From the archive
…“That really struck me: an iconic Italian street in Chinese characters,” [Rich Torrisi] says. “I thought: we need to play upon these things that happen in America.” From that impulse, shared by [Mario] Carbone, their restaurant’s foray into Italian-Asian cuisine was born. They dressed sauteed broccoli rabe with dried scallops. They prepared fried rice in which thinly shaved prosciutto replaced nuggets of pork. And they acknowledged the proximity of the famed Jewish delicatessens of the Lower East Side with an antipasto called crostini Russ-and-Daughters. Named for the renowned purveyors of Jewish appetizing, it layered smoked sturgeon and cream cheese on housemade bagel chips, then added accents like sesame seeds and poppy seeds.
They even found an Italianate assignment for the Jamaican beef patty — something, they note, that’s incongruously served in a great many pizzerias. The patty is an envelope of pastry with seasoned ground meat inside, so they made squiggles of cavatelli from dough that included shortening, which the pastry would typically contain, and curry powder. For the shortening they used goat fat, in honor of the animal in Jamaican curries. And in a beef ragu to go over the cavatelli, they incorporated seasonings a patty might have: cardamom, cumin, coriander.
They weren’t thinking about fusion per se. They were thinking about New York and approaching terroir, a French concept usually applied to the climate and natural harvest of a given area, in a new way. What ethnic foods had come to co-exist in, and define, the terroir of this city? The answer: Almost every kind. Their take on chicken fra diavolo gets some of its heat from sriracha, an Asian pepper blend. It sits on a slick of un-Italian yogurt.
…Besides which, does Italian provide the same template for experimentation that French does? French, many chefs say, is less a larder with finite parameters than a foundation and set of rituals, to which a plethora of exotic flourishes can be added. [Andrew] Carmellini recalls that at Cafe Boulud, whose kitchen he ran from 1998 to 2005, he prepared bass with coconut milk, bamboo leaves, Kaffir lime. “The only thing that made it French was the technique: steaming the fish separately and pouring the broth over it tableside,” he says. He can’t think of an Italian analog, and doesn’t know what the future of Italian fusion holds.
At Locanda Verde, an Italian restaurant he opened in TriBeCa in 2009, Carmellini has been serving a dish of farro and duck with Cajun seasonings. It has one foot in Italy and one in Louisiana and suggests that if Italian grains and noodles are treated as a canvas — the way pizza, a relatively isolated precinct of riotous Italian fusion, has been for decades — an array of other ethnic influences can provide the brush strokes.