Posted by: lisetta | July 25, 2008

American Takes on Italian Faves

Sharing a meal with a close friend is a rare treat in my Philly world, but one that I savor immensely. After an evening visit to her mother-in-law at Pennsylvania Hospital, Marni and I decided to grab a quick dinner in the area. We’d have walked over to Buddakan or Amada if her shoes hadn’t hurt, but we were closest to Jones, a Stephen Starr joint I had never tried. As we walked in, Marni told me there’d be nothing to get excited or analytical about; it was good ‘ole ‘Merican comfort food. Hmm. 

Was surprised to find that both the dinner and dessert specials tonight had Italian flare: halibut served over a tomato fennel risotto and a berry tiramisu. It seems that the chefs get tired of making meatloaf or mac and cheese? Or have risotto and tiramisu gone mainstream? While I totally love fennel, Marni nixed the idea before I could even consider it, telling the waitress that I couldn’t order anything Italian. LOL. She knows. Both risotto and tiramisu are dishes I excel at making myself, so why bother? 

Only three times have I eaten remarkable restaurant risotto: saffron risotto at Combal.Zero in Rivoli, lemon risotto at Cucina Flegrea in Pittsburgh, and rucola-stracchino risotto at a trattoria near Cremona. (I wish I could easily remember more relevant details, like where the heck I put my work keys.) Finding exceptional restaurant risotto is difficult, largely because the primo is best when made to order by an attentive and knowledgeable chef, which requires staff and time resources most places aren’t able/willing to invest. No love lost here. I’ve now got a new risotto idea. Haven’t eaten it with fennel before. 

Berry tiramisu intrigues me as well. I once made a tropical tiramisu, substituting coffee/liquor with passion fruit/pineapple juice and cocoa powder with shredded coconut. It was deliciously light. I imagine the berry tiramisu would be good with blueberry juice for the savoiardi and raspberry coulis blended into the mascarpone. Keeping the cocoa would make for an interesting combo, I bet.

So while eating the most banal of foods (turkey club with avocado mayo and kettle chips), my mind was engaged in a rapt contemplation of what could be. The food for thought came at the expense of sensual pleasure, but I can deal. The coq au vin will be better tomorrow anyway, and much appreciated after a long bike ride. 

Marni thinks I should be a restaurant critic. I think I should keep on experimenting with ingredients and processes. While I’ll never make a risotto as perfect as the one I ate at Combal Zero, stumbling upon success (e.g. my saffron gelato or tomato-basil risotto with Eric) is ultimately more meaningful to my little life.


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