Monday, May 6, 2013

Cobaya Macchialina with Chef Michael Pirolo


Too often, I feel about Italian food the way I feel about handjobs: even when it's done well, it's satisfying but rarely very exciting; and when it's done poorly, I may as well do it myself.

After our Cobaya dinner at Macchialina, perhaps I should reconsider (about Italian food; not handjobs). Macchialina is the fourth restaurant opened by the Pubbelly boys, and to head this one up they poached Chef Michael Pirolo from Scarpetta in the Fontainebleau, where he had been chef de cuisine. Chef Pirolo put together a dinner for us that was hearty and satisfying, but also showed off a real range of flavors and techniques, classical in inspiration but contemporary in style.


(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Macchialina flickr set.)

We entered the restaurant to find the long bar counter completely blanketed in the finest meats and cheeses of the land: parmigiano reggiano in rough chunks, waves upon waves of prosciutto, mortadella, salami, and best of all, Macchialina's house-made porchetta, served in thinly sliced, fat-laced ribbons. As guests arrived, GM and wine director Jennifer Chaefsky offered glasses of Baldini Lambrusco dell'Emilia, a refreshing sparkling Lambrusco that was perfect with the salumi (yes, Lambrusco is back).


The meal followed a classical Italian progression: antipasti, pasta as a "primi piatti," followed by a hearty "secondo piatto," mostly served family style. First up, a couple of crudo-style cured fish items:[1] tuna, cured like prosciutto, wrapped around compressed melon; and swordfish, cured with citrus zests, topped with a dab of a bright green dill purée, and finished with shavings of bottarga.


For the next round, a fritto misto of seafood, each diner was handed a paper cone, stuffed with fried shrimp, calamaretti, whitebait, baby eels and anchovies. Delicate and crisp, the real standouts here were the gorgeous head-on shrimp - though all were good, especially after being dragged through the anchovy-infused salsa verde offered alongside. To accompany, Jennifer poured the Vietti Roero Arneis, a crisp, floral white from one of my favorite Italian producers, better known for their Barolos.

(continued ...)


Chef Pirolo served two pasta courses as primi piatti. First, raviolini, plump with a sweet pea filling, tossed with spring garlic, speck and dime-thin rounds of zucchini. I particularly liked the hint of smoke from the speck, and the subtle zing of chile peppers which perked up the verdant flavors.


Next, black spaghetti (dyed with squid ink), tossed with lobster, sea urchin and scallions, just barely bound in a silky sauce. This was possibly my favorite course of the evening - the pasta a perfect texture, the seafood fresh and brightly oceanic. Another "oddball" wine accompanied the pasta courses - the Abbazia di Novacella Kerner from Alto Adige in northernmost Italy, an aromatic white with a great balance of fruit and acidity.[2]



The "secondo piatto" arrived on the biggest serving piece I've ever seen - a board that had to have been about six feet long. The boards brought to each table were laden with creamy polenta, tender slow-cooked tripe, roasted quails, wilted ramps, and sautéed wild mushrooms. It was a classic, family-style way of serving polenta, with everyone helping themselves from the communal plate.

We usually don't micro-manage chefs for our Cobaya events, but I did have a special request here: the tripe. I'd seen it show up as a special at Macchialina before but didn't get a chance to try it, and trippa alla fiorentina is one of my favorite dishes. Chef Mike's didn't disappoint. Neither did anything else on this plate - the tender quail, skin sticky with a (balsamic?) glaze, the pungently onion-y ramps, the silky, meaty mushrooms, and most of all, the rich, creamy polenta. When the other end of our table didn't hold their own, I went back in for seconds - and thirds. The wine pairing once again was right on target - the Barolo Albe from G.D. Vajra.[3]



Desserts were simple and light - a goat cheesecake topped with pine nut brittle and mango ice, and cannoli studded with toasted pistachios. Another classic pairing here: Badia a Coltibuono Vin Santo, one of my favorite ways to finish a meal. This dessert wine, made from grapes which are air-dried like raisins before being pressed, and then kept in barrel for several years, is honeyed and sweet without being cloying, with aromas that bring to mind apricots, almonds and orange rind.


As a nice final touch, Chef Pirolo sent everyone home with a "goody bag" which contained a little mini stromboli - a nice reminder for the following morning of a great dinner the night before.


A hearty "thank you" to Chef Michael Pirolo for putting together a great meal, to his former kitchen-mate at Scarpetta, Nina Compton (now chef de cuisine there) for coming over to help out, to Jennifer Chaefsky for keeping everything running smoothly,[4] and for putting together one of the most thoughtful and interesting wine pairings we've had at a Cobaya event, and as always most of all, to the guinea pigs whose interest and support makes these events possible.

Macchialina Taverna Rustica
820 Alton Road, Miami Beach FL
305.534.2124

Macchialina Taverna Rustica on Urbanspoon


[1] At Scarpetta, Scott Conant used to call such things "susci." I don't support that.

[2] I would highly encourage a click-through on that link if just to see the pictures and read the story of where the wine is produced: a beautiful monastery on the border of Switzerland which was first founded in 1140.

[3] Though it was infanticide to drink a Barolo so young - this was a 2009, which must have just been released - I really enjoyed the wine, which apparently can be bought for around $30 and at that price is a fantastic value.

[4] They didn't let on until after we got there, but Macchialina had been without power until about 5:30 p.m. the day of our dinner because of flooding in South Beach. They had done all their prep work in one of the other Pubbelly kitchens, and brought everything over as soon as power was restored - less than a couple hours before our dinner was to start. We would have never known the difference.



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