At Ti Amo, all you need is love
Vail CO, Colorado
Take a moment to speak with any one of the dozens of employees of Ti Amo and you’ll hear this: It’s all about the love. It could be a gimmick except that everybody seems so earnest. This Wednesday they’re hosting a Tuscan wine dinner, and they’ve got love ” and vino ” to spare.
“I’m a lover,” said Paolo Busi, the restaurant’s manager, unapologetically. “We’re very lucky here. We all concentrate on getting along with each other. We’re happy to come to work. Plus I have a great boss.”
He’s referring to owner Steve Negler, who bustles around the restaurant looking so darned pleased at everyone who walks through the door. He knows you’re in for a treat.
Born and raised in Florence, Italy, Busi is a wanderer who’s found a home at the Eagle-Vail restaurant. He travels to Italy and India most years, and he teaches Kundalini yoga every week to “the kids” of Ti Amo (meaning the employees). Drop in for a negroni (a deadly Italian cocktail) and he could speak about the Dalai Lama or kayaking while he makes it for you. This Tuscan wine dinner is his baby. Ask him about the food and he’s likely to start talking about the communal traditions of 17th-century Italy. Five courses, four wines ” Busi may not be an Italian mama, but he still wants everyone to eat, eat, eat.
“We celebrate the season now,” he explained. “We cook more, we hunt wild game.”
The wine dinner certainly feels like fall, with its slow-cooked ragus and hearty cuts of meat. There’s nothing delicate about the portions, which make it clear this a bountiful fall, not a lean one.
“We’ve priced the dinner so a couple can come in and have a five-course dinner, with wines, and pay $100 including tax and tip,” said Negler.
The dinner might be Busi’s inspiration, but Fernando Ocampo is the one who actually creates it. The executive chef has been at Ti Amo for a dozen years. When he explains how a dish is made, he’s always got love in the ingredient list. That is, if he slows down enough to talk. He’s a whirlwind in and out of the kitchen, watching bubbling pots and and tossing noodles with sauce.
“We’ve got the touch, the talent, the flavor,” said Ocampo about his kitchen crew. “And everything is made with love.”
“I like to thank very much Mr. Fernando,” said Busi. “He’s very, very extremely talented. He knows exactly what to do.”
The meal begins with roasted quail atop mascarpone polenta and a smear of fresh tomato sauce. The little bird must have been marinated for days to be so full of flavor. Though hit hard enough with the heat to crisp the skin, it remains juicy. But the polenta is the real star, creamy without being heavy, tender yet toothsome.
“You just have to keep stirring it,” said Ocampo about the polenta.
The tomato sauce serves a glancing blow, both sweet and savory, and brings it all together. Served with an icy cold pinot grigio, you could almost call it a day right then and there.
A veritable parade follows that first course ” bread and veggie soup, roasted duck with a perfect orange sauce, wide papperdelle noodles tossed with wild boar ragu. The soup, called ribollita, has been served for nigh on 800 years.
“In the walls of Florence in the 13th century, there were 135,000 people and only three bakeries to feed the people,” said Busi. “People only got bread three times a week, so they had to use every scrap. This dish means the bread is reborn again, in a soup with vegetables. It’s fabulous.”
The culinary parade ends with chocolate profiteroles and a sparkling glass of prosecco. The creamy, chocolatey profiteroles are like popovers all dressed up for the midnight masquerade. The sweet filling doesn’t overpower the pastry, but works as a dynamic team with it. And prosecco, Italy’s sparkling wine, is always a good idea.
“Eating is about the pleasure of your body, the pleasure of your soul,” said Busi. “It’s like swinging 20 feet up in the air, from one side to the other. It’s a blessing, that’s what it is. When you come to the center, you’re in a state of neutrality and you forget about judgement. That’s what the food does for you.”
How can you argue with that?
This is the first of two wine dinners at Ti Amo. Reservations are recommended. For more information call the restaurant at 970-845-8153.
What: Ti Amo Wine Dinner
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
What: Five courses and four wines, including Pinot Grigio, Morellino di Scansano, Barbera and Prosecco.
More information: Call 970-845-8153.
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