Knife Skills, A Serial Novel – Part 31

Each Friday, the Heavy Table presents a new installment of Knife Skills, a culinary novel presented piece by piece as it’s written. If you’re uncomfortable with salty language, please be aware that characters regularly use words and phrases unacceptable in polite conversation. In the author’s imagination, some members of the food service industry have a tendency to swear. For previous and subsequent installments, visit the Heavy Table’s Fiction directory.


The End of The Silver Spoon(?)
posted at 23:11 by Elena Eckelman

Tonight was the last meal served at The Silver Spoon, and I was fortunate enough to be among those in the dining room. I’ve dissected every dish served at the restaurant, made my fair share of Italian gastronomic blunders, and been wowed, dazzled, bowled over, and blown away by dish after dish executed by the masterful hands of Chefs Bruno Latini and his peerless and irreplaceable American sidekick, Robert T. Robertson.

Chef Latini told a story tonight, about Naples. In World War II, when food ran short in the city, the people wasted nothing. No resource went untapped. That included the city’s celebrated aquarium, where in the days before the liberation of the city all of the tropical fish — regardless of strangeness — were prepared and consumed in fashions both rustic and elegant. Poor fish! Poor Naples! A welcome banquet for General Mark Clark — who had expressed a preference for fish — was a boiled manatee served with garlic sauce. It was presented on the menu, or so says Tuscan writer Curzio Malaparte, as “Siren mayonnaise with a border of coral.”

This episode — besides being shocking — makes two important points, Latini said. The first point is that the Italians are endlessly resourceful and inventive when it comes to food, and will recombine ingredients in an infinite variety of wonderful ways. The Silver Spoon teaches us how deep the cuisine is, and what a limited little slice of it we’ve sampled as Americans. The second point is that we are so fortunate — so “goddamn fortunate, so f***ing fortunate,” he actually said — to live in a time and place of such plenty that we can enjoy a restaurant as special as this one.

Latini asked Robertson to speak, and he refused. I think I’ll get in trouble for writing this, but I believe he may have been tearing up. Anyone who knows the chef would say that this is impossible, and the lighting was dim, so I can’t say for certain, but I think this six-month gastronomic odyssey has meant a lot to him.

And it meant a lot to at least some of the people in the room — the diplomatic corps, maybe not, but the servers and their families, and a number of Italian journalists and old ladies and clergy who were in the dining room seemed genuinely touched. I shouted out a question — so unlike me! if you know me, you know that this is unlike me! — “Any chance the restaurant will reopen with a limited menu? A different owner? But the same chefs?”

Latini shrugged, the Italian consulate guys seemed noncommittal but excited, and only Robertson seemed to shake his head and indicate it couldn’t happen. Maybe he just can’t deal with the prospect of going through it again? Perhaps he can’t settle down?

But of course onto the food! The final food! The last of my wonderful, fabulous, ever-changing, free, delicious, gorgeous-looking food!

We started with a Bavarese D’Ananas (a Pineapple Bavarois), a terrine made of pineapple, milk, heavy cream, and lemon juice, served with slices of Culatello di Zibello prosciutto. Heavenly! The terrine was light, almost floating off of the plate, not terribly sweet, just bright and juicy, complementing the depth and slight saltiness of the pork.

Next a Crema di Gamberi e Pomodori (Cream of Shrimp and Tomato Soup) that was buttery and comforting, with some of the most vividly fresh tasting shrimp that I’ve had in my life. I could not pry the name of the shrimp purveyor out of Robertson (come on, man, what do you have to lose!) but the shrimp were very small and delicate and rich in flavor.

Then Cestini di Calamaretti, Baby Squid in Baskets, little puff pastry pies filled with mussels, and eggs, and baby squid, and shallows, and garlic and parsley. It’s not clear how Latini and Robertson cram so much delicate flavor into what could be such a heavy dish, but, my God! One of these — to serve us one of these, just one stingy one of these, was cruel as hell! I am dog earring my copy of The Silver Spoon right now as I type this post, so that I can, myself, tomorrow, attempt to make these things, which are among the finest things served in this very fine restaurant.

I’d hoped for a pasta on this, our final evening, but was surprised that the big main course was a Brasato al Barolo — Braised Beef with Barolo. The meat, which had an almost cocoa-like undertone and a rich, wonderful supporting note of wine, practically melted in my mouth. This was a peasant stew, a simple, straightforward dish that could be made to sing if treated properly. And oh, it was treated properly.

Dessert was a Crostata Tutti Frutti (a Tutti Frutti Tart) with a glass of Moscato D’Asti. The tart, which turned upon fresh black currants, blueberries, apricots, kiwis, and raspberries for its flavor, was simple and bright, a wonderfully deft gesture to wrap up a fantastic last meal.

I will not embarrass Chefs Latini and Robertson with an A+ grade for tonight’s meal, for it was not perfect. We should have been served two Cestini di Calamaretti. But I will give them an A, a fine, distinguished grade worthy of two fine, distinguished cooks. Wherever either of them go in New Amsterdam, my tastebuds will follow. With great sadness and a great deal more affection, I say to both of them: arrivederci!

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