Welcome to Artusi

May 28, 2011
by artusi

Where did the inspiration for Artusi come from? It’s a question people have been asking me often lately and not the easiest one to answer. Here’s a place that’s as good as any to start: a few years ago I was pondering the origins of my favorite cocktail, the Negroni. (For a great, concise discussion, see the following article: http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/feature/red-alert-history-negroni).  I love Negronis because of the incredible complexity of the flavor profile.  What exactly makes up those varied flavors and would happen if you take the different components of these aromatics and put them into a new context? Beyond the anecdote of a count wanting his Americano a bit more potent (“Hold the soda, please”), there was something else I wanted to figure out.

I started doing a little research, looking specifically at a list of herbals and botanicals present in Cinzano Vermouth: marjoram, rhubarb, cinnamon and clove among many others. What other major flavors are present in a Negroni? Juniper in gin, bitter oranges for Campari. Around this time, I also found a lovely source for fresh local squab (Mad Hatcher Farms in Ephrata) —one of my favorite game birds. Click! In my head I could just taste this meat scented with the deep, sweet spices present in Cinzano and the spectacular citrus that January brings. In the final dish (we also do this with young chicken at the restaurant), the bird is marinated with clove, cinnamon, blood orange zest and Cinzano Rosso. We deeply caramelize onions with toasted juniper and add a touch of marjoram to sauce the plate while thinly sliced and braised blood oranges provide a touch of acidity and bitterness. I guess this is the story of what inspires a dish. Tangentially, it also leads to Artusi. My investigation of the makeup of a beloved cocktail helped me set the flavors of a new dish. What happens when you examine the roots of a dish and reset its context? I like the idea of imagining food, tastes, cuisine almost as texts—cultural documents to read closely, pull apart, reassemble and interpret.

At its heart, some of these ideas set the tone for the food and drink at Artusi. I’ve been studying Apicius, a writer active in ancient Rome, responsible for one of the oldest recipe books in existence. What happens when you try to recreate the dishes in Apicius’ rather vague text? Tucked among recipes for sheep’s womb and peacock I found a recipe for a patina—the name of a shallow cooking vessel— of nettles. The list of ingredients was almost exactly what I would use in a nettle frittata if I were to make it this afternoon for lunch. The procedure isn’t in the original text, but scholarly study suggests that the technique would be very similar to one an Italian cook would use to make a frittata. I find it exhilarating that these ancient tastes are still present in contemporary cuisine.

The food and drink menus of Artusi will continue to honor and explore these traditional flavors, techniques, and artisanal products of Italy. Think tastes from history presented in a modern setting—some “straight reads” of authentic and historical dishes, some twists and reinterpretations. As an example, I’m very excited to serve one of my favorite new dishes, a modern plating of a very old dish, our local black truffles spiced in the style of the medieval Florence—the heady, earthy aroma of the truffles mingling with spices: toasted coriander, true cinnamon and the hot spike of ginger. I can’t wait to see you all.