Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fior d'Italia Celebrates 125th Anniversary Year with Original Menu and 104-year-old Bill Del Monte

America's oldest Italian restaurant, the Fior d'Italia, celebrates its 125th anniversary year on Friday - serving lunch dishes from their earliest menu at the original Victorian prices, and with guest of honour 104-year-old Bill del Monte, San Francisco's most active 1906 earthquake and fire survivor, whose father founded the restaurant.

The day will be one of historical pageantry and the reliving of memories handed down the generations. Bill, who now lives across the Bay, will ride to the restaurant in a vintage Surrey, escorted by the Sheriff's Mounted Posse. He is due to arrive at 11 am at the restaurant in the San Remo Hotel on Mason Street.

Also at the heart of the celebrations will be the Fior's owners, Bob and Jinx Larive, Chef Gianni Audieri and State Senator Mark Leno.

Bill's father, Angelo Del Monte, founded the restaurant that opened on May 1, 1886, and this event marks the launch of the 125th anniversary year. Bill was born in the back of the restaurant in January 1906, just three months before the restaurant was destroyed in the Great Earthquake and Fire

Among the offerings, to which the public are invited, are veal sauté for 5 cents, chicken parmigiana for 10 cents, eggplant parmigiana for 20 cents and, if you really want to splash out, roast sirloin for 30 cents. 

But diners only have between 11 pm and 4 pm to enjoy this celebration and it will be on a 'first come first served' basis!

The Fior held similar revelries on their 100th and 110th anniversaries.

'In the past the public celebrated these anniversary events with much gusto -- which is why we are expecting the same enthusiastic throngs this 125th year,' said owner Bob Larive, in a press release from Lee Houskeeper of San Francisco Stories.

Despite the contraction of the hospitality industry during the present recession, the storied Fior d'Italia remains a perennial draw featuring the fine Northern Italian offerings that made San Francisco's Italian cuisine famous.  

'We have survived fires, earthquakes, Prohibition, a depression and several recessions, two World Wars and are still here and looking forward to our next 125 years,' said Bob.

'We're very proud of our authentic Northern Italian cuisine and our culinary tradition,' said Chef Gianni Audieri, 'And through it all we've remained true to our Northern Italian cuisine using the best of seasonal quality ingredients.'  

Popular dishes, said Chef Gianni, are the Calamari, Gnocchi, Osso Bucco, Veal entrée's, and Caesar Salad, which customers rate as “The City's best."

When the Fior d' Italia first opened its doors, great sailing ships packed San Francisco's harbor, goats roamed Telegraph Hill and the Barbary Coast was a rough and tumble district, writes Lee Houskeeper.

 “The Fior” catered to the growing Italian community and achieved universal recognition as San Francisco's most elegant dining spot.  After the great earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed the Fior, it was soon back in business in a tent and then in a new building.  This location and the next were the site of numerous banquets sponsored by Italian social and fraternal organizations and many family and social events for locals and visitors to the city.

In 1953, the Fior located directly across from Washington Square Park.  However, on Valentine's Day 2005, a fire forced a move to the historic San Remo Hotel at 2237 Mason Street.

The colourful history of the Fior d'Italia, from its founding families, the history of Italian immigrants and San Francisco, including the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire, to its food and recipes by Chef Gianni Audieri, can be read online. The book, 'The fabulous Fior', with many historic photos, has been written by San Franciscan journalist Francine Brevetti, the granddaughter of Alberto Puccetti, a waiter and part-owner of the Fior over 100  years ago. Alberto's starring role in the history was to be outside the restaurant as it was closing in the early hours of the morning of April 18, 1906, having earlier that night served tenor Enrico Caruso, when the Great Earthquake struck. 

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