While this is one of those little travel recollections that we frequently like to recount, it is not an “anecdote” in the sense that I associate with the word. It does not have a punchline or a comical outcome. It is simply something we recall with fondness.
On our visit to the Amalfi Coast, we headquartered ourselves in a relatively minor location, as evidenced by its name, Minori1.
We stayed at a great B&B high above town, with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea that we enjoyed from our private terrace. The food was great, the accommodations perfect – after all, our demands rarely exceed good location plus cleanliness plus running water – and the hospitality of owners unparalleled. Only one person in the family spoke any English, and not very much of that. Our mastery of Italian was very minimal at the time. And yet, we were greeted as if we were long-lost close relatives and the communication barrier quickly evaporated under the torrent of amiability and warmth.
One the last night of our stay we decided to have dinner at the B&B. The meal was prepared by the owner’s sister. Boy, was that a monumental mistake! Not in the direct sense, mind you. Everything we were served was out-of-this-world delicious. The problem was in the amounts of food. We were not used to a six-course dinner where everything is unbelievably tasty… and there is no way to leave something on the plate without risking offending the friendly cook! Who was also the waiter. One appetizer replaced another, then came pasta, then another pasta, then some succulent meat dish… And all we could think of after the third or so course was, How are we going to eat anything else, we are so full!
And then, for dessert, we were offered to sample from a dozen of different brands of limoncello. Mmm… Quite impossible to get seriously drunk, too, with so much food blocking all of the digestive paths…
But this is not the main point of this story.
We asked the owner for restaurant recommendations when we arrived. He pointed us to a place in town that served the best seafood on the coast, according to him. He instructed us to mention to the staff that he sent us there.
We followed his instructions. The restaurant occupied a beautiful stucco building on the corner of the seafront promenade. As a member of the staff greeted us, I managed enough of Italian to explain that we would like a table for two and that Signor Antonio, whose guests we currently were, recommended the place.
The waiter’s already friendly smile stretched as far as his face allowed.
“Antonio! Certo! Him and I, we practically shared a potty when we were kids!”2
We were shown to a small table in an alcove with a view to the promenade and the beach beyond. Quite romantic! Possibly, we would be given the same table even if we were not sent here by our host, but I’d like to think that we were treated like VIPs because of him.
I asked for a wine recommendation. Our waiter summoned another, whose sommelier qualifications probably exceeded those of the first guy only in that the latter spoke a little English. He first tried to explain to us that someone in his family was married to Antonio’s sister’s best friend’s cousin or something, and that he and Antonio were close friends since childhood. Then, he proceeded to point out which of the wines on the menu was the most perfect accompaniment to the meal we were about to have. It turned out to be il vino della casa. Maybe, he did not want to waste some more expensive wine on American tourists; knowing that house wine is often the best value for money in non-touristy European eateries, I’d like to think that he was sincerely helping us avoid overpaying for something we might not enjoy as much.
While we were having our meal, we experienced something that almost never happens at a restaurant in most parts of Europe: Our dinner was interrupted a couple of times by the members of restaurant staff3. First, one waiter or another came to our table to check on us and said something along the lines of him needing to make sure that we’d tell Antonio that his friends know how to look after his guests. Then, at some point, the chef came around to our table, introduced himself, inquired how our meal was, and regaled us with a story about Antonio’s father and himself and a most beautiful girl who ended up either Antonio’s mother or chef’s wife, I didn’t quite get it, with the “losing” guy stoically performing best man duties at the wedding4.
When the time came to order dessert, Natasha picked some torta or other, while I was content not to have anything else. The waiter nonetheless brought us a full bottle of limoncello. As I tried to say that we did not order any, he waved my protest away. A gift, he said. To take home with us. On the house, because we were guests of Antonio.
True to his word, the bill did not include any mention of limoncello. We brought that bottle home to the States with us and it lasted us quite a long time, occasional drinkers that we are.
Neither Natasha nor I remember much about the specific dishes that we had at that restaurant (and we did not yet start the practice of detailing our meals in the travel diaries then). But it remains one of the most memorable restaurant experiences on our travels. Because everybody knew Antonio.
After a day or so, we were pretty sure that among residents, everybody knew everybody in Minori.
1 For those unfamiliar with that area, yes, there is a nearby village called Maiori. As far as I am aware, it is bigger. While still being a minor point of interest, compared to the likes of Sorrento, Positano or Amalfi.
2 I allow that what he said was actually something quite different. But I understood much less Italian then than I do now, and this is all an interpretation of what I think was said, based on such clues as gesticulation and body language, plus individual words that I thought I caught.
3 American travellers frequently complain that once your food is delivered, the waiter seemingly loses all interest in the customer in French or Italian eateries. You often have to make an effort to catch her or his attention when you need something or even when you’re ready to pay and leave. Me, I find that quite all right. Once I start eating, I don’t want to be disturbed by questions about my food and unsolicited offers of help. I want to eat and enjoy conversation with my dining partners in peace. When I need further help, I’ll call for it.
4 See 2 above.