The title of Thomas Wolfe’s posthumously published novel “You Can’t Go Home Again” is often used to sum up the disappointment when trying to return to the location of a joyous event or some serendipitous find. I’ve personally experienced this kind of disappointment on numerous occasions during my travels when I’ve discovered that it’s not always better the second time around. A beloved restaurant in London was a big disappointment because a superior chef was replaced by one with mediocre standards. A return visit to sunny Barcelona was ruined because the weather was uncharacteristically uncooperative. A relaxing sojourn in the English countryside was anything but, because the mix of travel companions had changed. And a much-loved hotel in Paris was no longer satisfying because I now prefer the comfort of spreading out in a rented house or an apartment rather than being confined to the prison-like room of a quaint hotel. Somehow, no matter how hard you try and replicate the experience, it is just never the same.
This fundamental principle of life came into play when planning an excursion to Tuscany. Ten years ago, while on a wine tour in Italy, after a visit to Castello Brolio, we had a fantastic lunch at Il Carlino d’Oro, a restaurant in the small village of San Regolo. This was not only one of the highlights of our day exploring the wineries in the Chianti region of Tuscany, but one of the highlights of the entire trip. In fact, my family raved so much about the sage ravioli that we had as our pasta course, that the dish soon achieved legendary status. And for years afterwards we also talked about our charming host (the owner Carlo), who proudly explained each course in glowing and elaborate terms; then memorably scolded us like bad children when we left the restaurant early. We were on a bus tour organized by an American company who failed to leave enough time for a proper lunch, so we did the unthinkable and left before dessert and coffee were served so we wouldn’t be late for our next winery appointment.
Is Carlino D’Oro still around? Would the food be just as great as it was ten years ago? Could a return visit possibly do justice to a cherished piece of family travel folklore? Or do I keep our memories untarnished and choose another restaurant for our lunch during our day trip to the Chianti Hills? Being optimistic, I decided to take a chance and made reservations for our group to have lunch at Carlino D’Oro.
Located in the Chianti Hills, just south of Giaole in Chianti, in the shadow of Castello Brolio, Carlino D’Oro is an inn with a restaurant and three furnished apartments. The roots of Carlino D’Oro go back to 1929, when the grandparents of the current owners, Fabrizio and Marco, opened a small alimentari in San Regolo. At first just a few items were stocked, mainly sugar, anchovies and baccalà; but over time the product line was expanded. In the 1950’s they began serving simple meals at the store; local cheese, prosciutto and salame. In 1961, they decided to open a proper trattoria. 55 years later, they are still serving the same dishes, using the same cooking style. The name of the restaurant is derived from their father’s name (Carlo) and the Italian word for gold (D’Oro), the later added in because his sons feel that aptly describes the high standards of both their father and the restaurant.
Our lunch got off to an auspicious start when the waiter sat us at the exact same table that we shared ten years ago, where we had a great view of the Chianti Hills. Of course we started with the infamous Sage Ravioli, which I am glad to report lived up to all the hype. Not just for me, but everyone was delighted with the buttery deliciousness of the ravioli offset by the crunchy texture of the crispy sage. This was accompanied with a 2015 Chianti from nearby Castello Brolio. For my secondo, I chose Bistecca alla Fiorentina which I shared with my brother. Tender, flavorful and equal to anything I’ve ever had in the States. This time we were on our own schedule with no deadlines or afternoon appointments, so there was plenty of time to relax and enjoy our meal. And like children who had learned their lessons well, we smugly savored our dessert and coffee. From the outstanding assortments of desserts, I chose the panna cotta con frutta di bosco for my dolce. And like all the other courses, the panna cotta was outstanding.
No disappointment here. No big letdown. No wondering why things weren’t the same. Sadly, Carlo was gone, but everything else was the same and our lunch at Il Carlino D’Oro was as successful and enjoyable as it was ten years ago. As I sipped my Castello Brolio Chianti, with their vineyard and castle in the distance, I wondered why. Was it dumb luck? Or just some random occurrence? My thought is that the normal rules of disappoint don’t apply when visiting the Chianti Hills and in accordance with some as yet undefined Einsteinesque theory, the perfect moment in time can be recreated over and over again. Mind you, this theory is only preliminary and good scientific practices dictate that I must conduct additional trials before reaching a final conclusion. So, in the interest of science (and the pursuit of more sage ravioli), I vowed not to wait another ten years before returning to the Chianti Hills to continue my analysis into this phenomena. Further research into this matter is definitely required!