As I stuffed myself silly a few weeks ago at my friend Jeff Berlin’s new Georgian restaurant in Sebastopol, California, I couldn’t help but remember a restaurant that opened in 1998 in New York called Bondì.
At the time, faux “northern Italian” cuisine was still the benchmark for fine Italian cookery in the U.S.
The menu at Bondì was a breakthrough because it was being hailed as “authentic Sicilian food.” In other words, even though “Southern Italian” — aka Sicilian or Neapolitan — was passé, this was something brilliantly new and deliciously old at the same time.
And perhaps even more important to some big city dwellers at the time (including this lapsed New Yorker) was the fact that Bondì was serving “authentic” Sicilian wines and “native” Sicilian grape varieties.
Some here are old enough to remember that the late 1990s wave of the “new/old” Italian gastronomy was preceded by a new wave of Italian wine that focused on — excuse the pleonastic — the authentic and the native.
As I filled up on walnut paste appetizers at Piala, which is named after the traditional eastern drinking cup, I thought to myself, could Georgian cuisine be the new Italian of the up-and-coming generation?
I was blown away by how good the food was at Piala.
But I was even more impressed by Jeff’s attention to detail in recreating his cherished experiences in situ — the fruit of his many visits to Georgian wine country.
His maniacal passion reminded me of a few brave restaurateurs who courageously journeyed beyond the ne plus ultra of culinary complacency in the late 1990s in New York and California.
In retrospect, those italophilic entrepreneurs were on the cutting edge of a movement that would reshape the way citizens of the U.S. and the world would dine. They transformed an “ethnic” cuisine (ooooooo! how I despise that term!) into a world cuisine. And they had a “new” wine to lead them.
Just like a pseudo-Georgian I know in a sleepy wine country town on the west coast.
I highly recommend it.