“Zack Bruell be my boyfriend, are you married?”
“I want to be best friends with lardo.”
These were the one-liners rolling off my tongue as I ate bite after bite of excruating beauty at Chinato, on E. 4th Street. I’ve lived in Milan, my mother has lived in Bologna and Florence but an evening at Chinato brought us almost to tears. Here was Italian food, dare I say, better than or on par with the pinnacle of Italian gastronomy in Italy. The price point is well, on point! I ate here again just tonight with a friend and with a crudo, an antipasto, an entree, a dessert, a cocktail and a glass of wine WITH tip and tax was $52. Not to mention the service was outstanding (our waiter from a few weeks ago was our waiter again and remembered us), the wine choices impeccable, we were visited by the chef himself and treated to Damilano Chinato (a digestif) following our meal.
We started with a crudo, tuna with lardo and our hearts melted a little. My mind was racing to figure out how I could make and eat lardo every day, even if that meant my body would take the name and shape of the delicious slivers that were melting in my mouth.
Next we shared the fresh sauteed sardines with parsley, olive oil and lemon — the nostalgia of eating fresh fried sardines in Genoa when I was 20 washed over me and pulled me, like the strong oceanic undertow, back to that fleeting moment. After, an exquisite salad of julienned pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, arugula, goat cheese, roasted turnips and balsamic dressing. I don’t even want to describe the dish because then it’ll just give away the ending.
Our entrees: for me, the fritto misto of sweetbreads with fried caper berries (our country is at least a trillion light years behind every country when it comes to our definition of bar food — because this would blow those pee covered pretzels and peanuts at the bar out of the water), for my mother the veal breast with polenta unlike any kind of polenta you’ve ever had and salsa verde (parsley, olive oil, anchovies).
Dessert was the best almond panna cotta I’ve tasted and also a lemon polenta cake with a scoop of cherry gelato. This is Italian comfort food, the peasant food, the cheap cuts of meat or fish and making the most out of them by perfecting the cooking technique, letting ingredients speak for themselves and coaxing flavor out of tough cuts. The result is something like magic.
I’ve taken to listening to TED podcasts in my car on the way to work, and they have a great catch phrase: “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Recently I came across one that just spoke to me so clearly. This time it was Chip Conley, who spoke about how we should re-evaluate what we value: GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or GNH … Gross National Happiness. Surely, a restaurant such as Chinato is a focused human lesson in what we should appreciate and what counts. What is the logical outcome of people loving what they do and creating what they love for others’ enjoyment? An intangible measurement, with a very tangible result. I don’t think it folley to say the lessons in Chinato are ideas worth spreading.