Thursday, July 1, 1999
Alessio Giannuzzi is from Pistoia, an area in the Tuscan region of Italy, about 15 minutes out of Florence. Appointed as chef at Il Fornaio in Carmel last September, he sums up the essence of Italy''s many styles of authentic cuisine with one word: "Heritage," he states firmly.
"There are 19 regions in Italy. And over time, the country has been conquered by the French, Germans, Spanish, Arabs and Greeks, all leaving their influence."
According to Giannuzzi, the constant focus of his job is respecting that heritage. "You can''t go more authentic than what we do here. Believe me," he laughs, "I grew up in Italy and never even saw a meatball my whole life!" What Giannuzzi did see growing up in Italy was life lived close to the source. Raised on a 100-acre farm, with Nonna in the kitchen making pasta, he rubbed elbows with rabbits, pigeons, chickens, and cows. Along with this bucolic knowledge of food, he was bestowed a cooking legacy--as were his sister and brother, all of whom chose culinary careers.
An appetite for adventure brought Giannuzzi to America, and he eventually decided he liked it enough to stick around. After eight years at Rafaello in Carmel and a stint at Quail Lodge, in 1993 he partnered with Jean Galmes at Carmel Valley''s Bon Appetit. Ripe for a change of pace a few years later, he relinquished his interest in that restaurant and accepted the chef position at San Francisco''s Il Fornaio.
Returning to Carmel, he now works closely with manager and host Phil Coniglio. Growing up just down the street at his family''s landmark Mediterranean Market, Coniglio opted to put his food background to work again, having stepped back a few years ago from running the Market and a career in restaurant management. After helping to raise his young daughter while his wife finished her nursing degree, the timing was right to get back in, when the opportunity presented itself at Il Fornaio this past May.
For the first half of each month an expanded offering is available, a full range of choices in an edible regional tour. In July, you might choose to explore the tastes of Venice, with dishes like Maialino alla Padovana (pork chops filled with saffron-pistachio cream cheese) or Masoro all Valesane (duck roasted with onions, capers, garlic and herbs, with grilled radicchio and polenta).
Or, there''s a substantial number of regular menu options, like the recently added antipasti sampler.
Closing your eyes and pointing might be the easiest way to order, with plenty of pastas (don''t miss the full-of-flavor lobster ravioli), and fresh fish, like Chilean seabass, salmon and halibut, served grilled, or baked with artichokes, olives, potatoes, and mushrooms. Whole Pacific fish or striped seabass are available oven-roasted or delectably moist and tender, baked in a salt crust. Rotisserie chicken and specialty meats, a staggering table of desserts, and lots of wines, both Italian and local, all add up to create a pleasant predicament when it comes to deciding what to order--unless, of course, you''re on the lookout for meatballs.
At The Pine Inn, Ocean Avenue at Monte Verde, Carmel, 622-5100
Hours: Continental breakfast from 7am, full breakfast 8-11:30am; lunch 11:30am-3pm, everyday. Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5-10pm; Friday and Saturday, 5-11pm.
Price range: Under $4-21.95