Monday, December 28, 2009

Table dynamics 12/09/09

The director of the English School asked me half joking if I would teach at the Oil Refinery. I’m thinking about it as I think it would give me another reality. An English pair of trainee architects doing stages here said it depended very much on the circumstances in which you meet Sicilians, because they were always treated really well when their boss took them to parties and introduced them to friends, but they noticed a kind of suspicion or disdain in general when in shops or cafes etc. I would meet lots of new people there – well, lots of men, as only men work there - an insight into the Sicilian male’s mind. Get me out of this borgo, get clients for the restaurant, a life of my own. You get free lunch, she said!

We had blues music last night – the singer actually had a nice voice and nice way about him, not the usual big ego. The waiters were complaining that they couldn’t hear a thing, and the kitchen staff were laughing at how ridiculously loud it was. So I asked Gaetano, the guitarist who plays quite regularly for us with different groups he plays in, to lower the volume. He seemed to think it was fine, but I looked at the singer and said – they need to accompany you, but they are drowning you out, and your voice is at the right volume. So he listened to them and agreed, and had them lower the volume. Good man. Mio marito was straight over later asking me what exactly I had said to them; Gaetano apparently told him we had a scuffle. I can’t say anything …

We had a lovely group of people last week who are doing an Italian course for a few weeks. One of them was our Swedish regular, sent here often for consultancy engineer work at the refinery (he says it is so illegal and dangerous over there that it should be closed down before it blows up - I think I’ll pass on the English teaching). He dines with us once a week, sometimes with his British boss (an Indian sikh), mostly alone. They love our food, and have made it their business to try every single thing on the menu. They love it because it is different, they say, offering the best of local specialities, but with a new twist, and also offering more adventurous food. The Swede with his Austria and Spanish companions from the language course were one of my favourite tables so far; they sat out on the candlelit terrace and just beamed and photographed every dish that was put before them, from the Sicilian ‘sfizi’ or appetisers and the tapas, to the desserts. The Spanish lady gave me her congratulations at the end, for the perfect combination of atmosphere, service and quality food. Delighted!

Another group from the same language school came last night, but were not so pleasant. Germans and Hungarian and a Russian with the Italian teacher. He was full of himself that he couldn’t decide what to have as if there wasn’t enough choice or he wasn’t convinced it would be good. The Germans were happy enough to take the sfizi to sample local fare. But the Russian couldn’t decide; he wanted something typical so I said the involtini (swordfish roulades). He hummed and hawed and they explained what kind of fish it was, and then I spent ages trying to explain that he wasn’t going to get a big fish, but rather the little rolls grilled with breadcrumbs and pistacchio crust. He hardly listened and just kept saying he didn’t understand. He just wanted attention on him. He was the typical annoying student, pretending to be thick just to get attention. I could see the Germans were fed up with him. Later on, I came to see how they got on and no one was that excited. I think they were all just bored with each other’s company because even the teacher was boring, he must be the one who was demoted that our Swedish friend had told me about. He said the couscous was lacking in juice (the same could be said of him), though he may have had a point, as I am always telling the cuoca to put more tomatoes and juice on it to give it some colour. I am not convinced about the fish couscous – stick to paella and risotto al pescatore I say, if you want seafood, or our wonderful Garbuglie di Venere – fresh pasta strips like linguini with baby tomatoes, rocket, shaving of tomato and fresh mussels. I then asked how the involtini went down with the Russian as I could see he was itching to talk; but he made a whole palaver, saying he could get them in the frozen section of the supermarket and microwave them at home or something really sarcastic. So he could finally speak Italian, I thought. I was raging. My cook prepares them every day fresh with her own hands (con le sue mani - I've picked up this Italian saying!), I said; she marinates the fresh swordfish and dips it in breadcrumbs and pistachio and rolls it up and it is grilled for you just before serving. I am sorry if you didn’t like it but it is one of our most requested dishes and it is a Sicilian speciality. It is, in fact, my mother-in-law’s special and one of the things that people remember from when they ran the restaurant – they are still coming back and asking for them. It was so funny, there I was defending a Sicilian dish and our cooks. Cocky little boring twerp. The German girls were totally embarrassed by him. People like that should stay at home, said the cameriera.

The tavolone out on the terrazza were among the nicest people we have come across in the restaurant. A large family with uncles and aunts and nieces and nephews, they appeared to meet up to try out new restaurants, as we heard them talking about other places too. They stopped me to ask me the recipe for the salmorejo and I was delighted. They said are we the only people who like it? And I said, no, but they don’t get it really, they don’t know it is the typical tapa for the summer in Andalusia and they said, ah but you have it just right; they had had it in Cordoba during the summer, but this one is better, they said. I said, yes it comes from Cordoba but we put in less garlic and vinegar to suit Italian tastes. They laughed, saying that their guidebook had warned Italians to avoid gazpacho as they would find it too strong in flavour (similar to salmorejo, but also has raw peppers, cucumber and onion, as well as the tomatoes and garlic and dried bread). They then wanted desserts and I came up and they all wanted crema catalana and the lemon cream. I said the crema catalana was the recipe of a friend from Catalonia (actually a lady having coffee next to be at Barcelona airport in June) and the lemon cream my mother’s recipe. And they all said well,then, I want that. And then there were only four lemon creams left so one friendly guy said mi sacrifico io, what can I have and I said the chocolate mousse is also my mother’s recipe, and he said ok then no doubt about it. Mio marito heard them complimenting them on the way past and they cleaned their plates.


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