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May 21, 2008

Wine Bar Food

Now on my shelves.
Random House

by Mollie Chen

Owing to the minuscule size of my apartment, I have to think twice before bringing home another cookbook. But when Cathy and Tony Mantuano's just-released Wine Bar Food came across my desk, I immediately shoved it in my bag.

The Mantuanos, owners of Chicago's celebrated Spiaggia restaurant, were inspired by many years of eating and drinking in the various wine bars of the Mediterranean (I should be so lucky). Their slim, intelligent book is organized according to city and specific wine bar tradition, from Roman crudo bars to Barcelona tapas counters. It's perfect for overextended twenty-somethings who don't have the energy to pull together elaborate meals but who want tasty snacks to go with their wine (sound familiar?). There are plenty of tempting recipes--porchetta panini, anyone?--but my favorite section is the list of must-have Mediterranean pantry items and suggestions for how to serve them. A fantastic grocery list for any traveler headed to Europe, it has favorites like Spanish piquillo peppers and Moroccan harissa, plus others I had never heard of--Italian lampascioni, or marinated wild hyacinth bulbs, sounds especially intriguing.

The husband-and-wife duo was in our office the other day to talk about their upcoming projects, including a restaurant in the soon-to-open Renzo Piano addition to the Chicago Art Institute and an onsite wine bar at this summer's U.S. Open. They've also got an enviable travel schedule: In addition to their twice-yearly pilgrimage to Italy, the couple is researching eating and drinking itineraries in Southern Spain and Lisbon. I'm predicting a Wine Bar Food focused entirely on jarred edibles and pasteis de nata, the habit-inducing Portuguese egg tart. I also got Tony to tell me about his favorite pantry staple (one that didn't make it into the book): Rosamarina, from his grandparents native Calabria, is a bright red preserve made from chili peppers and tiny fish. "You smear it on bread, add it to pastas for that anchovy, umami flavor," he says. "It's so delicious." He's never seen it in the U.S. and neither have I--but now I'm going to start looking.


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