The dish before me looked more like an art project then an actual appetizer It was comprised of mysterious mounds of white, brown and yellow shapes, and textures ranged from smooth to bumpy, fluffy to powdery. “It’s an avantgarde interpretation,” said Francesco Nuccitelli, the manager of Perbacco where this creation is offered. “The chef wanted to reproduce the taste of the traditional dish.” The traditional dish being spaghetti alla carbonara, a conventional pasta dish covered in a mixture of Parmesan cheese, guanciale, black pepper and raw egg, a smooth, cream sauce that coats long noodle strands.
Using the same ingredients, Perbacco chef Simone Bonelli recreated the “Carbonara” into a piece of gastronomic sculpture. First, he took the pasta portion and deepfried the pasta dough, here shaped into discs. One look at the plate before me and I immediately asked, “How the hell do you eat this thing?” Nuccitelli was patient and quickly explained that on the pasta, you smear the cool, slightly gummy Parmesan and black pepper gelato. Underneath the scoop of gelato, you find a fine nest of egg yolk powder, which you sprinkle atop your cold layer. Next, you crack open the slow-cooked egg that rests on a pile of finely chopped, cooked pork jowl, and drizzle the innards over the spaghetti. Top it off with the tiny chunks of meat and try to keep it all together as you bite in.
Once you have tried it, let the flavors mingle and play on your palate. Move the first nibble around and you will find somehow the fundamentals join in harmony and that, surprisingly, it all works. In between the starchy crunch of the pasta, the savory creaminess of the cheese and pepper combo, and the salty bit of guanciale, you can actually taste spaghetti alla carbonara. Of course, given the crispness of the spaghetti, melting of the gelato and gooey egg sauce covering the dish, it doesn’t actually feel like the classic.
By modifying the texture and temperature of the dish, Bonelli has reconstructed every aspect of what normal Italian food looks like, but still manages to keep the essential flavor. Grandma might not appreciate what the chef has done to her traditions, but we couldn’t like it more.
>> Perbacco 234 E. 4th St. (betw. Aves A & B), 212-253-2038.