Jason’s birthday was a couple of months ago, before Thanksgiving. Mid-November birthdays, alas, rarely offer the type of weather that might occasion a festive gathering. His birthday was on a weekend this year, so we reserved a table for two at Nugolo, a new restaurant of some local renown around the corner from where we live, on Via Mattonaia.
The restaurant was chic and small, staffed by chic, slim people in hipster aprons of linen. We were shown to our table, in a corner in a further room, illuminated by a light bulb that appeared to have last been by Edison himself, and almost certainly now unlawful in the European Union. A recycled glass bottle held a purple spray of flowers.
The waitress came and asked us which language we needed. L’italiano va bene, we both nodded. Somewhat hesitantly, she handed us two menus. We ordered prosecco and opened the menu to peruse. It was uncomplicated and brief. The waitress returned with our flutes of cold bubbly. We toasted the day and cocked our heads. As the dining room around us began to fill, we noted curiously that all the other guests were speaking French. As in French people. How odd! we exclaimed. The waitress returned to take our orders. We ordered starters; I skipped the primo. We each ordered a secondo. What is the ingot? Jason asked, pointing. The ingot on the menu?
Oh, it’s maiale, the chic waitress answered nonchalantly. Just pig.
Sounds great, Jason assented.
I opted for the pheasant rolls.
Talking and laughing. Talking. Not keeping our phones down as much as we ought to have. The lights were pretty. The restaurant’s entire first seating was now complete. At seven-thirty and then nine, we guessed.
We ordered a bottle of Chianti Riserva. Bravi, the waitress smiled, uncorking the wine. Jason sniffed the cork. The wine was wonderful. French swirled around us. All the French people seemed really young. Who are these people, I wondered? La jeune France in this fancy réstaurant off the beaten path in Florence? They all seemed louder than regular French people, but the dining room was small and the lights were bright. The French people did not all seem to be together. The kitchen was running food out at a clip. I could see them from my chair, sweating and cooking and plating. The French people drank a lot of wine in a very short time.
The secondi (entrées) flew out. Jason’s looked like a geometric meatloaf with a glaze reduction. My four pheasant rolls were prettily arranged around a white plate, speared in place with toothpicks.
What is this? he asked.
The waitress said it was an ingotto, I repeated. It is the ingot of the pig.
What is the ingot of the pig?
I wondered aloud. A leg bone? A shank? Some part that has been hidden all this time, but which is an intrinsic part of the pig? I reached for the translation app on my phone. Ingotto. Ingot. It’s an ingot. I shrugged. Have some more wine before the French people drink it all. I topped off his glass. He gamely began to cut into the pig ingot. The reduction sauce gleamed in the warm light. He swept the cube of ingot in the reduction sauce and popped it in his mouth. A certain look crossed his face. He tilted the ingot to one side to inspect.
This is an entire block of bacon, he exclaimed.
Were my mouth not full of pheasant roll, I would have let out a low whistle. An ingot of bacon. The ingot was not some mysterious, miraculous part of the common pig, from whose introduction we had been cruelly deprived throughout decades of dinners, but rather an evocative description of the shape of the pressed block of bacon.
It was his birthday, and he dispatched the pig ingot like a champ, but not without some suffering. We ordered dolci and a mini-snifter each of amaro. It might have been a good night for a solid plug of fiery grappa. On the short, slower walk home, he said he felt a bit guilty for eating so much bacon in one sitting, but that it had been very, very rich. But very good. But very rich. Oh so rich. Who needs to eat that much bacon in one sitting?
He ate fairly lightly for the next week.
Just a word to the wise to ask the waiter if the name of the plate if meant to be literal or evocative. We’re still laughing about this dinner. And I had little room to talk or mock, having for my part consumed a lunch composed almost entirely of black truffles for my own birthday six weeks before. I couldn’t eat breakfast for a month after that. I just stayed full for weeks. O adventures in Tuscan dining.