Went back to Villa D’Este for dinner after about 18 months and was a little disappointed. Villa D’Este is a traditional old style high end Italian restaurant, it has a formal atmosphere with its plush fit out and well dressed knowledgeable staff. Or I should say, it had! Unfortunately the maitre d’ who could rattle off the specials with flair, theatrics and without notes is gone. It’s back to a waiter reading off a notepad, not quiet the same style. The wine waiter, (I would never call him a sommelier as that would insult that great profession) was not knowledgeable about the wines on the excellent and deep wine list. For our second wine he referred to it as number three (it was the third one down the list of Italian red wines). I ask why employ somebody as a wine waiter in a restaurant with such a good list of wines, that are not house hold names, who has little knowledge of them and cannot even pronounce Conti Zecca Nero Salento IGT 2004, even I can after a few goes. Also its not that hard to learn a small bit of information about the wine especially when they are charging $162.00 a bottle, the waiter described the wine as having blueberry then asked which wine I was talking about, I guess all red wine tastes of blueberry in his mind.
Enough about the staff, on a more positive note a little about the wines consumed, which did turn out to be good choices. The gardener chose the Marramiero Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Inferi 2006 an inspired choice as this is a wine that loves food and only needed a few minutes in the decanter to open up, it displayed a great balance between bright acidity and tongue tapping dry tannins overlaid with sharp red fruits, rustic in style, not sumptuous and not meant to be drunk as an aperitif but with hearty foods. This is an example of why I love Italian wines. They can be robust wines, even a little low brow, but great with food and impart a festive feel, you don’t need to sit around the table contemplating them, they are there to be enjoyed.
I chose number 3 which turned out not to taste like blueberry, a pleasing but not surprising outcome. The Conti Zecca Nero Salento IGT 2004 70% Negroamaro and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, have not had the Negroamaro grape variety before, a brief description from
“The name means “Bitter Black” and produces deeply-colored and brawny wines with strong hints of tropical spices. It is among the most planted red grapes in Italy and notably, it is the base for the Salice Salentino DOC and other flavorful reds produced in the Salentine peninsula.”
It turned out to be very Italian in style and had red fruit on the nose with hints of vanilla and asian spices and again that bright acidity balanced with oak driven tannins on the palate a solid if not inspired choice for the accompanying food.
The food, started with Fegatini di Pollo alla Veneziana Chicken livers sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, a touch of balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper. Also there was some caramelized onion in with the livers which were sitting atop a piece of bread, all very delicious and worked a treat with the Montepilciano wine. This was followed by the Il Bisteccone Prime large beef sirloin charcoal grilled cooked medium rare served with a red wine jus and roasted potatoes. The sirloin was huge not large about 50mm thick, well cooked and a hearty steak, enjoyed it immensely. We finished with complimentary ports, which was a nice touch on the restaurants behalf.
Was it worth the cost, yes and no. The food is good traditional Italian fare and with the addition of a rotisserie and wood fired oven, the menu extends to specials like the piglet which is cooked on the rotisserie and finished in the wood fired oven, I didn’t have the piglet, but it looked good on AJ’s plate. The staff unfortunately did not live up to our previous visits. It has lost some of its charm for sure, but this can change with better trained staff as everything else was above par.