Thursday, July 31, 2008

They put what on what??

Posted By on Thu, Jul 31, 2008 at 7:25 PM

I received this email from Elisa Gambino, our city's pasta goddess, who owns Via Elisa. The email pertains to my review this week of Neo:

Regarding your visit to Neo: Why put balsamic vinegar on mozzarella? This is a travesty one never sees in Italy. Why put even more acid on something so wonderfully milky when the tomatoes in the salad create the perfect low level of acidity? Caprese salad has five ingredients: mozzarella, tomato, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil and salt. Balsamic vinegar adds nothing and will change the flavor of even the best mozzarella. Balsamic is often used to hide bad ingredients and I think your “caprese” at Neo might have been a victim of this tactic.

I recently saw a restaurant offering “local San Marzano” tomatoes. Very simply, “local San Marzano tomatoes” do not exist. San Marzano tomatoes are like Parmigiano Reggiano, Champagne and Vidalia onions. They are all geographically specific and cannot be produced outside of their region. The consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano producers has spent millions educating the masses on the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and all other parmesans but the San Marzano growers do not have the money it takes to create a marketing campaign on this scale.

Buyers beware: If the tomato is grown domestically, it is NOT San Marzano and you should not pay San Marzano prices for it. Is it a good tomato? Maybe, but it is not San Marzano. San Marzanos arrive in the US in cans and they are the best canned tomatoes for making sauce. I’ll write to you about why they are so perfect in another e-mail but for now the pasta machines are calling.

I suppose the restaurant could argue that because it doesn't call the salad "Caprese," it can do what it wants. I should also clarify that the balsamic was not on the mozzarella but was a swipe on the plate. I'm nit-picking before anyone else has the chance to.

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