There’s An Italian Invasion Afoot - Digest - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

There’s An Italian Invasion Afoot

We’d fight back if we weren’t so full

Illustration by Tim Bower

You know that movie everyone can agree on seeing—the one that’s not the best, but it’s pretty good and easy and inoffensive? That’s Italian food. I’m not saying Italian cuisine is so simple, it can be appreciated by a culture in which adults without kids go to superhero movies and vacation at Disneyland. But there’s a reason the Olive Garden and Pizza Hut are chains and there aren’t any La Tour d’Argent drive-thrus.

We don’t need any new Italian restaurants. Yes, I’m sure Bestia, Osteria Drago, and Trattoria Neapolis are excellent. How can I be so certain? Because they all serve pasta. Yes, every ragù and carbonara has a totally different recipe. Snowflakes are all different, too, but I don’t need 1,000 snowflake restaurants.

We pretend we love Italian food because the country is an endlessly fascinating collection of distinct city-states with their own indigenous cuisines, each of them “oft-overlooked.” But it turns out, after much cartographic research, that France has different towns, too. Our country was once full of bistros, brasseries, and haute cuisine French restaurants. Now I can’t get a great cassoulet in L.A. because we need one place that makes Roman bucatini and another that serves Venetian bigoli. How about we get one chef to generalize in thick-cut pasta and let me have a bowl of onion soup?

The real reason we have too many Italian restaurants is that we love carbs. This is the city that embraced the idiotic scooped-out bagel, but Italian restaurants somehow provide enough self-delusion: You tell yourself you’re going to Osteria Mozza for burrata, gem lettuce salad, and duck al mattone. But once you’re there, you’re ordering ore-cchiette and tagliatelle. If those menus offered only secondi and no primi, we’d see a lot more French, Spanish, and Japanese places. But Italian is a cuisine that has pasta, risotto, gnocchi, and pizza. Los Angeles would be awash in Hungarian restaurants if their dishes involved huge hunks of white bread.

In five years there will be nothing in L.A. but Italian restaurants and Starbucks. We’ll be taking long lunches and moving back in with our parents. Because, really, who can work after eating that many carbs? 

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  1. Sempronia posted on 06/06/2013 02:11 PM
    This is such a terribly written article. It's quite evident you have no real understanding of Italian cuisine or as you call it, "Italian food."

    First, Pizza Hut and Olive Garden are the Americanized caricature of Italian ingredients lumped together in a poorly executed manner. To even refer to them as Italian is insulting.

    Second, this whole snowflake metaphor shows your lack of understanding of the culture and food throughout Italy. Italy was not unified until recent history, which means yes, every region has a different style and different ingredients. Does that translate into every Italian restaurant? No. Different regions specialize in different things. So if there are five restaurants from five different regions, it's not the same food. It's like saying all Tex Mex is the same as Yucatan or cuisine from Mexico City.

    Finally, you lump together all Italian restaurants. As an Italian American I can tell you there is an overabundance of "Italian themed" restaurants serving "Mediterranean cuisine" which is actually partially Greek or some other fusion experiment. Not to mention few are down home cooking or offer any food worth eating. So I agree, we need to limit the amount of BAD Italian restaurants in Los Angeles.

    I hardly think it's worth worrying about Italian food restaurants. I see sushi joints popping up in multiples around new up and coming neighborhoods. There's a healthy mix of carb focused international restaurants from all over the place. Perhaps if you're so worried about the carb coma, we can halt the growth of overly expensive cupcake shops that basically sell fancy, more expensive versions of things you can find in a bakery.

    Don't fear the carbs. Sounds like you might need to have some in order to avoid being this cranky.
  2. Abbie posted on 06/10/2013 09:09 PM
    I love you, Joel Stein. Hilarious, as always.
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