Last month Marsha and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. Back then we had the summer off, so jetted to Europe for a ten-week honeymoon.
With a sketched out itinerary, a car on order and reservations for just the first city, we flew to Geneva. In our tiny red Fiat 128 with a copy of Arthur Frommer’s Europe on Five and Ten Dollars a Day and a bundle of maps, we set out on the trip of a lifetime.
For lots of reasons we couldn’t repeat that trip now, but with a look around at local options, it was clear we could summon up those distant memories. Culture, after all, is food, music, costume and countryside. With a little looking, we could find all those close to home.
For instance, when you think of Switzerland, what comes to mind besides banking and the Alps? Cheese, of course!
At Darien Cheese and Fine Foods, Ken and Tori Skovran stock the finest cheeses from around the world – offering them with the full back story of where, how, and by whom they were made.
With their advice, we settled on a trio of cheeses from Switzerland that covered a variety of styles. Gruyère, is one of the best-known types from the Alps. Ken was very excited about an aged-two-years wheel he had just cracked. “One of the best in my memory,” he said.
Next was a semi-soft rich and creamy Swiss Abby Wrestler that is matured in the cellars of the ancient Abbey Einsiedeln. A small pillow of Screamer (Swiss creamer – get it?) a bloomy-rind triple-crème with a divine buttery flavor rounded out the menu.
With some crusty bread, a green salad and a bottle of Pinot Bianco from the Italian Alps, we had a delightful supper that took us back to the beginning of our long-ago adventure.
From Switzerland we drove over the switchbacks of the St Bernard pass into Italy through Lombardy to Venice, across the boot through Assisi, on to Rome and then Florence. The Roman cuisine of Osteria Romana in Norwalk was just the place to recall those beautiful days.
A Mediterranean color scheme, pergolas around the dining room, and a Vespa scooter over the bar were Italian enough to set the mood. An Aperol Spritz and an Americano cocktail started off our few vicarious hours in Rome.
Spiedino Alla Romana ($12) seemed very Roman – house-made mozzarella between slices of fresh-baked bread, battered, grilled and dressed with capers and anchovy sauce.
With a nod to the ubiquitous presence of the clergy in Rome, Pollo Cardinale ($25) seemed appropriate. The tender chicken breasts topped with prosciutto and more of the house mozzarella were sauced with fresh herbs, olives, and demi glace.
Bucatini Amtriciana ($21), billed as a classic Roman dish, features thick strands of pasta in a bold sauce of pancetta, plum tomatoes, and Pecorino.
From Italy we headed for the delights of Provence and the medieval walled village of Vence. Lucky for us, we could get a reservation at the recently-opened restaurant L’Ostal in Darien that celebrates that sunny region.
The intimate and airy dining room leads out to a shady sidewalk patio. The charming French accent of our professional server, Stephane, lent an immediate authenticity to our evening. He explained that the menu is set up for sharing with categories that include Beginnings, Cheese & Charcuterie, First Course, Pasta, and Second Course. The daily specials were written on a wall-hung roll of brown paper.
A glass of the famous rosé of Bandol, deeply-colored and boldly-flavored, set the stage.
Fougasse ($13), a traditional Provençal bread in the shape of a leaf and the chef’s delicious Country Paté ($17) were shared. Marsha enjoyed the Roasted Halibut ($40) with spring peas and lemon brown butter. At Stephane’s suggestion, I ordered the feathery-light Gnocchi ($27) with wild morel mushrooms and asparagus.
I met Chef/owner Jared Sippel as he shaved prosciutto at the vintage Berkel hand-crank slicer in the dining room.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.