One of the highlights of my brief visit to Siena last year was a wine tasting that we stumbled upon, when a restaurant was empty around lunchtime and the host agreed to take us on a journey with him, pouring us many different wines and regaling us with stories about each one. It was so incredibly memorable that I knew I needed to go back on this trip.
I went, and was not disappointed. What an evening!
When we arrived, and confessed that we did not have a reservation, we were told there was no table available for dinner. Crestfallen, I pulled out my phone, mentally rehearsed for a moment, and then asked in Italian if Rocco was working tonight… sure enough, he was outside, and we stepped out to say hello.
My intention really was just to introduce my friend to the infamous Rocco that I’d been talking about for a year now, and to reintroduce myself to Rocco so that I could stop in again in the coming weeks. When I saw him, I asked if he was Rocco (he was), and if he was from Rome (which earned me a perplexed look). I told him that I had come here last year during the July Palio, and had met him at the restaurant then.
He remembered. And no, this was not just something that a polite person in food service tells you to make you feel special… he volunteered that he had done a wine tasting with us.
You may safely assume that I was impressed, charmed, and giddy about being remembered, all at once.
We told him that we just wanted to say hello, but he was having none of it — he marched back into the restaurant and insisted that they set up a table for us in their private dining room upstairs. We were whisked upstairs to this setup:
The experience began with a glass of Prosecco to cleanse the palette, and then we were presented with menus and a wine list. Our server Alex was charming and endearing — it helped that when he smiled, he channeled a slightly younger Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and he smiled a lot — and had several helpful suggestions. I practiced my Italian with him, and he practiced his English with us, and it was a delightful series of exchanges. (I was particularly appreciative of how gracious he was being about having to run up and down the stairs every time that he checked in on us, which was frequently.)
We perused the wine list, chatted about options with Alex, and ultimately landed on this delicious bottle:
My friend is vegetarian, so we had to negotiate a bit to find the best combination of courses, but I landed on the very first prix fixe option. As I told our server in Italian, “Sono facile.” (“I’m easy.”) And yes, I managed to say that with a completely neutral expression, and I had to work not to laugh at his startled expression.
The meal itself was phenomenal — the prix fixe option included four courses and dessert. I was good about snapping food porn photos of each course, but by the time dessert came, I completely forgot, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. A selection of photos for you:
Of course, the biggest draw to Gallo Nero for me was Rocco himself, and even though it was a remarkably busy night, he still delivered the goods. He stopped by our table and chatted for a few minutes, and was delighted to hear that I’d be staying for four more weeks to study Italian every day.
I shared that my husband (who he remembered fondly, he assured me) and I were hoping to move to Tuscany in the next few years, and that I would aim to teach at a U.S. university online from here. We debated the merits of moving to Siena, Florence, somewhere in between, etc. and he conspiratorially confessed that they were looking up open up a Gallo Nero in Florence… which ratcheted up my excitement about moving here even more, if you can believe that’s possible.
On our way out, we stopped to thank Rocco for his kindness and for the warm welcome. He wished me luck in my Italian studies, and warned me that the next time I come in, he’s only going to speak with me in Italian.