Eating out. la Spiga.
One of my favorite neighborhood restaurants is a Japanese restaurant whose former incarnation was Osteria la Spiga, the sort of Italian restaurant that had rustic tables and wooden beams and chefs rolling out pasta behind glass in an open kitchen. It promised authentic regional Italian cuisine, the best kind, and I never managed to eat there, because I wasn't living in the neighborhood yet and when we went out for dinner after work, we only made it as far as Via Tribunali, the trendy pizza joint a few blocks closer to work. And then it closed, and became the Japanese restaurant with rustic tables and wooden beams and I went there for spicy tuna and unagi rolls, and miso soup in pottery mugs that seemed to be left over from when it was Osteria la Spiga.
I jumped for joy when I noticed Osteria la Spiga was preparing to open in a new location, two blocks from work and six blocks from home, next door to my favorite home furnishings store. I peered in through the storefront window, the kind that looks like a garage door; perhaps in summer they will open it onto the street and set out small tables. It looked clean and modern, the floor and booths and chairs and bar all made of dark wood against raw concrete walls; in the distance I could see a mezzanine level suspended over the end of the room. But there was more to it, which I wouldn't discover until we went there for dinner, tonight. I have been waiting and waiting for a chance to go, and D. is game, so we take a break from work and head out.
It is much bigger than I realized; the long narrow part of the room that is visible from the street opens up into an airy, lofty-ceilinged space, with windows that take up the entire back wall. In a glass-enclosed room, a white-coated chap makes gnocchi, shaves prosciutto and bresaola from haunches of cured meat, and feeds sheets of fresh pasta into a gleaming machine. The staff waft about wearing head-to-toe black and long (black) aprons. It must be five times bigger than the old restaurant, maybe more, and the cozy intimacy of the old place has been replaced by ample room between the tables, a different kind of intimacy, and even though it is noisy and open you can talk easily without having to shout, without having a stranger's elbow in your side. It doesn't look like an osteria, until we look at the menu.
The food reminds me of the kind of dishes I ate and loved in Italy, rustic and simple, yet refined, and I have trouble deciding. I order tagliatelle to start, a thick tangle of noodles with sausage and chickpeas, the chickpeas melting into the sauce, adding texture and sweetness to the sausage. There are wedges of some kind of flatbread, hot from the griddle, dense and chewy and delicious. My braised wild boar ribs arrived, tender in the merest suggestion of a tomato-and-onion sauce, with crisply roasted potatoes. D. passes me a bite of her beef cheeks, rich and melting over fried slices of polenta. I cannot resist the thought of dessert, and I order the chocolate grappa cake, a warm square of something that seems more chocolate than cake, more air than chocolate, light and rich and fragrant with grappa, which sends a tiny burn down my throat with each bite, a burn quickly cooled by the snowy drift of whipped cream that is slathered across the cake.
I'm counting the hours until I can return.