BLAME IT ON THE DELI craze, but a surprising new appetizer is starting to turn up in all the chic restaurants. You'll find it, for example, at Spago, where slices are served reverently, as if it were the most delicate of dishes. In Italian restaurants, you sometimes find it sitting right next to the priceless prosciutto that has started coming back into the country now that the government has lifted its ban. And in good old American restaurants, you suddenly find sandwiches of it listed right next to good old egg salad and tuna.
What is it? Salami. The people's sausage has grown up and acquired clout. These days when you put out plates of cheese for your guests, it's very hip to add some sliced salami.
Not just any salami, of course--it's got to be great stuff. Wolfgang Puck is making his own at Spago (and he'll serve it at the upcoming Eureka brewery as well). When Michel Richard and Bruce Marder open their new Santa Monica deli next year, they'll be serving their own salami, too. But you don't have to make your own--there's good salami sitting on the shelves.
One of the best is made by Jean Plasse in Lyon, the charcuterie capital of France. This particularly pungent sausage has the added cachet of black pepper, the seasoning of the season. Called saucisson au poivre moulu, it's a small, whole, robust salami completely coated in crushed black peppercorns. The effect is powerful; a single slice packs a lot of punch. It's as if the salami of your childhood had gone out and got an education.
Saucisson au poivre moulu is available at Irvine Ranch Market in the Beverly Center and at the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop. The supplier is Rapelli of California; telephone (209) 237-9591.