Pasqualino Gubitosa may be one of the most accomplished restaurateurs in Lucca but after only a few minutes in his company you soon realize that wine rather than food was his first love and it continues to remain his lifelong passion. In fact when you meet him in person you will notice that he is an unstoppable raconteur of fascinating wine stories, from the winemakers that have impressed him and that he now counts as friends to tales of unusual grapes in little known corners of Italy.
However Osteria da Pasquale yields to no-one in terms of the quality of food because Pasquale has always employed very good chefs, many of whom have gone on to open their own restaurants, which means that he is free to move among his customers in the evening, dispensing advice on wine and olive oil and telling the stories behind the wine.
The menu at the Osteria reflects many of Pasquale's personal food preferences and he is constantly imagining new and different dishes for his chef to perfect. As Pasquale freely admits, not all of his ideas come to fruition in the kitchen but he enjoys the creative process and the interactions with his chef and it stops the menu becoming stale or too obvious.
We have dined here many times over the years, sitting inside the cosy Osteria in the winter or outside in the courtyard in summer, and we have observed Pasquale in action flitting from table to table and somehow managing to balance his numerous tasks, always with a smile and a greeting for his many loyal and appreciative regulars.
For Pasquale every evening must be something of a blur as he opens dozens of bottles of wine while helping with the dinner service and at the same time advising as many as 60 customers on their choice of wine. And when he's not in his Osteria he can frequently be found traveling around Tuscany and Piemonte to attend tastings or to seek out new additions for his already impressive wine list. The restaurant business can be a punishing taskmaster even for someone as capable and experienced as Pasquale so perhaps that is why despite three engagements he remains unmarried.
Choosing wine is no simple task at this Osteria considering that there are as many as 10 pages of his wine list devoted solely to Tuscan wines with many other regions, especially Piemonte, also well represented.
Even a fellow Italian sommelier like my wife Elena learned years ago to give up trying to plough through his entire wine list and instead simply tell Pasquale our budget and our dinner choices and then trust his recommendations. It saves time and he always seems to produce an interesting wine that advances our knowledge and provides great value.
When it comes to his wine prices Americans especially, who have to suffer the egregious mark-ups of restaurants stateside, will be shocked at how reasonably priced Pasquale’s wines are, many of which in fact cost more in Italian wine shops than they do in his Osteria.
Pasquale has always been something of an innovator and I remember during our first few visits probably 8 years ago that he would bring to the table two or three bottles of high quality Italian olive oil for us to try before dinner. Perhaps it was this experience that gave Elena the initial impetus to study for the Maestro d’Olio qualification but it was not something that other restaurants did at the time and most still don’t.
In fact the quality of the bottle of olive oil on your table at a fine dining restaurant has for us become one of the ‘tells’ as to the strength of that establishment’s commitment to the overall dining experience. Whilst interviewing Pasquale for this article I saw lots of bottles of Renzo Baldaccini, Lucca’s finest olive oil, scattered throughout the tables in his restaurant so there can be no doubt as to Pasquale’s commitment to his customers.
His diners are very appreciative of these mini tutorials in olive oil that Pasquale often dispenses and he told us that his customers enthusiasm for his olive oils is one of the most surprising and gratifying aspects of his restaurant.
And if you are reading this article and live outside Italy and would like to buy Baldaccini's fabulous olive oil then you should contact Pasquale because he now handles most of their international sales.
Pasquale has an interesting personal history for an Italian restaurateur which also explains his affable nature and the ease with which he chats to his customers in their native languages. Born in Montemiletto 30 miles east of Naples, he was whisked off to Switzerland at a very tender age and spent his formative years in the town of Lucerne learning several languages fluently as Swiss children tend to do.
In one of those strange coincidences that life sometimes throws up, our paths might have crossed when we were both teenagers 50 years ago.
Because just as Pasquale was about to start culinary school in Lucerne, I too was in that small Swiss town the entire summer of 1975 working in a hotel across the lake during a break in my studies. Perhaps we frequented the same bar in town at the same time without actually meeting.
Before moving to Lucca 13 years ago and opening his restaurant, Pasquale spent 19 years as a wine professional at Crystal Cruise Lines becoming their chief sommelier with responsibility for overseeing a million dollar wine inventory sufficient to satisfy the demands of discerning drinkers on round-the-world cruises lasting over 4 months. Explaining wine and educating customers has become second nature to him and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Like many successful restaurateurs Pasquale knows his customers well and adapts his menu accordingly. When you look up his Osteria on Tripadvisor you will see that about half his reviews are from Italians with the other half being written mostly in English, German, French, Dutch and Scandinavian languages. And no matter what nationality is writing the reviews a massive 97% of all commentators rate Pasquale's restaurant as either very good or excellent, which comes close to disproving the old adage that you can't please all the people all the time.
In the summer the foreign tourists dominate if only because Italians don’t as a rule like booking anything a week ahead and getting a table in high season requires some advance planning. In the winter the Lucchesi get their chance to eat here but foreigners are also well represented because Lucca has an increasing community of various nationalities who have chosen to become Italian residents and who spend most of the year in Lucca. Everything in Lucca is easier in the winter months, not just getting a table at da Pasquale.
After more than a decade of delivering consistent excellence in a conventional restaurant setting, Pasquale is ready for his next big challenge and of course it is centered around his passion for wine.
Nothing will change for the Osteria, but across the courtyard where his outside tables are placed in the summer he has taken on a project to refurbish some old abandoned cellars that date back at least to the medieval period. This will be the site for his new Enoteca.
In this large and atmospheric place he can finally realize one of his earliest ambitions and make wine the main emphasis accompanied by a more casual food service whose role will be to complement and elevate the wines.
The project was starting to take shape when we interviewed Pasquale in mid-December and he is hoping for a late Spring opening in 2024. Given Pasquale’s extensive knowledge of wine and his natural enthusiasm I have no doubt that it will be a huge success.
It will also provide an alternative for all the disappointed tourists in summer who pass by the Osteria in Via del Moro and see the sign that Pasquale has to frequently put up saying that he is fully booked for the next 2 or 3 nights in an effort to stop people calling him all day long trying to make a short notice reservation. Such is the popularity of Osteria da Pasquale!
When in the company of someone like Pasquale with such a deep knowledge of wine you have to ask him for his personal favorites. Surprisingly he picked Bordeaux as his preferred wine area and La Fontana in Montalcino as the winery that has most impressed him.
As for his favorite dish - he is very fond of the humble Melanzane alla parmigiana which perhaps proves that at heart Pasquale remains a southern Italian despite all those years away from his homeland either in Switzerland or on the high seas.