Hot Meal: Cucina Povera at Incanto

Categories: Brody, Hot Meal

Being a fan of Chris Cosentino's regular menu at Incanto, we were unable to resist the first dinner of his special summer-long Cucina Povera prix-fixe dinner series, a tribute to the poverty-inspired dishes of Italy's various regions, offered Sunday and Monday nights -- especially when we noted the bargain price, $30 for three courses, and only $9 more for a paired two-wine flight. The first meal, from Lazio in central Italy (bordered by famous culinary neighbors Tuscany and Umbria), seemed homey and inviting: spaghetti cacio e pepe, lamb stew, jam tart.

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We also couldn't resist sharing a first course from the regular menu, calf's brains ($13) -- Cosentino is a genius with offal -- served with fresh porcini, soft Douglas fir fronds, a touch of chives, and the unusual pine cone oil called mugolio, which our server told us was very expensive (Cosentino recently received a vial as a gift from a friend). We loved the little nuggets, crisp without, softer within, and the Douglas fir and oil lent a fresh green taste, not at all resiny as we'd feared.
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After a lovely plate of the simple-but-difficult-to-perfect spaghetti cacio e pepe (with lots of grated pecorino Romano and LOTS of fresh ground pepper!) we dove into the tender succulent braised lamb, with a soft-cooked egg alongside whose runny yolk enriched the lamb's cooking juices, sided with sweet baby carrots. Amazing!

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One nice touch we've only seen at Incanto and wish other places would copy: special printed labels (pictured above) that encircle the base of your wine glass. They provide you with a souvenir that makes it easy to order the wine again. In this case it was a fresh, light Frascati Superiore Regillo (a white) and a fruity Zilath Rosso blend, neither of which we'd ever tasted.

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The torta di contadina (it means peasant) con conserva (preserves) was a crumbly cookie crust topped with orange marmalade, served with soft whipped cream and an un-peasanty touch, grated chocolate. (We tried another version topped with cherry jam.) Our $30 visit to Lazio via Church Street was so delightful we're tempted to become Cucina Povera camp-followers. Next stop? Le Marche, on the coast of the Adriatic, June 7 and 8: squash blossoms with ricotta and basil, calamari in umido (squid in its ink), and bostrengo, rice pudding with pine nuts, citrus, and chocolate. Check the Cucina Povera site for upcoming menus. Besides reflecting Italy's regions, they're dependent on what's around in our farmers' markets.

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