Following is my personal culinary experience at Seven Cafe in Monteleone d’Orvieto and a precious memory of one of the most incredible meals I had when I was a young woman at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. I miss restaurants – sorely – during quarantine. I dream about them. I hope my memories will make you salivate. I look forward to when we’ll all be able to once again patronize our favorite restaurants. Seven Cafe is definitely my favorite in the area. Buon Appetito! Read on after the Truffle Hunt blurb for the Blog Article…..
Truffle Hunting with Seven Café
Join us for an exceptional adventure truffle hunting with Argo, our expert truffle-hunting Lagotto Romagnolo. Starting June 2020, we will embark daily from Seven Café, early morning after a briefing and introduction to the mysteries of the truffle over coffee and croissants at the restaurant. We will then take you to our private, secret truffle domaine, where we will follow Argo’s nose as it leads us, sniffing out seasonal truffles, pointing to their location for master, Michele. Argo then digs madly in place to help unearth the precious, oddly shaped nuggets that are worth more in weight than gold! After collecting the day’s harvest, Michele and Andrea will take you back to the restaurant where, together, the group will learn how to make various truffle dishes. We will all share delicious soft scrambled farm eggs with shaved truffles and Verdicchio wine, then discuss how one discerns fake truffles from real truffles and learns the different seasonal truffles as well as how to appreciate different qualities of truffles.
Please contact us to reserve your truffle hunting experience for next summer on our website or facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sevencafe7.
Please contact us to reserve your truffle hunting experience for next summer on our website or facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sevencafe7.
On my twenty-third birthday in 1981, Mark took me across the Oakland Bridge from San Francisco to Chez Panisse in Berkeley for dinner. It had burned earlier that year, but somehow it was re-opened by November and ready for me to celebrate one of my first adult birthdays, en tete-a-tete with my much older boyfriend. I was very excited. At its ten-year mark, Chez Panisse was incredibly famous, lauded nationally by critics and a then unknown breed called foodies. The public fawned; crowds followed. It was impossible to get a reservation at Chez Panisse; some people reserved a year in advance. It had already weathered the lightning storm of Jeremiah Tower (my all-time favorite American Chef) in his signature flourish, flaming out with part-time lover and owner, Alice Waters, after a very public row. That was in 1976, before Waters was firmly ensconced as the doyen of California Cooking. That upheaval of the domestic food scene spawned American Cooking and all its regional declinations. Towers was part owner in two other Bay Area restaurants where Mark and I were regulars in 1981. Mark knew both Jeremiah and Alice personally from hippie days in Berkeley following his return from service in Vietnam, and his later transformation into antiwar activist at the University of California. He did not know them well, but he knew Alice well enough to get a reservation at Chez Panisse for his girlfriend’s birthday; and it was well enough that she greeted us warmly during the meal.
I’d only been back from France 18 months at that point. Like Alice Waters, I’d spent my junior year abroad in Paris for a year, and the fairy dust residue hadn’t quite washed off yet. Unlike Waters, but like Jeremiah Towers, most of my childhood vacations had been abroad. Mine, in Paris, Brittany and the Cote d’Azur with my family, cousins and grandparents. From an early age, I was familiar with the rituals of eating in France, both at home and in restaurants. I was also a very adept shopper in outdoor markets. I loved both the fresh produce and fun handmaid trinkets that one could get at the fair-like markets. I was allowed to wander through them alone from age eight onwards. There was not much to fear back then. I was especially enamored with all things lavender and returned to the States with luggage reeking from the abundance of sachets filled with the dried flowers from Provence. Years later, I moved to Provence.
Living in San Francisco post-college, I was still mourning the authenticity of eating in France and had suffered through my last year of university in Charlottesville, in many ways, but mostly gastronomically. College food didn’t cut it after France. When I approached Chez Panisse on my 23rd birthday, I remember thinking it was nothing like any restaurants I’d been to in France, even though that’s what reviewers had likened it to in the articles I’d read. I readied myself to be critical, as one does when one is French, puffy pout and all. But, when I stepped onto the porch and breathed in the aromas, I was transported back to France. Scents of mingled garlic and red onion, tarragon and apple, roasted chicken and lavender wafted from the kitchen and tingled my olfactory glands so lightly and took me back. From there, across the threshold, the gastronomic journey begun and was transcendent. Because the food was simple, honest, and succulent, it felt like I was back in France at the dining table of one of my parents’ friends family’s homes, rather than in a restaurant, every detail was perfect in execution. Every ingredient was bursting with flavor and of the moment, every texture perfect, nothing over cooked or overly seasoned, everything was just so, and exquisite. I remember feeling like I had been to the symphony, rather than to a restaurant, so melodious was the experience of eating at Chez Panisse.
Fast forward about forty years and I repeat the experience, almost exactly. This time, it is at a strangely named restaurant just over the mountain from Città della Pieve in a small town called Monteleone d’Orvieto. It’s my second night in Umbria and I am at Café Seven, a small wine and gastronomic bistro that soon becomes my favorite in the region – and one that I secretly believe deserves a Michelin Toque, if not a star.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me set the scene: I arrive at my new friend Catherine’s house whom I’ve met in Goa, India the year prior. She throws me a birthday party. We decide to go to a restaurant the day after my 60th birthday. Her better half drives. Luckily, I think to myself, as the road we’ve taken relentlessly winds around some dangerous hairpin turns that I will later take for granted going much too fast myself after I become a regular at Seven. I am paying close attention to the views on either side – summer’s sunflower skeletons, naked vineyards and olive groves, assiduously ignoring the driving from the backseat. It seems like it takes forever, but it’s just over twenty minutes. B. slows around the last turn at the bottom of the hill and we drive under a canopy of birch trees along a lovely straight road and pass a sign that welcomes us to Monteleone d’Orvieto, a jewel of a town worthy of a visit. On the right, subdued amber lighting beams from a café that seems to sprout from a tree at the center of the restaurant’s covered terrace. We have arrived at Seven Cafe.
We enter the small bar area to the left of the terrace where a collection of men dressed in dusty work clothes are gathered. There is an organic feel to this gathering as if these guys are in someone’s kitchen amidst friends rather than in a public place. Behind the bar, a lady who is older – but who is probably my age – is chatting with one of them, while a young man serves and chats with them as well.
Andrea greets us within minutes; he’s the one who’s been chatting with the guys while the older lady serves drinks. He darts from behind the bar to greet us. He is one of two brothers along with Michele, the Filosi brothers, who own the restaurant. Andrea confirms our reservation and request for seating on the enclosed terrace which is heated to a comfortable temperature despite the November chill by towering gas lamps. He whisks us through the bar area to our table. Andrea is a diminutive sprite of lean muscle with a broad smile and close-cropped hair. He looks and moves like an athlete. I learn later that he donned a jersey emblazoned with the number “7” playing for the Viterbo Football (Soccer) Team for years prior to opening the restaurant. He christened this unique concept of pizza-parlor cum wine-bar cum gastro-bistro to honor his brief, but spectacular, career in Calcio, Football, Soccer for the American readers.
Andrea rattles off the specials of the night in Italian, then repeats a brief synopsis in English for benefit of B. and me. Catherine, a polyglot (perfect Italian and English, passable French) vegetarian, needs specifics. Seven is one of the only restaurants in the area where she finds an excellent choice since she eschews meat and we are in west of Umbria not habitually known to be friendly to non-meat-eaters. Like neighboring Tuscany, the region is known for its Chianina Beef and Wild Boar. This is Meat and Potatoes country, but Seven is friendly to vegetarians and even vegans will also find tasty options here. She asks for details on several pasta dishes that are vegetarian – this, I can only guess at since this is well before I have started learning Italian.
There are several menus to choose from at Seven. Andrea shows us the daily menu and hands us the pizza menu as well. The restaurant offers an extensive choice of pizzas from a two-page menu which makes it a good choice for multigenerational dinners; kids love Seven. Their pizzas are the best in the area. The pizza crust is made with farina di grano tenero (stone ground whole wheat flour) and soy flour and is therefore particularly light and crispy with a hint of rock salt. The pizza crust is a family recipe that the Filosi clan keeps secret, but if you’re lucky, they will bring you a basket of cut pieces of pizza bianca, white pizza dusted with new unfiltered olive oil and rosemary just out of the wood-burning oven when they serve you your Aperitivo. They are particularly creative with the toppings of their pizzas and have a wide range of choice, but it’s the crust that makes the pizza stand out from all others in the area. Favorites with customers are the Monteleone and Sandrino pizzas. Seven would be worth the journey from Città della Pieve even if they just served pizza. Because it’s so good, many people have never tried anything else and don’t even know that a gastronomic journey awaits them over the mountain at Seven for fear of missing out on the pizza.
But it is in the sensitive and expert handling of local ingredients by chef Michele, Andrea’s vivacious and rascally younger brother, that one revels in the culinary prowess of Seven. Michele learned cooking as a child at the hands of his mother, a self-taught chef, who worked for many years at a good local restaurant, Il Girasole in Santa Maria, located not far from Monteleone. Michele was a rebellious youth not much suited to school who much preferred the kitchen to the classroom. He has wide and curious eyes and a ready smile with a round face and a jolly manner to go with it. His natural flair for cooking developed early. Capping youthful capers, his adult compass pulled him towards a culinary north star at age 16, in tandem with his passion for truffle hunting (see adjoining article about Truffle Hunting Adventures with Seven Café). It was Michele who convinced his brother, Andrea, a self-taught wine connoisseur of his native Umbrian and neighboring Tuscan wine regions, to follow him in the initial café venture. Initially, the café had a simple catering capacity and was located next door to the present-day location of Seven Café. It was also Michele who convinced Andrea last summer to initiate Truffle Hunting Expeditions for their clientele who were fascinated by the lore and culture of truffles which feature so prominently on the menu at Seven. The Truffle Hunting Adventures will continue this summer 2020 (see below insert) and may be extended to the winter months depending on customer interest level. Since the king of all truffles, the one that can only be found in few regions of Italy, is available only a few months in the winter, locally, the Tuber Magnatum, the brothers are considering winter expeditions of truffle hunting.
When they opened the simple café concept in 2009, Andrea and Michele’s mother joined them to help out with cooking foods for on-premises and take-away sale and tending bar while their father still had his contracting business in Monteleone. Capitalizing on their father’s building expertise, the two brothers spruced up the existing café and started a cafeteria. Their mother inspired Michele to prepare some of the first dishes – appetizers and mains – that featured local truffles harvested from their own truffle hunting expeditions with their own truffle hunting dogs. She was behind customer-favorite dishes like the Tagliata al Tartufi and the white and black truffle pasta specials that are featured in tandem with the seasons. These standards persist on the menu today, but a much more elaborate menu has evolved since Seven moved to the new location four years ago and evolved into a gastro-wine-bistro format. After an unexpected success, Michele was able to convince brother, Andrea, to dedicate himself full-time to the restaurant venture and to leave his Football (soccer) career behind him.
In 2016, Andrea and Michele bought the building next door to the café and applied Andrea’s lifelong passion for design with his father’s building know-how. They transformed the existing simple roadside restaurant into a casual, yet stylish environment that works both for fine dining and easy-going pizza family dinners. The décor, like the cuisine has an organic feel to it. There is no pretension and the attention always tend toward underscoring the locale of Monteleone and Umbria. Wine bottles and crates are at the basis of the design and line the walls juxtaposed against the geometric tiles that draw inspiration from regional artisanal earthenware. Throughout, elements of nature soften the more ascetic qualities of the design to warm the atmosphere and make it feel homey whilst keeping its thoroughly modern feel. Unlike many Italian restaurants, the lighting is diffuse and subdued earning the restaurant a warm feeling that is underscored by the friendly atmosphere set by the Filosi brothers.
Behind the scenes, but looming large in the success of Seven, the expert hand of their mother, Mamma Paola, at the stoves at the back ensures family recipes persist in the offering at Seven. In 1998, she retired from Il Girasole and since has dedicated herself to cooking alongside Michele. She still makes pasta at the restaurant daily and her pizza dough second to none. She is the artist behind such dishes as Umbrichelli Porcini E Pomodorini Freschi Alla Contadina, Tagliolini Al Tartufo Bianco and Caponata Umbra E Pollo all’arrabbiata.
Her reputation for the best pasta in the area is epic. One childhood friend of the boys tells me that everyone in the area knows about Paola’s pasta. The friend explained that growing up, a pasta dinner at the Filosi’s was like dying and going to heaven. What kind of pasta? I ask her, Oh, just the most ordinary, Pasta al Pomodoro, so perfect. Incredible! La Mamma, Paola Nicchiarelli, was the champion pasta chef of Monteleone in the past and her reputation reached over the mountain to Città della Pieve and beyond. It persists to the present among locals.
Michele chooses local ingredients for his signature dishes and among them, his favorites are Umbrian farm eggs, wild mushrooms, stone ground flours like the famous local chestnut flour and Fassona meats. 80% of the ingredients used in the dishes at Seven come from the area around Monteleone d’Orvieto or no further than neighboring Tuscany. Michele’s signature dishes are Medaglione Uovo e Tartufo, Tartare Di Fassona Al Tartufo, Pappa Al Pomodoro Con Burrata (see recipe below), and Tagliata Di Manzo Ai Porcini. The menu at Seven also features seasonal specialties like Carpaccio Di Funghi Ovuli O Porcini Con Olio D.O.P , Parmigiano Reggiano, Tartufo Bianco/Nero/ Bianchetto In Base Alla Stagione, and Ortaggi Stagionali: Fiori Di Zucca Fritti in the summer and Cappelletti Ripieni Di Carne In Brodo in the winter for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Since quarantine, like all the local restaurants, Seven Has been closed since the 10th of March. When Italy closed for businesses, the country, already in such dire straits due to a limp recovery since the economic crisis of 2009, has been limping along. It was starting to show signs of a pale recovery last fall, but then the Coronavirus hit in January 2020, the recovery reversed course.
The economic toll that has felled the restaurant business will be permanent for many. So when my friend Catherine sent me a note saying Seven had decided to start delivery service, I was one of the first to raise my hand, then pick up the phone to give Andrea a call. We chatted about tonight’s order but also about his family, the situation in Italy and an initiative that they started to try to keep the restaurant on a more solid economic footing.
In an effort to help restaurants hit hard by the Coronavirus Quarantine, the restaurant reservation app, The Fork, created a platform for restaurants to offer coupons to their clients. Many restaurants in the United States, Britain and France got on board with this concept, less so in Southern Europe. However, Andrea saw that one of his favorite restaurants had offered coupons and decided to offer pre-purchase coupons for Seven Café. I think I was the first one to buy a coupon! For anyone who’s interested in helping to keep the restaurant solvent through the closure period, consult Seven Café’s Facebook Page, on https://www.facebook.com/sevencafe7, and click on the link, #saveourrestaurants. The coupon is good for three years so there will be plenty of time to use it and enjoy Seven Café.
They are also delivering wine under a new initiative called “Enoteca Acasatua.”
Some of Andrea’s Wine Selections for Order:
BUSSIA PRUNETO BAROLO PIEMONTE, CAMARTINA CABERNET SAUVIGNON-SANGIOVESE TOSCANA, RUBESCO RISERVA SANGIOVESE UMBRIA.
Consult their website or facebook page for details about accessing their vast cellar for home delivery of their regional, Tuscan and beyond regional borders wines.
So, in closing, I’ll share that I’ve I ordered Seabass for tonight since it’s Friday and I’ll be eating fish as it’s a tradition in Italy. I have set up the front of my apartment to resemble the terrace at Seven. I’m making the stepstool into a café table and positioning a chair next to it so that I will be dining alfresco, like I would have had I actually been going to Seven Cafe, with a view of the not so animated goings-on on my street. I have positioned candles on the side table and will lower the lights to create some ambience. I’m going to have to fathom quite a bit of imagination to conjure the fabulous feeling of dining at Seven, but at least it is a start for fantasizing. It will have to do until they open again, and I can realize my fantasy!
I am a friend of sort of the restaurant. But then again, when one goes to the restaurant, even once, one becomes a friend of Seven Café, such is the welcome and the organic clubby feel of the place. I share a passion for truffles and wine with the owners Andrea and Michele. I’m looking forward to when I can dine al fresco on the terrace next to the sprawling tree that pokes through the roof of their terrace, to when I can wake at dawn and go truffle hunting with them and their Lagotto Romagnolo, Argo, to when I can just pop by and have an Aperitivo at the bar, and to when I can pick up the best pizza in the universe to take home to eat on my own roof top terrace once its finally finished! In short, to when, finally the quarantine will allow my friends at Seven Café and I to share a glass of wine and say “Salud, amici!” over Prosecco, truffles, pizza, good company, laughter, and smiles.
MENU at SEVEN
Please note that the Menu Changes Seasonally and is subject to change weekly and daily according to what is available in the markets.
|Appetizers Bruschetta cherry tomatoes, D.O.P olive oil Egg and truffle on a medallion of local smoked cheese Tartare of Fassona* egg truffle Tomato Pappa* with Apulian burrata D.O.P Tempura* fried zucchini flowers FIRST COURSES Seasonal Truffle Gnocchi UMBRICHELLI* peasant-style (fresh porcini and cherry tomatoes) Local wild boar pappardelle Ricotta and spinach stuffed ravioli in red sauce Main Dishes Thinly sliced filet with porcini and seasonal truffle Thinly sliced filet with rocket, grana parmesan and cherry tomatoes Lemon scaloppini Pork fillet with orange and balsamic vinegar reduction on a bed of arugula Vegetables Seasonal grilled vegetables misticanza*, fennel and orange salad Sautéed fried potatoes* DESSERT House Tiramisu Molten heart dark chocolate tortino Macedonia of mixed fruit with vanilla gelato Cheesecake with wild berries||ANTIPASTI Bruschetta pomodorini , olio D.O.P Medaglione scamorza uovo e tartufo Tartare di Fassona uovo tartufo Pappa al pomodoro con burrata pugliese D.O.P Fiori di zucca fritti PRIMI PIATTI Gnocchetti al tartufo UMBRICHELLI alla contadina (porcini e pomodorini freschi) Pappardelle al cinghiale Ravioli ripieni ricotta e spinaci in salsa rosa SECONDI PIATTI Tagliata di manzo porcini e tartufo Tagliata di manzo rucola grana e pomodorini Scaloppina al Limone Filetto di maiale rucola arancio e aceto balsamico CONTORNI verdure grigliate di stagione Insalata di misticanza*, finocchi e arancio Patate fritte DESSERT Tiramisù Tortino cuore caldo al cioccolato Macedonia con gelato alla crema Cheesecake ai frutti di bosco|
Seven Cafe’ Restaurant
Price $$, Around 60 Euros for two, three courses with wine. 25 Euros for two Pizza Dinner with simple wine.
Address: Via Sandro Pertini, 24/26, 05017 Monteleone D’orvieto TR, Italy
|Hours: 6am–10pm Monday- Sunday, Tuesday, weekly closure.|