The Groto de Corgnan was briefly mentioned in a recent blog titled Lombardia to Veneto and Verona. In that blog a promise was made to return to the subject of the Groto and its proprietors Giorgio and Martina Soave, the magician and his daughter. This is the fulfillment of that promise.
The Groto, in Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella, was described as a simple family ‘trattoria’. Upon arrival, all preconceived notions of simple and trattoria were cast to the vineyard carpeted hillsides as Giorgio and Martina are anything but simple and trattoria-like. Martina Soave is a student of the local wines and her father is the chef d’ cuisine and owner. A wine aficionado in her own right, Martina, made every effort to welcome their guests warmly and genuinely. Conventional wisdom is that Giorgio Soave knows more about food and the local fresh Valpolicella produce and game than anyone currently living. This night’s fine dining experience would further that wisdom. Read on!
Things do happen magically at the Groto. Glasses of Prosecco, a sparkling white wine, appeared tableside out of thin air. An amuse-bouche of pureed peas materialized, again, without fanfare but to great delight. A presage of things to come. Truly there was a maestro in the kitchen at this unportentous ‘trattoria’!
Soon, Giorgio and Martina appeared to explain the menu which was to be prepared fresh over the next few hours. With the greatest consideration for their guests, Giorgio and Martina offered to prepare alternatives to anything that might be the least bit too adventures or possibly ‘disagreeable’. It was clear that no one would leave this evening dissatisfied or hungry.
Giorgio makes his own salami, pancetta, ‘lardo’ and fresh pastas. He and Martina had just returned from the Lessini Mountains, just to the north-east of Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella, a southern extension of the Italian Alps, where they had picked black truffles. These fresh truffles would be perfectly matched with several different dishes this evening.
After the novel amuse-bouche and sparkling wine initiation and the menu presentation, we were poured a wonderful glass of 2010 Anselmi San Vincenzo, a white wine made from the Garganega grape, a variety of white Italian wine grape widely grown in this region of Italy, especially near Verona and Vicenza. Garganega is the basis of Soave wines. The San Vincenzo was a light straw color with significant minerality and fresh citrus aromas. This wine, like all the wines this evening was plentiful and included in the fixed-price.
The first course was a simple fried egg topped with a generous portion of those wonderful shaved black truffles from the Lessini. A slice of fresh peach wrapped in a lettuce leaf added the perfect sweetness and freshness to the egg and truffle combination. Exquisitely simple and magnificently tasty! This starter, accompanied by the splendid Anselmi, was a sure sign of the black arts at work in the kitchen.
The truffle and egg disappeared from the plates as magically as they appeared. But not to worry, as more magic had been in the making. With the speed of presto-chango a plate of Sopressa, a typical salami of the region, home-made by Giorgio, appeared in front of us. The Sopresa was served with lardo, figs and bread that had been toasted on the open wood fire. The bread had a swirl of extra virgin olive oil on it. Just unworldly in its scrumptiousness!!
With a wave of his magic wand, Giorgio pulled another rabbit out of his hat to amuse and amaze only this time, the rabbit was, through slight-of-hand, replaced with thinly pounded beef served carpaccio style. According to Wikipedia, ‘Carpaccio was invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice, where it was first served to the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo in 1950.’ She had, apparently, been advised by her doctor to only eat raw meat. ‘The owner of the bar named it carpaccio after the Venetian painter, Vittore Carpaccio, because the colors of the dish reminded him of paintings by Carpaccio.’ The Corgnan version consisted of thin slices of raw beef topped with very thinly shaved Parmigiano Reggiano (38 months aged) and fresh strawberries from their garden and a bit of very fresh and savory goat cheese.
Of course, the wine changed from white to red before our eyes. A wonderful Giuseppe Lonardi 2009 Valpolicella Classico. Valpolicella is made from Corvina grapes and typically includes Rondinella and Molinara grapes. This Classico was a perfect match with a meaty element of cured beef upfront followed by thick aromas of mature cherry and blackberry tart. Abracadabra!!
Like the rest of the enchantment of this evening the clock seemed to have slowed or even reversed itself. The food and wine, like an exotic potion, seemed to erase any cares and worries and focused all on Giorgio’s legerdemain. Two different plates were delivered: Raviola with ricotta cheese and nettles on one and Tagliolini with Lessini truffles on the other. The nettles dish was delicate and flavorful with the texture of the ricotta cheese complimenting both the ravioli and nettles (a special delicacy with a little danger in the harvesting and preparation). The tagliolini with truffles was a substitute for those who do not believe in conjuring. Again, the Valpolicella Classico was a great companion to these dishes.
One might think that one would be unable to eat more of this wonderfully rich and flavorful food after having enjoyed four courses already. But that is also part of the tricks employed with slow food enjoyed slowly with the most excellent of wine and service and surroundings. As proof of that, the staff next made appear a plate of Tagliatelle with chanterelle mushrooms. Again, exquisite flavors and contrasts between the pasta and the shaved mushrooms accompanied by the red wine.
Meanwhile, Martina was preparing the large wine glasses that she would use in pouring the next wine. Like a sorceress, she carefully poured a bit of Amarone della Valpolicella from a large format (3 litre) bottle, as she appeared to whisper incantations inaudible to those around her. She carefully and gently coated each glass with this nectar to be sure that the bouquet would put your olfactory into a trance. This particular Amarone was a 2005 from Allegrini. One of the largest producers of fine Valpolicella and Amarone wines in the region. As we finished our tagliatelle Martina poured the Amarone. It had a nice, deep red color. The bouquet, so meticulously prepared for, hinted at fruit with some heat, but on the palate, showed nice fruit and acidity.
The food alchemy continued to emanate from the kitchen. A Guinea-fowl prepared with sage and topped with more Lessini black truffles appeared table side creating another visual delight. Carrots and beans provided beautiful oranges and greens to contrast with the black truffles and green hued pasta. The Amarone was a surprisingly good match for this plate. Although, definitely a full-bodied red, it was nuanced enough to work with fowl and truffles.
By now nearly thee hours had transpired but the wizardry of the Valpolicella and Veneto continued with a wonderful selection of cheeses including the local Monte Veronese cheese. Monte Veronese is a cow’s milk cheese and is considered the great cheese of the Veronese prealps or foothills. No argument there. A special home made preserve was served to complement the various cheeses. And again, the Amarone worked very well here.
Dessert was out of the question but !!Shazam!! through some devilry was offered and accepted. It was a visual and gastronomical perfect ending to Giorgio’s magic. A plate of gelato topped with chestnuts that had been cooked in honey. An irresistible feat of prestidigitation!!
The food and service were pure sorcery with the waiter appearing and disappearing with just the right mix of helpful presence and discretion. Every detail of this experience was perfectly staged and choreographed like a real magic show. Placing oneself in the hands of a magician takes a bit of faith and awe but when that the wizard is a very capable chef, like Giorgio Soave and his assistant is his daughter Martina, the result is four hours of enchantment, fascination and enjoyment.
No Hocus Pocus at Groto de Corgnan!!!