Christmas Lunch 2010

In our family tradition of international travel over the Christmas holiday, we generally read as much as we can about our destination in advance so that we are aware of options and historically important sights, but we leave most of our itinerary in the hands of spontaneity.¬† The one exception is that I identify one “fancier” restaurant in advance for a lunch reservation on Christmas Day.¬† This provides some insurance that we’ll have a festive holiday experience on the actually holiday, a day on which most shops and restaurants are closed in European countries.¬† This also gives us a chance to experience a traditional holiday meal, local style, something we always enjoy.

Prior to this trip, I understood that Italians, especially in southern Italy, celebrate Vigilia di Natale (literally, the vigil of the birth of the baby Jesus) with a Feast of the Seven Fishes. Then, a traditional Christmas Day meal, while somewhat variable, is likely to include antipasti, a stuffed pasta served in a meat broth, and some sort of roast meat (note:  this is as far as can be from the American roast ham!), and a panettone (light, buttery sponge cake) for dessert.

My search for restaurants serving a special Christmas lunch in the area surrounding Lucca (where our apartment was located) revealed a number of interesting options. We chose Restaurant Le Repubbliche Marinare Pisa, a restaurant in Pisa (site of the Leaning Tower) that was offering a special fixed price tasting menu.  When I sent an email to request a reservation, they offered a to prepare a simple pasta dish for our daughter.  I thanked them but suggested that she would likely enjoy the tasting menu as already planned.  We really want her to have the opportunity to experience the richness of the cultural fabric when we travel, and chicken nuggets and french fries would obscure that pretty completely!  We thought the menu included a choice of dishes at each course, but upon our arrival, we learned that we were going to be served each of the dishes listed, which amounted to 9 (yes, 9!) separate tasting plates, each so beautifully presented as to leave us awestruck.

Without further ado, here is the menu (click to view it larger in a separate window):

The menu is impressive, but it really doesn’t do this meal justice.¬† And while no one has any business eating this extravagantly every day, we will long remember this 3-1/2 hour gastronomic masterpiece.¬† Any one of the plates that we were served, represented a level of complexity in preparation and presentation that would take me an entire day to prepare, and we were served 9 of these!

When we could pause from our swooning and bestowing exclamations of “Bravo!” and “Delicioso!” on our host, whom we believe was the mastermind for this meal and, along with his wife, proprietor of this wonderful restaurant, we snapped a few pictures.

Here is the San Daniele ham with fried pasta accompanied by mini basket of parmesan with Pecorina di Pienza blue cheese mousse:

And the crepe rolls in capon broth:



The ravioli stuffed with braised beef cheek, fried and served on a bed of creamed leeks:

The crusty shell of bread filled with fillet of sea bream:

To cleanse our palates, a pink grapefruit sherbet:

And the lamb chops in hazelnut crust with braised red chicory (radicchio in the U.S.):

Lastly, and when we thought our senses couldn’t register any more flavors, the mini charlotte¬† with wild berries was fabulous!

Amazingly, the littlest chef happily tasted every course, actually devouring a couple of them!¬† 3-1/2 hours later, we staggered into the twilight of Pisa, in awe of what we’d experienced!¬† Because the daylight left us so quickly, we didn’t get pictures of the Leaning Tower, but we think we had a good excuse!