John Mariani holds court at Lucca on Wed night

Vedrinski cooks up a memorable meal

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After the Potlikker festival on Wednesday night, I hightailed it over to Lucca for a four-course Italian feast. I walked in late and author John Mariani (How Italian Food Conquered the World) was already telling the assembled eaters stories about Italy. I stood awkwardly behind him and took photos.

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I was seated at community table in the middle — directly across from Mariani, who signed books, answered questions, and plied the ladies around him with questions about stockings (when did women stop wearing them?). He seemed rather despondent over the death of pantyhose ("They make your legs look great.'") We told him tan towels were much easier than slipping on a pair of uncomfortable hose that always end up running. Random stuff.

Mariani signs books
  • Mariani signs books

Vedrinski's dinner started with crudo, which is one of my favorites. Next to me, Nathan Needle said he'd never even had a scallop, so it was fun to watch him enjoy every last bite.

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After the crudo came a delightful little crock of Mancini Tuffolo alla Caruso. Traditionally, this dish calls for chicken livers, but Vedrinski used foie gras instead —┬áto very pleasing effect. Mariani called it a brilliant dish.

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My favorite course was actually an unusual one for Lucca, as it featured beef. Slices of grilled deckle of rib-eye were hidden underneath a pile of dressed arugula. Somewhere in there was a puree of vidalia onion and gorgonzola.

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I also had a Nathalie Dupree experience. She came over to Mariani to say hi and chat the table up. Her cameo brooch reminded me of our encounter that day at Husk. The 22-year-old seated next to me cheekily told her he used to watch her PBS show. She shot back, "What? When you were in your mother's womb?" Love her.

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