Rock star butcher Dario Cecchini blows his horn at Valentino

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Pity the poor soul who ventured into Valentino on Thursday night hoping for the usual display of elegant, quiet and refined alta cucina. Who was that guy in the bright red pants wandering around blowing that danged horn?

When rock star butcher Dario Cecchini is in the house, it’s always his party. And Valentino’s Piero Selvaggio -- who invited Cecchini to teach a butchering class and then host the dinner -- seemed like he couldn’t have been happier about that. It was, after all, the kickoff to the restaurant’s 40th birthday celebration, which is scheduled to stretch into fall.

Cecchini is the Tuscan who rocketed to culinary stardom based on his wondrous ways with pork and beef at his Panzano butcher shop Antica Macelleria Cecchini. Well, that and his penchant for standing up in the middle of any dinner and declaiming Dante’s ‘Inferno’ in loud and impeccably Tuscan-accented Italian.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, Che la diritta via era smarrita.


There was no Dante on Thursday night, but there was a four-throated horn called a tromba that had all the pleasant melodiousness of a Brazilian vuvuzuela or a demented Fiat. And Cecchini played it as long and as loud and as often as he could.

Not that anyone minded. After all, the packed house was there to see him. Among the crowd were Italian food expert Faith Willinger, who had flown in from Florence with Cecchini and his wife Kim, and their hosts Marvin and Judy Zeidler. Also in from Panzano was top Chianti producer Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi, whose wines were poured at the dinner (the 2008 ‘Flaccianello’ in magnum was superb).

What did we eat? Though the menu was billed as ‘Non-Solociccia’ (not meat only), there was indeed a lot of it -- crostini with a puree of ragu and lardo; a spectacular crudo of beef thinly sliced and dressed with great olive oil; spaghetti with wild boar ragu; roasted pork loin, and bistecca Fiorentina (or as Cecchini called it, ‘beef cooked on a wood-burning grill as ‘God’s Order’’). There was a salad, but it was a little arugula and a lot of pork, first braised in white wine and then shredded.

Tonight, calm and serenity will return to the restaurant. But what a heckuva party it was while it lasted. Even at 40, Valentino can still kick up its heels.


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-- Russ Parsons