I’ve only come to realize recently the important role that accents have on pop culture. The attention to detail and need for authenticity has often required actors to hide their native tongues to better represent to the role they assume. Actors like Charlie Hunnan and Hugh Laurie fooled us for years by Americanizing their voices to play the leader of a Charming biker gang and a Jersey cocky doctor respectively. Most recently I’ve heard interviews from the cast of the Walking Dead only to realize that both Rick and Morgan among others are from across the pond and their American grunts and mumbles amidst the zombies are just part of the act. It’s not always English to American either; I recently binged watched season 1 of Fargo and listened to hours of Californian Colin Hanks and Texan Allison Tolman speak in Minnesota and surrounding accents.
On the other hand, bad accents can counter attempts at authenticity. For example, shortly after marrying Guy Ritchie, Michigan native Madonna felt the need to let the world know that she became English overnight driven by a lukewarm British accent. The act was deemed rather inauthentic and lead to a good amount of backlash.
The need for some degree of authenticity seems to exist in the restaurant business. In addition to a decor which reflects a restaurant’s overall concept, some insist on ensuring that the staff are equipped with a lexicon synonymous to the overall theme. It makes sense; I love to grab a Guinness from an Irish barkeep or listen to the proper pronunciation of a great Asian dish. Although the logic and emotion behind this is obvious, I think a couple of rules need to be established:
- Let’s avoid Madonnaisms. If you are not from the country, don’t use the accent. A crash course using Rosetta Stone won’t fool anybody except the hipsters who did exactly the same thing to create the appearance that they are more intelligent consumer.
- If you are fluent in the language, don’t be arrogant about it. If I order rigatoni, I don’t mind having it repeated back to ensure accuracy but don’t need it done to correct my pronunciation. I’m North American; rigatoni is the same as Reeg-a-tow-naaay.
- Make the menu authentic but readable. I can figure out that secondi means second but let’s draw the line at having the ingredients listed in a different language along with a 4 page glossary in the back.
I suppose at some point I should get back to reviewing a few restaurants so this may be a good segue. I went to Oretta a while back. I was looking for a semi-quiet Italian place downtown that didn’t have the name Cibo, Terroni or Mercatto in it. I had strolled by it a couple of times prior and was impressed with the roomy layout and decor of a traditional Italian ristorante mixed with a little King Street cheesiness. Not surprisingly when we were seated we were greeted by a young waiter will a full out Italian accent. I didn’t for a second think it was fake or phony but it did make me ponder the impact it might have on my dining experience.
The menu was a shortlist of classic Italian salads, pizzas, pastas and “secondis”. In the dead of winter the Cavoletti salad (shaved brussel sprouts, almonds, pickled red onion, pecorino and crispy prosciutto) was a crisp, fresh and balanced reminder that sulfuric and pickled vegetables can nicely bridge our extreme Canadian seasons.
From the pasta menu we opted for gnocchi and risotto (aka. Riso di Ieri). The former was doused with a rich meat sauce which made for a heavier dish, especially with the dense dumplings. The flavours were great but it grew monotonous rather quickly. Regarding the Riso; the normal and often overemphasized creaminess and volume of the risotto itself was de-emphasized. It was hidden in a pan fried crust and served atop a generous portion of mushrooms. As somebody who’s not the biggest fan of risotto, I found this version much more balanced and exciting mainly because the rice was de-emphasized. More traditional risotto fans, however, could easily be left disappointed by this interpretation.
I failed to capture a picture of the Margherita pizza ($16) but it looked like…well..a pizza. It passed the test; simplicity by means of a thin crust and fresh ingredients and would reasonably match the others along the King or Queen street strips.
Dessert was “cocco bello”; a tart with fresh fruit, cream and coconut housed in a nutty crust. Perhaps it was not a standard winter dessert but a few berries when it’s below zero is always a kind reminder that, like the salad and despite a horrendous winter, spring and summer are always on the way.
Deciding where on the spectrum between nouveau cuisine and authenticity one’s restaurant will fall must be a difficult decision. Not only does the food have to fit the bill but the vibe and environment also needs to reflect the theme. This includes the manner in which the staff addresses its patrons. I mean, it goes without saying that Game of Thrones would be ridiculous if the Lannisters sounded like Joe Pesci or Donnie Wahlberg.
Oretta was a happy medium along the spectrum of ignorance and imitation. Everything from the decor to the food to the waiter’s accent was authentic and not arrogant. The menu was smallish but highlighted the simplicity of Italian cuisine. The salad and pizza were the highlights although pasta and dessert were more than acceptable. In the end, I found Oretta a welcome change from the hipster-driven Terroni-like chains that have popped up all over the citta.