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.”
La TAVOLA is NEW YORK ITALIAN
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