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A Neapolitan Dinner to Remember in a Restaurant and Hotel with English Names:
George’s in the Grand Hotel Parker’s

What an unusual name for a hotel in Napoli, we thought, when the cab dropped us off in front of the stately, five-story Grand Hotel Parker’s on Corso Vittoria Emanuele,  the street that runs along the top of the city through Naples’ most fashionable neighborhood. It was a night in late February; darkness had fallen, preventing us from seeing the jumble of centuries’-old buildings and ancient narrow lanes sloping all the way down the steep hillside to the Bay so famed in song and story. Still, the myriad of lights and shadows along with the moonlight reflected in the Bay were bright enough to create a romantic aura that deserved a Neapolitan name. How did a place so defined by its locale end up being called Parker?

Deborah Minouni, sales manager swiftly solved the mystery. “According to the story, in 1899 one of the early owners of the hotel was about to lose his property as a result of unpaid gambling debts,” she told us. “At that moment, a resident guest, George Parker, instructed the bailiff to put the outstanding amount on his bill. That done, the rescuer’s name (in the possessive sense) was added to ‘Grand Hotel.’

“The Grand Hotel Parker’s was built in the 1870’s,” Deborah continued, “but most of the buildings in this area are from the 18th century so it is one of the newer ones.  In the 1990’s, it was totally restored, and at that time, the restaurant was built up on the roof to take advantage of the view.”

Unquestionably “George’s” – another English name denoting ownership and undoubtedly referring to the same resident guest/owner – does take advantage of the view. And what a view is to be had six floors above the Corso Vittoria Emanuele! From such a height, all of Naples and its surroundings lie before you: the rooftops of the city, the Bay, the twin peaks of Mount Vesuvio, the isle of Capri – all through a wall of glass doors that opens to a dining terrace with a panoramic perspective. Sadly, all we could take advantage of was an interior view and a nighttime one at that. We will have to return.

“Mediterranean with a Napoli touch,” is how Vincenzo Baciòt describes the cuisine he has been preparing at this famous dining room since it opened some 18 years ago. Youthful-looking and soft-spoken (in Italian, that is; restaurant manager Franco Russo translated), the chef  has worked with such luminaries of haute cuisine as Alain Ducasse. He’s traveled across the globe, learning about special herbs, techniques of blending different ingredients, preparing fusion cuisine (this in Japan), and his cooking reflects the myriad of his experiences. At the same time, it is, if anything, local.

This becomes apparent as soon as the diner is seated when little bowls filled with slightly spicy black olives and baskets of white rolls – some are made with paprika, others have little pieces of walnuts or olives tucked within  -- make their appearance. They are irresistible. Only when an amuse bouche of a mousse of artichoke is placed on the table, can one summon up the will to plead “Please take the rolls away.”

Consult the menu, and every dish seems to offer some unusual ingredient or novel combination. The sweetbread starter was not on the menu but hearing it was available, one of us asked for it. The meat was slightly spicy, typically Neapolitan, we were told. On top of it rested a perfectly formed potato pancake and on top of that, a miniature poached quail egg so perfect looking, it seemed a pity to eat.  Then there was the fresh mozzarella served with sun-dried tomatoes -- typical, and smoked swordfish – decidedly atypical.

From six choices of pasta, we had paccheri, a Neapolitan pasta, (bigger and fatter than rigatoni and penne, it comes from the coast where the wind from the sea makes it dry and flavorful) with prawns and grouper balls in a cherry tomato sauce with a touch of parsley,  and spaghetti carbonara with zucchini and tuna roe. It was a pity we had to leave fettuccini with porcini mushrooms and truffles in a parmesan cheese fondue for some future date albeit not without the mental note: “We will have to make this happen.”

Grilled mixed fish: scampi, prawns and cod in the eye-opening Sicilian combo of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper known as Salmoriglio sauce introduced the next course along with sea bream that came with baked noodles, vegetables and clams. A clean and clear Sicilian Chardonnay: Penuta Regalo, Tosca d’Almarita proved an excellent accompaniment.

At this point, moving on to a meat course would be more than we could handle although the beef steak with morel mushrooms and the tenderloin with Mediterranean herbs and walnut sauce were inviting. Another “next time” mental note.

A pleasing selection of cheeses included two sheep cheeses: Pecorino di Pienza and a strong Roquefort along with a tangy goat cheese. But by now, our eyes were on desert. Throwing calorie-caution to the wind, we settled on hot cake with chocolate sauce and rum, and a crepe with a rich and creamy mascarpone in orange sauce.

Chef Baciòt told us that although he is a judge for the Michelin rating organization, he has no desire for George’s to be awarded even one of the coveted stars. “All we want is to be a gourmet restaurant serving traditional dishes and using local ingredients,” he said. “You have had just a tasting, and all of it is local cuisine.”

“That applies to everything in his kitchen,” Franco interjected. “The chef gives his impression, his vision, his taste to the plate. We are now near the end of the winter season. He is using potatoes, mixing them with dried mushrooms and other ingredients to achieve the taste of porcinis. Artichokes, green beans and fava beans are beginning to come in. He uses lots of the beans, mixes them with bread, bacon and red wine. Neapolitans are crazy for them.”

The chef’s newest passion, Franco added, is for organic cooking. He recently returned from Nuremberg where he attended a yearly exhibition of organic farming worldwide. He wants  to know what new products are available, what alternatives exist for people who have specific allergies so that he can make them for George’s clientele.

He went on, “Chef Baciòt admires the Japanese, their work ethic, their cleanliness. People generally don’t ask for sashimi here but if someone did, he can do it.”

How did this gentle Neapolitan develop such a love for this profession, we wondered. “It came to him as a child,” said Franco. “His family was in the field; he cooked at home. He would invite friends over and cook for them. His mother would get angry. ‘I’m just studying,’ he would tell her. Later on, she worked in the kitchen with him.”

“I like the Parker Hotel. I grew up here,” said the chef. “The property is like my home; the people are like my family.”

Having translated once again, Franco turned to his friend with a smile. “Every day this man comes to work with the same passion,” he said. “Every day for him is like the first day. And I can tell you the day he loses that joy, he won’t come to work any more.”


Restaurant Manager Franco Russo
 (left),
Chef Vincenzo Baciòt

Sales Manager, Deborah Minouni

Views from the top of the city – in daylight, naturally
 
   

Grand Hotel Parker’s
Corso Vittorio Emanuele 135
80121 Napoli

Phone: 39 08 17 61 24 74
Email: georges@grandhotelparkers.it
Web:  www.grandhotelparkers.com

Photographs by Harvey Frommer

TRAVEL BYTE – NAPLES’ BOTANICAL GARDENS

In Naples, darkness may fall quickly, but spring announces its arrival just as fast.

One place to experience an early Neapolitan spring in late February is in the beautiful Botanical Gardens where everything is green and the camellias are already in bloom.

 

Photographs by Harvey Frommer

#  #  #

About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

This Article is Copyright © 2003 by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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