Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Namesake

When deciding what name to go by on this blog -- I have no desire to use my own true name in this age of internet identity theft, stalkers, and other unsavory shenanigans -- I chose La Tagliata.

This is because, in all my dining experience, the Montepertuso, Italy, restaurant by that name captures the perfect blend of anticipation, rarity, exceptional food, beautiful surroundings and, of course, convivial service. And it doesn't hurt that they have lots of soccer photos on the wall -- the restaurant has sponsored the local team for many years.

One approaches La Tagliata via a vertiginous mountain road -- in a minibus supplied by the restaurant that serves the hotels in Positano, down the mountain. The restaurateurs are smart enough to know that, faced with the task of driving up that impossible road, most tourists would never reach their tables. Once collected at your hotel, you go up...up...up...through switchbacks and tiny villages, even a soccer pitch in Nocelle. And then you arrive at La Tagliata.

A farmhouse style dining room -- simple wood tables and chairs, tablecloths of varying patterns, majolica dishware, fieldstone walls and floors -- has as its focal point a large open grill, on which the restaurant's specialty meats are cooked. You are greeted warmly, and then, if you are lucky, led to a table that is literally perched at the lip of a cliff that drops thousands of feet to the Mediterranean below. Not that the other tables are bad, it's just that the window tables take your breath away.

The best approach is to just sit back and let the restaurant feed you their choice of courses. You'll walk out stuffed and happy. Meals typically begin with an antipasto, followed by a Caprese salad of the freshest mozzarella -- likely made down the road, and so fresh that when you stick it with a fork the milk runs out -- several different pasti in rich red sauce and then, the best part of the whole meal, a plate of grilled meats. I can safely say that the lamb at La Tagliata is the finest I have ever enjoyed, no doubt assisted by the surroundings, but incredible on its own. There is no special sauce, no special herb, per se...it's just fresh and beautifully cooked.

And a word about that grill master! He is on the far right in the photo above, and he's a genius. My waiter three summers in a row was the fellow on the left. The restaurant is run by family: uncles, sons, cousins, a mishmash of interrelated locals who have made La Tagliata the family business. They have done a magnificent job of it.

Your final course, if you can squeeze it in, is a dolce -- will sir have the tiramisu? Yes, sir will.

Then, after hearty farewells and promises to return the following summer, you board your bus and slowly, meanderingly, descend from the Olympus of food to your waiting bed below, there to dream about how wonderful a life of food can be when there are places like La Tagliata to enjoy.

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