Where's Franco?: That's Franco Fazzuoli, proprietor of Franco's Trattoria, one of the best Italian restaurants in the Valley. He's been looking for larger digs ever since his old lease expired and he closed up shop last April. After months of searching, Franco's Trattoria has found a new home at 8120 North Hayden in Scottsdale, in the Village at Hayden shopping center (it used to be called El Pueblo). His new site will be more than double the size of the old one--room for 90 inside (all nonsmoking) and 30 more on the patio. Happily for us, Franco plans to keep everything just about the way it was at the old place. That means greeting diners with chunks of imported Parmesan and Romano cheeses freshly shaved off big wheels. It means he'll be making his own thick-crusted Tuscan bread and pasta. It means he'll be dishing out the veal, chicken and fish specialties of his native northern Italian region. And even better, it means he doesn't plan on raising his prices. The bad news is that we're going to have to wait. March looks like the start-up date. The good news is that's when the snowbirds and tourists start to pack up and go, so Valley dwellers won't have to compete with them for reservations.
New York, New York: A friend from my Peace Corps days in Africa passed along an interesting food experience. He works for a United Nations relief organization, spending about six months a year in Africa, six in New York. It seems that more and more New York bagel shops are being staffed by west African immigrants from Senegal, the country where we did our Peace Corps stint. (Back in the Seventies, when I last lived there, New York's bagel shops had mostly Korean employees.) One morning my friend went out for a bagel, and identified the guy behind the counter as a member of the Wolof tribe, Senegal's largest ethnic group. So he decided to show off by ordering in fluent Wolof: "Nanga def. Djach me bene bagel ack cream cheese." ("Greetings. Give me a bagel with cream cheese." There is no Wolof word for "bagel" or "cream cheese," or "lox" or "pickled herring" for that matter.) The worker nearly dropped his teeth. "Mangi fi rek. Lai la, toubabi degena Wolof?" ("Greetings to you. Holy cow, you speak Wolof, white guy?") "Wow, degena Wolof. Alhumdililah." ("Yes, praise God, I do.")
Soon they were sitting down over bagels, reminiscing about the old country in the African tongue. I'm not exactly sure why this story makes me feel like there's some hope for the world. But it does.
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The Fire Next Time: What's the next best thing to eating hot chile peppers? I'd say reading about them. And you can do that, as well as pick up some chile recipes, in a new book called Hot Licks, by Jennifer Trainer Thompson (Chronicle Books, $14.95).
She compares eating hot chiles to "mouth surfing," where people "glide along on the strong stimulation, experiencing it as something between pleasure and pain that enforces concentration and brings on a high state of consciousness." I guess that's one way to describe the Exorcist-like, head-swiveling effect that comes from swallowing a habanero chile.