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hathor

Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine

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Ciao Fortedei. Interesting points you are making, I'm not sure I agree with everything, but something to think about.

I do understand and agree with what you are saying about pastry, and I'd like to add bread to the list. Good, artisanal bread is becoming harder and harder to find. Even the top restaurants have pathetic, under developed breads.

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I would say that the most obvious difference in technical prowess between French and Italian chefs is in the preparation of sauces (and in particular of the underlying stocks). Here in London, and in Italy too, it is even possible to go to rated Italian restaurants that make a cuisine essentially without stocks. Scandalous. It is stocks/sauces where the French excel technically, and I believe it is the incredible refinement in the art of their preparation that has made French cuisine, for better or for worse, the leading one internationally.

I am not so sure about pastry. Obviously the French have a great tradition in this area, but if we look at current offerings I am not sure the the typical middle to high-end Italian place is technically defective in pastry preparation.

I agree with Fortedei that the French should give up pasta and risotto, it is just ridiculous. And bread, as Hathor says is a problem in some places, though Woman and I (who are fanatical about bread) are often pleasantly surprised in Italy by some fantastic bread baskets.

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I would say that the most obvious difference in technical prowess between French and Italian chefs is in the preparation of sauces (and in particular of the underlying stocks). Here in London, and in Italy too, it is even possible to go to rated Italian restaurants that make a cuisine essentially without stocks. Scandalous. It is stocks/sauces where the French excel technically, and I believe it is the incredible refinement in the art of their preparation that has made French cuisine, for better or for worse, the leading one internationally.

...

I will agree with you that the making of stocks and sauces is a big difference, but does it really matter? (Unless, of course, an Italian chef is trying to do things the French way and fails.)

There is a huge difference in approach between the two cuisines. Italian food is not conceived as food + sauce but as food --> sauce. Foods create their own sauces in the pan. Salad dressings are (mostly) created right on the salad. Pasta sauces are properly called condimenti, emphasizing that the pasta is the main attraction, not a vehicle for a sauce.

I think French stocks and sauces, for all their wonderfulness, have sometimes had a sinister influence, causing the sauce to be more revered than the underlying food to the point that people are no longer able to perceive the subtle tastes of, say, good pasta and white-fleshed fish.

Italian brodo isn't even trying to be the same as stock, and a well-made Italian brodo is a broth and is a thing of beauty that need apologize to no one.

Further thoughts: As must be obvious, I make no claims to know French technique, so fill in the disclaimers and apologies. My question is really why should Italian cooks be penalized for not making stock when the French inability to cook a plate of spaghetti (or "spaghettis" in French) is shrugged off as something they would do better to avoid. Isn't it enough that Italian cooks can cook Italian food? And are we still talking about the cutting edge? And what, specifically, do we mean today by the cutting edge? still foams?


Edited by Maureen B. Fant (log)

Maureen B. Fant
www.maureenbfant.com

www.elifanttours.com

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I like these formulas

Italian food is not conceived as food + sauce but as food --> sauce. Foods create their own sauces in the pan.

and I wonder if they might provide a clue for the main topic. If the underlying philosophy of Italian cusine is not food+X but food-->X, one could claim that in order to be recognised as producing 'Italian cuisine' chefs using 'cutting edge techiniques' (whatever they are) should respect this philosophy.

In other words, they should shun preparations that displace the primary ingredient of the dish from its centrality, or transform it to a degree that makes it lose its recognisability. So for example when cooking sous vide was introduced, this was an innovation that suited Italian cuisine well, as it enhances and respects the flavours of the main component. Foams are more delicate (besides, to my mind, they fly full in the face of the 'solidity' which is the hallmark of a typical Italian dish, but that's another matter).

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All interesting comments.

I think that high end restaurants have indeed to offer something more then what you would get at an average Italian home. Yes Italian cusine is based on great ingredients, simple but at the same time great preparations... However I believe that the restaurant scene in Italy is quite tired and I personally welcome innovation. There are hundred of thousand of trattorias where you can have great traditional Italian meals. If you decided to go to an high end restaurant and what you get more is only the presentation and wine list, IMO is not worth the it.

About Bread, this may be true in some restaurants, but great bread is widely available in the south of Italy and also in many bread basket of high end southern italian restaurants. I do not believe we have anything to envy the French on Bread. Same goes for Patissery, in the south at least (probably were we had French influence anyway ).

I agree that Italian Catering Schools may be lacking enphasis on basic techniques (knives, preparation & presentation) and adoption of more innovative techniques and tools compared to the German and French for example, but I still believe that in the actual cooking we do achieve great results.

Going back to my initial point, basically I would welcome a restaurant that in a simple example, present a reviseted Neapolitan Ragu (clearly advertised as reviseted), were the meat has been cooked saus vide for hours, and the ragu sauce has been prepared using stock made with with the bones of the same meat)


Edited by Pizza Napoletana (log)

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The notion of sauce as the key point of differentiation between French and Italian cuisines does not reflect my experience eating French cuisine. Just as an example, I spent time in the kitchen at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and I'm pretty sure I didn't see a single stock used in any cooking. Most dishes relied on jus or natural broths. There were some sauces used, but sparingly and as accents. Here's an account of a meal we had there a couple of years ago. Have a look at the use of sauce. It doesn't conform at all to the stereotype.

Nor do meals I've had at quite a few Michelin-starred restaurants in France. Sauce, in the tradition of Escoffier, has not been dominant in serious French cuisine since the rise of Nouvelle Cuisine several decades ago. Not to mention, there's a lot more use of sauce in Italian cuisine than folks are letting on. So I think the points of differentiation lie elsewhere.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
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Interesting observation, Steven. But I wonder if Alain Ducasse is quite the appropriate frame of reference. The kind of cuisine presented at restaurants such as these has never struck me as "French food" so much as it strikes me as "haute restaurant food." It is, of course, noteworthy that the French more or less invented the restaurant in general and high-end restaurant cuisine in specific. But there's nothing about your meal that says "French" to me in the same way that, for example, Boeuf Bourguignon does.

This is perhaps what leads to a lot of the conflict of opinions in this thread. France has a well-developed tradition and culture of restaurants, including the high-end. Indeed, most people would consider Alain Ducasse's food "French" despite the fact that it has not so much connection to the things everyday French people are eating. Italian restaurant culture, relative to French restaurant culture, is in its infancy. As recently as the 1950s, when my mother lived in Rome, restaurants in Italy were for foreigners for the most part, and didn't even particularly serve "Italian food." Even today, Italy is mostly a country of home cooking. There is only the beginning of an Italian restaurant tradition going in the same direction as French haute cuisine went long before -- which is to say, a direction that takes it away from its traditional everyday roots and further towards the infinite refinement and flights of fancy that are only available to highly skilled technicians with specialized equipment and near-bottomless resources. This new Italian "alta cucina," like French haute cuisine compared to traditional French cooking, only have a partial connection to actual Italian cooking. It's unclear to me how "high" Italian cuisine can go successfully before it losts a strong connection to Italian cooking and begins to simply evoke certain elements of Italian sensibility and ingredients. Perhaps this will trend in a direction so that it becomes more and more like French cooking, and perhaps the argument can be made that there is simply a "Western high cooking aesthetic" that ultimately doesn't do much more than evoke various national and local cooking traditions. If we want to call if "French" because they're the first ones who went in that direction... well, you get to the beach first, you get to plant your flag and name the place.


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This is perhaps what leads to a lot of the conflict of opinions in this thread.  France has a well-developed tradition and culture of restaurants, including the high-end.  Indeed, most people would consider Alain Ducasse's food "French" despite the fact that it has not so much connection to the things everyday French people are eating.  Italian restaurant culture, relative to French restaurant culture, is in its infancy.

At first I had an "AH HA" moment...that you may have found a key point. Now, I'm not so sure. Italy has a very well developed ristorante culture....as well as trattoria, osteria, pizzaria, etc.

You are 100% right that many Italian people simply do not go out to eat, and that there is a very strong eat at home culture, but they do still travel and go out to eat, so I'm not sure you can say that Italian restaurant culture is in its infancy.

And 'alta cucina', like 'haute cusine' isn't for everyone. How many 'average' French people can afford to, want to, dine out at Pierre Gagnaire's restaurant? Significantly more than those that want to dine Le Calandre? I don't know the answer to this question.

I do think the French press has done a much better job at developing the haute cuisine culture than the Italian press. And maybe that is a key point.

Is anyone accusing Le Calandre of not being Italian enough?

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Italy is such a disparate country that Italian food will mean different things to Italians depending upon what part of the country they come from. Certain parts will have food more reminiscent of Germany and Austria than the rest of Italy, others more like France and others more like northern Africa. Does that mean that any of these styles are not Italian. We seem to have such a desire to pigeonhole things into neat little categories, when the reality is quite different. One can consider a Venn diagram in which there are certain foods and regions that are universally considered Italian, but then there are the parts of the intersecting circles that lie outside the center. These may not be so obvious nor so universally recognized, but they are nevertheless "Italian."


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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Italy has a very well developed ristorante culture....as well as trattoria, osteria, pizzaria, etc.

Judith, my point is that Italy doesn't have a well-developed restaurant culture -- or perhaps I should say restaurant tradition of long standing -- compared to France. Due to the Revolution and other factors, France's restaurant culture was underway by the beginning of the 19th Century. In Italy, on the other hand, even by the Second World War there wasn't much more than the occasional roadside osteria -- and certainly there was no expectation among Italians that the food would be particularly good. Osterie were for people who didn't know anyone they could stay with in town. When restaurant culture began happening in Italy for real, post WW2, it catered largely to tourists and most hotel ristoranti served food that might be better described as "continental" than Italian. It's also worthy of note that many ristoranti at this time were owned and operated by Italians who had moved to America for a number of years, prospered, experienced America's well-developed Italian-American (and French) restaurant culture, and had now moved back home. Meanwhile, by 1950 French haute cuisine was already well past its first golden ages (Carême's work having come some 150 years before). So, at the very least, French haute cuisine has had a 150 year head start on the possibility of an equivalent Italian restaurant concept.


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Did anybody see the program on the 'perfect risotto' by Heston Blumenthal last night on BBC2?

I felt I understood quite well, in that context at least, the difference between 'contemporary Italian' and outright 'non-Italian' cuisine by comparing two risotti, one by Cracco and one by Blumenthal.

The former was strange, eerie, definitely not traditional, but still unmistakably Italian risotto in its classical lines. He brushed the dish with achovy paste, poured a standard risotto on it, and topped it with a piece of dark chocolate which promptly melted in the steaming risotto.

What Blumenthal did was haute cusine for sure, contemporary for sure, but in my opinion failed completely to capture the esence of risotto. First, he decided to follow Gualtiero Marchesi with his trademark procedure of 'burro acidulato' (a sauce made with butter, onions and wine) . Now I don't know if you have ever tried it, but this in itself gives a very distinctive taste, enough to hold your entire attention. In fact, Marchesi apart from that keeps things simple and just puts, beside saffron, his gold leaf on the risotto to finish the dish: that's all.

Blumenthal, no. He did all sorts of things (it was as usual impossible to understand the exact recipe from the program), including 'enhancing' Marchesi's preparation with flavour of rice toasted in butter, garnishing the risotto with creme fraiche flavoured with screwpine (pandanus), flavouring the stock with basmati rice, and accompanying the dish with a cappuccino cup with I forgot what mixture inside.

Now, if you you look at all the great risotti made by Italian chefs, even cutting edge ones (even a basmati rice pap with dried coffee powder and sea-urchin by Cracco) you'll always notice a certain restraint in the number of ingredients, in the preparation, and in the presentation. This is essential for a true risotto because, ultimately, the recipe is about RICE.

What is the point of mixing three types of rice, as Blumenthal does, and overwheling them with ingredients and preparations? Well, certainly there is a point as he is a great chef; but that point is irremediably distant from the spirit of Italian cuisine, which rests on 'classical proportions' even in the most audacious of its expressions.

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Did anybody see the program on the 'perfect risotto' by Heston Blumenthal last night on BBC2?

I felt I understood quite well, in that context at least, the difference between 'contemporary Italian' and outright 'non-Italian' cuisine by comparing two risotti, one by Cracco and one by Blumenthal.

The former was strange, eerie, definitely not traditional,  but still unmistakably Italian risotto in its classical lines. He brushed the dish with achovy paste, poured a standard risotto on it, and topped it with a piece of dark chocolate which promptly melted in the steaming risotto.

What Blumenthal did was haute cusine for sure, contemporary for sure, but in my opinion failed completely to capture the esence of risotto. First, he decided to follow Gualtiero Marchesi with his trademark procedure of 'burro acidulato' (a sauce made with butter, onions and wine) . Now I don't know if you have ever tried it, but this in itself gives a very distinctive taste, enough to hold your entire attention. In fact, Marchesi apart from that keeps things simple and just puts, beside saffron, his gold leaf on the risotto to finish the dish: that's all.

Blumenthal, no. He did all sorts of things (it was as usual impossible to understand the exact recipe from the program), including 'enhancing' Marchesi's preparation with flavour of rice toasted in butter, garnishing the risotto with creme fraiche flavoured with screwpine (pandanus), flavouring the stock with basmati rice, and accompanying the dish with a cappuccino cup with I forgot what mixture inside.

Now, if you you look at all the great risotti made by Italian chefs, even cutting edge ones (even a basmati rice pap with dried coffee powder and sea-urchin by Cracco) you'll always notice a certain restraint in the number of ingredients, in the preparation, and in the presentation. This is essential for a true risotto because, ultimately, the recipe is about RICE.

What is the point of mixing three types of rice, as Blumenthal does, and overwheling them with ingredients and preparations? Well, certainly there is a point as he is a great chef; but that point is irremediably distant from the spirit of Italian cuisine, which rests on 'classical proportions' even in the most audacious of its expressions.

I think we may be getting somewhere - excellent post!


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Italy has a very well developed ristorante culture....as well as trattoria, osteria, pizzaria, etc.

Judith, my point is that Italy doesn't have a well-developed restaurant culture -- or perhaps I should say restaurant tradition of long standing -- compared to France. Due to the Revolution and other factors, France's restaurant culture was underway by the beginning of the 19th Century. In Italy, on the other hand, even by the Second World War there wasn't much more than the occasional roadside osteria -- and certainly there was no expectation among Italians that the food would be particularly good. Osterie were for people who didn't know anyone they could stay with in town. When restaurant culture began happening in Italy for real, post WW2, it catered largely to tourists and most hotel ristoranti served food that might be better described as "continental" than Italian. It's also worthy of note that many ristoranti at this time were owned and operated by Italians who had moved to America for a number of years, prospered, experienced America's well-developed Italian-American (and French) restaurant culture, and had now moved back home. Meanwhile, by 1950 French haute cuisine was already well past its first golden ages (Carême's work having come some 150 years before). So, at the very least, French haute cuisine has had a 150 year head start on the possibility of an equivalent Italian restaurant concept.

I am guessing the source for this argument is an essay by John Mariani used in the Italian-American cookbook he co-authored with his wife. In any respect, I am linking it (again? cf. topics on Spaghetti Code or the cooking thread on expatriate Italians): "Everybody Likes Italian Food".

As for the history of French restaurants, Dr. Rebecca L. Spang challenged the commonly held belief that the institution owes its birth to the French Revolution and all the cooks left jobless on account of their employers' beheadings. Instead, her research centers on the humble, health-food origins of restaurants in a scholarly tome that earned awards from The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Harvard University Press and the Royal Historical Society.

I was surprised to find that Google provides access to the entire book online: The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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The main source of my argument is what I have been told by people living in Italy , both Italian and non-Italian, during the pre- and post-WW2 years.

Not that I think it's particularly relevant to this discussion, but I also don't necessarily subscribe to the idea that cooks looking for work due to the beheading of their former employers lead to French restaurant culture around the time of the Revolution (i.e., the last decade of the 18th Century). This is why I said "and other factors" -- those other factors being things like the rise of a large bourgeoise class (which was not present to this extent in countried such as Italy, which remained more or less feudal for a much longer period). Regardless, it seems incontrovertible that France had a well-developed restaurant culture, and especially a high-end restaurant culture, more than 100 years before Italy did.


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I am guessing the source for this argument is an essay by John Mariani used in the Italian-American cookbook he co-authored with his wife.  In any respect, I am linking it (again? cf. topics on Spaghetti Code or the cooking thread on expatriate Italians): "Everybody Likes Italian Food".

I'm guessing that guess is wrong. Mariani wasn't doing original research as far as I can tell. He was summarizing what had been written elsewhere, many times.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Further to my point about international haute cuisine not being particularly French, I'd like to make a few examples:

gallery_122_1858_26147.jpg

Carpaccio of blue fin tuna, eggplant caviar and mozzarella underneath, osetra caviar on top

French or Italian?

gallery_122_1858_7117.jpg

Chatham cod with braised fennel, raw fennel and fennel essence

French or Italian or American?

gallery_122_1858_11434.jpg

duck liver terrine with mission figs

French or Italian?

I would argue that the only dish that seems connected to France and French cooking is the last one. The first two could easily have come from fancy restaurants with an Italian name. But they're sort of not Italian either. Which is to say that they don't seem like they are "from" anywhere except being out of the kitchen of a very expensive high-end fine dining restaurant. For some reason, however (probably because they more or less invented it) we don't have any difficulty calling dishes like these "French" when they come out of a restaurant with a French name on the door, but many people would have some difficulty calling the same dishes "Italian" -- despite the fact that I don't see either of those two dishes as being any more connected to France than they might be to Italy. It's this sort of thing, I think, that can bias people against the idea of Italian restaurant cuisine that moves as far away from Italian cooking as these dishes do from French cooking. For some reason we're more protective of Italian cooking in our minds -- or less protective of French cooking, take your pick.


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Further to my point about international haute cuisine not being particularly French, I'd like to make a few examples:

...

I would argue that the only dish that seems connected to France and French cooking is the last one.  The first two could easily have come from fancy restaurants with an Italian name.  But they're sort of not Italian either.  Which is to say that they don't seem like they are "from" anywhere except being out of the kitchen of a very expensive high-end fine dining restaurant.  For some reason, however (probably because they more or less invented it) we don't have any difficulty calling dishes like these "French" when they come out of a restaurant with a French name on the door, but many people would have some difficulty calling the same dishes "Italian" -- despite the fact that I don't see either of those two dishes as being any more connected to France than they might be to Italy.  It's this sort of thing, I think, that can bias people against the idea of Italian restaurant cuisine that moves as far away from Italian cooking as these dishes do from French cooking.  For some reason we're more protective of Italian cooking in our minds -- or less protective of French cooking, take your pick.

Good. You've said out loud what has (IMO) been underlying this entire discussion. There is a double standard afoot according to which French (or French-derived) cooking is "allowed" to wander, innovate, be as fancy or avant-garde as it likes, while Italian is expected to keep on cranking out the comfort food and not get uppity.

From the things tourists to Italy say, I believe many people begrudge Italy even the use of nicer table linens ("too formal," "not authentic"), as though only peasants and the urban poor have any claim on being truly Italian. And I think reasoned analysis of specific cooking techniques can go only so far to explain the phenomenon. It's not about stocks and sauces (though, pace Fat Guy, I think that is a fundamental difference). It's that the world wants Italian food to stay recognizable, yummy, and associated with the lower socio-economic echelons. "Protective" is probably right, but isn't that condescending and/or presumptuous?

The photographs illustrate dishes that have little or nothing to do with national traditions, just some national ingredients with a few allusions to (citations of?) dishes diners might have had in the past. This is the 21st century. All these chefs are exposed to influences from everywhere and don't think there's anything wrong with it. At that level, the main differences between a French, a German, a Swedish, and an Italian meal, I think, are the extensive, but not exclusive, use of local (or at least national) ingredients and allusions and that the Italian menu still has rice and pasta as a first course (and may that never change!).

BTW I thought the risotto comparison was great.


Edited by Maureen B. Fant (log)

Maureen B. Fant
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French or Italian?

Good examples, but what would be wrong in saying that Ducasse (or one of his acolytes) when cooking the top dish has cooked an Italian dish? For, I don't think it can be described other than as Italian - except that probably the mozzarella wasn't that good by real Italian standards and would have been sent back in a top restaurant in Italy :wink:

Nevertheless, of course one can only judge the 'Italianness' of a cuisine by looking at the entire menu (OK, I am guilty too by having compared the Cracco and the Blumenthal rice - but it was so obvious in that case!).

I very much agree with you and Maureen about the fact that the international public by and large does not afford Italian chefs much latitude. Here in London this has created the funny situation that Italian chefs in such a cosmopolitan city need to be (in order to suceed as businesses) far more conservative than their colleagues in Italy (is the same true in other megacities?).

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I very much agree with you and Maureen about the fact that the international public by and large does not afford Italian chefs much latitude. Here in London this has created the funny situation that Italian chefs in such a cosmopolitan city need to be (in order to suceed as businesses) far more conservative than their colleagues in Italy (is the same true in other megacities?).

Sure it exists in NY, hence Fiamma being described as vaguely Italian.

There was an article in the NY Times last week that talked about the overall malaise in Italy, and it mentioned briefly the whole "Made in Italy" campaign, which seems to reinforce that checker tablecloth, romantic image.

But, the flip side of that is when you apply Made in Italy to furniture, I picture cutting edge, sleek chairs with lots of chrome. So, how did the interior design people manage to mutate the fusty florentine standard into the shiny Milan standard?

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The if-Ducasse-uses-mozzarella-is-he-doing-Italian? question nagged and nagged until I finally remembered that I had actually addressed this question about three years ago when I wrote a little piece about the new Ducasse hotel in Tuscany. Just as a parenthesis, here's what I wrote:

"Was the food French or Italian, my friends asked when we returned to Rome. Italian, but it's not that simple. No hyperbole can do justice to the superb local ingredients -- garden-fresh vegetables, but also rabbit, octopus and Maremma pecorino cheese. The chef, Christophe Martin, a pupil of Mr. Ducasse, is French, and his elegant but unfussy approach was respectful of the local food mores. But the brief menu, which changes daily, is a little quirky -- wonderful, but not exactly native, as though a keen intellect and sensitive spirit had determined to do right by Tuscan food, then do it one better. Thus, for example, food is grouped by provenance (garden, sea, countryside, plus pasta) rather than by courses, though it's not hard to compose a normal Italian meal in sequence. The results are a mix of creative inventions and interpreted classics.

"The creative group would include superb tomatoes with a filling of more tomatoes, or zucchini, their attached flowers filled with zucchini. The classics included ethereal potato gnocchi with a lamb sauce, and an interpretation of the familiar Tuscan squid and vegetable stew, calamari in inzimino, composed of squid and octopus, with chard replacing the usual spinach. It managed to be light and hearty at the same time.

"As did the amazing vegetable cocotte (perhaps the only French word we saw on the menu), slow-cooked vegetables served from a small cast-iron pot. There were fennel and tiny turnips, and delicious bright-green beans as long as spaghetti, which were identified as fagioli di Santa Anna. ...

"Pony-skin-covered divans and woven-leather chairs, terra cotta sculptures, warm lighting and sponged ocher walls contributed to the charm of the stylish and cozy dining room. The friendly and competent staff did the rest, explaining everything at length and never leaving us without something to eat until the first course arrived. This could be a board of paper-thin Parma prosciutto with just-baked small breadsticks, or a mini-Caprese (mozzarella and tomatoes), or a marinated fresh anchovy. In front of us was always a little dipping dish of superb extra-virgin olive oil (again, the partners' production), not an Italian practice but welcome nonetheless."


Maureen B. Fant
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Fat Guy,

This is from a well known "Italian" restaurant in New York. Is it Italian or just one that calls itself Italian (it has a very Italian owner, so it can call itself anything it wants) to cater to New Yorkers who want to tell their friends that they ate "real Italian" food.

This was on the menu:

BISTECCA FIORENTINA (for two) 78.

26 oz. grass-fed Piedmontese t-bone steak.

Any problem?

These were also on the menu. Any problem?

FISH CRUDO 18. Hamachi with fennel and lemon, Japanese mackerel with asian pear, and branzino tartare with a Chilmark oyster

MARINATED BLACK COD 13. Sour apple, lime, perilla

OCTOPUS CARPACCIO 17. Sweet potato confit, fennel, celery and spiced geleé.

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What's so "very Italian" about Marco Canora and Paul Grieco? One's from upstate NY and the other is Canadian.

Regardless, the three dishes you ask about, which come from a tasting menu at Insieme restaurant in NYC, are all listed as "contemporary" dishes in contrast to such traditional (or anyway less outreaching) dishes such as fritto misto and sardines "in saor".

I don't think that Insieme gets a pass and everything being declared "Italian," by the way. In particular, I have my doubts as to whether the "crudo" trend (started by Pasternack at Esca, by the way) has any real traditional grounding -- rather, Batali's places have tended to view their cuisine as being "in the Italian tradition, as though NYC culture and ingredients were another region of Italy." Not quite the same thing as being "Italian" though.

I don't take any particular position on the three dishes you ask about, except to observe that they don't strike me as all that Italian -- or all that anything, really. On the other hand, there are plenty of things on the "contemporary" side of that menu which strike me as plenty Italian, such as short rib ravioli with fiore di sardo, kohlrabi and thyme; branzino "saltimbocca" with cippolini onion, savoy cabbage, prosciutto and sage; guinea hen "finochietti" consisting of an organic breast, liver, thigh and wing of guinea hen with smoked fennel, tagiasca olives and lemon; and others.


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What's so "very Italian" about Marco Canora and Paul Grieco?  One's from upstate NY and the other is Canadian.

Regardless, the three dishes you ask about, which come from a tasting menu at Insieme restaurant in NYC, are all listed as "contemporary" dishes in contrast to such traditional (or anyway less outreaching) dishes such as fritto misto and sardines "in saor".

I don't think that Insieme gets a pass and everything being declared "Italian," by the way.  In particular, I have my doubts as to whether the "crudo" trend (started by Pasternack at Esca, by the way) has any real traditional grounding -- rather, Batali's places have tended to view their cuisine as being "in the Italian tradition, as though NYC culture and ingredients were another region of Italy."  Not quite the same thing as being "Italian" though.

I don't take any particular position on the three dishes you ask about, except to observe that they don't strike me as all that Italian -- or all that  anything, really.  On the other hand, there are plenty of things on the "contemporary" side of that menu which strike me as plenty Italian, such as short rib ravioli with fiore di sardo, kohlrabi and thyme; branzino "saltimbocca" with cippolini onion, savoy cabbage, prosciutto and sage; guinea hen "finochietti" consisting of an organic breast, liver, thigh and wing of guinea hen with smoked fennel, tagiasca olives and lemon; and others.

“I don't take any particular position on the three dishes you ask about, except to observe that they don't strike me as all that Italian -- or all that anything, really.” That was exactly my point.

What is “cippolini onion”? And what exactly makes “branzino saltimbocca” Italian?

You’re kidding me… smoked fennel and Tagiasca olives is “plenty Italian?” From which part of Italy?

BISTECCA FIORENTINA (for two) 78.

26 oz. grass-fed Piedmontese t-bone steak. Anything wrong here? Didn’t realize that Bistecca Fiorentina was from Piedmontese steak? Also didn’t realize that steak from Piemonte came to the US, but perhaps it does. Does it?

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I don't take any particular position on the three dishes you ask about, except to observe that they don't strike me as all that Italian -- or all that anything, really.

That was exactly my point.

I guess it's not clear to me what this "point" adds to the discussion. I believe I wrote some time ago in this thread that most culinary traditions when "elevated" to a certain level of haute abstraction don't seem particularly rooted to an actual national cooking. The only reason we call today's haute cuisine "French" is because the French were the first and strongest to go in this direction.

What is  “cippolini onion”? And what exactly makes “branzino saltimbocca” Italian?

You’re kidding me… smoked fennel and Tagiasca olives is “plenty Italian?” From which part of Italy?

This seems pretty simple to understand, and I can't believe you actually don't understand it, but I will humor you nevertheless:

- "cippolini onion" is simply an unfortunate and not uncommon spelling of cipollini, which, as I imagine you know, is the diminutive of cipolla (onion), therefore meaning "small onion." In the United States, this designation is generally applied to the small, flat onions which are popular in Italy.

- What's not "Italian" about branzino saltimbocca? I've had plenty of "saltimbocca" dishes in Italy that were not made with veal (usually with turkey or chicken). What's "not Italian" about branzino (presumably) folded around prosciutto with onion, cabbage and sage? This seems clearly evocative of the "saltimbocca" meme.

- Again, what's "not Italian" about smoked fennel? You mean to tell me that fennel-loving Italians never thought to put fennel on the grill and cook them off with a smoky flavor? I think you must be kidding me.

- The taggiasca olive is an Italian cultivar from Liguria, I believe. So, what exactly is "not Italian" about these olives? Or are you saying that they would never be combined with guinea fowl and smoky fennel in Italy? Really?!

BISTECCA FIORENTINA (for two) 78.

26 oz. grass-fed Piedmontese t-bone steak. Anything wrong here? Didn’t realize that Bistecca Fiorentina was from Piedmontese steak? Also didn’t realize that steak from Piemonte came to the US, but perhaps it does. Does it?

The provenance of the steak is not of crucial importance in "allowing" them to call the steak "bistecca fiorentina." Do you suppose that 100% of the places selling bistecca alla fiorentina in Firenze itself are using Chianina beef from Toscana? Perhaps there is some kind of Italian government regulation to this effect? Regardless, their preparation seems faithful enough to the original that it's certainly not un-Italian. Would it please you more if their menu said "bistecca 'alla fiorentina' style"? Would that make it any more or less "Italian food"?


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