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Giorgio Armani's Opinion of Italian Food in USA

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"On Saturday night, I went to dinner at an Italian restaurant called Scarpetta with my niece Roberta and a small group of my close Italian friends. I liked the décor and the food was pretty good, but you know the service was a bit slow. I ate spaghetti con pomodoro and basilico — and, here, I must interject something for your benefit. Americans overcook their pasta. Always. And there’s too much sauce. Too much of everything! Please, try to control yourselves."

http://themoment.blogs.nytimes.com/20...

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  1. Oh I loved reading that. Many thanks for the link. And, He's absolutely right. Overcook macaroni, too much blah sauce and huge portions. I never order pasta and when it's presented as a side for whatever I do order I refuse it.

    I'd like to comment about the ordinary people he saw at the club but I won't.... and, he's right about that too.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Gio

      Scarpetta is very well reviewed, as well. It's not your run of the mill pasta joint. Three stars from Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Here's what Bruni had to say about the spaghetti con pomodoro and basilico, "...however Mr. Conant is choosing and cooking the Roma tomatoes with which he sauces his house-made spaghetti, he’s getting a roundness of flavor and nuance of sweetness that amount to pure Mediterranean bliss.

      And what he’s adding to the sauce — the aforementioned basil, along with a red-pepper-infused olive oil and Parmesan cheese — contribute measures of zip (just a little), saltiness (a little more) and smoothness (a lot) that are inarguably right. I had this dish twice, and twice it stacked up against any spaghetti al pomodoro I’ve had in Italy."

      Imagine what Mr Armani must think of lesser Italian restaurants in America.

      1. re: KTinNYC

        Curiously, that sauce as Bruni describes is very like the one I make all the time. Don't forget that Mr. Amani is a very slim, trim fashion icon. He dosesn't eat hearty like many Americans. Northern Italians don't like too much sauce on anything....

        1. re: KTinNYC

          It was quite a broad stroke in judgment, I agree. Though I would have to say that it is REALLY hard to get good Italian food in the US. If you're outside a big city, fuhgeddaboutit. Oversauced, overcooked, Americanized stuff. Out of 10 meals, only 1 stands out. The rest were disappointments.

      2. And he's dressed like Doug Henning!

        1. Why would someone who doesn't travel much to go NYC and then eat food from his native country? Reminds me of my relatives in Taiwan who go to Thailand and then eat Chinese food the whole time. They might know a lot about food from their native country, but I suspect their opinions are biased.

          6 Replies
          1. re: huaqiao

            I'm pretty certain Armani comes to NYC quite often. He keeps and apartment here and has a regular driver.

            1. re: KTinNYC

              My apologies for misreading the article. I mistook him saying he really disliked traveling to imply that he didn't travel much.

              I've never been to Scarpetta, so I don't know if he assessment is accurate. Is it really overcooked noodles in too much sauce served in portions that are too large? Or is he just transfering his preconceived notions of all Italian food in the US in general to the particular Italian restaurant he tried on his trip?

              I find when natives of a country judge that cuisine in another country, there's always a pinch of food nationalism involved, even in cases where it's not really warranted.

            2. re: huaqiao

              Why would someone who doesn't travel much to go NYC and then eat food from his native country?
              ************
              Maybe his dislike for other cuisine is the reason why he doesn't travel much. In this case, he's comparing Italian food here to Italian food to Italy. He's not comparing Chinese food in NYC to Italian food in Italy.

              1. re: Ericandblueboy

                Italians are notorious for being very fixed on their own cusine. My father hated Chinese food, French food and most other ethnic cusines. I would guess that Armani eats Italian food where ever he goes!

                1. re: roxlet

                  In his blog Armani says he will be eating French the next day.

                  1. re: KTinNYC

                    Yes, and I wonder what he would say about that! Too much sauce? Too creamy? Pasta overdone?

            3. I have to agree with M. Armani. He knows what he's talking about. Having met him once (and having loved his clothing for as long as I can remember), I couldn't disagree.

              That said, I'm American, and we serve things differently for ourselves than we do for guests. With guests, more authentic (al dente with a light dressing of sauce appropriate to the shape). For ourselves, we happen to prefer the pasta slightly less al dente and with 3 parts sauce to 1 part pasta. We're sauce fiends. Please don't tell anyone. :)

              1. Should be interesting when the new restaurant/bar opens in his store.

                1. The company I work for partnered with an Italian firm where a group of 20 stayed in the US for a year. A majority of them have the same view of US Italian cuisine - overcooked pasta, oversauced and too much garlic.

                  I can see their point of view. Many here in the US want that BAM of garlic, Bam of spice and Bam of everything!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: dave_c

                    On top of our (American) love of quantity, it should be remembered that what we know as Italian food is really a long, slow evolution of uniquely Italian-American foodways, in a process of change and adaptation to American contexts that's lasted a century at least. It wasn't that long ago that extra virgin olive oil, bresaola, speck, bottarga, mozzarella di bufala and the like were either unknown or unavailable here. Now, we paste an Italian product palate onto an American formulary that, except perhaps for some traditional home dishes that appear on both sides of the Atlantic, will never quite be what an urbane Italian (much less an Armani) expects in a restaurant.

                    1. re: bob96

                      Yes...I fully agree that Italian-American cuisine is an adaptation/evolution to what was available locally and the food has evolved into an "American cuisine".

                      I find it humorous that a national pizza chain (don't remember which) has a commercial using hidden cameras showing Italians (in Italy) enjoying their food.

                      Now... are they enjoying the food because it's American cuisine or true Italian cuisine? I lean towards the former. The diners are enjoying American food, but the implication by the pizza chain is they serve delicious Italian food to us in the US.

                      1. re: bob96

                        When the Italian immigrants came here, they found great abundance, unlike what they had at home (I'm writing mostly of those that came from poorer southern Italy). Abundance must have trumped the integrity of the traditions they had back home, and it was worked into their cooking to create Italo-American cuisine. I would say that most Italian restaurants here fall somewhere in the "authentic Italian" and "Italo-American" continuum. To be truly authentic, a restaurateur must fly in certain ingredients that cannot be obtained. Since Italian cuisine is highly regional and seasonal, it's hard to be authentic across the ocean.

                    2. One day, I came to the conclusion that you cannot reproduce Italian food in America. This was quite a relief. The approach to food is so location-specific, so ingredient-driven, so opinionated, so Italian. I would put money on the fact that we will never, ever have very many real Italians coming here to America and pronouncing their satisfaction with our version of their food.

                      So, if you are operating a restaurant in New York that is claiming to produce authentic Italian food, the pressure's on. You will have a Signore Armani coming in and the pasta is overcooked and oversauced and you will have to deal with that. But for the rest of us, we can breathe easy. We can learn from the great cuisine, but choose to tweak it whenever we wish. And everything is going to be just fine. For instance, I definately don't like my pasta overcooked, but I do like a little more sauce on my pasta. I guess it's just the American in me. I can't control myself. But when in Rome, I would gladly eat it as the Romans do.

                      1. In a related vein, Marcella Hazan was interviewed recently in the Boston Globe. An excerpt:

                        Q: What is the biggest mistake we still make in cooking Italian food?
                        A. Too much garlic! Too much ruins everything. We say in Italy that what you keep out is as important as what you put in.

                        http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/...

                        1. Fa i vestiti. Non è un esperto nell'alimento.

                          He makes clothes. He is not a food expert.

                          16 Replies
                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            "He is not a food expert." Are any of us? His opinion is as valid as mine or yours, no?

                            1. re: KTinNYC

                              Exactly! As valid as mine or yours - but not more so.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                Perhaps not. But He eats in Milan. We eat in...... Wherever USA.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  I'm a bit confused about your post about Armani being just a clothes maker and not a food expert. Neither Armani or I claimed he was an expert, the title of my post included the word "opinion". I just thought other hounds would be interested in the opinion of an Italians, albeit famous Italian, take on Italian food in the USA.

                                  1. re: KTinNYC

                                    Aren't all Italians experts on food, fashion, opera, driving, etc. regardless of occupation?

                                    1. re: markabauman

                                      Not necessarily expert but strongly opinionated about these topics. But you missed sex and football.

                                      1. re: markabauman

                                        other than his Alitalia flight, he didn't seem to favor anything about his trip, dinner, car, apt., immigration, club, VDay...sounded like a self indulgent whine-fest.

                                        1. re: edible complex

                                          So you know more about Italian food than Giogio Armani? He's probably had the best Italian food cooked by Italians but he's a whiner?

                                          1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                            did you read the blog? he had little nice to say about anything.

                                            1. re: edible complex

                                              Yes I read the blog. He's been to one Italian restaurant thus far. I wouldn't be surprise if he pans everything he tries in NYC. If he's eating European food in NYC, you would expect the reviews to be bad. Why are you shocked? Anyone from outside of this country is going to say the food here sucks compared to where they're from. There's really not much to say about the US. We just cratered the world's economy.

                                              1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                                for someone whose style and grace is reflected in his designs, I was just surprised that none was reflected in this blog. what is right for him may not be right for everyone else. all opinions are worth a squint, but this blog just came across as narrow minded and elitist. I would have expected a more worldly understanding of what's NIMBY.

                                      2. re: KTinNYC

                                        My goodness. Lighten up. I was just having some fun. And, Joe, I eat Italian in Rome, not in the US.

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          Yes, Sam... that's what I meant too.

                                          Comeonna my house. Here you'll eat Italian.....just sayin'.

                                          1. re: Gio

                                            Love to! Invite Giorgio as well and knock his socks off.

                                      3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Exactly! As valid as mine or yours - but not more so.
                                        ******************

                                        That's like saying you know more about Chinese food than me. If someone takes your opinion about Chinese food over mine, there's something very wrong.

                                        1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                          Right. I've eaten Chinese in China and Taiwan enough to have an opinion as valid as anyone else's. I would never ever say I know more about Chinese food than you.

                                  2. OK the context was nasty -- that guest blog was quite a piece of work -- but, as a general principle, he is right about the sauce. However, a restaurant called Scarpetta probably has the right to serve abundant sauce. ;-)

                                    In general, Americans like a lot of sauce because we are brought up to believe the sauce is the main attraction. In Italy the pasta is considered the main attraction and you have to be able to taste it. The sauce is called a condimento, clearly a secondary designation. Since even the best pasta has a subtle taste, too much sauce will conceal it. I usually pay upwards of €3.50 for a package of pasta, so you can bet I've learned to go easy on the sauce. One of my food-life-changing moments was when I first stopped to really taste the pasta beyond the sauce, and I confess it wasn't so long ago.

                                    BTW Marcella always used to say Americans' worst sin was using too much sauce. Now it's garlic, but in the interview cited in another post she did credit us with improvement. Dissing garlic has become popular in Italy. There's even a restaurant in Rome (where I haven't been, but not for this reason) where no garlic is used at all.

                                    19 Replies
                                    1. re: mbfant

                                      Out of genuine curiosity, why don't you make your own pasta?

                                      1. re: mbfant

                                        The problem with pasta as the main attraction is almost no one has the time to make their own pasta. We all buy dried stuff in the stores. But people who want to can whip up a pretty decent sauce.

                                        If Italian food is all about making your own pasta or buying only the best imported dried stuff, then true Italian food will always remain the preserve of the rich or the people with too much time on their hands outside of Italy.

                                        If that's the case, America's export of "common man's Italian" will be much more popular in the rest of the world than elitist authentic Italian pasta.

                                        1. re: huaqiao

                                          Takes 20 minutes to make a batch of pasta.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Fresh pasta is not necessarily better than dried pasta. I've read that for some preparations dried pasta is preferred.

                                            ETA: The shape of the pasta is also very important and with the exception of the simplest I don't think a home cook could make a shaped pasta like a penne very easily.

                                            1. re: KTinNYC

                                              Actually, the shape is NOT all that important. Mostly the pairings are just traditional not functional, with the exception of some broad categories -- oily, liquidy sauces go well with long strings, chunky sauces go nicely with short tubes. The ideal pasta for pasta e fagioli has the same diameter as the bean so the bean can go inside. The tubular extruded pastas can all be simulated (or approximated) by hand by rolling small squares or triangles, as for, e.g., garganelli.

                                              1. re: mbfant

                                                You say that shape isn't important and then you delinate the ways that the shapes of pasta work with different dishes! I disagree that they aren't important, but I agree with everything else you wrote!

                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                  I say that shape isn't THAT important and that many pairings are just tradition. I delineate only a couple of general guidelines, as exceptions to that statement. I have recently translated, from Italian to English, a book on the history (and everything else) of more than 300 pasta shapes. When I told the author that her preface to the English edition should address the question of pairing condiment with shape, she said it is mostly just tradition that has become codified but not inherently all that important in most cases. It's just that people (i.e., Italians) would be disturbed if you changed to a short form with a sauce that is simply always served with a long form.

                                                  1. re: mbfant

                                                    ...or ridges or tubular/hollow shapes which are better with certain sauces as the ridges/hollow parts can pick up more sauce, or so I've been told. I still, for the life of me, have not been able to make bowtie pasta that's perfectly cooked--it's either flabby on the wings or too chewy at the pinch. My favourite shape, however, is the one which looks like a cross between a mushroom and a trumpet (I never remember the name), generally with a mushroom sauce. Yum.

                                                    1. re: Caralien

                                                      These guys? The site I found them on calls them Casarecce. New one to me.

                                                       
                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                        It appears that they're gigli = riccioli = campanelle:

                                                        http://www.foodsubs.com/PastaShapes.html

                                                         
                                                        1. re: Caralien

                                                          Got it. The casarecci I found look more like trumpets than yours do.

                                            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              Many factors come into play. There's all sorts of different types of pasta, what type of pasta did you have in mind with 20 mins?

                                              Also, different people have different skill levels when cooking and for those that can't make pasta as good as the store stuff, or take longer than average to make it, it might make sense to buy the store stuff. (And then there's a whole other realm about which store versions are worth it and which aren't...)

                                              1. re: limster

                                                I just make plain old pasta for spagetti, ravioli and lasagna; and I think that the spare the sauce approach is right for fresh, home made spagetti and linguini. Just plain home made noodles are quite distinct from dried. Of course I buy different shaped and formed packaged pastas. I was just asking mbfant because he/she is clearly an Italian food person.

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  She. Maureen. Yes, I'm an Italian food person, live in Rome, come from New York. I have a friend, a food historian, who comes from Bologna originally, who thinks nothing of making a sfoglia, rolled and cut by hand, and that is what she likes, and it is also very good by any standard. But in much of the rest of Italy the homemade pastas are modest flour-and-water affairs rolled on a sort of knitting needle or shaped by hand. And in Rome most pasta consumed is dry, except ravioli and gnocchi and the occasional fettuccine. The most typical local condiments go best with spaghetti, penne, or rigatoni. People who care buy the best brands they can find. I don't particularly enjoy making pasta, and in any case I would much rather eat Latini, made with flours from their specially developed grains, than my own imperfect efforts probably made with supermarket flour. We have a Calabrian shop in the neighborhood that sells artisanal traditional shapes -- way better than anything I could make.

                                                  BTW Bob96 is absolutely right. Pasta with meat sauce was only for special occasions, and the meat was usually served as a separate course. You can get an idea of this in the few places in Rome that serve pasta with the sauce left over from stewing coda alla vaccinara.

                                                  1. re: mbfant

                                                    Maureen, thank you. I'll certainly look for your posts in the future when things Italian come up.

                                                  2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    20 minutes for fresh pasta? what about resting the dough for an hour?

                                                    huh.

                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                      Twenty minutes total time. Usually made a day ahead and left hangin\g in the extra bathroom off the kitchen.

                                                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  I'm impressed. It takes me 20 minutes just to roll it out. If I could figure out the third hand issue (one to feed, one to turn the handle, one to pull the pasta from the other hand), I might be somewhat faster.

                                              2. re: bob96

                                                Managed to delete my own post. Anyway, what mbfant says is all true. But I think this American love of sauce (like that of anything else in large quantities) is in part a function of Italian-American generational foodways, in which "extra sauce" in all its glory was a welcome sign of prosperity and a reassuring display of abundance. Early generations, like those of my Calabrian grandparents, ate all things sparingly, and it was onyl until recently (as I understand it) that sauced pastas in ther Italian south were anything more than special dishes. Minestre and all kinds of soups, beans, lentils, polenta, bread, and vegetables were the stuff of everyday.
                                                In later generations, all hell breaks loose, and the modest ragu of pork bits my grandparents knew becomes the 12-meat extravaganza that soon meant Sunday dinner. I've come to love meagerly sauced pasta, but find it amusing that we can pay more per pound for artisanal, bronze-die-cut paccheri or ziti than we do for the meat that makes up the polpette we sauce them with. No si sa mai.

                                              3. Well, that's one thing TV chefs seem to get right. I couldn't begin to count the number of times Mario, Giada, Lidia, et al, say to cook your pasta 'al dente' and to remember that the sauce is a dressing, not the main focus.

                                                Just one more example of the Americanization of cuisines from around the world. Nothing really wrong with it, I don't think. It all depends on what you prefer......... assuming you've had the opportunity to try it both ways.

                                                1. Can we send Keller to Italy to blog about Italian design? Maybe tell them to control themselves.

                                                  1. What backs up Mr Armani's opinion is the fact that he is slim and trim. It IS healthier to eat pasta al dente with less sauce. Lower glycemic index and all.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: neverlate

                                                      How does al dente pasta have a lower glycemic index than soggy pasta?

                                                      1. re: KTinNYC

                                                        It's true. A nutrition professor told me. It has to do with being more work to digest.

                                                        1. re: mbfant

                                                          Huh, go figure. Very interesting.

                                                          1. re: KTinNYC

                                                            Yes, it's true. Overcooked pasta converts to sugar very rapidly whereas al dente takes longer to digest. Hence..lower glycemic index.

                                                    2. Just wanted to add that when I lived in Italy as a young teen - on the coast near Lucca - the pasta was always really al dente and almost always had just a small pool of sauce on top that you stirred in. Pasta was an accompaniment, even in the cheap places, and the sauces weren't as sweet as the American taste. When we'd drive south, the pasta would become more baked, with more sauce, but it was much sparer than Italian-American food with lots of "gravy" and gooey cheese.

                                                      And people used dried pasta, except for ribbon forms like fettucini, tagliatelle, pappardelle, because those were easily made.