Feasting at Le Calendre, a restaurant/bar/pastry shop outside Padova.
The Alajmo family has been in the restaurant business for six generations. They opened a wine bar in Vicenza in the late nineteenth century, and upgraded in the 1950s to a trattoria in the unheard-of locality Sarmeola di Rubano, a convenient stopping place on a provincial road that connects Vicenza and Padua. They outgrew the name and cooking of their Trattoria Aurora and transformed it into Le Calandre in the eighties. So, what began as a simple eating-and-resting place for travelers has evolved into a culinary destination. Practice has made for perfection.
Massimiliano Alajmo grew up in his mother Rita's kitchen, went to a local professional culinary school, worked summers and holidays, spent time in restaurant kitchens in Italy and France, and took over at Le Calandre when he was 19 and the restaurant had one Michelin star. His brother, master sommelier Raffaele, crafted a superlative wine list, upgraded the decor, china, and crystal, and ran the dining room with style. Together the brothers earned a second star. And they deserved it. Everything is first-class, beginning with the bar/pastry shop, run by the youngest Alajmo sibling, Laura, and frequented by locals and commuters, who stop off for a coffee or snack. The bar's entrance is on the main road, and parking is easy. Look over the mouthwatering selection of mother Rita's sweet and savory baked goods, impossible to resist. I tried and failed miserably, nearly losing my appetite for the meal to follow.
Massimiliano, now a mature 25, is enthusiastic, interested in everything culinary, and knowledgeable about ingredients. It shows on his menu. Some dishes, like sarde in saor (cooked sardines marinated with onions, pine nuts, and raisins), barley and bean soup, and Vicenza-style baccalà (air-dried cod that's stewed with onions, spices, and milk) are pure tradition; others reflect the market and season. Massimiliano prefers to use fish and seafood from the Venetian lagoon and regional produce like radicchio, asparagus, squash, or wild greens, which he prepares with the greatest skill. Look for perfect risotto and homemade pasta here. The cheese cart is impressive, loaded with local and Italian selections. Rita makes at least five breads (from five different doughs) daily. Dessert lovers will be in heaven and should plan on the degustazione desserts of six different tastes.
The wine list reflects Raffaele's enological passions, including many unknown and well-priced regional gems that beg to be ordered. The crystal selection is large and features huge goblets for big wines, providing drinkers with a big noseful of bouquet. Raffaele has a large choice of sparkling wines and has been known to open a bottle of spumante by dramatically slicing the cork with a saber!
Le Calandre, via Liguria 1, Sarmeola di Rubano, tel. +39 049 630303, fax +39 049 633000.
Closed Sunday evening and Monday.
August 6, 1999