This time Roberto Giuliani takes the stand:
I’ve been familiar with Orvieto for at least 30 years, and still remember the awe I felt the first time I beheld the Cattedrale dell’Assunta, better known as Orvieto’s Duomo, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture commissioned by Pope Nicholas IV in 1290; he assigned the project to Fra Bevignate da Perugia, who probably worked from Romanesque plans drawn up by Arnolfo di Cambio. The Gothic elements were introduced a few years later by Giovanni Uguccione, and the building was further enlarged under the direction of Lorenzo Maitani, sculptor and master builder, in the early 1300s.
The church developed slowly, with a series of changes and additions that finally came to a close in the late 1500s, when Ippolito Scalza added, among other things, the four pinnacles on the facade.
Whenever I visit Orvieto, which is just a short distance from the border with Lazio, I cannot help but visit the Cathedral, and did so once again on September 21, when I went to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Sette Consoli.
This time, alas, despite its being Friday, warm, and with a breeze that made walking a delight, I couldn’t help but notice a strange silence; there was hardly anyone on the main thoroughfare at 7:30 PM, and this was a first; looking about I saw that many bars, restaurants, and cafés were closed, and some had “for rent” signs hanging from the shutters.
The crisis has come to one of Umbria’s most beautiful towns, one that has always drawn visitors, and the pedestrians I was used to seeing in the heart of town, browsing the elegant shops, were not there. Especially the foreigners, and I felt dismay.
It is obvious that given this situation – I hate to think of the rent the shopkeepers pay – many have been forced to close or decrease the quality of their goods. Mauro Stopponi and Anna Rita Simoncini know this well; in the 20 years since they opened in 1992 they’ve seen it all, but this doesn’t keep them from worrying, because there’s no relief in sight. The summer, which is usually the high point of the year, was considerably below expectations, and the winter will be very hard. Should the Sette Consoli not survive, it would not just be a great loss for the hospitality industry not just in Umbria, but all of Central Italy.
Anna Rita’s cooking is based upon the quality of the ingredients “Only what comes from our land, at the right time, with the right techniques, without wanting to overdo things or surprise at all costs,” it says on the menu, and it’s what you’ll sense as you sample her dishes. Excellent, balanced, sober presentations in a simple, pleasant setting, and absolutely honest prices.
The 45 Euro menu is a perfect example: Panzanella with boiled chicken, tagliolini with spiny lobster sauce, tortelli filled with pork and a fine thyme-laced zucchini and eggplant ratatouille, loin of lamb en croute stuffed with hazelnuts, dried tomatoes, with sautéed greens, Danilo’s pecorino with honey, ricotta Bavarian cream with anisette and coffee sauce.
Even if you order from the menu the cost remains pretty much the same. My wife and I, fully aware of our limits, went with the menu, ordering three dishes each, from antipasto to dessert; she skipping the second and i the first. A wise move on our part, because at the Sette Consoli guests are further spoiled, and while we were waiting were brought a delicious piece of fried pizza dough topped with finocchiona (fennel salami) from the famed Macelleria Falorni in Greve in Chianti, fritter made with pizza dough that was enough to make us (me, actually) lick my whiskers, followed by a tasty parmigianina — anticipations that immediately whetted our appetites.
We start with antipasti: Squash blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta and zucchini sauce, perfectly cooked (the bases of the blossoms were almost crunchy) and an abundant, flavorful filling based on extremely good ricotta. Also Porcini, Parmigiano and Balsamic vinegar carpaccio, and here we enter the realm of personal taste; I much appreciated these porcini because they were the first of the season, more delicate and less wild than later muchrooms, and perfect for a carpaccio.
We get down to business with Fresh pasta half moons stuffed with burrata cheese and mozzarella, with San Marzano tomato fillets and basil; the presentation could be improved, but the flavors hit the spot, and despite the presence of the burrata the dish is deftly flavored, but balanced, and doesn’t tire the palate at all. Selecting the second was difficult, because the menu had many interesting options, beginning with the loin of lamb featured in the 45 Euro menu, as well as Pan-seared pigeon cooked with Marsala, Pork fillet wrapped in pancetta and roasted, Roast turbot with eggplant sauce, cherry tomatoes and diced fried eggplant, Vitello Tonnato “our way,” and I found myself unable to resist Guinea hen Supreme stuffed with thyme laced porcini and cream of beans from Purgatory: Beans from Purgatory were likely originally from Gradioli, and are related to the traditions for Ash Wednesday dating to the XVII century; they’re small and white (about the same shade as cannellini) and were served as a cream blended with the porcini. Extraordinary, and worked perfectly with the guinea fowl.
I always leave room for dessert; I should note that all of their offerings cost 7 Euros, so one can choose freely without worrying about the bill. Among the six possibilities we selected Caramelized apricots with Marsala ice cream and Two tarts with bitter chocolate fondant, one with wild berry fruit and the other with passion fruit. In the firs we appreciated the interplay between the barely bitter skin of the apricot and the caramel, which was nicely complemented by the ice cream, while the second, divided in three square porcelain bowls, offer interesting differences: the barely sweet chocolate mousse engaged in a sweet-sour interplay with the maracuja gelatin to the left; the center bowl had fruit, and the last chocolate mouse, which was more intensely flavored.
In terms of coffee, it’s the Torrefazione Pisana in Florence that supplies a selection of quality coffes: Miscela “10+1” (10 arabiche e 1 robusta), “I Magnifici 10″ (10 arabiche”, Jamaica Blue Mountain, and Portorico Yauco Selecto. For those who have problems with coffee, there’s also of course decaf and toasted barley. We selected the “I Magnifici 10”, which is slightly less strong and perfect in the evening, because it won’t keep people awake.
The wine list, finishing up, offers a wide selection of Umbrian wines, and those of the other regions as well, including a good selection of Champagne. I chose, well knowing it wouldn’t pair with all of the diverse dishes we had, a wine I very much like, both because I admire the winery, and because it matches my desires: Castello di Lispida’s Amphora 2006 a Tocai fermented with native yeasts in terracotta urns sunk into the earth, with daily pushdowns and no temperature control. The maceration on the skins lasts 6 months, followed by 14 months in terracotta vats. No stabilization, and no filtration. A splendid wine, first made in 2001, before urns had become stylish, and that works very well with squash blossoms, the half moons, and even better with the guinea hen.
A very pleasant evening we will soon repeat, hoping that Mauro and Anna Rita will continue to delight us for at least 20 more years.
I Sette Consoli
Piazza Sant’Angelo, 1a – 05018 Orvieto (TR)
Tel. e Fax: +39 0763-343911
Cost 45-50 euro
Lunch: from 12:30 to 3 PM.
Dinner: from 7:30 to 10:00.
Closed Wednesdays and Sunday evenings.
Closed December 24-25-26.