Grace

If one has to experience heartbreak to appreciate love, then I think I’ve earned this dessert. For the first time tonight, my eyebrows climb halfway up my forehead. I’m feeling things I’ve not felt before.

Until I met this custard — spiked with hyper-sour sudachi, its sugars gently burnt — I thought I had the food here all figured out. Now I’m grasping at fireflies. Ginger, cashew and nasturtium seem to glow and dissipate at random. Along with the citrus, they flicker between sweet and spicy, nutty and smoky, creamy and — yes — bitter. It’s that last one that I’ve been chasing all night.

This dessert is the eighth of nine courses at a restaurant called Grace. Along with the six months I’ve waited since this place opened, that feels like a generous enough grace period. Continue reading

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Cesare al Casaletto

The first time I went to Italy was in 2007. I gained thirty pounds in nine weeks.

Quattordici chili,” a pudgy-cheeked version of me would boast, as if saying the words in Italian made them somehow meritorious. I dropped two pants sizes — first 30, then 32 — before the trip’s end. And I ate in my first Michelin three-starred restaurant in jeans, because slacks were by then an impossible dream. Moderation has always been a problem for me.

Over time I’ve learned that in Rome there is no moderating guanciale. Tonight at Cesare al Casaletto I encounter the first piece, thick like tree bark, leaned casually against a plump pile of tonnarelli like the bouncer at a nightclub door — the carbonara gatekeeper. I dodge it at first, not to avoid the precious pork but to skewer it last, with a swirl of noodles. A fine varnish of egg yolk, pecorino and pepper holds it together. The bite looks, I reckon, just about perfect. But it’s not for me — it’s for a girl back home. She loves carbonara. Continue reading

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Barley Swine

Do you care for any vodka with that?

Orange juice — I had asked the flight attendant for some orange juice. But despite the convincing case Kendrick Lamar made in my earbuds, I felt inclined not to drank. I was at cruising altitude, trekking 1,800 miles in order to feed myself.  And now I was thinking, about expectations and about managing them.

I saw the booze as a specious salve for the jittery nerves engendered by a delayed, overbooked flight. But for my neighbor — embittered towards American Airlines and pawing the arm rest like a caged tiger — alcohol was exactly the tranquilizer he needed. In fact, it was precisely what he expected. “Finally, some service around here,” he grumbled with a half-convincing smile. (For several more minutes, he continued to paw.) Continue reading

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