Lake Garda borders Veneto and Lombardy.  On the southern shore is Lugana, a wine region that crosses over so in the eastern half, we have a corvina rose from Veneto and, on the western half, we have Trebbiano di Lugana from Lombardy.  This is a rare occurrence in Italy but shouldn't be surprising for a country that offers endless complications to understanding its wine.

Another case in point is Nebbiolo.  World-renowned because of Barolo and Barbaresco from Lombardy's neighbor, Piedmont, Nebbiolo has also developed a foothold in America due to some decent California examples over the last fifteen years. With Italian wine, if you can get even some passing recognition of a grape name from American, you're ahead of the game.

Lombardy produces some of the best Nebbiolo bottlings in the world in the Alps on the Swiss border, the region of Valtellina Superiore.  Until recently, though, this was nowhere on the bottle instead called by the local name, Chiavennasca.  Only a handful of producers make wine on the steep high altitude slopes and it is remarkable.  Showing at once, complex depth and bright juicy finesse - a characteristic that would never be ascribed to a Barolo.  We have a lovely example of this style.  Nino Negri, the first commercial winemaker here makes the Inferno, named for one of the four Superiore crus.   We'll be adding a Sforzato or Sfursat later in the month made from dried Nebbiolo as well.

Starting tomorrow - Lombardy Pasta Tasting and Lombardy Wine Flight.  From Garda to Valtellina to Franciacorta.

Since the beginning of July '17, we've spent about six weeks focusing on different regions of Italy.  We are moving on to Lombardy this weekend and I realized when talking to two customers last night what I love about this project.  It's as much about us as it is about you.

I've been tasting wine for 20 years but I never spent two weeks tasting everything that was available from Umbria or Abruzzo and my appreciation of some lesser varietals, like Montepulciano or Trebbiano, and what can be done with them in great land tended by thoughtful winemakers like the folks at Annona in Abruzzo or Belmonte in Lombardy has grown.  The way we get to train the staff, one region at a time means that they are being immersed and, if they stay with us for atleast a year, they will have tasted through all of Italy.  In Austin, this means our servers are leaving L'Oca d'Oro with knowledge that is unique in the service industry.  Italy is a hard country to conquer from a wine knowledge perspective because they play fast and loose with rules and the regions frequently don't agree on what grapes should be called, how strict their DOCG regulations should be or, certainly, best practices, with 500 year old producers butting up against 10 year old wunderkinds.

On the menu side, we are also getting to discover little known (over here, that is) regional specialties like the Casunziei Ampezzani - a beet and mascarpone filled mezzaluna from Veneto that is dressed with a poppy seed emulsion.  We guarantee that our version is the best that anyone has ever had because it is, invariably, the only version most of our customers have ever had.  Last night, a few regulars asked if we would do Sicily and I said we had done it in July and we'd probably get back to it over the summer when eggplant and peppers and tomatoes are back.  And they remembered a stuffed Pork Loin dish we made, Farsu Magru, another great discovery that they said was one of the best things they'd eaten at L'Oca.

So, all the Lombardy wine is in as of today. I can't wait to share the Teroldego and Groppello, the Franciacorta and Manzoni and to see what is going to be on the tasting menu.  Thank you for learning with us.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

While not a typical restaurant holiday in that we don't spend alot of time working on our MLK pasta menu or promoting specials inspired by Dr. King's many speeches.  This is a day to reflect why we're in business and whether there is a social justice component to our existence.  I spent several hours yesterday with my children at Hebrew school, where they had a special program about immigration and, specifically, refugees.  We learned alot and heard many stories and I had to think, are we on the path we intended to better our community while running a successful business that serves great pasta.

We went into business wanting to make a difference for our employees, providing them a safe space to work and a living wage.  This has been a struggle.  As we tried to move away from a tip based system that demeans restaurant employees and keeps many servers on food stamps, we had push back but we are now in a place where more of our employees and customers appreciate and understand the context of this fight.  This could not be any clearer now as the current administration tries to make tips the property of the owners - a roll back of an Obama regulation that was designed to protect employees who still make $2.13/hr but that actually has made our quest to share tips more difficult.  The current regulation will make it easier for us but has no guarantee that tips should stay with employees and no requirement that owners inform customers where their tip is going.

We have begun an internship program with the nearby technical school bringing in students who would not otherwise have access to some of our equipment or our products.   They may not go on to be professional cooks, but they are learning more about health, nutrition and making choices that feed their families and not the pocketbooks of the industrial food world.

Dr. King is a challenging, provocative figure.  His dream did not stop with people not being judged by the color of their skin.  I believe his was a dream of real equality of opportunity.  If a place that serves great pasta can work some of Dr. King's teachings in to the fabric of their business than anyone can.

Tasting through some of Lombardy's wines in preparation for the next region that we'll be exploring.  We load the menu and the wine list with items inspired by Lombardy and then offer a daily changing tasting menu and wine flight to highlight some of our finds and creations.

This week, I've tasted a handful of Chiavennasca, which is called Nebbiolo in next door Piedmont.  The expressions from Valtellina Superiore tend to be lighter and brighter than their cousins, Barolo and Barbaresco.   I find them approachable and food-friendly without sacrificing complexity.  And, if its something darker and denser that you're looking for, there's always Sforzato di Valtellina, made from partially dried Chiavennasca.

Franciacorta continues to be a mystery.  As Champagne prices continue to climb, this metodo classico Italian sparkling stay affordable.  They capture some of the richness, yeastiness and minerality of champagne and are considerably more complex than the proseccos of Veneto to the East.  But, they remain off the radar in our market.  Perhaps, we can do some educating next month.

Finally, we started on Valentine's plans.  I can't wait to see what the Carpenters vs. The Sex Pistols menu is going to look like.  Sounds like romance to me.

Morning started letting everyone know that L'Oca d'Oro had been included in Eater's Essential 38 for the first time.  We are proud to be on this list with some other great restaurants and institutions.  We are proud to be the only Italian restaurant on the list.  Next stop was a policy meeting with Councilman Greg Casar and other local business leaders to discuss the formation of Austin's paid sick leave policy.  We already offer paid sick days and hope that this won't hurt us as it rolls out citywide.  The corollary is that we hope that it will make some of the bad actors start to treat their employees with more humanity.

Finally, at the restaurant where Lester is rendering pork fat, Fiore is sorting through beautiful organic Meyer Lemons for our house Limoncello and to preserve to be used in so many dishes once the citrus goes away.

“Slow food” is a banner that has fallen out of favor here in The States, but the spirit of tradition, preservation and regionality that undergirds the movement are alive and well in what Americans prefer to call Farm-to-Table dining.

 No matter how you like to decorate the philosophy linguistically, one name that can not be debated is Carlo Petrini.  In 1986, Petrini founded the International Slow Food Movement in an effort to “preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds, and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.” He saw the spectre of global efficiency looming and the danger that posed to the Italian culinary way of life exemplified in trattorias and taveras all over the provinces. Thanks to his protest and efforts, there has been a renewed interest in keeping our food communities intact, protecting our culinary memories and demanding clean, safe food at every socio-economic level.

In the spirit of Petrini’s protectionist attitude towards his country’s food traditions (and the livelihoods of the producers threatened by disconnection) we have been bringing The Italian Menu Project to our diners since [ x ].  There is so much history and nuance to Italian food than is too often underrepresented here in America, and we wanted to share our experiences and memories of that diversity with Austin.

In addition to our constantly changing seasonal menu, each month we select a region to highlight and offer a pre-fixe menu of traditional items as well as our interpretations of the regional style, made entirely with locally sourced ingredients. It’s an homage to the motherland and the homeland. It’s an opportunity for us to educate the curious on the wonder of Italian customs, in the warmest, most inclusive way we know how.  And it is one of our favorite ways to show off the amazing work of our farm partners.

Farm-to-table dining is so much more than a buzzword for us.  It is a representation of our roots, our community and our vision of the world we want to live in. The Italian Menu Project is a labor of love that we look forward to sharing with you and yours very soon.

For more information on this month’s featured region and menu, click here.

At L’Oca d’Oro we talk a lot about disruptive ideas: One Fair Wage, Sanctuary Restaurants, kids in the dining room. But to experience an evening or brunch with us, one might never suspect that L’Oca d’Oro is, in many ways, an homage to Chef Fiore Tedesco’s former career as a touring punk rock drummer.  The azure blue walls and the playful enamel floor designs---not so subtle references to Venetian fresco and the work of Kandinsky---tend to conjure Fellini more than Fugazi. And you would be right to think that light and grace and ebullience and even a little irreverence informs how we want to engage with our community. But the absolute devotion to disciplined and righteous disobedience is still strong, despite long ago retiring the drum sticks.

The common perception of punk rock is that it is without a cause---self indulgent, blindly rejectionist and anarchistic. Curse The Sex Pistols for their drug addled Benny Hill routine that overshadowed the whole point!

We think of it differently. Punk ideology can manifest itself in even the most universal and inviting packages because it is, very simply, meant to be a rejection of that which numbs us to the possibility of a better, more honest experience. It is an antidote to the anesthesia of a compromising status quo. It is a call to live fully!

Thankfully, we are not alone in our resistance. John Rivenburgh, featured winemaker for our first Wine Dinner, is a fellow disruptor. Don’t let the sport coat fool you...his first concert was The Violent Femmes. This jolly dude is a maverick in sheep’s clothing. Refusing to go with a flow he thought wasn’t giving the people a completely honest experience, he has created a product that is simple, pure and better than you expected by bucking every trend, most advice, and being totally unafraid to challenge his establishment.  We could not be more excited that he is linking arms with us in gracious rebellion on October 17th.

Sometimes status quo works. Even at its worst, butter and garlic on noodles with parmesan is pretty satisfying. Average wine can still make dinner a party. But when overcooked pasta, dessicated garlic and factory farmed dairy become the expectation or in-your-face cabernet is the only thing on offer---some of us are driven by the muse to resist and remind our loved ones that HEY! there is a responsible and proper way of doing things and we should swim against the tide that tells us otherwise.  We want the whole experience for ourselves and others and are willing to put the extra effort into it to bring you better.

John Rivenburgh, champion of sustainable and organic practices as an award-winning Texas winemaker, has said of his guiding philosophy ”keep it simple.” As fellow appreciators of unadulterated nature, we thought featuring the inaugural vintage of the brand that bears Rivenburgh’s name to be a great way of celebrating the bounty of fall at our upcoming wine dinner.

This fifth generation Texan knows the Hill Country’s unforgiving landscape and the state’s relatively young commercial winemaking industry better than just about anyone. At a time when Texas winemakers were literally building their own equipment because it wasn’t regionally available and too costly to ship from California, John was carving out a name for himself as a pioneer in marrying technology and Old World technique in Texas oenology.  His efforts to discover a Texas style---as opposed to imposing an identity on the region by growing more market-friendly varietals---have introduced Tannat, Sagrantino, Souzao, Charbono, and Picpoul Blanc to our local viticulture vernacular.  Crusaders eager to raise the profile of Texas wine owe this diversity to his daring and expert cultivation.

After almost 10 years at Bending Branch Winery, which he started with his in-laws, John struck out in February of last year to pursue his own venture. As a consultant, he educates other passionate Hill Country growers in his celebrated methods, establishing more acres poised to produce Real Texas wine. His hope is that within a few years, the practice of buying grapes out-of-state won’t be necessary. It’s an exciting time for Texas terroir, and John is leading the charge.

We look forward to spending some time with this #farmerdoro in his vineyard this month and sharing his incredible creations our wine dinner on October 17th.

Everyone has one. The friendly elder neighbor that you have to scan for before beelining to your car in the morning. If he spots you, he waves, casually at first, but it is not safe to let down your guard.  He trods across the yard with greater determination as you toss your belongings into the front seat and hurry to start the engine like the besieged mother in 'Cujo' before he calls to you from the curb.  As you start to pull out of the drive, he is waving frantically with both arms, causing momentary alarm.  You roll down your window and realize, again,  your gullibility.

Nothing is wrong. It never is.

He just wanted to make sure you knew he had called the city about the car parked on the street overnight in front of Steve's house, which then meanders into a diatribe about the pothole at the end of the block  that he noticed because he left the neighborhood in a different direction because he's going to a new cardiologist  which leads to a conversation about his new diet which leads him finally to ask about the menu at L'Oca d'Oro and if I've ever heard of kale and how he's not giving up bacon and, finally, a request to call the city about one of the things that he's already mentioned and to come by to let him know when I've had a chance to do that so he can keep track of how many calls we make before they finally send out a car.  And then comes the wisdom.  "Cause we can't get nothing done unless we all want to get something done."  You got it, Bill.  The essence of community.

Talking to "Bill" is always a revelation if you have time to get to the wisdom and space to unpack the train of thought which is such a feat of mental, rhetorical and logical gymnastics.  We opened L'Oca d'Oro because we love all the Bills, all the neighborhood Bills who have opinions about our business, who want to share birthdays, their layoffs, their births and, unfortunately, their family tragedies too. 

During a recent run-in, Bill was circuitously explaining what it is that people really want when they go out to eat. “Everybody wants to go home", he said.

It's easy to gloss over some of his repackaged Yogi Berra nuggets, but this one struck a chord that nagged at us to pause and really think about what we mean when we call ourselves a neighborhood restaurant.

The notion of Home is fundamental to the core of why L’Oca d’Oro came into existence, from Fiore's grandmother's influence in the kitchen to Adam's inappropriate Uncle banter in the dining room, but we’ve often been challenged to convey it clearly. Every home is different and so recreating the familiar is subjective and should be impossible.  Right?

After a few too many espressos, a call to Mom, a dozen or so viewings of the dinner scene in Amarcord and the cafe scene in Roma, we think it comes to this: Home is what you trust. And in that way, our mission is clear.

We pay one fair wage to our hardworking team and they trust we aren’t taking advantage. We source our ingredients from farmers and millers we know personally so that you can trust our food. Our kitchen is wide open, so you can trust our cooks. We don’t serve foams or gels or manipulated molecules of edible substances so you can trust what's on your plate. We designed our dining room to feel alive and lived in like a stylized version of an eat-in kitchen. Cultivating and nurturing trust is what L'Oca d'Oro is all about.

I credit Bill, one of our many beloved neighborhood philosophers, with bringing on the particulars of this revelation. And I credit L'Oca d'Oro for giving me the time and space to decipher Bill.  But, the actual philosopher Socrates said, “Don’t trust anyone who offers you the answer." So rather than truth, let us instead offer you dinner and you can see for yourself what you come up with.

 

When we opened L’Oca d’Oro, our mission seemed pretty transparent---provide a space where diners of all flavors could enjoy easy Italian in a bright convivial atmosphere.  A gorgeous idea in its simplicity.

But the whole truth is not so altruistic.  Fundamentally, we wanted to hang out with more people like us, believing that creating a haven for them could empower a cultural sea change with Austin as its epicenter.

We aren’t speaking of locavores or socially progressive, coastal transplants but something far more impactful. We’re talking about parents reinventing the minivan years.

For those of us whose classic film appetite has been replaced by an encyclopedic knowledge of Babar's post-colonial kingdom, dining out can be fraught with all manner of self-consciousness.  Ordering takes an eternity, as every third word is interrupted with a pleading demand to see pictures of puppies.  Careful table settings are instantly marred by the indelicate presence of spilled drinks and drumming utensils. The well-rested young professionals with combed hair sitting next to us audibly snicker at the kid-friendly changes we make to every dish and we fear the chef on the other side of the kitchen door is throwing a pot at the insult to his carefully curated menu.  And we just want to scream “I USED TO RIDE THE SUBWAY, DINE AT 2AM AND WEAR CLEAN CLOTHES!!”

We feel you, comrades.

Having kids rarely makes one feel sexy and free, but there is nothing more validating than taking them some place that embraces and celebrates the beautiful mess that is family life.  Better still if that place can make it feel less messy, if only for an evening.

Our dream is that L’Oca d’Oro be a hub for parents seeking affirmation that, despite the dust bunnies congregating on your rare vinyl collections while the Trolls soundtrack plays on heavy rotation, you are still really cool.  We want to prove that parents in a vibrant, creative city can have family nights that have all the allure of date night---with the requisite accommodations for your tiny chaperones.  We would love nothing more than to see a dining room full of children occupied by our library of kids books, crayons  and perfect buttered noodles while you enjoy a thoroughly grown-up and lovingly prepared dinner so richly deserved after suffering the eleventy-twelfth  “Let It Go” sing-a-long.

So bring the brood and help us start a gentle revolution.  

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