The Campari Spagliatos were flowing, authentic carbonara canooded with guanciale, sounds of bel canto filled the air and liters of world-class wine were poured as hundreds of Italophiles filled the plaza surrounding the historic Pico House near Olvera Street for A Taste of Italy on Saturday.
Chef Giacomino Drago welcomed guests with samples from his legendary Beverly Hills restaurant Il Pastaio to the courtyard, demonstrating spaghetti history on his ancient Il Torchio pasta extruder. And a special treat for Sopranos fans, FBI agent turned gourmet food distributor Louis Lombardi was slinging garlicky pizza slices from his Avalou’s pizza company. Eataly served up a chilled zuppa di pomodoro alongside fluffy and creamy tiramisu. Chef Sal Marino’s delicate oozy spinach lasagna was a glowing testament to his weekly pilgrimages to the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
Winner of the longest line and a clear standout of the evening – as unapologetically noted by chef Antonello Zito – authentic cheese wheel carbonara, simmered in cream with egg yolks topped with imported guanciale. The silky pasta was matched only by Zito’s high-energy showmanship which is an equal draw at his restaurants, Palmina by Puglia in Palm Springs and Puglia in Lake Arrowhead.
“Carbonara is very simple,” the southern Italian chef told L.A. Weekly. “You mix the pasta in the pecorino cheese wheel with the guanciale fat, Italian truffles on top and plenty of black pepper. People will stand in line for an hour to taste!”
The event was sponsored by the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, located in the historic Italian Hall, which was built in 1908 to serve as a gathering place for the Italian community. Today, the hall is the oldest remaining structure from Los Angeles’ Italian community and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The IAMLA opened in 2016 and is jointly operated by the Historic Italian Hall Foundation and the City of Los Angeles. The museum highlights the culture of the first Italian settlers in America with more than 5,000 artifacts including documents and historic photos.
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