If there's one thing I've learned as an Americana married to an Italian is that you never, ever, under any circumstances, take Italians visiting from Italy out to an Italian restaurant in the U.S. It's a non-starter.
Something I've learned the hard way.
On our third date, I suggested to my future husband that we go to an Italian restaurant in North Beach. You know, the LITTLE ITALY of that great culinary city by the Bay. HA! I can still see his face across the candle lit table. Devoid of emotion. Afraid, so I would learn in retrospect, that he'd gone to that restaurant for me, and only me, that he was putting up with my ideal of what it meant to be in love with an Italian. Afraid of what? Having to pretend for the hour and a half we were there? Hearing me order the bruschetta, pronouncing the ch as a shh and not hard a k? The look on his face as I did so remains one of the greatest revelatory moments of our twenty-year relationship. And the fact that the waiter paid no mind to my gaffe made it even worse. Although my future husband never said a word about that dinner, I believe he suffered through every one of those courses--a pasta that was far from al dente, a bruschetta that came with cheese.
I know the White House isn't a restaurant. It is Michelle and Barack's home, and so a "home" cooked Mario Batali meal could prove worthy, for another thing I've learned is that when his family is visiting you in the States, you seldom eat out. You will serve their food inside your home for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don't bother putting up a fight, and though it won't sink in until a good decade has passed and many battles have been lost, it actually does all become rather fluid, easy. Not to mention just and right, for why should they want anything else, pasta aglio, olio e peperoncino, for instance. Pasta al'arrabbiata. Una bella insalata. Why not?
It really takes no effort at all.
So. Going back to the White House. Did Renzi, Benigni and their entourage essentially eat at a Batali restaurant? Home of the Iron Chef? Granted, my husband and I have eaten at Babbo, and he had no fear there. More like a giddy smile as he cheered, "Bring on the tripe!" But he has been living in the States going on thirty-years now. He's been acclimated. I would never take his visiting parents there, or his zii or any of his Piedmontese and Roman cugini. I would never hear the end of it.
Did you see that State Dinner menu? Let me tell you something about "Sweet Potato Agnolotti," the first course. In all the lectures I've received over the years about what is and what is not Agnolotti, never have I heard the words sweet and potato.
But, alas, she is magical Michelle. I'm so proud of anything she would do and I am sure the dinner turned out fabulously for the sole reason that she orchestrated it. As far as I'm concerned, she can serve and do whatever she wants.
I'm just saying.... When it comes to their food, these Italians can be ruthless.
Burgers and fries from Minetta Tavern would have been my call.
Jackie Townsend's new novel, The Absence of Evelyn, will be available in April. Find out more about her books at http://jackietownsend.com.