I guess a running theme that I tend to write about is Italy. I like Italian wines and I like Italian food. In my little ethnic ghetto that I grew up in in Southwest Detroit, beyond my own extended family of Armenians, the next biggest nationality that I was surrounded by were the Italians. Growing up, there were no Armenian restaurants, but there were plenty of Italian restaurants and I learned to discern the good from the bad. To this day, I still dislike ethnic restaurants that pass themselves off as caricatures of what Americans perceive to be that ethnic group’s style of food. As I so learned first-hand from all of the different families and friends, what I should expect from different types of foods, and it is from these early days that I have kind of sequestered myself to certain comfort foods, that I still find how to break out of.
Whenever there is a time when we are to meet other people and the restaurant is undecided, I will usually suggest an Italian eatery, from a purely selfish point of view. I can also do this, because no matter the potential location, there will be an Italian restaurant; and on top of that, there may be a couple of different price categories, so as not to make the others squirm if they deem one too expensive. Over the course of years, I have found that the local Andiamo chain to be quite safe and dependable, though I have not tried their location in “The D” in Las Vegas. I have found that certain of the locations are better than others, but I can always expect to find something that will make everyone happy about in the dishes. My Bride and I may not order pasta as a main course, but there are always dishes like Osso Bucco alla Milanese that will work. Braised veal shanks over some fettuccine is always safe, and in fact I tend to prefer ordering a veal dish, because it is something that we have never even tried to do at home. I always try to order something that we normally do not make at home and anything braised requires such long periods of preparation that it is probably best to let the restaurants do it. My Bride is always happy and can find something, usually will order something much healthier, even if it is something that she will make at home and then we will split the orders between us.
The other nice thing about going to an Italian restaurant is that they will usually have some interesting Italian wines. The fancier the restaurant, or the fancier they think they are, the better odds of getting something different. I have found that the restaurants in the mid-price range will offer a couple of stellar wines, that I will avoid, because I am sure that they do not turn over their stock of these and I always am concerned at how much consideration is given for the storage of these wines. I also, if I get a chance I will pass by the house wines as I figure there is not much nuance or structure, only a great profit margin for the house. I will select a wine like Villa Antinori Toscana IGT 2001 for dinner. The Antinori house is huge with a great selection of wines and most of them are affordable even with a restaurant mark-up and they are easy enough that even non-wine drinkers can appreciate. The Antinori family has been in the wine making business for about six-hundred years, so they have a good track record. This particular wine from the Tuscany region carries an IGT designation, because most of the great recognized DOC wines that are red rely on the Sangiovese grape with some other indigenous local grapes for blending; whereas these new “Super Tuscan” wines as they are billed on the wine carte have been blended with “foreign” varietals as this wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese. I have found that most of the mid-range “Super Tuscan” wines are well made and easy to drink without breaking the budget and I think that makes everyone happy when one goes out for dinner.