Food, memory, and magic: calf’s tongue with Marsala and porcini jus

recipe braised tongue italian styleIt’s been more than three years now that I’ve worked with Houston restaurateur Tony Vallone (I’m the media director for his restaurant group).

Tony is one of the most extraordinary and intriguing culinary figures that I’ve ever known and I cherish our friendship immensely.

He began cooking Italian food here in 1965 when he famously had to buy his calamari at bait shops because they were the only place he could get them.

It was the time before FedEx could deliver burrata from Puglia to your doorstep overnight.

Today, his flagship restaurant Tony’s remains one of the top dining destinations in a city where the food scene has literally exploded over the last five years.

And it’s the number-one venue for the competitive-dining oil and gas crowd.

But beyond the A-5 grade kobe, the Alba truffles, the foie gras torchon, and the caviar, Tony always includes a more humble dish or two from his childhood on the menu.

When he and I met this week for a weekly kibitz, he had me taste his lingua napoletana (above), which he plated atop a bed of wilted spinach and topped with a Marsala and porcini jus.

He talked about how his grandmother taught him how to clean calf’s tongue and the different ways she would prepare it.

We talked about the role that tongue plays in Italian and eastern European cookery traditions.

And as we tasted it together, it was as if, perhaps through osmosis, I were sharing a memory of his youth.

It was a truly remarkable and magically delicious experience.

Food and its ability to evoke memory are so powerful. As we continued to chat that day I couldn’t stop thinking about the nature of gastronomic narrative in the post-post modern era.

A dish, like a poem or a novella, is a text, a gathering of threads that when woven together transcend their individual meaning.

Tony’s lingua has many, many stories to tell…

Thanks for reading. Buon weekend a tutti!

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