Friday Food Porn: Teaching the Classics

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Walking into a fine-dining restaurant, you feel a slowing, a calm, as you are taken into the smooth workings of a house dedicated to your pleasure. When places like that vanish, they can't ever come back. Quiet competence and respect for tradition are things that can't just be grafted onto any new space. They must be learned, kept alive by institutional memories that outstretch trends and live down fads."

From this week's review of Il Terrazzo Carmine and lament for the death of the true fine dining restaurant

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"We order more: a risotto, touched with tomato, alive with red-pepper heat and chunks of spicy sausage; penne with house-smoked salmon in a sauce built in the pan from rough ingredients and finished with heavy cream; simple gnocchi in red sauce with basil and a bit of fresh mozzarella. All of it is classical to the point of rote, schoolboy recitation--dishes unchanged over generations, yet satisfying in a way that no artichoke foam, pasta-less lasagna, or deconstructed linguine alle vongole ever could be. Which I know because I've had all three of those dishes at different times in different places, attempted by chefs on the run from the strictures of tradition like gunmen fleeing the law."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"My wife Laura raises a hand and touches the necklace she'd found just as we were heading out the door. She smiles. Like me, she's made a tour of all the lower hells of the restaurant world, and a few of the heights. She understands how rare that instant feeling of comfort and competence can be. With my hand on her back, I feel some knot of tension leach out of her. We're here. That's all that matters. The house will take care of the rest."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Carmine Smeraldo opened Il Terrazzo Carmine around the time I was being schlepped to Manhattan by my parents, walked into my first fine dining room, set before a cloth-bound menu, and asked what I would like to eat. In the 26 years since, restaurants like Il Terrazzo have been driven toward extinction by economics and changing tastes. But really, American fine dining in its truest form has simply fallen out of favor. Some people would say that these things go in cycles--that a couple years of fast-casual and bistro boom will always be followed by a return to fine dining, then a retreat, then a return. But that's wrong. That idea of retreat and return is based on too broad a definition of fine dining--counting virtually anything with a table, with silverware not made of plastic, with a wine list that doesn't offer "house white" as a viable option. The local wine bar is a fine-dining destination by those terms, as are the neighborhood steakhouse and the hot new pan-Asian curry bar that turns into a techno club at 10 every Friday night."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"We stick around for dessert, ordering a small bowl of raspberry sorbet, impossibly sweet and red against its white bowl, and a tiramisu rich with espresso and dusted in cocoa powder like a snowfall of chocolate. Unwilling to go just yet, we linger over the sweets and the bill, knowing only that it's cold outside but, for a few moments yet, warm and lovely just where we are."

To read more about the history and the weight of dinner at Il Terrazzo Carmine, check out the full review right here. For more pretty pictures of the food (and, oddly, Tom Skerritt, Joshua Huston's complete slideshow can be found over here.

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