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We also tried a risotto croquette ($9.95). We all loved this crunchy appetizer -- al dente risotto stuffed with sharp mozzarella, dipped in bread crumbs, and quick-fried. Baked eggplant parmigiana with mozzarella and basil ($13.95) was excellent too -- slices of surpassingly lively eggplant submerged in a piquant fresh tomato sauce topped with a chiffonade of fresh basil. The beautiful Roman boys circled the table with bowls of fluffy parmigiano, cheerfully doling out great spoonfuls. We tore hunks of superb Tuscan bread and dipped them in bowls of herbed olive oil.
I wanted to applaud as we finished each course. The pastas arrived: tagliatelline al tartufo e funghi porcini (truffles and porcini). And those gorgeous squares of ravioli swollen with porcini mushrooms ($19.95) in a creamy pink tomato sauce, wafting scents of Earth and sun. The spaghetti ale vongole ($19.95), al dente, lightly tossed with fresh tomatoes, rimmed with plump clams in the shell. The pappardelle with wild boar sauce ($22.95), a fistful of slippery noodles coated in a medieval, almost black sauce with chunks of wine-marinated meat. And, just because Giancarlo wanted us to taste it, the pappardelle with wild rabbit "in salmi," ($22.95) a beyond-the-pale concoction of Barbera wine and bittersweet chocolate laced with grappa.
Plates were passed. We took a vote. The ravioli stuffed with porcini swept all the prizes. The judges were mixed on the spaghetti with clams -- not spicy enough for some of us -- it lacked kick but excelled in the delicacy of its fresh tomato sauce and the texture of the pasta. I adored the pale pieces of rabbit soaked in wine and chocolate and the heft of those homemade pappardelle, so I refused to share my bunny. It's probably treasonous to say it, but the wild boar sauce was reminiscent of a French beef bourguignon, except the meat had a slightly nutty flavor.
These recipes -- the boar, pheasant, and rabbit -- are ancient Tuscan traditions, which make them worth saving and savoring. What menus call "wild" game, like that served here, is almost always farm-raised now. It's generally grass-fed (grain feeding is kept to a minimum) without hormones or antibiotics. Its flavors are more nuanced and complicated than factory-raised poultry, pork, and beef. And it's almost always higher in protein and lower in fat and cholesterol. Lesson over.
Could we eat more? Um, yes? Veal piccata ($27.95) had been pounded thin and draped in an haute-couture sauce composed of truffles, sage, and Marsala. It was accessorized with an opulent slice of foie gras. This veal dish was the gustatory equivalent of the word abundance.
"Absolutely the best veal piccata I've ever tasted," my father announced, setting down his fork (this from a man, not given to superlatives, who's eaten veal dishes all over the world). A fillet of baked sea bass ($31.99), refined and wistful in its understated pool of lemon and butter, sprinkled with a few herbs, lightly salted -- was our table's chic and unrivaled diva. Another bottle of Chianti was poured into a wide-bottomed decanter. We sliced and shared pieces of sweet, thick elk chop with its slab of buttery polenta, sauced with foie gras and truffles ($39.95).
Those truffles. We had them in profusion at Saporissimo. They made an appearance in a homemade ravioli filled with exotic meat in porcini and truffle sauce ($10.99 for an appetizer) and in a plate of tagliatelline with truffles and porcini ($24.95). There's no mistaking the odor of these fungi -- people have compared it to gorgonzola cheese, even to burnt rubber -- but there's something almost primeval about it. It's a luscious, subterranean riddle: A truffle turns any dish it touches into an irresolvable mystery.
And then we were through. Almost. The Roman boys wheeled out a squeaking butler's cart of complimentary after-dinner liqueurs. We had Grappa and Vin Santo. Limoncello and Amaretto. Sambuca. And finally, dessert (all $6.95): A cannoli alla Siciliana dusted with cinnamon and force-fed a funnel of fresh whipped cream. A pastiera Napoletana, a traditional Easter cake made of cinnamon-scented ricotta cheese and milk-soaked wheat grain, larded with nuts and dried fruit, zesty with orange blossoms, citron, and candied orange peel. Plates of panna cotta, creamy egg custard tasting of burnt caramel and orange blossom water. A martini glass of zuppa Inglese -- homemade vanilla ice cream floating in a bitter, wine-dark sea of espresso and brandy. Each more shocking, more delirious, more delightful than the last.
Another glass of limoncello?
Well, OK, thanks...
As we left, the Roman boys brought long-stemmed roses for the ladies. Anna Maria emerged from the kitchen, untying her apron -- a dainty, ethereal blond next to her husband's dark bulk; the wild boar had married a gazelle. It was very late. The Monegattis didn't seem to mind. We raised our glasses to toast this extraordinary performance. And I was still baffled -- how in hell do they do it?
When they get back from Tuscany, I'll stop by for that rabbit cacciatora and ask them.