Navigating the Italian Menu

There are more Italian restaurants in America than any other type, if you compile the list by ethnicity.

(If you don’t do it that way, hamburger joints would be the runaway leader.)

Italian cuisine – with its mix of meats, poultry, fish, pasta and sauces – is tailor-made for wine lovers. And the Italians embrace the synergy between good food and good wine like no other people on Earth.

For the uninitiated, navigating the menu at an Italian restaurant can be a bit daunting. But a little bit of knowledge goes a long way, and simply understanding the various courses of an Italian meal can help one ask the right questions about specific menu items.

So, let’s take a look at the basics…

* Antipasti – Appetizers.

* Primi – The first course. This typically would entail such choices as risotto, polenta, soup or pasta.

* Secondi – The second course. This is where the meat, fish or fowl come in.

* Contorni – Side dishes. These typically involve vegetables, prepared in various ways. At some Italian restaurants, the contorni selections are really amazing, so try to save room.

* Dolci – Desserts. These can be wonderful, too.

Some Italian restaurants may also offer a cheese course or cheese as a side, usually under the “Formaggio” heading. And no Italian meal is complete without “il Caffe” – espresso or coffee – at the end.

Of course, as part of the meal, wine is an absolute must. More often than not, it will be red, but as the “foodie revolution” spreads, more and more restaurants are adding courses that are white wine-friendly.

Now that you know the basics, you can go out and enjoy that sumptuous Italian meal with confidence. All we can add is: Buon appetito!

For a list of places around the United States where you can always find a good, authentic Italian meal, be sure to check back on Monday for Robert Johnson’s weekly “Editor’s Journal” column.

Posted in Wine Buzz
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