Tuesday, August 13, 2013

la Famiglia

The family. And that is what lies at the heart of Marcello’s Wine Market Café in Lafayette, LA.

“…The story goes back a long way, to Palermo, Sicily, when Marcello’s owner, Gene Todaro, was a little boy running errands for his mama, Rosa. ‘She would send me to the bread store. The salumeria, the mercato. She liked to shop every day, and I would run to buy her ingredients,’ Gene recalls. Mama Rosa cooked for her five sons…on a daily basis. Holidays, the extended Todaro family would descend from the countryside to the city, and Rosa would cook for everyone.

“In 1961, when Gene was 14 and Marcello was a year old, the family moved to New Orleans’ West Bank. Gene graduated from West Jefferson High School, then Loyola, before moving to Dallas, and his little brother Marcello left New Orleans for USL (Ed. Note: University of Southwestern Louisiana now The University of Louisiana at Lafayette.) in 1980. Recalls Gene, ‘Marcello called me one day and said, ‘I think we can open a restaurant here.’’ The brothers talked their mother into moving to Lafayette to help with recipes revolving around the spaghetti and meatballs they had grown up on” (theind.com).

The café is a charming mix of the informal and the formal. As evidence of the former are the wine cask tops embedded into one wall and which have become—either by design or happenstance—a graffiti board for customers.
But even at lunch the tables are set with white linen tablecloths and accented by red linen napkins.
But what makes the café most charming is the placement of the dining tables. “…Marcello’s (properly pronounced Mar-chello’s)…is two businesses in one. Customers walk in through rows of wine bottles, all of them for sale at retail prices. Choice tables are located in the midst of wine racks, and when the restaurant is busy, shopping for the evening’s wine is a pleasant way to wait for a table. Diners are charged a mere $10 corkage fee rather than the usual 100 percent markup, making drinking a bottle of wine while dining at Marcello’s the best bargain in town.
“The concept of a wine market located inside a restaurant is based on Gene’s knowledge of how people buy wine. ‘My idea is to marry the concept of wine and food, making wine more accessible to the dining public. Lots of people are intimidated by waiters and wine lists. Here, they can grab what they like without defending their choice,’ he says” (theind.com).
Knowing that we would both be ordering pasta with red sauce (or as it is known in the Atlantic Northeast—red gravy) and that we would have the afternoon to nap, we passed on a glass of wine and went for a bottle. Chuck and Daniel our server made their way through the wine racks and returned with a nice bottle of Chianti Classico which Daniel proceeded to decant at the table.
Both of our entrees come with a small house salad, but we both decided to upgrade to the cup of basil-tomato soup, a mostly smooth puree that did retain some recognizable chunks of tomato.
I knew that it contained cheese but had a hard time determining what kind. It wasn’t sharp enough to be pecorino Romano, yet not nutty enough to be parmigiano-reggiano. So I asked David, and after conferring with the chef, he reported back that it was a combination of both.

The Shrimp Pepate (shrimp sautéed with roasted garlic and crushed red pepper and tossed with linguini and toasted pine nuts in a light olive oil sauce) looked interesting but would not be a good match with red wine. Since I love lasagna and Chuck doesn’t, this was my chance. I asked David if he would recommend it and he told me that this comes from an old family recipe. That’s enough for me. Mario’s Lasagna it would be.
It arrived at the table with the cheese and meat sauce still bubbling and was neither overly cheesy nor overly saucy. These are both pluses to me. And at the edge of the dish was a ring of not quite burned but crispy and toasty cheese. A sign of really good lasagna.
We recently watched—who knows how many times we have seen this one—the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives episode where he is at Giuseppe’s on 28th in Phoenix and Giuseppe is making his famous Bolognese sauce, which calls for at least four different meats. We found on-line what claimed to be a recipe inspired by Giuseppe’s, but the long list of ingredients and complexity of preparation are beyond what I want to attempt in my small RV kitchen.

Since we don’t plan to be in Phoenix for some time, Chuck elected to order Marcello’s Pasta Bolognese. The pasta was covered with just enough meat sauce to coat every strand. No more. No less.
“The point of the dish is not the sauce but the pasta. Like butter on bread, the sauce is there simply as a counterpoint…. In Italian, the word for sauce, '’salsa,' is rarely used with pasta. Instead, Italians speak of the '’condimento,'’ the condiment, that dresses the dish. The pasta sauce, as a condiment, is served in quantities of roughly a quarter-cup a serving” (Nancy Harmon Jenkins at nytimes.com).

To finish the meal we shared a cannoli that had been decorated on each end with chocolate chips and was dusted with powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Delicious.
We left, stuffed but happy, from our 4.5 Addie meal. Time to go home for that nap.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

1 comment:

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