Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dinner at Ristorante Calagrana

One of the first ristorantes our awesome Italian landlords/British Aunt and Uncle, Marianne and Andrew, told us about when we moved in was a place called Calagrana. It’s nestled up a tiny way in the hills just past a town called Spedelicchio, which is one of the towns we drive by almost daily when going into the city of Umbertide or the city of Trestina. Andrew and Marianna raved about Calagrana, giving us a little backstory and a lot of mouth-watering food talk. It turns out the owners, a super-friendly British woman named Ely and a super-talented Italian chef whose name I missed somehow, had owned a successful restaurant in London but wanted to raise their kids in Italy and so moved here not too long ago and opened Calagrana. We’d driven by the sign for it many times since Marianne and Andrew told us about Calagrana, but had been waiting for the right time to make a res and stop in for dinner. Last Saturday was the right time--and, in hindsight, it wasn’t nearly soon enough.

First off, it was an artsily cozy spot, with a family atmosphere but a small footprint and with interesting paintings on the wall but a very welcoming and friendly feel. It is a little low in lighting (which is nice and romantic and which I’m only mentioning as an excuse for my poor photos, which don’t do the food justice in the least). We started by sharing an ensalta agrodolce (agrodolce being the sweet-sour combination found most often in Southern Italy and tracing back to the Saracens, or so I’m told). This was a combination of lettuce, an assortment of veggies just thinner that julienned (I thought), and big juicy artichokes, tossed in an agrodolce dressing as mentioned. It had an ideal sense of balance, starting with the dressing, and moving through the variously cut veggies—amazing:
Next, we both got bowls of soup:  zuppa pasta fagioli. It was the tail end of October, and we were in the hills, and so the chill outside made zuppa almost a necessity. But this zuppa was a step above mere necessity, and above what we thought we’d be getting, as the beans were pureed instead of whole. Which meant that instead of being brothy and thin, it was very thick, and rich, almost like a Caribbean-style black bean soup (with different seasonings) highlighted by thick noodles:
We also both had a veggie risotto for our main event. If this would have just been a run-of-the-mill, tasty, Italian veggie risotto, I would have gone home happy (the soup and salad had been so first rate). But I think this may have been the best risotto I’ve ever had—well, definitely in the top five. The Arborio rice itself was perfect and al dente, which I’d hope to get at any decent spot. However, the risotto in total was so creamy and smooth and oozing just right that the taste and mouth feel was heavenly. Neither of us wanted to eat it too fast, because it was so worth savoring, but it was hard not to shovel it down:
Right as we were digging into our risottos, we had another tasty surprise. Our happy hostess brought us out a cauliflower gratin to share, saying that as all the meat dishes came with a side, our veggie dishes should, too. The gratin was great (rich, cheesy, goodness), but the gesture also defined Calagrana in a way, as that level of thoughtfulness was evident everywhere. The action shot photo I put down to excitement. I mean, who doesn’t get excited by surprise gratin:
You might think we’d be full, but if you know us well you know we have a hard time skipping dessert at a place with such a high culinary batting average (so to speak), and so we ordered this chocolate cakey number. I can’t remember the exact name, but it was referred to as “a chocolate pot of sin” and that covers it right:
With the chocolate madness we had (on the suggestion of our friendly hostess) a Grappa Torba Nera, which was an aged peat grappa, almost like a Scotch grappa. It was served in special glasses (that you only get when buying this grappa), and had an intense, smoky, strong flavor that went well with the chocolate:
Now that was quite a meal, but we weren’t quite done. When Nat’s after-dinner espresso came out, we were brought two glasses of Ely’s (that’s our hostess again) homemade limeoncello. I’d never turn down homemade liqueur, and the grappa had cleared some room, so I was excited before sipping it. After sipping that first sip, I was even more excited, because it was really well made limeoncello: not too sweet, but not mind-bendingly strong, with a clear lemon flavor:
We can’t wait to go back to Calagrana again, and if you’re ever in the Niccone Valley (or anywhere in Tuscany or Umbria) I suggest you do the same. Next time I promise to take better photos, too. And to take a few pics of the cuddly dogs bounding about outside the doors.

*See more Italian restaurants: Capponi, Nestor's,Nonna Gelsa,Le Capannine di Sommavilla

*See all Italian restaurants


  1. Wow - - I don't think we can get back to Italy soon enough after reading your posts and viewing all your pics (food and others!).

    Was wondering how your limeoncello was coming along??

  2. You guys should put together a little map of your best spots. I know you travel a pretty big circuit through Umbria, but it would be cool to see the primo di primo of locations.

  3. Marquee, that's a great idea, and I'm going to do it. Calagrana is tops (or tied) so far, but we'll narrow down the list as we go along.

    Renee, the limeoncello is almost done--I think I'm going to strain it tonight. Nat's clamouring for some. And if we can influence folks to come back or for the first time, that's awesome.