When the opportunity arises to enjoy a meal prepared by Rome's pizza patriarch and one of New York's most talented chefs, it's a no-brainer. You make sure you get a spot at the table. So I did - at The Chef's Table, a New York City restaurant run by Food and Wine Magazine that invites different chefs to take over its kitchen about six times a year.
Last weekend, it was Nick Anderer, chef/partner of New York City's Maialino and the more recent Marta, restaurants that both feature Roman food, with an emphasis on wood-fired cooking at Marta.
Gabriele Bonci is practically a household name in Italy and hopefully Americans will soon know more about him too. His hole-in-the-wall pizza shop called "Pizzarium" churns out some of the best pizza Rome has to offer, and I frequently catch him on "La Prova Del Cuoco," an Italian cooking show that's available to subscribers in the U.S.
The menu and beverage pairing chosen and prepared by Gabriele and Nick was a real treat, starting with these supplí prepared by Gabriele.
First came classic supplí, with melted mozzarella tucked inside the crunchy exterior of the rice croquettes. Another supplí shared the plate, with bits of sausage and a pungent gorgonzola kicking up the taste. A dollop of creamy broccoletti provided a textural and flavor contrast.
Nick's lemony mustard greens, anchovies and a luscious stracciatella cheese joined forces with bits of sweet potatoes to make for a perfectly balanced salad.
And though a picture is worth 1,000 words, this photo can't convey the crispness and acidic flavor in this giardiniera made by Nick. I've never craved pickled vegetables more.
Accompanying the above was a wonderful Italian craft beer called Enkir, an ale made with ancient grains. You can buy it in the states at a few places listed here.
The pizza course came next, including the one in the first photo - a pizza patate alla carbonara. It's featured on the menu at Marta, and Nick explains how he came up with the idea for it here.
Meanwhile, Gabriele created a pizza Amatriciana, like the eponymous pasta dish, made with tomato, guanciale and pecorino cheese.
A last minute sprinkling of cheese.
The pizzas were served with a sparkling dry rosé wine from the champagne region of France - a combination I would never have thought of of, but which was terrific. Click here to find out where to buy it.
The main course, made by Gabriele, was a showstopper: a heritage pork shoulder baked in a pizza dough. Legend has it that during world war II, when food was scarce, Romans would steal a pig and bake it inside bread dough to conceal the aroma from neighbors.
At the restaurant on Friday night, once the outer shell of the dough was removed, the aroma wafted throughout the restaurant. After cooking for six hours inside the dough, it was fork tender.
If you felt a little more seasoning was necessary, no problem. Each table had its own tiny bowl of Himalayan sea salt, shaved from the 1,500 pound behemoth hanging from the ceiling.
The remaining courses were prepared by Nick, and included wood-fired Nebrodini mushrooms with wilted spinach:
And grilled broccoli and broccoli romanesco resting atop spiced chick pea hummus.
The main course was paired with a red wine from Lazio, Italy called "Ferro e Seta" (Iron and Silk) from Villa Simone vineyards. I didn't get a photo of the bottle, since it arrived decanted at the table. But we loved it, and I found out it's available at a couple of stores, including one not far from me, in Trenton, N.J. Click here for info.
There was still a little room for dessert and thankfully after filling up on all the previous courses, dessert wasn't too heavy. Nick prepared a intensely delicious concord grape sorbet that helped cleanse the palate, accompanied by an almond and chewy chocolate cookie.
It was accompanied by a sweet dessert wine from the Piedmont region of Italy - Fosso della Rossa. It's available only at a few outlets here in the states. Click here for more information.