Entertaining misery

Well, I have no appetite now. I just read this review of Michelin-starred restaurant in Italy, and even at a distance of thousands of miles and with no prospects (or desires) to visit this pretentious little place, it quite killed my interest in food for a while. It was 27 “courses” dribbled out over four and a half hours.

This, for instance, is one full course: it’s a cast of the chef’s mouth filled with some kind of foam. There were no utensils, you were expected to lick the ‘food’ out of there.

I think, if ever I get to Italy (which I would love to do sometime), I’ll just order the pizza.


  1. ajbjasus says

    I spend a lot of time in Italy (or should I say I used to), and that is completely counter to the Italian approach to food that I am familiar with.

  2. Big Boppa says

    One of the most pleasant memories I have from my childhood is going to Sunday dinner at my dad’s aunt Anna’s house. There were typically 5 or 6 courses, beginning with antipasto and ending with fruit, cheese and warm, roasted nuts which came after dessert. But it was nothing fancy. Just the well prepared Napolitani peasant food she grew up with. Each course was accompanied with uncle Eugene’s home made wine and anisette. And there was no sign of foam, edible or not, anywhere to be seen.

  3. hemidactylus says

    If I make it to Italy I would be more interested in Florentine history (Medici, Savonarola burning vanities and defying the Borgia pope and made a crispy critter himself, Machiavelli, Dan Brown’s Inferno (sorry!)). I would opt for a pizza too. Can one get drunk on enough tiramisu? Is beer a thing in Italy? Wine snobbery isn’t really my scene.

  4. magistramarla says

    We had wonderful food when we were in Italy.
    We stayed for a week in a villa near Aviano AFB in northern Italy. The food there was rich and delicious, served with some wonderful wines. We were even served prosecco with breakfast and the best cappuccino I’ve ever tasted.
    In Venice, I tried squid ink pasta, and liked it. The gelato stands there were awesome!
    In Florence, we saw The David, standing outside in a courtyard. Our dinner was wonderful traditional Tuscan food.
    The food in Naples was the most like the Italian-American food that we’re all used to, including pizza. I was too thrilled with seeing Pompeii to think much about what I was eating, anyway.
    In Rome, we stayed next to the Forum, across the street from the Colosseum. We wandered around for several blocks surrounding the area, and I don’t think that any cafe or restaurant ever disappointed us.
    We really hope to get back to Italy some day. Don’t let this silly, pretentious restaurant make you decide not to go!

  5. hemidactylus says

    @4- magistramarla
    Ah yeah Venice too. Let’s see…Candide, Marky Mark in The Italian Job, Dan Brown’s Inferno! Waterways. Boats.

    I forgot Florence was a backdrop for Hannibal who did a very sick twist on Florentine history (Pazzi plot aftermath) involving a balcony. If I saw that reenactment as grossly distorted by the movie I doubt food would be on my mind for a couple days. Probably not a thing they do for tourists.

  6. cartomancer says

    It’s not a new phenomenon. Suetonius and especially the Historia Augusta were very interested in the excessive dining habits of the more indulgent Roman Emperors. It was a convenient and obvious shorthand for immoderacy, self-centredness and lack of moral fibre, matched in its utility as a means of character assassination only by speculation on their assumed sexual immoderacy.

    It was likely highly exaggerated if not entirely fabricated in most cases. But the point is that Roman and wider Italian culture has always problematised doing excessive things with food – I suspect this modern-day example is treated with more withering contempt by his fellow Italians than it gets anywhere else.

  7. says

    WTF?! I never saw anything like that anywhere in Italy. Or anywhere else. That looks like some fruit-bat making weird shit to get worldwide attention.

    It’s sort of like that movie “Snakes on a Plane”: the title says it all, you don’t need to see the movie.

  8. cates says

    Mmm, Italy… food… chocolate.
    My first gelato in Italy was chocolate and it was sublime. As we traveled around I had lots of gelato, some of it not chocolate and even though it was very, very good, there was always a thought in the back of my mind [it could have been chocolate].
    Then there was the cool, overcast day in Verona coming across a few of my travel mates sitting outside a small cafe overlooking the miniature Colosseum in the town square taking a break. We joined them as they were obviously enjoying the local cappuccino. I don’t like the taste of coffee so I asked the waitperson if they had hot chocolate. I got a puzzled look and a nod. A bit later a cup, saucer, and spoon arrived containing a dark, almost black, liquid with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of spice. a stir and a taste and I thought to myself ‘how lucky to have stumbled upon the place that makes the world’s best hot chocolate’. the rich liquid fell in sheets from the spoon (I have photos). I discovered later that it was simply typical ‘good’ Italian hot chocolate and that ‘world’s best’ was just redundant.
    Ah, good memories.

  9. PaulBC says

    magistramarla@4 Funny, I was also about to mention squid ink pasta. A friend was treating me to lunch at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco that he recommended highly as authentic (he had lived in Italy). I didn’t want to pick something obvious so I went for some kind of squid ink pasta with seafood. It was… fine. That’s about all I’ll say. It’ll never be my favorite. The ink seemed to do more for color than flavor. I am sure if I had ordered something more familiar, like with marinara sauce, I would have enjoyed it more. On the other hand, I guess it’s better to try it and know.

    I didn’t realize that was a cast of lips in the picture above until reading the description. I thought it was something with egg white. It sounds incredibly unappetizing. The frothy spit from the chef? Weird. I believe everyone here who says this is not indicative of Italian food.

  10. PaulBC says

    That’s a very funny article. Maybe they were there on a special night and could have had a normal meal other times. It was obviously intended as theater, not regular dining. It reminds me a little of the old show Candid Camera except protracted and with no explanation from Allen Funt.

  11. John Morales says

    Bah. It could have been a cast of an engorged glans with ejaculate.

    (But that would have been even more upmarket)

  12. Walter Solomon says

    In Japan there’s a restaurant that serves brown, chunky curry stew in a bowl shaped like toilet. I’m not sure if it has Michelin star yet but the way Michelin kowtows to the Asian market it probably will soon.

  13. garnetstar says

    @1 and @2, ITA. And, my Italian family, and in fact any Italians, would walk out if such a monstrosity (the foamy cast, the 43 courses) was served to them.

    Actual Italian food is simple, like @2 says.

  14. jenorafeuer says

    Heh. And some Italian food is borrowed, too. One gelato place I saw had a ‘Zuppa Inglese’ gelato… ‘Zuppa Inglese’ is a real Italian (primarily Neapolitan) dish, and directly translates as ‘English soup’. What it really is, is a layering of sponge cake and custard… essentially an Italian version of what the English call ‘Trifle’.

  15. outis says

    Please rest assured, that chef is a ragazzaccio looking for notoriety, and he does it by cranking stuff to 11.
    Normally, what you find in Italian restaurant will be solid, classic stuff, and right now there is a (delicious) rediscovery of less-well-known regional cooking.

  16. R. L. Foster says

    I’ve been to Italy four times in my life. I’m much more of a northern Italy fan than southern ( I see that Lecce is in Apulia). In the north people know they’re living in one of the best places on the planet. They’ve got Tuscany. They’ve got the Italian Renaissance. They feel they’ve done enough for the world and just enjoy life. They have some of the best wines ever made. Their cuisine is varied and wonderful. The people are more relaxed, not trying to squeeze every euro out of you the way they do in the south. In the south scamming and overcharging is a way of life. (Don’t ever get in a Roman taxi that is not in the official queue. You will pay dearly.) If they find out that you’re American they will play mind games with you and try to convince you to tip in the American way because aren’t we friendly Italians worth it? In some parts of the south your red wine will be served at room temperature. And if the room is 90F that’s how warm your wine will be. I’ve had one mediocre, overpriced meal in the south after another. Everything tastes like anchovies. After reading that article I’m thinking that there must have been some kind of scam at the heart of it. I think this quote says it all, “The meal cost more than any other we’d eat during our trip by a magnitude of three.” Yep. They ripped the Americans off and tried to make them think this was high end food art. I’ll bet they’re still laughing in the kitchen. And I’ll bet the Americans tipped them, too.

  17. says

    This is just a combination of the recent high-tech food fad — I remember reading a few years ago about a restaurant somewhere on the east coast of the US where some of the (synthesized) dishes were constructed so that they would actually move while you were eating them, as though they were alive, and where IIRC some of the dishes were served as gas which you had to inhale — with the typical “you come here to be seen here, not to eat” syndrome which a lot of high-profile restaurants develop. Usually it isn’t as showily terrible, because they aren’t pushing the envelope as much as this on the exotic nature of their menu, but if you’ve read Garlic and Sapphires — which is a pretty good book — you will recall the experiences the author had with the Box Tree and with Sparks. (People actually got mad at her for lowering the rating of Sparks by a star, when they actually gave her a reservation on a day of the week when the restaurant was closed. If I had been the reviewer, that would have earned them a “not rated” — synonymous with “no stars” — with an explanation that they had specifically arranged not to serve any food to the reviewer and therefore could not receive a rating. And then I would refuse to return, citing the quality of service.)