Jonathan Gold wonders if the famed Italian restaurant Valentino has changed or if he has

If you have eaten Italian food in the last half-century, you have experienced the influence of Piero Selvaggio and his restaurant Valentino, which turned 45 this year. He is credited with introducing ingredients like radicchio, arugula, balsamic vinegar, real prosciutto and the dried fish roe bottarga to Los Angeles, and many of the best local chefs and restaurateurs, including Steve Samson, Donato Poto and Angelo Auriana, have worked for him. His massive wine cellar has won every possible award. Although he is best known for his mastery of the old-fashioned proprietor-driven dining room, he helped introduce the current, less formal style of Italian restaurant at the now-shuttered Primi. If you were a young diner plunging into the restaurant scene of the 1980s, Valentino was the restaurant you measured yourself against. It was always difficult to navigate the enormous wine list without a Sherpa, and as you dined more frequently at Valentino — it was expensive! — you found yourself weaned off Chiantis in favor of the older, well-priced Amarones and Valtellinas hidden in the spaniel-size volume. You learned which olive oils were worth the splurge, why it was worth waiting for porcini season, and why a white truffle supplement was occasionally worth a month’s car payment. If a regular mentioned that she was planning a trip to Italy, she would often be handed a page of Selvaggio’s hand-scribbled tips. You also noticed that certain people in the dining room seemed to be eating better than you were, but when you… [Read full story]

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