"Va bene cosi." That's OK.
The guy in charge of our hotel's pool in Bellagio (the one on Lake Como in Italy, not the Vegas one ;) ) used that phrase as his philosophy. Looks like it is going to rain? Va bene cosi. It is so hot that the guests are poaching, rather than swimming, in the pool? Va bene cosi. The morning, so quiet and perfect that Faust would be tempted to utter his famous "Ah, stay a while! You are so lovely!", getting ripped to shreds by a trio of idiots on jet skis? Va bene cosi.
At Salice Blu, the chef-owner Luigi Gandola seems to subscribe to the same philosophy. The restaurant, while in the lake region, is located a good hour's walk from the tourist-swarming shores of the Lago di Como? Va bene cosi. The chef will personally pick up the guests from their hotels, and will gladly discuss the highlights of the dinner. And there will be highlights for certain, as Luigi offers some of the most refined - yet, somehow, deceptively simple - cooking we have experienced in our half-dozen visits to the region.
The namesake willow (salice) is not really blue? Va bene cosi. A blue up-light sets the mood, making the tree glow mysteriously as the dusk falls. The visiting tourists aren't proficient in Italian? Va bene cosi. There are ways around that problem. In our case, teh way took form of a lovely Russian chef-in-training Alina, who expertly guided us through the menu. The weather is too warm and the lake fish taste is not up to the chef's standards? Va bene cosi. A salt-baked whole flounder is absolutely delicious and, if not for Luigi's pasta, would have been the high point of the dinner.
But the pasta... Oh, the pasta. Made fresh, and served with a truffle-scented cream-and-parmesan sauce, it is dangerously close to perfection. It is addictive, believe me. We could not stop talking about that pasta the next day, and , in fact, the pasta was the main reason I, following a very insistent suggestion from my wife, signed up for a cooking class at Salice Blu a couple of days later.
Six out of eight people that signed up for the class got food poisoning by carelessly dining somewhere else the night before? Va bene cosi, the class is offered for two people. Of the two, one (not me) does not tolerate gluten, does not eat meat and can not consume any dairy? Va bene cosi...
Now, sometimes even the best philosophies misfire. Much as I loved our dinner at Salice Blu, the class did not live up to my expectations. True, we did get to make the pasta dough, but most of the rest of the three-hour class was spent following Luigi around the kitchen (with a brief tour of the herb garden), as the chef juggled talking to us, answering innumerable phone calls and making arrangements for that night's dinner. Did I learn anything? Yes, but it came from Alina, rather than from Luigi (the little trick of baking potatoes for gnocci in salt to remove excess moisture). Was the class interesting? Yes, every now and then. Was it worth its rather high price (above 100 euros) ? I have to say no, especially given that the wine for the "graduation" lunch - which was delicious and plentiful and did make use of the pasta we prepared earlier - was not included.
So, definitely do go to Salice Blu for a meal. But if you are considering taking the class - do not expect any miracles. You will learn something. Perhaps, since larger classes are held in a "lab", there will be fewer distractions and you'll learn a lot more. Oh, will get a "graduation certificate", an apron, a bag of rice, a small bottle of olive oil a a recipe booklet to take home. And if that works for you - va bene cosi.