Category Archives: Pasta

Bocca di Lupo. About time

A man I love very much said to me, “If you were 30, I would give our relationship a go. But you’re 37 – if I go out with you, you will start expecting marriage soon.

I still haven’t found the words to respond to this, but I did add him to a long list of my people obsessed with age. Nobody I know seems to want to be their age at the moment – through mind-numbing food plans, bad hair dye jobs, inappropriate sexapades, and best-selling alter egos, I have found myself in the midst of a lot of people’s age-crisis. So it wasn’t quite by accident that I was drawn to the New Year Day release of The Theory of Everything – a film about Stephen Hawking and his theories of time. Hawking writes an equation to prove that there was a beginning of time. He then proposes the end of time. We go about our lives quietly accepting beginnings and ends of sunrises and sunsets, of days and meals, of relationships and jobs; and yet, we get so sensitive about our age. We fight it – everyday.

As I wandered around Soho and pondered my people’s preoccupation with age, I walked past a restaurant, I’ve always enjoyed visiting. Bocca di Lupo has a chef-owner who has written a wonderful book on pasta through the ages – The Geometry of Pasta. A book that was born of a preoccupation of a more delicious kind – of the Italian’s obsession with the right shape of pasta for the right sauce.

I love a little time travel as much as the next person. Especially if I can taste my way through the travel, as I did tonight.

Agnolotti dal plin

AgnolottiLike all interesting food history, the origin of the agnolotti, a semi-circle stuffed pasta from Piedmont, is attributed to several legends. Some say it’s name comes from the tool that was used to cut the pasta – the anolot. Other stories give credit to its stuffing – agnello (lamb). Or perhaps it was named after the chef, Angeloto, who first made these to celebrate the end of a siege? The version I ate – Agnolotti dal plin (£9) was pinched into delicate pleats and stuffed with pork and veal. Not the best bowl of pasta I have ever had, but tonight I wasn’t after excellence. Instead, reading about its history added texture to my meal – about how this pasta used to be made mainly for festive occasions, given the dainty pleating; or in the winter, when “housewives had to fill long winter evenings with some sort of activity.”

Wine: Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, 2012 (£7.70)

Pappardelle with venison ragú

Pappardelle“They are best served with a chunky, flavoursome, oily sauce in Tuscany; with a chicken liver or hare ragú, in the Veneto and Romagna with a pigeon one.” I had mine with a venison ragú (£9) – a wholesome sauce that lovingly attached itself to luscious ribbons of hand made pappardelle. The book talks about how this pasta has been around since the medieval times “when they were cooked in a game broth, thickened by blood.”

Wine: Primitivo Fatalone, 2010 (£7.50)

KitchenAs I watched 4 chefs cook traditional recipes for a 100 diners, I had to wonder if they ever stopped to think about how old they were. Working in unspoken conversations, the only place they could be was in the moment.

In this moment, it is exactly the time it is. We are exactly the age we are.

-p

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Filed under Italian, London, Pasta, Soho London

Culina. Just right.

You meet someone who lights up your life. You meet someone who darkens your day. You meet someone and take a leap of faith. You meet someone and wish someone else had stopped you from jumping.

What was I thinking?! And more importantly, how did I get to a place where I let someone else screw up the way I feel about myself? I’ve had a few what-was-I-thinking days in my life but this one honestly takes the cupcake. On a day when everything went wrong, as always, I turned to food… to find a place where everything promised to be right.

Culina, if hotel insiders are to be believed, is Four Seasons first foray into cool dining. These hoteliers are not exactly known for food innovation; but with this LA hotspot they definitely know what they are doing. Beverly Hills isn’t exactly the kind of neighbourhood you would think of as having a ‘local’. But if they had to have one, I vote for Chef Victor Casanova’s Culina. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at less than five star prices, and you are almost always assured of pretty diners in the room. (This is LA after all.) The restaurant is as fancy, or not, as you’d like it to be. An open crudo bar where you can see the chefs at work, servers that look like movie stars, a waterfall and a fireplace (for the two days of the year it gets cold in LA) – this restaurant definitely has the look.

I was seated at a table outside surrounded by beautiful foliage, hypnotised by the warble from the waterfall jumbled with gentle sounds of piped music. The menu was longer than I wanted to deal with and so let my perfectly capable server Caroline make most of my dining decisions, while I enjoyed their softest rosemary bread.

It is almost rude not to start with their crudo. First there was Tonno ($12), ahi tuna tartare delicately laced with ginger and lemon, and then Cappesante ($14), scallops with black truffle. Both arrived looking like jewels on a plate and disappeared before I realised. I resisted ordering the burrata and went with Granchio ($16) a dungeness crab salad with endives and grapefruit. I was tubing down the slopes in Vail not two days ago, and here I was eating a salad that was like summer on a plate. The glass of Erbaluce ($13) Caroline recommended couldn’t have been a more perfect accompaniment.

The menu also has a decent vegetarian section, pizzas, main courses (Kobe meatballs looked especially good), and of course dessert. But today was a day that deserved pasta. I ordered the Spaghetti alla Chittara ($17) – pasta, that was definitely not shop bought, with the most wholesome, delicious, perfect san marzano tomato and basil sauce.

It isn’t like I haven’t eaten better Italian food before. Nor is this the coolest/prettiest restaurant I have been to. A great meal, like a wonderful life, is rarely about one or the other. To quote a cliché, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. And so, at Culina, its universe – of food, décor, service, and spirit – comes together to create an experience where everything worked beautifully. Culina definitely got it right.

-p

Culina at Four Seasons Beverly Hills on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Crudo, Italian, Los Angeles, Open kitchen, Outdoor dining, Pasta

One too many

I jumped out of a plane from 12,000 ft yesterday. I cannot begin to explain the exhilaration of the skydive, and if this is an adrenalin rush then I need a little more alone time with this fantastic feeling before I can share more than this:

I’m a bit cloudy on what was going through my head during the dive but the first thought that hit me when I landed was “pasta!”! I had sunbathed for six hours, waiting my turn to jump out of an airplane, and hadn’t eaten much for the fear of throwing up all over Kent. On the train back to London I plotted my evening ahead. A delicious glass of Billecart-Salmon champagne 7) at Pimlico’s Thomas Cubitt (thank you Charlie for the introduction); and then on to Olivo (thank you AA Gill, food critic Sunday Times, for the introduction).

I first ate at Olivo with my sister Priyankaa and our friends Ami and Jai in 2007. The food was not special, but the meal was magical. The four of us, who used to spend every waking childhood moment together, had not been in one city for over a decade and no amount of average food could ruin our evening. Ever since then, the pasta at Olivo has been my golden standard for joyous-pasta. So I ordered Linguine al Granchio (pasta, with crab, garlic, chilli, parsley, £14.50), the same dish I ordered three years ago. And as I enjoyed the memories this dish brought back to me, I realised that all this time I had involuntarily benchmarked every pasta dish I had ever ordered in a restaurant, to this one here. Not because the food at Olivo is any better, it is not, but because the memories this food brings far outweigh any inferior flavours I may remember. This makes me think of two things I read recently, in a book and on a blog.

In her book Spoon Fed, NY Times reporter Kim Severson talks about taste memories and the importance of extensive tasting to a food critic of any merit. “You have to build a catalogue of food memories. To understand good chocolate, you have to know bad chocolate…” She then goes on to explain these very same taste memories, but in a context. Just like my Linguine al Granchio and the context in which I first tasted it.

It is all very well for me to build this collection of benchmarks for my tastebuds, but is that where it ends? Or do I also benchmark the people in my life? Let’s see… if I had to pick someone for:

  • Faffing around Bombay on a Saturday: Mamma
  • Chilling out at home with wine, cheese and bread: Thomas
  • Chat about new restaurants and old chefs: Chris
  • Have a drink: Foram

What did I just do here? One day, after watching many movies with many people I decided that I enjoy doing this with Priyankaa more than with anyone else. Not for a minute does this mean that I won’t go to the cinema with anyone else, but that I will probably benchmark my experience with A, B and C against the joy I get from watching a film with Priyankaa. So if I do this, consciously or unconsciously, with something as frivolous as having a drink what is the likelihood that I do it with romantic relationships? What is the likelihood that you do it too?

Let me share something I used to do on a fifth or sixth date. I would ask the guy to order for me; a “test” to gauge how well he “knew” me. Eight times out of ten the guy got it wrong. It didn’t matter that he got so many other things right, but the fact that he did not know what I liked to eat somehow meant he did not know me at all. Now I didn’t conjure up this benchmark out of thin air. I used to date someone who “got my tastebuds” every single time, sometimes event better than I did myself. And the context? This guy and I talked food to each other all day long as that’s what our jobs needed us to do. So to say he had an advantage would be a colossal understatement.

When this requirement to “know me” changed into the necessity that he become my benchmark for everything is anyone’s guess.

This is a true example from an online dating site to prove how unfair (and unrealistic) we become when it comes to romance :

Male, 35 successful, creative, loyal, a home lover, terribly witty, eco-conscious, laid back, enthusiastic about life, an outdoors type and intelligent is looking for Female 23-38 bright eyed, sparkly, feisty, soulful, cheeky, happy, charming, open, honest, independent, intelligent, witty, sensitive, liberal, socially conscious, fun loving, naughty, sometimes more than naughty, kind, tender, drop dead gorgeous and fond of lists.

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s words, borrowed from Gouri’s blog say it beautifully:

“….I am going to write a play about the breakup of a marriage. And at the end of the play I am going to have a character say what people should say to each other in real life at the end of a marriage: I’m sorry, you being human, need a hundred affectionate and like-minded companions. I’m only one person. I tried, but I could never be a hundred people to you. You’ve tried but you could never be a hundred people to me. Too bad. Good bye.”

When I enjoy five different activities with five different people, how am I allowed to expect the a single man to be “the one” answer to everything I have ever wanted, and will ever want?

-p

Olivo on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Italian, London, Pasta