Myth and mystery speak to you on Lake Como, especially at Locanda dell’Isola Comacina. John and I first came to know of this curious restaurant on YouTube and were determined to seek it out for our 15th anniversary dinner. And yeah, George Clooney and Brad Pitt have dined there along with other divas and dignitaries from around the world.
The focal point of the evening, besides the elaborate diner, is owner and Chef Benvenuto Puricelli, who greets each dinner personally. A local, who grew up in the mountain town of Sala Comacina, across the way, Puricelli spent his youth walking up and down the steep cliffs to and from school.
His life story plucked him from these very mountains to St. Mortiz, Switzerland in the late 1960’s, and a journey that found him cooking amidst the ancient ruins of Persepolis, in Iran on the lavish and oppulent occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire in October of 1971. Puricelli proudly displays the menus from that historic event on his wall of fame. He was working in the European kitchen and responsible for making everything from quails eggs stuffed with caviar, roasted peacock and lamb with truffles.
But back now to the story of our dinner — the menu here, by the way, hasn’t changed since 1947. The waiters ushered us to the balcony on a glorious summer evening where the lake was calm and a gentle breeze picked up the scent of the kitchen, whetting our appetites even more.
Antipasto was simple and scrumptious — a slice of tomato with a lemon on top, salted with oregano and splash of olive oil. Next, carved beef aged in their cellar and a lightly smoked ham or Prosciutto Tipo Praga, that John really enjoyed.
On a round serving table next to us were generous bowls of cooked beets, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, lima beans and then some baked onions.
They left us alone for a good hour to talk, enjoy our wine (Cantina Di Negrar — a Soave from the Veneto region of Italy) together with the tantalizing flavors and stunning views in front of us.
Quietly, as the sunset behind the mountain, the waiters lit candles and served us a salmon trout, Trota alla contrabbandiera, that they gracefully deboned in front of us with nothing more than two forks. This was to be a three and half hour experience with another course of Rottami di pollo in padella, or fried chicken made in an iron pot and served together with a salad.
Still to come was Grana all’escavadora, a piece of cheese scooped from the inside of a Parmigiano Reggiano wheel and dessert — vanilla ice cream or “fior di vaniglia” and three orange slices drenched in banana liquor.
Just after 10pm, the lights went out and the sound of a bell hoisted Chef Benvenuto Puricelli back into the balcony. An orange and purple flame demanded our attention as Puricelli burned brandy in a pot of coffee and shared the origins of the island and a mysterious curse that was casted upon this place in 1169 by the Bishop of Como.
The evening ended with Puricelli assuring us that for the past thirty years — his potion has lifted any curse off the island. He wished us well in our days ahead and with that he disappeared along with another magical night on Lake Como.