Is there a new dining culture afoot?

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I don’t want to be in Las Vegas dining at some deluxe food palace where it’s all about show-me-the-money. That doesn’t mean that these temples don’t serve fine, fine food, but the setting seems wrong, sort of crass and entirely from another era. Has the pendulum swung away from ostentation towards a more personal, intimate dining experience? Will there be pent up demand for ostentation or is there a new dining culture emerging?
Grazie a voi! Is it the ‘crisi’, as it’s referred to in Italy? Has the economic crisis actually caused people to lose their taste for over the top opulence, or is it just me?

The past few years in New York, we started going out to dinner less and less. I thought it was just the high prices; it certainly puts a damper on things when you have to pay $14 for a glass of mediocre at best wine, or when going out for pizza and a bottle of wine isn’t a cheap evening.

“I get no kick from champagne, mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all.

So tell me why should it be true?”

Cole Porter’s lyrics suddenly start playing in my head.

I don’t want to be in Las Vegas dining at some deluxe food palace where it’s all about show-me-the-money. That doesn’t mean that these temples don’t serve fine, fine food, but the setting seems wrong, sort of crass and entirely from another era.  Has the pendulum swung away from ostentation towards a more personal, intimate dining experience? Will there be pent up demand for ostentation or is there a new dining culture emerging?

I’m betting on a new dining culture, where passion for the food trumps passion for a spectacular chandelier. Methinks there is a subtle trend afoot where people are pulling in their purse strings but still wanting, expecting and receiving excellent food and wine at fair prices. Look at the ‘gourmet’ street carts that are popping up in US cities like Portland, or the BYO culture in Philadelphia that allows a restaurateur to get their place established without mortgaging their first born for a liquor license. There is a resurgence of interest in old school charcuterie, cheese making, bread baking, brewing beer at home.  In the US this could be the emergence of an actual food culture akin to the European culture where local and seasonal always held sway and teaching your children the fine points of pinot noir is considered an obligation.

Italy is not exempt from this cultural shift although it faces different challenges. One of the biggest hurdles is the resistance of Italians to try something new, even if it is a salumi from the next region over. I fell in love with a Tuscan salumi called finnochione on a recent trip to Florence and stupidly didn’t bring any back with me to Umbria. It will require crossing the border before I can taste that salumi again. Crossing the Border Wine lists are numbingly the same from place to place and menus tend to be variations on the same old, same old.

I’ve been thinking about this since Sunday when we treated ourselves to lunch at Spritio Divino in Montefalco. I believe they could be the embodiment of the future of Italian dining. There is passion for the food and a sincere joy in sharing the flavors.Heaven on a plate We were treated to a mind blowing taste of prosciutto that is produced by somebody’s nearby grandfather. It was rather thick cut, the fat melting onto the plate, salty, unctuous, sexy. It would have been a sin to eat it with a piece of melon. This proscuitto flavor had a beginning, a middle and an end and another flavor would only have been a distraction. We chatted with Nila, our sommelier waitperson and all three of us enjoyed having a complete wine geek conversation about grape varietals, the weather in 2005, Prohibition in the Ukraine. It was a perfect lunch, served in a simple setting but with such attention to detail, such passion, such flavor that I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world for all the money in the world. A Joyous Lunch: Spirito Divino

And that my friends, is where I think the future of dining is heading and I’m excited.

2 Responses to "Is there a new dining culture afoot?"
  1. Today’s lunchtime routine of polishing off last week’s goodies to make room for yesterday’s purchases at the farmers market included a plateful of tomato-braised Roma beans (i.e. using the *authentic* 😉 technique for preparing the dish). Even so, I would like to raise a completely different issue.

    I know that Italian markets are often located in buildings, or if open air, they are surrounded by shops where you can pick up other groceries such as bread, cheese, milk, meat, both fresh and cured.

    With the large farmers’ market movement in the U.S., we don’t have that handy set-up because few specialty grocers exist anymore. When they are around, they are usually not the old mom and pop operation, but very pricey “gourmet” stores. Of course, there are major exceptions to this rule in places such as NYC, Atlanta, San Francisco, but I am talking in generalities.

    So, let me get to the point: you can go to an open-air market and get someone to slice off a pound of salumi or prosciutto to wrap up and sell to you, right?

    Here, in my hometown, no. It’s got to be pre-sliced and vacuum sealed in very expensive packaging. Therefore, lovingly cured ham from local chestnut-eating, woods-roaming pigs costs both your arms to get just an ounce of the porcine leg and it just isn’t half as fresh and moist as it was when its producer sliced it.

    I am all for not dying because of the food I eat, but I am frustrated by what seem like laws written by an ignorant culture, especially since there are scarier aspects of our nation’s meat industry.

    So, would you kindly go out, observe, converse, and report back?

    Grazie mille!

  2. Ciao Elizabeth!! I’ve missed you and our ‘conversations’.
    In our very small Umbertide market we also have fish, cheese/salumi and porchetta vendors. So, yes, at the market I can buy some freshly sliced salumi or raw milk cheese or home dried porcini. It makes me insane that the US food regulations do not take into consideration simple common sense. I’m with you that I’m not looking to die from my food, but I think there is a bigger chance of illness from some of the large agri business that are allowed to operate in the US.
    And don’t get me started on packaging!! Its a sin that good proscuitto can’t be sliced right before your eyes and then eaten as it should be.
    I also think that selling wine in bulk would be outstanding in the US. The wine is obviously cheaper and you recycle your own bottles, it drives me crazy when we go back to the States and I have to buy individual bottles and then throw them out. I realize that I’m cutting out middlemen and taxes need to be considered, but is the long term global plan to protect middlemen?? I hope not.
    P.S. Right again… I buy in etti!

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