Thursday, December 02, 2010

Batting .333

It never gets easier. 30 years doing this. Someone forgets something. Like history, for example. And then, there we are, back at the starting gate, back at 1980. Holy cripes, this stings, like a brush-back fastball that veered into the crotch.

But I'm batting 1 for 3, which is better than Derek Jeter did last year. And look what he’s holding out for. Maybe the glass 1/3 full is good enough? Do you really want the details? I guess I better get this confession going.

Example 1: An Italian concept with steaks. Great place to pitch Sangiovese, Amarone, Brunello, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Valtellina Superiore, Aglianico, Nerello Mascalese, Primitivo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, yes? Wrong. We lost the historical record, the buyers want Napa Cabs. Chards too. Oh, the token Brunello can stay, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the big ticket items, the big spenders. Yep, flyover country, you’ve taken another piece of my heart.

I was sitting in a meeting and could say nothing. The talk was all about Napa Cab; Napa Cab…The mantra was Napa Cab. Hey, it wasn’t billed as a Napa Valley Steakhouse.

That said, the Napa Valley Vintners have done a great job of promoting their wines in steakhouse environments. So, what say we take a page out of their playbook and play ball like they do? How about we propose Italian steakhouse wines for Italian steakhouses? Or perhaps someone should start a Napa Valley Steakhouse. Maybe then I might be able to sell some Italian wines into it.

I felt like some serial killer, sitting there in the room, not wanting to say anything lest it indict my wishes to spread the blood of Jove around the dining room. The Italian steakhouse dining room. But hey, I didn’t let them see me twitching in the corner, wanting to pull out my knife and tear out my heart and put it on the table. So they could serve it up with a Napa Cab. No, I cowered in a corner and said nothing. Nothing. I struck out.

Example 2: Another Italian concept, somewhere in the burbs. Weeks ago I had lent them my Veronelli book, the one with the original labels, lovingly pasted in. The book was a gift from my mentor, Al. It was 40-50 years old. I kept wondering why no one answered my calls to return the book. Then I found out why. Someone had spilled liquid on the book, spoiling it. Another stab to the heart. But hey, I lent it freely, I took another risk in flyover country. Another memory ripped from my soul. Another thing to say good-bye to. Good bye. Foul ball caught in the sidelines by the third baseman. Two outs.

It’s almost Christmas. The baseball analogies are almost done. One more. This one is a little more bearable in a Capra-esque manner.

Example 3: This one is about another place, a small one, in an eclectic neighborhood in an otherwise undistinguishable urban sprawl. A dream space, where the culatello and locatelli and Aglianico have found shelter. Me too. Someone in that little space likes me. They like Italian wine. Italian food. Relationships are important to them. So is history. And modeling Italian, striving towards Italianità is part of the mission of these people and this place. And they get me. And I get to swing the bat. And hit it over the fence.

Only once, when I was a kid, did I ever hit a home run. But I have never forgotten what that feels like. Anymore than I have never forgotten my first meal in a trattoria on a hot summer day in Rome in August. Back when the crust of the earth was cooling.

And I will never forget what is really important to Italianità. I am bruised and bloody, but I am still standing. Crusading for what is authentic and what works about Italian food and wine to anyone who has their eyes and their heart open for it.

But I'm batting 1 for 3. And I’m just starting to swing...

Frank "Home Run" Baker

First four photos from the Flickr Library of Congress photostream. Last photo from the author's collection.
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