Italian Lessons

Above: the upstairs bar at Accademia di [sic] Vino. “Talk to my agent before you take another one,” snapped the bartender after I snapped this pic. “Don’t quit your day job,” I thought to myself.

It is my steadfast conviction that food and wine professionals have a responsibility to divulge and disseminate correct information. Just as practitioners of medicine take the Hippocratic oath, practitioners of the culinary arts enter into a social contract with restaurant-goers, a Gastereic vow, if you will, whereby they swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth (to borrow from Brillat-Savarin’s tenth muse, Gasterea).*

And while none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes (myself included), egregious transgressions of this unspoken pact are committed freely on a nearly daily basis by insouciant restaurant owners, chefs, sommeliers, maîtres d’hotel, and waiters.

The Accademia di [sic] Vino in Manhattan seems to bill itself as a would-be “Italian Wine Academy” (at least that’s what I’ve read in The New York Times. I can’t seem to find the academy’s website). Evidently, they offer wine classes and seminars there and the space itself is dressed as a classroom: the walls of this beautiful restaurant are adorned with wine-related images and their Italian translations and there are chalkboards in the bar and the dining rooms with explanations of the Italian appellation laws etc.

There’s only one problem (two, actually): the name of the restaurant. In Italian you don’t write/say “accademia di vino.” You correctly write/say “accademia del vino.”

And it gets worse. Last night, when I sat down for a glass of wine with a colleague in the downstairs bar, I was handed a wine list that read: “vini a bicchiere.” I hate to be a stickler but… in Italian you correctly write/say “vini al bicchiere” (“wines by the glass”).**

It reminds me of a joke from the 1999 parodic mafia movie, Mickey Blue Eyes, where Hugh Grant’s character points out to his fiancée that her father’s restaurant is called “The La Trattoria,” or “The the trattoria.”

Although our hosts were exceedingly gracious (and the overwhelmingly gorgeous space was jam-packed with patrons), I’m sorry to report that the diced prosciutto on our grilled, “seasonal” pumpkin pizza was so hard I thought I was biting into stone.

The wines-by-the-glass list offered a wide range of price points and I had a glass of Inzolia by Valle dell’Acate and my friend a glass of Pinot Bianco by Hofstätter and the pours were generous, I must say.

The Accademia had been on my list of new places to try for a while. But when I got off the 6 train at Hunter College and walked down to 3rd Ave. and 64th St., I just couldn’t believe my eyes when my gaze fell upon the restaurant’s marquee: ACCADEMIA DI VINO.

Ask me “what’s in a name?” and I will tell you that a “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”***

But “Accademia di Vino”? Give me a break.


* Brillat-Savarin’s “tenth muse,” Gasterea, first appeared in 1825 with the publication of his Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante (The Physiology of Taste; Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy):

“Gasterea is the Tenth Muse; the delights of taste are her domain.

The whole world would be hers if she wishes to claim it; for the world is nothing without life, and all that lives takes nourishment.

Her chief delight is to linger on hillsides where the vine grows, or the fragrant orange-tree in groves where the truffle comes to perfection, and in regions abounding in game and fruit.

When she deigns to show herself, she appears in the guise of a young girl; round her waist is a flame-coloured girdle; her hair is black, her eyes sky-blue, and her figure full of grace; as beautiful as Venus, she is also extremely pretty.

She rarely shows herself to mortals.”

Brillat-Savarin, Jean-Anthelme, The Physiology of Taste, translated by Anne Drayton, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, Penguin, 1994 (1970), p. 287.

** del and al are articulated prepositions, di + il and a + il, respectively. The usage of articulated prepositions is always tough for students of Italian (I remember well from my days teaching Italian language at UCLA). In many cases, usage is idiomatic. In the instances cited above, however, the definite article is necessary because the terms vino and bicchiere refer to wine and stemware as general concepts.

*** Gertrude Stein, Sacred Emily, 1913.

One thought on “Italian Lessons

  1. isn’t that hard to find… ;-)

    Knowing the owners there, trust me, the name wasn’t picked at random – first off there’s already an “Accademia del Vino”, so the name was taken, and second, it was an intentional play on words – di vino – divino… believe me, they all speak fluent Italian and knew what they were doing. There’s also no school, classes, courses, and that isn’t part of the theme, it’s just a fun approach to the design of the space and menu.

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