Sunday, September 11, 2011
I Do Give A Damn How They Do It In Western NY
Note: For years, Southern truck stops sold t-shirts and ball caps with the slogan, "I don't give a damn how ya'll do it up North," a not-to-subtle dig directed to the hordes of tourists that descend like locusts on the state of Florida every winter. I must say that, in spite of a sympathy to these blue-collar thoughts, my ventures north of the Mason-Dixon have been illuminating. Below are my reactions to a heavenly Italian restaurant "up North."
Traveling clarifies ones view of home. Tasting the Italian food of numerous locally-owned Italian restaurants in western New York State (Rochester, to be exact) has awakened my sense of what a fine Italian meal is supposed to taste like and what I should expect from Gainesville's Italian restaurants. Our meal the other night at Mr. Dominic's on the Lake, near the shore of Lake Ontario in Charlotte NY, was like being kissed by the Mona Lisa herself.
With this post I have pictured my order that night: Pasta Josephine, a dish fragrant with mussels, scallops, and shrimp finished with garlic, seasonings and olive oil. What aroma and what taste! The flavors were harmonic and wed to each other.
The ambiance of the restaurant further amplified the perfection of the food. We were seated by the kitchen door (not always the best place to sit). I had a 3/4 view of the whole kitchen in action. Three line chefs were preparing dishes in slick, glistening skillets into which they were spooning marinara sauce, sun dried tomatoes, garlic etc over veal, chicken, and seafood. With a twist of the skillet each concoction slid out onto a china plate of steaming pasta. A steady progression of waitresses delivered these fragrant dishes to hungry clientele. Every plate went right by our table and the aromas were unforgettable. The only thing missing was a snowfall outside.
Always packed, the Italian-American aura of Mr. Dominic's was pervasive, the real McCoy. We felt like we were seated at the head of the table of the proverbial "Nonna's kitchen." Autographed photos of the owner's famous friends filled the walls. The room and staff embraced us with everything Italian.
What does this have to with food in Florida? Gainesville Italian restaurants overlook one quality of Italian food: love. The sense of family and community that is typical at Mr. Dominic's is missing from Italian dining options in Gainesville. Instead, this robust cuisine is treated as an elitist dining experience, not a robust, embracing one.
Albeit, that trend is waning and some are doing it well. Satchel's and Pomodora's, come to mind as "guardians of the love" in restaurant service and preparation. Others can learn from them and these New York purveyors of Italian food.
My advice is to "stop and smell the garlic" and create a restaurant experience that better reflects the true nature of Italian cuisine. Skip the elitist pretenses. Serve Italian dishes worthy of a Nonna's kitchen rather than a "nose in the air" substitute for the real thing.
Leave the snootiness to the French. They do it better.
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