Di Karen Phillips (testo e foto)

Thursday May 27. Around 6:30 pm. Paolo Barrale leisurely walks into Feudi di San Gregorio’s waiting room. I, along with my friend, Kate, have an informal appointment with the chef. Una chiacchierata, a little bit of conversation with him, about him, Marennà, (Feudi’s Michelin rated restaurant), and food in general. I had been looking forward to this appointment for some time. Besides being a big fan of Feudi di San Gregorio, I have also been following Paolo’s career. Paolo Barrale, 36years old, Sicilian and Ligurian, has been ‘in the biz’ since he was about 14 years old. Helping out with his family’s pasta making business, then la scuola alberghiera (cooking/hotel school), various trattorias, hotels and resorts. Eventually hooking up with the acclaimed Chef Heinz Beck of La Pergola, l’Altro Mastai in Rome, and La Torre del Saracino in Vico Equense. The last five years, he has called Marennà home.Paolo showed us around his ‘home’ instantly making us feel welcome. From the terrace of Marenna’s restaurant, we looked down on an immaculately kept herb garden. A chef’s dream with lavender, 2 types of sage, 2 types of rosemary, mint (wild and ‘domestic), blueberries, lavender, and spring onions to name a few. He pointed out the rosebushes, mentioning that this was the best time of the year to witness them in bloom.We chatted about a wide variety of topics…from a recent street fair in Vico Equense where he prepared a delicious brioche with mandarin ice cream topped with mascarpone, to his love for quality products. And here we go…Paolo loves using local products. The prosciuttos, cheeses and salamis…local. The bread, cotto a legno…local. Fresh vegetables, meats, you name it,all have strong ties to the local community. And with these products, Chef Paolo and his kitchen staff (about 10) perform their perfect little miracles.Kate and I were introduced to the dining room staff headed by sommelier Angelo Nudo who, along with Mario Ferrante, treated us to an appertivo with DUBL, a spumante made with Greco di Tufo. We enjoyed lightly aged pecorino cheese and salami before Mario led us down to a visit in the cantina. Here order is the name of the game. Classical music accompanied our tour, relaxing the wine, and ourselves as well. A passaggiata among the wine barrels and spumante bottles. Aglianicos aging, waiting to see what their next phase will be —bottle or hang out a while longer and become a Taurasi DOCG. Spumantis-Greco di Tufo, Aglianico rosè, and Falanghina also awaiting ‘the next stage’. Back upstairs, time for dinner.We began with a ‘potato cappuccino’ made with mushrooms and truffles.A variety of breads; plain, with black olives, dried tomatoes, and chicory sat beside our plate. I tried the offering with the pomodorini secchi, dipped in a little olive oil….buono.Then another plate joined us. Baccalà on creamy caprino cheese, lemon peas, topped with a pea foam, lavender, and saffron. This one -a beauty to look at. I loved the presentation of all the dishes, actually, and before ‘digging in’, I would look at each dish, take a photo, perform a mini visual examination. Accompaniment-DUBL Greco di Tufo.Two first courses-Fettuccelle with saffron, toasted pine nuts, fennel, and anchovies. Next, tortelli stuffed with polenta, topped with fresh asparagus and truffles. With these dishes, Angelo brought out Feudi di San Gregorio’s newest Falanghina, Serrocielo 2009. Fresh, smooth, with a light aroma of white flowers and fruit.The next dish was a pleasure to observe…examine… look at from all angles. A mini tower of pork and pancetta with a lemon marmalade. Beside it on the dish were spring onions. Great flavor; a combination of crispy/croccante while tender/moist. Perfect. For this dish, a red was needed and a red was given. Piano di Montevergine Taurasi DOCG 2002. Smooth, balanced tannins. Aromas of red fruits such as plums and black cherries made this wine made with my Aglianico a perfect match.From time to time, I would observe Paolo and his staff through the large glass windows that enclosed his immaculate kitchen. He always seemed calm, serene, composed. Every now and then we would exchange a smile, but then he was back to work. His team worked very well together, an obvious demonstration of his leadership as a chef.Our desserts came, and yes, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Kate and I were served a dish of Schiuma di latte, topped with passion fruit ice cream and white chocolate. Visually it was divertente, because it resembled a dish of bacon and eggs. Afterwards, pistachio ice cream on a warm, creamy hazelnut/chocolate pie and various mini pastries. Two shot glasses of latte di buffalo and a sweet wine Privilegio 2007 helped us relax as the meal came to an end.Meal over, un caffè with Paolo where I was able to express my appreciation for the entire evening. I stated how I was impressed how his sleekly designed restaurant, with excellent gourmet dishes, made me feel at home. From the attention to detail in the kitchen to the friendliness of the staff…Paolo’s response was that many of his clients come a long way to have a meal at Marennà…it is their pleasure to make their guests feel comfortable and appreciated. And they did…and we did…In fact, I am looking forward to the summer when Paolo will have cooking classes in Feudi’s Japanese garden. Or who knows? Maybe bump into him in Naples…

Now that would be nice…

Località Cerza Grossa
83050 Sorbo Serpico (Avellino)

Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Lunch only on Sunday.
To make a reservation, call 0825-986666 – 348.3639531.