Rick and Krista Lopez have had quite a bit of experience with Italian food. So we were pretty certain, when they opened Knead Urban Diner on High Street last year, that Italian influences wouldn’t take long to start sneaking onto the menu.
And when Rick mentioned plans for a wine dinner with an authentically Italian theme, we knew a great opportunity when we saw it.
Our Off the Menu series is meant to recognize the responsibility that consumers have for what appears on restaurant menus by giving chefs the opportunity to cook what they most want to cook—whether it’s authentic, experimental, or outrageous—for one night, without fear that it won’t find any takers. Our goal is to show the city what they can do… and show the city’s consumers what they’re missing.
On this occasion, Rick and Krista obliged us with a terrific menu: five courses, each paired with an indigenous wine, and a glass of sparkling wine to start. They worked with Dan Frey of Solera Imports to come up with the wine pairings, which ranged from good to terrific: the Felsina I Sistri had a remarkable minerality to it, and the Vin Santo, which surprised us with a terrific nose, paired beautifully with the panna cotta.
But we’re getting ahead. The dinner started with a traditional fritto misto, impressively light and refreshing, and then moved to what was almost without exception the favorite dish of the night: the house-made duck and foie gras sausage with kumquat marmalade, buckwheat polenta and shiitakes. The richness of the sausage was balanced by the sweet bite of the kumquat and the savory polenta and shiitakes. This was a marquee dish, the sort of food that a restaurant could become known for, and that, years down the line, a chef could come to hate because the customers would never let him take it off the menu.
Next up was an impressive technical achievement, a single raviolino with a liquid egg yolk inside, served with house-cured guanciale (jowl bacon), kale, and parmesan. Each piece of pasta had been made by hand, the yolks carefully slipped inside and the whole thing cooked gently enough to leave the yolk liquid when the diner’s fork punctured the pasta. If that description makes you hungry… it should.
After that came… the porchetta.
Aptly described by Krista as being “like a turducken, except it’s pig wrapped around pig wrapped around pig,” the porchetta was a boneless pork roast wrapped around sausage and braised fennel. Served over lentils, it was succulent and delicious.
The evening’s final act was in some ways the most impressive: a goat’s milk panna cotta with figs, drizzled with Mockingbird Meadows’ Cafe Brioso-coffee-infused honey. It sounded good. It was great. The combination of flavors was complex, slightly off-balance in precisely the right way, and tight—really an impressive dish.
The most authentically Italian part of the evening, however, was the host and hostess. On a Saturday night, when many restaurants would be focused on turning tables as quickly and discreetly as possible, they closed for regular business. We started dining at 7 p.m., the courses came out gradually enough that we never felt overly full, and by the end of the meal the chef had come out to join us. The last of the diners stayed until after midnight. When we traveled in Italy this was precisely the sort of hospitality that we encountered, and we regretted that the pace of life in the US had kept us from finding it here. It was truly delightful to experience it again.
That may explain why one of our members, Sarah Khatcherian, a trained soprano and voice instructor, was moved to burst into an impromptu aria at the conclusion of the meal:
We know exactly how she felt.
(Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Mike Beaumont, Spacejunk Media, with the exception of the first mediocre cellphone shot of the menu, which will remain blameless.)