrap of bread. There are scallops, just cooked through, in a tangle of pea vines and shaved fennel, fava beans, wild mushrooms, a smear of some green aïoli. There are slices of sweet melon, two different kinds more exotic than the supermarket cantaloupes, draped with rosy scraps of prosciutto as fine as silk. My mother orders a salad of spinach and beets, red and gold. L. has the brilliant idea of sharing a pasta and then ordering a main course, so I eagerly agree and order the stuffed rabbit leg. (I love rabbit, and whenever I see it on the menu I order it immediately).

We all share a pasta, the one I first eyed as soon as I sat down, a tagliolini tossed with bits of guanciale, more fava beans and wild mushrooms, faintly wrapped in the pungent fragrance of white truffles. (As it always happens with things in season, fava beans and wild mushrooms are everywhere, but they are so good that having them in practically every dish is no hardship). There is just enough for us to have a small serving, more than a taste but less than a meal. Our secondi arrive, my leg of rabbit wrapped around some kind of bread stuffing that involves bits of pancetta, on a pool of creamy mustard sauce. There are buttery mashed potatoes, which I take only a few bites of (must save room for dessert) and roasted cauliflower (of which I eat every last floret), but the main thing is the savory richness of the rabbit meat.

I order dessert, an orange-chocolate cake, dense and rich, and six forks, along with coffee for everyone. I need something sweet at the end of the meal, to round it out, make it complete, even if it is only a few bites (well, ok, more than a few) of cake. It is still early, so my mother invites everyone over for tea, which alarms me as my apartment is a bit messy. They head up to the top floor to look at the view while I rush around shoving things into closets and drawers, changing light bulbs and wiping off counters. We settle in with little cups of hot tea and candies brought back from Taiwan and unwind from dinner, watching the Olympics on tv and letting our stomachs digest an extravagant dinner. I wish I had eaten a little more cake.

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