"I am confident she is Scorpio!" I said exuberantly, “I think so too” replied my friend confidently. We hailed the waitress at “Da O Batti” restaurant: "Ada, what is the sign of the manager of the place?”, “One moment please, I will ask Mario” squeaked her voice while she evaporated among the smoulders escaping from the kitchen. Moments and she returned bringing the good tidings:" Scorpio”. My friend smirked: “Again we are right”.
We made the acquaintance of Da O Batti years ago, and there we found the magnificent Scampi of Portofino ". Patrizia was the owner of a gallery there and she was the one who guided us to Batti. The “Scampi” experience is something we kept on remembering for months to come.
Chianti wine: “Whomever samples Chianti wine shall come back to Chianti”, Portofino scampi: “Ditto!”; we were back to Portofino in quest of our lost stray. Alas, Patrizia didn’t carry good news for us narrating that Mario the brilliant chef had left the restaurant taking the magic scampi formula with him, Mario had opened a new restaurant; the "Pado”. “The owner of Da O Batti had an accident which left him incapacitated" Patrizia cawed "and she (The Missus) took over and moved heaven and earth, sent forth and kept back; almost lurching the place into a Trojan warzone. Soon the hassle stretched to Mario erupting into a conflict with Madam. Mario chose safety and resigned, and now he has an independent restaurant bearing the name "Pado".
On December 20th 2013 we were at Pado having dinner chit chatting with Ada and Idris: the waiter recognized and greeted us. That night he had responded to Mario’s request to lend a hand since many customers had arrived; a number far more than expected. Idris was a polite Moroccan young man still working at Batti, he whispered: “I came without notifying Madam, if she knew it would be my murky end”, he said that with a smile “veneering his visage”. Idris was asking customers spread over the tables not to disclose his attending to Madam since the customers were from the town itself. Idris added: “The crippled man is Gemini: kind hearted but his wife is a tyrant. I was at their home this morning and they were fighting and shouting as usual so I left not looking over my shoulder”. It was then that I said to my friend: “I am positive that she is Scorpio!”. “Definitely she is!” he replied.
Shrimp pickled with Tropea onions is a very simple dish but it was definitely made on Mount Olympus for the gods of Olympuss under the auspices of Mario and offered with tears of Franciacort, zucchini omelet and marvelous clamps. But the magic rests in the recipe, “La ricetta di Mario” for scampi is what makes you sip even its juices. When “The Dish” is served, the customers would turn into an Orchestra of austere players in praise of Mario. Mario would highly recommend “Cervaro Della Sala” the pride of Antinori winery: an impenetrable fortress visited by wine pilgrims and its nights are kept in the merry company of the affable amusing followers of Bacchus.
I remember what Patrizia said: “The people of Portofino attempted to decipher “Scampi ricetta di Mario” but their efforts “have gone up in smoke” as they say”. We discreetly interrogated Ada about the secret of the amazing Tropea tinted shrimp, she whispered: “I once glimpsed Mario slicing the shrimp and marinating it in wine for a whole night and…”; she didn’t finish because she heard Mario walking out of the Kitchen, safety was what she chose since she knew that breaching the secrecy of Mario’s “ricetta” is a matter of life and death. We headed back with Roberto, a continuously laughing Pisces. He giggled as usual and said with a gruff voice coming from the darkness of a deep well: “How was dinner?” we answered: “Great”. “Did you have Scampi?” he wondered, We Italianized: “Molto bene”. Roberto, a fifty-two years old, looked younger than his age so it was our turn to ask. He stated: “Its Portofino fair weather”.
I scenically commented: “or the credit goes to the wife”. He dismissed the notion immediately: “Anyone but her, she is the cause of my misery my friend”, he digressed saying: “As for the Scampi, I am the son of Portofino and the folks here tried for a long time to crack the puzzle of Mario’s scampi and failed big time”, he said it with an ocean-deep chuckle.
At the dinners we spent at Pado, courtesy of Mario, I noticed the scarce number of customers. I assumed that winter was standing between the master and his congregation but I came to learn one night from Giuliano, owner of Balin Cuisine in Sestri Levante: “Italians are opting for cheaper meals mimicking Portofino’s “hustle and bustle” summer tourists. Restaurants offering fresh meals became a rarity, even a few fishermen would endure the adversity of fishing.” He added: “In Sestre Levante, only one fisherman provides fresh supplies for merely two out the jungle of restaurants in town”.
During my morning strolls where I traversed tens of kilometers from Rapallo to Portofino – which I consider to be one of the most beautiful routes I have ever set foot on – I caught sight of Mario several times standing as a lion (he is Leo by the way) at the doors of Pado in Santa Margherita Ligure waiting in vain for customers to drop by but the folks were busy gobbling cheese Mac’s and Burger Kings’.
I used to wave hello from a distance on my way to Portofino or heading back to Rapallo and Mario still stood there: a roman centurion in a no-war era. Abu Al Tayyib Al Mutanabbi – a great Arab poet if not the greatest – once complained from the recession in the “poetry market” stating: “tainted words made being deaf an acclaimed virtue”.
Thus I interpreted Mario’s circumstances so I asked him: “Is food ruined my friend?”, the heartbroken reply came: “No it wasn’t, especially in my restaurant but the sense of taste in our times has being tainted, the bons vivants are opting to fast”.