There would not, initially, seem to be much purpose in my writing anything at all about Procopio Angelo, the eponymous restaurant of a popular Tuscan chef in Paris, once based on rue Faubourg St. Honoré, now transplanted to a back road near Colonel Fabien in the 10ème. Procopio's Italian wine list is representative of the genre as one typically encounters it in Paris: a seeming panoply of regional wines, which upon closer inspection turn out to comprise little more than the diverse ranges of a few titanic producers of supermarket wine. Then you have poor Marco Parusso's decent if overmodern Barolos - always the current vintage - sitting there like duck-decoys for the big spenders who stray in.*
But Procopio keeps cropping up in any discussion of Italian food in Paris. No less than two friends whose culinary opinions I otherwise respect have proposed his restaurant to me as an example of "real Italian."
Sociologist Peter L. Berger famously argued that reality itself is a social construction, an interwoven fabric of institutionalised social perceptions. Procopio Angelo is real Italian cuisine, if, like many Paris diners, one disregards the last twenty years' of Italian restaurateurism and continues to define Italian cuisine in opposition to the technique and complexity of a serious restaurant.
Procopio Angelo encourages this misconception. Its awning advertises house-made pasta, a selling point only marginally more excusable than 'desserts faits maison': both make sense only if one is pitching to a clientele accustomed to frequenting restaurants that serve things not made on premises.
There would be nothing wrong with this if the pasta were actually praise-worthy. It's fine, just normal enjoyable fresh pasta, of the ilk that can be bought at specialty shops in Paris or in decent supermarkets elsewhere in the developed world. And Procopio Angelo's is let down by careless preparations. A tagliatelle carbonara unforgivably utilised bland lardons where pancetta ought to go. It's not like that's a particularly exotic, hard-to-source ingredient, either. As an Italian staple, it ranks right after pasta and tomatoes.
Worse still were the appetizers. Even at that early stage in the meal, the hokey décor had given me a presentiment of what was to come, so I ordered a fritto misto of vegetables, mistakenly thinking it was a more or less idiot-proof dish.
Even setting aside the lackadaisical presentation and the sad rucola strands wilting away beneath it all, the fry itself was blunderingly awful. I had flashbacks to my first waiting gig, a quasi-Italian café near the Boston waterfront, where one night during dinner service the chef simply walked out, obliging the squat surly manager to roll up his sleeves and squeeze into the open kitchen, dubiously claiming he'd attended the Culinary Institute of America. Naturally he didn't know how to make anything. When a pasta order came in, I watched in despair as he located a pot and put water on the burner, apparently unaware that the par-cooked pasta was stocked somewhere in the fridges. With shaking hands he began cutting tomatoes, unaware that the sauce too had been prepared in advance...
Procopio Angelo's fritto misto is indistinguishable from what would occur if Procopio himself abandoned his kitchen and some server gamely stepped up to fill his shoes with no prior training. Neither salt nor flavor, just random veggies, fried limp. I went so far as to ask a server if this was really what the dish was meant to be, or whether there had been some error. The server brought me table salt, Morton's, and some balsamic vinegar.
The classic complaint about Italian cuisine is that, being product-focused and not as time-consuming as French cuisine, many diners feel they themselves could prepare it at home. At Procopio Angelo, they would be basically correct. Even Parisian home chefs would have the savvy to purchase certain ingredients at one of the city's numerous decent Italian traiteurs - Sicile et Co., Paisano, Coop. Latte Cisternino, to name a few - and by doing so they would obtain better ingredients than any employed at Procopio Angelo.
The porcini in the porcini salad were fine.
Ordinarily in situations like the one I found myself in at Procopio Angelo - at a quality-free meal surrounded by friends, none of whom are quite so violently allergic to cynical restaurateurism as I am - I'd just drink myself into an impression of cheerfulness. But even this was a challenge. The lion's share of the list seemed to have been cribbed from gift shops in Procopio's native Tuscany. To be fair, "BIO" selections are marked as such, a nice touch, and one or two reputable producers' entry-level wines are available.
(Carpene Malvolti are an enormous operation. This isn't even their furthest downmarket Prosecco. I remain fond of their "Rosé Brut," often mischaracterised as 'Prosecco Rosé': it's a succulent, full-fruited sparkler made from Pinot Nero and a little Raboso. It's not stocked at Procopio Angelo.)
Relief finally arrived with a bottle of perfectly acceptable Venturini Valpolicella Classico. NYTimes wine critic Eric Asimov has written memorably about the quiet appeal of basic Valpolicella, which tends to be overlooked in favor of ripasso versions and souped-up Amarone. I couldn't agree more with him: good basic Valpolicelli are lovely night-in wines, modestly fruited, containing still the mysterious stalky-savoury element that makes the Corvina-Molinara-Rondinella trio so captivating. They're like the acoustic versions we wind up listening to more often at home than the better-known electric versions:
Venturini are another immense estate - 110ha total - though their reputation remains admirably high-quality, given the vast conventional production. Even their pricier ripassi tend towards precision and balance. Their basic Valpolicella from 2011 showed bright polish, keen acid, and lipsmacking sour cherry - the only convincing moment in an otherwise cynical sham-Italian meal.
* (Never an enormous fan of Marco Parusso, I've nonetheless been relieved at times to find his quite acceptable wines well-represented in many of Paris' totally unsophisticated Italian restaurants, places where the alternatives are Bolla and Ruffino.)
21, rue Juliette Dodu
Métro: Colonel Fabien
Tel: 01 42 02 99 71
Coverage of Procopio's move to the 10eme arrondissement at L'Express
A typically credulous endorsement of Procopio's cuisine - and wine list ! - at LeFooding
A rave about Procopio Angelo at GillesPudlowski, who evidently has limited experience with Italian cuisine and goes so far as to call the restaurant 'exotic.'
Better Italian cuisine in Paris: La Retrobottega, 75011
Better Italian cuisine in Paris: Café dei Cioppi, 75011