A Special Dinner
Let’s take a moment, before anything else, to talk about the Italian word particolare. Particolare is a great multipurpose Italian word to know. The dictionary says it means ‘particular’ or ‘special’, but I hear it used in a much more nuanced way. Like ‘unusual’ or ‘odd’ or ‘strange’ … but not always in a bad way, sometimes in a kind of a ‘nutty likeable professor’ way.
At our hotel we asked for recommendations for dinner, and she gave us two choices. One place that sounded like tourist central, and one that sounded intriguing. The woman at the desk told us that Spizzulio was a nearby restaurant with excellent food, but the owner is ‘particolare’. She said he might look at us and decide whether he feels like working or not. He might just tell us there’s no room. After all of this description … we had to eat there. Plus it was rated number one on TripAdvisor for Agrigento.
Not wanting to miss the opportunity to eat this restaurant, I called to make a reservation. The first number turned out to be a cell number, so I did another search, and got a land line. Eventually someone picked up, and I said “We’d like to make a reservation for two.” … he said, “ok what time?” I said “How about 9?” And he said “9 is a little early, how about 915.” Now, it’s important to note that the restaurant probably opens at 8 or 830, and there’s only one seating a night. So what difference does 9 vs 915 make? Anyway, no problem, reservation made.
15 minutes later I get a phone call on my cell. From the restaurant, calling back from the cell phone – saying “did you call me?”, “Uh, yes, sorry, but I called the other number and made a reservation, so everything’s good now.” “Oh, are you Caterina?” “Uh, yes” “Ok, see you at 915 then!”… wow. That would never happen in Rome.
When we arrived at the restaurant, there was one man sitting outside, and one table of two that was finishing up their coffee. Within a half an hour of our arrival one more couple arrived … and that was it for the night. During the course of the night we watched 4 or 5 other couples get turned away from an almost empty restaurant. Kinda makes you wonder why it was so important that we come at 915 instead of 9, right? But the words that he told the couples he turned away were one clue “You won’t get good service tonight, you should come back another time, you understand, right?”
And when Carmelo came to our table the first time … the rest of the chips fell into place. Carmelo was the host, the sommelier, the waiter, the chef, the busboy, the dishwasher, and the entertainment for the night. Seriously. He wanted to make sure when he first came to the table that we understood what we were getting ourselves into that evening – that it wasn’t going to be the fastest meal we had ever eaten. We told him that we’d love some wine, and then we were ready to sit back and enjoy the show.
And a show it was … When we ordered our wine, we asked for a recommendation that wasn’t Nero D’Avola (popular Sicilian wine … that we’ve had before … a lot) and tried a great local wine that was completely new to us. Then told us that as it was at 26 degrees, and he needed to cool it to 19 before we could drink it.
The olive oil and bread that he brought out were amazing. Really really good.
When we ordered the cheese plate he had us wait until the cheese was exactly at the right temperature to be consumed.
He brought us the menu written on a chalk board, and we picked a selection of dishes to try. Each time that Carmelo came to our table, we chatted. He asked us about ourselves, and we asked him about him and his restaurant. (He expressed surprise that we worked together and were not yet divorced.)
The food was all excellent, and the whole experience was highly entertaining.
Ultimately, I’m pretty sure the only reason we left dinner was so that we could let Carmelo do the dishes … oh, and because a couple came in to get some specialty beer and the drunk male started a dissertation about how Sicilians are not Italians and the Italians have used and abused the Sicilians for centuries … about that time, I was ready to go. :)