We were invited last Monday to one of Luisa Fabbri’s intimate Monday dinners. Previously held at her chocolate shop along the middle of the Burlington Arcade on South Lake Avenue, she’s now set up two tables along the large and graceful curved windows at the arcade entrance in her Contessa Collections shop. The ambience is lovely and the guest count is few, just eight diners in all while Louisa, her sister (currently visiting from Italy), and her two employees present a fabulous 7-course Italian meal. Periodically throughout the evening, Luisa describes what we are eating, explaining the source of the organic ingredients, the kinds of vineyards, orchards, and businesses with which she works, importing their goods. Her passion is for delicious food that is also healthy for our bodies and grown with a conscience, symbiotic with the earth.
We dined on black bean soup served in a jar with a splash of olive oil and a sprig of rosemary. Another dish was toothpicks piercing what looked like a pancake, which was made with chick pea flour. Inside was a thin layer of goat cheese and it was all wrapped around a whole clove of garlic. Some at our table were a bit skeptical about biting into a solid clove of garlic, but Luisa told us not to worry. This garlic had been pickled, yet did not taste as one would expect. There was no sour vinegar flavor or biting, overpowering garlic edge. The garlic flavor came through, but in the most mild and pleasant of manners, melding with the goat cheese perfectly.
One course was a large plate that had various vegetables, herbs, and an orange slice with freshly ground black pepper. Three small square ramekins ran down the middle of the plate, into which were poured three different olive oils—a mild blend (leggier), a stronger blend (intensi), and a monocultivar, which is olive oil made from only one type of olive. Number one: smooth, mild, light. Two: intense with a bite. Three (the monocultivar): thick with lingering notes, powerful yet delicate and distinctive. Surprisingly, the orange with black pepper dipped in olive oil was our favorite combination.
Another course was pasta with mushrooms that was far more refined than how we’ve just described it, and yet made with only four ingredients. Luisa explained that Tuscan cuisine has very few ingredients, four at the most, so that all flavors may be distinguished on the palate while also blending successfully.
The feast—a feast in quality, not overwhelming, stomach-ladening quantity—concluded with Luisa serving 25-year-old Balsamico di Modena. Our plate held a small yellow/orange crispy wafer-type thing that turned out to be fried parmesan—like what we love to scrape out when the cheese for our grilled cheese has leaked out between the bread and fried itself on the bottom of the hot pan. On this crispy wafer, Luisa had dripped the smallest of drops of Balsamico. So little that we dismissed it as amounting to anything. Then we took a bite. Savor the small stuff we learned instantly.
The vinegar was thick, sweet, and sour with layers of divineness that no words in the history of words can accurately describe. Along with the crispy cheese, we experienced a flavor combination good enough for the gods. This was rivaled by a chocolate marvel that infused the senses and melted on our tongue. Note: These heavy-handed sentiments may be due to the prosecco and wine consumed during the evening, but as a week has passed and these feelings linger, we stand by them.
Three hours on a Monday evening dining with strangers. It was marvelous.
Luisa’s next dinner is Monday, November 30. The whole experience costs $50. If this number means nothing considering your bank balance, don’t hesitate to make a reservation. If this dollar amount is significant, then we recommend a splurge (you’re worth it!) and don’t hesitate to make a reservation.
Call now… and Happy Holidays.
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Photo, top right, pouring balsamic, by Andrea Levers (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.