How many times have you gone to a restaurant, enjoyed what you ate and wished you could achieve the same result at home?
Foods lifted from restaurant menus -- condiments and special beverages -- have long been made available in frozen, canned, jarred, bottled and packaged form, probably most often ready to use, occasionally in dry-mix presentation. The interest and growth of our packaged ethnic foods can be traced to the introduction to many of these items in ethnic restaurants, such as Italian and Mexican, Chinese and Thai. But whether it is the ambience, the service from the staff or the fact that at home you have to heat, cook or at least clean up, nothing really ever tastes quite the same when you try it at home.
But times, they are a-changin'!
Master restaurateur-chef Pino Luongo has established a coast-to-coast chain of nine Italian restaurants. Not common "pizza joints," these are upscale dining places in cities such as New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Costa Mesa, Calif.
In Chicago, for example, elegant service in understated surroundings includes not only attentive waiters, but black-suited maitre d's spread throughout to offer assistance and recommendations in wine and dining suggestions. Pasta dishes, house specialties and desserts are not inexpensive, but are delicious. Artistic touches and picture-perfect placement of foods on the china on which they are served add to the aura of fine dining.
Mr. Luongo, who reportedly serves 1 million meals a year in his restaurants, has just introduced Cucina Tosca, a line of four shelf-stable pasta-and-sauce meals, to supermarkets nationwide. Judging from the sampling done at the Food Marketing Institute convention in Chicago, he has captured the taste and quality of his restaurant fare in the retort-pouch packaging process. The results apparently come from special care and the use of top-quality ingredients.
Dramatically designed outer packages contain pasta and sauce in two separate pouches. No refrigeration is required and the products have an 18-month shelf-life.
What are the chances for this line to be a success? Excellent! Particularly if the products can be sampled by potential consumers at the retail level. Good-sized 12- to 13-ounce portions are served up from each package, with acceptable retail prices of $2.59 to about $3.09, depending on the variety. Penne with veal and sage sauce, spaghetti with tomato and garlic sauce, spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce and rigatoni with sausage sauce are reportedly just the beginning of a line of quality Italian dishes, with a taste as good as that served in the finest Italian restaurants.
Finally, someone may have started the ball rolling to establish the retort-pouch packing method on its route to acceptance among Americans.
Robert McMath is a new-product consultant and director of the New Products Showcase & Learning Center in Ithaca, N.Y.