February 14th, 2008

Is it just me, or does Italian food seem almost quintessentially American? Spaghetti and meatballs slips off my tongue just like apple pie. It is a model “melting pot” example, at the very least. So it was kind of an affront when I found myself, last week, in a restaurant, being told by a man with a thick accent about how the food he was serving my sister and me was definitively authentic Italian. Something about simplicity of ingredients, I think. Who knows. He also took the liberty of laughing at the way I ordered my salmon. His restaurant being exotic and ethnic and having a menu printed in a foreign language, I was supposed to pronounce all the letters, including the completely superfluous e that was tacked onto the end. Salmone. So cocky, this guy, as if my sister and I didn’t know all about boiling pasta and dumping sauce on it. Stop reminding us that we’re paying for something we could do just as well at home, we thought, your cuisine has Americanized and you’d better hurry up and do the same.

But then the food came and it was good. Clean and simple, just like he said. We were eating off each other’s plates. We made them leave the plates so we could sop up the sauces with bread. Really exceptional food, and truly unlike anything that we had had before.

And so he came back, this time talking about how pasta should be served al dente only, the way it’s done in Italy. And this time we noticed what a handsome man he was. Foreign, exotic, knowledgeable. Oh, yes, we said, we think everything’s better when it’s a little stiff, tell us more. Converts! Go to A Bellagio for authentic Italian cuisine!

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