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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On My Bookshelf: The Fabulous and Terrible Life of an Immigrant Restauranteur

On my bookshelf, otherwise known as "odd things Krista reads while on the elliptical at the gym." 

Seriously, I confound my personal trainer, who wonders how I can possibly read about food while exercising without getting hungry or wanting to eat all the bad things described in the book or magazine.

Of course, my trainer has been trying to convince me that I shouldn't eat carbohydrates after 4 p.m. for the past four years.  Yeah, like that's going to happen. 

Although I love food literature, I am not normally a biography reader.  Pino Luongo's biography Dirty Dishes:  a Restauranteur's Story of Passion, Pain and Pasta intrigued me because Luongo was an Italian immigrant who came to the United States with no formal culinary training, barely a lick of English and running from conscription in the Italian military.  Along the way, he marries (and divorces) a longtime girlfriend to get his green card and starts several apparently prominent Manhattan restaurants, only one of which still existed at the time the book was written.  (Incidentally, I just searched for Luongo's website and that of his last restaurant, and couldn't find either.)

Photo from

Although I finished the book and it was a relatively quick read, I cannot recommend it unless 1) you really like immigrant stories or 2) you are interested in this particular man.  First of all, the book is written in a somewhat stilted manner, particularly the first fifty pages.  This may be a result of an uneven collaboration between Luongo and his cowriter, but it makes for a slow start in what is the most interesting part of the story.  Luongo's description of his mother's cooking and its influence and his contentious relationship with his father sets up most of the decisions he makes as an adult, but it is told in an impersonal and circuitous manner.

Although the writing smoothed out a quarter of the way in, I sensed that Luongo wanted to be presented in the most favorable possible light and the co-writer followed suit.  Underneath the stories about how generous Luongo was with his employees and how much he cared about his business reputation was an undercurrent that Luongo was a selfish hothead who made impetuous business decisions. 

There is a great immigrant's story here, but it is buried in what often feels like a vanity project.  The book also missteps in having the co-writer narrate long sections (which are italicized for even greater irritation) about his conversations with Luongo while writing the book.  Andrew Friedman is a decent writer--a better book he edited is here--but since it seems that he is santizing his subject he becomes an unreliable narrator.

Anyone else read this book?  If so, tell me what you thought.


  1. I've not read the book, but I appreciate an honest review! If I'm going to read about him, I'd rather read a cookbook he's written (if any).

  2. I have not read the book, but I can relate to the author putting on a mask so to speak and "enhancing" reality in order to look better. I think narrations are very irritating, I prefer to have changing perspectives with proper documentation and that is all.

    I have yet to read a book about food. I guess I just don't know what's good!

  3. I have not read this book. Now you got me curious. BTW, thanks for your visit and hope see your often. Have a nice week.

  4. Looks like a great read...I'm envious that you can read while exercising. I don't think I'm coordinated enough :)

  5. Hi sweet! I'm a new follower now!!!

    Nice recipes!



  6. Interesting review.. I may see if I can get this from the library just so we can compare notes.. I like that the cynic in you can read between the lines that is so my way of reading these kind of bios LOL

  7. Never heard and am not sure I will but sure your synopsis did open up whats in store and I think thats enough for me.

  8. Not read it but its now definitely on my list :)

    And NEVER give up post 4pm carbs!

  9. Well, you saved me some reading time. :) I love that you use your elliptical time to read. I need to do that! :) Thanks for visiting curry and comfort. Have a great weekend~ Ramona

  10. I love how you read about food while you work out haha! I am the same way...except I watch the food network or dream about foods I can make as I run outdoors ;)! haven't seen or read this book, but it is good to hear your take on it.

  11. If I could read while exercising I'd be 30 pounds thinner.

    With a slightly checkered past - running from conscription, marrying for a green card - he may not have been the most sympathetic person. However his successes do him credit - you don't get something for nothing. And often the most driven people are not the easiest to work for.... now can you do a post regarding how you exercise and read at the same time?

  12. New York Public library is great I ordered the book via their website.I was able to pick the book up at my local branch a couple of weeks later.

    I have not finished it yet but I completely agree with your take. I understand a collaboration on a book like this is not going to be critical but this borders on sycophantic.

    I have worked in the restaurant business for many years and have worked for people like this and it is usually not very pleasant.

    I am enjoying the read nonetheless so thank you for pointing me in it's direction