Two dishes on this post: thanks to jury duty, my husband and I were able to have lunch together at Otto’s bar on a chilly, late February day. That was the first time I sat at the bar at Otto and I quite liked it. The burly barman’s service was correct and his demeanor distant; his lack of approachability kept the busy bar’s noise levels pretty bearable at lunch hour.
I picked both our pastas. The semester’s end is fast approaching and I still have some pastas to taste, so I didn’t want to repeat one that I previously had. I am a big fan of eggplants, and thus I picked the Pasta alla Norma (tomato, roasted eggplant, basil and ricotta di buffala) for myself.
Now, we know what you need in order for an eggplant dish to look and taste this scrumptious: oil, lots of it. The well-oiled and well-roasted eggplants gave the dish both depth and sharpness; the tomatoes on the other hand contributed with sweetness. Norma also counts with one big dollop of buffalo milk ricotta, which to me felt much like crème fraîche, and which made the whole thing a bit too rich for me, and perhaps a bit too sweet as well.
The reason why my husband doesn’t mind anymore when I take over the ordering at restaurants is that… well, you guessed, the wife is always right! In this case, his bucatini was clearly the best dish of the two, and so far my definite favorite among the $10 pastas at Otto. When he saw my enthusiasm for his dish, he politely offered to switch with me, but I refused — I come to Otto often enough to have it at another opportunity, and he was the one going through the pains of jury duty. Good husband, good wife, I guess!
The Gricia sauce is simple — made with guanciale, red onions and black pepper — but each ingredient seems to play a distinctive role. The guanciale is both salty and fatty, the red onions are slighly sweet, and together they make the dish substantial; the black pepper sneaks into this little marriage of flavors with the necessary, contrasting spice.
I have been a fan of pancetta for years now, but this dish has opened my eyes to the joys of guanciale and to the limitations of pancetta… Guanciale is definitely not pancetta — it’s pork cheek versus pork belly — and I am not guessing here saying that a for superior Gricia, Amatriciana, or Carbonara sauce, it’s got to be guanciale.
The problem now is that I want to have bucatini alla gricia all the time, and I still have some other pastas to try… still on the list, puttanesca and taccozzette con stracotto (taccozzette with spicy cauliflower has been tasted and will be posted shortly). I have high hopes for the puttanesca.