“Authentic” is a hot button word that’s been known to inspire debate among food purists, but that didn’t stop The Italian Trade Commission and Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West from hand picking six L.A. restaurants they think represent “Authentic Italian Food.” As a result, from June 5-20, Drago, Caffe Roma, Il Grano, Il Moro, Locanda del Lago and Valentino will run special prix fixe menus designed to teach Angelenos to “learn to speak Italian, one bite at a time.” To kick off the promotion, The Italian Trade Commission, IACCW and Italian Consul General Nicola Faganello hosted a luncheon at the Verandah Room at Peninsula Beverly Hills, previewing the two weeks to come.
Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West executive director Letizia Miccoli introduced the event, saying the goal of the promotion is to “communicate to American customers the high quality of the Italian product, through food and wine pairing.” She then introduced Nicola Faganello, Consul General of Italy, who said, “Food is a crucial and important component of our culture and our identity…It’s also a big part of our economy.” Those factors motivated the two-week celebration.
Il Grano chef-owner Sal Marino said, “Just like art, architecture and fashion, food has a progression as well.” He pointed out that Italian food is “a lot more than pizza, spaghetti and panini.” Given that, one of the dishes that will appear on his “Authentic Italian Food” menu will be Pannacotta alle Fave con Insalata di Granchio, Fave, Piselli ed Asparagi – Fava pannacotta, Dungeness Crab, English peas, favas and Sacramento Delta asparagus. The suggested wine pairing is Rami Sicilia 2007, Azienda Agricola COS.
Caffe Roma Manager Emilio Marchione said that chef Agostino Sciandri demonstrated “freshness and simplicity” with his Polipo e patate – Grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes. The suggested wine pairing is Vermentino Bolgheri Tenuta Guado al Tasso, made by a 26th generation Italian winemaker.
Drago chef-owner Celestino Drago made a “traditional southern Italian pasta” using water, flour, salt and saffron for color. The cherry tomatoes are from Sicily. The dish is called Cecaluccoli con pomodorini di Salina, melanzane e pecorino, which translates to homemade pasta, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and Pecorino cheese. The suggested wine pairing is 2008 Schiava “Tenuta St. Peter” Alto Adige.
Locanda del Lago owner West Hooker said. “Chef shops at the Santa Monica farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday, but some of the ingredients have to come from [Italy], because they have a different flavor.” Locanda del Lago’s food represents Lombardy, near Lake Como (aka “Lake of Clooney”). The representative dish from Locanda del Lago’s “Authentic Italian Food” menu was Risotto al Gorgonzola “Dolce Latte” con Barbabietole Rosse e Gialle – Gorgonzola “Dolce Latte” Risotto with Market Red and Gold Beets. The suggested wine pairing is Bonarda “Carlino,” Castello di Luzzano, 2007.
Il Moro Chef Gianfranco Minuz made Filetto D’Agnello Farcito, filet of lamb rolled with spinach, baked tomatoes and olives, pan roasted and served with a potato cake and rapini. Minuz said, “It tastes of Italy…It’s not alchemy. There’s no sauce.” The suggested wine pairing is Zonin, Nero d’Avola 2008, Sicilia.
Valentino owner Piero Selvaggio opened his Santa Monica restaurant in 1972. Since then, “People discovered Italian food was graduated and stylish.” He added that we’re lucky to be in California, saying, “Italian chefs would die to have some of these products, and we are blessed to have it, so we have to apply it.” One of his restaurant’s contributions to the “Authentic Italian Food” menu is La Cassatina di Ricotta Siciliana con il Sorbetto di Fichi d’India – Sicilian Ricotta Cassata with Prickly Pear Sorbet. Selvaggio said, “The big secret of cassata is a perfect ricotta and a great marzipan.” They added prickly pear sorbet because “Everywhere you drive through Sicily you see prickly pear – Indian figs.”
Selvaggio is renowned for his wine list, and for the cassata, he suggested a “creamy, aromatic intense dessert wine,” Beni di Batasiolo, Bosc DLA REI Moscato d’Asti 2008.