This time we arrived around 9:00PM, and the place was packed--we didn't even know if we'd be able to get a table, and we certainly didn't expect extra attention. But we were seated right away, and as the host led us to our table, Luigi passed us and gave us an enthusiastic "Welcome back! Welcome back!"
Steve decided to order a bottle of wine instead of the usual quarter-liter or half-liter, and when Luigi himself came to take our order, his response to Steve's wine choice was, "Wow." After we finished ordering and he walked away, I said, "What did you just order?!" I was so afraid that somehow, with the language barrier, he had just accidentally selected a 100€ bottle or something.
So when Luigi returned with the bottle of wine, Steve asked him how much it cost. Luigi was a bit confused ("Don't you know? You ordered it...") but got a menu and showed Steve: 24€. Steve asked why he had said "Wow!", and Luigi explained that it was a very good choice, an excellent wine. He then poured just a tiny drop in each of our glasses, and said he had to take the bottle back to the kitchen for ten minutes.
In the meantime, we enjoyed our appetizer: bruschetta con pomodorini. I basically could not get enough bruschetta.
We also had our pasta course: bucatini alla Don Salvatore. It was the hollow spaghetti (which are so hard to eat!) with sausage, provolone, parmesan, tomatoes, and something else listed as pendolo on the menu, which Google Translate helpfully says is "pendulum." Right, thanks. Anyway, it was SO good.
Luigi eventually came back with our wine, and Steve asked what he'd done with it back in the kitchen. After rephrasing (his English was very good, but we still struggled a bit here and there), he understood the question and explained that he'd had to decant it. He spent time telling us all about the wine, where it came from, the type of grapes, why he doesn't mark it up as much as other restaurants, etc. Then somewhere in the midst of all that, the power went out in the restaurant. Total darkness.
We didn't expect to hear from Luigi after that; clearly he had more pressing things to attend to than a conversation about wine with us. His restaurant was packed and had no light or air conditioning. Yet incredibly, the kitchen continued bringing out food as normal. Our meat course was misto di carne alla brace (mixed grilled meats--four kinds of grilled beef and pork), which honestly wasn't fabulous. Not bad, just a little lacking in flavor. And we also had misto di verdure alla griglia (mixed grilled vegetables)--also OK.
The power wasn't coming back on, so we propped up my phone with its flashlight on in order to be able to see what we were eating:
|The infamous bottle of wine|
Much to our surprise, a while later, Luigi returned. Even though the power was still out and the restaurant was packed, he came back to finish his conversation with us! He chatted with us about wine and then explained why the power had gone out (Italian politics--fascinating).
And then he sent us a complimentary dessert! I don't know what it was called, but I think it was essentially a deconstructed cannoli--fried pastry and sweet cream, stacked instead of rolled and filled. Terrible picture, of course, because I had to use my flash in the darkness of the restaurant!
The price for all that--an appetizer, a bottle of good wine, two entrees, a vegetable side dish (and dessert!)--was 59€ (about $65). Total. That included a cover charge, and tipping isn't a thing in Italy, so that was it. What in the world?! We easily would have paid $100 for a comparable restaurant meal here. And Luigi actually knocked it down to 55€ because of the power outage.
Steve and I sat there staring at the receipt, marveling at the price, and when Luigi spotted us studying it, he immediately came over to ask if there was a problem. We explained that we were just pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive it was, and he chatted with us all about his philosophy of pricing and said something like, "I don't have a nice view. I don't have parking. I realize you can go to places that have these things." I said to him, "Well, the hospitality and the food more than make up for that."
Clearly that made his day :) He walked away with a big grin saying, "Thank you! Thank you!"
Of course we had to get a picture with Luigi before we left. I for sure look like a hot mess in this photo--it was nearly 11PM after a day of hiking, a windy boat ride, a long train ride and then sitting in a hot restaurant--but it still makes me smile so much because this man was just the epitome of Italian hospitality. So, so fun.
I wish we could drive more traffic to his restaurant, but the reality is, it's in Portici. Very few tourists have any reason to go there. Gosh they are missing out though! My only regret is that we didn't even try the pizza, which was being made up front in this oven:
Kicking myself for that missed opportunity. Alas. La Tradizione! Totally worth a special stop if you ever find yourself on the Circumvesuviana train between Naples and Sorrento. It's only a couple of blocks from the Portici via Libertà station and you won't regret the detour. Tell Luigi we sent you :)