Carbonara: Osteria Morini or Tasting Rome

Russ and I love Italian food.  There are few things that we can agree on whole heartedly without hesitation, and Italian food is one of them.  Last spring we spent some time traveling around Italy.  We ate in Rome, sightsaw in Florence, kayaked in Cinque Terre, tasted wine in Tuscany, wandered around in Venice, and shopped in Milan.  It was an amazing time and an eye opener to what true Italian cuisine is like.  I fell in love with the culture of food (which happened to be a love affair that my pant size was not fond of).  In my very first post I mentioned we tried our hand in cooking with cooking classes. Aside from the language barrier, it was one of the highlights on our trip.  When we came back home we tried our best to incorporate what we learned in our cooking.

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This week’s To Cook or Book Challenge, we reviewed Osteria Morini and Tasting Rome. The original Osteria Morini opened in NYC’s SOHO in 2010 by chef and owner  Chef Michael White.  The D.C location is headed by executive Chef Bill Dorrler.  Located along the waterfront in SE D.C,  Osteria Morini faces towards a beautiful view of the D.C Harbor.  Unfortunately it was an unusually cold April day so we couldn’t be seated outside.  The restaurant was packed.  Servers were running around and the bar was bustling. Even with all the chaos however, the service was prompt and helpful.

We started the night with some wine and polpettine.  As expected the wine menu is extensive and the cocktails were refreshing and inventive.  Our first dish arrived surprisingly fast.  With such a busy restaurant I assumed that the service would be forced to slow down.  The polpettine was a generous helping of light and flavorful meatballs composed of pancetta and mortadella.  I will say that I am not the biggest fan of meatballs.  Russ on the other hand would probably have meatballs every day if he could.  So we were both surprised at how much I enjoyed these meatballs.  They were moist and light.  The sauce was flavorful and highlighted the meat.  The bread was a little chewy but was a nice twist to your standard garlic bread.

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We ordered two types of pasta dishes, Gnocchi alla romana and the Gramigna. The gnocchi was not your standard gnocchi.  The dish itself was made of just two large pieces bathed in lamb ragu.  The result was a beautiful dish filled with complex flavors and textures.  This isn’t your mum’s gnocchi for sure.

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As the main star of this week’s challenge.  I was very excited for the gramigna.  With handmade pasta and a generous serving of pecorino, the dish was devoured way too fast.  The sausage was packed with flavor and added a delicious savory component to the pasta.  I wouldn’t consider it to be the most authentic pasta dish, but it was incredibly flavorful and hearty.  I knew that I had to really step up if I wanted this week’s challenge to be fair.

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Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City is a beautiful cookbook by two Americans who fell in love with the city (and who wouldn’t?).  With stunning images, and a simple, clean layout, Tasting Rome is a beautiful journey delving into the evolution of classic Italian cuisine and the influence of modern culture. With help from some of the most authentic chefs and mixologists from Rome, authors Katie Parla and Kristina Gill have created a wonderful cookbook filled with intriguing and drool worthy recipes.

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The recipe is simple and easy to follow.  There were two options for cooking, the Zabaione Method and the pan method.  Unfortunately I don’t have a double broiler so I used the pan method.  The ingredient list was short and sweet, the overall cook time was 30 minutes.  The original recipe called for guanicale which can take several days to cure so I substituted the guanicale for pancetta.  The end results were fantastic.  The sauce was flavorful and the perfect consistency.  The pancetta added texture and complemented the carbonara sauce.  We inhaled our bowls and even reached for seconds.  We were left full and in a pasta coma.

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To cook or book?

Once again I had a tough decision on my hands.  Osteria Morini served a pleasing and delectable dish that left me satisfied.  Tasting Rome also served up carbonara that kept me wanting more.  At the end of the day, Tasting Rome transformed me into an Italian cook.  Flavor wise, Osteria Morini may have had a slight edge however, Tasting Rome guided me to a restaurant quality dish that could be (dare I say) compared to carbonara dishes we had while in Rome.

Has anyone else tried Tasting Rome? Or have a go to Italian dish?  I’d love to hear from you!

Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City
Author:  Katie Parla and Kristina Gill
Hardcover: 197 pages
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0804187185

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Cassoluet: Convivial or Julia Child

If I was to be honest with everyone, I should take this moment to admit that I have absolutely no experience with French food.  Other than your typical pastries, I know virtually nothing about French cuisine.  I knew I had quite the challenge on my hands but I had no idea how labor intensive this weeks To Cook or Book would be.

Convivial has been garnering much hype and buzz.  Serving French American food, Convivial is located in Shaw, home to numerous new and buzz worthy restaurants.  With a rather unassuming sign outside, we were greeted by the man, the myth, the legend himself, Chef Cedric  (it was already at this point I already wanted to surrender ).  The restaurant itself consists of beautiful, modern decor  and spacious, open seating.  Our server was well educated with the menu, offering plenty of suggestions and tips (I felt like all the staff were knowledgeable and more than willing to help patrons ).  The service overall was great and I think that’s what stood out to me the most.  The atmosphere  was classy without being conceited, friendly without being overbearing, and helpful without being obnoxious.  The staff moved through the floor with ease, consistently ensuring that customers were given just the right amount of attention.

Convivial

Convivial

The menu is not necessarily tapas style.  The dishes straddle the line between entree and tapas.  We ordered four dishes between two people and even with a full house, the dishes came at a timely manner.  We couldn’t wait to delve into each one of our plates starting with the Pickled Rockfish and the Duck Egg Beignet.  The Rockfish was fresh and provided a nice balance to our hot plates.  The beignet is not what most people think of when they think of beignet’s, it was innovative and unique.  Rolled with duck egg and it had a delicious side of piperade that complimented the nice crispy exterior.

Pickled Rockfish

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Then came in the Cassoulet: my goliath in this week’s food challenge.  The breadcrumb crust was a beautiful golden brown that provided a nice crunch to the warm, juicy meats.  The flavors were light and delicate.   Which I thought was essential.  This could easily have been too heavy of dish but because the meats could melt in your mouth, we were able to easily finish the entire bowl.  The dish was filling without leaving us uncomfortable and wanting to take a nap before catching a cab home.

IMG_0816With such a well respected and talented chef helming Convivial, I had no choice but to go big or go home and pull out none other than the legendary Julia Childs. Mastering the Art of French Cooking is an intimidating, lengthy, and at times overwhelming look into French cuisine.  Like I have previously mentioned in past posts,  my lack of culinary expertise normally means I’d prefer to have as many pictures as possible and unfortunately for me there were none (I did find an old video on youtube to help me understand the more technical aspects of the dish).  I first noticed that the ingredients are not listed at the beginning, rather, they can be found on the left hand margin scattered throughout the recipe.   The actual process was long and tedious, overall cook time was almost 5 hours.  I was incredibly overwhelmed, and even got frustrated at times. There were

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

even a couple of moments when I wanted to call it quits.  I miraculously carried through with the meal (with an extra set of hands – thanks Russ) and was proud of what I had accomplished.  The dish serves up to 12 people, so we had a  lot of leftovers which we could freeze for future meals.

The final product was  underwhelming.  The golden crust was beautiful and provided the perfect crunch, however, the mix of pork rinds in the stew didn’t contribute to the flavor and left the texture sloppy and greasy.   The biggest downfall however, was the large amount of dirty cookware following the cooking.  After spending five hours cooking, the last thing I wanted to do was wash an ominous mountain off dirty plates, pots, and pans.

 

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Cassoulet courtesy of Julia Childs

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Way too many dishes harmed in the making of this meal

 

To Cook or Book?

Convivial’s cassoulet was the definition of comfort food.  Served in a piping hot dish with just the right amount of meat.  It left me feeling satisfied.  My home-cooked version however did not fare as well.  The taste was bland and the texture left me unable to finish my entire plate.  It also hit my ego quite hard when I consider how much time I spent prepping and cooking.  So this week I’d say book at Convivial.

Have you had a chance to try out Convivial?  Or how about taken a bite into French cuisine with the help of Julia Child?  Leave a comment. I’d love to hear about other people’s adventures!

 

Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I
Author:  Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle
Hardcover: 716 pages
Publisher: Knopf
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0394721780

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