Transcendent Tuscany
Italy.

The word itself is redolent of warmth: Tuscan sun, Roman holiday, Ferrari Testarossa, penne arrabiata. It's the genesis of food, wine and style that has delighted the senses and inspired the world since ancient times.

It's little surprise, then, that so many outside the country think so fondly of it, whether Italy represents an ancestral home or the ultimate romantic getaway.

And for those who can't go (or are still a few weeks away from a summer on the Amalfi coast), it's still possible to evoke the spirit of everything Italian this coming weekend, May 18-19, at the premiere of an annual Manhattan festival, New York Toasts Italy.

Bene , a stylish new magazine devoted to exploring and appreciating Italy, is sponsoring the event. As publisher Geri Brin explains, Bene's audience is "anyone who loves fine Italian design, food, wine or Italy itself, wherever he or she lives in the U.S." -- certainly a wide demographic.

The magazine was founded in 2006 by Brin and Chicago businessman Vince Naccarato, who loved traveling to Italy with his two sons. And Bene certainly does "celebrate the beauty, the passions and the tastes of Italian life and style," as Brin puts it: The current issue includes articles ranging from the next outstanding generation of female vintners in Piedmont and the latest Capri-inspired, beach-ready fashions.

The U.S. is ready to embrace all of this, Brin says: "Americans are looking way beyond spaghetti and Chianti. We're beginning to understand the difference between foods and cultures in northern and southern Italy, and Abruzzo and Umbria, regions in central Italy ... We're exploring parts of Italy we never went to before, such as Sicily in the south and Trentino in the far north. We're appreciating Italian style and design more than ever, for its color, its simplicity and its function."

Indeed, appreciating the country's extensive diversity is a main focus of the New York Toasts Italy event. The weekend's festivities kick off Friday night at NYU's Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo in Greenwich Village, with a glamorous cocktail party and silent auction to benefit the American-Italian Cancer Foundation.

Saturday, ticketholders can partake in special offers and discounts at high-end Italian retailers throughout Manhattan, including gourmet grocers Dean & DeLuca , deluxe hunting outfitter Beretta , artisanal cobbler Silvano Lattanzi and chic scooter maker Vespa . Participating vendors cover all the highlights of Italian products, from food and wine to design, fashion and beauty, and are "the finest representatives of their categories," Brin says.

New York Toasts Italy culminates in a chef and food celebrity dinner at one of Manhattan's finest Italian restaurants later that evening. The only hard part is choosing one: The options are dining with chef Mario Batali at Otto , Todd English at Olives , Silvano Marchetto at Da Silvano , Tony May at San Domenico NY , Giorgio DeLuca at Giorgione , Cesare Casella at Maremma or Jason Denton at 'inoteca .

The selected dishes will showcase the wide range of Italian cooking, both traditional and modern, from fusilli with tomato, bourbon and Grana Padano cheese, and whole roasted pig with braised collard greens at Maremma; rigatoni with Panama tiger shrimp, green asparagus in a brandy bisque sauce at Giorginio; to soft egg-yolk-filled raviolo with truffled butter, and Sicilian red prawns with rosemary-scented Controne beans at San Domenico.

As Maremma chef Cesare Casella puts it, every Italian recipe has its own personality, depending on the region where it originates. With so many distinct areas, there will be something to delight almost every palate at these fine restaurants.

Tickets, which include access to all of the above, are available for $115 each ($95 for Chase Visa Signature cardholders) from Bene's Web site , or click here for a chance to win a free pair.

And if you can't make the event, stay tuned -- there are plans in the works to expand the concept across the U.S., possibly to Los Angeles, Chicago or Miami next.

Soon, no matter where you are, there will be no excuse not to indulge in la dolce vita.



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