There was no dearth of Vaders at Piccolo’s May the Fourth Be With You dinner, where “geeky not goofy” “Star Wars”-themed fare (no Wookie Cookies, thank you) delighted food and film fans.

The cuisine at Piccolo, one of Portland’s most intimate and romantic restaurants, pays tribute to the “humble cuisines of Southern and Central Italy,” particularly food from Calabria and Abruzzi. But on Monday, May 4, an international holiday for Star Wars fans, the menu expanded outside our galaxy to include a Sarlacc Tot-Tooine Salad, Sausages Alla Taun Taun and an appetizer described as the X-Wing Dagobah Ration Kit.

“Because if you crash land on Dagobah, you’ve got to have a ration kit,” chef Damian Sansonetti said as the wait staff slid aluminum lunch boxes in front of the 20 attendees at Piccolo’s second-ever May the Fourth Be With You dinner.

There was knowing laughter in the packed restaurant, which had been rearranged so that all the guests faced forward, the better to see 1980s’ “The Empire Strikes Back” being projected on a sheet. I laughed too, but not so knowingly.

I was a movie critic for 13 years. I reviewed two of George Lucas’ “prequels” to his original movies. I’ve been to Skywalker Ranch in California, where I interviewed actor Hayden Christensen, aka Anakin Skywalker, and Lucas, incidentally, the dullest man on the planet. (Even Bob Woodward couldn’t get a sparkling quote out of that guy.) I also understood that the much lauded Sansonetti, 38, was paying tribute to the series he’d fallen in love with as a child, the year his parents “got cable.”

But this dinner required a depth of knowledge of the “Star Wars” mythology that I had obviously not retained or ever even acquired. It’s quite possible that many of the 40 people on the waiting list for this playful, thoroughly delightful dinner deserved to attend more than I did.


Certainly Mich Ouellette of South Portland, my seatmate to the left who murmured choice lines of dialogue, belonged more than I did. Did he know every word? “Oh yeah, definitely,” he told me. His arms were heavily inked with “Star Wars” references, including Luke on his right shoulder and Darth Vader on his left. He’s so devoted he tried to add a Jar Jar Binks tattoo to his collection last month, but the artist had no template ready for the franchise’s most reviled character.

I had my own “Star Wars” expert with me, my 11-year-old son Dolan, who had claimed a front-row seat at the bar and was staring up at the screen. I nudged him and whispered my question. He’d already opened the ration kit and was busy gobbling “spicy salt n’ vinegar popkorn” despite having expressed doubts to Ilma Lopez, Sansonetti’s wife, Piccolo co-owner and pastry chef, that it would be to his taste.

“Dagobah is where Luke meets Yoda,” he answered. That swampy place Luke gets trained in the Force?

“Yes,” he said. There was a trace of disdain in his voice. He ought to know. He was dressed head to toe as Luke Skywalker, the last great hope for the Rebellion against the evil Empire. “You act like you’ve never seen it before,” he added accusingly.

There was no point in telling him I saw and loved the original “Star Wars,” now known as “A New Hope” when it came out in 1977 at the long-gone cinema at Cook’s Corner in Brunswick. To him I was hopeless.



The whole notion of “May the Fourth” celebrations took off in recent years, likely not coincidentally after marketing giant Disney bought the rights to the franchise from Lucasfilm. This is Sansonetti’s second May 4 dinner. But according to Disney’s “Star Wars” website, the play on words came into being back in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of Britain on May 4 and her supporters took out an advertisement in the London Evening News that declaimed “May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie.” For Sansonetti, who grew up in Pittsburgh with a bunch of cousins and their “Star Wars” hand-me-down figurines, it’s a day to have fun with his menu.

“We try to get a little more geeky with the food than goofy,” Sansonetti said. What would goofy be? “Your cliché “Star Wars” food that you see online,” he said. “Things like Wookie Cookies.”

Geeky is serving exquisite, crispy house-made tater tots topped with island squid in your Sarlacc Tot-Tooine Salad. (Sarlacc is a sand creature that vaguely resembles a squid. Luke and Annakin both grow up on a planet called Tatooine.)

Super geeky (and delicious) is cooking house-made Berkshire pork sausages in pig stomachs and cutting them open in front of guests, harkening back to what we’d just seen on the screen, Han Solo saving Luke’s life by cutting open the stomach of a Taun Taun on Hoth and wrapping him in the squirmy, still warm remains.

“It’s a classic technique,” Sansonetti said. “Like the original sous vide.”

Lopez has been indoctrinated into the fold, and so has their toddler daughter, but it’s Sansonetti who has the deep passion for the Star Wars movies and their culture. “He tells me the lines of the movie,” Lopez said. Our first drinks, part of the $45 prix fixe, arrive in Sansonetti’s 1970s-era Burger King collector’s glasses. (Dolan drank his non-alcoholic Vader-Ade out of a Darth Vader glass, while I had my Mos Eisely Cantina Punch in glass adorned with images of R2-D2 and C-3PO.) The beagle-sized, mechanized Snow Walker standing on the bar was Sansonetti’s Christmas gift the year he turned 7 or 8. “It still works,” he said.


While we waited for Lopez’s dessert – a dual dish magical potion involving light-as-air Vanilla Hoth Balls steaming with liquid nitrogen and a chocolate likeness of Jawa – Ouellette pulled out his phone to show me pictures from the “Star Wars” fan festival called Celebration he and his wife Jessica had just attended. He’d waited 18 hours on line to see the trailer for the upcoming December release, “The Force Awakens” the seventh “Star Wars” movie and to listen to director J.J. Abrams, talk about his first time at the helm of arguably the most loved movie franchise of all time. Unsurprisingly, this was Ouellette’s second May the 4th dinner at Piccolo.

But it is quite possible that some came to Piccolo for the out-of-this-world food.

“How do you like the movie so far?” a man at a table behind us said to his companions as Leia and Han Solo kissed. There was a pause.

“It hasn’t changed,” a woman answered him diplomatically.


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