Above: Marinated skate and escarole.
It was the night of two dinners.
I was the guest of my friend (and client) Tony from Houston, a restaurant maven and culinary legend in Texas. He’s been in the business since 1965 and he had asked me to join him and his wife Donna as they ate their way through New York City (if you work in or around the restaurant business, you know that restaurateurs and chefs often partake in such indulgences otherwise known as “research”).
An ante litteram gastronaut, Tony has been traveling to Italy since the 1970s and he and Donna are huge fans of Rome’s historic Antica Pesa, a restaurant opened the same year that Mussolini marched on the capital and took power from King Victor Emmanuel (it was also the year of Pasolini’s birth in Bologna).
Above: Manager/partner Gabriele Guidoni’s mother is from Vicenza and his father from Rome. This dish was a fusion of baccalà alla vicentina — gently stewed salt cod — and classic Roman semolina gnocchi. Not very photogenic but one of the top dishes of my week in NYC.
Last year, it found its way into the tabloids as the backdrop for some of Madonna’s lavish parties. But as Tony pointed out, he became a fan long before Madonna ever knew it existed.
A U.S. outpost of Antica Pesa opened a few months ago in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and it was at the top of the list of Tony’s places to check out.
Above: This version of pasta e fagioli, which I liked very much, was reminiscent of a style found in the Veneto, where tomatoes are omitted.
Not every dish wowed me but I’ve posted photos of my favorites here. Some were outstanding (like the baccalà alla [vicentina] romana).
Predictably, the wine list was Super Tuscan- and modern-Langa-heavy. Manager/partner Gabriele told me that he’s launching an entirely new list soon and I wonder if it will try to cater to a clientele beyond the Ornellaia crowd.
I was impressed however with the restraint and balance of the 2008 Barolo Brunate by Elio Altare. Not really my cup of tea but drinkable nonetheless and an expression of the new generation of misguided Langa progressivists who are beginning to see the light of a world without oakiness, excessive concentration, and high alcohol.
The best part of the evening was watching Gabriele and Tony banter about cooking techniques and favorite dishes.
Above: This classic expression of spaghetti cacio e pepe, however simple, was as close to perfection as you can get. If l’Antica Pesa had a better wine list, I would go back just for this. According to the tabloids, Madonna “adores” the version served at the restaurant in Rome. Who would have ever thought that she and I have something in common? (For the record, I adore her music.)
I couldn’t resist prodding Gabriele to give me a nugget about Madonna.
Recently, he told me, she tasted the 2002 Barolo Dagromis by Gaja over dinner at the restaurant in Rome. The next day, he said, he received a 6 a.m. call from her staff, pleading that he procure and send a case of the wine to her right away. A frantic series of calls to the Gaja winery in Barbaresco followed and by midday, the wine had been shipped.
Where did it go?
You can imagine a concierge’s horreur when Italian wine arrived at the gate.
O, and, where was the second dinner of the night, you ask?
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