Mama Mia. Now that’s Italian!

There are at least three things I share with Carl Alasko — we both write columns in this section of The Herald; we enjoy opera; and we both are passionate about good Italian food.

Several hundred columns ago, I bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t had a good Italian restaurant meal since settling west of the Mississippi. I know that sounds harsh coming from someone who thinks Auguste Escoffier was a goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. I am not being fair to restaurant chefs either, since I’m holding them up to the gold standard — my mother’s cooking.

Nothing should be easier than preparing spaghetti and meatballs. And yet good meatballs can be as unreachable as all the high C’s in Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment.”

I can tell by the color whether the sauce will be too sweet or too bland. I’ve had so much watery marinara that I don’t know if I should complain to the Italian Embassy or to the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. And no Parmesan cheese, please. Good sharp, grated Romano cheese goes on pasta. Period!

Most restaurant meatballs should be flat rather than round. One restaurant served me a meatball so big and rubbery that I think I saw it in the movie “Bend It Like Beckham.” Restaurants should never try to entice me with their “all beef meatballs.” Sorry guys, it takes the right combination of beef, pork, eggs, sauce, basil, milk-soaked bread and onion to make a meatball worthy of its name.

Dr. Alasko has come to the rescue of many people floundering on the sea of psychological stress. Now he is responsible for rescuing Italian food from wallowing on a sea of mediocrity. A dear friend and I went to his new restaurant, Il Vecchio, that he and his two lovely daughters opened in New Monterey.

When we walked in, my friend, who lived in Manhattan for 20 years, took one look at the décor and said: “This is New York City!” But you can’t eat the décor, nor the view, which some restaurants situated on the ocean don’t seem to understand.

One taste of the gnocchi took me back more than 50 years to my mother standing in the kitchen nurturing those delicate little potato dumplings. Had she spent as much time on me, I may have turned out better.

I can go on raving about the ravioli stuffed with scallops and rock cod, peperoni al forno (with tomatoes and garlic), but I don’t want to spoil your own voyage of discovery.

The food was paired with wonderful local wines. And the menu prices were remarkably reasonable. Like me, Carl believes that good Italian food shouldn’t be expensive. I bristle when faced with a $15 plate of spaghetti. Where I’m from, you can’t carry $15 worth of spaghetti without four donkeys and a cart.

You would think a therapist opening a new restaurant in this economy would need to see a psychiatrist. However, if you build it they will come — especially if you serve chicken cacciatore in white wine-sage-rosemary sauce, and tiramisu, zabaione, crostata di ricotta and …

Jerry Gervase is a columnist for The Herald. He can be reached at


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