Enoteca Maria - June 19, 2011
I am an advocate of equality; I fight against discrimination. Let me expand this a little: I respect each and every kind of animal and each and every body part; and I disdain the generic, uneducated and, worst of all, hypocritical aversion that people have for certain parts of the body of their slain animals. A frog is as much alive as a calf, a chicken or a cow; and for all we know, a rabbit is just as sensitive as a pig. Moreover, the insolent ignorance, or the ignorant insolence, toward offal – the cast-offs - of the masses infuriates me: If you have already killed a chicken, respect the life it has given up for you and eat the damned feet, too. When you order that sautéed chicken breast or a roasted rack of lamb, you are ineluctably a part of the killing even if your hands are not bloodied. Would you condemn someone less if he merely paid for the murder rather than did the actual deed? Although the order of events are reversed here: the demise of the chicken that is served on your plate is not directly caused by your order which has been placed 30 minutes ago (most likely not, every since my grandfather stopped having a chicken coop), but your order will indirectly cause its kin to be killed for someone else’s dinner because your appetite for the chicken has shown that there is demand. Econ 101: Supply and Demand. Therefore, the proper respect a human being can show to the lives that are lost in order to be turned into coq au vin or honey-glazed pork chop is not to waste any and appreciate all – feet, brains, hearts, intestines and testicles. As a matter of fact, a sense of common decency demands it. And, I must say, these generally less desired body parts are, in fact, quite gustatorily desirable.
Signora Elvira from Palermo started off the dinner with a charming earthenware plate of antipasti – olives, stewed eggplants, cauliflowers with anchovies and roasted peppers – and focaccia. The focaccia had the requisite crust, soaked with olive oil and studded with salt, which was more than enjoyable on its own. The deliciously salty olives and tender eggplants were mildly spicy; the cauliflowers with anchovies were good enough that I looked into the menu to see if it could be ordered separately.
Le Palle di Joe - Grilled lamb testicles in balsamic vinegar with fresh herbs
I admit that it was the glutton curiosity that ordered this untried part of Joe, the lamb; however, it was quickly turned into appreciation. The testicles tasted similar to liver, with a texture, which was less firm and grainy and thus softer. The light balsamic vinegar marinade balanced well against the earthy flavor of the vital organ.
Zampe di Gallina - Chicken feet in a tomato and mushroom sauce
As a result of insufficient stewing time (something to be learned from the Chinese), the rubbery collagen did not have the chance to fully absorb the hearty and solid tomato and mushroom sauce.
Orecchiette alla Lido - Cherry tomatoes, flaked swordfish, eggplant and mint
The tooth-some, little ears heard the conductor correctly: they scooped up the sweet and tangy tomato sauce and stood gently but firmly against it. The brilliant use of mint inspired the oil-cured swordfish, which was unexpectedly full of mild brine – a flavor more pleasurable than when it was actually fresh and gave a wonderful texture against the orecchiette.
Pizza di Burrata - Tomato sauce and basil
Back in the days before the limited availability of excellent pizza outside of Italy, I had had all types of inadequate manifestations, whether delivered, frozen or served in restaurants. The pizza at Enoteca Maria shared the sickly look of the superior frozen kind - superior only because the bottom did not sag and fall out when re-heated. Furthermore, the heavy-handedness reminded me of the pizzas served in alleged pizzerias, which thought merely dumping a lot of cheese on top of tomato sauce would miraculously transform a cheesy dough into a pizza – well, it did not. If truth be told, it was similar to an Argentinean pizza. The expected fresh and creamy milkiness of the burrata were notably absent; in their stead, there were overwhelming greasiness and profound mediocrity. If my paper napkin had not been completely soiled by then, I would have been tempted to follow the disgusting habit of the grease-dabbers.
Capuzzelle - Sheep’s head stuffed with breadcrumbs, rosemary and garlic then baked in red wine
All participants at the table had prepared themselves for the anticipated and unaccustomed visual shock – at least, my unfamiliarity was due to the lack of opportunity, not desire. Yet, the “dish” arrived quite innocuously looking like any breadcrumb-topped gratin; in fact, it appeared so unceremoniously that we had almost missed its significance. Wait, however, until my fellow diner abruptly and callously turned the “dish” the other side up: Voila, the “dish” was not exactly a misshapen “dish” at all, but it was half a skull, chopped vertically through the nose with exactly one eye, half of the brain and mysteriously somehow, a whole tongue. Our counterpart that night must have thought the sheep was mute.
A head provides the most diverse and interesting perspectives of eating meat: First of all, there is a question of tactics – where shall one start, the cheek, where the meat is most tender, and leave the brain, that has the consistency of cottage cheese, for the last?; Second, there are different textures and flavors to detect and savor – from the gelatinous eye ball to the juicy tongue. I decided to proceed with the brain, which was roasted slightly dry and hard, which, however, concentrated the flavor but lessened the distinct odor. The delicate cheek meat was a treat as it fell off easily upon the fork; the succulent tongue was chewy yet tender.
On one hand, the breadcrumb crust was too heavy to fully appreciate the subtle differences in flavor of the sheep’s head. On the other hand, the ample garlic and rosemary guaranteed that every bite of every part would be well-seasoned.
Aragosta Ripiena – Baked lobster stuffed with shrimp, breadcrumbs and fresh herbs
The abundant breadcrumbs made another appearance on another au gratin dish, which stuffed the shell like straw for a scarecrow. This Frankenstein of a lobster - now why isn’t a whole lobster any more grotesque than a whole head of a sheep? Discrimination and indoctrination, I say – had more shrimp than its own flesh, although somewhat close in genealogy, I wondered whether such transformation and juxtaposition were absolutely necessary. Rather than a show of luxury, the shrimp acted more like a silicone filler: It added more body to where it was lacking because other than the claws, the lobster was quite skinny in body mass. While the scarecrow and the monster in Frankenstein ultimately had a heart, the artificially enhanced lobster had none.
Branzino al Cartoccio - Whole seabass baked in foil with a lemon-herb sauce
The primary value of a restaurant is in its ability to do something that I cannot or do not do. While the fish was superbly fresh, I could have bought the same and at least cooked it with more salt and herbs for superior enjoyment.
Gelato di Caffe
The coffee gelato was featureless and generic with sweetness as its strongest flavor, rather than coffee; the addition of melted milk chocolate only diluted coffee even further.
Cannoli Siciliani - Chocolate chips
When the apologetic waitress informed me that their famous torta di nutella had all been consumed for the night, my infinite despondence at such unbelievable misfortune must have been clearly spelled out widely across my face in HD. Dismally and inconsolably, I followed another diner’s order of cannoli like an automaton. The oily fried shell came nowhere near the airy and flaky model served at Bruno; the ricotta stuffing also tasted lifeless and bland, which the chocolate chips were meant to amend but they ended up being uncomfortably suspended in discordance.
Whether it was pity for my misery at not being able to have the torta di nutella or acknowledgement to the tenacious gusto, which we showed in disassembling the head, the cannoli were quietly taken off the final bill.
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