Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Domino's Effect

There I was staring at the screen when an ad for Tuscani Pastas tried to jam itself past my psycho-blockers.

“Hey, there isn’t really a word like Tuscani, is there? Is that like one of those Asian carmakers who misspell Sorrento as Sorento, Siena as Sienna, and now Tuscany as Tuscani?” I thought aloud in an empty room. It really got me after all these years, not only the misspelling. Where in Tuscany does one ever see pasta like that?

I really should have spent more time throwing the baseball as a kid with my Italian neighbor in Palm Springs. You know, the “wine lover” who claimed he was a writer for The Twilight Zone? At least I knew we were telling tall tales when he threw the ball back and forth, waiting for my dad to get back from one of his Big Deal business trips to L.A.

This has been going on for generations and will continue to do so. Marketers will find an easy way to get to their goal, trying to make a quick buck, only to lose it the next weekend on the horses.

$32 and whadda ya get? A cold duo of veggies and a lifeless crab

Last week I had a truly embarrassing meal in New Orleans, at K-Paul’s. When I entered the place, with clients and colleagues, I had this “What happened?” feeling. The kitchen was gone and the simple tables and home cooking feeling of the place was missing. No more $10.95 plates of blackened red fish, no more bottles of Jax, no more struggling chef sitting outside the restaurant asking people to come in for a taste of his cooking.

I’m not sure that’s where Italian wines are going, although some of them seem to have modernized their surroundings a bit, making them unrecognizable. But back to the food.

How can we expect, let alone mandate though a government agency, how Italians should make their wine, when we make such a disaster of their food in America? How many Italian spots are virtual Katrinas in the kitchen? I have seen my share, and not to make light of the ongoing tragedy in one of the great cities in the US, but America's Italian kitchens are in shambles.

We have these entertaining reality shows about cooking, but can’t find a decently cooked piece of fish in America. Yes that’s an exaggeration, but more often than not, I have to find it in someone’s home, not a restaurant. Not complaining, the wine list is better and so’s the service. But, holy moley, in Italy you can still find great food, in home and hotel alike.

Some producer friends in Montalcino huddle, awaiting the American backlash. I ask, in a country that thinks overcooked Fusili in a creamy casserole or overstuffed pizza delivered in a cardboard box (that occasionally tastes better then the actual pizza) is the real deal, what are you worried about?

Oh yes, the g-o-v-e-r-n-m-e-n-t. That is something to fret about, the way things are going in the last days of the current configuration.

Let’s say we get through this contrived calamity in Tuscany. Everybody marches in lock-step with their Brunello, all-Sangiovese, all-the-time. Perfect world of wine, finally. Soldera can die a happy man, going to his grave knowing he saved the world from blemished Brunello. Might even get a statue in the square.

But when the real deal makes its way to the American shores, will that, or any wine recognize Tuscani Pasta and shout with glee, after making the long boat trip that our Italian ancestors endured? Will the Faithful and True Brunello look upon a cheese stuffed crust pizza and say “Eureka, what have I found?”

Taking a cue from K-Paul’s cold stuffed potato and frigid broccoli shuddering around a lifeless soft shell crab, Born-Again Brunello might wonder when the next one way flight to Italy will be taking off, grab his glass, and head for the nearest exit.

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