A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Friday, May 27, 2005

May 27.

Dinner -

Perbacco - 234 E. 4th St., East Village
Sformatino di mais e broccoli rapa, pane croccante al sesame e fonduta di pomodoro (Corn and broccoli rape soufflé with crispy sesame bread and tomato fondue); Tagliolini allo zafferano con gamberi, emulsione di rucola e pomodorini (Saffron tagliolini with shrimp, arugala emulsion and cherry tomato); Ravioli di grachino e zucchine con ragout di vongole (Crab meat and green squash ravioli with clam sauce); Crostatina di ricotta, cioccolata e lamponi, salsa zabaione (Chcoolate, raspberry and ricotta cheese tart with sabayon sauce); a bottle of Gavi Masera Marc de Grazia 2004; an espresso

My friend Steve's birthday posed a challenge. Because he's a lover of all things Italian, I knew that it'd be the cuisine of choice. He also requested a more laidback and casual place. But the problem I faced was how I could impress Steve, who is Italian, spent a semester in Bologna, traveled extensively through the boot, and has eaten at heavy-hitters like L'impero. My foodie cred was once again at risk.

I selected Perbacco, an East Village osteria I've walked by countless times. (As many Italian places as I've hit in my neighborhood, they keep springing up like Hydra heads.) The restaurant was buzzing with energy but still relaxed when we arrived, catching up on the year since we'd seen each other. We waited for ten minutes (it was a Friday night and Perbacco doesn't take reservations) before the hostess showed us to a table in the center of the room. Steve reminisced about his European odyssey and the ebullient sommelier came over. "I'm the wine guy," he explained, his accent heavy. The two of them started to talk wines in Italian and I sat back, listening to the poetry of elongated vowels, so far pleased with my choice.

The wine guy brought over his recommendation, a 2004 Gavi, an Italian variety neither of us had tried. It was very light and dry, gentle and easy to drink. It paired well with the four course we split, a corn and broccoli rape soufflé. Like the wine, it was a pleasant surprise, as I usually expect soufflés from the French. Ours was delicate and well-made, the flavors soft but potent. It was also complemented by the unusually good side of what the menu calls "tomato fondue." Tangy and creamy, the sauce added a contrasting liveliness to our muted appetizer. Of all the things we would have, the soufflé proved the most elegant and impressive.

Next, Steve and I shared tagliolini with shrimps and tomatoes in an arugala emulsion. I enjoyed the pasta and the various elements in it were just inventive enough to distinguish it. It wasn't amazing though, just a solid course that was worth the cost. From here, Steve and I got individual courses, but instead of following the typical path of primo to secondo, we both stuck to two primi. I got a crab and squash ravioli while we opted for a whole wheat tagliatelle with veal and snow peas. His was the better course because my tasty ravioli was marred by a very salty crab filling. As is all too common with Italian cooking, the presence of salt dominated the dish and overshadowed what was otherwise a promising preparation.

Finally, we ended on a crostatina, a chocolate, raspberry and ricotta tart that was tasty though more subtle than the Italian desserts I'm used to. Like the soufflé, it demonstrated care and a charming confidence on the part of the kitchen. Again, it wasn't the best dessert I've had or even one that I'll feel compelled to reorder, but it was an enjoyable last course.

Still catching up, we finished off the bottle and each ordered a espresso, knowing that Italians would never drink cappucino after noon. It was a detail of authenticity we could add to an evening that didn't replicate Italy but, between Perbacco's laidback ambiance and attention to cooking, did a worthy job of evoking it. For two guys who still missed the charms of Tuscan vineyards and raucous Roman trattorias, this was still a cause for celebration. 7/10


Anonymous Chef 'em Out said...

Your right about "Italian places keep springing up like Hydra heads" I think its happening all over Manhattan.

2:32 PM  

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