Held at Eataly's Manzo restaurant in a room that was sectioned off from the rest of the hubbub, the Lazio luncheon provided exclusivity and cache to a few lucky diners. We were fortunate to be in the presence of three Lazio ministers, who flew in from Italy just for this occasion.
Each one educated us about the unique qualities of this region, its immense potential and the original products it produces. I was also fascinated to learn that a new Eataly will open in Rome later this year, showcasing Lazio's most well known fare such as artichokes, pecorino romano cheese, porchetta and puntarelle (chicory salad). But if you don't have the time or the bucks to go over to Italia, fret not, for you can taste Lazio's fine products right here in Eataly's New York outpost for the entire month of January.
After we learned about Lazio, we sat down to a fine lunch, representative of its cuisine. After four carefully thought out and expertly prepared courses, we were not only convinced that Lazio's food was excellent, but we also got a craving to visit it abroad (at least I did).
Course 1 - Starting with a puntarelle salad that was a slightly different take on Caesar, our tastebuds immediately awakened after the first bite. Similar to arugula, the puntarelle was bitter and peppery with a nice, juicy crunch. Dressed with a garlicky vinaigrette and bits of anchovies, it showcased a tangier and slightly smokier flavor profile than your usual Caesar.
Course 2 - My dining companion who was Italian remarked that this second dish, pasta all'amatriciana was perfectly symbolic of Lazio. Consisting of ridged ziti pasta dressed with a signature red sauce that was mixed with chewy bits of guanciale (dried pork cheek), this dish was unbelievably comforting. Spiced with red pepper flakes, it gave off nice heat, keeping you on your toes.
Course 3 - The best dish of the afternoon in my book was the pork saltimbocca, which tasted as wonderful as it looked. A generously sized white pork chop served as the centerpiece on the plate, around which everything else revolved. Crispy, fried sage, salty prosciutto, soft, creamy polenta and a rich broth all surrounded the pork and added sophistication to a simple cut of meat. Amazing!
Course 4 - There's nothing like a deliciously light dessert to end an already impressive meal. A sheep's milk ricotta budino (pudding or custard) sounded heavy but was anything but. I loved the airiness and freshness of the ricotta, which was laced with fragrant lemon zest. The whole thing was then topped with a delicate pear marmellata (a chunky jam) that gave it nice sweetness and an exquisite floral quality.
Wine - Each course was paired with a Lazio wine. We started with a light "Satrico" Casale del Giglio 2009 and worked our way to a fuller bodied Merlot "Montiano" Falesco 2005. Dessert was served with a sweet, syrupy Roscetto "Passiro" Falesco 2005 that smelled divine but was a little too sweet for me.
If you're interested in exploring Lazio's cuisine, visit Eataly, NY this week to purchase its products - or you can always plan a trip to Italia and see the real thing.
Eataly - 200 5th Avenue, New York NY 10010
N/R Train to 23rd Street