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Restaurant Road Trips
We get around at Kitchen Detail. With family spread across three countries, traveling is a necessary evil. We’ve mastered the travel cook kit, but also restaurant selection. The KD methodolgy, developed by the Resident Wine Maniac, is as follows: several hours before the next meal, check the Michelin Guide, preferably while driving, and find the most out- of- the-way restaurant with a happy face or a star. We’ve had many adventures across Italy, France and England getting lost, making desperate phone calls for directions and still eventually reaching these holy sites of gastronomy. Without this crazy approach we would have never come across wonders like La Rosa or Trattoria di Cafragna.
Our methodology has not evolved much from those pre-TripAdvisor days. How otherwise would we have ended up at Il Tiglio, 50 minutes from Ascoli Piceno and 2 hours from Spoleto. Nestled in the Monti Sibillini, part of the Apennine Mountains between Le Marche and Umbria, it’s hardly a place you come across by chance. And its chef is just as unique.
A Chef With Nine Lives
At nearly 50, Enrico Mazzaroni has already been reborn three times as a restaurateur. A native of the mountainous area outside of Ascoli, he grew up helping out at his parents’ agriturismo Il Tiglio in the secluded village Isola San Biagio. After ending a career in academia at the University of Bologna in 1994, Mazzaroni returned to the family kitchen, which he took over in 2004 from his mother and aunt. He brought to it his experience with world-renowned Japanese chef Seiji Yamamoto and at the French restaurant Les Ambassadeurs, not to mention his own research into classics and contemporaries from Pellegrino Artusi to Ferran Adrià. Mazzaroni rescripted the traditional cuisine of Il Tiglio with a challenging menu applying techniques of molecular gastronomy to the products of Monti Sibillini, like mushrooms, potatoes, lentils, goat cheese, lemon balm, even pine trees. A courageous choice for an eatery in a village of around fifty people slapped on the side of a hard to get to mountain.
Mazzaroni’s restaurant garnered attention of all the important Italian food media, and on this wave of positive reception Il Tiglio was fully renovated in 2016. It was destroyed six months later with the earthquakes that struck central Italy in 2016, crushing with it an inventory of 500 wines and years of labor and love.
In 2017, with the support of a local businessman, Mazzaroni and Il Tiglio moved to the seaside town of Porto Recanati, becoming Il Tiglio in Vita. With a change of territory comes a change of ingredients, and so Mazzaroni learned the language of seafood and fish as he had that of barnyard animals and mountain meadow greens. Despite being well-received and certainly in an easier to reach location, less than two years later Il Tiglio returned to Isola San Biagio on February 14, 2019.
A New Adventure
The new building is a handsome stonehouse facing the original restaurant. It feels like you’re stepping into a friend’s country house, with the smell of freshly laundered linens and a dog running around outside or hanging out at the entrance. Inside it is comfortingly quiet, some tables have tablecloths and some are bare. Black architectural lamps extend out from stone walls, and natural objects and rustic items decorate the interior.
On offer are two tasting menus or you can choose a la carte from a list of five ingredients, each one used as a theme of a three-course meal. The dance starts with imaginative amuse-bouches like fried pistachios wrapped in lard, tartlets with pureed roasted tomatoes, warm little breads served with whipped butter sprinkled with herbs. Drawing inspiration from nature and tradition, the other courses are just as inventive with creations like a savory bombolone with caviar, eggless mayonaise and a filling of veal tartare or a salty tiramisù with an egg cooked slowly at a low temperature and carrots and portabello mushrooms substituing the savoiardi and coffee, veal diaphragm with artichokes and katsuobushi.
The primi courses are witty takes on standard fare like gnocchi senza patate (gnocchi without potatoes) or la carbonara senza uovo (carbonara without eggs). Some are spectacular like the lambs brain risotto served in a lamb’s skull, and others use ingredients you woulnd’t expect like a boar-filled pasta served in a fir tree broth. If you enjoy table theater, be sure to order the pseudo polenta for dessert: pastry cream spread on the table like the cornmeal porridge, sprinkled with chocolate and fruit and frozen before your eyes with liquid nitrogen. Mazzaroni and his sous-chef Andrea Cingolani delight the palate with their creations, just as Gianluigi Silvestri, the sommelier, does with his studied selection of wines.
Children are welcome and if they’re not ready for culinary experimentation, seven-year-old Gregorio reports that the tagliatelle with ragù is out of this world.
The Sibyl Stopped Here
After the earthquake that devastated a vasta area of Le Marche, Mazzaroni’s tenacious dedication to his native land to many would be a surprise. But there is a reason that the Monti Sibillini are a national park. It abounds with myth and legend, like Lago di Pilato, an isolated glacial lake under which Pontius Pilate is allegedly buried. Or, perched right above Il Tiglio, Monte Sibilla, named for a sybil who inhabited a grotto of the mountain. Mostly a story of oral tradition from the Medieval era, the character was put on paper in the chivalric romance Il Guerrin Meschino by Andrea da Barberino and by Antoine de Le Sale in La Salade, and both described her grotto as a passageway to a paradise that mortals did not want to leave.
Maybe you can’t take the boy out of the mountain.
Juggling nuance between Italian and English, Tatiana lights up her five-burner kitchen top with nostalgia for American food, Bologna-inspired fare and cross-cultural inventions. She and her husband endlessly debate on cooking with or without a recipe. Their son just hopes that dinner will either be plain or have chocolate in it.