Tony featured in John Mariani’s new book
“Not only is Tony’s one of the best Italian restaurants in the U.S. today,” said Esquire columnist and food and wine writer extraordinaire John Mariani (above, left, with Tony) when he presented his new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World (New York, Palgrave, 2011), at Tony’s earlier this year. “It’s one of the best restaurants period.”
The book is a narrative history of how Italian cuisine came to be the dominant force in the contemporary gastronomic canon.
Above: At the end of the meal, Chef de Cuisine Grant Gordon (third from right) was applauded by the audience and the guest of honor for a truly superb meal that featured the flavors of Italy while also reflecting Tony’s love of contemporary cuisine and creative flair in cooking.
Tony, of course, is featured in Mariani’s history of Italian cuisine in the U.S. as one of its great pioneers and one of its few stars whose legacy lies outside of New York.
“The simple fact that he was an Italian in Houston,” writes Mariani, “required him to work harder to win over the city’s dining crowd… Little by little, Vallone came in sight of his goal of serving Italian cuisine, regularly putting osso buco and fettuccine alla carbonara on the menu along with a few of his own childhood favorites… He was also busy building a huge wine cellar that held the best wines coming out of Italy… If Tony Vallone could succeed at that level in Houston, fine Italian food was ripe to succeed at the fine dining level anywhere in America” (151-2).
Above: Another star that night was the Baby Dover Sole, dressed with golden raisins and pine nuts. Over dinner, John and Tony debated whether pine nuts and raisins should be considered Neapolitan or Sicilian in origin, with Tony finally convincing his interlocutor that Sicily can claim this combination as its own.
One of the great breakthroughs for Italian cuisine and Italian restaurateurs in the U.S., said Mariani in his talk, was the advent of FedEx and other international couriers in the 1990s. Newfound availability of authentic Italian products in the U.S. helped to reshape the Italian gastronomic map in this country and led to the creation of what Mariani calls a “true cucina italiana.” As Tony Vallone “got access to better Italian and Mediterranean ingredients,” he writes, “he wanted to create a true cucina italiana, so he added more and more dishes to the menus at Tony’s. By the end of the 1990s, his menus were almost entirely Italian and his wine list heavy with Italian bottlings.”
All the while, as he sat and listened intently to John and Tony discuss the finer points of Italian cuisine in the U.S. today, one food and wine blogger couldn’t help but think that he was watching history in the making. But then again, it occurred to him, this gastronomic history has already been written: while John’s book closes with the present state of affairs in Italian cuisine today, Tony continues to write a new chapter of Italian culinary history… nightly at Tony’s…
Look for Mariani’s new book at your local bookstore or order through Amazon.com.