I was never one of those kids who had to be told not to play with their food. I’m certain that there are some out there who had to be instructed on a regular basis that their dinner or lunch was not for amusement but rather for nourishment. Not me. I was happy to eat my meal instead of trying to fashion it into some type of sculpture or other modern creation. I was not destined to be a scooper at a Cold Stone Creamery or a chef at Benihana.
Fast forward about 40 years. Now, not only is it fashionable to play with your food, but, entire Food TV programs are built around the concept. Food as art, food as an art form and food for show. Here in Sarasota we now have an outlet to satisfy our need for food as entertainment. Let’s take a little trip.
My friend Judi and I share a love for food. The big difference is, she actually knows what she’s doing and talking about and I just think I do. She called and told me that she had an invitation to a new place in town that was a little different than your standard Italian eatery and would I be interested in tagging along for a tasting. What kind of a question is that? I would be surprised if anyone reading this piece would pass up an offer to try out a new place with someone who could evaluate the cuisine with a discriminating palate.
In the Gulf Gate neighborhood there is a little Italian restaurant with a big show going on inside. Chef/Owner Giuseppe Urbano is putting on a display of culinary flash at his restaurant, Oh Mamma Mia!.
The place is small. Those of you who have been around long enough will know it as the old Bean Stalk. You wouldn’t recognize it now. It’s been remade into a charming Italian restaurant complete with show kitchen. Mirrors positioned over the workspace allow diners to get a firsthand look at what’s usually concealed behind the kitchen door. And, what a look it is!
Of course there are traditional tables for you to enjoy your meal, but, here they offer another option. Oh Mamma Mia has a counter where you can sit and eat. It gives you the best view in the house. Judi and I sat there. We figured as long as we were here for the show, we might as well have a box seat.
Giuseppe is a friendly guy with an upbeat attitude. He also likes to talk. And, talk we did. About everything from how he came to open the restaurant to the way in which all of his dishes are cooked at the moment. This was all extremely fascinating, but, I was really only interested in one thing. What did Chef Giuseppe consider his specialty. Not the thing that his customers ordered the most, but, the one dish that he makes that he thinks hits it out of the park every time.
There was not one second of hesitation. His proud pronouncement, Penne alla Puttanesca. I said, let’s do it!.
This classic Italian dish typically has tomatoes, olives, anchovies and capers cooked down and served atop some type of pasta. Giuseppe chose penne, an excellent choice. I tend to like things a little on the salty side so I was anticipating great things.
Giuseppe went to it. This cooked at the moment thing looked like really hard work. I’m hoping it would pay off. He started stirring sauces, boiling water, chopping ingredients and carefully constructing the finished products. Judi and I sampled lots of fantastic dishes, but, it was his famous Puttanesca that I was anxiously awaiting.
Finally it arrived. It looked amazing. But, what about the taste? The first fork full said it all. Delicious, rich and filled with flavor. The pasta was cooked perfectly and it was covered with just the right amount of that mouth watering sauce. It was, in my estimation, a hit!
I think the intention was that Judi and I would share that dish, but, in all honesty I don’t think she got the half she was entitled to. I was a little quicker with the fork than she was.
The bottom line: All of Chef Giuseppe’s dishes were great that evening and the atmosphere of Oh Mamma Mia was bustling with the excitement of great food and great flair. The Penne alla Puttanesca was the star of the show and Giuseppe pulled it all together with the talent of a great conductor. I’m guessing he was one of those kids who played with his food.
2324 Gulf Gate Drive
Sarasota, FL 34231