Dirty Dishes: A Restaurateur's Story of Passion, Pain, and Pasta
by Pino Luongo and Andrew Friedman.
I came across this book as I was looking for restaurants to visit on a recent trip to New York City. AFter reading great things about Pino's restaurant, Centolire, on the Upper East Side, I decided I had to try it. My plan had been to go there for lunch in the middle of a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn't make it to the museum, sadly, but I decided to make a special trip to the restaurant anyway. I love the fact that, even though it's in a supremely ritzy and overpriced area, Centolire Cafe & Panini remains a little lunch spot where you can get an inexpensive, absolutely delicious bite to eat. Someday I'll go back and eat in the mama restaurant for dinner, but this was a great first taste.
Later I learned that there's a restaurant in Chicago called Coco Pazzo that was started by Pino, too! Our third wedding anniversary is coming up, and I bet you can guess where we'll be!
Pino's story is engaging and evocative. He begins by describing his early life in Tuscany, and how he discovered his love of food in his mother's kitchen and honed his instincts in his uncle's restaurant. I couldn't help but be enveloped in the world of memory he created through describing the smells and flavors of his childhood. He then recounts his burgeoning acting career, followed by a very reluctant emigration to New York, where he found that the only place he could go to escape his homesickness was in a restaurant where the smells and tastes of home were recreated. He then makes the astonishing journey from a busboy who barely speaks two words of English, to a New York restaurant mogul, and then to a family man with one successful restaurant, happy to admit that it was all for love of cooking. I was transported. And I can't wait to expand my own repertoire to include some of the traditional Italian dishes that were described so lovingly throughout the book: pappa al pomodoro, pasta carbonara, traditional bolognese, rigatoni alla buttera, and spaghetti alle vongole (assuming I can find some dang vongole...).
Some of my favorite passages:
"Má never worked in a professional kitchen, but by the time she became a parent, cooking was such an extension and reflection of her life, it became a natural means of self-expression, right down to how she demonstrated her love for her children."
"We'd bust the melons open on our knees, stick our heads inside, and devour the sugary flesh, emerging with devilish smiles and dripping-wet faces. After we had our fill, we'd stage a watermelon war, logging the orbs at each other in the dark until we were covered from head to toe with juice. Then we'd hop on our scooters and disappear up into the hills to the east, toward Saturnia, where there were warm sulfuric waterfalls. We'd let the spa water cleanse our clothes and skin, then collapse in the grass and stare up at the moon and stars until we fell asleep."
"You can only be told so much about pasta. If you want to understand and master it, you need to immerse yourself in it until you've absorbed it and it's become a part of you, like that perfect, elusive coming together of pasta and sauce."
Check out his restaurant, books, and more about Pino at http://www.pinoluongo.com/. Have a great weekend!