Friday, July 18, 2014

We Talk About Food


Excerpt from Daniel Bellino-Zwicke's La TAVOLA

    They say one of the telltale signs of a true Gourmand is that as  you  are eating  one  special meal, you are already talking  about the next  one.  You only have to pick where, when, and  what (the food) it’s going to be.
    It can be  at a restaurant,  or a meal that you cook yourself, or one cooked by a friend or family member. It  might be a private dinner-party or backyard barbeque.  You  might be checking out a  new place in town.  One  that  has been  creating quite a buzz, or you’re going back to a beloved old spot, your favorite “Bistro,” that  makes the most amazing Cassoulet, a Trattoria  for  your  favorite Pasta, or a  Vietnamese Restaurant that makes the  best Pho in town . When the first White Truffles are in  season, it’s off  to the Italian joint that knows just how to serve them, and at a fair price to boot. If a fair price for White Truffles is ever possible. You know,  you just wouldn’t be a  true gourmand if  you  weren’t  thinking, talking, and dreaming of that first plate of the season, of the Planets most delectable little morsels of all, White Truffles from Alba “Ah Heaven!”
     If  you’re  in  Paris you might be heading to Tour d’Argente for the famously exquisite “Pressed Duck,” where there is no place else on God’s good Earth that makes one quite like theirs.
     Maybe you’re going to La Coupole for the stupendous Fruits d’Mere, laden  with  crisp fresh delicacies of the sea. No place does it like La Coupole with its Grande Café feel of the 1920’s, alla “Ernest Hemingway,” and all.
    If you’re in Venice you’ll  go to Harry’s Bar for a  Bellini and  “Carpaccio” (both of  which were invented there).   And you might follow the Carpaccio with a plate of Risotto Nero and perfectly cooked Fegato alla Veneziana.
    In  Positano you’ll go to Vincenzo’s for the Greatest plate of  Spaghetti Vongole on Earth, and, not far away in Napoli you’ll  feast on the World’s Best Pizza Possible. There are actually a few places in New York that can give Naples a run for the money in the Great Pizza department. The Great Pizzeria’s of New York being;  Patsy’s in  East Harlem,  Totonno’s  on Neptune Avenue in Coney Island, Lombardi’s on Prince Street in  Soho,  and  the Fantabulous Pizza of  Mr. Dominic DeMarco at Difarra’s in Brooklyn. On top of serving some great pizza, Lombardi’s just so happens to be  America’s first ever  Pizzeria. That’s History!  
     You’ll get the best Sam Tam (Green Papaya Salad)  in Assam in  North Eastern Thailand, Primo Sushi in Tokyo, and a delicious steamy bowl of Pho in Saigon or somewhere along the Mekong Delta.
      There is no  place but Philadelphia for a perfect Philly Cheesesteak, Katz’s Deli  for the World’s Best Pastrami  Sandwich,  and for Fish Taco’s it can only be San Diego or Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.
    “We Talk About Food.”  When you are in the process of  eating  one  meal  and  planning for  the next,  you  will  get excited by  “This Dish” or  That;  like a great  Cassoulet,  Bolito Misto, Peking Duck, a Barbequed Pig,  Gumbo in  New Orleans, the perfect Fried  Chicken, or Nonna Bellino’s Rigatoni with Sunday Sauce (Gravy). Now we’re talking!
    When certain foodies talk about Italian Food, the conversation is sure to include renowned food-products, such as; Prosciutto San Danielle, Fennel Salami from Forloni in Greve, or the ethereal Wild Boar Salami from Dario Cecchini the “Crazy Singing Butcher of  Panzano.” Go to Modena for the 100 year old  Baslamic Vinegar.  It is pure nectar.
     A  true gourmand will fight over which brand of pasta or olive oil is better than another,  who makes the  best Cassoulet in Toulouse, the best Bouillabaisse in  Marseille,  the best Cheese Steak in Philly (Tony Luke’s), or the best Cheesecake in New York. You will salivate when the conversation turns to rare and   expensive delicacies such  as Beluga Caviar,  White Truffles, or Foe  Gras.  Why not? After good loving-making, there is  not a thing  on this  good Earth that can give one more pleasure or enjoyment than  a bowl of  Tagiatelle con Tartuffo Bianco,  perfectly made  Pate d’Foe Gras, or a plate of properly made Spaghetti Bolognese. Have a great old Barolo with the Truffles or a fine  Sauterne like Chateau  Ye’Quem with the Foe Gras and you will be in Seventh Heaven.
     One time I was at  Caffe  Dante with my good friend  Mario Flotta, the owner, and he told me about  the pasta  he made the night before.  The pasta is called  “Sciaffoni.”  It is from Napoli as Mario is of the area, Avelino to be exact, which is  about one hour  east of  Napoli and is the home  of  the famed  white  wine Fiano de Avellino.
      I never heard of this particular shape before. Mario  told me that  it  is like a  large  rigatoni. It does not have ridges (rigate) and  it is almost three times  the size of rigatoni.  You  will  not  find this pasta in supermarkets. You have to go to an  Italian Specialty Shop in order to get it,  and most of them  will probably not have it as well, only a very few. You will most likely have to place a special order to obtain a bag or two.
    Mario talked of  Sugo d’Pomodoro for his “Sciaffoni.”  We started talking about  cheese and I told him that I  loved to  grate Ricotta Salata  on some sauces and  that  you  grate it on  the  large holes of  a  Box-Grater  so you get long  thin slivers  of cheese. Mario said, “No, No Danny, for me, I only put Pecorino on Tomato  Sauce!!”  Mario was  very adamant  on this point. Spoken like a true Neapolitan. We both agreed that  Ricotta  Salata  is the  proper  cheese to put on  Pasta alla’ Norma.  The sauce for  Pasta alla Norma is made with eggplant and tomatoes.  To hear Mario speak with so much fervor and “Reverence” about his  “Sciaffoni” and  the fact that you  never put any kind of cheese on a  Sugo d’Pomodoro,  except for “Pecorino Romano,” is to hear one truly passionate Gourmand,  Mr. Mario Flotta.  “Come to think of it, when it comes to being really passionate about food, and Italian Food in particular, what Italian is not?” 
    Many times when I’m in Caffe Dante on weekday afternoons, I chit-chat with Rose (one of Dante’s few remaining  Maltese waitress’s) about  food.  It’s usually I who starts the conversation about a dish I made the night before,  or it can be about a  particular way I roast a  Rack of  Pork (Arista), how I make Caponata,  my Bolognese, or  my justly  famous Duck Ragu.  Rose will tell me about  the way she makes Pheasant or Venison  when her husband Tony brings home his bounty  from one of his many hunting trips.  As we speak,  Rose just told  me that Tony brought home some Doves the other day. Rose told me she braised them, and said, “Oh My God Danny,  they taste so good.” Often times I will describe to Rose the way I make this dish or that and she’ll start salivating, and says to me, “Danny,  please Stop, Stop! You’re making me so hungry.” That’s a fact!
    It’s great talking about food  with friends, or anyone,  trading  recipes or telling  each other where you can get the best  Sweet Sausage (Florence Meat Market on Jones Street in New York’s Greenwich Village), the most  authentic Sopressetta,  or  the freshest fish. Which butcher is the best (toss-up between Florence Meat Market or Pino’s on Sullivan  Street),  which bakery makes the best Cannoli (Pozzo’s or Rocco’s), bread, or Biscotti?
    Where do you go to get the best  prices on cheese  and  which pasta shop  makes  the best pasta fresca? Everybody has his or her own favorite places and lit-tle secrets.
    I  remember  telling my  buddy  Jorge Riera (a serious Gourmand  if  there ever was one) about this great  Fried Chicken Salad I  had at a street stall in Bangkok. It was phenomenal. In return, he told me the place he thought had the best Pho in Vietnam.
      I  will  tell friends about the Spaghetti Vongole at Vincenzo’s in  Positano,  Porchetta  Sandwiches in Roma,  the Best Burger in New York,  as of this writing,  for  me,  it’s a  “Toss Up” between The Shake Shack Burger,  Peter Luger’s, and Minetta Tavern’s “Minetta Burger,”  not  the Black Label Burger. In New York who has the Best Burger in town, can be almost as Heated-a-Debate as which Cheesesteak is  the  Best in  Philadelphia, or  who makes Chicago’s Best Italian Beef in Chicago. For New York’s best Thai Restaurant,  go to Shirapaia in Woodside, Queens,  and you  might start a fight if you want to talk about New York’s Best Pizza where you’ll find  America’s Best  whether it’s at Totonno’s in Coney Island, John’s on Bleecker Street, Totonno’s on Coney Island, or Lombardi’s on Spring Street (America’s 1st Ever Pizzeria). “Fug-getta-Bout-It  Chicago!  That’s  not Pizza,  it’s  Deep Dish Pie, but just don’t call it Pizza! Better stick to Italian Beef and Hot Dogs.”
    You pass on what you know to one-and-other, the Hottest new restaurant of  the moment,  a new Bahn Mi Joint,  the best butcher for  Veal  Scallopines and such.  You  tell each  other how  to  make  different dishes and where  to get the  best products. You are in your own particular network of local gourmands. This is the Passion for Great Food. It is a “Marvelous Culinary Adventure.”  Explore it. The rewards are great, and oh so very tasty!

    We Talk About Food! “You Talk About Food.”


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