Sunday, October 20, 2019

When Americans travel abroad, one of the greatest adjustments they may have to make is to the food they will be served away from home. Italian cuisine proved not much of a challenge to the Rabinowitzes last summer, perhaps because, worldwide, kosher food is quite similar. That is not to say everything went seamlessly when dining at the Grand Hotel in Fiuggi. Most of the issues that arose concerned table service, since language difficulties and combative waiters posed some difficulties for them, as well as no little amusement, as the following anecdote reveals.

At the outset, it should be pointed out that Marissa Rabinowitz is a, well, call her a careful eater. She is in top physical shape, and when dining out will not put just anything in her mouth. If it’s cooked with oil, she simply will refuse it; she is known to regularly modify menus to the consternation of her servers and fellow diners as well. Most times she gets her way, but in Fiuggi she had some notable run-ins with the kitchen staff that left Jake and his wife in stitches. In particular, on the second night at the hotel, she locked horns with the
maître d’, a diminutive Italian with an imposing name, Giampaolo Franceschetti.

Giampaolo was about 45 years old and bore a resemblance to the well-known British comic character named Mr. Bean. He wore what appeared to be the same suit at every service, smiled a toothy smile whenever you entered the dining area and spoke little English. On their first evening at the hotel, the Rabinowitzes enjoyed their dinner with little interaction with the staff, Jake and Belle ordering a tasty pasta dish and Marissa choosing a turkey breast entree. On the second night, however, the dinner entree choices consisted of either pasta or broiled fish and salad. Marissa rejected the salad because it came with an oil-based dressing already mixed in, and chose the fish. When it arrived after some delay, Marissa took one taste and squirmed:

“There’s something wrong with the fish!”

She signaled to Giampaolo to come over to the Rabinowitz table and said to him:

“Do you perhaps have any of the turkey you served me yesterday, Signore?”

“You want ‘tarkay’?” he responded. “I will see if we have.”

As he turned, Marissa added:

“Or maybe chicken, if you don’t have turkey!”

Giampaolo shrugged slightly at the chicken remark, and headed to the kitchen.

Jake and Belle had finished their pasta dish by the time Giampaolo returned with his catch, which he placed in front of Marissa without ceremony. He had brought out a sickly piece of dark-meat turkey, which all agreed had seen better days.

“I don’t want dark meat,” Marissa immediately responded upon receipt of Giampaolo’s offering. Whether it was because he was being forced to act as waiter at this service, which he thought below his status as
maître d’, or from some other reason, Giampaolo lost his composure.

“There is no white-meat tarkay!” he countered. The way he said those words confused the Rabinowitzes. Did he mean the kitchen had no more turkey breast or was he declaring Italian turkeys produced only dark meat?

He clarified that point when he insisted: “Tarkay has no white meat!”

Marissa started laughing, and soon all the Rabinowitzes were caught up in repeating, “There is no white meat tarkay.” Giampaolo started laughing as well, but he refused to remove Marissa’s plate.

“I bring you some chicken instead, all right?”

Marissa agreed, waited about 10 minutes for Giampaolo’s return, and sat dumbfounded as he placed a platter of dark-meat chicken in front of her.

“It’s not tarkay,” he offered, barely meeting Marissa’s inquisitive gaze.

“It’s not white meat, either,” she retorted.

In the end, Marissa ordered a plain lettuce and tomato salad with dressing on the side. The rest of the Rabinowitzes sampled several desserts and enjoyed a hot cup of tea as a chaser.

Over the course of the next week, Giampaolo and Marissa became best friends, respecting the others wants and needs. As a matter of fact, when the time came to depart from Fiuggi, Giampaolo graciously agreed to pose with Marissa for a farewell photo that is accompanies this story.

By Joseph Rotenberg

Joseph Rotenberg, a frequent contributor to the Jewish Link, has resided in Teaneck for over 45 years with his wife Barbara. His first collection of short stories and essays entitled “Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment” was published in 2018 by Gefen Books and is available online at Amazon.com. He is currently working on a follow-up volume of stories and essays.