Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Unforgettable Feast

More than a month ago, my best friend and I ate at Valerio's Ristorante in Little Italy. It was such a lovely experience in every way that I have thought about it again each time I drive past the Mayfield Road spot.
It was a weeknight and late, so there were only a few other people still dining. The memory of our meal makes my mouth water. We had two brilliant salads-simple and perfect, the main ingredient playing the starring role: one nothing more than slivers of raw fennel in just the right amount of balsamic vinaigrette, and the other thinly sliced crimini mushrooms with garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Then we shared huge bowl of cioppino, a feast of scallops, mussels, cod, shrimp and clams in a tomato broth so flavorful that determinedly and without embarrassment we used shells and the over-sized serving spoon to get up every last drop.

We continued to sit, talking and laughing and sipping wine after the bill came. We didn't feel bad because no one was waiting for a table. Suddenly a plate of tiramisu was set before us, with the message, "It's on the house." It was sent over by owner and chef Valerio Iorio and delivered by his wife, Stella, who also baked this light and lovely version of the classic dessert.

Maybe he was trying to build some good will with a couple of customers he'd never seen before. Maybe the night was drawing to a close and he knew he wasn't going to sell that piece of cake. But we chose to think he saw us as kindred spirits, that he appreciated our ability to spend a leisurely evening Italian style, savoring good food, fine drink and the joys of companionship and conversation.

And we were right. We stopped to thank him and Stella on our way out the door and he confirmed that he did it just because our pleasure gave him pleasure. Happily it was not because he knew I am a food writer. Though he and I had met before, it was a long time ago and he didn't recognize me until I introduced myself. Our goodbyes included much heartfelt hand squeezing and hugging among the four of us. Compliments flowed back and forth, and my friend and I gave him our promise to return soon. It's a promise I am eager to keep.

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