If pressed to identify the single most memorable meal of my life, I wouldn’t have to think twice. It was Sept. 11, 2018, a mid-day feast at a little place called Ristorante Premiére in Le Castella, a coastal town in the Italian region of Calabria.
The occasion was pretty special. My sister, brother-in-law, and I were fulfilling a long-overdue promise to take my father to Italy for his 75th birthday (he was about to turn 78 at this point). Earlier that day, we’d toured the nearby village that our ancestors left at the turn of the 20th century to start new lives in Boston.
Our guide for the day was a distant cousin, Gianfranco Caccavaro, a gregarious man about my age whom my father had managed to connect with on Facebook but had never met or even spoken to. Gianfranco welcomed us like, well, family — lending us a car to use during our stay and now, after patiently waiting in the brutal heat while we toured the Aragonese Castle that gives Le Castella its name, finding us this quiet place to refuel.
Gianfranco knew as little English as my sister and I knew Italian. And while my father could still conjure a bit of the Calabrese dialect he’d learned from his grandmother as a kid, we had no idea what anything on the menu was or how to order it, so Gianfranco took charge. I’m pretty sure his instruction to our server amounted to, “Bring everything.”
Soon, our table began filling up with plate after plate — seafood antipasti, pasta with fresh mussels, bean and octopus salad, crusty bread with olive spread. Bottles of wine emptied quickly and were just as quickly replaced. And this was just the first course. Over the next hour or so, we pushed our stomachs to previously unknown dimensions, and Gianfranco delighted as he watched us try each new dish. “Buono, eh?” he’d say, as he dug in with gusto himself. Finally, with much laughter and affection, we capped our feast with chilled Amaro del Capo and headed back out into the heat — stuffed, euphoric, and sure our new trans-Atlantic bond would last our lifetimes.
When everything comes together just right — the company, the setting, the food — a meal can become a life milestone. But you don’t have to live out your own ancestry.com commercial to experience this phenomenon. All that’s required are the right companions and exquisite food — that magical ingredient that makes special occasions unforgettable and ordinary occasions special.
That’s what we look for when choosing our Restaurant of the Year. This year we found it in spades at SheWolf in Midtown, where chef Anthony Lombardo’s meticulous attention to details — starting with his house-milled flour — results in uncomplicated but astonishing Italian dishes that I’m sure Gianfranco would deem “Buono!”
But I don’t want to spoil your appetite. Lyndsay Green tells all about, here. Congratulations to Chef Anthony — and buon appetito!