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High-End Mario vs. Low-End Mario
Tuesday, May 08, 2007 | posted by Mike

It is with tremendous shame that I admit that I've never been to one of Mario Batali's restaurants. Considering the fact that I live a one-hour train ride from four or five of them, there is really no reason for this. It might have something to do with the fact that Mrs. TVFF and I don't usually go out for a very nice Italian meal. Typically, we opt for a neighborhood Italian restaurant when we do go out, and I cook so much Italian in the house that it's not typically the cuisine of choice when stepping out on the town. Still, this is no excuse for not trying Mario.

Of course, going to one of Mario's places wouldn't guarantee that the orange clogged maestro would even be in the same time zone as you, so you're going there more for the wisdom he imparted on his staff and the menu that he initially put together for the place. Just as we said when we talked about the whole Tyler Florence/Applebee's menu, a chef with his or her name attached has a responsibility to ensure a quality product.

And so we get word on the Mario Batali-inspired frozen pasta dishes that we quickly mentioned in a Crumbs post from a month or so ago. The word? So-so.

Mario Batali wanted his new line of "Regional Recipes" frozen dinners (launched under the Progresso brand) to be as close as possible to real Italian food, which means assertive seasonings, fresh ingredients and al dente pasta.

He got it partly right. Testers who sampled the Orecchiette Pasta with Italian Sausage and Broccoli were pleasantly surprised by the heavily spiced sauce and tender-crisp broccoli,that lacked that all-too-common soggy, frozen-dinner taste and texture.

But while tender-crisp is a quality desirable for broccoli, the same cannot be said for pasta. Many pieces tasted unappetizingly undercooked.

I'm sure that Mario would not like to hear that the texture of his pasta was the dish's downfall. If Mario is taking after his mentor, Marco, someone at Progresso can expect a hot dish of risotto to the face.

As we said, it's not like Mario is slaving away over huge industrial vats of sauce. But, for the low, low price of $100,000, you can have Mario slaving over a meal for you and your friends or coworkers. Oh, and there will be a magician.

I flew to Las Vegas at Batali's invitation for a $100,000 lunch created by the world-famous chef and his long-time friends, bartender Tony Abou-Ganim and magician Billy Harris. The trio have teamed up to create an exclusive dining and entertainment service, dubbed Magic, Martinis & Mario, for - well - the kind of people who can afford a $100,000 lunch.

The burning question for me, and probably for everyone else is of course: "Exactly what is a $100,000 lunch like?"

Sadly, I can't tell you. I arrived at Batali's Enoteca San Marco with a big appetite and even bigger expectations, but the only thing I got to sink my teeth into was a pitch as to why the privileged will pony up for this exorbitant, albeit unique, experience.

I'd really like to hear about the company that takes them up on this offer. Actually, I'd like to attend the annual meeting of that company, just so I can hear a share-owner get up during the Q&A session and ask, "You paid HOW much for lunch?!?!"

So...slightly chewy pasta for ten bucks or handcrafted dishes and sawing a woman in half for ten thousand times that amount? I'll be stopping by my frozen food aisle.



Hi, I'm Mike and I created TVFoodFan.com as a place where you can come to get the latest news and views about what’s going on in the world of culinary television.

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