Luciano Zamboni. He had a name mindful of a great tenor. But his La Scala was a kitchen in the remote coastal hamlet of Manchester. Like a Puccini behind the range, he composed exquisite meals for guests to his Victorian Garden Inn, recreating recipes solely from the memories of tastes from his Roman boyhood.
Dinners at the Victorian Garden Inn drew food acolytes from all over who returned again and again, never to be served the same meal because Luciano kept meticulous, hand-written notes about what they had eaten.
He and his wife Pauline, who set the table with family heirlooms and delivered each course with impeccable service, carefully screened prospective guests. If they didn’t have a good feeling about a caller, there was no room at the inn.
Zamboni, who had another life as a renowned fertility specialist in Los Angeles, passed away four years ago. Cooking and innkeeping was a serious hobby. But one of the coast’s best kept secrets is the fact that The Victorian Garden Inn is still, occasionally, open for business.
Every once in awhile Pauline will recreate one of the sensuous feasts she and Luciano used to serve to guests seated around a shared table, a revival of what they called, “the lost art of dining.”
“He never left any recipes,” Pauline says, “but he kept copies of all his menus. For 40 years he cooked for me. I didn’t realize how much I had absorbed by just being around him.”
After Luciano’s passing, Pauline didn’t consider cooking. After all, Luciano was Alpha in the kitchen. But over time she eased into the role and is gaining confidence.
“I haven’t changed a thing. It’s still five courses. If anything I’ve added things.”
Pauline, when she’s in town and up for it, still rents rooms at the inn with full morning breakfast and hosts the occasional wedding. She will even do the flowers herself.
It was Pauline, a former urban planner with a designer’s eye, who oversaw the restoration of the old Caughey ranch house, artfully mixing modern accents with antiques. It is set back in a green meadow, across from Irish Beach, eight miles south of Elk.
Pauline doesn’t advertise any particular days or hours. If you’re curious, call and see if you get lucky and if she likes the sound of your voice. It’s not that she’s not friendly. She just wants to make very sure you are.
Rooms range from $285 to $310 including breakfast. Dinners are $60 a person and include aperitifs, hors d’oeuvres, a five course dinner, two wines and after-dinner drinks.
Pauline books the old-fashioned way, by phone only. (707) 882-3606.