"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sfoglia - May 4, 2011

A restaurant should serve good bread, solid bread and decent bread; but not a bread of such monumental and demonic magnetic property, which is simply delectable but absolutely disastrous. If it were an Italian bar with antipasti and affettati, excellent bread will not have been a hindrance, but a serious attraction; however, not so at a ristorante, and most certainly not at one named “a sheet of uncut pasta.”

The Bread

Innocuously rustic - which was not synonymous with yard sale but with Christie’s - as the rest of the décor in the restaurant, three hunks of brown bread sauntered over most casually on a plain white plate. The top and bottom of the bread were hard, which would have produced a hallow sound if tapped with a spoon. However, my organoleptic investigation had to take a premature break at this preliminary stage: once I bit into the bread, I immediately capsized under its spell and was lost in oblivious for a few minutes. On the one side of the spectrum, the crust was crunchy as it was brushed with olive oil – the sheen could still be seen as it gently reflected the demure lighting – which produced a pleasurable and messy shatter and delivered a savory fragrance of the toasted grains. On the other side of the spectrum, however, the interior was subtly gaseous as if alive, delicate and impossibly pillowy with large air holes, which released a marvelously yeasty and malty sourness and then seemed to miraculously melt away - the effect of which was like a chewy chiffon cake. The repetitive experience of the crispy top and crunchy bottom v. the airy and soft inside; and, the savory saltiness v. the malty sweetness, had so bewitched me throughout the rest of the meal that I had found myself quite preoccupied between reaching for the bread (and asking if I could take a loaf home) and then attempting to fight off the temptation (by nudging the bread further away from me).

The clear and characterless olive oil was thus redundant and shameful in front of such magnificence. Although bright and grassy, the delicious freshly cured olives were also pushed aside to make room for the bread. A more disservice a restaurant cannot do to itself: The bread had not only set a dizzyingly high hurdle but also diverted the diners’ attention away from the food even before the food had arrived.

Pici - Crab, spring onion, black pepper

The decadently creamy sauce was full of exquisitely fresh crab meat, and thus, not fishy in the least. The surprising use of raw, crunchy spring onions – more common among Asian cuisines – was refreshing, which cut through the thickness of the cream like a spring breeze. The homemade pici were much thinner than the customary hand-rolled, udon-like ropes of the famed Sienese pasta; as a matter of fact, Sfoglia’s pici were simply cut from a sfoglia as they more resembled fettucini. The shape of the pici notwithstanding, every crimpy strand still withstood the heavy sauce more than adequately, accompanying it all the way without losing out the chewy texture.

Trenne - Ragu di capra, oregano, pine nuts

Despite the boldness of the ragu, a whiff of fruity aroma seeped through, which enlivened the gaminess of the finely minced goat: reminiscent of the use of lemon in tagine. Browned and crispy bread crumbs – is it the bread? – added a nice textual contrast, while also providing a wholesomeness to the pasta. I had never had goat in pasta, but the real surprise was the shape of the trenne: trenne were penne but shaped like hollowed-out triangular prism, thus tr-enne, not penne. Although several stray trenne were hiding rawness in their corners, the rest of their brothers were cooked al dente; the jutted corners of which were interesting orally as one could feel them as one chewed.

Pappardelle alla Bolognese

This was the richest pasta I had ever had. Bolognese is usually tomato-based; however, at Sfoglia, it was panna-based. The micro-minced chicken livers, pork, veal, lamb and sausages created a true peasant sauce with serious depth. Sfoglia’s recipe of Bolognese, as it originally started, called for a dash of cream before serving. However, in our dish, the dash turned into one-third, which made the ragu heavenly the first five bites, but it turned increasingly clogging as the pasta cooled. I hope it was not because of the late dining hour so that the chef was trying to use up the heavy cream. The Bolognese would have left a more pleasant impression, instead of a sinking heaviness in the stomach, had the chef allowed more tomato for acidity and clarity in the sauce.

The pappardelle itself was perfection.

Chicken al Mattone

Sfoglia had so far managed to have scored many “firsts” – in both favorable and not so favorable ways – but it had added another to the list: This was the juiciest chicken I had ever had in, not only New York, but the star-spangled United States of America. Simply cooked and simply adorned, the fiery chili peppers and the squeeze of lemon were minimalistically elegant. The respectably crispened skin was lovely, giving a nice contrast to the tender thigh. However, minimal seasoning depends on the quality of the meat; in this case, the American chicken itself let the preparation down by being utterly, uncooperatively bland.

Address:  1402 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10128
Phone: (212) 831-1402

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