MARKLEEVILLE - As soon as the December issue of Gourmet magazine hit the newsstand, the phone rang at the Villa Gigli, a quirky Italian restaurant/art gallery in Markleeville.
"I've already had a call from Philadelphia," said Gina Gigli, the artist in the family. "Somebody wanted to make reservations for the end of December."
The current issue of Gourmet devotes Page 46 to Ruggero and Gina Gigli's weekend restaurant that serves a wide variety of pastas and breads crafted in Ruggero Gigli's hands.
"It's hard not to imagine you're somewhere in the hills of Tuscany," freelance writer Laura Fraser wrote in the magazine. "Authentic antipasti - say, fagiolini (little white beans) and garlicky artichoke crowns with spicy young olive oil - add to the illusion."
The magazine's contents page teases to the Villa Gigli as "a secret mountain restaurant." Oddly enough, the restaurant isn't that much of a secret.
Ruggero Gigli, the chef, figures nearly a third of his diners venture over the Sierra from the Sacramento area and Bay Area to secluded Alpine County. In June, July and August, he easily fills the 75 indoor and outdoor seats.
"We refuse an average of 30 people every day," he said.
Gigli said he doesn't need publicity for the summer months, but he acknowledged more diners would help business in January to May. Villa Gigli is closed November and December, though the couple will host a special Millennium Merenda ("little supper") in Markleeville on New Year's Eve.
Villa Gigli has had mentions in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Nevada Appeal but the Gourmet story is the first national feature story.
"We do not advertise," said Gina Gigli, who is responsible for the paintings on the dining room walls. "It's word of mouth. It's usually outdoors people."
She said people meeting on wilderness trails pass on word about Villa Gigli. Bicycle club members and people in the wine business recommend the restaurant. Ruggero Gigli said Soar Minden guides pilots to Markleeville.
Ruggero Gigli takes pride in his variety of pasta and sauces.
"I'm humble but I think I make the best pasta," he said.
That aside, Ruggero Gigli never thought his restaurant would be featured in Gourmet, even though a friend a few years ago predicted just that.
"I had a friend, who has died," Gigli said. "I cooked for him. He cooked for me. But he had professional training. He said 'one of these days Gourmet magazine will do an article about you.' I said no way. 'You are an artist,' he said."
Gigli remembered the first time Fraser dined at Villa Gigli, not announcing herself as a writer. She brought her parents and addressed Gigli in Italian since she had studied in Florence, coincidentally the city near which he grew up.
"She was a little picky, asking all kinds of questions," he said. "She came back with her mother and father again. Then she came with a young gentleman from New York. After dinner, she said 'I would like to talk to you because I'm from Gourmet magazine."
It ends up, Kit Miller, a mutual friend of Fraser's and the Giglis' living in Washoe Valley suggested "You have to go to Villa Gigli because you will find something very special."
What: Millennium Merenda ("little supper") in Markleeville
Where: Villa Gigli, 145 Hot Springs Road, Markleeville
When: Dec. 31, starting at 7 p.m.
Menu: Chandon champagne, Ossetra caviar, Alaskan red smoked salmon pappardelle.
Cost: $100 per couple.
Hint: bring snowshoes for an optional after dinner snowshoe trekking.
Gift: Each diner will receive a 24-by-32-inch poster designed by Gina Gigli depicting Celebration 2000 with champagne, caviar, a rose and confetti
Reservations: Required, (530) 694-2253
Capacity: 30 diners