It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make a decent version of cacio e pepe, but the one I had last night at a place I won’t name in Boston was gummy and unctuous, overwhelmed by a way too buttery sauce with so much cheese that strands of pasta stuck together. The person I was with had trout swimming in olive oil, which had been added after grilling. Throw in a glass of white Arneis from Piedmont and a martini? $85 for two.
People think it’s easy to cook Italian. It’s not. It requires restraint. Johanne Killeen, who owned al Forno, in Providence, R.I., said to me years ago what best describes it: “You buy the best ingredients you can afford and do as little to them as possible.” That’s so not Boston, in fact it’s the polar opposite of what passes for restaurant cooking here, Italian or not.
Look, it’s nice to grab a bite before a movie, right? And Ghostbuster II made going out worthwhile. But it’s pretty odd that Boston still has restaurants that are almost completely unfocused, with an emphasis on concept rather than execution or ingredients. Or bad food. Just really bad food. There’s a reason why folks from out-of-town eat at Legal Seafood: Dependable, fresh, and delicious. And frankly unique to Boston.
Meanwhile, on the home front, I received three ounces of black truffles and a pound of fresh, blond morels from Oregon, stopped by New Deal in Cambridge where I got flounder filets and tilefish filets (both cut then and there), and John Dory filets. All told, fish and fungi: $150, and enough food, with vegetables, for four dinners for four people. Throw in Kermit Lynch red, by the case, or a good Rosé from Provence, at $10 a bottle (case discount is 15%), and you get, let’s see…dinner for two is…$20.
And that cacio e pepe? I make a version that’s a whole lot better…you need really good cheeses, two types, and not a lot, a wooden spoon to stir, pasta of high quality that’s not quite done when you add it to the sauce, lots of freshly cracked black pepper, a familiarity with great versions you had in great restaurants, and for goodness sakes, don’t add salt at the end! The salt is in the cheese.