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 recreate the halcyon days of youth or 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 on the French Riviera is now a big disappointment because my friendly, personable and talkative Italian waiter has been replaced by a surly Parisian with the personality of a dried out carrot. A return visit to sunny Barcelona was ruined because the weather was uncharacteristically dismal. A relaxing sojourn in the English countryside was anything but, because the mix of travel companions had changed since the last visit. 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 a small hotel room, which even in the quaintest of hotels now feels like a prison cell to me. Somehow, no matter how hard you try and replicate a great experience, it’s just never the same.
This unwavering 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 (one of the oldest and arguably the most famous winery in Chianti) we had a fantastic lunch at Il Carlino d’Oro, a restaurant in the nearby village of San Regolo. This was not only one of the high points 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 day, that the dish soon achieved legendary status. And for years afterwards we also fondly reminisced about our charming host, who proudly explained each course to us in glowing and elaborate terms; then memorably chased us out into the parking lot with arms flailing, screaming at us like we were barbarians because we left the restaurant early. We were on an organized bus tour operated 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, a highly insulting behavior in a country where food is taken very seriously.
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 our high expectations? Or do I keep our fond memories of Carlo and his wonderful sage ravioli untarnished and choose another restaurant for our lunch during our day trip into the Chianti Hills? Being optimistic (some would say a hopeless romantic), I decided to take a chance and I made reservations for our group to have lunch at Il 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 the main piazza 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 of local cheese, prosciutto and salami. In 1961, they decided to open a proper trattoria. Fifty-five years later, they are still serving the same dishes, using the same the same well-tuned recipes created by their father. The current name of the restaurant is derived from their father’s name (Carlo) and the Italian word for gold (D’Oro), the later added as a suffix because Fabrizio and Marco felt that aptly describes the high standards of both their father and the restaurant he founded.
Our lunch got off to an auspicious start when the waiter sat us down at the exact same table that we shared ten years earlier, next to the window where we had a great view of the Chianti Hills, an omen that the culinary gods were going to favor us today. Of course, we started with the legendary Sage Ravioli as our primo, which I am glad to report lived up to all the hype. Not just for my family and myself, but everyone in my group 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 choose Bistecca alla Fiorentina which I shared with my brother. Tender, flavorful and equal to any steak I’ve ever had back in the States. For the wine, I moved up to the Chianti Reserva, also from Castello Brolio This time we were on our own schedule with no deadlines or afternoon appointments, so there was plenty of time to relax and thoroughly enjoy our meal. And like children who had learned their lessons well and were praised by the headmaster rather than scolded, we smugly savored our dessert and coffee. From the outstanding assortment 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 regrets. No disappointment. No big letdown. Sadly, Carlo was gone, but everything else was the same and our lunch at Il Carliono D’Oro was as successful and enjoyable as it was ten years earlier. As I sipped another glass of the the Castello Brolio Chianti, with their vineyard and castle in the distance, I wondered why. Was it simply dumb luck? Or just some randomness? Or perhaps the normal rules of disappoint don’t apply when visiting the Chianti Hills in accordance with some as yet undefined Einsteinesque theory. Not sure if it was the wine talking or my love of all things Star Trek and Star Wars, but I started to think it was possible to break through the time-space continuum while in the Chianti region of Italy and the perfect moment in time can be recreated over and over again in perpetuity as long as you were in harmony with the terroir of the region. Mind you, this theory, which I now refer to as The Chianti Conundrum, is only preliminary and good scientific practices dictate that I will need to do more analysis before a final conclusion can be reached. In the interest of science (and the pursuit of more sage ravioli), I vowed to return to the Chianti Hills, Castello Brolio and Carlino d’Oro soon and not wait another ten years to repeat the experiment. Further research into this matter is definitely required.