Insalata Invernale

Insalata Invernale

Photo by Evans Vestal Ward 

Gratitude on the go

Avoid a ‘turkey’ of A holiday this Thanksgiving Day

By Dan O'Heron 11/17/2011

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For many of us, the aroma of a bird roasting in the oven is not exactly the scent of pilgrim’s progress.
 
We recoil before reaching into a turkey’s cavity. And there’s no manual for trussing up a bird; it’s probably easier to correct a hernia. We’ll find ourselves with two drumsticks on the platter and four children at the table. Our place mats, made out of festive looking leaves, are drawing ants, and someone told us to cook the bird upside down, but the skin stuck to the bottom of the pan and made a mess, so we’ll be serving a plumber a turkey sandwich on Friday.
 
That we might only be thankful when our guests go home, why not go out to dinner and let the professionals put their chestnuts into the fire? 
 
Most of us who opt to dine at Il Fornaio that day instead will be glad we left home for Chef Lalo Talamantes’ four-course dinner. Before concluding with pumpkin pie à la mode with gorgeous trimmings, for $35 ($18 for children under 12), we’ll begin with a butternut squash and russet potato soup crested with onion, sage and Parmesan croutons.
It’s followed by a curly frisée and endive salad spangled with red grapes and radicchio, toasted walnut fragments, a rich and pungent Gorgonzola and a champagne vinaigrette. This sets us up for roasted free-range turkey breast served with mashed potatoes, baked yams, green beans, traditional stuffing and cranberry sauce. 
 
Fresh baked from Il Fornaio’s bakery downstairs, ciabatta bread makes for sure-fire stuffing. Its crusty exterior texture is ideal for absorbing and carrying the weight of veggies and broth — very unlike the gummy stuff we make with sandwich bread at home. Its moist, airy interior makes most fitting crevices for herbs. 
 
We never hear about “cranberry scares” anymore, in which consumers were warned of the dangers of pesticides used during growing. These days, cranberry sauce only kills the taste of wine –– especially if slopped on to meat that is too dry — something you won’t get here.
 
What is the right white wine to pair with the big bird? “Orvieto is perfect,” said John Beeman, Il Fornaio’s managing partner. “It’s a very light-bodied white but with more interest and more feeling than Pinot Grigio.” 
 
The pour is $6.95 a glass and comes with a story. Several years ago, Beeman was traveling on a corporate junket in Italy, ostensibly for the purpose of gathering useful information, but mainly for the goal of staying out late. He was able to accomplish both — and more — in the town of Orvieto.
 
Built on a mesa in the hills of Central Italy’s Umbria region, it was here that Beeman happened upon a 1,000-year-old olive tree, gnarled but still bearing fruit, and marveled at huge stone wheels that once crushed Orvieto grapes. He would go on to experience both the town’s wine and a spiritual revelation. “My group,” said Beeman, “stopped to look at an old church with huge doors covered with brass religious figures (presumably Orvieto’s storied Gothic cathedral). As the sun was setting and glinting on the mosaics, the figures seemed to come to life — it’s a moment I will never forget.”
 
No doubt the holy figures set forth Beeman’s direction to a higher place. That night, in a hilltop Orvieto bar overlooking the church, “I played the piano, while my group sang praises to James Taylor and The Eagles.”
In Italy, it’s hard not to combine business with good times and old-time religion. 

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