Inside there are 5 tables in the front room with the bar and maybe 8 in the back. There is a large table in the basement. You see it when you go to the restroom. The restroom is pretty cool. Yes, singular. It’s a small restaurant, why do you need more than one toilet?
My first visit there was in 2008. Chef Passalacqua came up from downstairs as we were shown our table in the front room. He greeted Gabriele and moved us to the corner table in the back room. I remember this night well because it was the single best meal I’ve had. It also had the single most memorable thing I’ve eaten. More on that later.
Now, the first visit: we read the menu. They don’t have an English translation but we manage between my bilingual colleagues and my pidgin Italian. Sidebar: I’ve learned that one needs to understand three things in foreign languages—food, drink and where is the bathroom? Anyway, we figured it out; the wait staff speaks some English as well. Our orders were placed. We were enjoying a nice Italian red Gabriele picked out—I don’t remember what it was other than it was good. Gabriele knows his wines. The waitress comes out of the kitchen and informs us that the chef is cooking for us tonight. We don’t know what we are getting. This is my kind of adventure: one that involves food. It’ll be just like eating in China but the possibility of pig’s asses being served is low.
The dish that we all remember the most is the lattume de tonno. We were discussing it last week when I was in Milano. Three little white balls with a little olive oil, black pepper and bright green fresh pesto. That was all that was in the bowl. My colleagues didn’t know what lattume was—it’s a Sicilian dish. They are from Northern Italy. Our waitress understood our confusion, so she helped: “Sperm sack of tuna.” Neither sperm nor sack are words you want to hear applied to your meal. She left us in stunned silence. We sat there looking at each other. I took the approach I use in China: steel myself to try whatever it is they put in front of me—9 times out of 10 it’s good—but have my wine, water and a piece of bread at the ready in case this is the 1 of 10. It was amazingly good. Tender, not a big flavor, but a deep one. The pesto was amazing.
I’ve been back two other times. Last year it was when the white truffles were on. They perfumed the whole place. We had two dishes with the truffles: a simple risotto Milanese and the Italian equivalent of steak tartar. Both were wonderful. There were other dishes—I don’t remember what they were. The truffle dishes stole the show.
I’ve eaten at Pane e Acqua three times and have yet to order.
Thanks, Paul. Irony is, Paul is a fantastic photographer, clearly too happy with his meals to bother to shoot them at Pane e Acqua. So I trolled the internet for help. If you really want a photo-tour, try Gourmantic.com. They must have paid their photographer not to eat.