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I drank my first official glass of wine when I was 10 years old.
It was white wine, probably a few fingers of Frascati Superiore with water added.
At my home near Piazza Navona, lunch was the biggest meal of the day. My dad would close his butcher shop and the whole family would sit down to a three-course meal. My family consisted of my parents, brother, grandfather and two aunts that were living with us since the war. The table was elegantly set and we always had two carafes on the table. They were pitchers from Deruda: one blue, and the other red with a Greek motif of horse’s heads and geometric designs. The blue contained the white Frascati and the red was for the Cerveteri Rosso — both local wines. My grandfather always drank red and the rest of the family would alternate. For the kids it was always white wine and water. I said I drank my first official glass because I know I used to taste a glass of sweet wine with my Aunt Clara’s fruit crostata, and Spumante d’Asti with panettone or pandoro for the holidays, long before I was 10.
In Italy, wine was an important part of the diet of growing up. It’s commonly served in school and work cafeterias. At home it’s an integral part of lunch and dinner. My mother made sure we had our half glass of Frascati with water at lunch and dinner, over my brother’s complaints. He was weird and didn’t like wine. He wanted sodas, but they were considered unhealthy and weren’t allowed on the table.
I was a little different from my brother. Sometimes I would sneak in the liquor cabinet to have a sip from some of the sweet liquors. I remember we had a delicious Mandarinettto, a tangerine-based drink (very much like Limoncello), and a good Rosolio. My grandfather used to educate me about wine, about how it was made, and stories of vineyards in the great European producing regions. For me, listening to these stories was like taking a trip to beautiful places.
Wine has remained a constant in my life. Those first tastes of the genuine local wines along with the home-cooked meal set the standard for the meals to be eaten and the good wine to be consumed in the years to come. Sometimes I still like to drink white wine with a little water and I can guarantee it is a thirst-quenching treat.
Tradizioni (pron: tra-ditz-ee-o nee): traditions. How does a family separated by distance, time and a vast ocean continue its traditions? My mother immigrated with her mother to Canada from the Veneto region in Italy at 16 years of age, in 1923. She left behind her brother Antonio, who stayed in Turin. Over the years their only communication was letter writing. When my mother became a U.S. citizen WWII had already broken out. The letters from her brother became less frequent and often arrived censored.
The war ended and the letters continued. My mother was raising our family and trying to assimilate. The 1950’s in the US was a time of “modern convenience” foods. Noodles cooked with a can of mushroom soup and a can of tuna was a popular dish. My friends thought ravioli in a can was a treat.
My uncle’s way of reminding his sister about her Italian traditions was to write often from Torino about family and to send her a subscription to the cooking magazine from Italy, “La Cucina Italiana”. I so looked forward every month to tearing open that brown envelope with all the funny looking stamps with my mom. We would look at it together and she would show me pictures of what real Italian cooking looked like. My uncle and my mom have passed away. I have kept a few of the issues of “La Cucina Italiana” and tried to keep the tradizioni.
Recipe translated from La Cucina Italiana 1959
Maiale Ubriaco “Drunken Pork”
Choose some nice looking pork chops, pound them a bit add salt and pepper. Put them in the frying pan with a little olive oil and a mixture of chopped parsley and garlic. Cook on medium heat until the chops are golden on both sides. Turn up the heat a bit and add a glass of leftover Chianti. When the wine begins to bubble, put the heat on low, cover the pan, and let the chops absorb the wine.
Enjoy this with a good bottle of Castello di Meleto Chianti.
20 YEARS OF "PIACERE," MANY MORE TO COME
Piacere (pron: pee- a-chay ray) is the Italian word for pleasure. "Piacere" is what you say in Italy when you are introduced to someone. It is also the sensation you feel after having a memorable meal and great bottle of wine.
Aldo and I bought Ristorante Milano 20 years ago. We had just come back from living in Rome, and wanted a restaurant of our own. When the opportunity to buy Ristorante Milano came up, we scraped together every last penny (literally rolling coins) to make it happen.
That seems like a long time ago, and while we've hit a few bumps along the road, we're still here on Russian Hill preparing our favorite Italian recipes for our customers. What’s the secret of our longevity? We’ve kept the best of tradition while also trying something new. That's what Ristorante Milano is all about.
Aldo was born and raised in Rome. His grandfather, Ugo, owned a famous restaurant on the Roman Forum. As a little boy Aldo would accompany his grandfather on trips to the market for fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and meat. This is where Aldo learned the importance of selection and buying the best quality ingredients. His grandfather was a great host, and made friends with his famous patrons like Enrico Caruso and Segovia. Aldo was too young to take over the restaurant when his grandfather retired, but always kept that experience close to his heart.
Aldo came to Berkeley in the 70s and worked in rock-n-roll and restaurants, often traveling back home to Rome. He met me (a first-generation Italian-American, born in Niagara Falls) while I was working at a restaurant here in San Francisco. We fell in love, and moved to Rome for a couple of years. When we returned to San Francisco, we decided to dedicate ourselves to running our own restaurant and raising a family.
As the executive chef of Ristorante Milano, Aldo has taught numerous chefs how to make pasta and execute his recipes, many of which come from his family. He trains the waitstaff and almost every night is at the door to greet customers and see that they experience the satisfying piacere of good food, wine, and service.