Please help me check out an impression -- I've been to Italy several times and eaten in a variety of restaurants in several cities and towns, but I do not remember that being offered bread and a dish of oil at the beginning of the meal was a regular feature of the dining experience.
In the USA, however, this has become one of the defining marks of an Italian restaurant that wants to be taken seriously.
Sometimes, its just oil, sometimes its oil with ground pepper, sometimes oil with a bit of balsamic vinegar, sometimes the oil shares space with fresh herbs. Once, it was -- for variety's sake -- a dish of really good tomato sauce.
Sometimes the bread is crusty, sometimes not, but there is always bread and a dipping sauce.
If this is a feature of restaurant dining in Italy, please tell me where, or how I might have missed it.
If it is -- as I think I remember -- a feature of Italian restaurants only in the USA, does anyone know how it got started and why it has become a standard feature, especially in Italian restaurants that want so desperately to appear authentically Italian?