I'm sure Alan Richman is still mad at me about what I wrote about his New Orleans food piece, but that doesn't mean I can't blog about his writing. His review last week of Il Mulino is so spot on it's like the man has some magical truth serum in his computer keyboard.
At the risk of violating copyright laws, here are the first 11 (short) paragraphs of his review:
The customers, practically acolytes, stream in from across America. They're happy to pay anything, thrilled to wait as long as necessary. After all, this is Il Mulino, an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village that is unlike any other, unless you count its nine branches worldwide.
The cost of eating here: $150-$175 per person, wine, veal and stupendously large portions included. The wait for your reservation to be honored: 30 minutes, minimum.
The discreet exterior -- lace curtains, gray-and-white- striped awning -- gives little warning of what awaits: a jammed bar, a torrent of unnecessary complimentary snacks, an onslaught of fast-moving waiters who are disinclined to answer questions.
Standing outside, you smell garlic. Contrary to common wisdom, that is not all you will taste. In descending order of domination, the primary flavors are oily, salty, garlicky and buttery.
You will not go hungry if you order a dish incorporating red sauce or cheese, nor will you feel cheated if you consent to the addition of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or freshly ground pepper. Il Mulino is generous, if nothing else.
The beautifully cooked Dover sole swims in an aquarium of butter. The veal parmigiana covers the plate. Over a thin, breaded, overcooked slice of meat there is so much tomato sauce and melted cheese the dish looks like a bone-in pizza.
The breadsticks are not to be believed: strips of toasted, salty, spicy focaccia so oily to the touch you'll feel as though you just checked the 10W-30 in your car.
While waiting at the bar, I chatted with a fellow from Austin, Texas. "Best restaurant in the world,'' he said.
I sat next to a couple from Charlotte, North Carolina. "Best food we ever ate,'' the woman said.
While at my undersized table, I noticed a young man polishing off his veal parmigiana, a noteworthy accomplishment. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he liked it. "Amazing,'' he said.
What we have here is an exaggerated version of Italian- American cooking, sometimes called Bronx-Italian even though it predates the Bronx. While Italian food with more authenticity is gaining popularity in America, this style of oversized, oversauced, overcooked cuisine endures.
The man speaks the truth in a wonderfully entertaining way. The best critics are truth tellers of the highest magnitude, and in this case Alan captures the Il Mulino experience—the wait, the insane amounts of food, the crazy high price of a meal there, the style of cooking, even the way Il Mulino customers speak of it—in a way that no other writer has to date.