Spiaggia's Pasta Tasting Menu Series
For the first time in Spiaggia's history it would serve a tasting menu where each course would include some form of pasta. Chef di Cucina Chris Marchino sat down with me and talked through the menu, before we headed into the kitchen so I could observe how the first three of the menu's six courses are completed on the line.
Chef di Cucina Chris Marchino
Marchino has been at Spiaggia for five years. He worked closely with the restaurant's other, ahem, top chefs to devise the pasta tasting series. "This was a team effort," Marchino said. "Sarah [Grueneberg], myself and Tony [Mantuano] all had a lot of input into this. It was long days of menu testing and getting things just right."
Indeed, there pretty much aren't any dishes on this menu that existed on other menus before, Marchino said. They also strove to incorporate some modern pasta-making techniques American diners may not yet be familiar with. He added that, "We felt like it was probably sort of overdue for Spiaggia to do a pasta menu. It had never happened before in almost 29 years. For how much we care for and love pasta, it was like, Why haven't we done this before? It made total sense."
First Course Prep
The first course consists of bite-sized nests of housemade buckwheat, squid ink, and spinach tagliolini noodles, all served cold. Marchino explained that at Spiaggia, a crew of cooks arrive every morning to prepare all the fresh pastas. For the trio of tagliolini, the noodles are then cooked, chilled, and marinated in olive oil in the afternoon to get them ready for service. "Tagliolini is the perfect pasta for [cold presentations], because it doesn't get gummy, it doesn't ball up," he said. "You can serve it cold and it's not like you're eating a pasta salad." The restaurant's strict use double-zero flour, plus a lot of culinary experience, helps to ensure the noodles are perfect when they arrive at the table.
The "fillings" in this case are fish eggs. Each nest of pasta has a small serving of roe tucked into it along with other ingredients. In a node to traditional caviar service, the buckwheat noodles are joined by Black River Osetra caviar, crème fraiche, and chive.
"It's balanced, Marchino said of the sturgeon caviar. "It's not overwhelmingly salty. But then when you get into these other roe, like the Steelhead trout roe"—paired with the squid ink pasta—"they're much more salty and much more briny. And they pop in your mouth, so there's a textural component to them, as well." The spinach pasta, which is suggested as your final bite in the progression, is paired with smoked wild Arctic char roe, burrata cheese, and fresh herbs. "They're like little smoke bubbles, in a way," he said of the smoked roe. As a final flourish, the dish is garnished with freshly grated horseradish.
First Course: Trio di Tagliolini con Caviale
(From left) Buckwheat pasta with Black River Osetra caviar, crème fraiche and chive; squid ink pasta with wild Steelhead trout roe, Pugliese tomato and turnip; and spinach pasta with smoked Arctic char roe, Pugliese Burrata and herbs. The progression of flavor goes from light, delicate, and creamy, to briny and oceanic, to more earthy. The tagliolini is firm yet almost melts in your mouth somehow.
Second Course Prep
The second course features one of the menu's more ingenious pasta preparations. Here the dough itself features the filling. "We roll out the pasta sheets," Marchino explained, "then we inlay fresh herbs on top of the dough, then we use another sheet to cover it, and put it through the pasta roller again. So in this sense the dough itself is stuff with the herbs." It creates what Marchino aptly described as a "mosaic effect," in that you can see the herbs through the translucent discs of pasta once they've been cooked. The chefs are essentially assembling little pasta sandwiches with this course; a disc is laid down, then prawns and calamari straight off the stovetop are added along with a rich sauce made from the heads of prawns. A second disc goes on top to conceal the seafood and sauce.
Second Course: Composizione di Gamberi e Cappesante
Cooked and raw Spanish red prawns and Nantucket Bay scallops, smoked Spanish paprika, fennel emulsion, and herb-filled pasta sheets. The noodles are rolled with chervil tarragon, and fennel frond, and the sauce, made from prawn heads, is concentrated and bisque-like. Here the kitchen continues to play with temperature: the prawn on top is cold; noodles and sauce are warm.
Third Course Prep
By the third course, the flavors are beginning to develop more richness. Beautiful ricotta and Tuscan pecorino-stuffed agnolotti are the stars of this dish, which includes a buttery, truffle-tinged sauce and toppings of thinly sliced black truffles, cheese, and micro greens. As I observed Marchino prepping this dish, he talked about the moment when you introduce pasta to a pan of sauce simmering over a hot flame as a charged moment in Italian cooking, a magical marriage of flavors.
Third Course: Agnolotti di Ricotta di Bufala e Pecorino Toscano
Calabro ricotta and Tuscan pecorino-filled pasta with fresh Perigord black truffle essence. The noodles were taut, betrayed hints of lemon, and housed creamy, fluffy cheese. Spicy micro arugula was sprinkled on top, in keeping with the menu's subtle spring-leaning touches of herbs and greens.
Fourth Course: Tortelloni in Brodo “dal Pescatore”
Braised Becker Lane pork skin-filled pasta with brodo, Jidori chicken roulade, chicken crackling, and Acetaia San Giacomo 25-year aged balsamico. Spiaggia sommelier Jason Carlen said it best when he called the broth in this dish "soothing." The chicken crackling adds a crunchy element. The dish provides a great, subtle transition into meats from seafood with its light use of pork and whispers of fat.
Fifth Course: Paccheri al Forno Ripieni con Salsiccia
Baked paccheri pasta filled water buffalo milk ricotta, Sardinian lamb sausage, saffron, sesame seeds, and Guinco Sardinian pecorino. This course is an ode to the products of Sardinia (where sheep outnumber people), not to mention a bold presentation of concentrated, savory flavors. The noodles were dense and toothsome, and the tastes of lamb, from the sausage and the pool of reduction, felt genuine and comforting. Tiny edible flowers carried through the nods toward spring.
Sixth Course: Tomino da Padella in Crosta di Pasta
Cocoa corzetti pasta fritter filled with Padella tomino, cinnamon,dark chocolate and sour cherry sorbetto. Candied, dark-fruit flavors complements the sharpness of the sorbet and the savory warm cheese. Of the Tomino da Padella cheese, Marchino said "it lends itself really well to being warm. So we felt that if we fried it, and basically wrapped it with pasta, that it would crunchy and gooey on the inside. We worked off that." The cheese is wrapped in a thinly rolled foccacia dough, then held together with a corzetti stamp, a Ligurian-style pasta whose dough here is mixed with cocoa powder. Fried cheese and pasta, for dessert. A decadent send-off to a truly special meal.