Luxembourg / Al Grappolo: home feeling
For long time I’ve avoided Italian restaurants abroad. Too much is the love to realize that someone is cheating on you.
What I was probably afraid to miss the most, beside facing a bad representation of my country and some Frankenstein carbonara with cream, was the fact of not feeling at home... that fear of entering a place and feeling trapped in a conventional formality, of not receiving a genuine welcome, of not creating that playful relation with the staff, of not recognising the connection of that birthmark.
It was mid-October when I entered Al Grappolo for the first time. A Friday evening, the best moment of the week.
‘Buonasera! C’é un tavolo tra un’oretta? Is there a table in an hour?’
‘Certo! Lo troviamo! Sure we will find it!’
‘Scusa se mi permetto... di dove sei? May I? Where are you from?’ recognising the accent of my beautiful island, Sicily.
‘Giardini!’. Now, we are not talking about Milan, Rome or Florence, but there was such a pride in the way Mario told me his hometown was a beautiful village on the sea that looks, from a privileged position, the more famous Taormina.
‘Io di Palermo! I’m from Palermo!’ was my answer.
‘Minchia! (untranslatable) Mario sono! I’m Mario’ and while saying it, he was holding my hand strong.
One hour later, I was sitting at one of the non-numerous tables of the restaurant, sipping Piedmontese wine under a weak light and listening to one of the vinyls chosen by Alessandro (Alex) for the night.
Alex, Italian from Marche, is the chef-owner, a man generous in smiles and condiments, whose philosophy is to change menu every day: 4 dishes in total, 1 starter, 2 different kinds of pasta, 1 main. No storage needed. The dishes responds to emotional needs, ingredients seasonality and pleasant surprises.
So it was the menu of my first night at Al Grappolo, with stracciatella as a starter and wild boar tagliatelle to finish.
Stracciatella it’s basically the egg beaten into the boiling stock that becomes dense and crumbled. A dish that is a memory of the childhood, when winter starts making its presence and days become shorter. A poor dish, made noble by the addition of black truffle.
The tagliatelle with wild boar ragù were the enlightenment of the dinner. Feast. Fireworks. Energy. One of the most delicious bite. Ragù is the essence of Alex, his trademark, his signature. The meat is cooked in chunks (and not minced) in the tomato sauce for hours, until the fibers lose their strength and unavoidably surrender. It’s the act of the meat falling to the sauce, releasing its soul, melting into it. It’s a dish that is expression of a familiar tradition, the Sunday mornings, the patient of the elderly and the attitude of the young people.
The absolute masterpiece of Alex. The performance that it is worth the ticket. The dish that makes you fell home.