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What Happened in 1492? That's When Columbus Discovered Tomatoes

October 06, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County. Information for this column can be faxed to (714) 966-7790, or write: Newsbites/OC Live!, The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626.

Before Christopher Columbus landed in the New World in 1492, the Italians made their lasagna with beets. The Swiss had no chocolate, the Chinese no peppers and the Irish no potatoes. (Columbus also paved the way for other staples to make their way back to Old World tables, including beans, turkey, vanilla, peanuts and strawberries.)

"Columbus changed for sure Italian cuisine," said Maurizio Nascimben, manager of Emporio Armani Express. "Italians eat bell peppers roasted, stuffed, every way imaginable. And what would Italian cuisine be without the tomato? Unthinkable."

The Armani Express will mark the Monday holiday with a special menu of foods from Genoa, hometown of both the explorer and of chef Nino Pagano. Eight choices include minestrone Genovese ($4.95), risotto with cuttlefish ($11.95) and fusilli (corkscrew pasta) al pesto ($9.50).

"Pesto is the image of Genoa," Nascimben said of the pine nut, basil and olive oil concoction. "Pesto is to Genoa what pizza is to Naples."

Of course, in many circles it's no longer politically correct to celebrate Columbus Day. Many Native Americans, for instance, feel that they found Columbus, and gave him food and shelter before he turned on them--not that he found them, since they were never lost.

Carmelo's restaurant has found a way to celebrate the holiday and to be politically correct. The Italian restaurant will serve a different three-course prix fixe dinner, including a specialty salad, pasta course and entree, each night Monday through Oct. 13, and noting the year the explorer "found" America, the price has been set at $14.92.

The important part is that one-third of the proceeds from the meals go to the American Indian Relief Council to benefit Native Americans in need.

This last tribute might be stretching things, but Monday nights in October, Tony's Sea Landing restaurants are offering 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-pound Maine lobster dinners for $10.95, and on Columbus Day, owner Mike Khamis said he's aiming for the upper limit--specifically 1.492 pounds.

First come, first served.

Carmelo's, 3520 Pacific Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. (714) 675-1922.

Emporio Armani Express, South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. (714) 754-0300.

Tony's Sea Landing 13612 Newport Ave., Tustin. (714) 731-2424.

Tony's Sea Landing 26032 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. (714) 582-8844.

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