Sicily native Piero Selvaggio, a man known for his consummate hospitality, celebrated the 40th anniversary of his landmark Italian restaurant, Valentino, on November 14. He included colleagues old and new in the blowout 40-dish feast, including fellow Sicilian Celestino Drago, current executive chef Nico Chessa, and former chef Steve Samson, now the co-chef/co-owner of Sotto. Selvaggio billed the event as featuring “40 small bites,” but revelers received much more as longtime patrons, plus chefs and restaurateurs like Wolfgang Puck and Akasha Richmond, paid tribute to a local legend deep into the night.
A DNA-like helix of balloons greeted guests at Valentino’s 40th anniversary dinner.
Piero Selvaggio invited good friend Celestino Drago to cook, along with current Valentino chef Nico Chessa and former chef Steve Samson, who’s now Sotto’s co-owner.
On each table, Piero Selvaggio placed a bottle of his favorite olive oil, Mastridi San Basilio Riserva, along with flatbread and sliced bread.
Valentino did offer guests the option to pair a different wine with each of the 40 bites, but we opted for one glass of white (floral Cantina Dorgiali), and one glass of red.
Appetizers included Sardinian octopus spiedino and a Sicilian eggplant involtini and crostini of burrata and sea urchin.
Appetizers included sheets of Sicilian chickpea panelle and double decker focaccia filled with tomato and onions.
Valentino served two dishes from Sicily: grilled seppie (cuttlefish) in its ink with orange zest and fennel pollen; and Maccu, a traditional fava bean purée.
Sardinian Frittelle di Cervellini (calf’s brain fritters), served on a sliced oyster mushroom, joined a coup touting baby clams and fregola in saffron broth.
A Sardinian spoonful of sea urchin and bottarga, pistachio and couscous-stuffed calamari rings joined guanciale and salume.
The Sardinian pasta trio included gnocchetti with a homemade sausage called purpuzza; busa with tomato and Pecorino; and punzu with crab sugo.
The Sicilian paste course consisted of risotto bombe with sea urchin and orange zest; Norma with eggplant, aged ricotta and pachino tomato; and Mauro Vincenti’s pasta alla trapanese.
Sicilian lamb belly joined a stuffed tomato and veal sweetbread roll.
Sardinian meats consisted of agnello (lamb) in umido al finochietto e mirto, and maialino (baby suckling pig) al forno.
The meal started to wind down with a mix of Sardinian and Sicilian cheeses, many of them sharp, served with honey, marmalade and dried apricots.
Valentino’s 40th Anniversary blowout dessert sampler included cannolicchi, gelo di mellone (melon jelly) and turta de icos (fig cake).
The anniversary meal concluded with nougat and marzipan from Selvaggio’s favorite Sicilian bakery.
Note: Valentino hosted me as their guest for the 40th anniversary dinner.