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La Panarda Feast at Le Virtu

I have never ran a marathon and I never plan on running a marathon, I just don’t get how running is fun. To tell you the truth I look at people that run marathons the same way they look at me, crazy. But after La Panarda, I do understand the strategy that has to be used to finish a marathon. 40 courses, almost half served family style and 9 variety of wines that conservatively I will say I had about 2 glasses of each. This marathon is unlike any other though, if you can imagine with me for a second running 16 miles on a flat surface and then the rest of the way dealing with an uphill climb to finish, that is how the pasta and meat courses at the end of this awesome extravaganza feel. So I don’t bore you I will describe only the dishes that were can’t miss in my opinion and that is still too many and the others were right behind.

It was a beautiful fall day for a festival, the room was full of around 30 other guests, some that have been there before, some, like myself, who would be experiencing this unique feast for the first time. La Panarda is an Abruzzo tradition originally held in honor of St. Anthony whom legend has it was prayed to by a woman whose child was held in a mouth of a wolf and  of course the wolf dropped the child and the woman cooked a feast for this miracle. I must say thank you St. Anthony because I am now a beneficiary of that miracle.The owners kicked things off with a sheep bell from Abruzzo and a shout out to the beautiful Abruzzo region. You can tell this was going to be a good day just from the passion shown by the owners and the Chef .

Just like any other marathon we had to get hydrated before we started so the staff came around and served us some glasses of Cococciola Spumante Brut as an aperitif, this citrus flavored sparkling wine was very pleasant on the palate and a great way to start the day. After a few of those the apertivos started coming out, the apertivo was one of the best courses of the meal which only made it harder to pace yourself. The Jewish artichoke came out first and exploded with flavor as soon as you bit into the perfectly fried crust. These were better than any I had in my recent visit to Rome.

Up next came the fritters filled with egg, pecorino and baccala, the combination of these flavors was perfect, the salty taste of the baccala was the first flavor to hit your mouth, then the freshness of the egg and finally the buttery taste of the pecorino. I ate about 6 of these fritters but could have done 20 if I did not remind myself of the 38 courses to follow. Then came one of my favorite dishes of the day, fried olives stuffed with Italian pulled pork. I could eat these decadent treats all day, the burst of sour vinegary tang from the olive that rolled right into the delicious salty flavors of the pork was almost heaven. It reminded me of the Pringles commercial one you pop, you can’t stop. After I ate a good number of these I had to reiterate to myself “marathon not a sprint.” But whoa were those good.

Next came what the Italians call the first opening service, as all Italians know, the stuff you eat before doesn’t really count;). This service was all seafood dishes. It was paired with a fresh unique wine named Cococciola Costa del mulino. Out of the kitchen came the bay scallops on top of a cauliflower purée with black truffle on top. This was the ultimate sea and earth dish, with the sweet, fresh flavor of the bay scallop transitioning directly into the earthiness of the black truffle, it was quite the technique.

Then came the conserva di neonate di sardelle with crostini, this was fermented eels in a chili sauce and it was out of this world, I could defintely use that recipe. The salty delicious pungent flavor of the the eels along with the spiciness of the sauce made the dish addictive and had me wishing for more crostini, but it was most likely better for me that there was none, I even contemplated eating it with a spoon but I don’t think my tablemates would have looked at me the same after that :).

The last of my favorites from this course was the mussels, clams, scampi and piennolo tomatoes. While the clams and mussels were delicious, the freshness of the scampi was decadent, after I got done scooping each bit out it had me wanting just another one or two or three. With 12 courses done it was time to move on to the 2nd serving.

This was when I decided to start smoking the pack of cigarettes I bought especially for this day. I feel like any 10 hour long Italian feast needs to be accompanied by cigarette breaks. I went out onto the beautiful patio of Le Virtu on this gorgeous fall day, many of the other attendees decided to follow and take their first rest of the day and enjoy a nice conversation with people they would be meeting for the first time. When I went back in they were serving us the Pecorino Costa del Mulino, aka the orange wine, and no it does not have a splash of Fanta in it, it is a white wine made like a red which leaves an orange tint to this delicious glass. As the lamb sausage with polenta and calabrese chili was served to me, my mouth smiled wide, as one of my favorite combinations is sweet, earthy and spicy and that is exactly what this dish brought to my taste buds.

Then came the Farrotto n’ndocca n’ndocca, translated on the menu as Farro and pork risotto, but as soon as I took a bite into this delicious earthy plate, I knew this was not the normal parts of the pig, this was the tripe, tongue, snout, etc. aka the nasty bits, when I told the gentleman sitting across from me I could tell by his facial expression that if I told him before he tried it he would have never tried it but since he did not know he had already ate it and liked it.

As the wines continued to come each one was refilled they were all paired perfectly but around this point is when I don’t really remember the specifics of the wine anymore, all I know is that they were all delicious and paired extraordinarily well. Up next came the light courses of salad and cheeses to get us to the half way point highlighted by the kale salad with apples, walnuts and a pecorino dressing.

Half way through, time for one of many more cigarettes as I tried to keep my mind off the amount of food and wine I had already consumed. Time for the house cured salumi, no doubt what was my favorite here the crostini with nduja, a spicy spreadable pork sausage, that has the perfect mix of tang and spice, o’ so good.

After a quick break I could see the wall in front of me, Iad to climb it and keep on going it came in the form of 7 types of pasta, this was no longer amateur hour. The first leg was the Timballo, a baked pasta dish made for 30, that when whole looks almost like a miniature super dome that tastes like a bake ziti belly bomb (in a good way).

Out of the kitchen came the tuminia busiate, pesto alla trapanese (corkscrew pasta with pesto), this pesto has almonds in it which really lends the dish a great touch of nutty flavoring.

Next came my favorite pasta of the night the cecamariti com ragu all’amatriciana (ragu made with guanciale (cured pigs cheek)) the saltiness and juiciness of this ragu made for a wonderful dish that unfortnately I could only have so much of knowing the meats were up next. So many gut punches but I kept on going.

You know its been a long day when you get the meat sweats before the meat portion of the meal is served, but that  was the predicament I found myself in. But it was such a tasty predicament to be in.

Again outside for another cigarette and some more conversations to open up a large enough pocket to finish the meal. As I go back in, I eat the palate cleansing sorbet before the meat courses start rolling in. The meats were all out of this world the porchetta was perfectly cooked with a nice crispy outside and juicy inside with the perfect amount of seasonings. The rabbit, porchetta style was simply special.

The sliced steak, I went for the inside pieces where it was cooked medium rare to my overwhelming enjoyment and finally the last meat before dessert the divine rack of lamb.

What a day, what an experience. After I fought through the meats with enjoyment I ordered a limoncello and espresso to help me finish the cheeses and Italian cookies for dessert. I had done it and would gladly do it again.

After the meal many people had left, I saw the owners, the Chef and a few more people sitting in the corner, I went over to them and expressed my gratitude and told them how great the food, the atmosphere and how wonderful the all around event they were able to put on was. They then offered me a digestive named genziana, as they poured me a glass, one individual says “not the whole glass”, as I later find out it is 140 proof, but that is fine with me. It looks almost like ecto cooler, as I take some nips to end the night of this pesto flavored grappa like drink I realize why this works so good after a meal, it just burns through the food. I finish and it is time for me to leave, I say my thank youse again and end up getting a ride home from a couple of people who came down from New York for La Panarda.

This is an event unlike any other, it is undoubtedly a 10 +1 sizzle experience, that I would recommend to anyone I know.

Until next time,

Eat, Drink and be Merry!!!

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