Italian food at it's best - market fresh and inventive
Authenticity is a big deal when dining at top-end restaurants — when you’re shelling out fifty bucks or more per person, you want to experience the truest taste of a given cuisine, with ingredients as rarefied and exclusive as your dinner reservation. Opinions on how “authentic” (whatever that even means) the cuisine is at Primo e Secondo ranges from “just like in Italy” to “French, with Italian ingredients.”
The market fresh cooking (the menu changes daily) and inventive preparations are a far cry from what you’ll find at old-fashioned red sauce joints. But for anyone who’s been to Italy in the past decade and eaten at a modern restaurant, chef Roberto Stabile’s cooking is as close to the real thing as you can get without a plane ticket and a suitcase full of euros.
To whet our appetite, we were each brought an amuse-bouche of mozzeralla di buffala and sundried tomato, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, and topped with a translucent leaf of fried basil. Neither of us are big fans of sundried tomatoes, but their sharp sour-sweetness was balanced by the almost liquid creaminess of the cheese.
As an appetizer, we chose the olive ascolane — humungous green olives, stuffed with tuna and encased in a crisp shell of fried bread crumbs. The taste and texture was a bit unusual, like a meaty, slightly bitter croquet; I enjoyed it, my wife less so. These came accompanied by another two stacks of that delicious mozzarella, this time topped with confit cherry tomato and chopped basil. There was also a pair of plain artichoke heart halves and black olives, but these seemed thrown in just to fill the plate (and help justify the $14 price).
Neither of us felt hungry enough to make it through two more courses, but our waiter talked us into splitting the mushroom risotto, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. And no wonder: velvety and perfectly cooked arborio rice, flecked with parsley and a few shavings of parmesan, and laden with earthy, intoxicatingly perfumed chunks of porcini mushrooms — what’s not to love? It’s a dish best served in small portions, not because it’s heavy, but so you don’t gorge yourself to the point of bursting.
As main dishes, my wife stuck with a primo of ravioli di castagne (chestnut) e mascarpone , while I ordered a secondo of arrosto di coniglio ripieno di prugne (roasted saddle of rabbit with prune stuffing). The handmade ravioli came in a creamy, saffron-coloured sauce that provided a rich compliment to the savoury, naturally sweet chestnut filling.
My dish was a knock-out: the melt-in-your-mouth rabbit was shaped into a trio of medallions, sweetened by the bits of prune and accompanying sauce, and laid on top of a bed of orange chard, carrots and mashed potatoes.
Thoroughly stuffed, we waived the white flag at dessert, despite having weak spots for chocolate soufflé and homemade tiramisu. Our waiter suggested a simple summer specialty of honeydew melon with slices of cheese and honey — the sort of thing you’d eat at an Italian family dinner, and an endearing final touch to a fantastic meal.
Giancarlo La Giorgia is a freelance writer and citeeze.com’s resident foodie.