Dell'Anima - May 21, 2011
Natural selection takes place at Dell’Anima: one is first put under a test of survival - suffocation by smoke (due to the inadequate ventilation system) and the claustrophobia (due to the low ceiling). Once having passed, then you can be fed.
Bruschette The idea of do-it-yourself bruschette seemed so blatantly obvious – no more problem of too much or too little toppings - and yet, sometimes it takes a genius to notice the blunt truth – i.e. the apples fall, not because they had always done so, but because of an external force called gravity. Armed with a basketful of grilled bread, drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic, the tasting of three bruschette began.
Octopus panissa – octopus with garbanzo – was an unexpected revelation: it was creamy and chunky at the same time, with bits of tender octopus and chopped garbanzo. The spead was infused with the elegant tang of preserved lemon, which made the combined flavors quite exquisite. The rapini pesto, on the other hand, was vibrant with the earthiness of the spring from the tart broccoli rabe and the grainy walnuts. The pecorino romano gave the pesto more body, while the chili pepper oil and flakes further stimulated the appetite. Last was the caramelized lily confit, which mimicked caramelized onions in both appearance and taste, in fact, so much so that it was indistinguishable. However, the dish was ill at ease with an air of incompleteness like an half-empty stadium, waiting for something to arrive – be it prosciutto or gorgonzola.
Garganelli neri – sepia, octopus, rock shrimp, scallops, razor clams, tomato
The steaming bowl was an open jewelry box, filled with flutes of black pasta and spangled with white squid, burgundy octopus, pink rock shrimp, beige scallops and clams and ruby tomatoes. Each of the seafood was cooked perfectly. The palate was first taken surprise by the spiciness of the chili flakes then the taste buds were opened by the pungent garlic. However, at the bottom of the box was the parsley, which soothed and calmed the mouth, like hope in Pandora’s Box. The refreshingly acidic tomato sauce carefully maneuvered and manipulated the subconscious so that one was compelled to finish the garganelli quickly before the it had even lost the steam. Gnocchi – morels, asparagus
After the infernal garganelli, the gnocchi were like a walk in a spring forest: The soft gnocchi enveloped us with its pilowy arms and perfumed the palate – formerly redolent of garlic and tomato – with the delicate fragrance of morel and herbal asparagus. The harried senses were further ameliorated by being submerged into the warm, rich brown butter, like sunshine falling through the leaves. The texture of the agreeably crunchy asparagus and abundant morels kept the dish entertaining. Pollo al diavolo – broccoli rabe
The chef had cunningly pushed the seasoning to the maximum level – smoky, spicy and salty – and deftly cooked the chicken so that the skin was perfectly crispy while the meat was juicy and tender. However, even such professionalism could not alter the fact that the chicken itself was a bland specimen, characteristic of the American species. The dark meat was better, which provided more moist avian flavor to match the powerful smoked paprika and chili. The broccoli rabe tasted, at first, over-salted; however, once you reached the bland interior of the white meat, its saltiness became a rational decision – a sleight of hand, instead of a careless slip of hand.
Espresso rhum almond cake – Salt gelato
The dexterity with salt continued into the realm of dessert. While the play of salty against sweet has lost some of its renaissance zest, the combination of flavors is so congenitally congenial that it has been ingrained onto the human gustatory perception, or more broadly to include the hominoidea - i.e. the Hundredth Monkey Effect in washing sweet potatoes in the sea. Nonetheless, I had not encountered salt in gelato until now, and one at which so daringly salty and yet so very delicious. This is the type of things that one pays money for – someone else’s successful audacity – because these two concepts do not easily co-exist in a common home kitchen. The first bite of the ice cream was overpowering and slightly off-putting, and yet as the gelato melted, the sugar and the milk all oozed out to embrace the salt, which actually accentuated the milkiness and the sweetness of the ingredients. The cake itself also deserved much accolades. The nutty almond crumb was aromatic with the addictive almond scent – suggestive of freshly ground almond meal – and moistened, but not laden, with butter. Amidst the swirls of salty caramels and savory almond brittles, the almond of the cake was even more pronounced. The ingenious salt gelato elevated this dessert into something memorable, if simultaneously and, regrettably, also my sodium level.