Farewell, Old Friend...RIP Frank Criscuolo

Several years ago, I walked into a tiny little trattoria, application in hand. I sat down with the owner, who asked me a series of questions (mostly about my Italian heritage.) Then he got down to business: "Do you have any fine dining experience?"

"No, not really..." I replied.

"Well, have you ever worked in a privately owned restaurant?"

"No, not exactly..."

"I've really found that people who come from corporate restaurants don't fit in well here. You can't untrain that corporate mentality. Also, I only hire people who have had some fine dining experience."

I shook his hand and left. Two days later, I received a voicemail from this man, asking me when I could start. I never quite figured out what happened there, but I took the job, and spent a few years making a lot of money serving Montepulciano and organic Chicken Cacciatore to entitled Yalies.

Frank Criscuolo was the first restaurant owner I met who I actually liked, as a human being. Years of corporate slavery had brought me into contact with all of the caricatures of management that you have undoubtedly seen in TGIFridays all over the country-the smug, swarmy sycophants, the power-hungry manipulators, the tyrannical monsters who ran their restaurants with an iron fist.

Frank, on the other hand, quickly became something akin to a favorite uncle. He loved everything about what he had created: a tiny restaurant reminiscent of the ones he had enjoyed in Italy, one that felt like the living room at Grandma's house (only a lot more expensive.) His passion for Italian food and wine was contagious; as soon as he walked into the kitchen, he would light up like a little kid at Christmas. His eyes would become far-away and dreamy at the very mention of Tuscany, and his love of all things Italian inspired my own eventual journey to Italy.

I find myself drawn to people who are not afraid to indulge their hedonistic side, and Frank was no exception. Within days of meeting him, he won me over with his enthusiasm for truffle oil and expensive cheeses, As time passed, I grew to enjoy the ever-present twinkle in his eye even more. He always seemed amused by a secret that only he knew. He would stand there so silent...so mysteriously silent...and then, BAM! He would come out with a humorous comment so dry and unexpected, it would floor everyone around him.

Although I left that restaurant long ago, I think about Frank often. He was one of those people that you just don't forget. And today, to my shock and sorrow, I discovered that he passed away this week. He was the type of man whose passing will leave a scar in the hearts of all who knew him, my own included.

Today's blog is dedicated to you, Frank. Wherever you are, I hope you are sitting down to a big plate of homemade gnocchi and a bottle of Amarone.