The Tasting Panel magazine

JULY 2012

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Page 58 of 132

Inventing by Mike Riccetti G ModernItalian PIERO SELVAGGIO CELEBRATES THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF VALENTINO iven the artful presentation and the wonderful interplay of fl avors and textures of a typical dish at Italian mecca Valentino in Los Angeles, it can be diffi cult to believe that the origins of the restaurant and its owner are rather humble. The former, once a dank Santa Monica bar that began life as Valentino 40 years ago serving familiar red-sauced fare; the other, an immigrant of modest means from Modica in southeastern Sicily who was 16 before his fi rst restaurant meal, at a truck-stop. Valentino and Piero Selvaggio have long since earned national and international accolades. The restaurant helped to introduce refi ned Italian cuisine to America while boasting one of its preeminent wine programs. As an innovator and exemplar, Valentino might be the most infl uential Italian restaurant in the last half-century. Not long after becoming the sole proprietor, Selvaggio traveled to Italy and found in the top restaurants of Milan "another level of Italian food." To match that, he started to transform Valentino in 1977 with the advent of Venetian Chef Pino Pasqualato. Soon, "the food was cleaner, the fl avors were distinct, the sauces didn't drown the food," recalls Selvaggio. The restaurant began introducing items then unknown such as radicchio and buffalo mozzarella, in addition to outstanding wines from Italy, France and California. Angelo Auriana, who assumed top toque duties in 1986, "took the food one dramatic step further." He had "an Italian 'intention'" but worked "with an international inventory of products." This included the best local and regional produce, fi sh and meat that might be fl own in from anywhere and those essential foodstuffs from Italy that could not be replicated. The ethos at Valentino eventually became something rare among America's Italian restaurants: exacting and as "far from home cooking as any French chef's," according to a later reviewer, but truly Italian. This was creative modern Italian food; authentically Italian in manner and spirit, though the dishes might not be found anywhere in Italy. In 1997 Wine Spectator wrote, "Valentino passes the rest of the fi eld of Italian restaurants in the United States like a Ferrari in the fast lane of the autostrada," and, even more impressive, the Italian magazine Gambero Rosso named Valentino the fi nest Italian restaurant in the world. The Valentino brand was extended to Las Vegas in 2000, where it thrives under the watch of longtime associate Chef Luciano Pellegini, a James Beard Award winner along with Selvaggio. A third Valentino is in Houston, serving the best Italian food in Texas. Other endeavors such as the innovative Primi, possibly "the fi rst modern trattoria," and Posto have had successful runs. For Valentino and Selvaggio, staying popular and relevant in the fi ckle and trendy Los Angeles market for four decades might be the most impressive feat of all. 58 / the tasting panel / july 2012 Valentino might be the most infl uential Italian restaurant in the last half-century." PHOTO: L.A.FLASHED

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