Valentino restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., ranks among the great Italian restaurants in the United States, and its wine list has held a Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1981. But when owner Piero Selvaggio opened it in 1972, Italian restaurants in the United States were different from what they are today. Items now familiar as staples of Italian dining were virtually unknown in America then. Risotto, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and burrata were considered exotic fare, if they appeared on the menu at all. And years would pass before the number of exciting Italian wines would reach a critical mass. Wine Spectator's Harvey Steiman explains.
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