Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lower your expectations

…and you will be rewarded.

I was starting to garner a snapshot opinion of cuisine in Roma; if the goal is to eat typically, one can do so (relatively well) at any number of family run Trattoria’s. If your palette leanings are toward higher end cuisine, you will pay significantly more for surprisingly similar fare with a more thought provoking wine list, cheese selection etc. But Rome is a big city, and I am smarter than that. Indeed there has to be a family run place with love for their region AND transcendent creativity; both formal and comfortable where the waiters glow knowing that you have found them and in return you shine back with great thanks. I live for complete experiences where hospitality mirrors the kitchens output and a night is complete after a Digestiv; a similar set of expectations I have tried to “give back” promoting and producing events in NYC and at my own dinner parties in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Indeed the Restaurants I revere in NY surmise this and I have been anxious to replicate (the feeling, not the food) here in Rome. Then there was Monti…

A simple and elegant family run Trattoria, almost too close to Stazione Termini to be THIS good; where it is rumored the wait staff are distractingly charming and which Frank Bruni of The New York Times controversially declared the best dining experience in all of Rome. One of three Slow Food awarded Restaurants in the big city AND recommended by almost a dozen amici di amici...I made a reservation and whipped out the school boy blazer. But like a mantra, I lowered my expectations considerably. There have been a string of disappointments...

I have built a natural confidence in my Italian to not only order from the original menu, but more importantly to casually and gleefully translate my passion for food. My handsome waiter exuded warmth and walked me (a romantic stroll if you will) through the menu, carefully describing in Italian the details of each dish; when I stumbled on words, we charaded ourselves back on track.

My Antipasti was a caramelized sweet tangle of Red Onions baked to an almost crispy but soft bundle. Beneath, a rich and aromatic Gorgonzola sauce. Raw Red Onion slivers rested on the perimeter for a bright crunch if and when needed to offset the dish's richness.

If you recall, this is the same antipasti I had on Birthday in Milano. Rather than compare, I will only say that here (at Monti) I had a better understanding of the dish. It felt more homely, more focused, less gourmet, more hearty. Like a lot of my favorite dishes, I realized it needed to be served & then eaten immediately; a precise difficulty in timing that I have thought a lot about since working in kitchens.

What followed was one large beautiful crepe like Ravioli, stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach, a single just-browned Sage leaf and the raw yolk of a sultry red Egg in its center. What I first noticed was how the Tortellone lifted off the plate as if its shape was that of art and not weighted by extraneous sauce or garnishing. Then there was the glisten. I have all of these semi-unnecessary newfound opinions about Butter and yet here it was and I was damn happy to see it proudly illuminating the dish.

And then it happened, the yolk began to leak and the dish came to its fruition. A red stream weaved in a through the Ravioli providing its sauce and a subtle stickiness to the dish's overall texture. Oh my…

I decided it was time to test a new approach to affordable fine dining; one that is at odds with the rule to begin a meal or a night out with the best wine and if needed move towards (or downwards) to the fluidity / generosity of the cheaper variety. Instead, after I finished my ½ carafe of a White Wine of the house, I asked my waiter to recommend a single Red Wine by the glass to go with my Secondi. By this point in the meal, he knew what I ordered, was in touch with my facial expressions and my confidence in the Restaurant more broadly; we had a good rapport. And so with my paired Red Wine I proceeded to my next course.

Quail drenched in a truffle enhanced cream sauce (and perhaps pumpkin or squash – shamefully I don’t know) and roasted Potatoes. Its off-putting appearance turned out to be part of its charm. The sauce looked as if it had coagulated atop the small portioned hen; overly rich and daunting (for a 3rd coarse). But the beauty of food (and plating) is playful deception. The meat was moist and beautifully browned and the sauce was light and subtle; nothing like its appearance. A homemade pork sausage filled its center, colorfully and tastefully distinguishing the dish. In a city (or country rather) where Secondi’s have a tendency to disappoint, I was indeed very happy.

An Espresso spiked with Anice liquor (my dad’s favorite) completed my meal.

Dessert and more when I return…Friday!

1 comment:

Margaret said...

WOW - i REALLY want to taste this crepe-like ravioli you describe....