May 30, 2016
At a wine event I was introduced to an American couple in their 60s who travels to Italy every year. The topic meandered from wine to food, and I could feel their excitement, along with their heart rate, boiled over when they mentioned the food in Umbria. The rustic cooking. The fresh ingredients. The unpretentiousness. Chefs who have mastered generations-old recipes. May places like Umbria remain forever untouched by the whimsical style of contemporary cooking.
Well, I dislike mindless molecular gastronomy as much as a traditionalist but I do prefer innovation in cooking, much like every other aspect in my daily life. Given I am probably a sympathizer to many of today’s dining trends, I wondered before setting foot in Umbria if I would enjoy its food.
I didn’t set out to try any particular restaurant — there was more than enough things to do to keep us occupied. (See here & here.) My strategy was to briefly research online, then visit the premise to see if it would pass the eye test. One such attempt resulted in a dinner at Il Pinturicchio, a popular eatery opposite to Chiesa di San Lorenzo Martire in Spello. It was named after the Renaissance artist who painted the Baglioni Chapel’s frescoes.
As the day was unexpectedly cool, we ordered some carrot soup to warm up. It was thick like a stew and we were half full by the time we were done.
For pasta we had Fettuccine Bolognese and Tagliolini with wild boar ragu. The latter is a specialty of nearby Norcina. The pasta was fresh and had great texture, like every self respecting restaurant in Italy, but the sauces were so salty we had to drink a bottle of water each to finish our respective plates.
Mains were grilled chicken and grilled beef. Again the ingredients were fine and there was no issue with the timing, but the seasoning was at least double of what I would consider to be adequate. The bill was around €30 per person.
And so concluded our filling but taste-bud-numbing meal at Il Pinturicchio. If this was a one-off then I would have just brushed it off and forgotten about it, but the very same thing happened again when we were in Bevagna the next day. And again in Orvieto. And again in Montalcino. It wasn’t until we escaped to San Gimignano that we finally managed to break this cycle of déjà vu.
Theatrical 20-course tasting menu might not be for me, but neither is over-seasoned fare that acts like punishment to my palate. Each to their own.
Address: Largo Giuseppe Mazzini 8, Spello, Italy
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 10:00 – 15:00, 18:30 – Midnight; Sunday 10:00 – 16:00; closed on Tuesday