Lots of folks are no doubt wondering why a reasonable person like myself needs to go to Italy—especially to eat. After all, there are “Italian” restaurants in the United States. There’s even Italian wine on the shelves, some of it even drinkable.
You see, the problem is that most of the really good stuff never leaves the province, much less the country. Take Marsala wine for example, which you might think is just a funky-tasting cooking wine you douse your industrial chicken in when you want your friends to think you’re “doing the Italian thang.”
Unfortunately, the only Marsala wines that are exported to the United States are the dolce and fine varieties. This is mostly because there is no demand for the more refined Marsala, since the majority of Americans think of Marsala solely as a cooking wine. I know that I sure did prior to moving here. Now, however, Marsala is one of my favorite drinks to savor either before or after dinner. ~ Do you just order chicken?
So advises Michelle Beathard, who has gone off to live in Marsala, Sicily and has managed to produce a compelling blog called Marsala Mia, despite the fact there are only two posts in it so far. Michelle has hit on the first point. Not only are the great offerings from the far off corners of the boot missing entirely from the shelves of your local Safeway, but if you can find anything close, it’ll be expensive as hell—leading you to believe that you’d have to be head honcho in a brokerage house going bankrupt and relying on Government largess to be able afford a vacation in Italy.
It ain’t so, by the way.
Then there’s what we Americans think of as Italian food, and the excuses we make to put big price tags on mediocre offerings. David Farley, when he’s not charging around Italy looking for shriveled Saint foreskins, often writes about food (hmmm). He recently chased after President Obama’s (gawd don’t it feel good to say that!) foray into New York Italian food:
The tagliatelle in the oxtail ragu was perfectly cooked, but the ragu itself was ho-hum and tasteless. By the end of the meal, my palate was underwhelmed. To be fair, I had rather high expectations—not just because of Chef Robbins’ past tenure at an Obama haunt, but because the restaurant’s acclaimed reputation preceded her. It also didn’t help that I was paying $25 for that bowl of oxtail tagliatelle.
$25 for a small plate of pasta would have the Tuscans in my village splitting a gut laughing about how our President could be so smart and yet still pay a small fortune for a little bowl of peasant food.
But the punch line comes a paragraph later:
But maybe Mr. Obama just doesn’t know real Italian food—not realizing that the elevated stuff and the sloppy overly sauced I-talian dishes (otherwise known as Italian-American) comprise really an entirely different cuisine from the common salt-of-the-earth trattoria fare found in Italy. ~ Italian vs. I-talian vs. New Yorkese
Yup, we think different about food in the states. We like bigger and sloppier. Less refined, like our cars.
So there will always be a reason to go back to Italy. Back to Spino Fiorito for a handmade three course lunch with organic wine, coffee, and an after dinner drink for a mere 10 Euros. Mmmm.