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This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Wild-Goose Chase

I'm not sure where the term 'wild-goose chase' originated, but it seems to be fairly descriptive of predicaments I've found myself in. And its not limited to chasing wild geese here in the U.S. either. My wife, Ellen, and I found ourself in an Italian version of a selvaggio inseguimento inutile.

Traveling conversation: ‘What are you going to have, Sweetheart?’ ‘Ummm, I’m thinking about a ribeye. How about you?’ ‘I’m going with a sirloin, but if the ribeye looks good, I’ll get what you’re having.’ ‘Do they have baked potatoes in Italy?’ ‘No idea.’

Some wild-goose chases are pretty innocuous, as you were just following your nose so to speak and weren't really going anywhere in particular anyway. But this one was important -- and this is what made it so frustrating. That's because we were on our way to a highly rated restaurant for dinner in the northern part of Tuscany. And it was to get a great steak! And we hadn't had much in the way of red meat for a couple of weeks -- that's the way it often is in Italy. 

I had checked on TripAdvisor for a nice place for dinner. Ristorante Becattini came highly rated for both its food and the view. Here is a photo captured from the TripAdvisor site that defines what we were looking forward to this fine evening.

Looks good, doesn't it?! i mean, we do love our Italian pasta, veal, etc., but after a couple of weeks of that, we were really looking forward to dinner at Becattini.

Ristorante Becattini is located high on a ridge in the small (very small) town of Poggio alla Croce. If it had been close to our beautiful Borgo San Felice (see previous article on this super nice hotel here), it wouldn't have been so bad. But it was an hour drive to get there...and that was using the A1 rather than the charming, winding Tuscan roads (Hey, we were hungry!). 

During the afternoon, I called ahead to make a reservation. It went something like this:

  • Guy on the Phone: 'Pronto'  ['Yeh, what do you want?']
  • Me: 'Buona sera'.    [Good afternoon]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Buona sera'.     [Good afternoon]
  • Me: 'Prenotazione per la cena, per favore'     [Reservation for dinner, please]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'    [OK]
  • Me: 'Due persone per stasera alle venti'.     [Two persons for tonight at 8:00]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Mi chiamo Senore Burkett'.     [My name is 'Burkett']
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Vicino alla finestra'.     [We would like to sit by the window]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Grazie'     [Thank you]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Prego'     [Your welcome]

Hey, I think I did pretty good, right? We have a reservation for dinner at this fine restaurant tonight! 

After spending some time at the Castagnoli Winery, we plotted our fastest route to Poggio alla Croce using our trusty iPad. Traveling conversation: 'What are you going to have, Sweetheart?' 'Ummm, i'm thinking about a ribeye. How about you?' 'I'm going with a sirloin, but if the ribeye looks good, I'll get what you're having.' 'Do they have baked potatoes in Italy?' 'No idea.' 

Like I said, its a really, really small town. That's it right there in the photo. After negotiating the winding road and driving back-and-forth on the only street a couple of times with no luck finding Becattini, we asked the locals where where we would find the Ristorante Becattini.

  • Me: 'Scusi, do you know where we can find the restaurant Becattini?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'I'm sorry sir, they closed in February'. 
  • Me: 'What?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'They closed in February'.
  • Me: 'Do you think they will be open tonight?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'No, they are closed for good'.
  • Me: 'But we have a reservation!'
  • Nice Woman on the Street Who is Starting to Irritate Me Now: 'I don't see how that could be -- they've closed down'
  • Me: [sotto voce] 'You've got to be...'
  • Nice Woman on the Street Who's a Bit Defensive Now: 'Sorry, sir'.
  • Me: 'OK, thank you'

Arrrgh. An hour and no food to be found. But there was this little bar that we passed at the other end of town. We backtracked to Pizzeria Trattoria "Zia Emilia". After we parked and got out of the car, what a fine sight we had for a sunset! Maybe the trip was worthwhile after all.

And how charming was Zia Emilia? Super. This was Italian comfort-food heaven!

We had a simple appetizer of pear and honey with fried zucchini blossoms.

This appetizer is not to be confused with the one to the right that we had at Ristorante Poggio Rosso at our Borgo San Felice that I showed you a couple of weeks ago.  I just wanted to make that clear, OK?

 

My pizza was cooked in a wood-fired oven. 

Ellen had this wonderfully gooey pasta dish whilst I had my very tasty pizza.

All was accompanied by a small pitcher of house wine. 

Dessert? Well, if you look at the photo of Zia Emilia (above) again (go ahead, I'll wait), you will notice a small, colorful poster next to the entrance door...see it? That shows you the standard selection of popsicles, push-up pops, drumsticks and other frozen confections that are available. I think I had one of those red, white and green frozen 'bomb' thingies, and Ellen had an ice-cream sandwich. 

So we never caught the wild goose. That's OK, because what we found was a small-hill-town Italy, occupied with some very charming people who welcomed us with open arms.  Simple food. Tasty food. Yummy wine. Beautiful companion. Fun local fare. I'm glad it happened just the way it did!

Meet you there for dinner? 8 o'clock OK?

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

p.s. But hey, how about that reservation that i made? What was that about? Your guess is as good as mine!

p.p.s. I updated the TripAdvisor website so others won't make a 'reservation' at Becattini.

p.p.p.s. Go Broncos!

 

Transforming l’Uomo della Pizza

The l’uomo della pizza (pizza man) was standing out front contemplating…who knows what? Which adds just a bit of mystery to the photo, don’t you think?

I’d have to say that Rome by night is a good bit more enjoyable than Rome by day. The summer heat, traffic and general hub-bub of the day are gone.

It’s as if the setting sun acts as a catalyst to transform the streets, piazze and campi of each neighborhood into something that is far more charming, more romantic, and of course, more temperate.

It was during a late evening stroll to the Trevi Fountain that we came across this scene at a neighborhood pizzeria.

The l’uomo della pizza (pizza man) was standing out front contemplating…who knows what? Which adds just a bit of mystery to the photo, don’t you think?

Upon spying him standing there, I quickly dropped to one knee to take this photo, as I visualized him being the dominate object of the image, and the lower camera angle seems to make him a bit larger than life. 

Because I was kneeling down, with the camera aimed slightly up, there was a good bit of distortion as the vertical lines of the buildings converged. So here is the image after I eliminated the vertical distortion. 

You can see that a bit of the photo has been lost due to the correction, but as I was shooting wide angle, there was plenty with which to work.

I am now ready to do a bit of cropping and adjustment to color balance and lighting.

In the version above, you will note that the interior of the pizzeria is well lit, while our pizza man is in shadow – as are the tables and patrons. After a bit of work, we can see below that the building exterior, table, patrons and the pizza man have been illuminated, while the interior has been darkened a bit. 

Additionally, I really liked the texture of the paving stones and the shadows that our pizza man was casting, so I emphasized those aspects, too.

Finally, a bit of cropping to get right down into the subject of the photo resulted in the version you see just above.

That was a good bit of cropping of the original image wasn’t it? Yet, there is still a lot of detail in the photo. My camera gives me the ability to do significant cropping without a lot of loss of resolution. The Nikon D800 is a 36mp camera – this camera has a huge sensor, whereas the vast majority of other cameras are in the 10-12mp range. That gives me a lot of room to isolate objects in the image.

For my final version, I found the two patrons on the right and the Hostaria store to be distracting. I was able to crop out the store, but the two patrons had to be removed through magic – even Harry Potter would be jealous.

In cropping, it was important to the composition that our pizza man is off-center a bit to the left. Since he was looking to our right, we need to give him some room to gaze.

So, here is the final photo, which can be found on my website in the Rome gallery.

I like the feel of this late evening shot -- colorful cloths on the street-side tables, two patrons studying the menu to select just the right ingredients for their pizza, and our l’oumo della pizza contemplating…what?...use your imagination.

If you would like to speculate upon that which he contemplates, use the comment box, below.

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