Before the blog there was the queue. In Italy it’s still the best way to find a great meal. That’s how I discovered Zeb. On an early spring day I joined a line of fifteen urbanites waiting for a coveted seat inside.
Zeb is the equivalent of a modern Italian ‘diner.’ Businessmen, artists and students all sharing the same counter; their eyes gazed on the beautifully presented food. Behind the counter, Alberto Navari recites the menu, just to make sure you feel the excitement behind the dishes. His mother Giuseppina commutes between kitchen and counter, bringing with her an endless variety of warm, fresh pasta.
The choice is overwhelming, but in the same way as the table at a family reunion. Today I choose: Cappellaci salsiccia e patate con pesto di cavolo nero [fresh pasta filled with sausage and potatoes, covered in a black cabbage pesto]; sformato di patate [potato gratin with mozzarella di buffala, mortadella and parmegiano]; spezzatino all’etrusca [beef stew with cacao, pine nuts, almonds and spicy fruit compote] and cheesecake. A person can only eat this amount of food when it is healthy, simple and remarkable. Spot on …
If this feels like comfort food cooked by your Italian mother, there’s a reason: Giuseppina is sharing her family’s recipes. It’s the pairings that work so well at Zeb: the mother and son, the warm and sophisticated, the Etruscan flavors and Tuscan ingredients, the chef and the host. But the passion behind their food makes the difference, and it must be what keeps Giuseppina looking so young.
As I speak to Alberto, he flashes me a genuine smile: ‘Mi piace il bello, il buon gusto.’ “I love what’s beautiful and tastes good.” Like Mamma and her cooking.