Thursday, February 24, 2011


Was it a dream or did it really happen?

Outtakes from a storyboard imagining the direction a recent dinner might take in honor a member of a somewhat famous Italian winemaker family

The first course was a spinach salad, lightly dressed, and served family style. I am a shy person and know no one at the table save a few colleagues. Thankfully they were there. The winemaker was at another table. Really, really nice person.

Backing up first. I called the host and asked when the event would be over, as I wanted to stop by a friend’s restaurant and have a glass of wine with him. We talk food, he is on the cutting edge of Italian things in town, and I hadn’t seen him since December. The host said, wed be through about 9:30 tops. Great.

Back to the salad. The barkeep starts pouring Moscato. Huh? Moscato and spinach? I look over to the winemaker trying to sense if this is part of the plan. It wasn’t. And here is where, after being in San Francisco, Italy and New York, my inner Calabrese peppers were heating up. In other words, once again I was steeped in backwater slough, with someone in the room who knows better and also couldn’t do a thing about it. This was gonna be a long night.

Round two. No extra glasses. Oh yeah, they meant to serve the Gavi, And this lovely but ill-timed Moscato clinging to the glass like a cold that just won’t go away. Really? We were already into some pappardelle with an arrabbiata sauce. The only thing arrabbiata at the table was my inner Etna. Where was the red wine and a glass to put it in? God this night was going to hell in a hurry.

Eventually a bottle of Barbera showed up. Meanwhile the pasta was cold on us waiting. Actually that was a good thing as it made the dead-beyond-any-hope-of-resuscitation noodles a little more al dente. But the tomato paste, sweet and garlic tormented sauce wasn’t going to touch my lips. Next.

Another pasta arrives, a penne (once again they cooked the life out of them) with some strange demi-glace (that’s Italian?) and some Italian sausages thrown in for good measure. Oh, and lots and lots of garlic. More garlic on my plate than I saw in all of my eating for 8 days in Italy. Really. Pass.

Ok, by now I'm getting antsy. It’s almost 9:30 PM and we haven’t even gotten to the main course(s). I walk into the kitchen. "Hey guys, can you tell me how many more courses we have coming?” “We have three courses and a dessert.” You’ve gotta be kidding me!

Ok, no prob, my bags are packed and I’m ready to go. As I kiss the cheeks of the sweet Italian lady and promise to visit her in Italy, bowls of chicken Marsala are coming out of the kitchen. None of these dishes have I ever seen in the region where these wines come from. Didn’t anyone do their homework?

I was embarrassed for our Italian guest because first of all she would have been happy with a little rice or pasta and maybe a small main course and a light dessert or a nice cheese. Period. And we all could have enjoyed more wine. As it was I kept on my diet because I ate little or nothing. But I also felt that it was a misuse of an evening and a disregard for everybody’s time. I mean, here we have someone who has arrived from another time zone and made to sit through a very long evening and talk and be convivial through a meal that most likely lasted well past midnight. Shame on my town.

It’s 9:40 and I’m sitting at the bar with my chef friend in his restaurant after a busy night. A couple walks in orders a grilled salad and a fish from the oven. The women orders a glass of Chianti and the man orders a glass of coffee liqueur over rocks. God, I’m so over Dallas. I’m like one of those UN observers who are posted to a revolution or a natural disaster and cannot change anything, only watch. And then I look to the bar. On the back there are seven bottles of Italian wine, all served by the glass. Of the seven, five of them I can identify with people I know and care about. Real people, real wines. And then I remember why it is I am in this zone. I am stationed here, to bring the wines from my people to the people in my town. It isn’t pretty sometimes, there’s way too much garlic to suit me, but we will muddle through it. We will make a difference.

And it’s a wrap for the day.

Images from PLAN59.COM


Dino said...

I understand very well. I also (and often) dine out in Italian restaurants where the pasta is over cooked and the garlic is piled on to substitute for the missing culinary ingredients that make the dish worthy to real Italians.

I continue to enjoy your revelations.

Forza Alfonso

Wine Curmudgeon said...

Yes, my friend, I have been down that road all too often. But, as I always remind myself, it still beats working for a living.

VintageTexas said...

Oooohhh yes!

This was like an event I did once based on a brain storm of mine that paired Kangaroo burgers with Shiraz (four in fact).

However, the event took a turn and ended up with Kangaroo burgers, Salmon burgers, Ostrich burgers and more at a healthy food restaurant.

As the event started, we ate our salads and then waited for the burgers, and we waited, waited and waited.

I finally went back into the kitchen and found out that because it was a healthy food place, they would not consider cooking all those different burgers on the same grill without cleaning it thoroughly between each type of burger. They were going to hold all of the completed burgers until they were all cooked, which was a long a very slow process.

I got them straight and the event finished with a flair. The participants had drunk most of the wine on their empty stomachs and were reveling anyway.

You know what is said of the best made plans of mice and men....I've been there too.


Samantha Dugan said...

We used to do dinners at this French place, (no longer in business....shocker) and not only were they slow, they would pour such a tiny amount of wine that by the time the dishes actually arrived there was not enough wine in the glass to drink with them. Drove me batshit and was terribly embarrassing.

Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) said...

Yes, over-cooked pasta is the bane of all Italians (and Italian food and wine lovers) living outside Italy. In Spain you are 99.9% guaranteed to get over-cooked pasta if you go to a restaurant at random (even an "Italian" one). I believe the PCI (Polizia Culinaria Italiana) is working on this problem, but of course the problem is so widespread and they're so understaffed that they've not been able to make much headway.

Tracie P. said...

when is anyone ever going to get it? when?! i'm sorry you had to sit through that.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I just have more tolerance. Not for over cooked pasta, or food that makes no sense, but for all the other people that also suffered through that evenning for the sake of sipping that glorious Barolo and knowing that the host had a heart of gold. Not to mention our sweet Italin Guest that had traveled so far to share her passion for her vocation with me.

Alfonso Cevola said...

No doubt.Wonderful hosts. Best intentions. Beautiful wines and an amazing woman from Piedmont. All the more reason to put one's best foot forward,

But I'll say it again: why didn’t anyone do their homework? Or at least ask someone who could guide them?

Dallas can do better than this - sincerely

Jack said...

I will be sure to ask you next time...

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks, Jack:

I just want what's best for the winery, the importer and the market. And I have a venue that will sell out and we will sell epic amounts of wine, next time she comes in. I promise

Thanks for your patience and understanding, amico, I appreciate ya!

Christina said...

It is amazing. Every time I witness the disconnect between food & wine in this country, it transforms my pasta al pomodoro to arrabbiata as well.

The problem is, i am usually the only one aware of any disconnect & furthermore the other guests are actually ENJOYING all pieces of the mismatched puzzle, gracefully 'making sense' of something that in reality makes none.

I can almost 100% assure you that if you had placed Carne Crudo or Insalata Russia in front of the folks that evening, most would have shied away bashfully and would have asked for another roll with butter (or evoo if we're lucky).

When i am asked to pair for/present to/cook for/address any crowd- I think of the audience...their expectations for my presentation- what IS italian culture/cuisine/wine to them & with that in mind- I piece together a 'relatable' version of Italy that is Honest, True while still entertaining some of the intrinsic parts that they so strongly believe to be 'Real Italian'.

The fact of the matter is, whether or not you explain that Chicken Parmigiana does not exist in Italy, that there is no such thing as A panini (un panino- singolare) or that it is virtually ILLEGAL to put grated cheese anywhere near Zuppa di Pesce no one will believe you. Red Checkered table cloths, fiaschi & 70 years of time have created a culture that is thought to be 'Italian' but is in fact 'Italo-americano'.

with that said, there is a big job to do in terms of education in italian culture & cuisine. If in some way you can take that particular evening, zoom out, objectively consider the guests 'idea' or 'context' with regard to Italian Wine/Food & then imagine how many of them left Full (after all of those courses), Impressed (to have drunk wine that they may have never heard of/had the opportunity to taste before), & Utterly Happy to have been in the presence of someone (the passionate Italian Lady) whose entire life is devoted to something so simple, so historic & so beautiful.

Life IS beautiful. it's all in how you see it....what you know, others may not & thus- hasn't somebody said, 'Ignorance is Bliss'?


jack said...

Thats my kid...

Real Time Analytics