On the payroll (featuring Linguine Alla Gianni -with chopped clams and shrimp- Alla Wonderland)
I don’t know how the distribution of grill power works for each level of hot dog stand at Yankee Stadium, but the foot-longs on the upper deck never really seemed to get hotter than lukewarm. I didn’t care though. I scarfed mine down, haphazardly drizzling mustard onto my shirt by grinning while chewing.
I wonder if people are surprised to learn that I’m a Yankees superfan. I mean, I don’t paint my face pinstripes or anything, I’m more of an intellectual baseball follower. I find most of the issues in my life are echoed on the field over a baseball season: the new guys unexpectedly triumphant, the heavy hitters blowing it, the mismanagement, historic rivalries, outspoken fans. Wins that feel like a transcendent combination of strength, training, and collaboration. Losses that feel like we’re the most unlucky people anywhere. I can find perfect comparisons to all those scenarios in my daily life.
Yankee Stadium is one of my favorite places in the world. I had my first beer at age 7 at the original stadium across the street, blushing while watching Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolf, Bucky Dent, Mickey Rivers, and the great Thurman Munson, just to name a few.
Francis and I had only decided to go to this October postseason game vs. the Cleveland Guardians a week before. We would only be in New York for a few days before heading off on our annual trip abroad. We hemmed and hawed about buying the pricey (nosebleed) tickets but finally pulled the trigger. We’d make a night of it with great friends joining in.
“SO WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO ITALY?” Heidi shout-asked. Her husband, Chris, one of Francis’ best friends, was on a lower deck with Francis and other good old friends, Paul and Gretel.
Games in the regular season have waves of energy. There are plenty of moments when you can grab a drink, catch up with friends, and gather your thoughts. It is baseball after all. But this postseason game contained no restrained pauses for contemplation. Yankee Stadium became its own stimula-sium, with every cathode ray tube of the jumbotron pulsing pulsing to a dj’d soundtrack and fans on their feet screaming themselves hoarse.
“WE’RE HERE UNTIL MONDAY NIGHT. WE ALWAYS COME TO NEW YORK FIRST TO SEE FRIENDS, FAMILY, AND THE CITY. IT EASES THE JET LAG A BIT.”
Heidi nodded and opened her mouth like she was going to keep the conversation going, but closed it when she realized it was too taxing to shout anymore. I agreed. With the Yankees coming to the plate, I focused my attention on the team. It was a tied game 2/2 and every at-bat was a big deal. We held our breath with every possible hit, leaped to our feet with every wave, and called back when other fans chanted players names.
“Aa-ron Ju-udge!” clap-clap-claclaclap “Aa-ron Ju-udge!”
We lost in the 10th inning–an all too familiar disappointment for this team in the postseason. A pit of dashed expectations rumbled in my tummy, the loss like an oven full of chocolate chip cookies we were only allowed to sniff.
“Should we go get some food?” someone asked.
Oh yeah, I’m hungry. That’s what that feeling is.
It was a day game so it was still early and we decided to let the crowd thin out before Chris wrangled their car from the packed lot. Waiting for him, we lingered on 161st Street, a block from the Grand Concourse. These are people I’ve known since high school but see rarely, standing on streets a few miles from where I grew up, the October air, unseasonably warm for New York in the fall, still smelled like burning leaves and wind over the Hudson and menthol cigarettes and urine. This night felt like something I knew how to do, an empowering aptitude I felt as a kid walking home alone from school. More than anywhere, I know how to be a New Yorker, though being a New Yorker again is not in the cards.
Finally, we piled into Chris and Heidi’s SUV, Heidi at the helm now, like a goddamn Nascar driver, brilliantly shifting, slipping, scooting between traffic in the Bronx without the slightest kerfuffle.
Double parked on Arthur Avenue, we tumbled out of the car as traffic honked behind us.
Chris walked through the glass vestibule entryway and said to the balding shirtsleeved maître d inside, “Table for 6?”
“Sure, sure, 15 minutes?” He flashed 5 fingers, 3 times to the group of us standing outside. We nodded.
It’s family-style dining at Dominick’s, and tables were full at that moment, mostly Yankees fans donning NY caps or jerseys with players names.
Dominick’s has been a legendary Italian establishment since 1918. When you read its Yelp reviews, everyone’s got an opinion—and I promise you no number of bad reviews that would affect change there. This is old-timey Bronx Little Italy after all, and they do it how they do it, the end. There’s no romantic lighting. No subtle music. There’s no menu really (except that there are a few menus in the room, you just have to find one). The waiter tells you what’s available and then tosses what you ordered on your table. It’s cash only. There’s no bill at the end of the meal, they just tell you how much you owe. And in a world of substitutions and food intolerances and nit-picky clientele, it’s not surprising that some people feel suspicious of the way it’s done on Arthur Ave, but holy hell is it refreshing for someone in the food service industry to watch a business run this way. They do it how they do it. Swoon.
Moments after we sat, there was wine and then an antipasto platter and garlicky stuffed artichokes. Our fingers became salty as we plucked circles of cured meat and squares of cheese from the ample offering. Crusty bread with a pillowy soft crumb was ripped apart and dipped in oil or piled high with salami and roasted peppers.
A platter of linguine drenched in a colorful chopped sauce appeared in front of the two men sitting next to Francis.
“Wow, what’s that? It smells incredible!” Francis asked.
“It’s Linguine Alla Gianni,” they replied, smiles as full as the moon. “We always say we’re going to order something different when we come here and then we wind up ordering it again. It’s. So. Good!”
That’s all it took to add Linguine Alla Gianni to our order, as well as a few other pasta dishes that were fine, but not even close. Spoiler alert: in the next blog or two I will tell tales of our travels in Italy, where the food was, of course, outstanding. But I have to say that this pasta was the best thing I ate during the whole vacation. It was incredible.
As we shoveled linguine and spaghetti marinara with meatballs and penne vodka and garlicky broccoli rabe into our gullets, the room buzzed with Yankees fans- all with different opinions on how the postseason would finish. Another shirtsleeved man sat by himself at a table next to the front door. He was enjoying many drinks and a very audible convo with the bartender. He was typecast Arthur Avenue Italian, with an accent like Joe Pesci and the physicalities of James Caan. Classic.
“I’ll tell you what!” this, to the bartender so loud we couldn’t help but listen.
“If the Yankees win the Series, I’ll buy you a bottle of Amarone!”
The bartender was out from behind the bar suddenly, clearing glasses or something, and raised his arms in the air.
“Oh ay, hold on, what now?”
Everyone was listening.
The man restated the bet rising now from his table, “If the Yankees win the series…” A pause to invite cheers from the believers. “I’ll buy you a bottle of Amarone?” Yankee fans roared in the restaurant.
He continued, “BUT if the Yankees LOSE the series, YOU’LL buy ME a bottle of Amarone!”
Amarone was stretched out for all its syllables. AAAAAHHHH MMMAAAA (tongue-rolled) RRRRRRROOOOOONNNEEEEEEYYYY!!!
The other half of the crowd cheered.
This is Dominick’s, where I’m pretty sure the guy at the front table is on payroll to give us all the complete Little Italy experience firsthand. On a different night, my cynical side might have found this display to be almost Disneylandish over the top, contrived to thrill the many tourists that dine there. But on this night, it was just what I wanted. And I cheered for the bet and for the Yankees and for Linguine Alla Gianni. Because it’s good to have something to believe in.
Thank you, New York.
Now I’m going to tell you my thoughts about this dish… I think Dominick’s uses canned clams. I know it’s controversial to suggest such a thing for a classic Italian restaurant, but the dish arrives on the table with chopped clams in the sauce with no shells to be found. The time it would take to cook that many clams, pop em out of the shell, and chop em up would make the cost-effectiveness mute. If restaurants use clams in the shell they show that off by keeping the shells in the dish. Hey, this isn’t a challenge to Dominick’s, it’s a congratulations. The sauce is spectacular with a much cheaper, easier ingredient – canned chopped clams.
I took two swings at this recipe and will continue to keep swinging to match the genius of Dominick’s. Here’s what I have so far…
Linguine Alla Gianni Alla Wonderland
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 7 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1 14 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, drained
- 2 6.5 ounce cans chopped clams with juice
- ½ pound raw shrimp, chopped into big bites
- Red pepper flakes
- 1 pound of linguine
- A handful of chopped Italian parsley
- Put a large pot of heavily salted water on to boil for the pasta.
- In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the chopped onion, a pinch of salt, and saute for 5-10 minutes until the onion becomes slightly brown. Add the chopped garlic and sprinkle with ground fennel. Saute for 30 seconds, or until the garlic smells like garlic. Stir in the wine and let it cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and crush them gently with your spoon. If they’re San Marzanos, they’ll fall apart properly. Turn the heat down and check on your pasta water, which should be close to a boil.
- When the pasta water has reached a rolling boil, drop the pound and stir it with tongs to separate the strands. Let it boil, occasionally stirring it to make sure it’s not clumping to itself for the smallest amount of recommended cooking time on the box (meaning if it says, “cook 10-12 minutes,” set your timer for 10 minutes.
- Add the clams with juice into the sauce and cook on medium high heat for about 5 minutes then add the shrimp and continue to cook on high heat. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes as you like.
- Taste the pasta for doneness, drain it, plate it and pour the sauce over it. Sprinkle with parsley.
*chef’s note: if I were making this pasta for myself, I would drain the pasta a minute or two early and add it directly into the large sauce pan (stirring it with a bit of starchy pasta water) because the pasta becomes infused with the sauce in the pan, making every bite that much more perfect. But I feel I should adhere to the serving method I witnesses at Dominick’s, where the pasta lay on the bottom of the platter with the sauce on top. Different strokes for different chefs I think.