Friday, October 21, 2011

New York snapshot – Barbetta's timeless appeal

This week has been absolutely beautiful in New York City. Autumn is in full swing, with cooler weather, gusts of cooler wind with a scattering of rain and wine makers from Italy (and everywhere else) crawling all over the city. And though I am headed back to Texas and ready for some blue skies and dramatic sunsets, this time New York was really a joy.

Last night, in a moment of spontaneity, a friend who grew up here and spends a lot of time in New York, invited me to dinner. As we walked from the NY Wine Experience (a total mosh pit, but filled with many friends in the wine world – my tribe) we headed towards a dark little spot. “I promise you this isn’t a dive. Although I like dives,” he pleaded. I was game. We headed into a darkened bar and he greeted the man at the bar. They reminisced like old friends.

We were led to a dining room that looked like it came straight out of Il Gattopardo (or the Savoy era). I started getting goose bumps. I am after all a bumpkin from out west, remember? As we were seated and handed the menu’s I instantly recognized Piemontese influence. The restaurant was Barbetta, one of the oldest continuously owned Italian restaurants in New York, perhaps the USA.

It had been a long day and we were tired, but a small plate arrived with robiola medallions wrapped with zucchini and a feather of frisée. Lightly dressed, not interfering with the lovely Gavi the sommelier brought.

A small plate of Tajarin (Tagliarini with a salsa di campagna: tomato, basil and garlic) appeared and I was more than satisfied.

And then the dessert cart rolled up. And while I am on a restricted regiment, there were wonderful strawberries swathed around a cradle of zabaglione. I didn’t realize zabaglione originated in Piemonte, thinking the Marsala influenced indicated the origin as being more southerly. I made many zabaglione desserts in a copper pot when I served in a classic Italian spot in my youth.

So Barbetta isn’t cutting edge. The fashion of the place is well worn, but it’s one of these places that, if you go in with an open heart, will reward one with a historical dining experience. It’s a living museum of Italian wine and food culture. It doesn’t scream bling or pretend to be anything it isn’t. It’s not a 21st century experience, it is a place to go back in time and put aside the cell phone and the distractions s of modern life, an oasis in a whirling-dervish city moving at a million miles an hour. And it is one of the pilgrimage stops along the wine trail in Italy that I was glad my friend pressed me into service to visit and honor. For without places like this, those of us who came later would have an even more difficult time making the world safer for Italian wine and food.

Buon weekend, y’all.

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