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Osterie d'Italia by Slow Food


Craig Camp
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The trouble with you Steve is you only want to live in the Temples of High Cuisine. In that case stay with the guides you mention. I love Italian cuisine from top to bottom – from the panini and beer at the local bar to 4 hour meals at Il Pescatore drinking Gravner. All of these things combine to make a cuisine.

It is not hard to find a guide to lead you to the Temples. It is hard to find the small, interesting places, often in the country or small towns, where chefs make very personal statements with the best of their local ingredients. Many of these chefs have no interest in capturing a Michelin star.

...and to think I got chastised for criticising SP!!! (note I use Steve's initials as I just cannot come to terms with the spelling of his name and I then get accused of misspelling it intentionally!).

I was away skiing when this argument was going on. I don't really have much to contribute that I haven't said many times before BUT I do have an observation:

First of all I did ask on this site (and others) for help on good restaurants/trattorias on the road from Torino to the French border at Montgenevre as I was travelling this road to Serre Chevalier. Lo and behold I got NO response whatsoever (I did get a nice apology from Craig). Now can you imagine if I had asked for Rome? There's a point to this but I'm not sure what.

However I DID look at Michelin (actually they have a great site at viamichelin whereby you can pick an address anywhere in Europe and Michelin gives you a map which you can enlarge or reduce as you wish. Then you ask for restaurants and Michelin gives you all kind of options (3 star only, 2 and 3 stars only etc etc) plus the option to get restaurants within x mile radius of your target, which was great for me as I hit Susa (half-way) and asked for a 30 mile radius.

Bottom line: I did get a one-star. The Croce Bianca in Cessina Torinese. We duly went there for lunch on our arrival and it was very good indeed. The concentration was on pasta with truffles and was wonderful. Price for 3 for 4 courses and some wine was 98 Euros which was great value. A good experience.

Now, I've mentioned before the Pumkino technique for getting good Italian restaurants which was shouted down by the same Mr SP, and that is simply 'asking the locals'. Maybe SP cannot come to terms with this as, being American, he would get Ponderossa and Olive Garden if he asked at a bus queque for good restaurant in the area but, nonetheless, the Italians have never steered me wrong in this regard. This time they recommended a restaurant in, would you believe, Cessana Torinese! I did notice driving up to Cessana a small sign stating La Selvaggia on the left when I first went there. Now on my return I went through the town coming the other way and took the right turn up to Frazione Mollieres to La Selvaggio (phone: 0122 89290).

After about a five minute drive in the middle of nowhere we came to a rustic restaurant which was packed. I asked for Luciano, the boss, who shepherded us to a table. There was no menu and the food just came and came and came. 7 appetisers, 3 wonderfully different pasta courses (SP has referred to this pasta course condescengly), , main course, dessert, coffee and a large bottle of Grappa left on the table for us to help ourselves to (and left off the bill). The atmosphere was great, very local, and the Patron was in great form taking the mickey and generally contributing to the bon homie. The price was 128 Euros but we ate and drank a lot more than at Croce Bianca - however there was not a truffle in sight!

Which was best? Difficult to say. Certainly the ambiente at La Selvaggia was great, the food was casa lingua, and we had a great time. The Croce Bianca was more 'serious' and the place was half-empty. But the food was excellent (especially the pasta with truffles).

So there you have it. Two restaurants in the same area. One found using Michelin, the other found using the Pumkino technique. Both truly excellent in totally different way.

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Good try Peter. The problem is that Craig said this;

[it is hard to find the small, interesting places, often in the country or small towns, where chefs make very personal statements with the best of their local ingredients.

But instead of talking about finding an "interesting" restaurant, you shifted the pea and talk about finding a rustic, home-type restaurant. And you tried to make fun of me to boot but I caught you.

You see, I never said you couldn't find good and delicious restaurants in Italy. I'm the first person to say that the country is loaded with many places to sample excellent home style cooking. But it's on the interesting level where they have failed over the years in comparison to other countries.

At least now that seems to be changing. If you read Vmilor's post about eating in Northen Italy, he writes about a number of places that seem to be cooking interesting food. But he also seems to disagree with Craig that it isn't found in the small, simple places that Craig has touted. But yet, in temples of high cuisine.

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you shifted the pea and talk about finding a rustic, home-type restaurant. And you tried to make fun of me to boot but I caught you.

I don't think so.

I don't find it too hard finding interesting places (rustic or whatever) by using the Pumkino Technique (which you scorned in a previous post) and I think I have demonstrated both methods with this post. What is your point?

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I don't find it too hard finding interesting places (rustic or whatever) by using the Pumpkino Technique (which you scorned in a previous post) and I think I have demonstrated both methods with this post. What is your point?

The point is that rustic cooking is not creative cooking. It's home style cooking. Craig's quote was about interesting cooking. You have conflated the two categories.

Like I said, there is no shortage of delicious home style cooking in Italy. Whether found the Pumpkino way or otherwise. But there is a dearth of interesting cooking that is successful, interesting meaning inventive and contemporary. Not rustic and home-style.

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interesting meaning inventive and contemporary. Not rustic and home-style.

That's what interesting means to you and to those who think as you do, Steve. Many people find rustic, traditional, homestyle cooking to be very interesting indeed. Some people find both to be interesting. It's that kind of word.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Deja Vu. I have a strange sense I have been trapped in this thread before.

Anyway, I see three important types of Italian restaurants:

1. Wonderful, rustic places making an excellent version of home cooking. I love these places and go as often as I can. Peter's La Selvaggio sounds like a top version of this kind of restaurant and I would be happy to eat there anytime.

2. The new wave of 'Osteria' and 'Trattoria' as showcased in the Slow Food Osterie guide. The food at these restaurants is not glorified home cooking, but creative cooking featuring local ingredients prepared at a very high level of technique. Usually run by chef/owners these are very personal places and are not rustic but have a unique warmth. These are usually my favorite restaurants in Italy as you eat a distinctly Italian cuisine that is prepared with elevated technique and creativity. These restaurants are improved, not diluted by an international perspective and experiences. The Osteria dell’Arancio in Grottammare I described above would be a perfect example of this type.

3. The fine dining scene which has been well described above by vmilor both in his reviews and in his insightful analysis of that scene in Italy today.vimilor Best restaurants in Northern Italy I would agree with him that this area is heavily influenced by France - and why not, so are restaurants in the rest of the world. However, I do not find that the well deserved respect that is given to the cuisine of France somehow has to demean the cuisine of other cultures. These 'high cuisine' restaurants are often spectacular and is growing and improving as a category in Italy. There is a lot of energy at this level and there is no doubt it is of international inspiration - sometimes to a fault in my opinion. Unfortunately at this level there are a lot of expensive disappointments like Steve's visit to Aimo & Nadia. Steve's review of Aimo e Nadia On the other hand there are many incredible places proudly flashing their Michelin stars like Peter's Croce Bianca in Cessina Torinese and one of my favorite La Peca in Veneto who are making exciting and energetic interpretations of Italian cuisine.

It is because Italy if full of restaurants on all three level that it is such an interesting place to eat. Where else can you get three distinct interpretations of the same cuisine - all prepared with a very high level of skill and using such spectacular ingredients? What more could a food junkie want?

I will admit a deep love of cuisine that some would claim to be rustic. I like to feel like I am touching the culture I am in when I look at my plate. I do not want to have to check what language is being spoken to know where I am eating.

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That's what interesting means to you and to those who think as you do, Steve. Many people find rustic, traditional, homestyle cooking to be very interesting indeed. Some people find both to be interesting. It's that kind of word.

This Robert, is what Vedat called a false statement.

In the context of discussing fine dining, which is exactly the context Craig laid out, to say that homestyle cooking is "interesting," is similar to saying that it is legitimate to describe the the type of naive oil painting my grandmother did as interesting when the context of the discussion was French Impressionist painters that are worthy of hanging in the Musee d'Orsay. Please afford those chefs who are talented enough to cook creatively the honor of having language that adequately describes their accomplishment, and isn't diluted by the fact that your personal standards for what is interesting, are outside the box of how the culinary world uses that term. Whether it is Spaghetti and meatballs or the worlds greatest bowl of Penne with freshly shaved Pecorino and Cheese, you can describe those dishes in many ways including fantastically delicious. But one thing they aren't is interesting.

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...the worlds greatest bowl of Penne with freshly shaved Pecorino and Cheese, you can describe those dishes in many ways including fantastically delicious. But one thing they aren't is interesting.

Yes it is. It interests me. Please give me the address!

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I am unaware that this is the context that Craig has laid out. My impression is the opposite. Please correct me, if you wish, with specific information demonstrating that Craig's intended context is exclusively fine dining as you have promulgated the use of that term on these boards.

I agree that context is important. I'm sure your grandmother made nice pictures, and I agree, without having seen them, that it is highly likely she was no Berthe Morisot. I respect your grandmother and I respect Berthe Morisot. I'll bet a horse that the work of both had their respective interest, as do chefs of similarly varying approach (unless, of course, your grandmother was just a bad artist, in which case I'll have to choose another comparison). I am sorry to say that it is you, not I, who have wrestled a paucity of terms into contortionate conformation with your own culinary worldview. To say that the culinary world only uses the word "interesting", or "better", to mention another favorite of yours, to describe only the cuisine about which you care the most, is a position that is simply untenable by the standards of fundamental reason, let alone any standard more "complex" than that.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Different use of the word "interesting."

That's an interesting take on interesting.

When a chef finds or makes fantastic artisan penne with a unique texture and a nuanced nutty flavor that teases your palate to find a description and tops that with a small farm producer Pecorino that has flavors that literally sing - Not only do I find that interesting I am very interested in eating it.

I takes a great chef to realize when to stop adding ingredients and layering on more technique just because he or she has them.

This ability to see when simplicity is the highest honor you can pay to the food is a talent and discipline held by few.

naive oil painting my grandmother did as interesting when the context of the discussion was French Impressionist painters that are worthy of hanging in the Musee d'Orsay. Please afford those chefs who are talented enough to cook creatively the honor of having language that adequately describes their accomplishment

Simplicity does not equal naive. Please afford those chefs who are talented enough enough to cook creatively and with restraint and a respect for their own cuisine the honor of having a language that adequately describes their accomplishment.

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All things I didn't say.

I have not said that a chef can't have an "interesting" take on a penne dish, I have said that the type of rustic restaurant Peter described should not be described as "interesting" in the context of your original quote, or the way Italian food is generally discussed between people who are interested in fine dining. Babbo and Lupa are examples of interesting restaurants because they push the envelope both on ingredients and preparation. Valentino is not interesting no matter how sublime it might be. To say it is interesting because it interesting to you is an incorrect use of the term.

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All things I didn't say.

I have not said that a chef can't have an "interesting" take on a penne dish, I have said that the type of rustic restaurant Peter described should not be described as "interesting" in the context of your original quote, or the way Italian food is generally discussed between people who are interested in fine dining. Babbo and Lupa are examples of interesting restaurants because they push the envelope both on ingredients and preparation. Valentino is not interesting no matter how sublime it might be. To say it is interesting because it interesting to you  is an incorrect use of the term.

Interesting point.

I absolutely agree with you on Babbo and Lupa. It is the pushing for excellence that makes food interesting. A restaurant like Valentino is not interesting because it believes it has reached excellence and stops pushing.

My point would be that there are chefs reaching for excellence at all three levels of Italian restaurants I listed above. As they all have the potential to 'push the envelope' they are all potentially 'interesting'. I would also argue that you can 'push the envelope' within the traditions of your own cuisine.

As such, the penne con pecorino that you mention has the potential to be as interesting (or not interesting) as the coffee pasta with sea urchin mentioned by vmilor.

This is all very interesting and I hope that you are interested in continuing this discussion.

Edited by Craig Camp (log)
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I absolutely agree with you on Babbo and Lupa. It is the pushing for excellence that makes food interesting. A restaurant like Valentino is not interesting because it believes it has reached excellence and stops pushing.

No it's not excellence, it's creativity. Pasta with sea urchin is interesting. It might not taste good, but it is certainly interesting. But if they served it in every tratorria in Italy, then it would stop being interesting. Unless, someone had an interesting version of it.

Could he say "I find it interesting"?

Well yes, but then all the other PHD's in the room better find it at least the slightest bit interesting or else he would lose credibility in their eyes. :cool:

As I've said before, there is a worldwide dialogue about food and cooking that is going on constantly. These terms have specific meanings to people who are interact with the system on a regular basis. There is a generally held understanding of what interesting is. And it extends to all levels of cooking. In fact you can even have interesting home style cooking. But from my experience, it is not reasonable or valid to say that the rustic tratorria type of cooking that Peter described would qualify. And that was the only statement being vetted. Not every statement about Italian food that was ever made.

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These terms have specific meanings to people who are interact with the system on a regular basis
Sounds like some sort of private club. Is it anything like the Mason's? Do they have cool hats?
Not every statement about Italian food that was ever made.

Good we've narrowed the debate down.

In fact you can even have interesting home style cooking. But from my experience, it is not reasonable or valid to say that the rustic trattoria type of cooking that Peter described would qualify

If you can have 'interesting home style cooking' and trattoria cooking is, as described by you, 'home style cooking', then why can't trattoria cooking be interesting?

That is my Peter's point, Robert's point and mine. Rustic food (home style cooking by your own definition) is interesting.

Edited by Craig Camp (log)
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If you can have 'interesting home style cooking' and trattoria cooking is, as described by you, 'home style cooking', then why can't trattoria cooking be interesting?

The more you try and stretch that point the less credible you sound.

My original statement was that it is wrong to describe the the type of rustic home-style cooking that Peter described as "interesting." Of course, people who are endeared with Italian cuisine just can't bear to hear that statement being made. So they need to contort every possible use of the word to show examples where interesting might apply. That has nothing to do with the statement I made which I believe is fair and reasonable. In general, Italian tratorria cooking is in the same category as traditional French bistro cooking, kosher deli, fish & chips, paella, etc. Delicious but not very interesting when being compared to contemporary cuisine.

Edited by Steve Plotnicki (log)
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I think that we need to make our arguments in detail and not try to rely on individual words to carry the freight of our meaning, especially highly subjective words like "interesting". I personally find great home style cooking to be very interesting and I'm interested in understanding the techniques required to achieve it and I'm also just interested in appreciating it in general. I find a soulless dish to be uninteresting regardless of how much complexity and creativity was involved in making it. I am unwilling to concede that there are categorical a priori judgments re attributions of interesting that inherently exists outside of my own view. One could take a poll and then attribute a particular view to a preponderance of that group, and I might well turn out to be in the minority, but in general, I wouldn't assume the result until it was measured. I am unwilling to accept that one individual can reach a personal conclusion on this question and then assert is as general truth.

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Aha, the subjective versus the objective interesting.

Well how about all of the guide books then? Do you think that Michelin, Gambero Rosso, Gault Millau etc. have a pretty similar view of what "interesting" means? I do. I find a unbelieveably thick thread running through all of them on this point. And one thing I think they agree on, is that home style cooking is great. But it is wrong to describe it as interesting. Unless of course, someone does something interesting with one of the recipes :cool:.

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I don't mind mildly pointless debates, but this is completely pointless. That certain guide books find home-cooking uninteresting does not imply that no-one is interested in it. That someone is interested in it does not imply that anyone else should be. There is not a right answer to whether anything is interesting or not. The word "interesting" just doesn't work like that in the English language.

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This has certainly been an "interesting" discussion, however, it has really bogged down into a question of semantics. IMO food may be "interesting" on several levels - intellectual, visual and gustatory. I find a dish may be "interesting" because of the concepts and techniques used to create it. It may or may not taste good. The appearance of food on a plate may also be interesting (e.g. "tall" food before it became a cliche). Once again, it may or may not taste good. Finally, a dish that makes my mouth sing is always "interestin", whether or not it incorporates novel technique or looks particularly amazing.

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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My original statement was that it is wrong to describe the the type of rustic home-style cooking that Peter described as "interesting." Of course, people who are endeared with Italian cuisine just can't bear to hear that statement being made. So they need to contort every possible use of the word to show examples where interesting might apply.

Gee, how can anybody argue with that.

If you can have 'interesting home style cooking' and trattoria cooking is, as described by you, 'home style cooking', then why can't trattoria cooking be interesting?

Just as a small point you are the one making the argument that trattoria cooking is only 'home style cooking' and it is your point that I quote "you can have interesting home style cooking". Apparently my argument is not interesting enough because now you are debating with yourself. Aha!

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Steve -- I don't think that these guidebooks measure "interesting" so I don't quite understand your reference. They do attempt to measure food quality, but that is a whole other discussion. Michelin in particular provides essentially no explanation or justification for their ratings.

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