I’d like to share a recent culinary experience in Italy, the land of my heritage.

Last month, while in Perugia, I was highly recommended by “Paolo the Hair Stylist” to seek out Magnavino, in a town called Bastia, located in the heart of Umbria, Italy’s central region. Since Paolo told me that he was from Bastia, I heeded his advice based on two things: 1) when an Italian mentions a restaurant in his hometown, it means he is a regular there; and 2) if an Italian eats at a restaurant, it means the food is as good as Mamma’s and it’s homemade.

The proprietor of Magnavino is Mario, a chef/artist who reinvents his homeland’s traditional foods with flair. The cuisine presented by Mario boasts bold flavors and a commanding presentation. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Mario’s right hand, Stefania. She immediately served us a local Umbrian red wine with a deep oak bouquet and smooth finish. The restaurant was filled with regulars, and since Italians are demanding of fresh, high quality foods, this was definitely a good sign.

The appetizers were exquisite – we enjoyed warm homemade paté and a napoleon filled with an exquisite asparagus tapenade. We could taste each ingredient in Mario’s recipes.

The highlight of our “pranzo” or lunch that September day was the black gnocchi infused with squid ink, served with calamari and fresh tomatoes. While traditional potato gnocchi are bland, deriving their flavor from the sauce and ingredients around them, the gnocchi served at Magnavino contain nuances of fresh seafood. At first bite, one can immediately tell that Mario adds “just the right amount” of squid ink to the gnocchi.

I asked Stefania if I could meet the chef in order to compliment him on his quasi-orgasmic foods. My husband and I were escorted to the kitchen where Mario was working so hard to please all his patrons. Because he was short-staffed that day, we witnessed a multi-tasking Mario creating a zillion dishes in a furious frenzy. Nevertheless, he managed to please everyone to the max.

At Magnavino, one dines like a local and is treated as a member of the family. The ambiance is medieval-chic, the people are warm and the food – HEAVENLY!

Bastia & Assisi (two locations in the province of Perugia)
Telephone: Bastia – 075 8011569; Assisi – 075 816814.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real