Today is a bit of an homage to a man who is celebrating his 90th. Here at home base in Dallas. 50+ years ago he started the first of what would be the beginning of the Italian wave of dining. He actually used the word cucina rather than the more popular French word cuisine. He brought espresso to these parts, made his own bread, had his own pasta making room, a wine cellar, tableside service, strolling musicians, fortune teller and much much more. Il Sorrento was Mario Messina’s grand opus. And today several hundred of his close friends came together to celebrate his 90 years of life on planet earth.
His family and mine were close, his mom and my nonna were close, he and my dad grew up together. It was in his restaurant that as a young man I got bit with the Italian wine bug again.
Mario grew up in Los Angeles in the golden age of cinema. California in those days was pristine and innocent. The young boys would hike into the mountains and camp and cook over an open fire. Stars would burn bright over the Angeles forest. Life was good.
A football player at Notre Dame, after college Mario fought in WWII and was involved in bitter fighting “over there”. He was a prisoner of was and lost so much weight that he was close to imperiling his youthful health.
To come back home and open a restaurant had much significance. But to do it the right way, in those days, was an exceptional strategy. You had to be there.