THE MOVEABLE FEAST: Where Italian food meets the good life
I know an authentic kitchen that might have been lifted straight from Tuscany. It’s got huge bottles of condiments, it’s got a small egg cupboard and it’s got the smells of Italy that attract visiting Italians by the drove. It’s also got small touches that designer Siddharta Gopalan put in to insure originality.
You go opposite The Kathmandu Guest House up a flight of stairs to Italy and La Dolce Vita and begin by sipping a hearty Minestrone soup. According to Larousse, it’s an Italian mixed vegetable soup containing pasta and each region has its own version. We were warming ourselves with one from Genoa which tradition says, “This recipe was traditionally served from boats in the harbour to vegetables starved sailors who had just arrived”. Interestingly there are two other versions — the minestra that is lighter, and the minestrina that is thinner, but the minestrone we were eating with such relish virtually constitutes a meal on its own.
Chandan Kayestha, one of the brothers who owns La Dolce Vita said, “We took the restaurant over in ‘96 and have visiting Italian chefs like the Tuscan Antonio coming to teach the staff of La Dolce Vita.” Which is why the Lasagna is amongst the best. Described as, “usually prepared with alternate layers of minced meat and pasta, coated with tomato sauce and topped with grated Parmesan cheese, then baked in the oven until browned”, the lasagna at La Dolce Vita is made extra delicious by following the ancient tradition of having layers of Bechmal Sauce tinged with nutmeg. It makes for a festive taste. Chef Bishnu Kumar Tamang didn’t want to remove that one essential step that lifted the lasagna heavenwards.
“We grew up in Thamel. While my brother worked, he sent me to Salzburg in Austria to study. But Thamel remains home,” said Chandan as the Cacciatore was brought on by Binod Giri as the maitre’d Manoj Gurung supervised. Says Saveur magazine of this dish which combines wine, onion, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaf, chicken, parsley and rosemary and is sheer paradise, “In its native Italy, it’s named in honour of the hunter’s wife, the Cacciatore — who in parts of northern Italy, traditionally cooked it”. One eats it with La Dolce Vita’s extraordinary garlic toast made with Nepali green garlic. Bliss.
“One of our most popular dishes is the Penne Ammatirciana. It’s unusual,” said Chandan. The Penne is a straightened bigger version of Macaroni and according to The New York Times, which has foodie Marcella Hazan saying, “Generally speaking sauces that contain pieces of things like chopped meat, peas and so on — go well with a pasta that has a hole that catches pieces and absorbs the gravy. Tubular pasta or pastas with a hole are permeated by the creation they are used in. The perfumes and the sauce soak in to the pasta”. The Penne Ammatirciana combines bacon, onion and chilly flakes in a dish where the bacon is the perfume and the onions and chilly add the crunch and flavour. It’s truly fantastic.
La Dolce Vita is the only Nepali restaurant in Nepal that serves the famous Cassata. It’s up there with Leonardo da Vinci. Its tastes are indescribable so let the Larousse describe it, “An iced dessert of Italian origin lined with fruit and ice-cream. The name means ‘little case’ after it’s brick or triangular shape. The Sicilian cassata is made with slices of Genoa cake filled with crystallised fruits and sugar syrup. It’s eaten at Christmas and Easter”.
For me and my family Christmas and Easter happen once a month. At least. Call 4700612.