Our story begins in Florence. Back in the summer of 2014. Six year past already. Where does the time go.
Bogdan and I were enjoying a leisurely jaunt through Italy after our very romantic engagement on a flower strewn terracotta rooftop (of a palazzo no less) overlooking the Church of St. Ambrose in the Santa Croce quarter of Florence.
I had just finished a two month summer study abroad in Florence and fell in love with the city but was ready to escape the heat and crowds of the historic center. So we set a course and off we went. Mostly in search of good eats.
First we spent a few days in Milan where we strolled the canals in the Navigli district and I got to indulge my cravings for genuine Risotto alla Milanese and Cotoletta alla Milanese from the source.
Were they good? No, not really. The little paper foot toppers should have tipped me off. Bogdan’s chicken with burrata wasn’t much better. Oh well, you can’t win em all.
Afterwards we hopped back on the Frecciarossa at Milano Centrale and headed south.
We made two food related stops in Naples. First to eat at the iconic Neapolitan pizzeria Da Michele, which not only lived up to the hype but lives on in my dreams. We also set our sights on Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio where we picked up a batch of still-warm sfogliatelle that tasted like Christmas wrapped in wispy handmade pastry.
Finally, on the last leg of our journey we boarded the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento and from there the (totally treacherous I don’t care what anyone says) SITA bus down the coast.
We arrived at our little Airbnb overlooking the endless blue water of the Tyrrhenian Sea, just one town further down the coast from the glittering lights and purple bougainvillea of Positano in the beautiful but not-so-famous Amalfi Coast town of Praiano.
If I recall, we spent about 10 days in Praiano. We had a lot of time at our disposal and mainly spent our days taking trips around the coast, walking around the beautiful terraced gardens of Praiano, and of course finding the best eats that the Amalfi Coast has to offer.
That’s how we first learned about Vivaro Wine Bar.
Vivaro had some of the best reviews on the whole of the Amalfi Coast and we were eager to get in. We had walked by it in Praiano’s small center and knew seating was limited, so I did the prudent thing and called for a reservation.
The call was…unusual. The man who answered sounded brusque and impatient. I later learned his name was Gennaro Criscuolo, the eccentric and much acclaimed mastermind and chef, sole proprietor, host, waiter, and general phone answerer at Vivaro Wine Bar.
When I asked Gennaro for a reservation for any of the following 7 days he gave me a flat ‘no reservations’ and told me to just show up around 8 and maybe we’d get a table.
C’est quoi? No reservations? This upped the ante on our intrigue by a lot. Eccentric mastermind. No reservations. We have to eat there.
So show up we did. Each evening around 7 for the next 3 days we dressed in our finest coastal attire and walked the 20 minutes to the other side of Praiano, hoping we could get that most coveted spot at Vivaro.
But each evening Gennaro turned us away, something in his eyes telling us we were as yet unworthy…noob tourists that wouldn’t appreciate the experience.
We started to feel like we were in the episode of Seinfeld with the soup nazi but instead of soup it was a table. No table for you!
Then one night something changed. Maybe it was the desperation in my eyes. The hunger only food-obsessed people can recognize.
So he let us in. And friends…it was one of the most special eating experiences of my life.
Besides taking no reservations, Vivaro Wine Bar has no menu, no wait staff, and generally none of the trappings of a typical restaurant.
It was just Gennaro, exuding warmth and kindness, putting on a mesmerizing one-man show as he single-handedly catered to 8 tables, served the wine, cooked all the meals, and generally chatted up the room holding sway in an enchanting display of old-world hospitality, graciousness and charm that’s sadly been lost in much of restaurant culture nowadays.
When we arrived he only asked if we had any food allergies, and if we wanted to drink red or white wine – as that would dictate our menu. After that we just sat back and enjoyed the ride – one mouth-watering and soul-caressing course after another.
While the memory of exactly what I ate has faded, the way it made me feel has stayed and grown. I firmly believe that the energy one puts into food while they’re cooking translates into the final dish. That was what made Gennaro’s food so special – the energy he brought to it.
A couple of years ago we were back on the Amalfi Coast, this time with family. Of course our first thought was to go see Gennaro and try to get a table again, but we were more than a little dismayed to learn Vivaro had closed. No table for us.
I hear these days the famous Gennaro is back at it, entertaining guests with his eccentric charms and sending them off with memories to last a lifetime.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get to eat at Vivaro again, but maybe it’s better that way. Maybe it’s better to keep the memory of that meal, remember it as it is without needing it to be any more than that.