BRUNELLO Di MONTALCINO
“I had a business partner who was this fastidious attorney who would never take no for an answer. In 1995, someone who works for us wanted to go there for dinner. My business partner called [co-owner] Frank [Pellegrino] 500 times. Finally he said, ‘Oh my God, come in. I can’t take it anymore.’ My partner wore him down. That first time, we became friends with everyone there. Frankie Jr. bonded with me, for some reason, and we became good friends. I was very active in the restaurant business for a long time, and I think that helped as well.
“I went the first time with Zach Chodorow with his girl and some other girl. Zach has friends that have a standing table. In the winter, they go away, and I hit him up. It was cool. We had a good time. They definitely have the best meatballs in the city. You go for the environment. You walk in, you walk out, and there’s no better entrance to a restaurant. I take a Town Car, whatever. You walk into a movie.
“I used to work for an Academy Award–winning actor. It opened up a lot of doors in New York, but it never got me a table at Rao’s … until the actor’s executive assistant tracked down a member of the Pellegrino family and showered her with gifts: flowers, spa gift cards, and movie-premiere invitations. That’s how I scored my first reservation. I took my best friend, who’d also been trying (and failing) to get a table for many years. We feasted like kings. After dessert, the bartender asked us if we wanted a final drink ‘with Frank.’ Of course we said yes to this. The drink was served, but we didn’t touch it. We wanted to wait for Frank to join us, but an hour later, he still hadn’t come by our table. Eventually, the other tables emptied out. Rao’s was closing, and we realized that the drink wason Frank, not with him. Embarrassed, we quickly paid and departed.
“The Rao’s people are dear friends of mine, but I don’t have a standing, once-a-month table. They usually gave me tables on Mondays. I’ve been there three or four times. When I eat there, I get the same table for two that’s close to the kitchen door. There was that murder a couple of years back, and that’s right by my table. The bullet hit the kitchen door, and for some time, the floor had stains on it. People go to racing-car events looking for accidents and hockey games looking for fights, but the dark side is that people want to see that when they go to Rao’s.
“I ate at Rao’s in June of 1996 while I was a line cook at Bouley. I dined with chef Kurt Guttenbrunner (currently chef-owner of Wallsé), who was then a sous-chef. Through a regular Bouley customer, he was invited and brought me as a guest. I felt privileged for sure, and I remember eating some pretty tasty veal Parmesan. We had to get a car service at the door. It felt like I was in a movie.” —George Mendes, chef-owner of Aldea
“I was a guest of [sportswriter] Dick Schaap, who had a table every Monday night. As he put it, it was his favorite possession. In fact, he wrote in his memoir about how pleased he was that I had taken his picture, and that I could have his Rao’s table anytime, which was very nice. He took me a number of times starting in 1988 — or sometime around there. I was lucky enough to be a guest of his many times.
“The only time I’ve ever been was for a press party that Bon Appétitorganized after Adam Rapoport took over. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to secure the entire restaurant. Lots of food writers and bloggers were there, and the main point of the night was to promote the magazine, so it didn’t feel at all like a ‘real’ night at Rao’s. Still, Frankie was there, we got to be in that space, and they served a ton of food. What I mostly remember is that the Bon App eds were very gracious about letting people hitch rides home in their Condé-provided Town Cars at the end of the night, so maybe the place really does have some magical vibe that makes everyone more jovial. —Grub Street’s own Alan Sytsma
“I’ve got some ‘connections.’ Let’s leave it at that. The food is mediocre. Can we not name my name? I hate to insult them, but I cook better. I think you really have to know someone, either a celeb or someone of influence like a politician or a police chief.” —Anonymous
“Someone I knew was about to get indicted because of a huge gambling scandal, and I wanted to introduce him to a well-known defense attorney. The attorney, who’s represented a bunch of organized criminals, was able to secure the table for us. It’s the only time I’ve been. The whole experience is a little surreal. You have a shitty sauce-and-cheese place, and people trying to act like they’re the shit. It’s not the best food ever, but it was definitely good. I did see Bobby Baccalieri from The Sopranos and detective Bo Dietl there that night, too.” —Anonymous
“‘I’ve dined there at least five times, and I ate once with the gangsters, once with the Wall Streeters, and once with Hollywood folks. I once sat with some movie producers and Ben Gazzara — what a Hollywood legend! My first book was all about the mob, and my second is all about Wall Street, so I was never the one who made the reservation when I started going years ago in the nineties. It was always someone else who had connections — knew the mob or whatever. You have to know someone. It’s more than a meal; it’s magic.
wine for the Feast of 7 Fish? A good question. Well for one thing, your
favorite wine that you like best will always do. But if you are looking for
suggestions and what are so-called expert pairings, then you would most likely
want some good white wine, and some Italian white at that. My own number one
personal favorite would be a nice Greco di Tufo from Campania, the region of
Italy where the Festa di Sette Pesci is in its greatest realm. The Italian
Christmas Feast is quite a big thing in Sicily and other parts of the South of
Italy. But when it comes to great wines of Southern Italy, no region can beat
Campania with wines like; Fiano di Avelino, Falanghina, Lacryma Christi Bianco,
Fish? Greco di Tufo has good acidity which makesit a clean/crisp wine that’s
just perfect for fish. The wine usually exhibits Lemon Citrus flavors along
with good hints of pear fruit for a nice flavor profile. So, I for one love to
serve Greco with my Feast of The 7 Fish meal as it goes so perfectly with all
fish and shellfish and that is from Campania, the capital region of this wonderful
feast of seven fishes, and a place of charming beauty.
for your meal is Lacryma Christi. Now considering the religious aspects of The
Feast of The 7 Fish, Lacryma Christ is a wine that has very special meaning, as
the wine is intertwined with Biblical History. According to legend, God cried
when he found a corner of Heaven stolen by Lucifer, and where his tears fell,
there grew the grapes that make Lacryma Christi, which translates to “The Tears
of Christ.” Lacryma Christi Bianco is made mostly of Coda di Volpe grapes. It’s
also a nice clean crispy white that usually shows flavors of White Peaches and
Pineapples. Consider its taste and historical significance, Lacryma Christ
makes a perfect wine for the Festa di Sette Pesci. Also not, that there is also
Lacryma Christi Rosso (red wine), made from Piedirosso grapes that makes a
wonderful wine for this feast if you want to drink some red.
Friuli, as this region is Italy’s # 1 region for great white wines, as well as
in my opinion the greatest single white wine region in all the world. Yes, it
is. They make wonderful whites like; Sauvignon Blanc, Friuliano (formely known
as Toacai), Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Riballa Gialla, and more. Great
Friulian wine producers to look for are; Jermann, Venica, Colterenzio,
Teifenbrunner, Marco Felluga, Livio Felluga, Zamo, and Villa Russiz.
friends Gianni and Gianpaulo Venica, especially their Friuliano (Tocai) and
their great Sauvignon “Ronco d’ Mele.”
some of the best in the world, but considering that when making a really fine
meal you usually want to pair wine from the same region the food comes from. So
considering that Campania and the south of Italy is where the Festa di Sett
Pesci is most prevelant and at it greatest heights, you
a wine from the south for your Feast of The 7 Fish, and Campanian white wines
are without question the best way to go.
of course Italian reds are the natural bet. I suggest you do not get anything
to big or of heavy weight. Get a nice lighter red like; Chianti, Barbera, or
one of the lighter Etna Rosso wines. I particularly love Chianti from my good
friend Luigi Cappellini of Castel Verrazzano in Greve. Yes it’s not from
Campania, but I just love Chianti, especially Luigi’s. Though, often with this
Christmas meal, I love drinking Lacryma Christi Rosso from either
Mastroberadino or Feudi San Gregorio. Both of these wine producers make
wonderful wines, and you can get; Greco, Falanghina, Fiano, Lacryma Christ
Bianco or Rosso from either of these winemakers and you’d be doing very well.
The Feast of The 7 Fish
The Italian Christmas Feast of The 7 Fish? Ever Wonder about it” Its meaning, make-up, rituals, and of course “How To Make It?” Well Ladies and Gentlemen, You’re in Luck.” Renowned Chef and Cookbook author Daniel Bellino-Zwicke has just come up with his latest “THE FEAST of The 7 FISH” An Italian-American Christmas Eve Feast, and just in Time for Christmas. If you’ve ever wanted to know about this wonderful Italian Christmas Tradition and How to make it, then this book is for you. It has Everything you need to know to make this Wonderful Italian Feast and on all levels ..
THE FEAST of The 7 FISH
Feast of The 7 Fish
by Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
in PAPERBACK & KINDLE EDITIONS AMAZON.com
My Aunt Helen used to make the famous Italian Christmas Eve Dinner, The Feast of 7 Fishes, The 7 Fish of the Seven Sacraments. I know she made it because I used to hear her talking about it when I was a little kid. Although I shared many wonderful meals with my dear Aunt Helen, I never had the pleasure of having the famous Christmas Eve Dinner “La Vigilia” Feast of Seven Fish with her. We always had Christmas Eve dinner with the immediate family and Aunt Helen had the Christmas Eve with her brother and sister and other family members. Aunt Helen was born in Salerno, Italy and was my Uncle Franks (1 of my Mother’s 3 brothers) better half. So for our Christmas Dinner my mother would make an Antipasto of Salami, Provolone, Peppers, and Olives, followed by Baked Ziti and a Baked Ham studded with cloves and Pineapple rings.
The first time I ever had the mystical dinner was about 14 years ago with my cousin Joe, his family and my girlfriend Duyen. We had been talking about this famous Italian Feast a few weeks previous, and were thinking of making it. Joe told me he wanted to have the Christmas Eve Meal of The Feast of The 7 Fishes, known in Italy as La Viglia (The Vigil) or “La Festa Dei Sette Pesci,” which is also known in Italian-America as The Feast of The 7 Fish, the 7 Fish representing the 7 Sacraments.
This Dinner, La Viglia originated in Southern Italy, especially in and around the environs of Napoli. The Feast of The 7 Fish is a Southern Italian tradition that does not exist in the rest of Italy, it is of the South. La Viglia, or “The Feast of the Seven Fishes” as it is known to Italian-Americans commemorates the waiting (Vigil) of the Baby Jesus to be Born at Midnight and the Seven Fish represent the Seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. Some also believe that the Seven Fish might signify the 7 Days of Creation, or The Seven Deadly Sins, but most believe the 7 Fish pertain to the Seven Sacraments.
So Joe asked me if I wanted to make this festive and all important dinner, to perform the ceremony. He didn’t need to ask twice. I had never made it before and was dying to do so. For a long time I had yearned to partake in this celebrated old Southern Italian Ritual, and this was my chance. Naturally I was excited, so was Joe. So it we had great anticipation of the grand Feast to come and we were filled with happy expectations of the meal to come.
And what for the menu? I know Aunt Helen made Bacala, Shrimp Oreganata, Mussels, Baked Clams, Calamari, Octopus, and eel, all much loved Southern Italian (especially Napoli and Sicily) creatures of the Sea. We decided which fish we wanted and how to cook each one. Much thought and planning went into the menu and its execution. Joe wanted; Langoustines, Lobster, and Bacala. Alexandra asked if I would make Stuffed Calamari. We also decided on Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Clams Oreganata, and Cozze al Posillipo. The menu was set. Duyen helped me with the Calamari which we stuffed with Shrimp, parsley, breadcrumbs, and Peas. We braised the Calamari with tomato, white wine, and herbs, and if I must say so myself, the Calamari came out superbly. The Stuffed Calamari were a lot of work to make, but well worth the effort as they were a huge hit with all. The Macari boys, Joey, Edward, and Tommy, as well as sister Gabriella, Alexandra, Little Joey, Duyen, Jose, and Sergio from Barcelona were all in attendance.
The Mussels Posillipo, a great favorite of both Neopolitans and their Italian-American brethren, were cooked with garlic, white wine, parsley, and tomato, of which the sauce is always great to dip your bread into. This dish was one of my mother’s favorites back in the days when few Americans other than those of Italian origins ever ate these wonderful little bivalves. Now-a-days every-body does. As a young boy I remember my mother sending me to Bella Pizza in East Rutherford to get an order of them for her. She always gave me a few mussels to eat, and I have loved them ever since.
Joe helped me to cook the Langoustines. They are hard to find and I had to order a ten-pound box from Silvano in order to get them. The best way to cook langoustines is to split them in half and sauté them on each side in olive oil with a little butter and garlic. We served the Langoustines the same way as Silvano does as we feel his recipe is the best and everybody loves them that way. The Langoustines are served with a salad of thinly shaved fennel and celery dressed in olive oil and lemon with some split cherry tomatoes. Absolutely delicious!!!
The Lobsters we prepared the best way possible, the New England way, steamed and served simply with drawn butter and lemon wedges. There’s nothing better on Earth, well except for Sunday Sauce of course.
Well, that Christmas Eve Dinner The Feast of Seven Fishes was quite a wonderful experience. It was a huge success though quite a lot of work and actually, too much food, everyone was kind of full already by the fifth fish. The following year we decided on incorporating the Seven Fish into three courses instead of seven separate. It was a good decision. We still had 7 different fish, which is a must. Serving these 7 Fish in three courses was a good idea as it is much more manageable that way, both to cook and to eat. So, you will see later on that you can have this great Feast of 7 different Fish in a number of ways; either 7 fish in seven courses or do the 7 fish in three, four, 5, or 7 separate courses, whatever you choose, it’s up to you.
On this particular Feast of The 7 Fish in 3 courses, we decided to make the Stuffed Calamari, which I would not have chosen again because it was a lot of work, but it was Alex’s and Joe’s favorite and they said that it was a must whenever we make the meal. We had the Stuffed Calamari as our Antipasto Course. Alexandra and her mom helped me, so the amount of work was cut down and divided into three.
The stuffed calamari took care of two of the seven the shrimp that were stuffed into the squid.
The second course (Primi) of Linguine Frutti de Mare consumed four of the Seven Fish required for the meal. It consisted of Mussels, Clams, Lobster, and Scallops cooked with garlic, oil, herbs, and just a touch of tomato.
The seventh and final fish was fresh Cod that I roasted and served with a sweet and sour onion sauce (Bacala Fresca Agro Dolce). Everybody went bananas for it especially cousin Joe who raved at each and every dish I put down. It’s a pleasure cooking for Joe as his passion for eating and for the Italian-American way of life, the food, the wine, the rituals. Joe truly loves and savors the experience, so I always love to cook for him, Alexandra, their children, or just about anyone for who savors the experience so well. This goes the same for my cousin Anthony Bellino his wife Debbie and their three girls Chrissy, Danna, and Allison, along with all my close friends and family who I share my meals with.
It makes cooking a joy rather than a chore, when cooking for family or friends, you give two of life’s great gifts, a tasty Home-Cooked meal combined with a little bit of love. Scratch that, “A Whole Lotta Love!”
If you don’t want to go so crazy, with 7 Fish as it’s quite an undertaking, you should try to do an odd numbers; 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11. Three (3) is a Nice Number and represents the Holy Trinity of The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Basta, e Buon Natale!
EXCERPTED from THE FEAST of THE 7 FISH by Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
SECRET ITALIAN RECIPES
by Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
vegetables are without a doubt the single best thing you can put in your body.
Green vegetables and water, that is. Yes, you’ve gotta have water too.
healthy. Italians love all sorts, other vegetables and fruits too. And they
prepare their vegetables in a multitude of ways.
Italian-Americans, love our green vegetables, and we really love greens, like;
Broccoli Rabe (Rapini) and Escarole, or Scarola. Any green vegetables that are
simply sautéed in garlic and olive oil are great favorites. Along with being
immensely beneficial to good health, looking good, and tasting great, these
sautéed greens are quick and easy to prepare.
Sautéed greens are the perfect accompaniment to any meat, fish, or
poultry entrée and are great on their own or with other ingredients in an antipasto
or as bruschetta on grilled or toasted Italian bread. You can prepare Broccoli
Rabe, Escarole, Swiss Chard, Green Beans, Broccoli, Spinach, or Beet Greens all
in this manner.
In the Italian American dialect of my father’s generation the word is usually
pronounced,”Schka-role.” Few are the young people these days that have ever
even heard the word and I wonder how many have ever tasted this leafy green
that many of us love so. “Schka-role” is of singular importance in the
Italian-American cuisine. In the pantheon of Italian-American foods, escarole
is way up there, along with Broccoli Rabe and Eggplant (melanzane). Escarole
finds itself in soups, in recipes with beans and in stuffed versions, and
sometimes on pizza.
are the ones who love sautéed escarole most. It’s simply sautéed with garlic,
good olive oil, salt & pepper and “Basta,” that’s it, it’s done and it’s
tasty as heck. This sautéed escarole is our favorite side-dish with roast
chicken, pork chops, steak, and grilled fish.
Southern-Italian soup, Italian Wedding Soup with chicken broth, chicken, little
meatballs and escarole, “It’s just divine.”
“That car cost a lot of “Schka-Role!”
heads escarole washed and roughly chopped
cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
teaspoon crushed red pepper, ¼ cup olive
water for 2 minutes. Drain off water. Drain again and squeeze excess water from
begins to brown.
3. Add red pepper and escarole.
pepper and serve.