Live by the Sword

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Mauro Lorenzon.JPGVENICE--When you order a bottle of homemade prosecco at Enoiteca Mascareta (five mintues' walk from the Piazza San Marco) they make a big deal out of decapitating the bottle with a sabre. (It's a party trick; anyone can learn to do it.) There's even a Confrérie du Sabre d'Or. And you don't actually order the prosecco, come to think of it. They just bring it, because everyone starts with a bottle.

The prosecco, made organically by Mascareta's genial, loopy, eccentric owner Mauro Lorenzon, will not be to everyone's taste, however. Most Americans, it's a safe bet to say, will not know what to make of this cloudy, tart brew. Nor will it be easy to figure out the 53-year-old Mauro himself, a force of nature who helps himself to his customers' leftovers (wine, food) even as he brings out fresh bottles to try. That's not a misspelling of Enoteca, by the way, it's deliberate. There's a national association of wine specialists in Italy who call themselves Enoitecas, and Mauro Lorenzon (think Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka) is their president.

Now, anyone who's ever scanned reviews on Yelp knows the predictable pattern of selfiish slights and self-absorbed complaints. TripAdvisor's a ltitle better because it's broader in scope and gets plenty of international comments. (Not foolproof tips, though; TripAdvisor's most highly recommended restaurants in Seattle, seriously: Pike Place Chowder, Paseo, Crumpet Shop, Bakery Nouveau and Salulmi.) Still, it's disheartening to see so many petulant Americans writing that they went to Mascareta's and were ignored, insulted, never got a menu or served bad food.

Lighten up, people! It's dinner time and you're in Venice, for heaven's sake. And, hey, if you're going to Mauro's place just because TripAdvisor told you about Mauro, you should call to make sure he's going to be there He's a force of nature, like it or not, and it's his candy store. We had a piping-hot dish of mussels and clams (slug of prosecco, touch of garlic, handful of parsley) followed by a creamy sausage risotto made without any cream at all, it turned out, just a sprinkling of rice flour at the end to bind everything together. Mauro makes the sausage himself, of course, two-thirds beef, one-third lardo, salt, pepper, touch of rosemary. Coarsely ground, by hand. If you try it at home, substitute fatty bacon and don't even think about using ordinary hamburger.

Two more things about dinner at Mauro. First, he'll likely serve you a red wine from Tuscany's Chianti zone that's as traditional a wine as you can hope for, but it's not called "Chianti." That's because it's a "field blend," all the grapes from this particular viineyard fermented together. Three reds: the now-ubiquitous sangiovese. the old-style cannaiolo, and, for color, colorato. And, horror of horros, two whites, a trebbiano and a moscato di Chianti. Why whites? Well, they added freshness and aromatics in old-style Chianti, much the way the whites in a traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape do even today. A very pleasant surprise.

Mauro's shoes.JPGThe second surprise was the foxy nose of Mauro's fragolino. Literally foxy, since that's the accepted description of grapes grown on the vitis riperia rootstock. Think Welch's grape juice, except strawberry flavor. The riperia rootstock is what saved Europe's vitis vinifera from phylloxera 150 years ago; it's immune to the preying, oxygen-blocking root louse, and virtually every European vineyard has grafted its vinifera plants onto riperia --or another American cousin, vitis labrusca (nothing to do with lambrusco). Anyway, the fragolino, named for a strawberry and smelling like a strawberry, is an Italian summer favorite, but only as long as it's made with a legal vinifera grape lke trebbiano and flavored with strawberry extract. Horrible stuff, but legal. The fragolino variety by itself, since it's pure riperia, isn't legal. Mauro understands and appreciates the irony; he hopes the police will come to arrest him. He's a patriotic guy; his Converse high-tops are the colors of the Italian flag, after all. And he's got those swords, too, don't forget.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on December 9, 2010 1:00 PM.

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