Il Chiasso on Elba Island

Map of Elba

It’s obvious when looking around my writing space that I am a magazine hoarder. In different corners of the room you’ll find stacks of Architectural Digest, Veranda, House and Home, Travel and Leisure and Bon Appétit. Why magazines? They provide a quick and inexpensive escape to exotic places, and perfect for inspiration.

Bon Appetit

Some years ago, I was planning a family trip to Italy and I remembered reading an article in Bon Appétit featuring the Islands of the Mediterranean (May 2002). I recall that the island of Elba struck a chord with me because it conveniently lies off the coast of Italy , was the island that Napoleon was exiled to, and it had a sweet charm to it. The article was written by Charlotte Butzin and photography by Wyatt Counts. While loosing myself in the article, the first thing that appealed to me was the rustic and inviting look of the sleepy Elban village, Capoliveri, and the second thing was the featured restaurant – Il Chiasso.

The article described it as “the quintessential Elban culinary experience, a convivial 29-year-old restaurant on an alleyway that’s off the main square. Chiasso means “lane” – one of which in fact used to run through the middle of the restaurant and now divides it into two rooms.” The article goes on to talk about the chef, Luciano Casini, as “the quirky charmer of Elba”. His point of view was simple –  “You have to love food the way you love life to do this job well.” and that summed it up for me making it easy to throw the dart on the map and take off to Elba in search of that inviting culinary destination.

Ferry

You can get to Elba  several ways but we (my husband, two children and myself) chose to catch a ferry from Piombino and then make our way around by car. The drive to Capoliveri was spectacular, lots of winding roads, passing small seaside towns, lush  mountaintop views overlooking serene, pebbled beaches. Now keeping in mind that the article was from seven years prior,  we were certainly  leaving it up to chance that Il Chiasso was still around, but then again what’s a travel adventure without a bit of mystery?

Napaleon

We arrived in Capoliveri around noon and made our way to the square or  “piazza”. It was quiet – shops were closed for siesta and only a few restaurants were serving lunch. In my broken Italian, I inquired ,at a local pizzeria, about directions to Il Chiasso; secretly crossing my fingers that the restaurant was still open. The friendly server immediately pointed towards an alleyway located steps away, and to a large white-washed wall displaying an arrow and several restaurant signs. Low and behold there was our indication that Il Chiasso was in fact still there, bringing a smile to my face and a tinge of hunger to my stomach. We made our way to the restaurant only to find it closed for the lunch hour but open at 5:00 p.m. No-one was around to take a reservation so we decided to head back to the pizzeria for lunch and then make plans for the rest of the afternoon.

Pink Building Bella Elba Capoliveri

We ordered a simple pizza Margherita and felt content that the culinary adventure had begun. While waiting for lunch to arrive, I observed the simplicity of the square. Cobblestone walkways, terra-cotta pots spilling over with rosemary and flowers, laundry drying in the sun – an Elban postcard in the making. I then noticed an elderly man carrying a portfolio, walking gingerly towards the pizzeria. The man took a seat at a table next to ours and the server immediately brought him a cup of frothy espresso. He then took out some artist brushes and a blank sheet of textured watercolour paper. I was intrigued.

EspressoAart

The man dipped the thin brush into the espresso and started to paint a scene.  The kids were also inquisitive so they hovered around the artist. He looked up and smiled at us. My daughter asked if she could try painting with coffee and he immediately gave her the brush, instructing her to dab coffee onto the page. She was thrilled. We got to chatting with the artist who spoke broken English and reminded me of an Italian Hemingway. He was dressed casually in shorts and a white shirt, had a greying beard and gentle eyes. He introduced himself as Paolo and said that he loved to paint and also wrote poetry. He grew up on Elba and was proud of his town. Paolo then opened his portfolio and invited me to flip through his “espresso” art. The mocha stained paper came to life with local scenes of streets, houses and buildings, but the one painting that caught my eye, and I knew I had to have ,was a painting of the white-washed wall with the arrow pointing to Il Chiasso – serendipity! After choosing my painting, Paolo scribbled a poem on the sketch loosely translated as ” being quiet and still with oneself brings light to the heart.” He then instructed us to find the local gelateria and buy the kids ice cream. We thanked him and headed off in search of gelato!

Sunset

To while away the hours, we found a nearby beach to relax, have some siesta time and swim. Soon enough, the sun was glowing in the sky and it was dinnertime. We changed our clothes and headed back to the square. This time it had come to life with children chasing soccer balls, older men, sitting around make shift tables, playing chess and Italian Nonnas sharing village secrets amidst the hum of the restaurants prepping for the evening’s meal.

Poppies

Whitewash Wall

We made our way back to the lane towards Il Chiasso and as we approached the restaurant, Luciano Casini, the chef from the pages of the magazine, appeared in the doorway, holding a plate of pasta to take to one of the tables. It was 6:00 p.m. and the place was already abuzz. Chef greeted us, smiled at the kids and motioned us towards a table for four – once again serendipity since we did not have any reservations. The atmosphere was lively in the tiny alleyway, as it was also inside the restaurant. Plenty of wine was being poured, diners were laughing and storytelling, and the smells emerging out of the kitchen were mouth-watering.

Luciano approached our table and greeted us with a huge smile. The article described him to a tee; he sure was a charmer, sporting hip spectacles, a pink shirt and a bushy moustache.  He asked us where we were from, I mentioned to him about the magazine article and he seemed pleasantly surprised and appreciative of us finding our way to Il Chiasso. A server appeared beside him to take our order but we just left it up to chef to bring on his specialties.

Chef

Chef Luciano sent out a plate of fried zucchini flowers, stuffed with ricotta and goat’s cheese cream, topped with crisp sage leaves. Decadent and delicious. The kids ate a simple spaghetti with crushed tomatoes and basil. He then brought out a platter of local, raw whole fish and scampi, asking us to choose what we’d like. My husband chose the whole fish and I chose scampi. The fish was roasted, deboned at the table and served with assorted seasonal vegetables glistening with olive oil. My sweet scampi was grilled and served on a bed of fresh spaghetti and cherry tomatoes. Both dishes were simply prepared yet full of incredible flavour. We drank a bottle of Elban rosé and chatted with a couple from Bologna. Everyone was impressed with their meals and in great spirits, raving about how special the island was. As things were winding down in the restaurant; the kids made friends with some local children and went off to play, Chef Luciano sat with us to take a few pictures and a guitarist, sitting on a bench in the alleyway, strummed “The Girl from Ipanema” – a “love life” moment to remember for sure.

Bicyclette

So as I write this piece and reminisce about Il Chiasso and Elba island, I can’t help but think that in the end it pays to be a magazine hoarder because you never know when those pages might inspire your next travels. For me, the whole experience “brought light to my heart” just like Paolo had written.

© 2014 Ann Ivy Male

 

Food Trucks and Wine Country Heaven

Vines and Pie

Sunny fall day –  check.

Group of enthusiastic friends –  check.

Road trip to Twenty Valley – check.

Food Trucks and Wine Country – double-check!!

It has been a yearly tradition  to take a jaunt  out to Ontario wine country in the fall. The leaves on the trees are shedding

their summer green, the air is crisp and the vines are dripping with a  promise of delicious wines to fill our glasses. This year’s trip however

came with an extra bonus in the form of a plethora of food trucks set up at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery in Jordan. The event, coordinated in celebration

of harvest time, was called – Food Trucks Eat: Twenty Valley and it combined the best of  food trucks, a group of feature wineries and a live jazz  band.

What a glorious way to spend an autumn afternoon.

Fall 2009 009

Our day started with a visit to Malivoire where we sampled a variety of wines including their; Old Vine Foch, a Musqué Spritz

(an interesting, effervescent white)  and then, we were fortunate to taste a superb Gewürztraminer Icewine. The tasting room was very cosy with

a  large chalk board at the entrance for guest comments and drawings, shelves filled with Malivoire wines sporting their signature “ladybug” on the labels and a stunning

iron chandelier in the form of twiggy, willow like branches.

Malivoire

Parked outside the entrance to Malivoire was a mobile cheesemonger aptly  called The Cheesy Guys.  What a treat to be able to

sample and purchase creative, local artisanal cheese –  Mango, Carmelized Onion, or Chocolate cheese anyone? Decadent goodness and well worth a taste.

Next stop – food truck heaven!

We arrived at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery around noon , just when things started to get roll’in and we were pleasantly greeted at the entrance.  Admission was free to the event but if your wanted

to buy wine to go with your food choices, then you could purchase a tasting glass for $3.00 –  which you did get to keep.

Food Trucks

As we walked around, we soon realized that it wasn’t going to be easy to choose what we’d be having for lunch.

Toasted ravioli, no problem –  the Rome’n Chariot had that covered.  Lobster Rolls , octopus or shrimp tacos –  Buster’s Sea Cove offered that.

Oysters and more lobster rolls – Tide and Vine was worth a visit or how about savory and sweet pies at Itty Bitty Pie? Now, if you were in the mood for gourmet grilled cheese –

guess what – the griddle was hot at Gorilla Cheese. Where else could you get  the Gorilla Sarducci – Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Red Onions, Fresh Basil, Balsamic Glaze on Multigrain?

Buster's Sea Cove

After dividing and conquering, we all congregated at a comfortable table in the covered barn area where the jazz band was setting up.

It was interesting to see what everyone in the group had chosen.  The variety of food was incredible and it all came out of those glorious food trucks!

There were grilled cheese sandwiches, fish and chips, gourmet squash soup, cumin scented carrot salad, jicima salad and of course, I couldn’t resist those fresh oysters and  shrimp tacos.

For wine, I decided to try a tasty Riesling from 13th Street Winery – a perfect pairing.

Oysters and Shrimp Tacos

As we all sat together and talked and laughed and appreciated how lucky we were to live so close to wine country, the band played an

appropriate version of “Heaven, I’m in Heaven….” I couldn’t help but think that it was a perfect moment.

Heavenly Jazz Band

When our food truck lunches were devoured and  our wine glasses empty and  the band  left for a break;

we headed back out to the valley for our last stop of the day – Daniel Lenko Estate Winery.

This is a very unassuming winery located off King St. in Beamsville –  blink and you’ll miss it.

But don’t let appearances fool you, the winery is owned by Daniel Lenko, a third generation grape grower that produces award-winning wines.

We’ve visited this winery many times over the years and have been more than pleased with their selection.

The tasting room is in the family kitchen of a small house on the side of the road.

It’s rustic, quaint, dated and this time under some renovation but again,

the wine speaks for itself. We asked Daniel what the term Meritage meant as we sampled one of his reds.

He told us not to pronounce it like a french word, it isn’t one – he then explained that the term was coined in California

and represented a “bordeaux” style wine, however we are not able to call it that here.

I suppose  it’s similar to not being able to call sparkling wine “champagne” because we are not in that region.

Regardless, Ontario wine country can hold its own and can

be proud of its many unique wineries and wine makers and then add to that those outstanding food trucks and you’ve got the perfect fall road trip!

I wonder what’s in store for us next time?

Daniel Lenko

© 2013 Ann Ivy Male

Altos de Chavón

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The vision of Robert Copa, a former set designer for Paramount Pictures, can be realized as you walk along the cobblestone paths of Altos de Chavón in La Romana, Dominican Republic. His inspiration could have come from any one of the small towns nestled along the Mediterrean ,only here, the palm trees sway in the breeze, tropical rains fall and the pink bougainvillea’s splash a colourful backdrop for the stone buildings. The village overlooks the winding Rio Chavón and around the bend you will find a stunning Roman-styled, 5000 seat amphitheatre where the voice of Frank Sinatra once echoed into the night air. Other performances include: Buddy Rich, Santana, Duran Duran, Alicia Keys Andrea Bocelli and Sting. A quaint church, Iglesia San Estanislao de Cracovia, can be found near the square along with a few rustic restaurants, shops and tropical gardens.

Garde Manger – For Starters…..

“Keeper of the Food” is the meaning behind Garde Manger. Chuck Hughes and his team sure know how to do justice to simple ingredients by turning them into a  tasty delectable feast at this inconspicuous yet now infamous Old Montreal establishment

Cocktail du Jour – Lemonade with lime, cucumber infusion and Hendricks.

Apps : Lobster Poutine – sublime and decadent ; Salt-cod fritters, crisp on the outside, soft and tender on the inside ;  Jerk Crab – finger licking spicy/ sweet goodness ; Salmon Tartare – fresh, with avocado, crunchy lemon croutons and delicate herbs.

(a memorable meal, shared with memorable company, on a memorable day , July 12th, 2012)

© 2012 Ann Ivy Male