Simply food


Like the prolific author Stuart Woods protagonist Stone Barrington, when in New York I was a great fan of Elaine’s, once located on the Upper East Side. Stone favoured red meat, Stuart liked the osso bucco, but I always indulged in a Caesar salad followed by Fettuccine Alfredo.

Elaine Kaufman was a large and larger than life character, much missed since she died in 2011 at 81 and the place closed. She liked my English accent and said I sounded like Michael Caine, who had been a frequent guest in the late 60s. I was often in Manhattan at the time, but never saw any celebrities there. I expect that’s how I always found a table. Apparently, I missed Leonard Bernstein, Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Mick Jagger, Willie Nelson, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (who was apparently a great fan of the fettuccine Alfredo too), Luciano Pavarotti, Eli Wallach and Elaine Stritch, among others.


Elaine’s famous canopy

However, I did hear Elaine yelling and throwing things at the horrible paparazzo Ron Galella. A few years ago, I had to be nice to Galella, when he’d become a celebrity in his own mind. It was at a massive event I produced during the Toronto International Film Festival, attended by Robert F. Kennedy, Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and a string of B-list film actors. Ron was in a wheelchair and obese. Say no more.

By the mid 70s I was married with children, on a tight budget, and hardly ever went to New York. I never had the occasion to return to Elaine’s.

Back in Toronto, I adopted the same dietary regime at Rugantino’s, where owner John Verrecchio long ruled. He was a friend and client of my late father in law, PR man David Scott-Atkinson, who ate there at least once a week. Mostly we went en famille because, in keeping with many Italian restos, they were child friendly. My three kids, Rebecca, Megan and Matthew, now all in their late 30s and early 40s, were teethed on the pasta.

Even though I’m a huge fan of Italian food, I’ve hardly visited Italy, an omission I hope to remedy if (or when) I ever move back to Europe. That’s why I’ve never been to either of the authentic homes of Fettuccine Alfredo. Yes, apparently there are two.

Beatle Ringo Starr suffers the indignity of Alfred's fettuccine treatment

Ringo suffers the fettuccine treatment

The story begins in 1892 with Alfredo di Lelio deciding to prepare a dish of fettuccine al burro (a traditional dish of pasta and butter with cheese) in his mother’s Roman restaurant. Making it with extra butter, in time it was named for him, especially as he prepared it with great flamboyance tableside. When his mother’s resto closed, he opened his own place. By the Roaring 20s, it was becoming well know to American travelers. Magazine articles and guidebooks of the era extolled the virtues of Alfredo’s dish. In 1927, film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks gave him a set of gold cutlery. During WW II, Alfredo sold the restaurant to two of his waiters, but in 1950, with his son Armando, he opened up again, taking along the famous gold fork and spoon. The two restaurants engaged in vigorous competition each claiming to be ‘the king of fettuccine,’ ‘the real king of fettuccine,’ ‘the magician of fettuccine,’ ‘the emperor of fettuccine’ or ‘the real Alfredo.’ Visiting celebrities whose pictures adorned the walls included Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Anthony Quinn, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Jack Lemmon, Ava Gardner, Tyrone Power, Sophia Loren, Ringo Starr and more, most featuring heaping plates of fettuccine and a grinning Alfredo.

The dish became so well known that Armando (also known as Alfredo II) was invited to demonstrate it both in Italy and abroad. The fame of the dish was built entirely on his father’s original performance, described by one writer in the 60s (translated from the Italian):

The fettuccine are seasoned with plenty of butter and fat parmesan, not aged, so that, in a ritual of extraordinary theatricality, the owner mixes the pasta and lifts it high to serve it, the white threads of cheese gilded with butter and the bright yellow of the ribbons of egg pasta offering an eyeful for the customer. At the end of the ceremony, the guest of honor is presented the golden cutlery and the serving dish, where the blond fettuccine roll around in the pale gold of the seasonings. It’s worth seeing the whole ceremony. The owner, son of old Alfredo and looking exactly like him, bends over the great skein of fettuccine, fixes it intensely, his eyes half-closed, and dives into mixing it, waving the golden cutlery with grand gestures, like an orchestra conductor, with his sinister upwards-pointing twirled moustache dancing up and down, pinkies in the air, a rapt gaze, flailing elbows.

I believe you can still enjoy this spectacle at Il Vero Alfredo in Rome, where grandson Alfredo III has taken over the reins. I shall head there immediately lockdown and quarantine ends. It’s billed as ‘L’Imperatore delle fettuccine.’

The fettuccine that became popular in America, (though not particularly in England) and which I remember from Elaine’s and Rugantino’s, was much richer, with the addition of heavy cream and egg yolks.


ALFREDO 3Shopping list

  • 1 lb / 0.5 kg approx. fresh fettuccine
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup whipping (35 per cent) or heavy cream
  • 1 egg, yolk only
  • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
  • Pepper and salt

Preparation and cooking

  1. Bring 6 quarts generously salted water to a boil.
  2. While the water heats, melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Sautée the garlic lightly, about 2 mins. Remove from the heat before it browns.
  3. Separate the egg yolk into a bowl, discarding the white, and whisk in the cream until blended. Pour this mixture into the garlic butter and blend further. Reduce heat to low and keep the sauce warm. Do not let it boil.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente, 4 to 6 mins. Drain in a colander, being careful to reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.
  5. Pour the hot pasta into the cream mixture and toss to coat, still over low heat. Add the grated cheese and keep tossing gently until cream is mostly absorbed. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little pasta water. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve at once in warm bowls.
Luscious golden strands of fettuccine Alfredo

Featured image: Luscious strands of fettuccine Alfredo

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This is Nigel’s 279th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. Here is the link to Market to Table: The Cookbooka bargain at $11.50. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, even better priced at $9.99 or £9.99.

3 replies »


    With reference to your article I have the pleasure to tell you the history of my grandfather Alfredo Di Lelio, who is the creator of “Fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”) in 1908 in the “trattoria” run by his mother Angelina in Rome, Piazza Rosa (Piazza disappeared in 1910 following the construction of the Galleria Colonna / Sordi). This “trattoria” of Piazza Rosa has become the “birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    More specifically, as is well known to many people who love the “fettuccine all’Alfredo”, this famous dish in the world was invented by Alfredo Di Lelio concerned about the lack of appetite of his wife Ines, who was pregnant with my father Armando (born February 26, 1908).
    Alfredo di Lelio opened his restaurant “Alfredo” in 1914 in Rome and in 1943, during the war, he sold the restaurant to others outside his family.
    In 1950 Alfredo Di Lelio decided to reopen with his son Armando his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 “Il Vero Alfredo” (“Alfredo di Roma”), whose fame in the world has been strengthened by his nephew Alfredo and that now managed by me, with the famous “gold cutlery” (fork and spoon gold) donated in 1927 by two well-known American actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (in gratitude for the hospitality).
    See the website of “Il Vero Alfredo”.
    I must clarify that other restaurants “Alfredo” in Rome do not belong and are out of my brand “Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma”.
    The brand “Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma” is present in Mexico with 2 restaurants (Mexico City and Puebla) and 2 trattorias (Mexico City and Cozumel) on the basis of franchising relationships with the Group Hotel Presidente Intercontinental Mexico.
    The restaurant “Il Vero Alfredo” is in the Registry of “Historic Shops of Excellence – section on Historical Activities of Excellence” of the Municipality of Roma Capitale.
    Best regards Ines Di Lelio



    Con riferimento al Vostro articolo ho il piacere di raccontarVi la storia di mio nonno Alfredo Di Lelio, inventore delle note “fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”).
    Alfredo Di Lelio, nato nel settembre del 1883 a Roma in Vicolo di Santa Maria in Trastevere, cominciò a lavorare fin da ragazzo nella piccola trattoria aperta da sua madre Angelina in Piazza Rosa, un piccolo slargo (scomparso intorno al 1910) che esisteva prima della costruzione della Galleria Colonna (ora Galleria Sordi).
    Il 1908 fu un anno indimenticabile per Alfredo Di Lelio: nacque, infatti, suo figlio Armando e videro contemporaneamente la luce in tale trattoria di Piazza Rosa le sue “fettuccine”, divenute poi famose in tutto il mondo. Questa trattoria è “the birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    Alfredo Di Lelio inventò le sue “fettuccine” per dare un ricostituente naturale, a base di burro e parmigiano, a sua moglie (e mia nonna) Ines, prostrata in seguito al parto del suo primogenito (mio padre Armando). Il piatto delle “fettuccine” fu un successo familiare prima ancora di diventare il piatto che rese noto e popolare Alfredo Di Lelio, personaggio con “i baffi all’Umberto” ed i calli alle mani a forza di mischiare le sue “fettuccine” davanti ai clienti sempre più numerosi.
    Nel 1914, a seguito della chiusura di detta trattoria per la scomparsa di Piazza Rosa dovuta alla costruzione della Galleria Colonna, Alfredo Di Lelio decise di aprire a Roma il suo ristorante “Alfredo” che gestì fino al 1943, per poi cedere l’attività a terzi estranei alla sua famiglia.
    Ma l’assenza dalla scena gastronomica di Alfredo Di Lelio fu del tutto transitoria. Infatti nel 1950 riprese il controllo della sua tradizione familiare ed aprì, insieme al figlio Armando, il ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” (noto all’estero anche come “Alfredo di Roma”) in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 (cfr. il sito web di Il Vero Alfredo).
    Con l’avvio del nuovo ristorante Alfredo Di Lelio ottenne un forte successo di pubblico e di clienti negli anni della “dolce vita”. Successo, che, tuttora, richiama nel ristorante un flusso continuo di turisti da ogni parte del mondo per assaggiare le famose “fettuccine all’Alfredo” al doppio burro da me servite, con
    l’impegno di continuare nel tempo la tradizione familiare dei miei cari maestri, nonno Alfredo, mio padre Armando e mio fratello Alfredo. In particolare le fettuccine sono servite ai clienti con 2 “posate d’oro”: una forchetta ed un cucchiaio d’oro regalati nel 1927 ad Alfredo dai due noti attori americani M. Pickford e D. Fairbanks (in segno di gratitudine per l’ospitalità).
    Desidero precisare che altri ristoranti “Alfredo” a Roma non appartengono e sono fuori dal mio brand di famiglia.
    Il brand “Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma” è presente in Messico con 2 ristoranti (Città del Messico e Puebla) e 2 trattorie (Città del Messico e Cozumel) sulla base di rapporti di franchising con il Group Hotel Presidente Intercontinental Mexico.
    Vi informo che il Ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” è presente nell’Albo dei “Negozi Storici di Eccellenza – sezione Attività Storiche di Eccellenza” del Comune di Roma Capitale.

    Grata per la Vostra attenzione ed ospitalità nel Vostro interessante blog, cordiali saluti
    Ines Di Lelio


    • Dear Ines:

      Thank you so much for this further information on your grandfather’s legacy to world cuisine. As soon as the end of lockdown permits I will very much look forward to visiting Il Vero Alfredo in Rome, as I say in my article, and hope you will do me the honour of welcoming me personally.

      Cari Ines:

      Grazie mille per queste ulteriori informazioni sull’eredità di tuo nonno alla cucina mondiale. Non appena la fine del blocco lo consentirà, non vedo l’ora di visitare Il Vero Alfredo a Roma, come ho detto nel mio articolo, e spero che mi farai l’onore di accogliermi personalmente.

      Grazie per il tuo cortese interesse.



  2. How nice to get a response from the original Alfredo’s grandaughter in Rome. It will be number one on my list of go to places when travel restrictions are lifted.


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