Every ambitious chef must learn how much culinary will they can impose on customers without going out of business. That essential tension of restaurant life is one of the central attractions of "Big Night," the 1996 film starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub. Last night two chef-owners who love the movie threw a dinner in its honor.
This isn't the place for spoilers. But it's fair to say the movie's ending leaves some viewers - especially those who have never worked in restaurants - debating whether it's a happy ending. The same could not be said for the dinner, which combined the efforts of Brian Mietus of Bacchus, 56 W. Chippewa St., and Carmelo Raimondi of Carmelo's, 425 Center St., Lewiston.
Raimondi runs what I've called the best restaurant in the Buffalo area. Mietus' place ain't half bad either, and has offered downtown a unique combination of fine dining and fine cinema for more than a decade. (The 2016 lineup for the Bacchus Summer Film Series will be announced soon, Mietus said.)
A long table in the Bacchus sideroom was set family style, with antipasti like prosciutto drizzled with honey, roasted eggplant salad and platters of roasted vegetables, salmon rolled around fennel-apple slaw, pate of foie gras and porcini with tomato marmalade, and three or four kinds of bread.
Served with Negronis and wine, that would have been enough for me. Then dinner started, as "Big Night" unspooled silently on wall-mounted televisions.
First came brodo, just like in the movie, pork broth over sauteed ramps and diced carrot, celery and onion. Then a tortellini stuffed with housemade farmer cheese and served with morel mushrooms, asparagus, and garlic chips, both from Mietus.
Next was Raimondi's fish, silky snapper that had been roasted in a salt crust with Sicilian companions like grilled fennel, macerated raisins, Mediterranean olives and lemon jam.
Raimondi, whose restaurant features five or six types of housemade pasta daily, presented the timpano, a pasta masterwork of much adulation in the movie. His was not as tall, but lighter, filled with lumache pasta, hardboiled egg, sausage, prosciutto and cheese, and served on bright tomato sauce.
For dessert, Mietus offered a warm lemon budino, a sturdier cousin of the souffle, with a macerated fig hiding at the bottom. It came with a tiny pitcher of almond cream. It was a neat little package before I got to it.
Mietus and Raimondi, who are neighbors in Lewiston, hatched the scheme for the "Big Night" dinner during a backyard chat last year. Personally, I think they should hang out more.
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