Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Gravy?

Rack's Italian Bistro hosted an opening shindig yesterday evening, apparently to much acclaim. I missed the festivities but was sufficiently inspired to take a look at the menu. And something about it triggered a little itch in my head, some stray memory that I could not place. Specifically, it was this menu description: "Meatball - Whipped Impasata + Sunday San Marzano Gravy." My first thought was this:

Isn't it a little goofy to be going all retro/homestyle with the "gravy" reference, while simultaneously going all upscale/snooty with the "San Marzano" reference?
But then the further nagging thought was:

And where have I seen this before? What other place would refer to "San Marzano gravy" on the menu?
After a little searching around I placed it: Devito South Beach, whose menu features an "Original Old School Meatball - Whipped Ricotta, Nonna's Marzano Gravy". Hmph. But that's not all. Consider the following:

Devito: Calamari Devito - crispy calamari, peppers, spicy Marzano tomato sauce
Racks: Calamari "My Way" - Lemon + Spicy Marinara + Cherry Peppers + Basil

Devito: The Original Italian Chop - Salumi, provolone, diced vegetables, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers
Racks: Italian "Chop" - Salumi + Aged Provolone + Onion + Chick Peas + Tomato + Egg

Devito: Whole Branzino - Spiced tomato jam, aged balsamic vinegar, Olio Verde broth
Racks: Branzino - Tomato Jam + Cracked Olives + Capers + Lemon + Oil Verde

Both also offer their salumi and formaggi (almost identical selections) with accompaniments of truffle honey and amarena cherries.

The Devito menu is much more expansive than the offerings at Racks, yet does not feature the coal-oven pizzas that are provoking oohs and ahhs at Racks, so this is nowhere near the same magnitude as the outright menu-lifting which Nexxt Cafe did from Cheesecake Factory several years ago. And yet there are enough similarities to make me wonder: Is there some connection in the kitchen between Devito and Racks, or did Racks just like what it saw at Devito and try to mimic it? And regardless, can we please just nip this whole "San Marzano gravy" thing in the bud?

Edited to add: I should have also mentioned one other notable difference between Devito's menu and Racks' menu - prices. For instance, Racks' meatball appetizer is $11, while Devito's is a hefty $17 (!!!). That's one *pricy* meatball.


Comments

  1. "Isn't a little goofy to be going all retro/homestyle with the "gravy" reference, while simultaneously going all upscale/snooty with the "San Marzano" reference?"

    My neighborhood Publix sells San Marzano tomatoes-how is that upscale or snooty? Or do you consider Publix too snooty and only shop at the Piggly-Wiggly?

    The idea that two Italian restaurants in this day and age (especially in Miami where we get the trends about five years later)having similar menu offerings is somehow nefarious is misleading; especially since the similarities you site are fairly predictable in any Italian restaurant.

    Setting up the story of Nexxt Cafe and Cheesecake Factory gives readers the impression that somehow DeVito's and Racks are similar to those two institutions, and that Racks has commited outright theft. If that is what you are saying, don't be coy-come out and say it.

    "Is there some connection in the kitchen between Devito and Racks, or did Racks just like what it saw a Devito and try to mimic it?"
    A simple phone call would answer that question. Although I know you wouldn't want to let the facts get in the way of a good rant.

    Without ever having set foot in Racks you are attributing nefarious motives to them. I have no dog in this hunt, but weren't you spending all of last week agonizing over a food-writer's 'code of ethics'?

    And how is it surprising that Italian cheese and salumi plates would be similar, or "almost identical", as you put it? Again you are really stretching to make something of nothing here, and it strikes me as mean-spirited and pointless.

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  2. Danny - c'mon. Nobody in Miami really calls tomato sauce "gravy," and nobody refers to the provenance of their tomatoes without trying to make a point. I've got no particular problem with either of the implicit messages, other than that I think they're goofy and inconsistent when combined.

    I think I was pretty clear in saying that this was NOT like the Nexxt / Cheesecake thing. If not, I'll say it now. And I've mentioned before the subject of how food trends and dishes work their way around, without ascribing any bad motives. Indeed I've pointed out a couple instances where Michael Schwartz has done it. I don't think there's anything nefarious about either a chef bringing recipes with him from another restaurant, or looking to another restaurant for ideas. There's nothing mean-spirited about it. As for pointless, that's for you to decide.

    Yes, some of this stuff is just knock-offs of old-school NY red-sauce recipes. But if you can find me another "branzino with tomato jam" or another cheese plate with "truffle honey and amarena cherries" to accompany on a Miami menu, I'll buy it for you.

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  3. Does Delray count?
    http://www.vicandangelos.com/menu.asp

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  4. You willing to get on the back of my scooter? I'll warn you, it's a long way to Delray up A1A and my scooter vibrates a lot. You will be a changed man, my friend. We can pass the limoncello back and forth....

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  5. We'll have a shorter trip if we just go to the last place you dubbed "best pizza in Miami" shortly after it opened just a few months ago. Did you forget about Joey's or is Racks really better?

    Incidentally, kudos to All Purpose Dark for calling the stylish pizza bar trend.

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  6. Frod-I didn't realize you clung so closely to the Miami Danny literary canon. I'm honored.

    As far as Joey's, that was back in December and I'm not sure one isn't allowed to revise one's best of's periodically, no? But again, thanks for your close reading of my vast body of work.

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  7. Of course I read the Miami Danny literary canon! And I value your opinions. Seriously - Joey's or Racks? I haven't been to either yet and am contemplating a pizza taste-off between all the new candidates - Joey's, Racks, Sosta, Pizza Volante, Pizza Fusion, Blu Pizza on Brickell ... there's some new place supposedly going in Biscayne Blvd. (where Boutique Kitchen used to be?) Where do I start?

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  8. Some interesting insight from a professional baker on a similar issue with food photos:
    Original or familiar - take your pic

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  9. "Edited to add: I should have also mentioned one other notable difference between Devito's menu and Racks' menu - prices. For instance, Racks' meatball appetizer is $11, while Devito's is a hefty $17 (!!!).

    Funny you should mention that...http://www.miami.com/culinary-cage-match-meatballs-article

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  10. Thanks for the props Frod!

    And just to add my two cents to this entertaining convo - Racks and DeVito's are going for two completely different things when it comes to restaurant concepts. Racks is casual, with probably an average pp check of $40 whereas DV's is aiming, much, much higher with their food and wine prices.
    And yes, there may be some menu similarities but DV's presents itself as a chophouse with steaks and a raw bar, etc. and Racks is really putting the pizza front and center and only offering a handful of mains like the branzino. That sad, I liked the food at Racks better and I've been to DV's a few times.

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