I’ve been back in Los Angeles for a week now, and last night we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner for the first time since I got back. This may not seem like a big deal, but for us it is always a tragedy.
The restaurant was Pomodoro in Woodland Hills. I don’t want to say it is a bad place by American standards. Actually, it is one of the better chains. It is just that I was in Italy having the real thing a week ago, and by those standards, even the best place in the states simply stinks.
To give you an example of what I mean, let me go back about a month. I was having a mega craving for roasted chicken and roasted potatoes. In the states, we would generally call it Tuscan chicken, since it is generally a central Italian thing. In Soriano, there is a place that makes roasted chicken and potatoes that are to die for, and this craving I was having needed to be addressed.
We decided to go to a place called Rosti in Westlake Village. It is a tiny chain of just 4 restaurants. We had been there in the past many times, and it had always been good. In fact, it has always been the closest thing to real central Italian food we had ever eaten in the states. The problem was that I was craving the real thing, not the ‘closest thing’. I had the memory of Italy in my head, not the memory of a cheap imitation of Italy.
So we go to Rosti and order Caprese, followed by roasted chicken and potatoes.
The Caprese was a disaster. But t wasn’t their fault… it was ours. We had the memory of the real thing. Caprese is pretty simple… it is hard to mess up. I mean, Mozzarella, Tomato, basil, and oil… How hard can it be? The problem is that the tomatoes we get here in L.A. taste like water, not tomatoes. The mozzarella is never fresh, and even at best, it has absolutely no flavor. So in the end, you get something that looks like Caprese, but tastes like nothing.
Then came the main course. The plate looked awesome! There were my potatoes and my roasted chicken… Yummmmm!!! That is, until my knife hit the chicken. It didn’t feel right. When I tasted it, I suddenly frowned and wondered how they got the chicken flavor out of the chicken. Then I tried the potatoes, and I could feel the effects of the microwave used to heat them in my mouth. I was devastated. It was like craving an In n’ Out burger and settling for a Big Mac. The problem was that this is as good as it gets. The only way to satisfy the craving was 8.000 miles away. Why can’t we make decent Italian food here?
Actually, it is our own fault. We live in a move ‘em in and move ‘em out country. It starts with the farmers and ends with your meal. The farmers mass produce everything, having to make a bigger tomato that gets to the market faster so they can grow more tomatoes. Technology gets us bigger and cheaper tomatoes faster than ever. The price of this is flavor. The chicken ranchers are replaced by chicken ‘mills’ that pump them full of hormones, giving us bigger chickens than ever. They are big and cheap, so who will notice that they don’t actually taste like chickens?
As we walk into restaurants they take our orders as soon as possible and deliver us our food as quickly as possible. We mistake this for good and fast service, but it isn’t that at all. In fact, they want us in and out quickly so they can get reuse your table as many times as possible that evening. But food just doesn’t cook that fast, now does it? So they have to precook as much as possible. They can’t waste the time and energy to make things from scratch, so they buy the majority of what you eat in frozen form from a huge distributor. Food is prepped quickly and reheated so that they can use fewer people in the kitchen with higher efficiency, all the while getting your order to you in lightning speed.
The process is beautiful, and the only thing you lose along the way is flavor. But even that is ok, since we are preconditioned to think that is the way it is supposed to be.
Then we wonder why the Italian food is so much better in Italy. Go figure!