Monday, May 7, 2012

Ombra-Inspired Ode to Risotto

This was supposed to be a review of a full meal at an unassuming restaurant in Studio City called Ombra, staffed by a former Valentino chef, but instead I am inspired to pen a little ode to risotto thanks to an exquisite bowl of risotto nero with squid ink and garlic aioli enjoyed there on Friday night.

The first taste of risotto I ever had was ordered mushroom flavored, take-out style in a Styrofoam container on the night my daughter and I arrived in Rome in 2005 and decided to pick it up to enjoy in our hotel room late at night as we were starving after our flight. Both of us American girls fell head over heels with the complex and classic Italian rice dish made painstakingly over a carefully watched pot and stirred constantly until that tightrope wire tense moment when the texture, doneness and blend of ingredients hits it precisely right. It’s a hard nut to crack, one that I have yet to master as a cook, and the difficulty of coaxing that exact moment of rightness leaves me in awe of cooks who do it well.

Since then, I have enjoyed seeking out as many new variations on this dish as possible and even have had the pleasure of watching friends cook it for me. I’ve had good and bad and a myriad of flavor combinations from mushroom to oyster to pumpkin to pistachio so I am always impressed at this point when a bowl surprises me in the way that Ombra’s did.

Black as night, the arborio grains were cooked to perfection; a little al dente but not crunchy, swimming in an invisible, cheesy garlic sauce and dotted with a simple dollop of crème fraiche that accentuated the overall richness of the dish.

The whole time I was eating it, accompanied by a perfectly chosen bottle of 2010 Falanghina by the Cute Gardener’s expert vino sniffer, I was hankering to go back to Sorrento, Italy. Craving more lazy days where we could lay together seaside and whittle away whole afternoons smelling the brine of the sea in between bites of food that would take hours to eat.

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