Puccini Ristorante October 2012 (dt)
6.94 – 7.25, 7.25, 7.25, 6.85, 6.75, 6.75, 6.5, 1 abs

A pleasant mood enveloped DP8 from evening’s beginning to its end, due partially to the Monteverds’ choice of Puccini Ristorante in Rhinebeck, an interesting juxtaposition with the previous Monteverd pick of Ferrari’s, a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Schenectady.

The menu, at first, felt a wee short, with seven appetizers, three salads, six pasta dishes, and nine entrées, but to the rescue came the Specials Board, adding another dozen choices, a few of which ensnared us.
               Selected entrées included:
==> monkfish special, in a light lemony sauce (Don: a good choice; Judy: good enough, and realized she had tried monkfish before)
rib-eye special (Ken: medium-well done, of course, and very good)
bucatini amatriciano, with onion & guanciale in light red sauce (Deb K: loved it, especially with the straw-shaped bucatini)
pasta puttanesca special, with capers and olives, in that same red sauce that everyone savored (Kriss, excellent)
mussel fra diavolo special (Chay: good although he felt it was pricey, with mussels as cheap as they are)
chicken francese, in the typical light sauce (Tim: good, but nothing special)
Absent was Deb T, who was helping her parents at St. Peter’s, and all missed her and hoped progress is quick.

Each plate came with broccoli rabé, an announcement greeted with several noses wrinkled out of shape. Fortunately, an alternative of spaghetti—marinara or oil—was offered, a proposal accepted by half the table.

Preceding this was the salad/soup/appetizer course.
==> pasta fagioli special (Don: very good, a classic prep, and tasty)
==> Caesar salad special, arriving as if prepared in a four inch ring, three inches high, covered by a crispy wafer-cracker, the whole table thinking it was a creative presentation (Ken, Kriss, & Chay: all thought excellent, with at least two of them donating the anchovy to a good cause)
==> fresh home-made mozzarella & tomato salad, on arugula (Deb & Judy: both thought it excellent, with an outstanding mozzarella)
==> Tim abstained.

Preceding even this, and arriving minutes after seating was a square plate of olive oil with a generous dab of balsamic vinegar, accompanied by a smaller dish of fresh and tasty hummus, accompanied by a small wicker basket of Italian bread, thinly sliced, borderline un-tasty, but went well with the hummus.

Desserts, of course, beckoned.
==> Key lime pie special (Judy & Ken: both thought very good but Mt View Brasserie still has the best)
==> peach sorbet, with the whole fruit, and cap, holding the sorbet (Deb K, with Chay holding an extra spoon; good, but peach remained too frozen to eat)
==> hazelnut chocolate sorbet (Kriss: good, and a much more generous portion than the last time she had ice cream elsewhere)
==> tartufo, quartered, with a generous layer of chocolate and vanilla, a snappy chocolate shell, with a cherry in each quadrant, with a dollop of whipped in cream in the center (Don: delicious, probably better than the chocolate fondant cake he originally ordered)
Tim abstained.
               All the courses were consistently fine, with hardly nary a whine.

Service was excellent, with Marin seating us, and who was available as needed.
It was twins Alexandra and Sylana who shone, discreetly hovering most of the evening, prompt with all our requests, refreshing our water glasses regularly, maintaining a casual conversation flow while tending to business. Thank you, and to Mom also.
               It took more than a few seconds to announce the menu items that were not available but they were not major items. And there was a lengthy gap in delivering all the entrées.
               Part of the evening’s mix was our knowledge that the Monteverds had thoroughly vetted the restaurant, and even had an “in” with grand-nephew chef Adam Monteverde, who politely introduced himself near meal’s end. (Adam descends from Ken’s older brother; yes, with an “e” at the end, but that is another story.)
               A generous ending note was the after-dinner, on-the-house shot of orangecello, an offer three of us accepted.

The drink list included the Zonin 2011 Montepulciano d’Abruzzi Winemaker’s Collection and then the Villa Pillo 2011 Cingalino Rosso di Toscano serving five, with soda or water for the non-wine drinkers. Two acceptable wines.

Ambience continued the same consistency of quality. Whereas Ferrari’s was a confab of older, 70s-ish rooms, with a worn familiarity, Puccini trumpeted a just-renovated, clean, modern look, with the handicapped-accessible long ramp from the parking lot, leading directly to the cleanly burnished bar. From there, we wheeled left into an ell-shaped room and disappeared around the corner, into the square-ish ell-bottom, with freshly painted ecru walls, with the new “Anderson” look windows, with one having an arch window.
               Lighting was accomplished by a fixture connecting three cube-ish light pieces, each piece about a foot by a foot, tapered like a pyramid’s base, each white side opaquely surfaced, allowing a soft glow to fill our area. Three other sets of these lights, each set attached to a pair of decorative metal arms attached to the ceiling, were effective enough to be almost invisible and needing no other accompanying lighting.
               Four tables were set end to end, white-linened, with centerpieces of a small white tea candle, accompanied by either a vase or glass with three aster-ish or cone-flower-ish pieces providing a visual.
                A white linen napkin accompanied the knife and two forks of beaten metal style. The long side of the ell held a banquette, as did its opposite, upon which I, and Tim and Judy, sat, with the other four facing the head-level mirrors that reflected the view that the banquette occupiers saw. Despite four on one side, the hum from the other two tables went unnoticed and our conversations were easily heard at normal levels.
               In the background, just loud enough to be heard, just soft enough to never intrude, were Italian classics that bred, and fostered, the comfortable and pleasant atmosphere earlier alluded to.
               Pacing, although not noted in detail, must have been a comfortable flow for no one seemed antsy before we left at, or just before, the two hour mark.
               A side note, but related, was DP8’s entry into Rhinebeck, fifteen minutes late (Ken, thirty minutes to Rhinebeck? It’s almost fifty-five from my side of Freehold). I sat in their back seat, guessing but really had no good clue. And I could not possibly imagine Osaka, the large name plate in this plaza, was the Monteverd destination (knowing Ken’s fondness for Japanese food. Not.). So, they humorously, mysteriously, headed into directions not anticipated, but with good result.
               The final tab, per couple, including tax, tips, and drink came to $125 per couple, which leads to a story later.

The late-afternoon had started at the Monteverd residence, with seven showing—Deb T needed to attend to family medical issues, and all noted their disappointment, and hope that mom would be fine.
               Kriss filled the counter with pre-session hors d’oeuvres—plate of salted cashews; a small autumn-y plate of M&Ms; a rectangular plate of grapes, apple slices, and cored strawberries; and another plate of cheeses and a cracker varieties.
               Ken, or was it Kriss, had gone wine shopping, bringing home, appropriately for the France travelers, a Domaine Martin Pierre 2010 Chavignol Sancerre, accompanied by a Cartlidge & Brown 2010 Pinot Noir North Coast. Also included was a split of Santa Margherita Prosecco, some worthy beer for Chay, and soda. Thank you, both of you, for your hospitality.

I mentioned the pleasant mood at report’s beginning but enough other “stuff” was happening, or had happened, that easily could have cast a pall on the evening. Between ..., the concern over the looming effects of Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Nor’Easter Sandy ..., .... Instead, I think we realized we were all alive, were glad to see each other after seven weeks absence, realized we were in the same boat this evening, and on we went. (This paragraph would have been beyond the imagination of a DP8 gathering ten years ago.)
               Add in some comments about post cards Ken received from France (adding to his reputation at the Freehold Post Office); Kriss and Z’s refereeing at a Cairo-Durham pep rally; an update on Jen’s getting-to-be-near-the-end pregnancy; Kriss’s attending the principal’s 40th birthday party; Ken’s lengthy discussion with Judy and Deb K about the nuances of 50 Shades of Gray; the Adams-Teator trip to France; Ken’s last 29 or 31 or some number of days of gainful employment; more catch-up in the cars; and no comments that censor-Kriss had to address, and we seemed to be a bunch of senior citizens ready to take on the world.
               And, then, Kriss, oh so casually, so matter-of-factly, let slip that Matt would marry in September 2013, a minor detail which, of course, demanded more explanation.
               Another topic was a Don-compilation of dinner expenses, in order from most expensive to least expensive ($175 to $50). This led to guessing how much each couple has spent for food for participating in DP8. ($10,000 is not an unreasonable guess, I think.)
               Oh, yeah. This month marks the end of the tenth year of Dinner Party of Eight! Congratulations to all of us; I think I can say, with some fairness and modesty, that we have all enjoyed the journey that seems to be about food, which really is an excuse to share life’s moments with people we enjoy.
               So, here’s to the start of Year Eleven.