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In the Heart of Italy
What a relief it is sometimes to have a good waiter say: "You do not know what you want? Will you let me bring you the best there is in the house?" Sometimes, you know, you really do not know what you want, and usually when that is the case you are not very hungry. That is always a good time to try new things. It is also possible that you do not know what you want because you do not know how to order. In either instance our advice is, if the waiter gets confidential and offers his assistance you will certainly miss something if you do not accept his good offices.
This was the case with us, one day when we were over at 1549 Stockton street, near Washington Square, at the Gianduja. The proper pronunciation of this is as if it were spelled Zhan-du-ya. This is one of the good Italian restaurants of the Latin quarter. At the Gianduja you get the two prime essentials to a good meal - good cooking and excellent service. It matters not whether you take their thirty-five cent luncheon or order a most elaborate meal, you will find that the service is just what it ought to be. We asked Brenti what he considered his most famous dish, and like all other proprietors, he shrugged his shoulders and said, with hands emphasizing his words:
"We have so many fine dishes."
"Of course we know that, but what do you consider the very best?"
"There is no one the 'very best'. I could give you two."
"Let it be two, then," was our immediate rejoinder, and here is what he gave us as the best recipes of the Gianduja.
First, let us give you an idea of the difficulty under which we secured these recipes by printing them just as he wrote them down for us, and then we shall elaborate a little and show the result of skillful questioning. This is the way he wrote the recipe for Risotto Milanaise:
Risotto ala Milanaise
"Onions chop fine - marrow and little butter - rice - saffron - chicken broth - wen cook add fresh butter and Parmesan cheese seasoned."
What was embodied in the words "wen cook" was the essential of the recipe and here is the way we got it:
Chop one large onion fine. Cut a beef marrow into small dice and stir it with the chopped onion. Put a small piece of butter in a frying pan and into this put the onion and marrow and fry to a delicate brown. Now add one scant cup of rice, stirring constantly, and into this put a pinch of saffron that has been bruised. When the rice takes on a brown color add, slowly, chicken broth as needed, until the rice is thoroughly cooked. Then add a lump of fresh butter about the size of a walnut, and sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan cheese, seasoning to taste with pepper and salt. This is to be served with chicken or veal.
The second recipe was for Fritto Misto, and he wrote it as follows:
"Lamb chops and brains breaded - sweetbreads - escallop of veal - fresh mushrooms - Italian squash when in season - asparagus or cauliflower - fried in fresh butter - dipped in beaten eggs - lime jus."
"Fritto Misto" means fried mixture, and the recipe as we finally elucidated it is as follows:
Take a lamb chop, a piece of calf brain, one sweetbread, a slice of veal, a fresh mushroom, sliced Italian squash, a piece of asparagus or of cauliflower and dip these into a batter made of an egg well beaten with a little flour. Sprinkle these with a little lime juice and fry to a delicate brown in butter, adding salt and pepper to taste.
At the Gianduja, as at all other Italian restaurants not much affected by Americans, you will find an atmosphere of unconventionality that is delightful to the Bohemian. There is no irksome espionage on the part of other patrons, all of whom are there for the purpose of attending strictly to their own business, and the affairs of other diners are of no consequence to them. There is freedom of expression and unconsciousness, most pleasing after having experienced those other restaurants where it seems to be the business of all the rest of the guests to know just what you are eating and drinking. There is little of the obnoxious posing that one finds in restaurants of the downtown districts, for while Italians, in common with all other Latins, are natural born poseurs, they are not offensive in it, but rather impress you with the same feeling as the antics of a child.
One of the little, out-of-the way restaurants of the Italian quarter is the Leon d'Oro, at 1525 Grant avenue, and it is one of the surprises of that district. Lazzarini, he with the big voice, presides over the tiny kitchen in the rear of the room devoted to public service and family affairs. Soft-voiced Rita, with her demure air and her resemblance to Evangeline, with her crossed apron, strings and delicate features, takes your order, and soon comes the booming sound from the neighborhood of the range, that announces to all patrons, as well as to some who may be in the vicinity on the street, that your order is ready, and then everybody knows what you are eating. As you sit, either in curtained alcove or at the common table in the main room, little Andrea will visit you with his cat. Both are institutions of the place and one is, prone to wonder how a cat can have so much patience with a little boy. Andrea speaks Italian so fluently and so rapidly that it gives you the impression of a quick rushing stream of pure water, tumbling over the stones of a steep declivity. He is not yet old enough to understand that it is not everybody who knows how to speak Italian, but that makes not the slightest difference with him, for he talks without ever expecting an answer.
Lazzarini understands the art and science of cooking, and some of the dishes he prepares are so unusual that one goes again and again to partake of them: Possibly his best dish is the following:
Chicken a la Leon D'oro
Cut a spring chicken into pieces. Place these in a pan containing hot olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Turn the chicken until it is thoroughly browned, and add finely chopped green peppers. Let it cook awhile then add a finely chopped clove of garlic and a little sage. Put in a small glass of Marsala wine, tomato sauce and French mushrooms and let simmer for ten minutes. Before taking from the pan add half a tablespoonful of butter and serve on a hot plate.
Lazzarini also makes a specialty of snails, and they are well worth trying while you are experimenting with the unusual things to eat. The recipe for these is as follows:
Snails a la Bordelaise
Put ten pounds of snails in a covered barrel and keep for ten days. Then put in a tub with a handful of salt and a quarter of a gallon of vinegar. Stir for twenty minutes until a foam rises, then take out and wash thoroughly until the water runs clear. Put in a large pot a pint of virgin olive oil, four large onions and eight cloves of garlic, all chopped fine, and a small bunch of parsley, chopped fine. Put the pot over the fire and when the onions are browned stir in some white wine or Marsala and then put in the snails. Cover and let simmer for thirty-five minutes. While cooking add a pint of meat stock, a little butter and some anise seed. When done put in a soup tureen and serve. To remove the snails use small wooden toothpicks.