You could say that Frank Prisinzano runs New York’s East Village a bit. The man is 0wner and executive chef of three pretty badass Italian restaurants in the area: Frank, Supper and Lil’ Frankie’s Pizza. His fourth NYC venture, the farm-to-table concept Sauce, recently marked the one-year anniversary of a Rivington St. location in New York’s Lower East Side. The chef recently returned from his annual pilgrimage exploring the storybook mountain scenery and white truffles of Northern Italy. Here’s a dispatch from Prisinzano.
Where are you just back from?
Every fall I travel to Northern Italy at the onset of white truffle season to partake in what to me is the perfect season in the perfect place. It all usually starts with me attending either Salone del Gusto in Torino Piemonte, near France, or the Merano Food and Wine Festival in Merano, near the border of Austria in Alto Adige. Both cities are in the shadow of the Alps and surrounded by some of the most spectacular storybook mountain scenery you will ever witness, coupled with the most incredible sweeping hilly vineyard foliage, and all topped off by some of the most amazing restaurants in the world. These restaurants are serving a bounty unlike any other anywhere: porcinis, chestnuts, white truffles, locally foraged meats (deer, elk, Fassone beef, goats, sheep, guinea hens). Pastas are handmade with super orange yolk eggs and risottos made with aged rice. There are ancient chocolate factories and stunning ancient cafes in sprawling piazzas with antique cable cars. Grappas are made by true alchemists and grissini are so light that you expect to float away after each crunch. Other delicacies include bread dumplings and speck, smoked fish and baccala, apples that taste like Riesling and pears that reek of pure cinnamon.
Business or pleasure?
Both. I was filming season two of my Italian travel show SAUCE’d (see video below). SAUCE’d is a tribute to Italy and its amazing culinary craftsmen; to their incredible dedication to tradition and cuisine. It’s why I do what I do and I feel it’s important to show the world that there are still people doing things for the sake of tradition, with passion, dedication and love for agriculture and most of all humanity. For pleasure, after the shooting, some of my gastronomic partners showed up and we took the area by storm. We visited many of our winemaker, farmer and chef friends in their cellars, factories and restaurants. Blind tasting together over dinner, arguing, agreeing, making love in unison over the bounty that is northern Italy.
Video: SAUCE’d, Season 1, Episode 1
I purposely wait all year for the moment when the first alba white truffles of the season are shaved directly under my nose onto a risotto and I have an old mature “forest floor” Barolo in my glass to match. That moment has become a ceremony of sorts for me and I still get a tingle in my nose whenever I think about it.
The hectic video shooting schedule is tough. It was far tougher this season with Hurricane Sandy in full swing in New York while we were doing it. I was coordinating a complete disaster at five business locations in the city, plus worrying about my kids and parents, while simultaneously shooting. Challenging to say the least. I would never want to experience that again, but in the end it all worked out.
What airline(s) did you fly and how was it?
Delta into Malpensa. Malpensa is the best airport in Italy by far. Quick and painless. Delta is terrible, but I have a lot of miles, so I was able to fly business, which is nice. Food was inedible but I brought sandwiches, fruit and cheese, and drank about seven glasses of The Glenlivet 12 Years to knock me out.
Where’d you stay?
I stayed in four different hotels in Italy. The Terme in Merano has its own hotel that is run by the city and it’s pretty fantastic. There is an underground tunnel, which takes you directly to the hot baths, steam rooms, saunas and outdoor hot tub/sulfur pools. The outdoor area is pretty spectacular. You are surrounded by vineyard foliage and snowcapped peaks while you take a nice soak as the sun is either setting or rising. You can’t believe your good fortune. Rooms are immaculate (this used to be Austria after all) and have super soft sheets, nice hard mattresses and all handmade wood interiors. Excellent facilities and each room has its own balcony overlooking Merano, one of the most spectacular mountain towns in the world.
What was your best meal on the trip?
It’s really hard to pick this year. We had so, so many and every restaurant was really spot on. The truffles, although scarce this year, are really tasting better than I can ever remember. If I had to pick one it would probably be Da Guido in Pollenzo. It is located on the campus of the School of Gastronomic Sciences and the headquarters of the Slowfood movement. They walk a very fine line between tradition and territory and modern preparations. They never veer too far away from the classic to offend me while delivering some of the best execution anywhere in Italy. Other restaurants of note were Zur Rose in San Michele Appiano, Trattoria Della Posta (either of which could also have been my best meal) and a new place that we tried (at the behest of a very good friend Matteis who works for Manicor Winery) called Miil near Merano.
What did you bring back? Let us guess…
1.5 kilos of the finest white truffles the Langhe has to offer. Soaked with the soil and richness of their forest floor. Astoundingly strong, they reek of Piemonte terroir and I am serving them as we speak at Frank, Supper and Sauce over risotto, tajarin and eggs. They are not to be missed and I do them at my cost, which is just unheard of. Truffles embody everything I love about Italy and for one whole week every year I basically give them away as a tribute and treat.
Read more Just Back From columns on Food Republic: